Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Old, Cranky Comics Fan 2: The Ambivalenting

I know I am getting old in the world of comic fans.  I'm passing through some veil that makes me the old guy wandering the aisles of the comic shop that the younger readers look at with an odd mix of pity and curiosity. 

There's a certain... dustiness to me as a comic reader.  I'm not as jazzed by particular artists or movements in comics as those 10 years my junior.  I'm as much or more interested in the nostalgia factor of the whole enterprise as I am with the latest, greatest storyline from the Big 2.  Heck, I've enough insight to trade-wait on DC's current big push with Brightest Day, knowing its okay if I miss out on the "real time" experience of keeping up.  Oh, I still pick up new issues of Superman series.  But... I mean, come on...  its SUPERMAN.

Even my nostalgia is getting old. 

There's been an interesting shift as the 20-somethings have done what they're supposed to do and replace the last batch of 20-somethings who woke up and found themselves 30 and 40-somethings.  These fans don't know a world without Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  They were kids when they saw The Matrix or The Phantom Menace.  They have nostalgia for things like MegaMan (which I guess was a popular video game) and ask questions like "when did Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers start to suck?" without a hint of irony, and which I can only stare at, goggle-eyed.  And they love Street Fighter.  Like...  they love the characters from that kind of idiot-simple video game, as if they did anything but punch and kick, and  which...  Street Fighter?*

In comics, they actually really have an affection for the 1990's.  They like the Spider-Man story of The Clone Saga, and really don't get why Vertigo might have been the big deal it was when DC created the imprint (for which I was 18 and not so sure about comics anymore, and then...  thank you, Karen Berger). 

Its a generation that can't visualize comics fandom as less than some sort of co-optive ownership.  And whether its reading manga or American comics, many read their comics for free online from illegal scans, which is considered a perfectly legitimate way of enjoying your favorite creators.**  Somedays the comics internet seems like an endless game of looking at images of superheroes redrawn as anything from dinosaurs to basic iconic components or colors.

Reviews and criticism are increasingly less a part of the landscape, and the self-deprecating admission of their internet forebears that they were just suckers for certain characters, etc... by insisting certain characters, etc...  were always "awesome" has come to take the place of anything resembling online discussion.  Writer Brian Michael Bendis wasn't actually wrong when he said that there isn't much out there for longform comics discussion.  The geeks got upset because, apparently, putting up tumblr posts declaring ironically cool hero of the week awesome isn't longform criticism, and they didn't quite get that.  And The Comics Journal guys got wound up because it means (a) no, really, nobody is reading us anymore so much that bendis forgot about us, and (b) if every article you publish for fifteen years is about how comics that actually sell suck and all this hip indie stuff or stuff that's impossibly hard to get due to age or limited availability or price is awesome...  sooner or later you've niched yourself into irrelevancy, then... 

yeah.  You know, I thought we had a shot at that back when I wrote at Comic Fodder, but I'll be honest.  (a) Its not so much fun tow rite term papers on superhero comics every week as you'd think, and (b) nobody cares, so you might as well have fun by scanning in images of the Avengers as dinosaurs.

The kids pick up old battles as new ones, because that's what you do.  And they assume nobody ever noticed the outrages of society, and that if you're not furious, too, you didn't notice...  because that's what you do.   I'm glad they're doing it, and I'm glad nothing is ever settled in comics, just as its never really settled in the world.  A fresh batch of female readers outraged at the depiction of women in comics is a good thing.  Readers demanding prices stabilize to whatever price they were when they started reading is also good (and voting with your wallet is even better, but be prepared for the return to quality of presentation on paper what it was when I started reading comics.  Don't worry, you'll barely notice it.). 

The thing is, I don't really care so much.  I click on a lot fewer things online these days, just as I pick up a lot fewer comics.  I'm 35, soon to be 36.  I think I've figured out what works for me and what doesn't.  I'm imminently more aware of my complete lack of relevance as a guy with a keyboard and an opinion on comics than I was 5 years ago. 

And in some ways I'm having more fun with comics than I have in a while.  In some ways, less.  The rush of "oh, gosh, Wednesday!" isn't a part of my life, the occasional and often invigorating bouts of internet-based debate have dried up, but I think that was something that almost distracted me from enjoying comics the way I did when I was a kid.

I don't know how many comic readers were kids like me, I've genuinely no idea.  I read and traded comics with friends for maybe two years, and that ended by high school.  Since then, its been a fairly solitary thing.  At 35, I still read a lot of stuff I don't talk about here, both comics and stuff about comics.  Its never been a terribly social experience no matter how much I've tried to make it so from this and other sites.  Certainly the friends I see in person here in town really don't care about comics at all (although they're keenly aware of both my love of comics and especially Superman, and occasionally get more of an answer than they bargained for when they ask a question).  And that's sort of a standard operating procedure with which I'm very comfortable because, heck, its always been that way. 

I simply do not expect anybody else to give a flip about musty, old Jimmy Olsen comics.

Sure, I'd like more longform comics discussion online.  Sure, I'd like to not feel ancient when I see somebody waxing rhapsodic about the MegaMan cartoon or video game rather than pondering health PSA's on the Super Friends, which is something I could understand. 

But mostly I'm just sort of trying to understand my position in this odd little hobby.  I guess in many ways, since I underwent a sea change in my comics buying and spending habits over the summer, the return of this blog, and, sincerely, my utter shock at seeing 20-somethings sort of shrug off The Dark Knight Returns this summer, I've been trying to sort things out.

Thank you for bearing with me on this post.  Its been a long time brewing, in many ways.

*and not the Jackie Chan movie of the same name
**I hear nightmare stories about Manga "scanlations" and how the audience doesn't understand that they're killing the American manga market while simultaneously being a vocal fanbase who likes to give publishers lots of grief


Simon MacDonald said...

You have young comic fans in your LCS? All the young people in my LCS are not their for comics they are playing card games like MtG.

The League said...

Austin Books doesn't really sell much in the way of games or non-comics peripherals, so they don't get wrapped up in the Pokemon, Magic, RPG or other scenes. There's a really nice gaming store in town that is also 50% comics, called "Dragon's Lair", but its a different format and I stick to ABC.

As per younger: yeah. I mean, you really see all age ranges from teenager to guys in their sixties. Lots of college and post-college people. And, increasingly, women. And not just women with their boyfriends. I'm starting to skew a bit older than the sizable 20-something population of Austin's entertainment venues.

Simon MacDonald said...

Oh slightly related note, I was in a Chapters (i.e. Borders) the other day where I helped a 20 something female find the first 4 walking dead trades. Apparently she loves horror books and caught onto the series via the TV show.

Man, I wonder if Kirkman realized what a goldmine he had on his hands even 5 years ago.

The League said...

I have to imagine anyone creating a comic series has the possible ancillary benefits in mind in this modern age, but, yeah... if you would have told me a TV show about Walking Dead was going to be this big a deal three years ago, I would have stared at you blankly.

Anonymous said...

I have been similarly fascinated with airplanes and anything related to aviation since I was very young. The topic continues to be of great interest to me fifty-plus years later but, like you, I realize it is largely meaningless to most of the people I know. I am not as introspective as you, but I guess a long time ago I came to that realization - and decided it didn't matter. All that matters is that you enjoy comics.