Sunday, May 27, 2007

Comic Reader or Plague Carrier? Perpetuating the Myth.


With the great success of comic book movies and the raising of awareness of the characters in mainstream pop culture, it continues to amaze me that comic book fans are still treated like they have the bubonic plague. The general public is only too happy to go spend their hard earned dollars seeing the fantasy played out on the big screen, but they stay away from comic book shops in droves. Why must it be that way?

With great admiration to Lisa at Sequentially Speaking and her insightful post and to Mark at Comic Coverage for his true life comment on my last post, I want to take the issue in a slightly different direction. I want to firstly explore the myths and misconceptions of today’s comic book fan and then refute them.

Comic book fans are stupid.
Rebuttal: I know of comic book fans out there with extensive schooling and educational credits. I have a friend who has his doctorate and several more collectors that have their master’s. Another friend that reads comics is a pharmacist. Several more have their own companies and are laughing all the way to the bank. These are all people of great intellectual capacity. Several have read Nietzsche for God’s sake. I would also like to mention that Deepak Chopra and his son are involved in Virgin Comics, and that he and Grant Morrison had a wonderfully spirited conversation at last year’s San Diego Con.

Comic book fans stink- PEEEE UUUUUHHH!!
Honestly, sometimes this is true, BUT… I have been many places that have nothing to do with comics and have lost my breath from a person’s body odor. I went to a professional baseball game on a windy spring day and almost threw up. The two guys in front of me STANK. I also went to a marketing symposium and was surprised at the wet armpits and rank odors of the sales people there. There is a well known, unnamed Hollywood actor that refuses to bathe, but makes millions per picture. My point is this: in all ranks of society and in all areas of interest, there are people with poor hygiene habits. Pinning it all on comic book fans is simply unfair.

Comic book fans are unattractive and can’t get dates.
Totally wrong. Have you seen Mandy Amano and David Mack, for God’s sake? What about that hunky John Cassaday or manly Beau Smith? At this past Emerald City Comicon there were quite a few attractive type folks. I also noticed that several appeared to be married and have reproduced. I guess the point is that we may not all be outstandingly gorgeous, but we do alright. This is once again an unfair stereotype perpetuated by the reality of a small portion of the readership.

Comic book fans are immature and must have cooties.
Yes, there is the occasional fan that lives with Mom and Dad in the basement, but I don’t believe that it is limited to just comic book readers. I know a guy that works at an insurance company and is quite successful- he lives at home and splits expenses. I also had a friend that lived with his parents until he was 30 paying off his student loans. He lived in a separate home in the garage and had his own exit and entrance. He moved out and is debt free- in fact he has almost saved enough money to buy a house and was able to pay for his car with cash. Both these guys lived at home and neither were comic collectors.

Female comic book fans must be lesbians (not that there’s anything wrong with it).
I don’t know how many times I was asked if I was gay because I was a certain age, collected comics and was single. Let me state that I have no bias in sexual orientation so that it wasn’t a question that was so much offensive as it was an indication of a stereotype. In my mind sexual preference doesn’t indicate any type of leanings towards reading comic books, but if you know something I don’t, let me know.

Female comic fans are over sensitive and need to “get laid”.
This is one I have heard over and over the last few weeks with the flurry of publicity that the Mary Jane statue has received. As a happily married woman with a private but complete love life, I find this absolutely ludicrous. It makes me pissed and want to ask the non-reader the same question. Maybe if things were happy in their home life they wouldn’t be worried about my sex life and they would be working on theirs.

Comic book fans have no social skills.
This is one that I hear more then any other. I have seen so many fans give articulate, reasoned arguments in public forums or on their sites. I have also met many at comic shows that are bright, funny, and extremely articulate. The best time I had in my life was after a show at dinner with friends from the industry. The conversation was fast paced and brilliant. I have never laughed so hard! That is why I get so angry when a few “trolls” set the image of the entire genre. It isn’t fair.

How do we change the stereotype? Continuing to have comic book movies is a success is good. Free Comic Book day is a good idea that can be used in that direction. Marketing of the comic book reader in the general public persona could be a nice touch. Sure it is great to have Spider-Man unmasking make the Daily Ten, but wouldn’t it be cooler to have Joe Q. Collector on their being articulate and friendly, expressing their love of the medium?

I also see many comic book shops changing the perception by letting light in the shop. A beautifully lit store with gleaming display cases speaks volumes. It is time to show these stores in every advertising market we can. We also have many shops ran by women or with several women employees. It isn’t just a “stinky guy’s industry” anymore. We need to show that somehow.

There are so many things to do to change this perception and only we as fans can make it happen. The comic book companies need to help us by showing fans in ads and having some regular Joe’s and Jane’s as spokes people. We will never not have the one dude at the show in his torn Batman shirt, but there will never be a hobby that doesn’t have its less then stellar example.

How can we make change happen? I don’t’ know all the answers but I continue to read marketing surveys and do my best to be an informal ambassador to the industry everywhere I go. I am not going to hide my love of comic books away and I am not going to change for anyone. I will always have my frustrations within the business and will continue to speak for change, but that certainly doesn’t mean I am going to run away and stop loving it.

30 comments:

Sheryl said...

Comic book fans are unattractive and can’t get dates.
I guess the point is that we may not all be outstandingly gorgeous, but we do alright.
I burst out laughing when I read this; I loved the way you put that. I know that I have turned my share of heads (and you probably have done so, too), so yes, I guess that "we do alright."

Comic book fans are immature and must have cooties.
Um, yikes. Is anyone calling comic book fans immature really using the word "cooties"?

Female comic fans are over sensitive and need to “get laid”.
This is one I have heard over and over the last few weeks with the flurry of publicity that the Mary Jane statue has received. As a happily married woman with a private but complete love life, I find this absolutely ludicrous. It makes me pissed and want to ask the non-reader the same question. Maybe if things were happy in their home life they wouldn’t be worried about my sex life and they would be working on theirs.
Grr... [hiss spit] It does bring up an interesting question. Who needs to "get laid" more: the one unhappy with a demeaning (not to mention physically impossible) portrayal of a woman or the one who lusts after that portrayal? But I'm sinking to the same level.

On the Mary Jane statue: One point I did not see anyone else make about her freaky body, but was immediately mentioned to me by my fiance when I showed him the statue. "Her neck is broken," he said. "Her head should not get that high at that angle."

Eaglewing said...

Good points. It does seem to be an incredible uphill battle to change the stereotypes though. I usually don't bother to mention that I read comics to anyone unless they've become a pretty close friend. Getting the same looks and going through the same old arguments just gets old. I can't see why its so looked down on - a good story is a good story, regardless of medium. If we could change the name away from comics, we could probably get somewhere though. People hear the word comics and all the stereotypes and preconceived notions come out.

One big thing that could improve it though is making it easier to actually buy comics. If it wasn't for Amazon selling trades, I'd be snookered. Only recently did my local Chapters store start selling trades and actually put in a spin rack of monthly issues in their magazine section. People watch Spidey, Batman, Wolverine, or Sin City on the big screen, they might be interested in more stories. But they're not going to hunt down the dark corner comic book store to do it, or know what a pull list is, or even bother trying. Making it mainstream accessible for Joe Public would be a huge start. For an industry that wants to make money, I never understood why they make it so hard to actually get your hands on the product.

Carl said...

Welp, this reminds me of a short conversation I had with a guy in line to get something signed (he was with his family, Star Trek fans, but he was not) at a con. His wife and son were enjoying walking around the con while he held their places (very nice of him I thought). But he said, I just don't get it, what's the difference between Trekkies and Trekkers. My wife gets really mad if I use Trekkies around her. I said, look, I'm just an good old boy from Kentucky, butttttttt, I discovered comics, Science Fiction and Star Trek when I was around 6 or 7 years old. I was blown away. And I was nerdy and overweight. But, now, I'm a grown man, I am married, have kids and am usually armed in some fashion. We are the people that were picked on that made something of ourselves. Trekkers have jobs, get laid and have real lives and mature relationships like you and your wife and son. Trekkies still live in the basement, won't move out from mom and dad's house and live for nothing but Star Trek. And that small group always seems to be the ones people point to represent the whole.
So, I hoped I helped this guy understand.
And the same goes for comic fans. Guess what, dressing up as a superhero at a con is how far from painting your body or face sports team colors? Not very. At least hopefully we don't look like clowns with frizzy hair like I've seen.
If I do have one complaint about various fandom, it seems that one is always at odds with another. Anime fans vs. comics, Star Wars vs. Star Trek, Star Trek vs. Space: 1999 and strangely enough, a lot of my fellow comics fans absolutely hate books. Bizarre. I graduated from just comics 'cause I wanted more then just a few pages of story. And how ironic is that? I remember having my comics either torn up and/or confiscated at school 'cause they were "trash" and now thanks to most public schools, we have a nation of kids that avoid reading books for pleasure and only read comics.
Welp, more on this later, way past my bedtime!

Heidi Meeley said...

Sheryl, I loved hearing your thoughts! It seems so ironic to me that in today's society we still have to deal with being such "geeks". I guess it has made me wear the badge proudly while sometimes wincing at some of the comments I have heard.

I loved what your fiance said about Mary Jane's neck. As I look closer, it is so true!

Great points! I really appreciated hearing them!

Heidi Meeley said...

Eaglewing, I LOVE your point about the lack of access of the books to consumers. If not for Amazon or special orders from my local shop, I would never get my hands on the product I want either. It is tough to get them, and that will stonewall most potential fans. With today's fast food mentality, easy access is the most important quality and industry can have. Sad but true.

Ten years ago I never told anyone I read comics. It was my secret. Now anymore, I just come right out with it. I wear my Punisher and Green Arrow t-shirts to the gym, and wear my Wonder Woman shirt around town. I am tired of hiding it, like it is a weird addiction I have to keep a secret.

At any rate, hopefully someday the marketing will catch up with the industry. If not, comics will be a distant memory while movies are the only point of reference.

Heidi Meeley said...

Carl, you make a good point about fans in factions. I don't know how many times the magic guys have made fun of the comic book guys and vice versa in my local shop. They can't get along to save their lives, and keep calling each other names.

No wonder.

Sara's Stuff! said...

That was a very interesting read. Thank you. :)

~Sara<3

Heidi Meeley said...

Sara's Stuff: Thank you so much! That makes my day!

Swinebread said...

I don’t run into much of this nowadays, I think Portland is ahead of the curve when it comes to comics being considered a medium rather than a genre.

…But we’ll always be in Wertham’s shadow.

Incidentally with the acceptance of manga I’ve noticed this stereotype going away as well.

CryptoGay said...

wow, i've never even met any other comics-loving lesbians but myself. i don't know how it could be a stereotype.

Heidi Meeley said...

Cryptogay, I have met some women who are lesbians and comic fans at the Seattle and Portland shows and we have discussed the stereotype. It isn't as typical as the very popular "needs to get laid" number, but it has been said. I was sitting at my local shop on a Saturday reading Batman when two guys came up to me and asked me if I was a lesbian because I read comics. I smiled and took it as a compliment!

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