Wednesday, April 18, 2012

An Open Letter to Shia LaBeouf

Dear Shia,

My name is Russ, and you and I have something in common. We both like to make comic books -- so much so, that we would self-publish our work, at the risk of great financial loss, just to get it out there.

What we don't have in common is a famous name.

To be clear, I'm not writing this open letter out of spite. Actually, now that I know we share a passion for comics, I'm writing it in the spirit of encouragement -- something we both know isn't too common in the world of Internet fandom.

I want to explain the inevitable backlash from your Rolling Stone interview, and, admittedly, my initial reaction it. Those that don't read the article carefully (or at all) will share what my first thought was: "Why comics?" With your presumed resources in the movie business, you could easily tell your original stories via independent film. We comic book types are a very possessive lot, especially those of us striving to make comics. So, why comics?

Fortunately, you answer this question in the Rolling Stone interview quite brilliantly, with an intimacy most comic book professionals fail to articulate. "Comics, for me, is being able to sing alone in the shower," you said. "I find it freeing. You just pick up a pen and get to it." Whether that freedom is from a hectic movie set or a 9-to-5 cubicle job, it's something anyone can share, and I'll credit you with that answer when I give it in the future. I just wish your interview ended there!

Your answer to the question about your fame is what tainted my opinion of your motivation: "I would like the same fans that I respect in comics to like my books," you said, "and I know the only way to get there is to earn it, and the only way to earn it is to come up the same way everybody else does, as much as I can."

Now, I've been self-publishing comics for 10 years. I've exhibited at San Diego Comic Con, the Alternative Press Expo, and Phoenix Comic Con. A decade later, I'm still very much "coming up." "Coming up" for my peers and me includes these tireless days and nights at conventions, waiting in portfolio review lines, and using social media to the utmost just to sell a few issues a month. It doesn't include an interview with Rolling Stone!

If I read your interview correctly, you share my criticism for celebrities seeking to use comics to expand their credentials, then disappearing from comics completely once the mission is accomplished. Yet, just by being interviewed in Rolling Stone, you set yourself up as "that celebrity." It's an inevitable consequence, considering your name -- or was "Shia LaBeouf Makes Comics" the headline you were really after?

While this sounds like the spite I said wouldn't affect this letter, I assure you it's leading to my final point. This is an open letter with a call to action: if making comics really is freeing for you, embrace it completely and publish under a false, unknown name. You will not know a freedom like the one achieved when someone buys your comic for its content alone -- and not for the celebrity name on the cover.

When folks ask what I'd do if I ever won the lottery, I always answer, "I'd publish my own comic!" I know having that money wouldn't make my comic an instant success; my name would still be unknown, and the comic would still have to sell on my talent and its story alone. It could very well fail. Yet, even knowing that, this is the dream. I know we have the passion for making comics in common -- but do we share this dream?

The interesting thing about an open letter like this is, if you heed it, we'll never know. There will just be another independent comic book out there with another unknown name on it, just trying to find a readership that really enjoys it.

Doesn't that sound awesome?

Thank you,

Russ K.

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