Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Variations on a theme; or, why we buy comics

I made another trip to my local comic book store today, or, as I like to call it, Bizarro-World. I was there to drop off my Previews order for January. Why should you care? Well, as usual, strange things were afoot at Greg's Comics.¹ First, here's a peek at some of the books I pre-ordered:

The Atheist #4
Expatriate #6
Fell #5
Gødland #7
Down #3
Marlene #1
Action Figure #1
Tales Designed to Thrizzle #2
Cyclone Bill and the Tall Tales GN
Free Fall #3
Past Lies GN
The Surrogates #4
The Middleman Vol. 2 #1

Now, this is in addition to my DC and Marvel purchases: Ultimate Extinction (yes, I'm buying it because I'm a sucker); Ultimate X-Men (possibly); that new Ares mini-series I might buy (haven't made up my mind yet); Black Widow; Daredevil; Daughters of the Dragon (again, maybe); Nextwave; She-Hulk; X-Men; X-Factor (probably); Catwoman (more than likely); Seven Soldiers; Desolation Jones; Team Zero; Planetary; Fables; DMZ.

The point is not to bore you to tears with my reading list, but to give you an idea about what I will be buying. Yes, I buy a LOT of monthly books. I get a LOT of mainstream stuff as well as some less corporate stuff. So I stroll into the store, where the owner is hanging out with another regular. I mention that I missed pre-ordering Down #2 and I was hoping he could get it for me. It's a Warren Ellis Top Cow book, in case you're wondering, and it looks decent enough - the first issue isn't out yet, so who knows. Then I picked up Infinite Crisis #1 and flipped through it. I mentioned that I have no interest in it, and the owner said, and I quote, "You're not interested in the best thing DC has put out in years?" I said I doubted very much whether it was. They mocked me. I mentioned that I hadn't read it, so it might be good, but I couldn't believe that it was really that excellent - as Brian pointed out in his quote post last week, more than one person has pointed out that this is a comic about how shitty DC comics have been recently. Anyway, the other regular customer, mocking me, said it's better than a Warren Ellis Top Cow book that won't ship on time. I said that judging books on whether they ship on time is a poor criterion. I then said that I had no interest in spending money on all the various mini-series leading up to this mini-series just to read about Old Superman ranting about how comics suck. I also said I gave up on the whole thing because Identity Crisis sucked so bad. This was akin to, I don't know, saying I had sex with their mothers, because they mocked me some more. Arrrggghhh! It was time for me to go.

Those of you who have read my ranting before can see where this is going. I'm not going to bash anyone who reads Infinite Crisis. I haven't read it, so I can't really speak to its quality. I'm not even going to bash anyone who read Identity Crisis, even though I personally think it was one of the worst comic books published in the past decade. To each his own, right? I listen to Bon Jovi. Who the hell am I to talk?

But, as usual, I have thoughts. I wonder about why we buy comics and what we expect from them. I started buying comics in 1988, when I was 17, and originally, I bought superhero comics with familiar characters - Batman and Spider-Man. I liked Batman from my youth, and I used to watch Spider-Man on The Electric Company, for crying out loud!² I gradually branched out into other superheroes and the very occasional independent title, but for years, I was reading superhero stuff. Again, there's nothing wrong with that. As I got older and picked up, say, Sandman, then Shade, then Doom Patrol, then Preacher, The Spectre, and others (but still stuff from the Big Two), I began to see the possibilities of the medium. Comics are a wonderful art form, and that's why I love them. You can do things in comics you simply CANNOT do in other media. Can you imagine trying to do any of the long-form serials I listed above as movies? You can't. You can't do them as straight fiction, either - if you read the "novelizations" of some of the big comic book events, they don't hold up that well. Comics are perfectly suited for telling all kinds of stories, and that's why eventually I started buying other kinds of those comics. Why limit myself?

Here's what I don't understand about the people at my comic book store and those like them (the large section of the comic-buying public, I imagine): why do they ONLY read superhero books? What's the point? Despite my love and obvious purchasing of superhero books, aren't they adolescent fantasies? I mean, aren't they? Do these people read only Harry Potter books and when presented with other kinds of literature say no thanks and mock those who do buy them? Arrrggghhh!

The biggest problem I have with the Infinite Crisis thing is that I'm not quite sure what the point is. Does DC want to make comics more light-hearted? Is that the point? Maybe it is, because it seems that every character who comments on the events that are happening bemoan how horrible the world has become. Uh, DC? Here's a thought to address that: Don't publish a comic in which a defenseless pregnant woman is murdered after it was revealed she was raped years ago. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Is the point of this whole thing to completely redo the DC Universe? How? By making Batman even more paranoid than he used to be? By making Wonder Woman - who used to be an ambassador who would teach the world how to live in peace like the Amazons - a murderer? I don't mean to belittle the whole thing (well, not much), but I honestly wonder about these things. Is it really the best thing DC has published in years? I should have said, "Yeah, since 'Hush,' I guess," but I wasn't quick enough. Damned esprit d'escalier!

Anyone who reads my rants knows that I think superheroes are awesome. Guess what? Superheroes don't start and stop with Batman and Wolverine. Noble Causes is blowing anything by DC and Marvel out of the water right now, and that's straight-forward superhero goodness. I just got through the 18-issue hardcover of Runaways. Man, it's good. Sure, it goes off the rails a bit at the end, but for the most part, it's excellent. And guess what else? Superheroes are NOT everything we can do with comics. I know I've said that before, but it's astonishing how so many people are too busy debating whether or not Wolverine can clip his fingernails or if his healing factor prevents it to notice. Arrrggghhh!

I've said before that in a few months, I'm going to read all the mini-series dealing with the Crisis. I hope it's good. I really do, because I don't want any comics to suck. I refuse to pick on someone because they read only Marvel comics. I refuse to pick on someone who thinks the latest iteration of the Avengers is the best one yet because it had Spider-Woman in it and she's a HOTTIE! I just can't believe that those kinds of people think that comics readers who aren't necessarily buying only superhero books are somehow deficient. Isn't it all about trying to grow the MEDIUM, not just a sub-genre of it?

Sigh. I'll shut up now, at least for another couple of months. I'm sure something will set me off again. Why do you guys buy comics? Have you ever thought about it?

¹ No, I don't own the store. That would be awesome.
² Sing it with me: "Spider-Man, where are you coming from, Spider-Man? Nobody knows who you are!"

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Blogger kelvingreen said...

Is that the Bizarro World in Davis? I have a friend who occasionally shops there.

Nothing else. Just a "small world" observation.

Well... except that the impression my mate gives me about the shop means that I'm not surprised that they ridiculed you for nothing.

11/22/2005 12:40:00 AM  
Blogger Alicia said...

I've never understood comics and hobby shops that will carry product, then rip on the customer's urge to buy it. I usually stop patronizing such places after such an incident.

Oh, by the way, new blogger, inspired by your stuff, etc. etc.

11/22/2005 05:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Mike Loughlin said...

Well, it depends if his fingernails are also bonded to adamantium.

Recently, I went into a local comic book shop I don't frequent often. I got a couple comics, and the guy at the register (who looks kind of like Comic Book Guy on the Simpsons) let me know they were having a special on a recent Punisher tpb. I said "Huh," and the guy tried to pressure me into buying it.

I said "No thanks," and he kept up the pressure. Being a comic book geek with opinions on everything that I can't always keep to myself, I let him know I have not been very impressed with Garth Ennis' recent work outside of War Story. He looked at me like I was insane, and proceeded to argue with me about my opinion!

Some people, I guess, have the need to be RIGHT, especially in their own, small kingdom. I walked away, letting the cashier sit on his throne smugly, and bask in the glow of being King of the Dorks (lower Northeast chapter).

11/22/2005 08:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Eric Grant said...

My theory is that superheroes dominate comics because its the only medium which can do them justice (although advances in video games and movies are changing that, and may come close to killing superhero comics).

The converse is that people who crave superhero content will seek it in comics, but will consume all other types of stories elsewhere, assuming non-superhero comics are a mismatch of subject and medium.

Fingr nails aren't living tissue, so Wolvie wouldn't have any trouble cutting them, although if he were regenerating injuries to his hands/fingers, I expect they would grow extra fast and be hard to keep trimmed during that period. Same goes with his beard.

11/22/2005 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

The comic store I went to last week was the opposite kind, where they are of the pretentious side. I came to the counter with DMZ, Local and All-Star Superman. The counterpeople said "Wow, thank you for buying good comics" with a totally elitist air. "So many people here buy such bad comics." I guess the implication was that if I came to the counter with Infinite Crisis or X-Men I'd get scoffed at. Then I had to listen to them rave nonstop about All Star Superman instead of checking me out.

11/22/2005 10:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hm. I guess the reason why I buy comics is kind of lame: I like the frequency. It's kind of nice to think that every week there'll be a dozen or so new issues of varying quality that I can go and read through fairly quickly.

I like superhero books because I grew up buying from the newsstand. I'm not real familiar with the world of independent comics aside from what I read in the "Palmer's Picks" section of WIZARD from when I was a teenager, so when I buy an independent book it's fairly random. Like I'll buy an issue of Optic Nerve or something by Chester Brown or Seth or Daniel Clowes because I remember Tom Palmer Jr. doing a favourable article on it but I'm not familiar with it as part of a "scene", so I oftentimes miss the titles it might take a bit more effort to find.

But getting back to the original question, I like comics as a medium because I'm pretty much guaranteed that I can find at least one thing to interest me any given month.

11/22/2005 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

I wish I went to your shop, T. Then I could talk about haberdashery and the irony of my spectacles with the shopkeepers.

Regardless, I buy comics because I like them. And I hardly buy that many, because I'm cheap, and I'm an elitist bastard. I consider myself lucky that the local shop carries any indies at all, and so I pick up the stuff I hear good things about. Sometimes this pays off, sometimes it doesn't.

Superheroes are awesome, yes. But you don't see me eating peach pie and watching Chuck Norris movies every day, do you? Right, yes, I know, Chuck Norris movies suck. Except Sidekicks. That was hilarious.

I forgot my point.

Oh, right. Comics? They're awesome. But just reading superhero comics is like, as someone said, only reading nurse novels.

11/22/2005 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

I don't have any problems with people reading only superhero comics, as long as they are willing to let them BE superhero comics. My problem is when people decide that they want something more adult, yet can't give up superhero comics, so they decide to make the superhero comics more adult to match their age, basically screwing them up for the next generation of fans, the kids.

So if someone wants to read nonstop Popeye comics through adulthood, fine. But if that person starts demanding that Bluto should rape Olive Oyl when kidnapping her just to make it more "realistic," then I say that's a good time to diversify into other genres.

11/22/2005 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Kelvin - no, it's in Mesa, AZ. Sorry!

The frequency of comics is definitely not a lame reason to buy them, Anonymous. It's actually a pretty good one. The idea that you can get a story (or even part of one) as a monthly serial is pretty cool.

And that's an interesting point, T., and I know there are plenty of places that are snotty when you buy superhero comics. That's just as bad, and I know it occurs. I don't want this to be a indy vs. corporate thing again, but I really don't understand why people who read comics feel the need to denigrate others who also read comics. It's fine to bash the product (like Identity Crisis or Super F*ckers or even Owly), but to look down on someone for their choices is kind of silly. If you're a fan of comics, you should be happy when people buy comics and discuss their merits, good or bad. I don't get the guys at my store thinking I'm crazy for buying Rex Mundi, and I don't get the guys at other stores thinking T. (or anyone else) is crazy for buying straight superheroes. I could say "Man, that Green Lantern: Rebirth really sucks," but I'm not going to say you're an idiot for buying it. What good does that do?

11/22/2005 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger Mo Soar said...

Pretty similar order list you put in and I have the same feeling about Ares - it COULD be good. Or, ummm, not.

I read comics as a kid (mostly FF and Avengers), gave up when I turned about 14 or 15 and discovered rock'n'roll and boys (pretty much in that order), and now, 25 years later, am reading comics again. I read mostly Image, Marvel, WildStorm/Vertigo and very, very little DCU stuff. Why? Because when I started reading comics again, DC was in the middle of Identity Crisis or whatever that was and I didn't want to get involved in a huge crossover. And apparently that crossover didn't have enough scale, because now they've got a bigger one going. Fine; wake me when it's over and I'll think about poking my toe in the DCU waters.

As far as Marvel and the crossover, I read around the edges at Marvel and that does not include any X title (except Deadpool and Some Other Guy, which I read for the Recap and Letters pages) so House of M didn't affect me much, although I did read - and bitch - about it, since it allegedly featured the "classic" Avengers. If it had been a film, they'd have been lucky to get cast credits.

I can't imagine doing business at a store that treated customers that way - I think it's a guy thing, though, because I often feel the same way about auto parts stores - they have staff that are both rude and unhelpful (and I know what I'm doing around cars).

11/22/2005 12:43:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

The funny thing is, the guy actually liked the comics I was buying and it still bothered me because it was the snotty way he said it, like we were part of some elite clique of people with superior tastes. On the other hand, if he was just saying he liked or disliked the books I was buying but in a nonjudgmental way I'd have no problem with that. That's just good, healthy comics discussion.

Funny story: a friend of mine told me that he went into a comic store and asked for a manga book. The counterperson told him "Sorry, we only stock good comics." Now THAT'S obnoxious! :)

11/22/2005 01:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Eli said...

So if someone wants to read nonstop Popeye comics through adulthood, fine. But if that person starts demanding that Bluto should rape Olive Oyl when kidnapping her just to make it more "realistic," then I say that's a good time to diversify into other genres.

The idea of an IDCrisis-ized Popeye is going to haunt me now til the day I die. Right now I'm imagining close-ups of Wimpy's troubled face overlaid by colored narration boxes:




11/22/2005 06:46:00 PM  
Blogger Ichiban Sensei said...

I like what you're saying here. Comics really are a unique medium and the artistic expression can be fantastic. Think about it, where else can you buy first edition artwork -- and good lookin' stuff, too-- at $2, $3, or $4?

11/22/2005 07:02:00 PM  
Blogger ninjawookie said...

I work at a comic store, i get frustrated at people who don't like trying new things and buy one sort of thing whether it be marvel or dc, or even just one type of indie comic.

But i guess to each their own.


I used to read comics for superheroes, then it became about the art, then when i discovered sandman it was about the writing, now it's a healthy mix of everything that makes comics as a medium great.

Like realising that art and words have mixed so well together that one becomes fully immersed for more.

Maybe if they were less expensive more people would be picking up more than just the same thing.

11/22/2005 10:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Aya Ayuvara said...

Wow, thanks a lot for this rant. :)
I am now 27 and after having stopped, or rather paused, reading comics for 5 or 6 years I recently started again.

I don't really feel so alone anymore now, even if no one around me does quite understant what I see in reading comics. I like the medium. The combination of art and story, where these things must go well together and if one part of it is bad, the comic is bad. I like the focus on action scenes, but I also read comics that do it differently, like for example Revelation or Fell.

I like it and I wouldn't stop doing it only because some people think I am stupid or something.

11/23/2005 04:38:00 AM  
Anonymous chris said...

A little quote from High Fidelity that explains it all:

A while back, Dick, Barry and I agreed that what really matters is WHAT you like, not what you ARE like. Books, records, films – these things matter! Call me shallow, it’s the fucking truth.

11/23/2005 05:54:00 PM  
Anonymous scott hassler said...

identity crisis the worst comic in 10 years? ummm.....no. not even close. your just being elitist yourself when you say that by joining the oh so popular "diss the really popular thing" crowd.

greatest thing since sliced bread or preacher? no, but far far far from the worst comic in 10 years. or was i the only one who bought issues 0 and 1 of the new invaders a few years back?

personally i liked identity crisis. i thought it was exceptional. i also am really digging infinite crisis. i think it to is exceptional. but if i had to trim my buy list, and fortunately at this point i dont, i would get rid of all superhero comics first. im definitely a indy crime, horror, action, sci-fi guy first. but i do loves me my superheros as well.

and there are plenty of superhero comics out there for fans of all ages. i give away comics to my cousins kids and my niece every time i see them, they are very young and i have no trouble getting comics appropriate for their age. i definitely wouldnt give them id crisis.

im sorry some people dont think superhero comics should grow up along the way. i do, and i like them that way. of course im 36 years old and dont read teen titans go, but i do get them for my young relatives. okay, maybe i do flip through ttg.....:) but only cuz im buying it for them!

anyways, point is, there is a market for adult themed superhero comics, and a publisher will publish to a market. thats just a simple numbers game.

i like your blog alot. thus far it is my fave that ive found on the web. but bashing elitism and then climbing on your high horse and dismissing idcrisis as horrible is pretty hypocritical. im starting to smell a true believer here......

11/25/2005 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Scott - thanks for the kind words, but I'd like to disagree with you on one point - I don't hate Identity Crisis because I'm elitist, I hate it because I think it's awful. If anyone else liked it, that's fine, but I don't think it's hypocritical to say that I like superhero comics and independent stuff and then hating Identity Crisis.

11/25/2005 02:11:00 PM  
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