Sunday, March 27, 2016

Before Comics Were Cool - The Gen-X Recollection Project: Ryan (It is I! Your humble blogger!)

Howdy!  And welcome to a not terribly special edition of Before Comics Were Cool - The Gen-X Recollection Project.  Because, it's me.  Writing about me.  And, settle in, kids, because this entry is entirely TL; DR material.

Fair being fair, I thought I'd partake in my own memory-gathering exercise.

The questions I put out there reflect some of what I've pondered of late when it come to how the notion of nerd-dom has changed, and as we watch the world embrace the same culture we reveled in, the same geek-type-stuff that once left us hated and feared by the very world we sought to protect, what it was like in The Before Times.

In putting finger to keyboard, it's a bit hard to think back on the past with genuine honesty.  The period we're talking about - when we got into comics and the fog of raw emotion that dominates your world in middle and high school - is one with which we all grapple.  My primary emotion during those years was "confusion".   Any tertiary emotions stemmed from whether my confusion was increasing or decreasing.

There are folks who read this site who will quibble with my assessment of how things went down, but that's the way of history.  I have tried to adhere to reality, but I know the years have painted over some of the truths, wounds have healed as the memories recede and the decades in between has provided a barricade from the days when everything felt like an open wound.

This may be the longest I've ever worked on a single post in all my years of blogging.  Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, this has also turned out to be one of the longest posts I've ever written.  So, if you're going to read it, go get your coffee now.

And, without further ado...


Howdy, y'all.  It's me.  Your friendly blogger.



Your name: Ryan (yeah.  I'm doing this, too.)
Your current occupation:  I am an Assistant Director at a Digital Library consortium.  My job is essentially "make the things work/ run a team of devs and sys admins/ other duties as assigned"
Your current place of residence: Austin, TX
Your current personal family status: Married, no kids, two dogs, extended family up in my business (everyone lives in town these days)


What was ground zero for you getting into comics/ science-fiction/ fantasy? About what year was that? Do you remember what was going on in your life?


These are the raw materials we were working with

It's probably important to mention, first, that my earliest memories of superherodom are tied to Adam West in Batman, which I reportedly watched in reruns before I could even speak.  As per sci-fi/ fantasy - my parents bought into Star Wars lock, stock and barrel.  My dad took my brother and me to see the first movie during its original theatrical release (take that, parents who aren't sure their two-year-olds can take Uncle Ben's charred skeleton!).  My Mom, who still likes Star Wars, had us in Star Wars wallpaper, figures, bed spreads... all that.  

But, yeah, I suspect I was imprinting on all of that stuff like crazy.

The Admiral took me to see Superman during its initial run (1978), but that took much later.  I vaguely remember watching (and playing) Gatchaman/ G-Force, as well as Super Friends in the late 1970's, and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.  We had lots of capes around and a few Batman and Spider-Man toys.

The first actual comic books I read included Woody Woodpecker and Bugs Bunny, maybe circa 1981, and I didn't like them.  It felt like the rushed, cheap work it was.  At some point, I got a Clash of the Titans comic book, and I liked that a lot.  Between the funny pages and that comic, I now knew not all comics were necessarily as hacky as the knock-offs of animation.

But none of this was exactly nerdy.  Just a kid consuming nerd-adjacent juvenile pop culture detritus.  However, that was not to last.

I have no idea why, but at age 11, I grabbed some comics in the Chicago airport en route to visit my grandparents, and really got excited about West Coast Avengers 13 (cover date October 1986), which taught me about atomic forces way before high school science.  I dunno what I liked, but it seemed exciting.  Lots of Marvel-type mayhem.


also, the image of a chained-up cat lady in a bikini no doubt lit up my 11-year-old boy's brain like the 4th of July
The comic which sold me - bought at the newstand near my grandparent's house once I realized these comic books were kind of neat, was Uncanny X-Men 210 (also cover date October 1986), which not only featured all these X characters just talking to each other like a family (no fights occur during the issue), and it dealt with anti-mutant racism.  It felt surprisingly mature for a story to take a breath and have characters actually take a beat and consider their situation (something DC has never, ever done).  

Having grown up in a house where my folks took the Civil Rights movement pretty danged seriously, especially for non-political white-bread sorts of folks, the clear analogy for racism and intolerance made the comic feel positively of the adult world in a way even a kinky cat lady and Iron Man could not.


this seemed impossibly bad-ass to my young mind

Of course, this issue led right into "The Mutant Massacre", which also got me right into my first longform comic book story.

Like everyone else, probably in late 1987, I picked up my first paperback copy of The Dark Knight Returns.  I knew it was different, I knew I liked it, and that and Batman: Year One kind of felt like this A-List sort of comic I just didn't see all that much, and that was okay.  I knew some movies were better than other movies.

As per what was actually going on in my life at the time?  Middle-school is hard.  It was work to want to be anywhere you were supposed to be, to juggle 6 or 7 classes, do sports, and I was getting pretty good at driving my parents nuts.  What I considered to be "the program" we were supposed to be on didn't fit me very well at home or with my peers.  I knew how to basically emulate what was normal behavior for when it was necessary, but when I played ball, I was starting to feel a bit like someone wearing a disguise to fit in and get along.

Cough.  For the record, I was probably 17 before I read any Superman in the form of the Man of Steel mini-series which felt like 1980's big-screen sci-fi in execution.  But I was well into college before I started really exploring Superman in depth.

Somewhere in elementary school my brother and I started playing Role-Playing games like D&D, but my favorites turned out to be the DC Comics and Marvel systems even before I was intimately familiar with the characters.  It always seemed like there was so much more potential and genre switching going on.  And, you could make yourself meet these characters you knew from TV and cartoons, and it got me to try a lot of comics I might have otherwise missed.

I don't really recall what sci-fi I read that wasn't Bradbury or Asimov, except for a few stand-outs, including accidentally reading the novelization of Escape From New York in 5th grade, and only learning it was a movie as I finished the book.  But I did.  A book purge somewere along the line sent the books to the far corners of the Earth and I've forgotten what all I read.  But, in fifth grade I read my first Bradbury and in 6th, my first Asimov, and I still love robots.


For your consideration:  the pathos of a 6th-grade tuba player in a Coca-Cola shirt


Why did comics/ science-fiction/ fantasy have such an impact on you?


Visually, science-fiction and fantasy movies held tremendous appeal.  As we were a family that went to the movies a lot, and both of my parents were willing to tag along, take us to what they wanted to see or drop us off when we got older (or I rode my bike a couple miles to the local cinema) - a lot of my selection was sci-fi.  It was the era of Star Wars, Jim Henson movies, Spielbergian fantasy.   And this was before I really cared about ladies in metal bikinis or whatever as part of my sci-fi.  It just wasn't part of my interest in the genre.*  But, yeah, seeing the planet of The Dark Crystal, The Enterprise in action, X-Wings in the trench, even Michael Keaton in a bat-suit.  It all worked.


From early on, and with no thought behind why, cataloging of the ideas in sci-fi and superhero-dom became an end unto itself.  Not in the way I've read some people made their own reference cards, etc..  but mentally, making sure I had recall, being able to reach for the right resource without trying.  The Marvel Role-Playing Game supplements featured rich character profiles taken right from Marvel's handbook comics, and I could quote you every Marvel character's background and origin up to about 1988 or so.  


I don't think it's a mistake that you see Star Wars Visual Dictionaries, etc... released on the regular.  That was some old school geekery right there.  But I also think that sort of cataloging comes very naturally to a brain trying to grasp the world around it.  I think there's a direct and unstudied correlation somewhere in there between these activities and how they manifest into bagging, boarding and preserving one's comics and having action figure collections (or baseball card collections, etc... tied to sports stats).


The scope and size of the problems in superherodom and sci-fi felt like it mattered, and after watching Luke blow up a Deathstar or Jack Burton save the world, it was kind of hard to take the problems in The Secret of My Success seriously.  I didn't feel like anyone was talking down to me in sci-fi - and especially when I got to comics - I felt like they were talking just above me, that I had to do some work and keep a dictionary nearby to keep up (thanks, Chris Claremont!).  Sci-Fi and comics could contain huge ideas - I mean, I was 12 and reading The Dark Knight Returns and 11 and reading Fahrenheit 451.  All stuff that seems like not a huge deal as an adult where that stuff has been in the periphery at least, but as a kid... that was how I was introduced to idea after idea - many of them analogies for real issues, some of them speculative thought exercises.


Sure, I liked the ideas of what could be, of what lurked around the corner or in shadows, what existed in the reaches of space or between dimensions.  It made the world feel infinite in all directions.  I continue to be influenced by a deep desire for a Star Trek future.


As part of that adult world - and I never would have said it this way then - was the wide range of moral questions implicit in much of sci-fi and at the core of superhero stories.  If I found West Coat Avengers interesting, the topic of what it meant to be a Mutant resonated like crazy.  The conflict in that X-Men #210 was resolved when a gang of people is chasing Nightcrawler as a "dirty Mutie", and Kitty Pryde and Colossus intervene without using their powers, just words.  That meant a lot to me.  Understanding differences, embracing your place outside of what you saw as "the mainstream" became just the facet through which I was regarding reality - and maybe a point of pride.  Heck, early Batman I read contained stories about Jason Todd maybe/ maybe not pushing a bad-guy off a roof.


I'd venture that my interest in the questions of morality spurred me to gravitate from Batman during the "dark vengeance" boom of the character in the 1990's to Superman - finding my entry to the character not just through The Man of Steel mini and the 1990's cartoon, but the Alex Ross painted/ Paul Dini written Superman: Peace on Earth book, as well as the Alex Ross painted/ Mark Waid written Kingdom Come, which both wrangled with the implications of power and use of power in a world that's far more complex than cops and robbers.



after getting up at 6:30 AM to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens


What was it like trying to find the sorts of things you wanted to get your hands on back then? Were comics available? Did your library carry science fiction and fantasy?


Like most folks, I picked up comics at newstands and grocery stores when I first got excited by the form.   Looking through my comics, it didn't take long before I noticed that they advertised comic book stores, and even a store that was just off campus from UT Austin, a 30 minute drive into town.  However, the first comic shop I believe I ever walked into was Austin Books and Comics, which was half comics and half sci-fi book store back then (and is still my comic shop nearly 30 years later!  My GOD they have a lot of my money.).  


So, no.  I didn't have a hard time finding what I was looking for from right when I got into superheroes.  If I didn't find it on the newstand or grocery, I just waited until I was at ABC.  Or, usually I just forgot and moved on to the next thing.  That was just part of collecting comics for me.


We also had a great pre-Barnes & Noble bookstore chain called Bookstop that carried tons of sci-fi, comics and role-playing game stuff.  And a hobby shop called King's Hobbies that carried games and stuff.  the trick was getting a mom or dad to get us there.  Mostly, if there was a lack of anything, it was any kind of decent fiction section in my school libraries.


But I wasn't very good at looking for comics.  True story - I had no idea when or how comics came out until I was well into college.  I had never heard of Comic Book Wednesday.  That's how little I talked to people about comics, including the shop owners.  I knew comics came out once a month, but figured a truck showed up just whenever, and it was up to me to check regularly for new comics.  Kids, that's how things worked in the pre-internet days, I'm afraid.  You were just sort of at the mercy of external forces, as far as I was concerned, so this was just one more case of that.


It was when the market went totally Direct Market that I started noticing I was missing out on quite a few issues as my non-ABC shop at the time only ordered a couple of copies for the shelf.  Honestly, had I not finally learned about Wednesday, I might have abandoned comics as they were becoming very hard to follow if you missed an issue or two and everything had become minimum 6-part storylines by then.




Fighting crime on a tiny scale!


What was your parents’ or guardians’ opinion of your interest?


As my parents read this site, and - no doubt - will read this answer with keen interest, I want to be fair here, but honest as well.  Fortunately, that's not too difficult. 


To make things interesting, around age 12 I did what many people that age do, and decided I was never going to please all of the people all of the time, threw up my hands and said "I'm going to just do this thing my way and see how that works out."  To a degree.  I wasn't doing much more than your typical youthful testing of boundaries and borders, but I was working my way toward a pleasant state of just doing my own thing.  Thus, my folks and I had our differences, and I was probably more of a handful than my brother, and, upon occasion, my taste in media could be an issue, but that was the rarest of occurrences and mostly lumped in as part of bigger issues.  But, I want to be fair.  Especially by high school, my folks let me have a long leash so long as I kept my grades up and didn't get anyone pregnant.


As far as movies went - anything was game and they didn't pay much attention, and, in fact, my Dad in particular was a fan of sci-fi films himself, so any new Trek meant a father/son outing as of Star Trek IV.


When it came to comics, early on there was a window in there where you could feel some of the Fredric Wertham mojo at play where they didn't care for their son, supposedly coming of age, reading this stuff.  Of course, I was not sure what their deal with my superheroes was back then, and - unfamiliar with any cultural negative stereotypes about comics at age 11 or so - I just rolled my eyes and leaned into it.  I did make the mistake of handing my dad a copy of The Killing Joke to demonstrate how comics had advanced.  That went over like a lead balloon.


I want to be pretty clear that most of the time, as long as I wasn't setting anything on fire, their attitude was 90%, "eh, who cares?" and they worried about my grades and whether I had other interests - which I did, and - from my perspective - it seemed to go away with only the occasional remark about "Ryan and his superheroes" and a reciprocal eye roll.


I will also say, the fact I've been doing this blogging bit publicly for over a decade has meant that my parents now have a really, really good grip on what I'm on about.  Now they think of it as some thing I do that's different, and they don't pretend to get it, but they're shockingly supportive.



My garden.  My Chewie T-shirt.  Around age 5.


Did you have friends who shared your interest, or was it something you did on your own?


Off and on.  Early on, certainly (see Matt A.'s entry!).  I really do think of reading comics as something people do on their own, like any reading experience outside of a class.  And, while I love getting comments and feedback, I mostly have kept blogging as a sort of personal journal all these years - not to build a media empire built upon my opinions and whims.  If I were doing that, this would be the least successful effort in the history of all humanity.


When I was first getting into comics, especially in middle school, it was all right to talk about comics a bit with a few friends who were in the know.  We'd pass them around and literally trade comics, but by 9th grade, I think all that had dried up.  Other than a "yeah, I read comics" I don't remember much discussion about the actual content in the comics.  And, I had a few clusters of friends, and only one of them really dug the funny books.


Fortunately, Jason kicked in and talked a bit about our shared interest in all this stuff, and how him getting a license and set of wheels also impacted the whole schema.  But it's impossible to point to someone with a longer history, more discussions on all this, and more shared mutual specific interests down the line.  Now, we've often parted ways on the Superman question, but that's his loss.  Sometimes one sibling gets all the brains, good taste and good looks.


I moved back to the Houston area in 10th grade, and in that period, that was totally me on my own.  Jason remained in Austin to wrap up high school (like I said - a very long leash), and so I was on my own, no car yet, no friends.  No nothing.


When I moved, I really slowed down reading comics and sci-fi.  My money was going to movies and music - I was reading non-sci-fi novels and plays, the newspaper, non-fiction even, and I didn't have a good place to get comics until some time in my last year of high school, and that's when I started getting really into comics again.  I came across the stuff hitting the shelves that would become the Vertigo imprint my freshman year of college.



In college I met a few people into comics and I recall my amazement at meeting people who  said "oh, I've got fifteen years' worth of Fantastic Four".   That let me know - it's gonna be just fine.  But aside from recommendations here and there and the very occasional comic-shop run (usually tied to other errands), I think I was in my fifth year of college before I had more than a five minute conversation about anything comic book related.  It just wasn't something that - even when I found other comics folk - I felt like we talked about all that much.  Just "I'm reading Sandman" or "You should check out Invisibles," "Preacher is @#$%ing crazy..  Stuff like that.  I do remember making everyone watch The Maxx on MTV.  And, of course, talking a few people into reading Watchmen or whatever.

But, even within many of my friendships, comics were not a part of it in any way.  Whether in high school, college or all the years since (and I'm almost twice as old now as I was when I wrapped up college), comics haven't been a part of it - weirdly, even with people I know do or did read comics.  Really, through this site and online, that's where I've met people I genuinely like a lot and consider "comics" friends even if, some of you, I've never met or I only see you once a decade or so.





me on the left, Peabo on the right, parking lot of the Houston Zoo circa '93, aged 17 or 18ish



The image of the protagonist in a great deal of comics, science-fiction and fantasy centered on characters that were straight, white and male. You may not fit all or any of these categories. How did you relate to these characters and stories?


I was straight, white and male.  Middle class.  It wasn't particularly hard to identify, in general, with the characters in superhero comics - living double lives, trying to save a world that hates them - all resonated, too, feeling somewhat out of step with the world, as I now imagine everyone does to greater or lesser extent.  I wrote the question, so I'm pretty aware of what I was looking for here, and I'm not sure what all I have to add.  I am aware that it took more work to put myself into the shoes of, say, Storm, when I was a big fan of X-Men.  But you can see the attempts in the 80's to become more inclusive not really working out so well (do not read the 80's era Falcon mini-series).



there's always Drunk Batman, the hero we all relate to


To greatly generalize, the media and society at large considered genre media to be the domain of fringe personalities, developmentally stunted people, etc… What did you think of this portrayal then and now? How did you mediate that in your own life? Did it create any issues for you either with authority figures or peers?



Back in the late-80's, I had been to a couple of small Comic-Con's in Austin when "comic book convention" meant a ballroom at the Holiday Inn, some tables with comics, and the one guy walking around dressed as Spock.  So, I knew the stereotype came from a place.  It was hard to own dressing like a guy who got the wrong memo or just be the Star Trek guy back then, and while I knew this was the one place that guy felt like he was himself - I didn't relate to that, in particular.  (I also found out about Star Trek clubs where people had ranks and whatnot from a former colleague, and I am unsure how I would have responded to that if I'd known that were a possibility.)


Some intuition in my youth told me that some kids just show up with a target painted on them, and you just know it could be comics or ornithology, or whatever the hell they're up that's going to get them picked on because it isn't sports - or the right kind of sports.  Some kids are just going to have a harder time fitting in, and you just hoped they wouldn't get their asses kicked.  People are jerks.  They don't like what's different, just like The X-Men could tell you.  


In all honesty, one of the regrets of my youth is remaining silent when other kids were getting picked on.  I was certainly a big enough kid (6'3" by 9th grade) to do something about it more often than I did.


But the stereotype I saw on TV and how I assumed other people considered what a "nerd" was didn't (entirely) fit me to a T, at least in my opinion.  Comics and sci-fi and all that were just part of what worked for me, and no less a part of what was a bit out of step with the squares when it came to music selection, choice of reading material, and other unpopular opinions.  It was all one thing to me.  


I hesitate to call my approach to comics "punk rock", because that's loaded and incorrect, but the cultural winds that would bring us Vertigo and Watchmen hitting "best books of the 20th Century" lists were already blowing.  I was no more embarrassed of my comics and sci-fi than I was of my favorite bands.  I just always felt like this was a weird, cool thing that people didn't "get", and that was their loss, but no reason  for me not to like it.  


As per non-parental authority figures - At most,  the cognitive dissonance of what teachers thought a nerd was, or topics to be embarrassed by and what I thought was going on would materialize in conversations where I'd say "I'm gonna write my paper on how Batman relates to this topic," and they'd say "No." Or "Hey, so, could Swamp Thing ever really happen?  I mean - a shambling man-shaped mass of intelligent plant life?" and they'd say "No.  Ryan, did you even read the chapter?"**


I played sports for a while.  I was out going to shows downtown Houston in high school.  I acted in plays (badly) and built sets (well, I think).  Dated.  That whole "I'm a gonna be me" thing was true not just for my folks, but especially after I moved back to Houston where I truly did not care - I was marking time til college.  I am sure some kids thought I was a geek or nerd or whatever.  Some even threw that around, at least in Middle School.  But, you know, my opinion wasn't super high of most of my peers, so I wasn't exactly cut to the quick.  The kids who were smart or who I actually liked certainly didn't care, and if they were friends and were teasing, I took it about as seriously as I did a "your Mama" joke.


To close all this out - I can recall being 13 and my silent embarrassment for two grown men loudly arguing over events in GI Joe comics at Austin Books, and thinking "dear, God.  Let me never be one of those guys."  Of course, I am ABSOLUTELY one of those guys now, and that occasionally gives me a moment of pause and want to review everything about the past 30 years.  I frankly think I'm way nerdier now than I was growing up, and it totally doesn't matter.



But I'd hate to be one of those awkward jerks who can't realize he's bothering people he'd like to win over


What impact did comics/ science-fiction and/ or fantasy have on your budding romantic life? Did you share your interests with significant others? Then or now?


First of all, I did not exactly have the ladies knocking down my door in middle school, and while I was interested in girls, it all seemed pretty abstract until high school. 


Like most guys into comics, sci-fi, whatever, in reality, I don't think comics or sci-fi had that much impact on me when it came to dating.  Now, I didn't lead with "my name is Ryan, and I am a huge fan of the X-Men, a comic book.  Also, I like Captain Kirk.", but I didn't lie or hide anything.  Eventually I'd go on too long about Batman or Ewoks, and then I'd have need to explain myself, and I guess by then it was too late for either of us.


The first girl I actually worked up the nerve to go out with (a whirlwind romance of about two weeks at age 14.  Heavy stuff.) came over to my house.  How vividly I recall that moment of pause about two beats too late while we were in my room, both looking at the Captain America poster on my wall, as I thought "Ah.  Maybe not so good with the super heroes...".   But aside from something about "such a boys' room", there wasn't much derisive said.


What I term "my high school girlfriend" would go see sci-fi movies with me, but sci-fi and comics weren't her thing.  She knew I had them, I'd pick up X-Men or Batman once in a while at the grocery store, but she didn't pay attention to it.  However, she came from a household that took the visual arts super seriously (her mom is an artist), and eventually she noticed the artwork in some of my comics, so very briefly at least that was a point of interest for her.  Aside from that, I don't really remember her caring one way or another.


I will state - like other respondents, I literally didn't know a single girl who read comics or was heavy into sci-fi when I was coming up.  It was "a boy thing" until I got to college (something I know raises the bile of younger readers, but, hey, I was there), and even in the days of university I could count girls reading comics or talking about sci-fi seriously on one hand.  For good or ill, none of the girls who could talk shop about superheroes or Sandman were remotely interested in the amazing product that was a 19 year old me, for which I can only respect them all the more.


When I started dating Jamie, it was in year 3 of Vertigo, I was very much back into comics and I remember giving her Dark Knight Returns as assigned reading.   Immediately after sending her on her way with a stack of comics, I realized it was kind of uncool to force someone to read something when you start dating (and, dear God, Frank Miller's panel lay out was not a great intro to comics, anyway).  Still, it was a testament to her fortitude that she read at least some of that pile.  When it came to other things, though, it did not hurt that Jamie was a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, she watched Star Trek and Star Wars, was a fan of plenty of stuff on her own, and she didn't mind if I monologued about Jack Kirby at her for five minutes.  And, in fact, when X-Files was on Friday evenings during our early years of dating, we'd stay in to watch it together.


Since then, she's gone fangirl in her own way.  She's got her own little cadre of online friends I found out about way after the fact.  She has her own favorites (do not get her started on Agent Carter), and she'll pick up her own comics when she's at Austin Books (I did very well bringing her the first Black Widow issue that came out this month).



and sometimes you realize you've got the perfect partner for whatever it is you were up to


What is the oddest thing about how comics, superheroes, science-fiction and fantasy have changed in their original form since you got into all this? On the larger cultural stage? What do you think when you hear words like “geek” and “nerd” today?


This is a poorly formed question, and I apologize to my recipients of this question.


The internet changed everything.  Let's start there.  Back in the 90's when I saw my first BBS, I was shocked to find alt.comics.superman and whatnot out there.  Suddenly you were online talking to other humans about Superman, something impossible to do even if you knew people into comics.  Hell, The Superman Homepage is still called The Superman Homepage a decade after people dropped the term "Homepage" and the site is still a roaring success, bringing together Superman nerds from around the world.  


And, bear in mind, picking up Superman comics literally got me an eyeroll from more than one guy selling them to me back in the 90's when even in comic shops, Superman was considered uncool.


I don't think superhero  movies came about because of the internet - it was FX finally catching up, but I think you can thank the hype machine of the the internet for much of the success and management of those films as studios read unfiltered feedback from their audience.


But, yeah, there's no question the culture has changed significantly.  It's now weird if someone doesn't know anything about The Avengers.  Rocket Raccoon is a household name, for God's sake.  I am, of course, thrilled by this in many ways, especially when it comes to how Marvel has managed to go mainstream while retaining the spirit of what made those characters and their stories such a big part of my life.


But when I look at what DC is planning to do with movies and what Star Trek is becoming on the silver screen, it's more than a little heartbreaking to this Superman Fanboy.  It feels a bit like that pal in school who changes themselves completely in order to try to fit in with a new crowd, and it's not really working.  If the new group only likes that former pal because of his new clothes, maybe that wasn't worth pursuing after all.  


In this era of ease of manufacturing and licensing gone wild (and all gettable online - again, the internet), the sheer volume of licensed merchandise is absolutely staggering.  In the 1980's, you could find, like, 10 comic book shirts at any given time, and at least three were Batman (until the release of the Batman movie, during which period, it was a Bat-Bonanza).  There's a fresh toyline for kids and collectors every three months.  Licensed earrings and body piercings.  Wallets.  Hats.  There's almost nothing you can't get with Iron Man's face slapped on it.  It's the new Rule 34.


There are things I don't get.



  • I don't get how anyone can afford to keep up with comics without just reading 65% or more of what they're reading online in a pirated fashion.
  • I don't get the insta-collector thing of Loot Crate and it's competitors.  Why are you spending money on boxes of this stuff if you don't know what it is?  Are you just pre-planning to toss things out in 5 years?  How can you complain about not having money when you're buying a blind box of random shit every month?
  • Spending a fortune building a sweaty costume to go walk around a flea market kind of boggles my mind, but I guess people like doing that.  It just isn't my thing, but I'm only really comfortable in a t-shirt and jeans.
  • I flat out don't understand the interest in fan-fiction, aside from slash fiction, because, hey... porn.  What's not to get?  I have my opinions on entitlement and what it says about us and our ability to understand or appreciate author or meaning of narratives, and I would hope writers really want to see new things, original things, come into being.  Also:  teeth-achingly terrible writing.   But: porn.
  • It's odd to me how comics reading has turned into something you Instagram like a dinner you're showing off (which I also don't understand).   As a social activity first and foremost, it's moved from an act of reading stuff on one's own, cataloging, having a beyond-working knowledge of the material.
  • I sometimes wonder if the kids are even reading the old stuff.  I see no evidence that its happening.
Some of the change has been uncomfortable.  When the new crew came in, there was a lot of derisive stuff about "oh, that's just what the old fanboys say" or "that's because you only like 'Dad Comics'".  And you kind of wanted to slap them around a bit and remind them:  none of this would even be here if it weren't for us old fanboys, both creator and fan.  The genre wouldn't have pushed itself forward to the point where it could be picked up and made into modern movies if it weren't for the hyper-critical fanboys.

Fortunately, that faded away pretty quickly, and the louder, angrier fanboys seems to have been silenced as well.  There is once again peace in the land.  But, then, of course, it has felt like DC and Marvel have been, in big and small ways, been asking us to please leave for the past five years.

In it's wake, the stigma is gone.  The terms "nerd" and "geek", which were meant to suggest you were wasting your time/ life because you were being weird and not pursuing culturally approved activities now has the connotation of something cute.  When the term was thrown at us/ me, it meant you were unsexed, confused as to your priorities, and not fit for socializing with your peers because you were just going to be weird when you did so.  It let you know where you stood.  


So, seeing normals with "gardening geek!" in their facebook profile, or "total cooking nerd!", I guess I'm glad..?  


And, if this generation of fans want to dress like a Tardis and walk around town, it's now just being wacky in a way that won't have your parents worried.  All that means the words have lost their potency and the 90's and 00's strategy of owning those terms worked out.  


Mission accomplished?


On a very positive note, at this late date that new audience is forcing change, and it feels like we're moving away from tokenism at long last and into genuine inclusion when it comes to characters in comics.  And, even better, there's more diversity when it comes to who is making comics and sci-fi.  


There's also a greater diversity in material out there beyond comics for general consumption.  It's neat to see The Flash on TV and know its something families are watching.   It's neat to see kids in Captain America shirts and playing with their Spider-Man toys still in 2016.  And Daredevil on Netflix and even Deadpool breaking records.


It would have been interesting if the explosion of interest in superheroes had meant more comic sales, more interest in what we meant by being a comic geek back in the 1980's - because that obsessive reading and cataloging truly does not really seem to mean that all that much.  And, yet, everyone wants to claim that geek title these days (which sometimes makes me think I've somehow landed on Htrae, and no one let me know).  


But, you know, I don't lose sleep over it.



and sometimes you get to meet Neal Adams, and comics is exactly what you want it to be


What is your greatest joy when it comes to your memories of getting into comics/ science-fiction/ fantasy?


My answer is the same as everyone else's answer.  The endless possibilities of possibility.  Of alien worlds and robots with personalities and star ships passing through space at warp speed.  People putting on capes and working toward justice when no one else could do the job.  Outsiders embracing their status as a source of strength.


These days, I tend to think of fiction as a simulation exercise.  What is the point of storytelling when we describe fictional characters and situations?  Why aren't we like the aliens in Galaxy Quest, only telling true stories?  So, we run the simulation and say: what do we do?  What is the answer?  What happened here?


Sci-fi provided those infinite simulations of what may come and what we might do.  What the person might be like dealing with the issues that are either future looking or analogs for what we're doing now.  Comics, too.  You don't need to be Superman to consider the moral implications of what's right and wrong.  It's a mirror and Rorschach test.  We respond to what's recognizable in characters and people (and if you want my blood to run cold, tell me you find Superman totally unrelatable because he won't kill people when he could).


I like the mad ideas.  The mad ideas are how we push forward, how we consider those infinite earths and all that implies.



and sometimes it's enough just to like Superman


What is your greatest disappointment?


That good ideas get turned into bad ones - or worse, boring ones - as they're handed around as corporate owned properties to people who cannot shepherd them well.


And, of course, that people are people, and decisions are often made for business reasons rather than for creative or intellectual reasons.



also disappointing?  everything about this specimen


If you could visit yourself as a youth and give yourself some advice - what would you tell yourself back then?


Buy stock in Apple.  Don't get invested in Lost.  Don't go to that one barber in June of '94, because that's going to take all summer to grow out.  That blonde at that party in San Antonio will go out with you eventually.


I am not sure I'd tell myself about a future with billion-dollar-grossing Avengers movies.  

I wouldn't tell myself it was all going to be okay.

Being into something just because you like it and believe in it will make you who you are.  Just be yourself, like what you like no matter who has an opinion on the matter.  It's more than okay to do your own thing, the people who matter either won't mind or they'll be right there with you.  And it's good to have your never ending battles.  It can make you a better person and help you better understand the people and world around you in the reality where you're living now.  Sometimes you should pick up the battles for other people who can't fight them.  Do that, too.  If you want that better world in your vision, what are you going to do to make it?



and to never, ever stop wearing that Mr. T sweatshirt.  That thing is totally boss.



*In fact, I remember a conversation in college where I told my roommates it was weird to obsess over women on TV and this notion was roundly dismissed


** And, for that, I am deeply sorry we lost that whole class period where I kept asking "...but why?", Mr. Bryant.

4 comments:

Stuart Ward said...

I think there's something about the stuff you discover when you're at an age (9-11) where you finally have some independence. A lot of what we consume before then has to do with our parents guessing at what we might like, or just acquiescing to what the other kids are talking about. Finding those comics on the spinner rack on my own, spending my own allowance on them, and reading them by myself... it felt like finding a hidden treasure that no one else in my life could appreciate. It was just mine.

Being a geek can be something you enjoy with others, but *becoming* a geek is a solitary activity.

Also, I missed "what would you tell yourself back then?" Not necessarily geek related, but it also applies: I would reassure myself that everything ends. One day it will just be a memory, so learn from it now. Dont fail to appreciate the good things as they happen, and don't lose yourself in the idea that whatever's making you miserable right now will never change. It will. So be prepared for that change, sieze those opportunities, and never lose hope.

Ryan Steans said...

Oh, God. So true.

Along those lines, a thing I tell myself in dark times: the Earth is going to keep turning. When you wake up in the morning - you're going to be able to deal with this.

That thought has been shockingly true over the years, no matter what is happening. Maybe for some follow up questions I can start asking how specific stories or characters taught you life lessons, because that was the one I got from Superman and, perhaps most surprisingly, Mr. Miracle.

J.S. said...

I've been enjoying reading the profiles! I haven't commented on them a bunch, because it's sort of weird to say, "Good job! Nice life!", but it has been really interesting to hear the different perspectives from everyone and to hear their take on how this sort of sci-fi, fantasy, comics thing has impacted their lives.

Ryan Steans said...

It's been a huge pleasure reading them as they come in, and I'm thrilled at the reaction in both people sending things in and that from hit counts, it's clear folks are reading them and enjoying them, even if they aren't commenting. Now I'm trying to cook up a second round of questions.