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A New Kind of Comic Fan


  • A New Kind of Comic Fan

    Spider-Man No MoreI have a confession to make.

    Those of you who have accumulated a few decades may find this familiar. When it comes to the kinds of media we consume, it evolves over time. There are similarities – if you live 4-Color culture, it’s a good bet that sci-fi, comics, board games, and other things in that realm have held your attention at various points. In my life, I’ve eagerly devoured sci-fi television, various novel series, comic books, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Firefly. City of Heroes and Guild Wars, Kerbal Space Program, various board games from Risk and Axis & Allies to Gloomhaven – specific things come and go, but they all seem to fall in the same wheel-house.

    I went through one of those evolutions about 7 years ago, when I gave up comic books.

    Don’t get me wrong – I still loved the medium, and I still considered myself a supporter. I spent about 10 years actively commentating on them, and supporting others doing the same thing – I couldn’t deny I enjoyed what I did, it was just time for a change. My own personal enjoyment of them had eroded to almost nothing, and I slowly faded away from the Local Comic Shop. The transition was so gradual that I don’t even remember what the last comic book I read even was.

    So, what happened? A few things it turns out, and I am going to share those things with you.

    Ordinarily, we like to be positive on Forgedby4, so I will warn you in advance that this is going to seem like I am bashing the comic industry. It is true that I disliked certain practices that still exist today, but I think you will find how all of this really is positive if you make it to the end.

    Reasons Why I Stopped Reading Comics

    1. Infinite Crisis. Oh, I absolutely loved this event, or at least I loved the idea of it. There is really nothing like a major, universe-wide shakeup to stimulate interest in a whole bunch of ongoing comics. In considering this article, I looked at a slew of “retro-reviews” of the series and was shocked at how negative they were. Sure, the aftermath of Infinite Crisis could have been handled much better, but I recall a very different reception to the series as it was being published. Sales for the first issue of this event were double the usual high-mark for issue sales, and the internet was on fire with Crisis fever. I wonder if people bashing it today are being totally honest about what they would have thought about it back then.

    Infinite Crisis #1Infinite Crisis itself wasn’t a reason I walked away from comics – but what it caused was. While I loved the idea of a massive, universe-altering event, it isn’t the sort of thing you can do all the time. One of the reasons this worked was because there was such a strongly established status-quo. You cared about the characters involved, they each had long established continuities that were all crashing together in one massive explosion of an event. But once you have done it, you can’t do it again right away and expect it to have the same impact. You already smashed all the block towers creative teams spent years building up – you have to let them build it up again if you want it to have any impact. But they didn’t. Infinite Crisis lead to Major Event Overload, and it seemed like DC and Marvel couldn’t stop going to that well year after year.

    (To be fair, House of M from Marvel came before Infinite Crisis, but DC had been building towards Infinite Crisis for months, and people were already emotionally invested before the first issue came out. Looking at the sales numbers for both shows why I call Infinite Crisis the beginning.)

    Marvel quickly followed suit with Civil War, and comics became a Major Event arms race. Every single year we had major event after major event, and nothing ever seemed to settle down. Instead of being able to follow a single title and watch the growth of a character, everything had become cross-over oriented, with few titles able to develop their own robust continuities. 52, World War III, Civil War, Secret Invasion, Final Crisis, Dark Reign, Blackest Night, reboot after relaunch … the list goes on. The entirety of both Marvel and DC’s line seemed to have been turned over to these major events, and I just got tired. My pull-list got smaller and smaller, and about the time Marvel Now! came around, I just stopped altogether. I’d been rebooted out of the comic continuity.

    2. Forced Diversity. I know it is a hot topic for debate, and I do intend to tread lightly. I think it is safe to state that both Marvel and DC made real pushes to diversify their character line-ups, and those attempts at diversification met with mixed results. This was and is a serious issue that is very worthy of open discussion – but heavy-handed publishing policy is not open discourse. You can’t change hearts and minds with a hammer, and the "you will like this or else" approach was just that.

    Don’t get me wrong – I understand why they were doing it, and in some cases I agreed with the rationale. It was their approach I found wanting. Rather than creating new characters of different races or creating more female heroes and promoting them, they decided it was better to simply take an existing white male character, make him go away, and hand that character’s history and legacy to someone else. Making the situation tenser, there was a lot of preaching going on about how if you were not completely on board with these changes that you were a racist or a sexist. It became impossible to simply read and enjoy a comic – the very emotion of liking or disliking a comic story became a litmus test for bigotry. Not even a good or reliable litmus test – but the message was clear. “Like this, or we know what you really are!”

    Some of the changes worked, but when it came to changing an existing character, that sort of thing fit better in the DC Universe than it did the Marvel (and even they couldn't pull it off every time). In DC, there is a lot more heroes where the identity is a mantle to be handed down. A new hero taking up that mantle was simply becoming part of a legacy, not co-opting it. Changing the focus to Jaime Reyes’s Blue Beetle or John Stewart’s Green Lantern weren’t a case of stolen legacy – they were adding to it. Even Dan Jolley and Chris Cross’s Firestorm (which was fantastic) managed to retain a sense of legacy with the way they handled the Firestorm matrix, and it worked. This isn’t to say that only DC Legacy concepts had success – I think Carol Danvers becoming Captain Marvel was and is a very good direction for her character to go, but for the most part the diversification seemed more successful to me with all new characters. Sadly, in most cases It was clear they weren’t changing the characters for any story-reason, it just a case of political correctness gone wrong, and the medium itself suffered as a result.

    I know there are those who strongly disagree with me, and that’s OK – I try never to be one that will tell someone they are wrong about the comics they enjoy. It was even a good thing that they tried – even if their approach was flawed. I think we can agree, however, that this movement introduced a political aspect to the production of comics where the gender and race of a character became the main the deciding factor in the planning and approval of comic stories instead of just the strength of the story idea itself. That approach is wrong, and the aggressive promotion of identity politics over story quality left a very bad taste in my mouth. So, I started reading less.

    Long Boxes3. Collector-Culture. Every single issue bagged-and-boarded. Dozens of long boxes filled with comics. Read them once, treat the issue like it is fine china, put it away and never touch it again.

    Have you ever tried to move with a few dozen comic long-boxes? I’ve done that more times than I’d care to mention. What a miserable experience.

    At some point, I realized that almost every single one of the comics I owned was practically worthless. As a collector’s item, modern comics are a very, very poor investment. Classic comics – particularly those who’s rarity was enhanced by World War II era paper rationing and recycling are a different matter, but modern comics just don’t have a scarcity problem to enhance their value. Yet comic-collector culture trained me that I had to save every issue and treat every issue like gold. The truth is, with some very rare exceptions, you will be lucky to find a modern comic fetch over $20 in a real market. And when you factor in the cost of all the worthless issues you bought, the cost of bags, boards, and boxes, as well as the storage fees… it is a losing proposition.

    So why do it?

    Once I realized this, I started doing something radical – I threw comic books away. I tried to buy comics for the story, and not for their potential value in the future. I stopped treating them with kid gloves, and either gave them away after I read them, or I tossed them in the trash bin. It was hard at first, but it felt good once I got used to it.

    Despite my new outlook, the industry was still geared towards the collector, and I started to really notice the other aspects of that culture that was hurting my enjoyment of the comics. The constant “new #1s!” meant to drive sales, the variant covers and over-expensive print quality (not as bad as the 90s, but still), all the little things meant to scratch that tiny itch in a collector’s head that said “buy this now!” The changes the industry was making to stay alive seemed like it was catering more to the collector, instead of adapting to the coming digital age.

    Just like this site is a return to the world of forums after a needed reset, I’ve come to realize that my departure from comics was itself a needed reset. Examining the reasons why I stopped reading comics, I realize that I had trained myself not to enjoy comics. I enjoyed being a collector – an expert on comics, from everything to comic history to the way they were produced, and I approached reading comics not as something to be enjoyed, but something to critique. Each of the items I have cited here have one thing in common – comic publishers trying to stay relevant and profitable, trying to stay alive as a medium. And as a comic fan I was finding ways to rip them to pieces for doing just that.

    If the surge in popularity of comic movies has proven anything, its that the superhero genre isn’t to blame for the problems the comic industry have experienced. Over the last few years, sales have gone up – so they have to be doing something right. I can’t say if credit is due to crossover appeal from the movies or any structural changes they have made, but comics seem to be here to stay for now. They could be doing better though - they still aren’t as mainstream as they once were, but as a fan at heart, I am happy they are alive.
    What if the problem isn’t with the comic industry, but the comic collector? What if the problem I was having with comics had nothing to do with any of the things I mentioned, but because the entire industry was geared towards a diminishing niche of collectors? What if I am to blame?

    Could I learn how to be a different kind of comic reader?

    It’s Wednesday – new comic book day. I noticed that digital comics have become a “thing” in the years since I last bought a comic, and I definitely like this development. If I wanted to try out a comic again, it would be very easy. Perhaps it is time that I did just that, but this time not as a collector or critic, but as someone who enjoys imaginative fantasy and graphic storytelling. Can I just enjoy a story without nitpicking the art? Can I avoid “watching the sausage get made” and focus on the result instead of the creation process? Will my enjoyment be enhanced if I read a digital comic, without the stress of the collector in me telling me to preserve what I am reading? Can I avoid thinking about any ulterior motives by the publisher in their choices of characters, and just try to focus on the story that the creators are trying to tell?

    Can I find a new way to enjoy comics? Only one way to find out.

    Do you have any recommendations?

    • Blake M. Petit
      Blake M. Petit commented
      Editing a comment
      I've mostly enjoyed Marvel Unlimited. I haven't tried Comixology, though -- too much of it is incomplete for my tastes. If I'm paying a subscription fee, I don't want just the first three trade paperbacks in a series. That'd be like going to Netflix to watch Breaking Bad and then being told I needed to buy the DVDs to go past season two.

    • Craig Reade
      Craig Reade commented
      Editing a comment
      So is everything on Marvel Unlimited? How long does it take a new issue to get on there?

      Well, I am already on the hook for a year there, but at least they have a lot of non-Marvel stuff...

    • Blake M. Petit
      Blake M. Petit commented
      Editing a comment
      Not EVERYTHING, but more than Comixology (in my experience), and there's nothing on Marvel Unlimited that's not included in the subscription. New titles, I think, show up six months after release.
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