Thursday, August 11, 2005

The League presents:
Suggestions for Further Reading

The Rant

Okay... So, today a comics-related rant. Go about your business if this sounds dull. I understand.

Erik Larsen is the creator of The Savage Dragon and a co-founder of Image Comics. Today, Eric STILL works on Savage Dragon after years and years in the game.

In addition, he's recently become the publisher at Image Comics.

He's now got a column going at called "One Fan's Opinion". I read a lot of comic-based columns, but I gotta say, today Mr. Larsen's column really rang true with me.

The basic idea was:

One of the oddities of the comic fan world (I hesitate to use community in reference to what is essentially a solitary act) is that comic fans are complete jerks to each other.

I assume that the behavior comes from the fact that comic collectors are most comfortable plowing through a pile of comics all by their lonesome, or somehow organizing or cataloguing their collection. Neither of these are particularly social activities and not terribly conducive to building social skills.

That said, how, exactly, can collectors be jerks?

As Larsen points out, there are jerks right at the front line. The very guys who are supposed to be selling you the product you are holding in one hand (with money in the other hand), will tell you the product you're about to buy isn't worth reading. Now, The League spent a glorious year-and-a-half working at a mall record store and is all too familiar with the temptation to shout at customers buying idiotic product. But you know what? Despite the fact I was making $5.25, I managed to rein it in. Sure, occasionally I'd be forced into a position where I had to tell a customer why I hadn't bought the latest Yanni album, but I was usually pretty polite.

The comic shop owners, one would assume, would be more careful about keeping a loyal customer base. I guess being the owners, they are entitled to do whatever they want in their store, but it's astounding how many owners and staff will give you lip as you're handing them money. And, honestly, I don't really try to drum up conversations with comic shop owners, but after a while, it does make you want to consider doing all of your shopping online.

Just as curious is the fellow comic shop patron who takes a look at what you're picking up and makes a snide comment about your selection. Invariably, you look to see what this person is holding and it's a stack of books you wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. But that's why it's a free market. That's why there's a selection of titles out there for folks to choose from. Making comments that your copy of "Near Naked Warrior Vixen" is somehow superior to my copy of "Old Fashioned Hero Guy" is a pyrrhic victory at best.

I think it's worth noting that the internet has damaged the comic market in three ways:

1) eBay has pretty much meant you can't find good back issues at your local retailer and that if you want something, you're competing with every jerk with a modem on the face of the planet
2) Only now are comic companies realizing that you shouldn't tell every detail of a comic which hasn't been released in order to sell it. Sometimes less is more
3) Message boards are filled with semi-literate, apparently unemployed goons hellbent on name-calling and making wild claims about comics they haven't even read

The comics-related internet is awash in a sea of trolls, each trying to claim that some specific moment in Captain America in 1978 was the pinnacle of the comic story-telling format. Or that Batman hasn't been worth reading since Neal Adams quit penciling the series. It's not just that these guys really liked a specific artist or creator, it's that every other comic before or since is crap, and the creators should somehow be punished.

The groundswell is dissipating now, but two to three years ago, it was decided that superhero comics should all be replaced at Marvel and DC with black and white indie comics, or European comics, and anyone who didn't agree was clearly a moron. That one was fun.

There's a constant argument about why people don't read comics anymore, and it usually centers on "how do we bring in teen-age girls?", a question which answered itself about two years ago with the Manga explosion (which Barnes & Noble and Borders have very successfully capitalized on, I might add). It's usually pointed out that comics used to have all kinds of genres, even from the big two publishers, and the finger of blame is pointed at the publishers that they gave up on romance and cowboy comics. Never once is it mentioned that maybe they quit printing those comics due to low sales. It's also forbidden to suggest that sales may be a bit low because you have to go to a comic shop to buy comics, and most comic shops are like entering a serial-killer's basement. When I see the look of fear on the face of mothers, I know something has gone horribly wrong.

Post-teen Manga readers sort of remind me of Mac Users circa 1997. To use a PC was to be a corporate whore. Anything a PC did, A Mac could do better and faster. Windows machines crash, Macs are rock solid. But at the end of the day, I was comfortable with my PC, it worked fine and it seemed like a good deal. And, of course, Manga fans are in the habit of insisting you broaden your mind and read manga, but shrug off any suggestions that American comics could hold any appeal.

This isn't a judgement call on the virtues of Manga, Leaguers. It's an observation of the conversations one sees online and the evangelical spirit of some Manga readers.

Just FYI: On the obnoxious cale, Manga fans are like a 2 out of 10. The ongoing war between Marvel Zombies and DC Fanboys is @#$%ing ludicrous.

Look, I understand brand loyalty, but even as I push DC comics here, I genuinely do have an affection for a lot of Marvel comics. I read Spidey, some FF, some Cap, Daredevil, The Pulse...

But the war spilled over from the fans grousing at each other to Marvel and DC playing hard-ball with each other. And then, weirdly, it got into the comics themselves. It's now an odd favorite of the competing companies to come up with painful analogs of familiar characters and try to insert them into their own comics. (Actually, Gruenwald probably started all of that with Squadron Supreme). As a reader, for twentyu years I enjoyed the "friendly rivalry" between Marvel and DC, but at the end of the day you knew these guys were going to grab a beer together. Now, well, it's gotten ugly. And who the hell cares about this diva nonsense? It's comic books. Shut up and write a decent story and don't use the analogs unless there's a darn good point to be made.

The fact is, nobody... I mean, NOBODY in the real world knows the damn difference between DC and Marvel. Some people sort of know the Marvel name thanks to the well-placed logo on the Spider-Man movies, but when my co-workers are trying to get hip with their resident comic geek, I get a lot of "So, Marvel's putting out a new Superman movie."

Yes, the companies have different universes and they have different house styles, etc... But it's 2 degrees of separation. It's still people in tights solving problems by clobbering each other.

The most recent surge in unpleasantness has centered around the large events being orchestrated by the Big 2. Marvel has House of M, DC has Infinite Crisis. And a lot of people are just furious about the whole thing. Especially people who haven't picked up a comic by one company or the other in a decade. The argument goes something like "I haven't read a DC Comic since (insert late-80's/ early 90's event), so I checked out (insert Infinite Crisis comic), and it wasn't exactly what I expected and wasn't exactly like the comics in 1987, so (insert expletive here) DC."

Look, your opinion counts, and you obviously didn't like the comic, but... If you haven't ever read a Superman comic since 1939, you vocally hate the character, and then you find the Superman comic you do read to not be what you expected, you don't get to say "Superman was acting out of character." It's that simple.

I think a lot of the desire to place strictures on what can and can't be in comics comes from the fact that comic readers are comic readers because they latched onto some aspect of some comic in their youth, and they're in a constant, uphill battle to reclaim that moment. And rather than accept that comics go on with or without them, finding something new and different can create an uncomfortable level of cognitive dissonance.

The bottom line for The League is that the comics world is a consumer's market. If you don't like something, don't buy it. Vote with your wallets and your feet. Nobody is forcing you to buy something you don't like. There are hundreds of comics published every month from dozens of companies. DC and Marvel may have a stranglehold on Wolverine and Batman, but you're always free to explore both old and new comics you may never have read.

Whether you like it or not, comics are always going to be published that you may not find appealing. You don't stand in line at the grocery store telling someone that Chip a Hoys suck and that you're an Oreo man. Or at least I hope not.

The internet may be a huge pain in the ass in some ways, but it's also given us the comic blogs, news sites and online previews. Sites like "Dave's Long Box", "Return to Comics" and "The Comic Treadmill" (which I need to add to my blog roll) all give me hope and make me know it can be about friendly discussion and a lot of fun. It's not all about name-calling and anonymous posturing.

The League is a firm believer that, within reason, you can do whatever the hell you want to do and enjoy whatever you want to enjoy. If you want to put on a tie and work in an office, groovy. If you want to run away and join Up with People, that's your decision. It doesn't effect me one way or another. And so it should be with your selection of reading materials.

Comics can and should be the same way, especially with as small of an audience that comics really have. Reading comics is and can be fun. And it doesn't need to be all about sitting in your hidey hole bagging and boarding your run on Ambush Bug. It's nice to have a fun discussion every once in a while.

It's an uncivilized world to begin with, the least comic fans can try to do is show a little courtesy to one another.

Go here for the last Suggestions for Further Reading

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