Growing Up: Examining Nostalgia, Fandom, and Toxicity

by Take Root

not-brand-199x300 Growing Up: Examining Nostalgia, Fandom, and Toxicity

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?

The Start

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.

supe Growing Up: Examining Nostalgia, Fandom, and ToxicityThe Bummer

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.

The Nostalgia

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.

drag Growing Up: Examining Nostalgia, Fandom, and ToxicityThe 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 Complaint

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.

Growing Upenjoy Growing Up: Examining Nostalgia, Fandom, and Toxicity

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.

opperil Growing Up: Examining Nostalgia, Fandom, and ToxicityChange 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.


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Rob August 30, 2020 - 9:59 am

Pretty insightful dive into the psyche of a portion of the community. You see something similar in sports when you hear people slag current stars and say they can’t hold the jockstrap of “legend x”. Those assessments come from an evaluation of impact/talent that was made by that individual in their youth; a time when we are routinely impressed by things we see, because we haven’t seen much. When we get older, that same sense of awe is nearly impossible to recreate. But just because you don’t feel that sense of awe doesn’t mean that the comic, movie, athlete that you are watching isn’t inspiring awe in others. It’s definitely a close minded way of looking at the world.

Shahadat August 30, 2020 - 12:09 pm

Really nice article. Just rejoined the comic book scene as well and have felt a little alienated by the attitudes. I do love the nostalgia it brings me but am not expecting to transform myself back to a kid, rather bring some of those (positive) emotions I felt back then to the present

Chris August 30, 2020 - 5:49 pm

Jake, I did not expect an article like this from you after diving into your “n’th printing” argument in the CGR piece. I actually agree with much of what you say here, and what it really does for me, is that it tells me that you do have genuine good intentions. Still though, with those good intentions, I think you failed in that last article about the CGR printing issue, because I believe you let your emotions (and ego) get in the way of your humility and true love for the hobby and also your ethical responsibility as a journalist. You talk about the divisiveness and ugliness from fans; about ego itself, but I feel you ultimately became a bit of what you yourself hate in your narrowed perception of a topic that you ultimately forced down our throats as fact – EVEN though you may have had good intentions.

My point is this: I am very happy to have read this because it adds context to your character. Maybe you are more open to listening than I previously assumed. Still, if you want to perpetuate “change” within this industry, you yourself have a platform and the power to do so. And I’m not telling you how to do your job, but I do want to humbly offer my advice: when you have a strong opinion on something, you have to lead with humility, and not with pride. And I always say that a solid opinion is still one that is backed up by factual data. IE. one can have an opinion that 2 plus 2 is 5, but that opinion will never be true.

I look forward to challenging you more in the future. I wish nothing but the best for you. Stay optimistic, but stay humble as well.

Darryn Pope August 30, 2020 - 7:51 pm

Nicely done. I, too, have recently rejoined, but I haven’t run into anything caustic yet. I’m in it for the nostalgia, but also for the stories and artwork. After a 20-year hiatus, I’ve found that I’m still a sucker for pretty much any variant, I’ll still buy a book by its cover, and I still love a great story. There is so much great comic fiction happening right now that I’m having trouble completing my Uncanny X-men run because I’m having a blast trying new titles. I’m not a kid any more, and my tastes have changed. Luckily, so have the books.

Harmen August 31, 2020 - 8:45 am

Hi Jake,

Yes, there are toxic people out there. In sports, in politics, and for sure in comics too.

So let me share another story: my joy in and love for comics and graphic novels, which began a few years ago.

I love to read stories that appeal to my sense of family, belonging and hope. Right now, the hardcover Superman for all seasons is waiting for me, a story of joy and hope if ever there was one.

I am a big fan of X-23, Wolverine’s daughter. The way Marjorie Liu portrayed her personal growth and the support of her friends in the 2010 X-23 line … love it to bits. I am also a huge fan of her writing in the later stories of Astonishing X-men, especially on Warbird. I wrote a thank you to Marjorie Liu because of it, and she responded beautifully.

This is where I began to collect comics: I bought some that reminded me of these stories and how these stories made me feel. They do not cost much, but I am so happy to have them, altogether maybe 30 comics that have that meaning to me. Two flagship comics here: NYX 3 – the first appearance of X-23, which I was able to buy for a hundred dollars … and Astonishing X-men 68, by Marjorie Liu … which cost me all of three dollars excluding postage! 🙂

I now also collect the cover artwork of some artists. The rules are simple: I love the cover, and it has to be cheap (like 1 to 5 dollar cheap). I have maybe 12 covers that I love so far. Next up: X-Factor 26, a cover by David Finch for his run on the X-men’s story arc Messiah Complex and Second Coming. A gorgeous, powerful cover.

I have now started the game of speculation. Not to get rich – high transaction costs would make that difficult – but for the thrill of buying and selling and maye make a few dollars. I just bought the first appearance of Metamorpho, a gorgeous VF if you ask me, for 70 dollars. Let’s see if I can make a buck. I feel like in the casino 🙂

Lastly, I love reading about comics, from its history to the collecting and speculation market. GoCollect is a small but meaningful part of it.

So there you have it: my joy in and love for comics. Thanks for being a small part in it!

Pete August 31, 2020 - 2:32 pm

Installing an extension to remove all comments. What? You couldn’t simply read the article and choose not to read the comments? Seems like a much easier solution to me.

DB Harper August 31, 2020 - 7:17 pm

Loved it and I’m exactly the same spot. I have to admit I have thought those desires that the world would stay true to the origin stories we first read. But that was a gift that we readers of that time get. I hope we can all just enjoy it.


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