Hello! So, this is it. Ten years ago to the very day I was sitting in my attic posting the first ever instalment of FoolBritannia on what was then Silverbulletcomicbooks.com. Back then my schick was to be “the British Guy”, hence the name of the column, coming hot on the heels – relatively speaking of course – of Tony Blair’s 1997 election victory and the much vaunted “Cool Britannia” era. What can I say? I’ve never been able to take myself all that seriously.
Alot has happened in that time, and over the next three columns one of the things I’ll be doing is looking back at some of the highs and lows in comics over that time. I also want to look forwards because the thing about the future is that barring accidents, there ought to more of it than there is past. The message boards are open, and I’d love to hear your thoughts – in the meantime, well, here we go!
How was Free Comic Book Day for you? What with one thing and another it more or less passed me by this year, which is perhaps why I’m talking about it more than a week late. I should say that it’s entirely possible that I may still have been slightly delusional after the pneumonia because I must confess that my attention was caught by a story about Spider-Man preventing a robbery in a comic store in Adilaide, Australia. Given the reputation that Oz has gained as the home of all manner of giant arachnids some my say that this isn’t so surprising, and perhaps not. No, it’s the additional fact that he was assisted by two Jedi Knights and The Flash.
Go on – top that!
Personally I’m in two minds about Free Comic Book Day. I get the brilliance of the idea – indeed I think it might be one of the best ideas the industry, as an entity, has had in the last decade – but I’ve never been sure about the execution. Obviously there are great events in libraries and high streets and such, but they’re pretty rare. There was a time when I would’ve blamed retailers for this, suggesting that the lack of high profile attention grabbing events in every town around the country was indicative of said retailer’s corresponding lack of imagination and effort.
These days I’m less minded to be judgemental. After all, the vast majority of comics stores are relatively small concerns. Some are genuine “one man bands”, where the owner is also the manager, the shelf stacker, the accountant, the stock controller, checkout operator and the bloke who makes the tea.* Organising special events for Free comic Book Day takes time and effort they simply don’t have. If anything, it’s us, the regular punters who need to pull our fingers out and do something.
After all, comics aren’t our day job,** we do this in aour free time. Perhaps we should put that free time to better use. Back in the day one of the more obvious things about comics fans was the fact that we were all evangelists for the cause. I remember being something of a zealot when I was younger – determined to convert as many people as possible to the panelology cause***. I don’t get that we do that, as a group anymore. I think that we should.
In many ways this has been something of a recurring theme here in the last decade – the idea that as comics readers it is in our interests to promote comics as a medium of communication. After all, the more people who read comics, the more opportunities there are for creators to find an audience for the vibrant and diverse content we need to ensure the continued health of the medium we love. Free Comic Book Day is, perhaps the springboard we fanboys should be using to spread the word further. So go on – if you were out there, giving your faithful retailer a hand on Free Comic Book Day this year, let me know about it. Who knows, you might inspire me to get my lazy arse out there next year.
It has to be said that in this past decade, not everyone who dressed as a superhero in public was intent on foiling crime. In the UK at least, Fathers for Justice became almost legendary for their attention grabbing antics in support of estranged father’s rights. For a while in the early noughties***** you couldn’t turn on a TV news broadcast without seeing some bloke dressed as Batman clinging to a public building to garner publicity for his cause. Hell, they even managed to put Batman on the side of Buckingham Palace back in 2004.
I don’t know why they thought this would further their cause, or whether it did them any good. I guess if the primary function of a dad is to embarrass their children that might well have worked. It certainly got them prime time news coverage they probably wouldn’t have got any other way – I’m just not sure it did anything to help them get taken seriously.
From my point of view****** the whole campaign might well have added to the general public perception that comics are on the whole a trivial medium – all spandex, bright colours and attention grabbing superficiality. It’s an image that perhaps also hasn’t been helped by the deluge of superhero movies that have cascaded onto the screens of your local multiplex cinema since May 2000.
This is odd because almost all of them have been good. Some of them have been very good. Somehow though, comics just haven’t been able to capitalize on their brilliance, which is a subject I’ll tackle on Wednesday in the second part of this Anniversary extravaganza.
Join me then for part two of this Anniversary Waltz.
*Or coffee, if you’re on the big side of the pond.
**Although I might be talking about that later on in the week…
***To the point that I put “Panelology” in the “interests” section of my C.V.****, which lead to some interesting discussions in one or two job interviews. Come to think about it, it’s still on my C.V.
****That’ll be a Resume to those on the big side of the pond…
*****Which seems to be what we’re calling the last ten years.
******Which I completely accept must seem very trivial to a man who hasn’t been able to see his kids in years and can’t get the courts to enforce its contact orders…