Apr 3, 2013

Pop Medicine: Don't Listen

Pop Medicine is a "visiting" column by Travis Hedge Coke for the Comics Cube! Click here for the archive!

Don’t Listen: Things Comics Fans Say You Should Ignore
Pop Medicine
Travis Hedge Coke

So, you like comics and you want to talk to other people about comics. You can go find a comics shop, keep an eye out for people around town who look like they might read comics, bug your significant other into reading it so they can talk about it with you, and you can go online and find various forums and communities. All of these are valid. Most of them will present you, eventually, with the nine positions detailed below, and all of them are damaging. They damage the person using them, they damage comics culture as a whole, and they damage you if you take them seriously or just for having to weather them.

1. This comic needs to be read repeatedly to enjoy it.

There’s a joke about reviews that say an album “improves with repeated listens,” that says it’s just code for “crap, but make yourself learn to like it.” That’s stretching it a bit (it is a joke), but the idea that you can’t have a basic idea about a comic based on just reading it, is silly. If it doesn’t grab you at all, the first time, it may likely never grab you, even if you later appreciate the technical skill or whatever the talent attempted with it. It may improve with rereads, you may gain more, but you ought to be able to enjoy it the first read, if you actually read it, and don’t either skim through, read it with a predetermined plan of what it will/should be, or just glance at the cover, remember some online crank saying the writer was on drugs and the artist is lazy and call it a day.

A lot of people who say this, I think, mean that it improves, they just say the other. Some sad few, who can be quite loud about it, came onto that comic with a predetermined idea of what it would be, and can only see that, even if it isn’t true. But, then, you may encounter people who’ll tell you how complicated and mindblowing, and senseless something is, only to find out they’ve never read it, they just read a wiki summary or an Amazon review.

2. Don’t read this comic until you’ve read all these other comics.

I’ve covered my distaste for the perceived necessity of prep comics, before, for the idea that you need to study up, work your way up to reading a fiction comic. Most comics, even those that are serialized, should stand on their own, especially if they’re clearly marked as a solitary volume, as a complete story. If they fail to give you the basics, like names and clear roles, developments and a basic, satisfactory, movement in the story or situation, if they fail to entertain, it’s likely not because you didn’t read the six hundred issues that proceeded it or haven’t studied astrophysics (or speed read the phys.org article the writer was paraphrasing). You don’t need prep to read Watchmen. You don’t need prep to read a Deadpool trade or Foxtrot collection.

Year One is one of the first Batman comics I ever read, if not the first. It scared the hell out of me. The wobbly lines and dank colors that make up the scene of Gordon walking up grubby steps, afraid to wipe his nose, to talk down a terrified schizophrenic with hostages did my head in, and my stomach. And I learned to love Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne from that comic. I didn’t know if certain names came from earlier comics, or if this dialogue related to a previous story, this scene reflected a development later in the bat-story, but published ten years before. No clue. I didn’t need a clue. I didn’t need a guide to enjoy it.

My grandpa didn’t start reading Preacher until somewhere around War in the Sun. The first Urusei Yatsura my oldest niece read was Ran Attacks. I don’t even know what order the events of Walt Simonson’s Thor run go in chronologically, or the sequence of events between the Pogo collections I read as a kid. How many daily or weekly comic strips did you really come onto with the first strip? In your life?

3. Remembering Trivia Proves You Enjoy a Comic.

This isn’t limited to comics, definitely not. But it is pervasive in English-speaking comics communities, because in English-speaking communities, in general, comics are currently fairly niche, even if awareness of them is not. Some sub-genre groups get this way, too. Star Wars fans can flip out on your ass if you don’t know a billion little points of trivia derived from tie-in novels or the back of cereal boxes. I’m amazed when I retain absolutely silly factoids or can pick out of the air the accurate issue number of a story I read fifteen years ago, once. Some are worse than me; they can’t retain the names of every woman Peter Parker ever dated, they read Blondie once or thrice a month, but they never tried to sit and watch every Blondie movie ever made. And, that does not make me less a fan, or our Blondie reader. Not knowing who Larry Hama modeled Scarlett on in GI Joe or what stories are being alluded to in Neonomicon but still digging the comics does not cheapen someone’s enjoyment.

4. That juxtaposition of text and image to tell a story is not a comic.

We are not the only medium that tries strongly to regulate what is or is not the medium. There’s some debate over what is music versus a song versus a sequence of sounds waging at any point. People are still unsure how to categorize television and film and things that are moving pictures with sound that are not broadcast on television or recorded on film stock. But, on the whole, very few people will argue that foreign movies are not movies at all. It’s rare to find a person who adamantly insists an independently-produced album is not music, or, at least, to find a person insisting that who is taken particularly seriously by anyone else. Comics, though, we know that Japanese comics aren’t comics, that Maus or Samuree aren’t comics the way The Incredible Hulk is a comic. Comics that are not published initially in a certain size, and roughly twenty pages a go, from two to three publishers are not comics. This is so strongly demanded we all slip into it at some point or another, even if it’s to clarify “manga and comics” in brief.

It’s all comics. Comics is not a genre. It’s now based on the country of first publication. If someone is telling you that is true, or basing their proposition on that being true, do not give it credence. Don’t sweat it, don’t live under it. It’s all comics.

5. They’re raping our childhood!

Last year actor Robbie Rist said of a new adaptation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, “The rape of our childhood memories continues.” It’s hyperbole, sure, and a stupid as hell use of “rape,” but also Rist was born in Nineteen Sixty-Four. He’s forty-eight years old. He was twenty-six years old when he voiced Michaelangelo in the Nineties movies. He was twenty, when the first comics came out. He wasn’t a child during any time there were any ninja turtles. He was a child when he was Cousin Oliver on the Brady Bunch (and if anything wrecked my childhood, it was the existence of Brady Bunch reruns – see, that’s hyperbole with a point, based in something other than supposition and being a twenty-six year old “child”).

Nobody’s childhood was raped by a new comic or an adaptation of a comic, or a spin-off of a remake of a new issue of Daredevil. Don’t believe it.

6. The fans of that are just tricked into thinking they like it.

What this really means, every time, is “how dare people not share my tastes!” That’s it. That’s all. Nothing more. It is simply, and solely, someone demonstrating their inability to comprehend the concept of personal tastes, and presuming anyone who does not share their, obviously universal and correct tastes must be somehow a victim of brainwashing or manipulation to make them think they like this clearly inferior and horrible thing.

7. I don’t care if the character is white or purple, man or woman.

How many purple people on the planet? Show of hands.

See? This is why the purple people eaters died out. No food.

The moment someone throws in purple as if it were a legitimate skin color of human beings, unfuck’em. They’re dodging the issue. I don’t particularly enjoy deploying the profanity that way, I don’t like cutting people out of the equation, but they’re a detriment to the rest of us as long as they’re so willfully self-blinding in their casual bigotry that they think purple people are a defense against the occasional nonwhite character who isn’t called fucking Pieface or a manservant in the 21st Century.

8. That Comic Isn’t Important

Who cares? A comic that doesn’t have major ripple effects across seventeen other titles, a comic that didn’t set the sales charts on fire, or a comic that did not have massive effects on a continuing character can still be good. Whether a comic is important to a line, made major bank, or spearheaded a crossover isn’t a sign of whether it is good. That’s like assuming Must See TV was literal law, or when we excuse some of our movie preferences by referring to things we totally love and feel quite passionate about as “bad movies.” They are not bad movies, they’re movies that, flawed or not (what isn’t?), we enjoyed. And, so, too, is a comic that you enjoy or get passionate about a good comic. The hell with haters. Don’t worry if someone else has different tastes; that’s cool, they’re allowed to. Like what you like. Read what you like. Doowutchyalike.

9. Your Way to Show You’re a Fan is Wrong

There are some ways to show your appreciation of a comic that are inappropriate. Don’t throw dog poop at the artist on a competing title. Don’t stalk your favorite writer. Asking your boyfriend to lifeplay Archie Andrews fulltime ‘cause you have a thing for him, that’s a little bit much. But if you cosplay? If you write fanfic, give away comics to kids in the neighborhood, sew plushies, collect KiSS dolls, throw shoutouts in your songs, BS online at forums, wear a t-shirt? That’s all good. It’s okeh. Again, as always, down with haters. Down with the paranoid. You’re not embarrassing the whole of the fandom, even if you’re making one person a little nervous. Be responsible, be kind, don’t hate on others and don’t do anything that’s going to actively hurt yourself or others. But don’t sweat the posters or plushies, the paper dolls or slashfic, if that’s your thing. And if you just read comics and that’s about it? What’s wrong with that? (Nothing.)

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