We’re all fans of comics or else we wouldn’t be here. But can it go too far? Is it what really matters? Or is it purely nostalgia?
I really started getting back into comic books about a year ago. In the years prior, I’d always enjoyed stopping by the comic shop once or twice a year to peruse, but I rarely purchased anything. My complete Ghost Rider collection sat in the same longbox, unmoved for close to a decade; life had happened and kept happening.
I don’t know if it was the MCU completing its ten-year saga that re-sparked my love of colored pages, but it happened. I began reading comics, reading about comics, and reading about investing in comics. They’re fun, exciting, and can challenge the way we think.
Pretty quick into getting back into the “comic scene,” I realized just how venomous and divisive some fans could be. (Some fans, not all.) The reality was that the majority of readers and fans enjoyed comic books i.e. the writing, the artistry, the coloring, but there were those who clung to a past version of whatever it was they were reading and regarded everything else as utter drivel.
The comments on some comic reading websites were so vitriolic it actually made me install an extension for my browser to automatically remove comments from all webpages. (Called Shut Up for those interested.) That seems extreme, but in my many years of interweb-browsing, I’d never come across a community so vocal about how much it hated whatever it was supposedly a community supporting.
I’ve been thinking about this quandary for months. If these “fans” hated some of these comic books so much, then why did they keep reading them? It’s the basic question: if it’s so bad, then why watch/read it?
Nostalgia. Some of us undoubtedly read and collect comics today because it brings back a little of that awe from our younger years. It takes us back to those early days poring over the pages of our favorite comic and wondering, “How did they do this? How could anyone do this?” We laid on our bellies in front of the TV, our chins propped on our open hands staring up at the screen, waiting to see what Wolverine was about to do to the Sentinels. We wondered if Space Ghost himself knew just how silly he was.
The Adult Fanboy/Fangirl Mentality
That recapturing of nostalgia is integral to the Adult Fanboy/Fangirl (FB/FG) mentality. Adult FB/FGs have to try and reject the changes happening to their favorite characters and stories because those changes are inherently dissonant with their nostalgia. They can’t watch a film produced thirty years after their first experience with whatever the film is based on and not bring those early memories in with them. They can’t allow themselves to appreciate new forms of old stories for what they are: different.
The most common gripe/complaint/diatribe I read about comic books is that a comic isn’t “true to the original/story.”
Months of labor and effort of a writer, artist, inker, editor, and more summed up in a single fragmented, misspelled, pseudo-intelligible comment of, “This suks, its not like X.”
It’s a common complaint when referring to any form of adaptation, but odd if you stop and think about it. Adaptations have always been subject to an extra level of scrutiny as not being “true to the source material.” And yet we can all think of examples where the source material was woefully outperformed by an adaptation. (The Godfather was based on a book. Most of Kubrick’s work is better than the source material. Etc.)
This is because we assume the new must respect the old. And while I agree with the sentiment, it’s an arbitrary rule. Our world is constantly exposed to new things. We rarely think of those things’ predecessors or find the need to celebrate them. We use what works and move on. And ‘what works’ changes with time. It’s no different with stories.
The inherent problem with growing up and maintaining an interest in any sort of subculture is that we can never be kids again. We will never live without the worries of bills, job security, familial responsibility, etc. We will never watch that favorite cartoon series the same; we’ll be thinking of our home repairs, that sore tooth, and whether or not our comic book investments are going to pay off. We can never reinhabit the mind of a child or young adult; the gamma radiation is out of the proverbial bag.
Which is where the toxicity comes into play. Frustrated fans are just frustrated people unable to live in a world they want to, be it the Marvel Universe, DC Universe, or in a different capacity of their own. Adult fanboys and fangirls are venomous to the community because they corrupt it and keep the newbies away. Would you want to be amazed by a comic only to listen to so-and-so say or write how it wasn’t true to the source material and how the writer should be arrested for such an egregious crime to the ghosts of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby? No thanks.
Just in my brief year of reentering the scene, I’m ready for a break. Ready for an antidote or a different community that isn’t looking to point out the faults of these amazing works. Ready for one that wants to enjoy their strengths.
Change in the Comic Community
Is the change likely? No. There’s too much ego, too much desperate control over fictional universes made more important than their own, and too much-unadulterated hatred of items intended for children and teenagers.
But it could change. I’m not exactly sure how, but it could start with the end of single sentence jabs at the creators of these objects and the beginning of long-form discourse either face to face or in discussion groups. People would be a lot less likely to yell expletives and curse each other for enjoying something. Because that’s why we’re here right? Not to argue about which artist is the best, which new writer should be banished to the Negative Zone, or how many copies of Whatever #1 we should burn on public broadcast. Nostalgia is great unless it’s taken too far.
We could just enjoy these colorful things.
But hey, I’m not holding my breath.