Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Apathy only ruined me.

I’m bored with comics.

No, wait. That’s the quick way to get lots of people pissed off at you, isn’t it? I forgot about that. So, you know, forget I said anything. I’m not bored of comics at all. I love comics. They’re great. No, really.

But the thing is, I’m kind of with Paul O’Brien on one thing, at least. It’s weird to see that many people’s response to “I’m bored with comics” is to immediately assume that you’re just reading the wrong comics. Is it really that impossible that someone can genuinely be bored of something, even something as broad as an entire storytelling medium? That his column – in which he didn’t actually make such a blanket statement, but I’m not really sure that matters in the grander scheme of things, once the reaction gained a certain momentum – provoked the kind of response seen in the thread linked above, which starts as backhanded “I know you’re more intelligent than X-Men readers” compliments, and moves onto less subtle insults the more he refuses to agree that, yes, his entire problem is that he’s not been reading enough Fantagraphics books, seems somewhat surreal to me, as if everyone seemed to have read a different column from each other, and have their own take on what Paul was actually saying. There’s probably more than a small element of a need for validation going on in the “If only you read [X], you would find your interest in comics reborn” comments – Not so much “Everything I read is wonderful, so follow me”, but more “But I love comics… If you don’t like them, does that mean I’m wrong?” perhaps – something that seemed backed up (to me, at least, although I know that other people who I love dearly disagree) by the passive aggressive dismissiveness that greeting O’Brien’s suggestion that, instead of necessitating reading more comics, getting bored with comics may actually be a sign that you go off and do other, non-comic-related activities altogether. The very first reply to that comment, after all, was “Some of us enjoy comics as an artform”, which felt a very defensive immediate response. Surely everyone would agree that it’s only healthy to have some kind of life outside of any hobby, right?

A common thought to those who think too much about the state of the comic industry these days is that there aren’t really any “casual” fans left, that they disappeared sometime between the time the Direct Market became the primary distribution network for comics and the time that X-Men #1 had five covers for no immediately non-money related reason. This common thought normally ends somewhere around the area of “What the medium needs to survive is more casual fans, because that’s the sign of a healthy industry.” I find it funny and kind of scary to see that the same people who are so gung-ho about opening up the industry by pushing non-superhero work that would, theoretically at least, appeal to casual readers are amongst some of the most appalled at the idea that someone can not only say that they’re bored of comics, but also entertain the idea of ditching them and going off and doing something less boring instead.

But then, I have a strange sense of humor.


Actually, there’s something else I’m kind of with Paul on. There really is an awful lot of boring superhero comics out these days, isn’t there? I’ve been reading a lot of Essential Marvel collections lately, and two things immediately come to mind about them. First off, they’re entirely unrepentant fun. There is no higher purpose to them – they make no serious claims about splitting whatever the 1972 version of the internet is in half, nor do they try and set up long-reaching continuity for the next two years. Secondly, they’re all about plot. Whatever characterization that is in there is usually glib, broad and completely secondary to whatever bad guy has to be vanquished that month. It’s not even vaguely a new idea, but reading the Essentials books really makes you wish that today’s superhero books had the same speed, direction and willingness to be stupid. Today, it sometimes feels as if all we have are superhero books that are so intent on being clever that they forget how to be readable to those who haven’t grown up with the characters.


Imagine if Roy Thomas had written House of M. First off, it'd be over in two issues, and the middle of the first issue would've been something like this:

Page 12, panel 3:
Spider-Man, sitting in bed, looking confused.
Spider-Man (Thinks): Gwendy - - alive? But I remember - -

Panel 4:
A montage – We can see the shooting of Uncle Ben, Gwen dead in Spidey’s arms, Peter and Mary Jane getting married, and Aunt May’s head.

Caption: What do you remember, Peter Parker? The false memories that the Scarlet Witch has given you in this false world…? Or the tragic deaths of your uncle and your lady love that taught you that with great power comes great responsibility… your wonderous wedding to the beautiful Mary Jane Watson… Your beloved Aunt May…? Which memories to believe, Avenger… in this world gone mad!!

Yeah, like you wouldn’t want to read that, instead of the real House of M.