The Crotchety Old Man Has Spoken: Fear & Loathing and Comic Books (updated from 2011)
I was driving north on the 15 freeway when reflection took hold…
I was on my way to work – you know, my real job, the one that actually pays – when my iPhone blew up. My webmaster was texting me, frantic about a response I received from Paul Allen to my last blog.
Paul was gracious to respond to a previous post regarding my take on Ultimate Spider-Man #1 (vol. 2). That time, as with this one, my webmaster had hit me up insisting I respond to Paul’s comment. I didn’t want to. And, as always, if I don’t want to do something a) my brain shuts down so I can’t think of how to go about doing whatever I’m trying to do, resulting in my b) being blatantly honest in order to get the job done fast, end my discomfort, and possibly diffuse (almost always negative) ramifications from said honesty. As expected, action begs reaction that begs more reaction, and…
“You got owned on your own website!” My bluetooth shouted.
“What?” – I was doing 80 while merging from right to left between big rigs in rush traffic when my webmaster decided to answer his phone. I keep my bluetooth volume amped in case of bad connections and it picks just the best moments to come in loud and clear.
“What was that?” I repeated.
“Paul Allen wrote back, man.”
“Okay,” I said “And…?”
“He basically called you a cranky old man.”
“Not bad. I expected worse,” and I was really surprised. I wasn’t waiting for a response, but after implying a general “someone” getting a figurative mouth full and swallowing, you expect something more than “cranky old man” as a retort. “Read me what he wrote.”
“Okay, verbatim: ‘To me it’s not about changing anyone’s mind, but presenting an alternate / unconsidered viewpoint and trying to clarify yours for myself. But since you’re obviously cranky about this (and a lot of things!), I won’t bother going any further.’ Dude, don’t get owned on your own website,” my webmaster said.
Real or imagined, I could feel being edged on to do something about this even though I couldn’t give a damn. Responding when I didn’t feel a need got me into this mess to start with, now I could feel the nudging against my back and taunts by schoolyard instigators pushing me into action. But as I thought about Paul’s remark, I settled into the fact that he’s right. I am cranky. I am a cranky old man. Really, I’m more than cranky, I’m just plain mad at comics.
Why shouldn’t I be, when comics have turned into the streetwalker of reading, all bright and flashy, peddling empty promises, making sure they get the money first and finish quickly; a bath and perfume spritz later, it’s back on the streets.
Why shouldn’t I be pissed when what used to cost 75 cents is now $3.99 hard or soft, taxed, but less enjoyable?
Paul speculated my comments from last week imply I want fewer “characters of color” in comics, and maybe I do. Why would I want them associated with comic books – an industry that perpetuates its readers believing they can’t relate to heroic people of color, responsible married men, or females who don’t look like porn stars, models, and playmates? Better minorities further their social acceptance in the real world, where it matters.
I’m mad about comics and why is that bad. Being angry brings change, and after a quarter century of reading comics, I’m used to being an outcast. I’m an outsider amongst social outsiders on the low rung of pop culture. I don’t like Marvel over DC; I think Bendis was better as an independent; and “The Big Bang Theory” is Chuck Lorre putting a carnival geek show on television. But, dammit, I’m starting to like that show – Sheldon is funny as hell!
I’m calm in my anger, righteous, because I know when I come from as a comic book fan, where comic books were headed, somewhere so much more, real, and fulfilling than where they are now. Comics were seduced by money and manipulated into the “oldest profession.”
Twenty-four years ago I read Watchmen, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and saw the light at the end of the tunnel when comics and comic book fans were victims of constant ridicule.
I discovered comics through book and grocery store spin racks. I bought Marvel from two different convenient stores, read Golden Age DC handed down by my older half-brother’s mother, and stole from libraries and the waiting room when visiting the doctor. I traded comics with friends for the experience of reading, not hording for profit. I held on to issues because I loved the story, not monetary value. I loved comics for the same reason I loved The Hobbit or those Choose Your Own Adventure books you bought from the book sales at school. No bags or boards because they were rolled up in my back pocket, the cover fallen off from multiple readings. No matter how much enjoyment was had from every issue, it was marred by judgment that grew worse as I aged.
Comic book readers were more openly punished for our reading choices in those days. Comics were confiscated by school teachers and principals as “inappropriate” and “immature.” Comics were not literature, and graphic novels took everyone not in the scene by surprise – “Egad, man, funny strips that look like books?!”
“Comics aren’t books,” were the constant remarks from the literate, while the non-reading “cool people” just thought we were weird, not just for reading, but reading about superheroes. It was synonymous with buying toys and watching cartoons beyond the age of 16. Things were bad back then, but in the secret places comic book readers gathered, there was a movement brewing. It was based on the dream comic books will be recognized as parable and literature, on the same level as Shakespeare and Dickens. No longer would we be scrutinized and shunned by our English teachers. That was the dream.
And I was lucky enough to see the beginning of that dream becoming a reality with Neil Gaimen’s Sandman, James O’Barr’s The Crow, and Quinn/Vigil’s Faust: Love of the Damned. These books transcended the direct market, more commonly found on the shelves at underground music stores. The books themselves were infectious. When I read them in public, instead of scorn, there was interest and excitement. Who knew comics could be that adult, sexy, violent, poetic, and rhythmic? We, the fans, knew, and when you removed the capes, cowls, and tights, other people saw it too.
Sure it was cheap how the books won people over. How could Goths not like Gaimen’s dream god and his sister, Death, when they looked like The Cure? O’Barr quoted Iggy Pop and The Doors while David Quinn and Tim Vigil’s Faust applied the limitless possibility of comics to graphic sex and violence providing sublime masturbating material. My favorite issue of Faust has the villain’s psychopathic girlfriend, Jade – a hot, psychotic black haired hardbody Courtney Love lookalike – screewing a pommel horse topped with a dildo, tastefully drawn by Tim Vigil.
Then Image, Youngblood, and the Rob Liefeld 501 commercial, DC Vertigo, Rebel Studios, Chaos! Comics, Evil Ernie, the death of Brandon Lee (RIP), and “The Crow” movie – people started talking about comics, or being intrigued anyway. Comics became artistic. They were underground punk, gothic cool, misunderstood hip.
And then the speculation market ended…
TO BE CONTINUED
The Experience Is Everything!