By Jared Cornelius
Bleeding Cool erupted into an explosion of dueling opinions thanks to our very own Erik Grove. In Erik’s Eight Essential column, he wrote a piece on internet equate that was mostly common sense, and offered a genuine peek into how we should be treating each other as fans. For his trouble, Grove was taken to task for complaining about gender issues, called preachy, and decried for creating melodrama. While I think those accusations are ridiculous, I thought maybe it was time we tried to mend fences. With Free Comic Book Day having just passed, I was witness to a wonderful display of fandom. Happy fans of all ages, shapes, and sizes interacting. Complete strangers were recommending books and debating character X vs. character Y, and being able to see such a show of camaraderie, along with such a diverse range of patrons made me remember something.
I don’t know if anyone told you this, but we won. That’s right we won, “Won what?”, you might ask. Well the answer is “everything”. Nerds won you guys, it’s our world now. It’s time for us to stop feeling marginalized, our culture is bigger and better than ever and we act like everything sucks. It’s the old cliché of the comic book guy, some fat nerd who sits on his stool and rolls his eyes at every off comment made to him, who snarks at every fan who’s not fan enough, the kind of person who’d run a girl out of a comic shop for being a girl. I don’t know if some of you are aware, but that’s what we’re doing to other people on the internet, and Grove proved those real-life stereotypes are still out there. So I thought instead of talking about what makes us different and how fandom divides us, let’s talk about how we won, and how a bunch of you are running around like beleaguered Japanese soldiers in the Pacific refusing to believe that the war’s over.
When I say we won, I look at how the “nerd” culture has advanced in the twenty some years I’ve been observing it. When I was 10 years old, the world of comics seemed huge and magical, but I never would’ve thought that Marvel Comics would be putting out three movies a year let alone a Guardians of The Galaxy movie. I could’ve never foreseen a world where toys were almost no longer for children but adult collectors. Where high powered PC’s and game consoles let me play an episode of my favorite show. That comics would be the launching pad for major television shows, and that some of the most interesting and creative things happening would be done in comics. I’ll prove it; let’s start with the silver screen.
Movies over the last 30 years have always had something for people involved in comic culture. However over the last 10 years, no movie has been bigger than the summer blockbuster, and no summer blockbuster has been bigger than the superhero movie. Out of 32 Marvel movies in the last 10 years they’ve currently grossed, $6,004,773,885 at the box office. Do you think it’s just people buying comic books who made Marvel millions of dollars? The Marvel movies have become a cultural event for comic fans and non-fans alike, and it’s everyone going to see them across all ages and demographics.
It’s not just Marvel movies either, The Dark Knight won multiple Oscars! Cinemas’ highest honor was given to a movie about a man in a rubber suit! Sure we still get stinkers like Green Lantern once and a while, but look at the facts, Hollywood is mining our culture for the next big thing. Comics like Mark Millar’s MPH are regularly optioned as films before they even reach shelves, toys like Transformers or G.I. Joe are being reimagined for a new generation. If we look at the top 10 highest grossing films of all time, (keeping in mind inflation is a thing) it’s littered with movies rallied around by nerd culture.
3. Marvel’s The Avengers
4. Harry Potter & The Deathly Hollows Part 2
5. Iron Man 3
7. Transformers Dark of The Moon
8. The Lord of The Rings Return of The King
10. The Dark Knight Rises
I’ll leave it to you to decide which movie doesn’t belong with the other 9, but I think it’s a pretty striking picture of how big our culture is. The stuff we like is being made into big budget motion pictures and so many of us are just ready to tear it apart for not being what we want. The truth however, is at least their making it and are doing so because studio executives think it can be successful, and not just for our crowd.
Television has dramatically cribbed from our culture and we should be in love with it. The TV renascence of shows like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Arrow, Archer, Agents of Shield, hell the Venture Brothers should be reason enough to be ecstatic our culture is as big as it is. Arguably the two biggest shows in terms of public mind share right now are Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, and a decade ago who would’ve believed those shows would exist on television. Who would’ve believed that an epic fantasy series would work on television, let alone be a major hit? Upon the conclusion of season 4 we’ll ostensibly have a 40 hour Lord of The Rings that still has a ways to go!
Comics have penetrated the television market before, like the campy 60’s Batman show, the 70’s Incredible Hulk, the 80’s best forgotten Superboy, the 90’s forgettable Flash series, and the dozen or so other comic properties that occupied TV. All the while things were getting steadily better though, the Super Friends made way for Bruce Timm’s Batman the Animated Series and Justice League. While the often forgotten Marvel animated series of the 60’s lead the way for the X-Men and Spider-Man in the 90’s that led the way for Avenger’s Earths Mightiest Heroes. No matter what your stance is on the Big Bang Theory, it’s in syndication, running on television multiple times a day, sure it might be terrible, but it’s putting our culture on display to the primetime world.
Did anyone complain that King of Queens made delivery men look bad, or was insulting to delivery men culture? You know what the truth about our culture is, and honestly so does a good portion of the world at large. Kevin Smith runs a reality show out of his comic shop in my home state, there’s a TV show dedicated to toy collecting! All of that is before you factor in the new shows due to be launched this fall like Constantine, Gotham, the Netflix Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Defenders series. When in the history of television were our interests being so well represented? The answer is never, television has never had so much content geared toward fandom.
Video games used to be considered a children’s toy and nothing more. Now the interactive medium is considered an art form, and a protected form of speech. According to a new survey by the Electronic Software Association, over 59% of Americans play video games. That is incredible! Over half of this country plays video games, they’re no longer a child’s toy and I’d be willing to bet 99% of the people reading this article play video games in some form. Did anyone think over half of America would be playing video games twenty years ago? Honestly I think not, and I’d posture it’s because in part the “nerd” culture became so big. Children who grew up loving video games are now old enough to be the visionaries leading the charge to make games a normal thing for adults to be interested in and an accepted part of society. Do you notice when major violence happens now that games seem to be blamed less and less, it’s because the number of well-adjusted everyday gamers is on the rise, and it’s all because our culture won.
I think when we look at television, movies, and games, you can see the route paved by comics. Comics are probably the most obvious area of fandom I could reference, it’s where my whole point comes from. However the more I see “regular” people looking to pick up a volume of the Walking Dead, or Saga I think we’re continuing to make converts. I really do believe the most interesting ideas are coming from comics right now. I don’t think its coincidence that Once Upon A Time and Grimm are post Bill Willingham’s Fables. It’s just another example of how Hollywood believes there’s money in our media, and they wouldn’t be making these shows if they didn’t think there was money to be made that didn’t just involve the fan community.
Comics are the DNA that seemingly all of fandom comes back to. Television and movies are looking at the interesting ideas that comics are putting out and adapting them. Even without the books that are optioned to make the next hit TV show, we have so many cool different books for every one of all ages. From Boom’s Lumberjanes to Avatar’s Crossed, comics are helping creators make new and interesting series destined to become fan favorites. Sure you could make the argument that we’ve had groundbreaking and interesting ideas in comics for a long time, with books like the Dark Knight Returns, Hellblazer, and Miracle Man. But over the last 20 years I can counter with books like Preacher, Powers, Y The Last Man, Scalped, The Walking Dead, Saga. There was nothing in comics like Transmetropolitan twenty years ago.
Even the art styles have evolved and become so different and interesting. Do your eyes a favor and check out the beautiful and interesting art in James Stokoe’s Orc Stain or Godzilla Half Century War, or J.H. William III’s Sandman Overture or Batgirl. Without hyperbole I think right now is the most interesting an exciting time to be a comics fan. While you could say that maybe the big two aren’t producing the most creatively interesting stuff, the smaller press is picking up the slack and doing amazing work.
All this is discounting the other strides we’ve made in fan culture, places like the Storm Crow Tavern in Vancouver. The Strom Crow is an actual nerd bar, complete with a Dungeons and Dragons styled cover on the menu page their website. An entire city rallied around making a child’s wish of being Batman come true. Comic Cons have become the hottest place to launch a series, or announce a project. They even make pornography that is slavishly accurate to its original source material.
We’ve taken over, I see seemingly ordinary people walking around in Batman or Venom shirts. I’ve regularly seen my co-workers looking over the latest Walking Dead hardcovers, overheard people taking about the latest Breaking Bad instead of American Idol. I feel like we’ve come so far, we do a disservice to ourselves by being so divisive. We can disagree on things, respectful debate is a healthy thing. But if we can remember the things that bring us together instead of tear us apart, I think we can all be a bit happier and more civil to each other.
Some of you might be unhappy that our culture has been adapted by the mainstream, even angry about it, but at the end of the day, we should be inclusive. I know I can remember being excluded from activities or circles of people and for people like us we should be the most welcoming. No one started in this hobby because they hated comics, movies, games, or television, we started because we fell in love with it, and it’s sad for me to see so many of us as jaded trolls, or dismissive jerks. Save your rage for the times you should be outraged, when a creator is legitimately horrible, when publishers arbitrarily jack up the price of comics, when games publishers remove or unreasonably gates content. Save your anger for those who genuinely deserve it, not some imaginary fake geek girl, or for someone who just wants to remind people that behind every keyboard is a living breathing person with feelings, and moreover, they’re a fan just like you.
I can’t take full credit for the concept of this article, the internet’s Scott Bromley of Comedy Button fame planted the idea in my head of “nerd” culture winning. It’s an incredibly funny podcast and you should go listen to it after your done here. If interested you can check out my regular columns, Typing on The Dead: Bleeding Cool’s Walking Dead recap and Live(ish) From The Games Shop. I’ve also been doing a series called Valiant Effort, where I recommend Valiant titles based on other media.
Jared Cornelius is some guy from New Jersey’s coast who just wants us all to be friends. If you’d like help mend fences, contact him on Twitter @John_Laryngitis
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