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Is this a Shit-Knife I see before me?

(Soundtrack: New Kingdom–Paradise Don’t Come Cheap)


Question–has anyone written anything about “anti-fanboyism” in comics? I’m thinking about the distinctly complicitous relationship that exists between a site like Fanboy Rampage and all of those superhero-centered messageboards that I would never in a million years even think about visiting if people like Graeme didn’t link to them…


Now, you might think that this is just Fiore trying to start trouble with “elitists” again (the only reaction to my comment on the latest Rampage post was “Motime was here”–I have no idea how to take that, but I know it ain’t conversation!), but it’s nothing of the sort! What it is, my friends, is a serious invitation to the more enlightened members of the North American comics community to consider what the figure of “the fanboy” means to them–and, furthermore, to ponder whether they can do without “him”. Why do people like Daniel Clowes waste their time parodying superheroes? (and, perhaps more importantly, why does Alan David Doane focus so obsessively upon this aspect of Eightball #23?) Why does every comic book fan who hopes to be taken seriously by her or his peers have to come forward with a “conversion narrative”, with the moment that they “realized that there is a whole world of art beyond the confines of the Marvel Universe” standing in for “God’s caress”? I understand that there are problems with the direct market and the public’s perception that “comics=superheroes” (although, on second thought, scratch that! I’m pretty sure that, if you conducted empirical research, you’d find that the average North American equates comics with the newspaper strips) Still, I don’t think this fully accounts for the pathological imperative, on the part of comics cognoscenti in general, to construct “Marvel Zombiedom” as a stage on the road to aesthetic maturity.

For a perfect example of this, see Bart Beaty’s essay on Cerebus in the latest TCJ (on the whole, I’m enjoying the issue immensely, by the way)… R. Fiore’s essay is even more mindlessly locked into this mode, while seemingly protesting against it (we won’t even bother to get into the question of what you “can” or “can’t do” with a narrative involving a “giant squirrel”!!)–imagine treating Sim’s Marvel parodies as anything like the heart of the graphic novel’s achievement! Sure, these little performances may have brought in some readers, but anyone who isn’t blinded by the weird politics of this subculture can see that they’re more important for what they reveal about the Roach than for what they say about “corporate comics”… Fiore is asking Sim to take the fall–unjustly!– for the entire North American comics community’s tendency to muddy the critical terrain by overemphasizing every work’s relationship to superheroes… (I’ll get back to Cerebus as soon as I can, friends, believe me!)



So! “Marvel” is something you “outgrow”. When you turn twelve. Or (as many of these folks like to put it) when you “discover girls”. And there is no going back! Oh, you can wax nostalgic about superheroes in an ironical way, and even buy all of the new issues of whatever titles you followed when you were a stupid punk who didn’t know any better, as long as you are careful to maintain an “oh, look how much money I’m wasting now” smirk on your face. The “fanboy” is the “mudsill class” of the comic book world–the “body in the foundation” of any enlightened fan’s self-respect. If “he” didn’t exist, they’d have to invent “him”. And, quite frankly, when I do glance at those Newsarama boards, I can’t help thinking that someone has! Extra copies “in case the pages stick together”?–get real!

Good Night Friends!
Dave

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17 comments

  1. See, when I think about fanboys, what I think of are the guys on Fanboy Rampage… in other words, methinks they doth protest too much. Look at the sheer vehemence of the anti-H.E.A.T. guys on that board (and every other board they post on) – the raw derision and hatred for the hard core Hal Jordan fans, the assumption that they’re all “over 40 and living with their moms”, that they’re going to get the comic sticky with ejaculate, etc, etc, etc.

    It’s hate for an aspect of the self, basically. They loathe the hard core fans because they’re *embarrassed* by them: they remember when they cared that much about comic books and they don’t like seeing it now that they’ve bought fully into the ideology of the ironic rejection.

    Now, let me not pretend myself to be any great defender of fandom: I tend to find fans of anything somewhat uncomfortable to be around, the raw fanatical devotion makes me nervous and irritable. I wasn’t ever a Marvel Zombie: while I read the comics, I wasn’t the giant fan of them that many seem to have been (in general, I prefered and still prefer the work DC put out, the epic JLA storylines by Gardner Fox, to Marvel’s smaller-scale ‘real problems’ stuff. Quite frankly, I don’t read comic books to read how Spider-Man can’t cash a check: it was innovative 40 years ago, but it never appealed to me) and to a degree I find the Marvel fandom’s obsessive focus on continuity and its importance over a good story destructive to the idea of serial shared universe fiction: as I put it elsewhere, I don’t want stories that explain things, I want stories that exploit them.

    I think I agree with the idea that the fans, themselves, are pretty innocuous by themselves: it is the fact that what would be the hard core fans in a sea of less committed consumers in other art forms, like movie audiences or science fiction readers (using myself as an example: I read a lot of Sci Fi, but I don’t go to conventions or feel the need to read about the writers or any of that), in the modern comics industry, the hard core fans are all comics have. And don’t be mislead by indie comics fans: basically, they’re just the same hard core fans behind a veneer of ‘oh, aren’t we so grown up now that we’re reading books about the lives of the creators of said comics and not those immature superhero wish-fulfillment fantasies’ – basically, I’m arguing that the line between Clowes mocking Superheroes and Morrison writing Superheroes is pretense, plain and simple: the greatest detractors of obsessive fans are usually obsessive fans themselves who wear a mask of being beyond that they slag as a distraction in the hopes that no one will consider them to be those people: it’s embarrasment. Otherwise, why bother?

    And yeah, I get pretty embarrassed by the antics of groups like H.E.A.T. myself, but I keep my mouth shut about it most of the time because, well, it wouldn’t have taken much a few years back to get me to join up. I still say DC screwed up big time on that one.

    That’s my thought on it, Dave. Hope it’s of some use to you.

    – – Matt Rossi

  2. I imagine that for some people it’s a method of pushing away an aspect of self, although I doubt a whole lot of people who do that kind of thing are in aggressive denial about the nerdier aspects of their personalities. When I worked at Fantagraphics, which was during the period of time when Wizard of the Coast was on its ascendancy, for example, we used to have a running joke about any other form of slightly nerdy expression — “Now THOSE people, THOSE people are nerds.” It’s not like such a statement isn’t aware of the silly distinctions being made.

    The above statement has it right in that part of the anger that sometimes gets directed and hardcore fandom has to do with the fact that there’s often a frusration inherent with the lack of a corresponding arts readership like a lot of forms have. You talk to certain budding novelists about popular writers or playwrights about people putting parodies Off-Broadway or musicians about MTV ready acts, and you get the same anger. The difference in comics used to be a thorough hopelessness about it. Until the last few years there was just about NO model for potential success of even the modest kind afforded certain kinds of works in other forms. But the last ten years have seen art comics just about hit the full extent of what could logically be argued as their potential market — not all of them, but some of them — so for a lot of people, the desperate quality to that anger has kind of subsided. It used to be that a trip for arts comics industry folk and artists to the San Diego Con, say, was a reminder that there was almost no audience for your work; now, it’s a reminder that the vast majority of the American public skews a certain way, but that’s a lot easier to take.

    Mostly, though, I think you’re straining when you assert a very specific psychological profile. I think a great deal of what makes kidding fanboy behavior fun is the canyon between the degree of obsession and anger and the seriousness of the subject of those passions. I think sports geeks are funny the same way. Yet when I listen to political talk radio and hear people talk that way about political issues on which they’ll soon vote, suddenly it’s not so funny. You know?

    I can’t imagine a more inaccurate picture of Dan Clowes, incidentally, who seems to me pretty genuine in what he explores as an artist and not working out of some compulsive need not to be linked to it. That’s not a very good strategy, anyway, if that is what he was trying to do. Creators work with the material of their lives, and a generation of comic-book cartoonists is likely to have superheroes as a part of that experience. The Underground generation seemed more interested in Disney-style comics, and there’s a group of cartoonists coming into their own now that are much less likely to have that superhero reading experience at all.

  3. I think both Tom & Matt make very interesting points (especially on Clowes’ use of superhero material as parallel to the underground’s use of funny animal stuff…)

    and I’ll be extraordinarily pleased if Tom is right in predicting that the “resentment factor” is on the wane! If only I had waited a year or two more, I could’ve missed the whole thing! (it’s true that this attitude does seem to take root wherever unheralded artists congregate–it is especially prevalent amongst some good friends of mine who paint–, but I’ve always seen this as something to struggle against! And, as a novelist who’s as unheralded as they come, I guess I’ve got as much of an excuse as anyone else to commence bitching, if I wanted one…)

    I was only vaguely aware of the “artcomix vs. the mainstream” drama in the eighties, but it’s been THE most shocking aspect of the comics scene that I’ve encountered since drifting back into comics circles in the past year…

    I agree that obsessive, detail-oriented fandom is lame in any context, and lends itself to parody, but I hope people can understand how odd I find the whole “superhero reader=drooling wanker” equation, given that I never went through a phase where I read nothing but “brand X”, nor was there ever a time in which comics were the only, or even primary, art form that I cared about. I just think some of ’em are really interesting–and, yes, for the nonce, I’m primarily interested in superhero comics.

    Dave

  4. Dave,

    Every medium has its rabid fans that become far too invested in what they perceive to be “my thing,” as opposed to the more rational “my relationship this thing.” There isn’t, nor has there ever been, one <>right way<> to talk comics – you’ve got your thing going, Alan’s got his thing going, I’ve kind-of-sort-of got my thing going… Is anyone right? I don’t think so. Any dialogue any of us engages in (even the mockery) really, when you distill it to its core, is all about the love.

    As for me making fun of others… well, yeah. It’s just my nature. 🙂 Does it elevate the dialogue or raise the bar? Hell no. It’s just me getting through the workday as best I can. I still maintain, to this day, that I identify with two cultures defined by a relationship to a medium: comics and hip hop. I’m an unabashed fan of the product and culture of both of them.

  5. Tom Spurgeon again:

    David, you can skip the resentment factor RIGHT NOW if you want. It’s not difficult to avoid that stuff. Seriously. I don’t ever hear about that stuff anymore, and my circle of friends and professional acquaintances almost certainly demands a higher exposure to the possibility. Don’t you think?

    I do want to add, just because you brought it up, and it’s not like you’re saying the opposite, but many people do: the important thing about the bubbling-over resentment from the 1980s within the industry that contributes a hangover to resentments now ISN’T that it represented a clash of mini-cultures and ideologies within a larger scene but that there were several very real incidents, isolated and sustained, of economic bullying and terrible, unethical and outright hostile business practices.

    In others words, it’s a lot easier for some opinion leaders to be less hostile about a kind of comics they don’t care for when they’re no longer completely dependent on a market where these huge companies do things like hold sales seminar and strongly suggest to those in attendance that even carrying your stuff will destroy their businesses.

  6. Oh, I didn’t mean the jig is up, “Motime is here”. It is just rare that you, David Fiore, comes and adds something to those types of discussion. I wasn’t really talking to you either, but I was excited that you were talking.
    Marlon

  7. Who the fuck is “Blaine Beaty”?

    God! I was so intent upon making sure that I didn’t double the “t” in Bart’s last name that I fell down on the first part of the task! I don’t know where I got the “Blaine” from! I’m really sorry–I’ve corrected the text now…

    Dave

  8. Tom wrote:

    David, you can skip the resentment factor RIGHT NOW if you want. It’s not difficult to avoid that stuff. Seriously. I don’t ever hear about that stuff anymore, and my circle of friends and professional acquaintances almost certainly demands a higher exposure to the possibility. Don’t you think?

    Just as an aside–and because I’ve read (and enjoyed, for the most part!) the Groth/Spurgeon tag-team interview in TCJ #263 since posting this–I wanted to point out the very real divide that separates Gary and Tom’s questions on the subject of “the mainstream”. Some of this can certainly be chalked up to differences in personality between the two interviewers (Groth, for instance, just assumes that “becoming embittered with superhero comics” is a part of growing up, and he’s definitely guilty of “leading the witness” in spots), but perhaps the most salient fact here is that five years have passed between the two sessions… All of this definitely supports Tom’s argument that the “two households” comics landscape is on its last legs!

    Dave

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