Saturday, May 13, 2006

Friday Anger Management

Okay. Picture this scenario.

You have been at your job, oh, four or five years. You do pretty good work; not really setting the world on fire or anything, but you bring a sense of craft and care to it, your boss is happy. So you get a promotion. A customer at your company decides he's not crazy about the service you gave him in a particular instance and starts yelling about it. You didn't actually do anything WRONG, mind you. He just was expecting something other than what he got, although you did your usual workmanlike job. He tells other people. He writes letters to your bosses and to your bosses' competitors decrying the service you gave him. He goes to company functions and industry events and spreads horrible rumors about you. Pretty soon these rumors gain enough traction, simply through the constant repetition, that you start to become seriously inconvenienced. It starts to feel like you are being stalked.

That's kind of a creepy scenario, right?

Now let's add one thing -- your profession is writing superhero comics. Add that and suddenly, well, hell, it's just another day at the office. Because this craziness is standard behavior from the audience in comics.

What the hell's that all about? Why is it not creepy when comics fans act like this?

It always gets worse at event time, and with Infinite Crisis and Civil War and 52 fresh on everyone's mind, and new X-Men and Superman movies on deck, I guess an upswing in Seething Fan Rage is only to be expected. Still, it really is reaching the point where I'm getting embarrassed for people.

I blame the internet for a lot of this. Yes, I know this is very hypocritical. I like having the internet, I spend a lot of time looking at message-board sites and news sites, I get a treemndous kick out of writing the column here... but honestly, I think I would cheerfully give up the lot of it and never look back, if I thought it would make a difference in how companies currently treat the readership. Because right now, the sense I get from reading the editorial output of the major publishers is a vague mixture of fear and contempt... as though they think of us collectively as a big stupid animal that might bite them if not kept safely placated.

Worse, I think that attitude's probably deserved in most cases. I think it was Mark Waid that said writing for comics was the only profession where every one of your customers thinks they can do a better job than you. The criticism I see on the net, over and over, is that companies don't think of the fans, they don't listen to the fans, they are mean to the fans, they are screwing the fans, they are always doing something awful to the poor fans.

Honestly? I think the fans probably had it coming.

This is the part where, reading this, I imagine you sit up a little straighter and say, "Hey, hold on there, fella, I'M a fan and I never STALKED anybody. Those people are crazy. There's nothing wrong with liking comics and wanting them to be better. I'm passionate about my likes and dislikes, is that a crime?"

Okay. Fair enough. You've never stalked anyone. Have you ever...

...suggested that a plot point in a superhero comic was 'raping your childhood'?
...bought a comic you hated, vibrated with rage the whole time you were reading it, and kept buying it even though you knew perfectly well you were going to hate it?
...badgered a creator at a convention or on an internet message board? Suggested on the internet that so-and-so should suffer bodily harm for writing a story you didn't like?

...and so on. Look, I daresay lots of us have gotten carried away about this sort of thing more than once. Lord knows I really, really hated Jim Starlin's work on Batman, and I've been pretty vociferous about it in person and in print. I'd like to think, though, that I can tell the difference between Jim Starlin the person and what Jim Starlin puts on paper. I am certain that I would never follow Jim Starlin around, trying to cut him out of jobs and badmouthing him all over the place to anyone that might employ him, suggesting that he was utterly lacking in ethics. But I know other creators who've had EXACTLY that scenario take place with zealous fans. Hell, Ron Marz probably has a whole bookful of war stories, just because he took a last-minute assignment from an editor to revamp Green Lantern in the early 90's and tried to do the best he could with it.

Understand, I am not talking about the WORK. The relative merit of "Emerald Twilight," to take the most widely-known example, has no bearing on the fact that Ron Marz didn't deserve to have a herd of lunatics yelling at him and writing crazed hate letters to him and basically stalking him for the next decade. But that's always the defense that gets offered, a sort of half-hearted, "Well, no, some of that stuff was probably out of line, but people were really REALLY UPSET ABOUT HAL JORDAN!" In other words, he was asking for it.

Horseshit. Sorry, but nobody deserves that kind of craziness. Not Ron Marz or Geoff Johns or Brad Meltzer or Dan Didio or Joe Quesada or whoever. I don't give a damn WHAT new suit they put on Spider-Man or HOW many superhero wives go homicidal. They're just comics, for God's sake. Get a grip.

Consider this. What if a lot of these controversial stories are actually the PRODUCT of fan craziness? What if DC and Marvel's constant stunting is the result of watching the sales spike every time there is a fan outcry? What if these editorial efforts to mess with your favorite characters are not coming because companies "never listen" to fans but because they are CONSTANTLY listening to you and your continual foaming-at-the-mouth complaints and they know that the more they wind you up, the better the books do, sales-wise? Jemas and Quesada were masters at this, and Dan Didio looks to be playing pretty good catch-up ball there too.

I never have cared for stunt-driven comics. And I think lately for mainstream publishers they're ALL stunt-driven comics. Those are apparently what sell. I hate the idea that they sell just because people buy them so they "know what's going on," and not because they actually like them. I can't think of anything more pathetic than grown men who spend money on books they hate simply so they can scream about them on the internet to other grown men who are just as livid. But we all know that it happens. Despite the fact that no one really seems to LIKE Civil War or Infinite Crisis or any of the other ones we've had inflicted on us in all the years since Secret Wars (which was, itself, pretty awful) nevertheless there are a lot more of them than there used to be, because they always sell. We buy them because, being crazed fans, we can't stand not knowing what's in them even if we hate them.

What worries me is that over the last decade, publishers have figured that out too, and are counting on it to prop up sales in an otherwise dying industry.

Imagine what a transformative effect it has on comics when they are designed not to placate a continuity-conscious fan base, but simply to please a reader wanting a story. Hell, we don't HAVE to imagine it, we've seen comics like that, and from mainstream publishers, even. New Frontier. Solo. Ex Machina. But they don't light up the internet, because they're just good comics. There's really nothing to do except read them and enjoy them. There's no overarcing need to make them fit into some gigantic fictional tapestry.

Try this idea on for size. Maybe it doesn't MATTER what happens with Superman or Spider-Man because they're, you know, not REAL. Maybe if we remembered that the stories would be less about the stunt and more about the story. Maybe that's a better tactic for getting the comics you want than the current one of buying a lot of crap and then freaking out all over the internet about it.

We've had a couple of decades' worth of vocal fan involvment with the industry. Maybe it's time to go back to the older model, the one most other forms of entertainment media use -- the one of being a passive audience, voting only with our pocketbook and nothing else. Because, as much as I enjoy being a comics fan in touch with my fellow fans all over the world, I can't help noticing that the books seem to suffer for it.

See you next week.

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28 Comments:

Blogger Greg said...

Oh, Greg - don't poke the bear!!!!

To answer your questions: no, no, and no. I have bought books that have made me vibrate with rage, but only because I didn't know they would, and I didn't buy the rest of the series. Daughters of the Dragon is a good example - I keep reading that the subsequent issues have been good, but the first issue put me so far off my lunch I haven't looked back.

The idea you put forth about comics comes from the fact that it is an entertainment business. I would say that there are obsessive movie fans and there are certainly obsessive sports fans who act this way. It's the nature of the business - just watch a sporting event where the athletes are by far the best in the world and listen to the fans claim they could do it better. At least some comics fans could actually write comics, but I very much doubt that many sports fans could hit a 3-2 slider with the bases loaded and 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth. Yet they claim they could.

I agree that we need to lighten up. They are just fiction, after all. But still - why are you poking the bear?????

5/13/2006 08:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Eli said...

What if a lot of these controversial stories are actually the PRODUCT of fan craziness? What if DC and Marvel's constant stunting is the result of watching the sales spike every time there is a fan outcry? What if these editorial efforts to mess with your favorite characters are not coming because companies "never listen" to fans but because they are CONSTANTLY listening to you and your continual foaming-at-the-mouth complaints and they know that the more they wind you up, the better the books do, sales-wise?

Thank you! If this paragraph could just be tattooed on the brains of every internet superhero comics fan, I think a lot of problems would be solved.

5/13/2006 08:32:00 PM  
Blogger Apodaca said...

I'm one hundred percent behind you, Greg.

And one thing I don't get about the excuse of wanting to know what's going on with a character, is why people think that in this day and age, they have to even buy the book to know. Thanks to the internet, all that information goes public the moment the first issue is read. Hell, I can tell you what happens in House of M, Identity Crisis, and Brubaker's Captain America, and I've never even glanced at a single issue of any of them.

I never had to. I got full story breakdowns, opinions from both sides, and selected page scans all along the way, thanks to ye old internet.

5/13/2006 09:39:00 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Greg, you are right on the money. They are just comics, and these are real people (the writers, I mean, not Superman).

That said, it's perfectly legitimate to criticize art, so long as it remains about the art.

Have I ever continued to buy a comic that enrages me on a monthly basis? Hell yeah. New Avengers. And though I may be unwavering in my belief that Bendis sucks on this book, I'm certainly not about to send hate mail or stalk the man.

But it is my God-given right to parody, critique, and snark about said piece of work on the Internet.

But you most certainly have a point.

5/13/2006 10:20:00 PM  
Blogger ninjawookie said...

Ha! i used the He raped my childhood line just recently, but that was in reference to a customer...hmmm



Speaking of New Frontier- did anyone notice that there will be an Absolute edition?

paying $75 -($150 Aust) for something and knowing it isn't going to suck, but rock is a good feeling.

5/13/2006 11:46:00 PM  
Blogger Bry Kotyk said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying what needs to be said. Again and again, until it finally works its way into the even the thickest of skulls. Fan Entitlement Syndrome has gotten obscenely out of hand - you can't even type "JMS" online without packs of rabid fanboys circling in to verbally maul the man (in complete anonymity, of course), undoubtedly smashing their keyboards to pieces in fits of white hot rage. It's beyond pathetic.

If a creator comes onto one of my favourite titles and puts out work I don't enjoy, I stop reading it. I don't start letter-writing campaigns, or have multiple hissy-fits on every internet forum I can find, or email the company and/or creator with demands and ultimatums and death threats. Y'know, because I'm not a raving sociopath. Just drop the stuff you don't enjoy and find something else that you do. Trust me, you'll be much happier for it (and so will the rest of us).

5/14/2006 02:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Aaron Kashtan said...

That was an excellent essay, Greg, and I hope people take it to heart. However, I don't like the idea of comics fans becoming a passive audience. I think interaction between creators and fans is good for both parties, in general. The ideal solution is for fans to treat creators with common decency, and to show some gratitude for the opportunity to interact with them. This is a bit idealistic, but we can all do our part to help it come to pass.

"I think it was Mark Waid that said writing for comics was the only profession where every one of your customers thinks they can do a better job than you."

Unlike being an executioner, which is the only profession in which every one of your customers would rather they were doing the job instead of you, regardless of whether they could do it better...

5/14/2006 02:50:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

"But still - why are you poking the bear?????"

Because the bear needs to be poked. And muzzled, and tranqued, and shot.

It shows how much better a writer than me Greg is that he's able to say in one column what I was trying to say with my entire series of "Understanding Fanboys" entries: they're behaving like maniacs, and it needs to stop.

5/14/2006 10:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hm. Answering the questions: no, no and no. And picturing the original scenario, with the workman and customer, if I, as a customer am dissatisfied with the service I receive, I can make a complaint to the Better Business Bureau. If it's a product that I'm dissatisfied with, I can return it. I can do neither of these things with comics and expect a result.

So, basically until I can do either of these things I feel that I and everyone else has the right to complain about crappy, unsatisfying work.

5/14/2006 11:18:00 AM  
Blogger --Greg Hatcher said...

I agree that we need to lighten up. They are just fiction, after all. But still - why are you poking the bear?????

Um... I guess because the bear really pissed me off this week; message-board antics aimed at a good friend of mine, no need to get into it. But it was emblematic of the insane arrogance and completely out-of-proportion anger I've seen over and over for the last ten years.

I've had this particular column percolating in my head for a while though.

5/14/2006 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger Bry Kotyk said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5/14/2006 01:12:00 PM  
Blogger Bry Kotyk said...

"And picturing the original scenario, with the workman and customer, if I, as a customer am dissatisfied with the service I receive, I can make a complaint to the Better Business Bureau. If it's a product that I'm dissatisfied with, I can return it. I can do neither of these things with comics and expect a result."

There's a very important difference between a product or personal service and a product that is artistic in nature, you must realise. Art is subjective in nature - it's not an appliance that has to work one way or else it's "broken". And of course, what's subjective doesn't tend to come with a guarantee of satisfaction. Or are you one of those people who demands their money back at the video store if you rent a movie you don't enjoy?

I'll say it again: if you're not enjoying a title, then stop buying it. Any complaints one might have about a creator's work come across as rather hollow if they continue tossing money at them every month.

5/14/2006 01:14:00 PM  
Blogger Craig said...

Been thinking along the same lines for a while now. Nice post.

Of course, there are some out there that will tell you It's Still Real To Me, DAMMIT!

5/14/2006 01:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bry Kotyk: Naw, I don't rent movies. And I don't buy comics from creators whose work I don't enjoy. But If I try one without taking the time to read every single panel on every single page in-store, which is often, and end up buying one I wish I could return, I feel ripped off. And I don't think anyone who's dissatisfied with something they've spent money on should have to keep quiet because it might hurt the creator's feelings. Or, to use your movie analogy, if anyone went to a movie, as a critic or just casually, and didn't like it, they're free to comment on it, in praise or otherwise. Same with tv. Read Television Without Pity, for instance. Not all comments gush with praise and negative feedback is a valid critical response, whether it's to your taste or not.

5/14/2006 01:33:00 PM  
Blogger Bry Kotyk said...

Anonymous:

Understood and agreed, to a point. I'm certainly not saying that fans and customers shouldn't have the right to a piece of work they paid for and were disappointed by. But mature, rational criticism is a far damn cry from the ornery wailings of much of online comics fandom.

The comment of yours that irked me was this: "I can do neither of these things with comics and expect a result". What "result" is this, exactly? To some (and I'm definitely not describing you in particular), personally disliking the work JMS is doing on "Amazing Spider-Man" is enough for them believe and expect that their desire for satisfaction means that he must be fired, that Marvel must hire a writer that better suits their tastes and/or sensibilities, as if they must be consulted personally about every storyline and plot detail beforehand because they plunk down three bucks a month. And that, of course, is completely insane.

Every reader/customer/fan has different tastes, and you can't hope to please everyone at the same time. Mature, rational, sane readers accept that and move on to something they actually enjoy. The rest? Well, their actions inspire articles like this one, I guess...

5/14/2006 01:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bry - The result would be a refund, hopefully, or an exchange. In-store credit, that sort of thing. I think that's only fair.

5/14/2006 02:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is one other style of profession where you can see a similar fan reaction.
College and Pro Sports.
Just listen to the average AM radio talk show after a local team game and you will see, the "customer" acts about the same.

5/14/2006 02:31:00 PM  
Blogger Bry Kotyk said...

Anonymous:

Again, though, something as subjective as art (whether that be music, film, comics, or television) doesn't come with a guarantee of satisfaction. To return to the video store example for a minute, is it reasonable for a customer to expect their money back simply because they didn't enjoy a movie they rented? "Big Momma's House 2" just came out, and while in my mind it's guaranteed to be awful, it's still sure to be a popular rental. Tastes differ. Movies - and comics, of course - have enough information available online that one should be able to make an informed decision before they bring the product up to the check-out counter. I just don't see why everyone but the customer should be responsible for an individual's poor choice of purchase.

And, just out of curiousity, who do you think should cover the cost of this refund/exchange policy? The store? The publisher? The creators? After all, once you've brought the comic home and flipped through it, it's can't honestly be placed back on the shelf and sold as a new product anymore. What if a customer were to accidentally or unknowingly damage the comic somehow before they returned it because "it sucked"? It's not as simple as one might think, really.

I've got plenty of single issues that I've collected over the years that I didn't enjoy. That's just the risk one takes with a blind purchase. I understood that, and from there chose not to buy the next issue. (And really, it's three bucks. That's hardly worth sweating over.)

5/14/2006 02:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll just make some quick responses, I don't want to take over the whole thread.

I think the publisher should cover the cost of returns/exchanges.

There should be limits of course. Say within one week of purchase date, no visible damage. I tend to treat my comics fairly carefully so I don't view this as a problem. And it does hold the consumer to some responsibility.

Also, I'm not in the States so the issues I tend to buy are a bit more that 3 bucks. More like $5 and change. With two bad issues you're out $10 plus another two seventy-five for the subway and at that point it's a little irritating.

5/14/2006 03:48:00 PM  
Blogger Jake said...

I can't return a CD I didn't end up liking. I can't return a DVD I didn't like. I can't return a book to Barnes and Noble if I didn't end up liking it.According to their policies, I can only exchange it for the exact same CD/DVD/Book. Just the way it is. You take a risk every time you exchange money for goods or services. You can calculate the risk based on the author, band, actor, genre, or subject matter, but once you buy it, tough shit if you don't like it. Maybe you shouldn't buy the next issue. If I don't have the "right" to return these sorts of artforms because I simply didn't "like" it, I don't see why I should be able to return a comic book.

5/14/2006 06:36:00 PM  
Anonymous JR said...

1)Seriously? No As a snarky joke in response to someone who genuinely believed such? Possibly (though I think it was a bit about being haunted by the spectre of the Adam West tv show rather than the overused "raped your childhood") 2)No 3)No

A refund/exchange policy could theoretically alieviate some of the anger, and would likely drastically change the market, which is why it's not going to happen. Most video game stores, along with several dvd/cd, and some book stores do offer buyback/trade-in programs though, where at the very least you can use the cash or credit towards something you'd like more. Though it should be pointed out that you'd only get about a quarter or so, which is funny example of a what a product costs vs what the public at large thinks it should cost.

But even if something like that were around I doubt it would make any huge dent in fan anger levels. As it's been pointed out, comics aren't the only venue that has a feverish fandom like this. Sports were mentioned, but I think a closer example would be the television soap opera fandom and the wrestling fandom. Like in comics (or mainstream comics rather) you have something that's formatted to ongoing, seemingly never-ending dramas. And both of these are known to have a number of fans who cannot seperate the character from the performer who plays them. Thus you end up with wrestler's getting their tires slashed or their property vandalized and little old ladies beating on flabergasted actors in supermarket grocery stores. Yet, unlike comics you can experience both soaps and wrestling for free! So I don't believe cost is the sole cause of anything here.

I kind of wonder if there's something inherent in the "never ending drama" format that sparks or influences or encourages the behavior in some sense. Might be interesting fodder for a costly but usually pointless study for a collage kid or something.

5/14/2006 07:09:00 PM  
Blogger Edward Liu said...

The one possibility that goes unmentioned in your original post is that these things sell because they are genuinely popular, and the Internet comics fandom is only a small minority of overall fandom that has little or no effect on actual sales.

I've heard people talking about how great "Infinite Crisis" or whatever the latest crossover thing was in my local comic shop in suburban New Jersey, while these same stories tend to get universally reviled on most sectors of the Internet. Lots of places on the Internet will gush about Dan Slott's comics, but "She-Hulk" and "Thing" still aren't selling a third of what the latest Bendis thing is.

There are Internet wackos out there who take their comics hobby way too seriously, and there are event comics that seem to sell like gangbusters despite nearly universal fanboy frothing on the Internet. The fact that some comics sell despite near-universal Internet scorn and other comics don't despite near-universal Internet acclaim indicates to me the Internet really doesn't affect the companies' way of thinking a whole lot.

Besides, there are wacky people in comics fandom, but I haven't heard of too many actual stalkings in the comic book industry. Go read about Dave Letterman's encounters with stalkers to get a sense of how really truly creepy people can be.

5/15/2006 11:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Mat said...

i'm sort of dumbfounded that a very reasonable and smart column about extreme fan overreaction has a commenter actually advocating a RETURN POLICY ON COMIC BOOKS YOU DON'T LIKE.

that's kind of insane.

i am not greg, but what I took away was that the personal idiotic attacks on creators are silly. NOT that discussing the negative merits of a book is silly. when things get whipped up into a fuzz, it almost always gets ugly. and it can happen FAST. and it is very nuts.

instead of expecting a return on a book you don't like, may I humbly suggest ebay? list it at a penny with a $1 shipping. if it's a recent and at all popular book, i think you stand a good shot of making some of your money back.

the other random idea I once had is that comic shops should have a "leave a book, take a book" box for just this purpose. nothing insane, just come in, leave one book you don't want, and take one that looks interesting for you FROM the box, obviously. it'd have to be monitored slightly so it isn't abused--say, some fella coming in ten times in one day or something. put it by the register.

but I bought an issue of Slott's The Thing that didn't really toast my bread, and I'd love to be able to exchange it in my store for something else interesting to me. NOT that the owner should incur that expense. but hell, a box is just a box, and while that book didn't jazz me, it might jazz someone else.

5/15/2006 04:09:00 PM  
Blogger Dweeze said...

I think it was Mark Waid that said writing for comics was the only profession where every one of your customers thinks they can do a better job than you.

Then Mark Waid (or whoever said it) never worked in a restaurant.

5/15/2006 05:27:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Arndt said...

What the heck does this have to do with Good Comics?

Fan behavior? Stalking writers? Writers' security or jobs?

feh.

5/15/2006 09:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Jason said...

I think the original post is onto something regarding the rabid and dissatisfied fans driving sales. But, has it ever seemed like that those same super-obsessed nimrods are also the ones that don't really don't want their favorite characters to change from the way they were when those nimrods were kids? Make some real and interesting change about anything to do with the X-Men or Batman, and those very nimrods go, in psychiatrists' definition, "apeshit". If the comics can't be any different 20 or 30 years ago, it's going to take gimmicks like Civil War and Infinite Crisis to generate enough buzz for anyone to pay attention. Very sad.

5/16/2006 10:38:00 PM  
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