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Thursday, October 03, 2013 

Comics still haven't garnered full respect

The AP Wire/Windsor Star says that though comic heroes are hot stuff, the actual comics still haven't won everybody over:
...while comic book characters are everywhere, comic books themselves remain mostly a niche product.

Take Arkham Gift Shoppe, for instance, a small comic book store on the northern fringe of Pittsburgh. When regulars arrive to pick up their monthly orders, some slip in with all the stealth of Catwoman eluding Batman. These guys carefully hide their comic-buying habit, or the extent of it, from their girlfriends or wives (yes, they have those) because these women “aren’t cool with them spending their money on something so juvenile,” shop owner Jeff Bigley says.

How is it that the painstakingly inked comic pages where these wildly popular characters were born still don’t get the attention and respect that fans say they deserve?
Easy. It's because the people in charge of their writing and publishing tend to be the real juvenile cases. They're the reason why comics have failed to get completely past the narrow perceptions, though if the aforementioned buyers are mindless addicts buying more out of speculator impulses than the belief that the stories are worth the effort, they too are perpetuating bad portraits.
Chris Sims of Sumter, S.C., waits for the befuddled reaction when he tells people that he reads, writes about and creates comic books for a living. The popularity of Marvel’s blockbuster films has made it only a little less awkward for him to admit being an avid consumer of comics.

“If you tell somebody you read ‘Captain America’ now, they know who you’re talking about,” says Sims, who blogs at websites including ComicsAlliance.com. “The characters’ being visible lessens the kind of stigma of reading comics, because people know those characters and have affection for them.”

But only to a point. Amanda Osman-Balzell is a married opera singer raising a toddler daughter while attending graduate school. When new friends visit her Tempe, Ariz., home, they raise eyebrows at her stash of comic books.

“They see that we have comic books,” she says, “and they look at us like, ‘Really? You guys look so normal.’”
Ironically, Sims isn't so normal if he writes tabloid-shaped articles that pointlessly tear down fictional characters whom past writers went to such pains to create, yet fails to convincingly critique those very writers for whether he thinks they failed his expectations. How does a comics reader convince anybody they're truly normal if they take the wrong approach to criticism and remain stuck on a childish approach to the material?
She explains that many of today’s comic books boast intricate artwork and story lines far more complex and thought-provoking than their big-screen counterparts. But friends roll their eyes when she describes comics as “literature.”
I'm afraid this is an awfully ambiguous and awkward claim. They used to be a lot more complex, at least until the early 90s. Then, they started going downhill, and after 2000, they got lost in a lot of leftism. Is it any wonder nobody buys that they're literature if the mainstream writers have such juvenile and even offensive ideas for what makes great stories?
Another challenge may be that those accustomed to the shock and awe of blockbuster superhero movies are bored by even the most vividly drawn comic book.
Maybe because even the most vividly illustrated are trying too hard to be like movies, and the moviegoer could be looking for something different. That's exactly why Jim Lee's art for Superman Unchained has no chance of pleasing anybody who watched the Man of Steel movie, and neither he nor the rest of the editorial staff can grasp that what works for a movie won't work for a comic.
And there are roadblocks to luring new readers.

Many of today’s fans began reading comics as kids in the ’80s and ’90s, says Caleb Williams, founder and editor of SuperheroMovieNews.com. But “I don’t see kids reading comics now,” he says, partly because no one issues kid-friendly comic books tied to a movie release.

Mature themes and violent imagery leave parents frustrated “that a little girl can’t read ‘Wonder Woman’ and it’s hard to find a Batman comic for little boys,” says Sims. And public relations disasters like DC Comics’ recent contest to have readers submit drawings of Batman villain Harley Quinn committing suicide while naked in a bathtub didn’t endear comics to parents of young readers.
They're right about the Harley Quinn offense. That only gives as poor an impression of comic publishers as TV series with bad ideas will about their producers. But there may be something wrong here with the perception that Batman - and even Wonder Woman - were ever meant to be only for kids to begin with, certainly the former. A comic whose hero specializes in solving murders and other violent crimes is hardly what I'd consider exclusively kids' stuff.
Could all of this spell eventual doom for the humble comic book? Will comics eventually be shouted down by their larger, louder, blockbuster offspring?

Hardcore fans aren’t worried. If anything, Sims says, some comic book readers wish their favourite characters hadn’t become quite so mainstream.
Why wouldn't - or shouldn't - hardcore fans be worried? The medium is dying, at least theoretically, and it isn't great to know there's a poor perception of them coming from a lot of people who don't read comics. At the same time, hardcore or not, we still have our own faults that we need to overcome if we ever expect to better those perceptions. This could include taking a logical, constructive and objective approach to criticism, by directing it to the writers/artists/editors and not doing silly things like tearing down on the characters, no matter how poorly written they are.

As for whether the comics characters should have gone so mainstream, that's something I can relate to. I've gotten to thinking about it for a couple years now, that consumerism and commercialism may have ruined a lot of pop culture products. Maybe producing toy action figures based on Marvel and DC heroes had a negative effect on the comics because the kids would play with the toys but had no interest in the supporting and recurring casts from the comics proper, who, by sharp contrast, rarely get turned into toys, t-shirts and lunchboxes, if at all. Not only that, quite a few superheroes made into toys have the misfortune of not being known by their daytime identities, or the children playing with them are unlikely to emphasize their daytime guises while having fun. For example, what if they don't care about Thor's onetime human guise as Donald Blake? And most toymakers are unlikely to build toys of a doctor with a limp in his leg carrying a cane he can ram upon the ground to change into the hefty Norse god of thunder. Likewise, how many toys are there based on Bruce Banner rather than the Hulk? Probably not many of those around either (nor any toys based on Jane Foster and Betty Ross-Banner). Now that I think of it, that's the downside of toy action figures: you'd think they'd serve to draw interest to the zygote with all their more-than-meets-the-eye components, but ironically, they don't, and even when the children come of age, they still don't care about how it all began.

That's just why even I wonder if turning all these great comics into merchandise turned out to be the worst thing that could happen to them, though obviously, the insular way the editors took to marketing the comics was mainly to blame. Likewise, not changing the format after all these years to something bookstores would prefer had a negative effect.

In the end, if we've learned something here, it's that despite what Len Wein said about geeks inheriting the earth, they haven't. On the contrary, we do have geeks moving into other forms of media, yet the one they left behind retains mostly the same status.

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Contrary to what Wein said, geeks did not inherit the earth. They inherited the comic book medium, because nobody else wanted it.

Comic books did not necessarily begin as a children's medium, but they soon evolved into one. From the 1940's through the 1960's, they were generally perceived (and marketed) as kid stuff. Marvel raised the bar in the 1960's, and DC followed suit by the 1970's. They still get little respect as a medium, though. One stereotype has just been replaced by another: today, instead of Charlie Brown (or Goober Pyle), the typical image of a comics fan is Sheldon Cooper. And adults (and teenagers) will openly talk about watching "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." or "Arrow," or about going to see "Iron Man 3" or "Man of Steel," but they don't read comics. Or, if they do, they keep it a secret.

Exactly, Anonymous. The medium is key. They have no scruples about seeing a movie based on a comic, but wouldn't be caught dead reading one. Then again, considering how bad modern comics are... I wouldn't blame them if they didn't read them. The stories are hardly "complex" and "intricate." If you call PC liberalism and crossovers "complex."

And the fact that they interviewed Sims is pathetic. That guy is no expert on comics at all. He's a self-proclaimed expert who really doesn't know what he's talking about. His teardowns of Cyclops, Terry Long and Aquaman prove that.

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