Tuesday, August 30, 2005

They had a melody and a beat, but the scene didn't seem complete.

It’s 8:30pm, I’m listening to a mixture of songs on iTunes (Currently Gorillaz’ “Dare”, just before that, Bibel Gilberto’s “Baby”), and my head is unraveling. I should tell you now that this column may make no sense whatsoever and should not be taken too seriously; certainly I’m not passing opinions on people passing laws. But consider yourselves warned.

(Roisin Murphy’s “Ruby Blue”, now.)

If there’s one thing that I think that everyone who pays attention to online comics commentary has discovered over the last few weeks, it’s that admitting boredom is somewhat of a social faux pas (The contrarian in me would like to point out that, if comics really were that exciting and worthy of commentary right now, then surely so many people wouldn’t waste so much time arguing about whether or not one person is allowed to be bored with comics. The contrarian in me would also like to point out that he’s aware that pointing that out is likely to get his virtual head kicked on, so perhaps he shouldn’t bother. Nonetheless). But still, I’m feeling more than a little bored with online comics commentary these days. It feels as if the last month has been home to pointless arguments on top of pointless arguments – if it’s not Heidi asking whether the American mainstream is too insular and superhero fans getting defensive, then it’s Paul saying that he’s bored and indie fans getting accusative, or Alan saying that he wants the comics industry to die and then getting defensive and accusative when people disagree and point and laugh. And what’s the one thing linking all of these together, besides the eagerness for me and others to watch (and join in on) slagging matches online?

None of them were really about anything.

In the grand scheme of things, whether Paul is bored of all comics or just superhero comics or not comics at all but the direction the majority of superhero comics have taken over the last two years, or what Alan thinks of the comics industry, or even whether Heidi thinks that the American mainstream isn’t looking outside of itself enough… none of them matter. Actually, that’s not true; Heidi started with something that outsiders should care about, but it was the start of a conversation that then got hijacked into a different, dead-end, discussion of “Runaways isn’t really a superhero book because they don’t wear outfits, and anyway, if you don’t want to read about superheroes then don’t read about them, manga lover” (And suddenly, I see the connections between Heidi’s and Paul’s shitstorms that I had missed before… That they’re both about people who would like to see mainstream superhero books look elsewhere for influences and the different sets of fans who seem to have problems with that idea. Hmm). But Paul and Alan? They were just stating their opinions, and all of a sudden everyone weighs in as if the word of God was somewhere in there. What was that all about?

I have this idea in the back of my head, heated with the fires of my fragile ego considering the near-demise of Fanboy Rampage!!!, that we’re nearing one of those changes in the online comics conversation landscape. It feels as if we’re stuck in a rut, talking about ourselves too much these days, instead of comics; that people are too entrenched in and fond of their current positions with snark and arrogance and passion to actually, you know, engage in actual conversation about the things that we read and enjoy and – perhaps more importantly - the things that we dislike and why we dislike them*. That Warren Ellis is starting up a new style of message board that seems as much non-participatory blog as it does interactive posting, makes me oddly optimistic that things are happening again for the first time in a long time.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens next, you know?

(* - This may end up being a footnote longer than the actual original text it spins out from, but that can’t be helped. Something that I’ve noticed increasingly over the last few years is the idea that “good” comics conversation should focus almost exclusively on the positive, only talking about the books and the creators that you like. It’s something that Warren Ellis has put forward more than once – I seem to remember that it’s one of the original guiding principles of Artbomb, for example – and a school of thought picked up more recently and confrontationally by specific bloggers, with Chris Allen’s infamous “if you don’t like what’s going on, don’t change the system from within, don’t elaborate on where everything’s gone wrong. Just die. Die and die again. For me. Please.” Rant being a prime example. And there’s definitely something to that way of thinking – To suffocate the unliked by removing the oxygen of publicity, to hammer the analogy to death. But isn’t it also kind of… I don’t know, lazy? Maybe I’m being old-fashioned, stupid or a fan of well-reasoned bile – And this is where you can keep your “Maybe you’re all three, and ugly, to boot” comments to yourself, dear reader – but isn’t there some value in not just ignoring what’s bad and wrong and something that should be improved, but talking about it and the ways in which it fails the critical test? A well-loved comics commentator and myself were kind of randomly emailing each other about the whole “I’m bored of comics” thing the other week and the point was suggested to me that the reason that the commentator was upset with the original column wasn’t that he thought that the boredom was a personal failing but a failing as a pundit; that it was irresponsible to ignore all of the interesting stories out there purely because they didn’t happen to intersect with the author’s personal interest in the industry. If that’s the case – and I’m not sure that it really is, to be honest; I’m as undecided about it as I am about most things – then isn’t it equally irresponsible for pundits to constantly bitch about the state of modern superhero comics, or default into the by-now-please-just-stop-it “joke” of replacing a word in any given superhero book title with the word “assrape”, without trying to articulate what’s wrong in a vaguely intelligent fashion?)

Of course, I could be wrong.

Marlena Shaw’s singing about “California Soul” now, and Kate’s almost home from work. It’s time to stop free associating, I think.