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You Can (And Should!) Spend the Extra Money on Indie Art

"Tiger Energy" by indie artist Hellen Jo.

Recently I was delighted to see that a Queer/Femme comics pop-up was being hosted at Stories Books & Café, one of my favorite haunts in LA. It wasn’t just any pop-up, though: it was filled out with the likes of Lisa Hanawalt and Julia Wertz, two of my idols in art and storytelling. I gathered a little group together and we checked it out, only to find that a few vendors had dropped out due to COVID concerns.

That ended up working well in my favor, though, because I got to meet Koreangry: someone whose comics on Instagram were so impactful to me as an Asian woman, I didn’t follow her for the longest time because they hit too close to home. In the end, the event was more than worth it just for the chance to talk to her, and see her iconic clay doll self in person (yes, it’s just as cute and angry as you’d expect). I bought a book and a sticker, and then picked up a beautiful planner from another Asian vendor, Hellen Jo (whose art is featured up top), on the way out. In total, I spent around $60.

To be clear: I don’t typically spend $60 so casually, I’m a cheapskate even at the best of times. But I have always been an advocate for spending extra money for things that skirt the traditional boundaries of capitalistic consumption. In particular, things made independently (“indie” things) have never made me wince when they demand so much from my pockets. These artists don’t have structural, corporate safety nets; they have their art, their day jobs, and whatever sense of community they can find. As a person with money to spend, I figure, would I rather spend it on some lovingly made projects of passion that can help provide that sense of security and community, than something mass-produced with no meaning beyond production for production’s sake.

Moreover, these projects of passion carry more of a punch than mass-produced items. Koreangry’s book really hit home for me, and while before I found these feelings uncomfortable, I now know that even just seeing this book on my shelf will make me feel stronger and more secure as I go about my day. Indie art can do that for you almost 100% of the time.

Therefore, with all the conversations about the future sustainability of “real” art (not that nasty AI ish), I have to stick my neck out for indie creators here and implore all of you with money to spend and time to kill: it’s totally fine to spend extra for these creators. It may seem like a lot in the moment to pay $30 for a zine, but at the end of the day, if you’ve got the money to spend on pleasure, you’d end up spending it anyways. Try to reframe your mind to understand that instead of your money going to, say, a corporate chain like Barnes And Noble, you’re helping to put food on an artist’s plate so they can keep creating. And in times like these, authentic creation is resistance and something to be treasured rather than looked down upon.

Now, as a brief disclaimer, obviously if you can’t afford to spend a lot of money on these sorts of things, that’s fine, nobody’s shaming you for it. But it’s counterproductive to then go and attack these creators for their high prices when they’re not even the sorts of rich influencers who are just doing this for giggles and are just trying to make a living doing what they love. Be kind, be understanding.

So: regardless of whether you’re looking at some demo tapes for sale, a collection of zines, homemade blankets, or anything of the like, if you feel even the slightest bit drawn towards either the creator, the product, or both, there’s truly no shame in doling out extra cash for them. We need to do our part and be proactive in helping these communities stay afloat and prosper in such uncertain times, because if one aspect of the ecosystem starts to fail, who knows what will happen to the rest? I certainly want the future to be art-friendly, that’s for damn sure.

And on that note, here are some artists I follow that I highly recommend checking out, aside from the ones I’ve already mentioned:

  • Vewn–an animator and illustrator who’s a master of surreal reality.
  • Spit Blossoms–an illustrator who does beautiful, symbolic portrayals of the feminine body.
  • Sarah Glidden–a former “Pizza Island” member along with Wertz and Hanawalt, whose comics feature in the likes of The New Yorker.
  • Choodraws–an illustrator with a gorgeous, distinct style.

So happy holidays, and if you feel generous, buy yourself a lil somethin’ somethin’ from your local indies!

(Featured Image: Hellen Jo)

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Madeline (she/her) is a writer and dog mom. She aims to use her writing to positively represent mixed-race people like herself, and is currently working on a novel. However, when she isn't writing, she's either battling insomnia or taking too many naps. You can read her stuff at https://madelinecwrites.com/