“If it was truly good, you would not have to learn to appreciate it,” is a line given lazily, although sometimes defensively, that cannot be functionally defended. If it were true, we would not have art education classes, we would not have to talk small children or our friend in a rut into just trying a bite of some food they are unfamiliar with and in that unfamiliarity, nervous.
by Travis Hedge Coke
The why of why this is important is different than whether you personally enjoy. Why this is important is different than, what do I get out of it? Supporting the people who made a comic over corporate interests may not net you more comics by those people at that company, and it may not, then, get you more comics by them on a character you want them working with, but that is not why it is important. And, we can all be selfish enough, and self-absorbed enough, that we occasionally need to learn and relearn it.
My grandfather avoided avocados and cauliflower for decades, because at some time, he had some bad avocados and maybe the cauliflower was prepared a way he did not like. Took him forever to try either again, but he was quick to talk smack about both, unless it was guacamole with plenty of lemon. And, when he did try them in his last years, he really enjoyed avocados and still felt cauliflower was junk.
It can’t be about trying it again, or purely internal “growth.” It may not even be growth. Your tastes are not growth any more than your cellular division is. Change. Aging. But, bodies and tastes can both age poorly, sometimes even regressively. Plenty of books and YouTube videos arguing why you should love or acknowledge the greatness of this comic, this movie, some short story or the second opening credits sequence to The Flintstones, and often they can get very cloying and, to be fair, annoying. There is nothing you have to love, but you ought to show respect. You can dislike a writer, a style of drawing, a publisher’s behavior and still be decent about it.
No immutable law says you have enjoy every page Rob Liefeld draws, if you enjoy one. That you must enjoy Liefeld’s art or writing, if you appreciate his efforts as a publisher, curating and promoting works by other artists and writers. No one should expect that liking Liefeld’s work means liking him as a person (I happen to like his work making comics, his work as a publisher, and his enthusiasm about comics as a person).
People vs Companies
I’m not a very good Marxist, but I believe work should valorize the worker. There are plenty of comics that I do not especially enjoy, and sometimes I am positively antagonistic to some beloved works. But, Alan Moore is not going to set fire to all your DC comics. She-Hulk threatening to come rip up your X-Men issues if you don’t read her book, was a joke. You want to buy Doomsday Clock and watch the Watchmen sequel show, just do it. Don’t act like Alan Moore is pooping in your cereal by saying he does not want them to exist. And, do not lie and make it about using “other people’s characters,” to play Moore as a hypocrite. Alan Moore is not against reusing characters. He reuses plenty and has outright said he would love to see people grab the Watchmen characters and do something with them, just not the current rights holders. It has never been an issue of character use, but one of a company burned him and now he does not like them or owe them any compliments or participation.
There is a collection of Steve Ditko’s Mr A stories coming soon, two volumes, nice production, but Ditko only just died, and he said, explicitly, in inarguable terms, that he does not support such collections.
When Sina Grace criticized Marvel for not backing him against organized hate group harassment, far too many Marvel fans clapped back with, “Well, I didn’t like a comic he wrote!” So fucking what? He did not demand a raise or an office made of unicorn tears, he lamented a company not supporting its employees in the face of organized hate groups.
Comics You Don’t Like
True story: I like every Mr A story I have read, more than I like either Grace’s Iceman or any issue of Watchmen. And, every Mr A comic I have ever read is terrifyingly ugly.
The idea that value is only our personal enjoyment is tantalizing, but it causes damage, and what does it help? By all means, support what you love, and admit what you love, but something you dislike, or are meh about, can have significant historical value, value as an influence on other things, and it may have value in what it motivated in industry changes or have saved someone else’s life.
For the Watchmen enthusiasts in the house, while Rorschach is visually connected to a Ditko character that DC owns, the Question, Moore has said his personality and modus operandi are based pretty strongly on a misanthropic take on Batman (also, naturally, DC-owned), and Ditko’s Mr A (which they do not). Moore put a lot of Mr A into Rorschach, and his unwavering sense of an impossible pure justice (that mostly comes out as jerk judgment and a masquerade mask on personal biases, if not bigotries). Without Mr A, you cannot have Rorschach, because you would have lost one of the central reasons for there to be a Rorschach.
Meanwhile, Watchmen, itself, does not have to appeal to me, for me to acknowledge its effects on comics, on them formally (the real birth of page as stanza), on the industry (rights deliberations, collected editions as evergreen publishable items), and on the audience (who have made the comic into a kind of most photographed barn in the world, in that we can no longer, if we ever could, read Watchmen for what it is, on the pages, and read it and recollect it through the lens of its marketing and influence). Watchmen, as a watershed comic, remains both a very deliberately constructed comic, and one that moves and affects a leviathan of an audience, which now includes multitudes who have not read the comic and may never read the comic.
Company vs Company
Marvel vs DC was invented at a time when there were several comics publishers doing very well, so why Marvel vs DC, or, as they would coyly put it, “our Direct Competition”?
Marvel was, at that time, distributed by DC Comics. The entire DC vs Marvel dichotomy is not rooted in any stylistic or social resonance, but engineered to promote two sets of comics distributed by the same people. Pepsi product vs Pepsi product; buy Pepsi.
The anger still evinced by some, even by people who were not alive when Image was founded, is an outgrowth of the hottest new stars and several of the strongest old guard in comics leaving Marvel and DC for creator-owned work at the new publisher. Most of the people mad at Erik Larsen or Jim Valentino at Image, had no problem with them at Marvel. And, for every accusation that Jim Lee ran Chris Claremont off X-Men and then left himself, like an ungracious cur, there is the reality that both left X-Men within a couple months of each other and both worked together at Image almost immediately.
Education about relevant comics history may not make you love a comic, or be happy that someone left one publisher of another, but it can help you reevaluate your responses, or the responses of the broader comics communities. Without relevant facts, we can be swept up emotionally, or politically, and take positions that do prevent us from other things we might enjoy.
Styles You Don’t Like
In the same way that work should celebrate the worker, an increase in available styles, including schools of agenda, sets of techniques, and genres, valorizes the total comics cache, our community market or community library. While a style, in this sense, may have detrimental effects, especially if it is overly prevalent, it is not so without value that it should not, in its context, exist.
Warren Ellis used to compare the overabundance of superhero comics, especially in terms of what is displayed first for readers, to entering a bookstore where the only books you could easily see, are all novels about nurses. Some might be trashy, some deeply thoughtful, some exciting, some well-drawn, some nurse novels can be part of decades-long series, others fresh, innovative characters, but all nurses, to the point where any other kind of story has to have a nurse stuck in it somewhere, to fit.
There is nothing wrong with novels about nurses or comics with superheroes in them. There is nothing objectively wrong with a comic you like or a comic you do not like, and outside of the rarity of actual hatemongering or truly vile dehumanization, most comics you do not like are for the audiences who do enjoy them, of real value.
My most recent comics purchases are Whenever Our Eyes Meet, an anthology of short romance comics that I would recommend to almost anyone, Eclair, an anthology of short love stories about teenagers and children that range from the seriously romantic to dealing with childhood crushes in their naivety, a split-volume collection of Sebastian O and Mystery Play, both written by Grant Morrison, and unlikely to work for the audience who come in explicitly for his superhero works, despite gorgeous art by Steve Yeowell, Tatjana Wood, and Jon Muth, and the Soska Sisters’ Black Widow comic, which I preordered for my best friend. Black Widow is a superhero comic, featuring superheroes and operating on superhero logic, but I have seen it criticized, ever since the first preview pages were released, for not being superhero enough, for not being classically superhero, et cetera. Primarily because two women wrote it, and it is their first comic for Marvel, though they are both lifelong fans. Other people were offended because the villains are rapists, murderers, profiteers, and a fair-weather Nazi who insists he is not a Nazi or child abuser, just “a complicated man.”
There are elements of all of these comics, which I can criticize, and others which, I am sure, you could find fault or question with. But, our collective access is bolstered by their existence. And, individually, the audiences to which each appeals, or further, which is of some use and assistance to an audience, no matter how small that audience might be, brings us a bigger, better, and easier world. Art, media, betters our world, at large and within each of us, by expanding and easing the points of perspective, the reaffirmation of ideals, the concretization of emotion and awareness.
Audiences Who Are Not You
The audience who is not you, matters.
The audience who is not you – let’s do this again – matters.
The easiest way to identify a bigot is that everything has to be for them and them alone, and the easiest way to confirm it, is that they insist everyone else believes something similar no matter what evidence to the contrary.
Jon Muth’s art may not appeal to you, but to claim he or Bill Sienkiewicz have no place in comics or are untalented technicians is as silly as saying it of George Perez or Jill Thompson. You are not bringing them down a peg when you throw out that guff, you are embarrassing yourself, and you are making what comics are and should be smaller and anemic.
Like some comics, but get angry at fans who are only fans of the movie or tv adaptation? Chances are high those adaptations are what finance the not very lucrative comic’s publication.
The Boys is blowing up just now, with a new Amazon adaptation, but I am unlikely to see it for awhile. The comic was not for me. I tend to not get excited by attacks on celebrity culture, and I sour on degrading sex as characterization or comedy. Mary Gaitskill railing against Secretary? She might as well be criticizing me, because because I need the “Pretty Woman version, heavy on the charm (and a little too nice),” more than I want to revisit her short story which inspired that movie. (Digression on digression, I like Whore more than Pretty Woman, and I could deal with not seeing either ever again, but am happy that their respective audiences have them all three available with ease.)
I’m out on The Boys, but a million other people are in, including Elliot S! Maggin, who would like to write a second season episode.
I’m going to say Elliot S! Maggin does not deserve a show he enjoys? Based on a comic he may or may not? You going to suggest Maggin should not have a superhero story that appeals to him?
For those of you who are asking who Maggin is, the spirit is still true. It does not matter, in this instance, who Maggin is. Audiences do not need to make their bones to count. There is no participation ratio, no entrance exam that counts. The audience is the audience and when we are not that audience, we still benefit from them having the media for which they are.
Even if what you prefer stays niche forever – and even if it blows up so big the whole world seems like the fandom in miniature – what you like is reified by its difference from everything else out there. The more out there, the more there is to be different from, to be unique and uniquely its own. Diamonds and true love are not valued because they are particularly rare – neither is – but because they shine and set in a way different from any other option. Throwing emeralds or fried chicken all around does not dull the shine or weaken the value.
Marvel Comics is about to revisit their 2099 properties, to celebrate a midpoint between 1939 and now and that far future date, a celebration that, then, by default valorizes and reinvigorates those 1939 comics as much as comics they publish now. Things reflect and reaffirm. But, I am old enough to remember when the 2099 imprint launched, and how at the time and since, many self-identifying Marvel fans have been displeased with the Pat Mills comics in the imprint, on the assumption that Mills was ignorant of writing arch satire and big, vicious, anti-fascist, anti-toxic masculinity comics with the biggest guns and hardest truncheons. In the mid-90s, when 2099 Unlimited ran genius backup shorts by Nancy Collins, Warren Ellis, drawn and colored by Marie Severin, Ned Sonntag, Kyle Baker and D’Israeli, it was the Spider-Man-of-the-future and Hulk-of-the-future feature stories that seemed to garner the real comics shop respect, the rest written off as try-hard, pretentious drivel.
Those backup shorts were the most readable to me, then, and remain so now. They were why I bought the comic, and some of the feature stories remain unread or half-read. I know implicitly that they would never have seen print at Marvel without being anchored to Spidey-of-tomorrow.
Peter David never took a cab to my house and forced me at knifepoint to read a comic I did not want to. She-Hulk still hasn’t torn up by X-books. Alan Moore not wanting to work with DC has not prevented him from having a respected and resplendent career in comics, nor dulled the sheen on the comics he made before he decided not to play with that specific publisher ever again (twice). No one has ever made me read, nor reread, a Moore comic I did not want to, and I will continue to read new analyses of Moore comics I may not want to ever reread, because the analysis itself has value to me. I can know about sub-genres I do not care for, support artists I do not personally like or whose work I remain unenthralled by, and I hope I will always enjoy the twinkle in the eye as someone does enjoy a work of art even if I do not share the enjoyment firsthand.
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