The Geography of a Comic Book

Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist, published “The World Is Flat” in 2005. Since the book hit the streets people have been citing evidence the world is not so much as flat as Friedman argues. I’m not reviewing Friedman’s book here; I’ve read it, it’s thought-provoking. In some ways I agree; in other ways his argument simply doesn’t stand up to deep scrutiny. There are still too many big economic players, reservoirs of wealth and deserts of poverty, and uneven parity in educational and cultural affairs.

Having said all of that, there are some cool examples of a flatter world. I happened onto one of these experiences at my local comic book store. G’s Comics is my local comic store. “G” is great about having functions at his place, from hosting Magic tournaments, Free Comic Book Day, and Halloween ComicFest. On occasion, G hosts comic book writers, illustrators, inkers, and other creative talent.

The third week of September, G hosted a couple of comic book artists and writers. Tommy Patterson lives in western Kentucky and provides art and illustrations for comic book tie-in for George R. R. Martin’s “The Game of Thrones.” If you enjoy HBO’s The Game of Thrones, you might enjoy the comic books. I have picked up a few comics myself, having read a couple of the books, and found myself enjoying the books more after reading the comics. The art really manifests and augments the story.

Jay Leisten lives in Kentucky’s Bluegrass region. His newest effort is The Death of Wolverine for Marvel. Outside of Spider-man and Captain America, Marvel’s Wolverine has become one of the most popular comic book superheroes to grace the silver screen. Leisten, like Patterson, has an extensive comic illustration resume, providing art for many popular Marvel books, including Uncanny X-Men, Captain America, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk.

I’ve collected comic books for as long as I can remember. My oldest book is a tattered copy of an old Golden Key comic of Star Trek. “Back in the day” comic book publishers existed in one place – New York City. Other cities may have supported a few itinerate publishers but for serious comic book work, one had to eke out a living in New York. As a geographer, I look for patterns, for changing relationships, for changing connections. I knew comic book creation and publication was becoming more distributed, more dispersed. But I wanted to know from the artist stand point just how dispersed the publication of a comic book had become. I figured I would take advantage of the presence of G’s guests and see what I could learn. My findings were pretty cool.

Gone are the days of having to live in New York City to build a comic book. It may help; however, it will not prevent someone with a serious yen for building a comic book if he or she does not live in NYC. In chatting with Jay, I discovered one of the writers he works with lives in Nova Scotia, Canada. Nova Scotia is the second smallest Canadian province, and while it may seem far north to those of us in the American South, is half way between the Equator and the North Pole.

The writer develops the story idea, the story arc, and fleshes out the details, providing some pointers on layout, detailing what goes on each page. The writer then passes these details along to the Penciler. Pencilers take the writers text, plot, and story vision and translate these notions onto paper, usually in pencil but not necessarily. The penciler Jay works with lives in Austin, Texas.

Inkers then take the pencil artwork and firm up the line work, adding contrast, enhancing details, and essentially framing the art. I’m not a professional artist so forgive me for my lack of terminology. I’m hoping Tommy or Jay might read this and help me set the record straight and improve my content on this post, as they do such brilliant work I’d like more people to realize the depth and breadth of the comic book industry. Jay, who lives in Louisville, KY, working as an Inker, performs these enhancements before passing his work on to the Colorist.

Once the inker is finished the Colorist takes over. The colorist adds the approved colors to all of the graphic elements. For “The Death of Wolverine” the colorist lives in Florida. I don’t have a specific town or city, and I think most of us can find Florida on a map.

Final approval of the book occurs at Marvel’s home in New York City. All of the creative editors examine the book and hopefully provide the go-ahead for publishing. I would encourage the reader to scrutinize this map, zoom-in, really. Notice how many other important places pop-up. Sony Music headquarters is nearby, at Madison and 55th. Toshiba America is almost across the street from Marvel Entertainment. DC Comics is just to the north off of Broadway.

Even NASDAQ is just to the south. Notice how many corporations are nestled together in Manhattan? In geography, the clustering of these cooperative and competitive economies we call a “technopole.”

Technopoles are sort of great places to live and work, that is if you like being around creative people, working on cool projects, and engaged in doing innovative and smart projects. Like attracts like. Technopoles are breeding grounds for fantastic ideas, for driving innovation, and foster people of all ages and backgrounds to become entrepreneurs. Manhattan is to New York what Silicon Valley is to San Francisco and the world, really.

For publishing, we return to Kentucky. Cool, huh? I know! Right here in the state I currently live some of my favorite comics are published. Currently, Marvel contracts with a publisher in Versailles, Kentucky for the publishing of its titles.

I don’t want to give the impression the creation of a comic book follows a simple work-flow: Writer -> Penciler -> Artist -> Colorist -> Lettering -> Draft to Marvel -> Printing -> Distribution to G’s Comics in Murray, Kentucky. The talents involved in bringing a story to life may live in different places yet they certainly collaborate with each other often. Jay said he often works with artists in Spain and Brazil. Team members may get together at a convenient location, say Florida or New York City, on occasion. But, far more common is for them to share files using Google Drive or Dropbox. Creative meetings then take place using Skype.

Many new (or old) comic book publishers do not call New York City home. Boom! Studios is located in Los Angeles. OK, so L.A. is almost New York as far as talent, innovation, entrepreneurship is concerned. IDW Publishing is located in San Diego, CA. Dynamite Publishing is found in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey. But these publishers are on the coasts, located in fairly popular regions. Aren’t there any publishers in the Midwest, for instance? As a matter of fact, Avatar Press resides in Rantoul, Illinois. Avatar Press is an independent comic book publisher and home to Max Brooks (“World War Z”) and Garth Ennis (“Crossed”).

The next time you visit your local comic book store contemplate the comic book your holding in your hand. In your hands rests ideas, thoughts, and creative content representative of people not holed-up in a New York City office. No, the writer may live in a cottage in Nova Scotia, or maybe in rural Spain. The penciler may live in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The inker may live in Tampa, Florida. The colorist may live in Austin, Texas. They feed ideas back-and-forth to each other using Google Drive and hash out details via Skype. The publisher makes these ideas manifest by sending the content as a PDF file to a printer in Versailles, Kentucky. I haven’t even covered the origins of the inks, the paper; the geography of the raw materials. Hopefully, we can see comics are an example of geography at work, the leveling of the global economic playing field.

The world is not entirely “flat” as Thomas Friedman argues. Creative and innovative people find ways to navigate the hills and valleys of the world to bring their ideas to life, though.


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