As some of you know, I run a column here on ComicsBulletin.com called "What do you REALLY know about comics?" It's a series of interviews where I ask non-comic readers to take part in a little experiment. First, I ask them to tell me what they know about comics; what the term comic book means to them. Then I get a sense of their entertainment interests and give them books to read based off what I think would best fit their interests. After they've read the books I suggested, we talk again and I see if the experience has in any way changed their opinions on what they thought comics were. Fun and simple. More times that not I've actually managed to make new fans of comics.
Today's story is completely different.
How I normally find someone for the interview is just by talking to everyday people I interact with at work, the gym or wherever I happen to be. I've had some no's but the majority have said yes. That was until Kurt.
Kurt is a 27-year-old EMT from NYC. Pleasant, very personable and quite honest. Thinking he'd be perfect for the interview series, I asked him. Not only did he say "NO.", he said "Not in a million years." After a little bit of a conversation, he still stayed true to his original sentiment and I didn't force the matter (much). His opinions and comments on comics weren't something I hadn't heard before. They were all the negative connotations and misunderstandings that that get thrown at comics and their fans. So I asked if I could just write up what we had spoken about. He agreed and here we are. It's going to sound like absolute blasphemy to a comics fan, but it's his honest opinion, and one, unfortunately, that I'm sure he's not alone in sharing.
Joe Mulvey: I do this interview series where I ask a non-comics reader to check out what comics are like today. I interview you about what you think comics are. Then I give you some books to read and than when you're done we have another interview and I see if your opinions have changed at all. Are you interested?
Kurt: Jesus, no! No offense, but not in a million years.
Joe Mulvey: Really?
Kurt: Yeah, I mean why? That stuff gives me such a weird vibe.
Joe Mulvey: WHAT? Really? Look do you mind if I record this? I've never had someone I've asked to do this have such a negative response.
Kurt: Yeah, sure. Do whatever.
Joe Mulvey: So what's the weird vibe you get?
Kurt: Grown men reading stories of super muscly guys in tights and underwear flying around and stuff. That's just eerie and weird.
Joe Mulvey: Women read comics too; it's not just a guys thing. And have you seen any of the recent movies of comic characters? Batman, Thor, Captain America? They're pretty popular.
Kurt: Yeah I've seen them, but they make them put on uniforms. Batman's not wearing underwear in the movies, the dude's all military and in a suit.
Joe Mulvey: So if you saw a guy reading an Iron Man comic would that be less weird? I mean it's a guy in a suit, no underwear.
Kurt: Look I'm not trying to insult you; you obviously like them. I'm not trying to shit on you. I just have no interest in comic books, coloring books or any of that stuff.
Joe Mulvey: All right but I don't see how you connect those two.
Kurt: They're for kids!
Joe Mulvey: So Heath Ledger won an Oscar for essentially being in a kids’ movie last year?
Kurt: That's a movie.
Joe Mulvey: Right. It was a movie based on a comic book. With adult NON-children related themes. My point is that comics aren't just for kids. That's one of the reasons I do the interview to help change people's perceptions of what comics are.
Kurt: Do they still look the same?
Joe Mulvey: I don't get what you mean?
Kurt: They're small colored books with drawings right?
Joe Mulvey: You're simplifying them a bit. They are illustrated stories if that's what you mean.
Kurt: Right, drawn stories. That's what kids read.
Joe Mulvey: Dude, you're out of your mind on this.
Kurt: Ha! I don't think I am. Super guys in underwear fighting other guys in their underwear. That's not the kind of stuff I want to spend my down time reading, no offense.
Joe Mulvey: Okay well now you're throwing some gay undertones into it.
Kurt: Hey, those are already there.
Joe Mulvey: So let me ask you, do you watch wrestling or boxing or any sort of MMA?
Kurt: Wrestling I haven't watched in years but I did when I was younger. Boxing not so much and MMA yes. But I see where you're going with this, but those guys dress like that because they are fighting. If an MMA guy wore a cape, he'd get choked the fuck out with it.
Joe Mulvey: No argument there. But what's to say that watching two grown men grapple, sweat and beat each other doesn't have the same gay undertones? You can throw it onto anything you'd want, if that was your intent. I don't think any of that stuff is intended to be gay and neither are comics.
Kurt: Dude, I get that you like them, and maybe some aren't all kiddie but c'mon.
Joe Mulvey: Let me give you one book. It's called Scalped. If that book doesn't destroy what you think comics are I'll give you fifty bucks.
Kurt: No thanks, keep your fifty.
Joe Mulvey: I'm not going to lie dude, I love the challenge of trying to get you to give comics a shot. Especially considering how you have what is one of the most anti- comics mindset's I've run into.
Kurt: I'm not anti-comics. When I have kids they can read them, but when they're 23 and in the basement dressed as Thor on a Friday night, that's when it gets weird.
Joe Mulvey: Man, you are out of your skull.
Kurt: Don't lie, I work in Manhattan. I see those dudes during those conventions. That won't be my kid.
Joe Mulvey: So Halloween is going to be pretty much a suit and tie affair at your house?
Kurt: No, on the one fucking day a year you're supposed to dress up, we'll go nuts. But when you're thirty and dressed like an alien robot getting on the subway; it's time to shut it down.
Joe Mulvey: You realize when those conventions are in town, it IS like a weekend Halloween party for some people. It's an event.
Kurt: Good for them. Won't be my kid. Would you want your kid looking like that?
Joe Mulvey: If my kid wants to dress up like a teakettle, I'll be the cup. Now when she's 20 and I
'm 50, I don't know how well I'll fill out the outfit so I might change to a napkin or seat cushion.
Kurt: HA! Good luck with that. Dude, that shit’s just weird to me. Grown men-sorry- and women. So, grown people dressing up and squeezing themselves into costumes for what? It's just fucking weird.
Joe Mulvey: Dude, you have some issues. Seriously. You would fit perfectly in the town from Footloose.
Kurt: Yeah. I'm sure, look man. I'm not saying you look like those kind of guys. I'm saying you go enjoy what you enjoy. I'm not telling you not to do it. I'm just saying it creeps me out a bit. Not gonna be me or my kids.
Joe Mulvey: Okay but you do understand you already have this whole negative connotation built around what you think comics are. That they're gay or people have to dress up and it's a whole lifestyle of acting like a kid or something. I mean it's a comic book. Just entertainment. No different than a magazine, a movie or a TV show. You get your entertainment and move on. Some people enjoy it more than others and to varying extents but that's all. Some fucking sports fans paint their whole bodies for a game or do some wacky shit in a team’s name. Does that bother you as much?
Kurt: Are you a sports fan?
Joe Mulvey: Yes. Die hard Jets, Rangers and Yankees fan.
Kurt: A real fan though?
Joe Mulvey: I have a framed Chad Pennington jersey in my house. Not many Jet fans say that to sound cool. I have a Rangers package plan. And my favorite baseball player was Don Mattingly. But ask me something if you want?
Kurt: Did you ever play?
Joe Mulvey: Yeah. But what's your point?
Kurt: Sports is something we all grew up on or with. Something we all do or have a connection to. That stuff grows with you. You get better as you get older, you want to watch people as they get better and go pro. You get invested in that. Sports stuff and fans I get. It's something you have with friends and family from when you're younger. That I get.
Joe Mulvey: Okay but the kid that grew up reading a comic and went through all the changes of their favorite character's life with them can't have the same connection?
Kurt: No, it's a fictional character. Superman and Santa Claus are the same kind of thing, at a certain age you out-fucking-grow it and move on.
Joe Mulvey: Tons of people have life long relationships with fictional characters. The Star Wars Universe, James Bond, Harry Potter, Die Hard, on and on. All stories, told and retold characters we've known all our lives. I mean more people probably have some sort of relationship with Batman and his legacy than a college running back that lost the Heisman trophy and played pro for 2 years.
Kurt: Now you're arguing nonsense.
Joe Mulvey: No, I'm arguing that someone who wants to read or even dress up as Batman has more of a connection in their 30 years of life with that character than some guy who was a fan of a football player for 4 years. Okay let's get off this just for a minute.
Joe Mulvey: All right, since we still have full beers let me ask you one last thing. If you put on a TV, and the first thing you saw was Spongebob Squarepants, would you say that television was just for kids? Just walk away and never watch anything else? Never change the channel?
Kurt: What's your point?
Joe Mulvey: My point is that comics are more than Superman and Batman and guys in tights and capes fighting. They are stories about ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING. The variety of subject matter in comics is just like every other entertainment medium. So saying it's just stuff for kids or whatever else you were trying to say, is nuts.
Kurt: It's fucking pictures drawn on a page! What is that? Why would I look at that as a full grown adult? You read shit like that as a kid because you're learning. You move on, get past that stuff as you grow up.
Joe Mulvey: So reading comics is for immature people.
Kurt: Yeah. Yes pretty much. That's fine man, I'm not saying everyone's got to be the president or take stuff seriously all the time but for fuck's sake, staring at pictures reading words in a bubble is kids shit. Show me where the fuck there's any sort of maturity to that.
Joe Mulvey: Kurt, that's the method of storytelling in that medium. There's mature context IN THE WORD BALLONS. A kids book of nursery rhymes is written on a page the same way a Pulitzer Prize winning novel is. It's all in how you interpret it.
Kurt: Word ballons. Listen to yourself, does that sound like something a grown man should say. There's some really mature shit in the word balloons. Come on, Joe.
Joe Mulvey: You're incredible. Seriously. Look, take my challenge. The fifty-buck challenge. You have nothing to lose, besides your outdated and stubborn idea of what comics are.
Kurt: Not for me, thanks. I will let you get the next round if you want.
Joe Mulvey: Can I see your phone?
Joe Mulvey: Just for a second, I'll give it right back I swear.
Kurt: (Gives me the phone)
Joe Mulvey: (Looking at the apps on his iPhone.) Ah, so you play Bejeweled and Tetris on here. None of that drops the weird vibe on you?
Kurt: Give me my phone. Don't try to change the subject.
Joe Mulvey: Dude, your playing Tetris. Not "The Smithsonian presents the most adult game in the history of the world"-version of Tetris. But Tetris. The game you played as a kid. And please enlighten me to the grand intellectual stimulation that is Bejeweled.
Kurt: Video games are different.
Joe Mulvey: But you play them?
Joe Mulvey: No eerie vibe there? So video games don't get characterized as just for kids?
Kurt: Dude, video games are better than movies right now. Millions of adults play video games.
Joe Mulvey: Right but video games grew up as you were growing up, right? Mario Brothers is nothing compared to Modern Warfare, is it? That's my point about comics. Have you played the Batman game? Arkham City? It's won tons of awards, great reviews. That's not completely for kids.
Kurt: Yeah, well I'd much rather kick some ass as Batman in a game than read some still pictures of a guy in tights prancing on a rooftop.
Joe Mulvey: Okay Kurt, you're not going to cave, so I'll let it go. You're just not a fan of comics, no problem. I just seriously hope more people don't share your opinion.
Joe Mulvey: Yeah, I don't know about that. Buying another guys drinks just gives me a weird vibe, you understand right?
Joe Mulvey: I guess I should pay you back for the spirited debate. What are you drinking?
Okay so there it is. Not the most uplifting interview but definitely a point of view I don't think is all that uncommon. Now I know most comics fans won't take kindly to Kurt's point of view. But I have to say how, although spirited, the conversation was very civil. Kurt had his point and I had mine, we completely disagreed but kept a common ground of respect and honest debate.
Hope you guys enjoyed it or at least found it interesting.
As always I want to hear from you.
Contact me on this site, through my e-mail Joe MulveyINC@me.com, or twitter @JoeMulv