The frown song…Posted: October 6, 2008
[Note: I was going to name this post “Why So Serious?” before I realized I’d already done that. Another working title was Smith Michael’s Completely Arbitrary Fanboy Theory…]
This piece by Nina Stone about Baltimore Comic-Con raises some interesting points. Essentially Stone is noting a “death of joy” among fans and creators at the con.
Stone thought that at Baltimore she would encounter – for lack of a better term – an “empowering” culture. She thought that:
[Baltimore Comic-Con] would be full of comic book people fully embracing their inner geekiness and nerdiness – I don’t mean to offend, I’m totally going with the stereotype here – that they would all be feeling so at home surrounded by all things “comic book and cartoon.” I figured there’d be this party vibe. And, yeah, of course, costumes! People just gettin’ down with their wackness. A full meeting of minds. Creators and fans being psyched to meet EACH OTHER. Everybody making friends! All these clever people, meeting up and creating clever scenarios and making each other laugh!
Stone then goes on to note the disaster that was this year’s DC panel:
Uh-huh. I feel like the entire panel was out until 6 am drinking, rolled back to their hotels for a quick shower, met for breakfast and Bloody Mary’s and rolled into the panel. And I feel like every night is that way for them. I can’t tell you how many times the seemed to allude to coming up with plots and twists while out at the bar. You get the feeling that they are just pissing their pants laughing while they come up with plots. And their laughing AT EVERYBODY IN THE AUDIENCE. And the Geoff Johns guy is laughing all the way to the bank. These guys–ugh. They define the word “smug.” Dan Didio slightly addresses how people are complaining that comics are targeted at an older, male audience and not at kids. Then he smirks and seemed to use the demographic of the audience who showed up for the DC Panel – mostly grown men between 22 and 45 – to then pat DC on the back and say something to the effect of, “well, just take a look around this room – look who’s here. Seems like we’re doing the right thing.” Yeah. No.
There is a direct correlation between the behavior Johns, Didio, etc at the DC panel and the lack of an “empowering” culture among fans at Baltimore. These fans were not seeking “empowerment” – a positive connection between each other – but instead sought “superiority” – a negative association against certain “others”. Geoff Johns and Dan Didio were certainly laughing at fans but the fans themselves were laughing with Johns and Didio. These fans elevated themselves to the “superior” position of Johns and Didio and were laughing at other fans – women, kids, manga fans, whatever.
This sort of thing – to paraphrase Stone – is “comics as a frat house”. The culture of “superiority” among fanboys – and it is usually among fanboys – I feel is becoming the dominate strain among superhero fans. This strain of fandom I think is driven not just by the attitude of the fans themselves, but also by creators and comic companies and the work they produce. I can say this for a several reasons; observing fans while working at a comic shop, going to conventions, reading the internets, and from fighting such impulses within myself.
I think this attitude of “comics as a frat house” or culture of “superiority” is marked by several characteristics:
- Fetishizing “seriousness”. That is to say an uncritical acceptance of supposedly “adult” themes, like sexuality, violence, etc. as the “proper” – or sole – subject matter of modern superhero comics.
- A lack of self-awareness about the state of superhero comics or the comics industry more generally. To clarify, the belief that either current state of the industry is how things “always” were or the current state of the industry is the nadir of a “natural” evolution. Basically, the belief that things today are as they “should be”. This ties into (1).
- A crippling fear of “camp” which helps drive out lightness and humor. This too ties into (1).
- An unwillingness to accept types (read: non-“serious”) as equally valid storytelling techniques. This unwillingness tends to turn discussion among fans into a self-reinforcing echo chamber as other storytelling troupes are progressively excluded as “non-serious” and degraded.
There are others characteristics that could be noted – I am clearly painting with a broad brush – but I think they generally give one the impression of the sort of fanboy I am talking about. The market reenforces and stregthens these characteristics. Such deeply “serious” fare as All-Star Batman and Robin, Secret Invasion, Teen Titians, Civil War, and whatever (I could go on) is just laped up by these fans; thus Marvel and DC make more and more of those sort of books. The saturation of the market with “serious” books drives out fans looking for an alternative – or at the very least limits their options. As economic times tighten this cylce is only likely to get worse; why take a chance on something different when you can have Dark Avengers or Terror Titans?
I think that mainstream (read: superhero) comics are like to say as a “frat house” for a good while. There is likely to be a reaction of sorts, I’m sure. Perhaps some genius will find away to balance adult themes, with a fun self-awareness, all without descending into camp. Perhaps not.
What is definite – from my point of view – is that we aren’t likely to see any sort of “empowerment” to dominate among fans – especially fanboys.