An excerpt from Douglas Wolk's upcoming book
With the rise of the graphic novel, comics have hit the big time. It's time for fans to quit whining and celebrate their favorite art.It depends on what we're talking about. If it's the indies, of course there can be what to celebrate there. But if it's majors, how can we when they've been turned into a politicized, prejudiced wasteland?
Jun. 23, 2007 It's frustrating to love comics, because there's so much cultural baggage that goes along with loving them. The blessing and curse of comics as a medium is that there is such a thing as "comics culture." The core audience of comics is really into them: we know that Wednesdays are the day when new issues appear in the stores, we populate endless Web sites and message boards, we preserve our comics with some degree of care even if we think of ourselves as "readers" rather than "collectors." A few times a year, we congregate at conventions of one kind or another. (The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art Festival -- which is happening this weekend in New York City -- is one of our Sundances, where small-press and independent publishers display their wares; Wizard World Chicago is where the superhero buffs go; Comic-Con International, held in San Diego at the end of July, is where everybody goes.) We gravitate to our kind.Now we're getting somewhere. I'll expand upon this point by saying that - DC and certainly Marvel have succeeded in forming a zombie-like following, no matter how small it is compared to some larger movie followings, that buys what they tell them to no matter how horrid they are. And while it's not like I want to slam the customer, I guess the time has come when that'll have to be done, and be critical of readers like "Marvel Zombies" for just buying because they were told to by the publishers:
That's part of the problem. Over the last half century, comics culture has developed as an insular, self-feeding, self-loathing, self-defeating fly-trap. A lot of the people who hit their local comics store every Wednesday think of comics readers as some kind of secret, embattled fellowship. (That's why most comics stores are deeply unfriendly places: everything about them says, "You mean you don't know?" In some of them, even new pamphlets and books are sealed in plastic before they go out on the shelves; if you don't walk into the store knowing what you want, you're not going to find out.) It's a poisonous mind-set for any number of reasons, the biggest one being that to enjoy a comic book, you either have to be a Comics Person or be able to explain why you're not really a Comics Person.
That incestuous relationship between audience and medium has been encouraged by the big comics publishers. Mainstream comics pamphlets that are incomprehensible to anyone not already immersed in their culture aren't just the standard now; they're the point. If you pick up a story crammed full of inside references, and you're enough of an insider to catch them all, you're going to feel like it was made just for you, and it will intensify the sense of difference between you and "normal people." (I know from experience; some of the comics I enjoy most are stories I can't explain to a lot of my friends without using phrases like "pre-Crisis continuity" and "the 616 universe," sounding severely schizophrenic, or both.)
To anyone out there who's just buying books like House of M, Civil War, the 25th issue of Capt. America's current volume and even World War Hulk because the publishers are promoting those particular items above all else on their publishing schedules, I'd like to say that I'm ashamed of them. How can you empty out your wallets over something so awful, without any consideration of the overall story quality? Important message: don't buy a crossover simply because that's what's being promoted, and certainly don't do it out of knee-jerk loyalty to the publishers heading the editorially mandated story. Otherwise, I'll have you know that I, and others, consider you to be the biggest problem behind why major comics are becoming so bad.
I've come to realize now that knee-jerk followings are part of the problem, and that obviously, if anything's to be done in order to turn off the tap of crossovers flowing out, that knee-jerk followings are going to have to come under criticism. Wolk certainly seems to understand that too. The term "Marvel zombie" may have once had a positive meaning (in slang style, I think), but now when I think about it, it's starting to become a very negative meaning when you think about it in depth: it could mean someone with no ability to tell the difference between good and bad, and just buys the items being hyped by the company because they said so! Clearly, that's not the way to go anymore. Only by thinking for oneself will it be possible to get comics back on track again.
And Wolk is certainly right about this: comics fans need to grow up and move past all these stories that deprive the characters of any real development, and that are really just being done to milk the audience for all they're worth. Nor is buying comics for collectibility the right way to go anymore.