Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hey Girls- Comics! ... My Younger Self Ponders Life on the Internet

While perusing blog@Newsarama the other day, I happened upon a post entitled “Just Past the Horizon” in which Lisa Fortuner talks about the Misty Lee episode. It was thought provoking and on target, provoking several responses. Without going into great detail, let me just say that I read something in the one of comments that left me cold. Whether this person was being a smart ass or being serious, the following remarks were made:

“Reading this makes me long for the days when chicks didn’t read comics. Chalk me up as one who thinks this is fan entitlement gone crazy. At least I can tune y’all out by avoiding the internet. But lord, am I glad I don’t have to read the mail Marvel receives everyday. It must be whine after whine after whine, with an unhealthy dose of cheese-louise.

Also, I’ve been reading Spider-Man for twenty years (and now because he has brown hair like me…seriously, what a weird and superficial thing to identify with), and I’m a bit hard-pressed to recall when Mary Jane wasn’t being objectified. And freaking out about objectification that didn’t even occur in a comic book?

Maybe these ladies shouldn’t be reading comics. Maybe they’re taking them too seriously. If someone is going into a rage, or feels their self-identity is crumbling/under assault, because of a statue, or a cover illustration, then maybe it’s not comics they need, but therapy.”


Now, for all I know, this Ken person was just joking. My point is not to take him and single him out, but to use his comment to reflect a bit.

Here is my thought: if when I started reading comics in 1974 the internet would have been around wht would I have done? Would I have been turned off to comic books or would I have followed the same path I did back then that continues to this day? I guess I didn’t understand that comics were just for boys. I started with Wonder Woman, Batman, World’s Finest, and Brave and the Bold. I followed it up with Justice League of America, Flash, and Shazam!, without blinking an eye. There was nothing on the label saying it was gender specific, and no one around me gave me any crap about it.

But what if the internet had existed? What if I would have gotten online after reading comics for awhile and read through the posts around the news sites and blogs? Would I have run screaming for the hills? Maybe I would have taken up something more girly? God forbid. My older self wonders how my younger self would have been influenced by it all. How would my life be different today?

Reading comic books really helped expand my vocabulary. It also helped make me a spelling bee champion. I was always at the top of my class in English and creative writing. To this day I give comic books a great deal of credit for that. They made me want to read, and it helped me stair step into reading novels and historical periodicals. When I read Wonder Woman and “Mars” was the villain, I wanted to know about where he came from so I researched it. I am hard pressed to think of a negative influence comic books had on me then.

To this day I love to read comic books. They help me escape the stress of my daily life. Sometimes I can’t solve a problem by punching it, but watching Black Canary do it makes me feel a bit better. I can’t bench press 1000 pounds, but I admire the fact that She-Hulk does so with ease.

BUT…

I can’t get that nagging thought out of the back of my head. Would the internet have turned me off comics back in the day? What does the internet mean to beginning readers who come into our world? What do they think of our opinions and arguments? Are we just background fodder to their true passion, or do we have more of an influence then we think?

I don’t claim to have all the answers to this, but my younger self is glad she was left alone and allowed to read the comic books she wanted to. That is why I am happy to see Lisa start P.O.W.E.R. in Comics and try and find ways to promote the industry. I am not saying we should lie down and play dead, but maybe we should spend more time considering what we can do to draw in new readers rather then spend so much time dissecting what is wrong with the industry.

Oh, and Ken, if you are out there, I don’t scare that easy. I have loved reading comics for 33 years and am not stopping anytime soon.

17 comments:

Eaglewing said...

I've thought of that myself, maybe more so with movies, but it really applies to comics. If one wanders into a genre with a blank slate of mental information and encounters a lot of whining/complaining/tearing down of the product the "authorities" on it supposedly love, it could very well create a confusion and maybe even a dislike and a skewed view of it based on a surface encounter. Those of us who passionately debate the pros and cons of stories and favorite characters come at it with a back history of knowledge and even love of the characters, whereas that isn't built yet when people are encountering the negativity of the big ol' internet.

For me, I noticed that I was actually watching and enjoying movies less while my internet movie site reading was going up. I was getting too wrapped up in the background happenings and drama and critic reviews instead of just focusing on the story and characters and getting absorbed in a movie like I used to. So I've started to watch those habits and started to pull back and avoid news and reviews of movies I'm really looking forward to. I want to experience it 'untainted' for myself, before hearing people tear it apart. There were so many movies I grew up watching and loving that would just be torn apart on the net now before they'd even be released. But from those sometimes cheesy flicks, my enjoyment of the medium grew and I continued to branch out to deeper stuff and can enjoy all kinds of movies.

The same applies to comics. I started with an interest in X-Men, and immediately my favorite was Wolverine. I could identify with the character on some levels, loved the outsider rebel with a code kind of character, and my love of comics started. I didn't have good access to comics at that point, but it continued to grow and I really got into it more after the first X-Men movie. I got more comics and started to branch out to other characters (Punisher!). I wound up on kidney dialysis and comics and novels gave me a way to places I couldn't go in reality and were a great distraction. Then I read the first Sin City graphic novel - The Hard Goodbye - and I was blown away at what the medium could do. My love of comics just exploded from there as I kept finding all kinds of great stories and characters. Comics became a hobby that was a great distraction through a lot of that other stuff in my life and even after that stuff was over I still continued reading comics (and always following Wolverine's stories of course) because it was something of enjoyment that grew naturally.

Now, if I had read some of the Wolverine bashing (and comics negativity) that goes on around the 'net nowadays back then, who knows how it might have turned out. I wouldn't have had that 'untainted' experience where I just discovered the characters and stories for myself. I would have been encountering a world of people telling me how I should feel about certain events.

This kind of thing applies to more than comics too - it's sometimes easier to do a rant and tear something down than go on a logical explanation of what's good about something. As much as I really enjoy the internet ramblings, in a way I'm glad I didn't have it as a constant when I was growing up or when I really got into comics and movies later on. There's something about the joy of finding something yourself that shouldn't be taken away by well intentioned, but overzealous fans.

Speaking of ramblings - woah, sorry for the long winded post.

James Meeley said...

eaglewing:

You're my new frickin' hero. :)

Seriously, that is a rightous bit of wisdom you just dropped there. I can't tell you how much it hit on everything I feel about Internet comic fandom, especially the "journalistic" side.

I hope you don't mind the fact that I'm sure I'll be quoting for this "rambling" of your's in the future. there's just too much truth in there, that needs to be spread around for others to see.

Mark Engblom said...

I think to "spread the gospel" on comics, I believe there has to be a general enjoyment of reading already in place. Sadly, so many kids are averse to reading in any form, even supposedly "easy reads" like comic books. Why do all that "work" when you can flip on the Playstation and blow up five dozen zombies...or play "Freebird" for the 85th time on Guitar Hero II?

I'm all for bringing in new comic book readers, but could I see a show of hands of young people who want to read?

Anyone? Anyone?

(crickets chirping)

John Jakala said...

Do kids like to read? Yes. Look at the popularity of the Harry Potter books. Or, to stay focused on comics, look at the popularity of manga. Every time I go to the library I see kids checking out stacks of manga (along with "real" books as well).

Do kids like to read superhero comics? From what I can tell, not so much.

universalperson said...

DO kids like to read superhero comics?

Well, maybe not American superhero comics, but some of the most popular Japanese manga are just superheroes by another name.

Eaglewing: As for the negativity of the internet...yeah, this is a very stupid suggestion but...

Don't read it? I'm sorry if that sounds stupid, but a person dosen't have to read every site on the Internet. I only frquent these blogs because I have nothing better to do.

Eaglewing said...

James Meeley: Thanks! Feel free to quote wherever and whenever you like. I guess this post just got me thinking of why I got into comics in the first place, and wish we could get more people interested in what is really a great product behind all the debates.

Eaglewing said...

UniversalPerson: That's exactly my point. I've cut back on what I read online, and have pretty much reduced it to sites I trust for media reviews. I was looking at it from a comics newbie and internet junky point of view. The thing is, to find out if the internet rambling/site is negative, you have to actually read it first, and by then the horse is out of the barn. I've slogged through a lot of negative sites to get to the good ones that I like. If someone isn't all that knowledgeable on comics and starts reading through that negativity in an effort to learn more about something they might enjoy, they may be burned out on the subject before they get to good sites and solid recommendations. It's basically just luck as one goes out across the internet's field of dreams in the hopes of a home run instead of a strike out (ok, enough of the bad metaphors :). Like I said, I'm glad I didn't have the blogosphere when I first got into comics. Who knows how it might have turned out. As we try to promote a great storytelling medium with flagging interest, it might serve us better if we could get something other than Cap's Death, a Mary Jane Statue, and Tentacle Porn at the forefront of public consciousness. People hear that first and read the debates, do they even get to books like Criminal, Punisher MAX, Fables, Preacher, Loveless, etc? Or do they just hear the negativity and think 'why bother' without digging further and move on to the next thing that might capture their interest and wind up missing out on something that they might have really enjoyed. That's all I'm saying.

James Meeley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Meeley said...

As we try to promote a great storytelling medium with flagging interest, it might serve us better if we could get something other than Cap's Death, a Mary Jane Statue, and Tentacle Porn at the forefront of public consciousness. People hear that first and read the debates, do they even get to books like Criminal, Punisher MAX, Fables, Preacher, Loveless, etc? Or do they just hear the negativity and think 'why bother' without digging further and move on to the next thing that might capture their interest and wind up missing out on something that they might have really enjoyed.

I've got nothing more or new to add here. just thought that this bit of wisdom deserved to be posted again. You know, to give those who bring the negativity a second chance to take pause and reflect on it.

Very nicely stated, eaglewing. :)

Maddox Misery said...

i totally agree with everything. but i come from a different place than most.

i'm not one really swayed by public opinion all that much. i'm somewhat disconnected when it comes to people, its a horrible thing but it did allow me to discorver comics on my own. well not entirely...my brother collected and i'd sneak a few away to read when i was a child in the 80's. i was a victim of horrific abuse of all kinds growing up and my only escape was those long boxes of comics he had. going to school i didn't have many friends. so this public discourse most have around simply didn't exist. so i started learning how to make comics and for years i developed alot of stories and characters and i wanted to do it for a living...this is where the public came in. i grew up and worked real shitty jobs only to find myself financially in the shitter. girlfriend left me and i was left without a job. so i decided the time was right to do my own comics again and for real. i've always been an artist. but i was never truely privey to how things were in the business. thats where the internet came in and really i was floored at the sorry state of the industry itself. seeing people bitter and jaded. seeing comics in a virtual collapse and it really vroke my heart. i no longer wanted to be the hot shot pencler or a writer at the big 2. it just disgusted me. but i looked to the indies and they barely live. so after all my years,the training and the love of the medium i'm a creator with something to offer thats different and no home to go to. its the public that showed me i made a huge mistake dedication a large chunk of my future when i should have a real career in a medium of jaded people and sexed up images of shit that really shouldn't be sexed up. my perception amongst people was altered but i've gone too far to give up on it. too much of my life was invested in all of this. i love the internet and how it brings people together but it does have this inherant ugly side that really hit me right in the face.

but would it turn me off comics if i was a new reader? absolutely not. my tastes were always a little odd. if i didn't get into the mainstream books i would look to independant work. books from fantagraphics for example. i believe the future lies in the internet...if only a few good people really came together to counter the negative it'd make a world of difference.

Lisa said...

Eaglewing makes a great point. I too have read a comic or seen a cover and then read blogs where people were all offended for one reason or another, and then thought, "gee, should I have been upset too? I didn't notice ___ or ____. Maybe I should have because obviously it's something I should have been upset about. Or maybe I'm not really a good feminist because I'm not that upset?"

Negative posts are always easy. As a business owner once told me as we were working to get our store open, "a satisfied customer will tell one or two friends about your business, a dissatisfied customer will tell the world." Same thing applies to just about anything - the motivation to rant and complain seems to be greater than the motivation to praise. An unfortunate part of our human condition, I guess.

I know I have tried to make a more conscious effort on a daily basis to be more positive in conversations and internet posts. I want to be a positive person, not a negative one. That's one BIG reason why I started POWER in Comics - to try to give people a place to share positive ideas and actions while still working on addressing the concerns people have about the comic book industry.

I have found that if there is a problem, it is a lot easier to fix it if you have hope - a postive mental outlook that it can be fixed. If one is negative about it, and doesn't believe it CAN be fixed, then why bother trying? Just throw your hands up in dusgust and continue to tell the world how bad things are. One of my old bosses said, "don't come to me with a complaint unless you have a solution." That's not a bad motto.

Heidi Meeley said...

Eaglewing, I am with Jim that I am dazzled by your posts here. Thank you so much! It made my day to read them. You make so much sense, and spell it out in simple, well thought out terms.

Thank you so much!

Heidi Meeley said...

Mark, you make a good point. I was talking to my weight lifting partner about this tonight and he was talking about how frustrated he is with his grandsons. He can hardly pry the gameboy out of their hands, and half the time it is their mother that put it there so she could get a break. Hearing that is upsetting to say the least.

My sister won't let her boys play video games for more then an hour a week. She has them go outside and work on projects, do homework, and then read together. They do stuff as a family, which is totally cool. Both my nephews read comics, but they are a definite minority and they certainly don't tell their friends about it. It makes me sad.

You make a good point.

Heidi Meeley said...

John, you bring up a good point. The Harry Potter and Princess Diaries are two popular series. I just wonder why the stigma on superhero comics is so huge. Is it the fanboy/nerd thing? Is it the parents who don't read comics? Any ideas?

What are some suggestions for manga for kids to read?

Heidi Meeley said...

Universalperson- wow, I am speechless. I would like to find something to make kids read comics though.

What is that magic formula?

Heidi Meeley said...

Maddox Misery, I really feel empathy for you on this one. Comic books were always a great escape for me as well. I didn't have to focus on the bad things going on if I could go kick butt with Wonder Woman or fly with Superman.

I wish there was something I could do to help find your dreams. It is so hard to dedicate your life to something only to have it shatter and not be at all what you hoped. I am dealing with that in my personal life right now, and it is a horrible thing. I feel for you, and would love to see you have what you so desire.

Your post really touched me to the heart. Thank you.

Heidi Meeley said...

Lisa, you and I come from a similar place in that we try and find the positive and work towards solutions rather then wallow in the negative. There are so many things that are easy to pick apart and that is where the easy target it. I appreciate that there are folks out there that make really good cases for what it wrong, but I am trying to figure out how to change the focus to fixing what is wrong and trying to reinvigorate the industry.

Your P.O.W.E.R. site is definite step in the right direction. I am so impressed by what you are doing. You are an inspiration for what to do, Lisa.

I am going to continue to try and think of things that will help, but I know that if we all work together we are a great deal stronger then we would be alone.