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Ask Chris #2: Topless Sketches and Digital Comics

Here at ComicsAlliance, we value our readership and are always open to what the masses of Internet readers have to say. That’s why we’ve given Senior Writer Chris Sims the punishment pleasure of stepping into the grand tradition of the Answer Man as he responds to your reader questions!

Q: Chris, how do I approach a comic artist, in a most polite way, to draw a simple topless girl?

A: As illustrated above in Stuart Immonen‘s incredible “50 Reasons To Stop Doing Sketches at Cons” strip — a sadly out-of-print must-read for anyone planning on hitting up a comic convention — asking for artwork of an erotic nature can be a tricky proposition. Normally, when you buy a piece of art, it’s assumed that you’re going to hang it on the wall or put it in a portfolio, but when it’s a topless girl, there’s a subtext of… well, other activities involved that make the whole thing a little more personal than I think either party would like it to be.

Unfortunately, I’m not in much of a position to offer advice on this one, as I’m enough of a prude that I felt a little weird asking Jeremy Dale for a sketch of the Baroness. But I do know a few people who might be in a better position to answer, so I ran the question past them to see if I couldn’t help out.First up, Marvel artist and “Small Favors” creator Colleen Coover has some helpful advice:

First, ask if he or she is willing to draw a girl topless. Be clear that you are giving the artist the option of saying no. Don’t stumble or giggle about it; just be mature and straightforward. If they decline, maybe ask if you could get a girl in a bra instead!

For another opinion, here’s former pinup artist Rusty Shackles:

If it’s something fairly cheesecakey or pin-up like, which isn’t going to raise many eyebrows so as long as it’s something that’s going to be played as cheeky or silly, I don’t think you’ll encounter much difficulty from someone who already does that kinda thing. If it’s an artist who you’ve seen do nudes before, then as long as you don’t go beyond their boundaries from what you’ve seen them do, they probably get that request all the time.

And finally, from “Mysterius the Unfathomable” artist Tom Fowler:

Don’t.

Hope that helps out!

Q: Do digital comics start to get more of a foothold with the iPad coming out? Who do you think this benefits – indy [comics] or the big two?Protoculture27

A: I haven’t been paying too much attention to the iPad for the simple reason that the first generation is going to cost like four million dollars and that’s a little out of the range of us freelance writery types, but digital comics have been on my mind quite a bit lately, especially with the public beta for the Longbox digital comics platform. They’re separate ideas, but when you’re putting them in the context of the rise of digital comics, they’re definitely linked.

The revolutionary thing about Longbox isn’t that it’s a way to read comics digitally — let’s be honest, it’s easy enough to download comics, both legitimately and through piracy, and while the cDisplay program’s about as bare-bones as you can get, it’s also pretty much everything you need to read digital comics — but that it’s a way to digitally buy comics. And the thing about that is that, like iTunes or Amazon MP3 for music, it gets them directly to the customer, bypassing both Diamond at the distributor level and the local retailer. But more on that in a second.

The thing about the digital distribution for comics, however, is that unlike music (which, with a pair of decent headphones, can come out of a device the size of a quarter with no problems), a visual medium has to meet certain requirements if it’s going to be readable. I’ve got a smartphone with a 4″ screen, and while it’s fun to be able to read comics on it, there’s no way that’s going to replace a comic. And even a netbook or laptop doesn’t have the portability that comics lend themselves to; it’s a lot harder to read a netbook while you’re lounging around in bed, for instance, no matter how well the comics are are formatted for the screen. Which is where the iPad comes in: It’s got the portability and dimensions that you’d need for comics, and unlike the Kindle — which I’ve heard is great for books — it’ll be in color. Plus, Apple’s already got a huge distribution network for digital files.

I don’t think paper comics are going to go away soon, as you can still read ‘em in the sunlight and, well, there’s still CDs after all, but all of that combines to make digital comics distribution a pretty viable enterprise in the coming years. And like I said, one of the biggest aspects of that is that it takes a lot of power out of the hands of the distributor and retailer and gives it to the publisher, and to be honest, I think that’s a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, nobody wants to see brick-and-mortar comic book stores close less than I do, but there are people making incredible stuff that just has no chance whatsoever in the market today.

In my experience as a retailer, I would’ve loved to have a wider selection of titles than what I actually carried, but it wasn’t feasible: the vast majority of my customers were purely into Marvel and DC super-hero comics with the occasional dip into something equally super-heroic like “Invincible.” What I stocked was largely defined by whether Green Lantern or Deadpool in it, and a lot of good stuff ended up getting passed up. And getting passed up was a best-case scenario for a lot of creators; Diamond’s distribution model — and again, a lot of this is based on economic necessity — is just not designed to give a small-press book a fighting chance on the shelves against the bigger companies. It’s possible to circumvent Diamond and go through smaller distributors or directly through the publisher, but when so much of your business comes from a company that’s the exclusive distributor for the overwhelming majority of comic books, a lot of retailers just don’t bother. I didn’t do it often at all, and the store where I worked was, in comic shop terms, gigantic.

Which brings me back, in an extremely longwinded way, to the original question: Like I said, to a certain extent, the web levels the playing field, and — just like we’ve learned from the rise of stuff like Achewood and Dr. McNinja, which are absolutely brilliant but far too quirky and unique to have made it under traditional distribution models, it’s going to make small press and self-publishing far more viable than they are now, especially with digital distribution providing a way to monetize them.

There are never going to be people who don’t want to read about Batman or Spider-Man, so I imagine that Marvel and DC will do just fine–if you look at the iTunes and Amazon MP3 charts, I’m sure that the same major-label pop that gets played on the radio sells better than anything else–but it’s going to make it a lot easier for the little guy to get his stuff out there, and that’s a good thing.

So, to sum up this ridiculously long answer: Good for the big two, great for the indies, not so good for Diamond. At least, that’s how I see it.

And now, some quick answers:

Q: You’re forced to give up either “Batman & Robin,” “Agents of ATLAS,” “Incredible Herc” or “Empowered” – which one do you choose?KDBryan

A: Oh dang, that’s a tough one, but… sorry, Jeff Parker.

Q: If you were forced to spend a(n intimate) night with one male comic book writer, who would you choose?erkalbeleo

A: Speaking of Jeff Parker, I’d be tempted to go with John Cassaday (seriously, dude is handsome), but the combination of Parker’s good looks, Southern accent, and what I’ve heard about him from Rick Remender put him just ahead. And after: Snowcream.

Q: Is there one comic you own you’d consider a favorite, be it well-done, sentimental value or presence of haunted vaginas?dino_rider

A: My copy of “Batman” #425, hailed by my six year-old self as the greatest work of fiction ever produced.

Q: Who will play you in the film adaptation of your rise? And who will draw the comic adaptation?blueneurosis

A: I used to get Jack Black a lot, then I got Sean Astin, then I got Jonah Hill, then I got depressed and started drinking. As for the comic book adaptation, it’ll be written by Kevin Church, drawn by Rusty Shackles, and focus mainly on my adventures with a robot wristwatch.

Q: Who are your top 5 writers right now?feeblemcjackson

A: Off the top of my head, I’d say: Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Pak & Van Lente, Matt Fraction and Jason Aaron. Jeff Parker’d be on there too, but at this point I think we’re both getting uncomfortable with how much I’m talking about him.

That’s all we’ve got for this week, but if you’d like to have your question answered on ComicsAlliance, tag it on twitter with “#askchris” or send us an email with “Ask Chris” in the subject line!

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