The KeyBoard Is My FuckMonkey:
Some extra-curricular thoughts on the whole “Superheroes: Good Or Bad For Comics” debate, which has been raging — RAGING! Like a furious mayfly! — all week long, in the echoing and desolate hallways of my brainbox.
Over the past several years a few sneaky writerly types have attempted something a bit clever. They’ve noticed that no matter how Brilliant their Crime Comics are composed, how ingeniously constructed their Espionage Graphic Novels may be, how bowel-ejectingly fucking terrifying their Horror Oneshots are, they sell like shit. Or, at the very most, they sell merely quite well. They’ve noticed that five or six titles sit at the top of the sales charts week in, week out — quality notwithstanding, creative teams coming and going — and that those titles are, almost without exception, spattered with more multicoloured action-based bodyhugging lycra-tastic villain-fighting physically-implausible superdooper team-based beefcake thuggish Costumed Adventuring than the doomsday Rapture in Kevin Smith’s personal dimension. They’ve noticed that the sales on these titles make even their most respectable windfalls look like a Haitian garage-sale, and… well…
It pisses them off. It would, wouldn’t it?
So what they do is, they think like Greeks. You can’t beat this spandex monster in a fair fight — it’s too big, too ironclad; it’s spent decades gestating like a lovable tumour in a demon womb, and nothing’s going to dislodge it now — and so you have to cheat. You have to let it swallow you.
You want to tell a horror story? Write Swamp Thing.
You want to tell a crime story? Write Incognito.
You want to tell a romance story? Write… er… I [heart] Marvel.
And so on.
And these titles, mostly, they’re brilliant. They’re searing and beautiful and warm and wonderful. They’re as amazing as they would’ve been even if they weren’t using Superheroes as some fanboyish crutch for their audience appeal. They’re subverting something which is in desperate need of subversion; they’re expanding the horizons of a fun little genre (no, not even that: a sub-genre) which has, by freakish chance, swollen into the status-quo; and they’re opening the minds of readers who’re so blinded by devotion to their chosen subject that they barely even suspect they’re getting some thick gloopy gratification out of a completely alien genre. Win-win-win, yes?
We-ell, no… Maybe. Possibly.
See, here’s the problem:
For one, it’s not reaching out to the people the comics industry really needs to attract: the fuckers who Don’t Read Comics. Consider 65 yr-old Maude, gobbling chocolates in her stained brown bathrobe and fluffy pink slippers. Maude loves a good potboiler novel, spends all day at work looking forward to Reading On The Sofa, and will kill for an epic romance story. But she’s never read a comic in her life. I have no idea why — except that she has serious philosophical doubts about the plausibility of a setup in which an Average Joe responds to gaining Extraordinary Phyiscal Gifts by designing a colourful outfit and becoming a Thiefbotherer — but I’ll tell you this: Maude’s never going to pick up a graphic novel, whether it’s a soul-ignitingly beautiful romance or not, just as long as the smooching couple on the front are wearing masks.
Therein lies the writer’s dilemma: Awesome Crime Comic #A, sans Superheroes, might encourage a few die-hard Crime Novel Fans, or Crime Movie Geeks, to test a Whole New Medium. Brilliant, noble, honourable, industry-helping. And financially suicidal.
Whereas Awesome Crime Comic #B, with its subtle superhero-flavourings, gets punted up the charts by spandex-appeal alone, but never strays any further into The Real.
(I’m oversimplifying. I know there are exceptions. Shut up.)
Anyway, point number 2: it’s tragic that this shit’s happened in the first place. This freaky piracy of genres: stapling this to that so some of those guys might be tempted to try something new. It’s parasitic! It’s like trying to encourage people to eat more Brussels Sprouts by making Christmas-Veg-Flavoured Condoms. It’s like some disgusting Faith Charity, disguising its secret proselytising behind Big, Easily-Recognisable Material Benefits. Hey little Haitian dude: we know you need our aid, fresh water and toilet-digging expertise, but while we’re about it… how about a free Dyenetic Stress-Test?
Or: Hey, little Superhero Fan: we know you need your weekly shot of crotch-bulges and casual spandex-based girlfriend-rape, but what you DON’T know is… ha! You’re actually reading a Political Thriller AT THE SAME TIME!
Look, I don’t mean to judge, honestly: I’m as guilty of this shit as anyone. And if you do want to write comics for a living, and you do want a decent career-profile, and you do want to work for the biggest and best publishers around, you’d better fucking hope that you either Genuinely Enjoy straight-out boyscout-style Superhero action, or you’d better be prepared to conceal your genre-tastes under a layer of lycra. Or both.
But, y’know… Shit. What a mess…
Still! We can at the very least amuse ourselves by imagining wacky superhero genre mashups waiting to occur, no?
Like Up A Bit At Your End: a series of hilarious slapstick Hijinx — with a galactic deathtoll in the trillions — in which a pair of Cosmically-Powered Buffoons try to Earn A Few Quid by helping the Divine Presence move home.
Or By The Thunder Of His Sandals: a badly-researched historical epic in which Julius Caesar, Genghis Kahn, Montezuma and Cleopatra are revealed as secret nocturnal Costumed Adventurers, who form the League of Anachronisms and battle the Alexander The Great’s evil bronze Phallus.
Or Uncharacteristic Behaviour: a tragic retelling of the movie Jaws, in which a super-powered Hero is chosen from among the civilised and cultured mass of Shark Society, to fight back against the evil UnWets who’re fishing them to extinction. Er… With a sex scene You Won’t Believe.
Or Supermen In Chaps: a widescreen-style decompressed epic about outrageously-gay bankrobbers in the Old West, who — thanks to their amazing X-Ray Vision — can not only see into their victims’ vaults… but into each others’ hearts…
Or, or, or…
(Actually, you know what’s really sad? I would totally pay to read those four comics, and I just skullburped them into existence while taking a poo. The comics trade is fucked. Sorry.)
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C/O William Christensen,
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(Disclaimer: Secretly, I’m nice.)
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