Typically, as the Reviews Editor, I help bring you the insight of our excellent reviewers. Today, though, I’m gonna ramble for a bit. Sorry.
There’s a fairly interesting story that came on to NPR yesterday. The charmingly obvious point of it is that comics are expanding beyond their stereotypical fanbase. Specifically, though, the piece touches on how writers of comics are no longer pulled from the rank and file of the legion of comic book fans. This is annoying to many fans because it often is an experiment that fails. Just because you can write a novel, a song or a teleplay doesn’t mean you can write a comic. However, the successes seem to outnumber the failures. For this, and a couple of other reasons, I think this expansion beyond the standard fandom of comics is good and, in fact, necessary in order for comics to survive and thrive.
First off, this is good for completely practical reasons. While the Intertron may make communicating much easier, with all of its tubes filled with information, it has also absolutely drowned professional editors in incoming messages from fans, many of whom would one day like to create comics themselves. So out of all of these people begging for an opportunity, how is an overworked, disheveled editor supposed to find talented people to work with? Well, s/he could look through thousands and thousands of unsolicited scripts until they find something good or until they put a bullet in their head. Another alternative–one that possibly doesn’t end in suicide–is to look for people who are successful in other creative fields and see if those folk have an interest in writing comics.
Two things that struck me about the aforementioned story: One is how shocked, shocked, the people at NPR were that these successful individuals would actually deign to write for comic books. I’m sorry, but you work at NPR. How sexy is that? Save your condescension for the “journalists” at Fox News.
The other item is how a couple of the story’s subjects were surprised to find out it’s difficult to write in a visual medium. Well…yeah. Why would it be easy? People don’t just sit down and write stories or songs. How would writing a comic book be any different?
Regardless of the haughtiness that some of the world has for comics, even as they come to our table, keeping some chairs open and the air friendly is important. For one thing, we don’t want to turn away the many of those coming who have a respect for it. Percy Carey, rapper and author of Sentences listed Pekar’s Amercan Splendor, an obscure tome for anyone not big into comics, as the main reason why he wanted his life story to be told as a graphic novel rather than a standard autobiography. Carey, and others like him, while perhaps cooler than any comic book writer has a right to be, certainly appreciates and understands comics.
Another reason is that if we want this medium we love to survive, it has to expand. Jodi Picoult points out that comics were originally designed for teenage boys–which is true to a greater or lesser extent. It used to be if you still read comics when you started to move out of adolescence, then friends and family would eventually harass all but the most diehard out of it. However, eventually there came to be a subculture that boys could retreat to and keep reading comics, even if they kept it secret. Regardless, as the demographic aged, they demanded more mature stories, which moved the medium forward, making it more sophisticated, but at the same time, began to leave out–and in some cases–even alienate those young boys who had originally kept the medium going. So to expand beyond the fanboy subculture and reach out to others–hopefully to children once again–can only be a good thing. Otherwise the group reading these books will only get smaller and smaller.
However, as comic books expand out into American culture, those of us who have been fans all along are going to have to tolerate the inevitable patronizing of newcomers. The story‘s end is a great example of this as the narrator says, “It’s because of the diversity and passion of writers like Jodi Picoult, Percey Carey and Josh Whedon that elevates comic book writing to storytelling.” Yes, because before these three showed up, it was complete shit. I suspect commentator John Ridley is about to learn a little bit about that famous fanboy ire. After a schmuck comment like that, he’s got it coming.
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