Sunday, January 13, 2008

The 3 Biggest Rules of Comics Blogging


I was thinking today and I realized that my OMD song post might have come off as snide and dismissive towards fandom in general. Given that I'm writing a comics blog, I think that's sort of unforgivable in terms of hypocrisy. I'm a huge, unapologetic fan of comics. I wrote my Senior Thesis on "The Growing Acceptance of Comic Books/Graphic Novels as an Art Form". If it weren't for comic books, I wouldn't be here and, dorky as it may sound, I mean that in every sense of the word.

So, the blogging? My major criticism of online blogging about comics isn't about the devotion of the fans, which can be beautiful and is always sincere in it's passion. It's about the basic realizations most people who blog about comics for any reason seem to miss.

A lot.

I thought I'd lay out what I think are essential rules of comics blogging, if only to help people understand where I'm coming from.

1. The comic book you're seeing previews of online that has you furious or sad is always a part of a larger story - one that's already in progress.

The problem is twofold.

First, you're not reading the whole issue, which may or may not explain the part that's upsetting you in a reasonable manner. Which, let's face it, rarely happens - Batman & The Outsiders anyone? - but still.

Second, by the time you've seen the preview pages for "Aunt May Vs. Ted Kord's Corpse Special - Final Intercrossover Crisis Day #1 (of 7)", the comic book writers and artists have already written #2 and probably most, if not all, of parts 3 and 4 - while having plotted out the whole thing beforehand.

This isn't Jason Todd in the 80's. Your Internet complaints about the story can't really change that much of the story or direction. Unless the internet presents a unified hiss of loathing or a really concise, intelligent argument, the writers will not change the ending they've been building to with a serial narrative.

Does this mean you shouldn't complain? No, but it means you should complain constructively and be realistic about the chances of your complaints changing the story. The only writer/artist I've ever seen apologize and change a scene that offended his readers was Adam Warren. When somebody wrote a post entitled "Actually, Empowered Sucks Now"*, crossposted it to Scans Daily and sent a letter to him. Warren responded in this way, saying in part - "In any event, in the second printing of EMPOWERED vol. 2, I’m going to redraw those three panels."

Now, Adam Warren isn't writing strictly mainstream stuff - in fact, it's naughty stuff that's likely to offend some people (you can read a typical 8-page short for free somewhere on Dark Horse's Torturous Myspace Page). I love his work, personally, but I can see how many might misinterpret it and how he has more freedom than say, J. Michael Straczynski. The thing is, even if you like Warren's work or not, you should respect him for doing this.

Brian Michael Bendis took a lot of heat recently for a sequence in New Avengers, in which Tigra is viciously attacked in her own bedroom and offers minimal defense. He didn't respond with a promise to rewrite the entire scene in future trade form and an apology. Instead, he responded with the thinking that violence against Tigra was just as acceptable as violence against Namor the Sub-Mariner, in a "Fish Man" allegory that rankled some people. Now, would it take away the original, unintentional insult to fans of Tigra and many comic book reading feminists? No, but it would show a degree of class and appreciation of the opinions of fandom, rabid as they often are, that would impress me. But there's a reason this doesn't tend to happen, which leads me to Rule 2 . . .

*Side note - even though I got her to agree that the ending of Empowered, Vol. 2 actually moved her to the point of tears, she refused to believe the work had any merit or, heavens forbid, that she might be overreacting. *facepalm*

2. You do NOT own your favorite Superhero. The writers and artists you hate rarely, if ever, own their favorite Superhero. A Superhero character is almost always a money-making property owned by an evil corporation.

We don't own them but we love them. We can influence their directions only minimally unless we somehow become their writer and even then, they're still owned by a giant corporation who sees them just as a brand name. It's a frustrating quandary for any fan.

My friend Kay, a former exotic dancer, points out that believing that Marvel or DC is writing just for you, the fan, is like thinking the stripper really loves you. I prefer her other metaphor that reading superhero comics is like marrying a junkie who has no plans to go clean. You have wonderful times, you have faith things are going well and suddenly he's vanished with your TV Set and left your Uncle stabbed in the stomach on the floor. You can never, ever fully trust them to do right by you.

Listen - if novelist Greg Rucka can't even write a back-up story where he jokingly implies Batman is gay for DC Comics while he's employed as the writer of Detective Comics because the editors say no, who were in turn told by the corporation who owns Batman to say no . . . your blog demands that So-And-So stop writing Captain Awesome out of character or that Superb Girl's new costume gets changed aren't gonna hold a lot of water.

The trick to acceptance is this - comics are a fluid medium and superhero comics even more so. The writer and/or artist you hate and all their story arcs can be replaced with one you love at any time or vice versa. This is the rule that is hardest for me to remember and accept because it seems like this is the rule we can violate the most.

If we stop buying the comic when a certain writer starts ruining the character *COUGH*JodiPICOULT!*cough*, the megacorporation that owns the character will notice the loss and fire that person. Such universal revilement is rare, however, in the world of fandom and people will often chug along until the writer, editor or artist feel that they've reached a natural stopping point. Controversy sells a book - always remember that - so sometimes a debate gives the megacorporation more excitement and more press, which means more money.

The junkie knows we still love them and will always come back to them. DC and Marvel keep taking our televisions and selling them for smack every time we hope it's going to get better instead of locking them out. We can prove them wrong but I don't see it happen very often.

Me? I just leave my junkie girlfriend comics until they look like they've cleaned up and gotten into rehab, if only for a little while. I'm still waiting on you Exiles, darlin'.

3. Blog smarter, not louder.

I never fully understood the phrase "'Tis better to light a candle instead of curse the darkness." until I read Internet Message Boards.

Think about this: if the sheer volume of fanpeople who bitched about a random comic book problem donated just one nickel a piece towards taking out an ad in Variety or a billboard in NY, could you imagine the impact that would make? Can you imagine all the money people would get raised?

Alas, that doesn't happen often, if at all. It's just a lot of sound and fury most of the time with very little logical critique or positive suggestions. A lot of fans just assume internet criticisms will translate into bad sales as if by magic. Sad to say, it's rarely so. The sheer volume can - and has - made positive impact on a few people but it's still noise.

(BTW - "Write your own book" is not a positive suggestion. If you asked me to help you solve a math problem and I told you "Write your own math test instead.", I wouldn't be helping you. I'd be an asshole. You see how that works now?)

So, please, blog constructively. Think before you post. Realize that the characters you love are both yours and not yours at the same time. And lastly, try to think of a way to convince people who've never even read a comic before why this particular bit of story/art or decision is a bad idea, based on basic story principles.

Anyways, that's just my two cents. Hope this helps any people I may have alienated with my tongue-in-cheek bitter loathing of all fandom (including my own dorky self).

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