(I’m not sure if it’s necessary, but there could be some emotional triggers in this. Just so you’re warned.)
‘It used to be we had friends, now we have “Friends”. We used to have neighbours, now we have “Neighbours”.’ -Mark E. Smith. Taken from his autobiography ‘Renegade’.
Originally, this was going to be a short column, you understand? I was going to write something along the lines of this:
“You know something, one of the things that has constantly embarrassed me about the Internet Comics Community is the lack of understanding that all notions of ‘You’re not writing what I want you to write!’ are totally, utterly irrelevant. The only people who are deciding what happens to Peter Parker are Dan Slott and Steven Wacker. What you see on the new comic shelves was written at least 2 months ago and plotted about six, probably. Complaining about the events in this week’s new comics is like moaning about the results of the F.A. Cup Final or Superbowl results. It’s happened. Whoever you’re annoyed about dying for whatever reason is Dead.
Do you write or edit for Marvel or DC? No? Then you might as well be shouting at rain for getting your hair wet rather than buying an umbrella and dealing with it.
I should qualify a bit, when I write things about the meaningless of death in comics crossovers or such, it’s done from a retailer level. I’m essentially compiling a list of things customers have said to me when they’re explaining why they’re cancelling their order for Avengers or Justice League. There isn’t a combination of things that can be done that’ll make me, personally, want to start buying all the X-Men books on a regular basis. I don’t have the money or the space in my house. I’d go for a run of something if it’s being done by someone I like, but my buying Uncanny Avengers is totally due to Rick Remender writing it. When he goes, I’m off. Too many ‘downloaded a back-up personality’ moments and ‘Life Model Decoys get out of jail free cards’ have made regular superhero comics something I don’t see any point in investing in.
I thought we here over in comics were…unique in that kind of reaction. People who are into films don’t fly off the handle when someone dies and take to the internet, threatening the writers and producers over social media and generally acting like children who’ve been told they have to clean their room. Then I saw the news about Brian from Family Guy dying via Facebook, where everyone went crazy. How dare Seth MacFarlane do this? Brian was my favorite! Where is the scoundrel? He didn’t ask us what he thought before he did this! Etc.
And I realized it’s not just us anymore. Everyone is nuts now. Go forth and moan about Green Lantern or Avengers Arena or whatever. We’ve managed to influence everyone into reacting to fiction like petulant children. Good job. Slow Handclap.”
That was going to be it, except for a chat with Ned Hartley, talking about his new comic Punchface. Then I was going to send off the four other columns I’ve written in the last two weeks to Rich so he could run them weekly over December while I dealt with this whole ‘Christmas’ thing. But then I got to thinking : What links these concepts? What do Family Guy, Avengers, The X-Men, The Justice League, Spider-Man, The Simpsons, Coronation Street, Batman have in common?
They’re all about families. really All of them are about a group of people who interact on a regular basis and have to live with each other.
Also, importantly, they’re all broadcast or published on at least a weekly basis and are as much a part of your regular life as your job, your home, going to the pub to see your mates, putting out the bins, walking the dog, paying the bills. They’re what you do with your luxury time, also. So I imagine your brain associates seeing what Batman and his Pals and Gals did this week with putting on your slippers and sitting on the bed with a cup of tea. I don’t have any research beyond, oh, twenty years working behind a counter of a comic shop, but I suspect people don’t tend to get into things like the X-Men in their twenties or so. They become friends with the whole Marvel Universe when they’re young. People over twenty want to know what to know what Warren Ellis or Chris Ware have created. People under twenty will be popping in to find out what Batgirl is up to this week.
Once they’re in, they’re in, man. I can’t count how many conversations I’ve had with people who can justify all the reasons why they should stop buying so much Marvel or DC product. They’re far too expensive, they’re taking up too much space. There’s too little pay off and even the big crossovers don’t have a clear ending anymore, just set ups for the next big thing. They understand, in their head, that buying comics on a weekly basis can potentially be as damaging as any other kind of addiction. Heck, with booze or drugs, nobody’s telling you to partake. You have to make the effort to go to the pub or the off-license or ring your dealer. With comics, what you’ve bought now is never enough. Come back next week to see how Spidey defeats Venom. Spidey will also be appearing in Superior Spidey Team Up. Don’t forget to check out The Superior Foes Of Spider-Man! Have you tried these other great titles by the same writer? Too busy to pop to the shop? Don’t worry, just join Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited and you’ll never miss an issue, True Believer.
I did a lot of damage to my life with alcohol, but Jack Daniels never asked me for my credit card details.
But still, with all that information and understanding, most of those people are still here and I wonder if, to a lot of readers, an issue of X-Men isn’t just 24 pages of story, but the physical representation of a safe place. A way to hang out with some awesome, people who’re funnier, more attractive and more exotic than those duller, meaner, uglier people in the real world. A portal to a sexier world for a few bucks, and we’re all friends, here, aren’t we? And you know what the key thing is. Unlike real life, your comic families will never reject you.
Whatever Wolverine does to Da’aken or Dog, he’ll never hurt you. You can hang out at the Westchester School of Gifted Mutants, and they’ll never turn you away, because they understand you’re different, just like them. Batman will be happy to have you hang out in The Bat-Cave, because what Bruce Wayne does is look after young people, like Dick and Babs and Jason. You can tell Damian not to be so mean to Alfred and play with Ace The Bat Hound.
Peter Parker will always be your best friend. He’s not like the others. He’ll never go away.
I’m not writing the above with any degree of cynicism or sneering, and I understand that the tone I’m writing this in is not necessarily the one you’re hearing when you’re reading these words in your head. I get it. When I was 15 or 16, I would have given up everything to go live with the Giffen/Dematteis incarnation of the Justice League. I’d have hung out with Mr. Miracle, cracked wise with Beetle & Booster, stolen J’onn Jones’s Oreos, punched Funky Flashman in the face. Everything. My childhood is…not a great thing and despite deaths, addictions, abuse and such, I’d still argue one of the most traumatic things that happened was the publication of Justice League America #60. Maybe more so, as it was the end of a safe place for me. The end of the Giffen/DeMatteis era where The League breaks up as one by one, all the members realize that this incarnation of the family is over and walk away. Even though it’s obviously for the best reasons, it is done.
I thought about that while I was making these notes, and how much more I knew about this business when I heard about the apparent glee that Dan Didio took in deciding to kill off Ted Kord in Countdown To Infinite Crisis. I knew that Beetle was only really cool when Keith and J.M. were writing him. I was old enough to know that DC had full right to do what they wanted with Ted, and I’d long left behind the notion that superhero comics mattered to me. I scoffed at the comic, saying that Max Lord had literally no reason to turn on the superheroes like he had, and the likes of Jim Gordon had more motivation to be angry at the consequences of Batman’s actions, given wat happened with Babs and Sarah Essen.
Deep down, though, there was a bit of me that thought ‘FUCK you, Didio, you hurt my friend and laughed about it.’ Sure, it’s irrational, and I suspect my moving on from the genre of superhero comics via having my illusions of The Marvel Bullpen and everyone working amicably to create good comics shattered rather harshly at various convention piss-ups meant that I wasn’t bothered enough by it to say anything. But you look at the way people react to the death of Peter Parker, Supergirl or Brian The Dog and you wonder if those reactions are more primal than they seem at first.
Because on one level, these events of fiction happened because someone wrote them down and they were published. On another, Peter Parker and his friends are real to some of you. You interact with them every week, and knowing they’ll be there to hang out with new stories to tell. When someone hurts your friend who provided a safe place you’ve known since you were a child, maybe you do become irrationally angry and react like a real person has died. I bet there are teenagers out there that feel Miss America and Kid Loki are far more real than members of their own family.
I’ve been thinking about this, and the way we, as in the people on the retail/publishing side interact with the punters a lot, lately. I’ve had people angry with me that I’ve dared take the piss out of The Legion Of Super-Heroes. I’ve listened to Indie types seem genuinely offended that someone would dare ask them about something as vulgar as Civil War, or Transformers fans get irate that they were talking to a customer about which incarnation of Optimus Prime was better and someone dared to bother to ask them where they could find a copy of Persepolis. I saw one retailer deride a customer for daring to ask what were good Marvel Comics published in the 90′s (They were ALL bad, because HE said so. So that’s how subjective taste works, I guess). I’ve seen artists publicly complain that the readers aren’t getting what they meant by their drawings and it does remind me at times that maybe we’re acting a bit too much like Sex Workers taking the piss out of their johns for having to pay for sex or Drug Dealers laughing at their clients for being stupid enough to get addicted in the 1st place.
Is that on? I don’t know. If we’re this clever, why are we selling them (You aren’t going to get Jay-Z rich working in a comic shop), or creating them instead of going into film posters or writing television (What was the circulation on your last comic again?) We’re here out of passion. The same emotion that drives the punter into the shop to buy stuff from us. It might not be articulated as verbosely from ‘their’ side, but it’s still a real thing. Imagine how fucked we’d be if all the customers ‘wised up’ to our level?
I believe we’ve reached a point where pop culture is, to a degree, both cult and drug in one. Where for some people, Batman is as real as Jesus Christ. Where even the rumor of a remake of a beloved film franchise will bring about the righteous indignation previously seen for things like Monty Python’s Life Of Brian or Scorsese’s Last Temptation Of Christ. Maybe (and this is a thing British writers, who grew up with 2000AD and short stories like Future Shocks rather than ongoing drop ins on regular groups like the Teen Titans or Power Pack should consider) we can’t just assume to tell a Fundamentalist Christian that Jesus is a twat and expect nothing to come from it. And maybe you don’t hurt someone’s friend and expect them to understand how clever you were to do so. Or is that emotionally stunted?
“Give me the child, and I will mould the man.”
“Give me the child for seven years,
and I will give you the man.”
“Give me the child until he is
seven and I care not who has him thereafter.”
“Give me the child till the age of seven
and I will show you the man.” – St. Ignatius of Loyola
Stan Lee told us we’re all one big gang of Marvel Zombies back in the Sixties. Deep down, I wonder if we ever stopped believing him.
You can find Nevs Coleman on Twitter.