Every Spider-Man fan knows that with great power comes great responsibility. I don’t know if the ability to make your voice heard on a message board counts as “great power,” but surely there’s some responsibility attached to that, too. A recent run-in between Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott and a CBR message-board user named lejayjay serves as an object lesson on this point, and who you think abused their power-responsibility balance the worst may well reveal a lot about you as a fan and consumer of comics and art.
In a thread called “How long do you expect Dan Slott to be the lead/ sole writer of Amazing Spider-Man?”, lejayjay posted a comment seemingly deriding Slott as a fair-weather comics writer who would likely depart for a more lucrative field. Though the comment eventually spun off into facetiously hyperbolic territory, it began by directly attacking Slott’s motives for writing ASM at all:
It is jus a paycheck for Slott anyway. He’s not a real fan.
Those two sentences prompted the following response from Slott, who expressed his displeasure in no uncertain terms:
As a guy who turned down a side job this year for a paycheck that would’ve been over a third of his yearly income– BECAUSE it would’ve meant cutting back on his not-so-lucrative comic book writing career– and get in the way of working on his Spider-Man dream job…
…and the guy who slept less than 12 hours over the course of 4 days this week working on a script while he was sick… a guy who finally had to be ORDERED off it by his editor to go see a doctor… and is still in a good deal of pain today…
…this is the first time I think I’ve ever said this to somebody over a comic book message board:
Go fuck yourself.
Go. Fuck. Yourself.
lejayjay apologized almost immediately, wishing Slott well and characterizing the initial post as “schtick.” But the exchange still strikes me as a revealing one, for several reasons.
First, it shows — as if there were any question at all — that even some of the biggest names in comics, well paid by massive entertainment corporations for writing the superhero genre’s most popular characters, read and take very seriously the anonymous and semi-anonymous criticism and insults of people on the Internet. Whether that’s good, bad or indifferent for the creators, the companies, the comics or the consumers is up for debate, but it’s a very real phenomenon.
Second, it shows the folly of ascribing specific, and in fact unknowable, motives to creators whose work you dislike when a direct critique of that work itself would more than suffice. If you feel that (say) Dan Slott’s Spider-Man work lacks heart or is poorly told or runs counter to what you value in Spider-Man comics, there are countless ways to address this by discussing the actual work — pointing out specific shortcomings in plotting or dialogue or characterization; comparing it to other, better work by different creators; even comparing it to past, stronger work from the creator in question — rather than concocting theories about their personal feelings toward the characters or how they’re only in it for a paycheck or whatever. You don’t know that; unless they come out and say it, you can’t know it. Acting as if you do wastes everyone’s time.
Third, it shows that large segments of fandom expect creators to follow rules of decorum they in no way apply to themselves. Both in the original thread and on other sites where the exchange has been brought up, like this post and comment thread at Spider-Man Crawlspace or this question on Tom Brevoort’s formspring account, many fans responded to the exchange not by getting upset at the original, insulting post (joke though it turned out to have been) and empathizing with Slott as a person whose integrity and creativity had been questioned, but by getting miffed at Slott for forcefully responding. Wanna insult a person who works in the arts by saying the most derogatory and baseless things you can? Go ahead! Work in the arts and want to respond by cussing the insult-thrower out? Why, that’s no way for a grown-up and professional to behave! Break out the fainting couch, I’ve got the vapors! HOW DARE YOU, SIR!
Again, we can question the wisdom of popular professional creators engaging with message-board and comment-thread name-calling, but to act as though one side of the exchange can do basically whatever they want while the recipient of the abuse should never respond in kind is an absurd double standard. Moreover it evinces a profound sense of entitlement: a demand to be able to treat others however poorly you want while reserving total immunity for yourself, and a reduction of the artist to a glorified conveyor belt that must silently transport your preferred art-product to you and to whom you have no behavioral or ethical or moral obligations. It’s the same mindset that leads readers to insult creators who express contrary opinions about how their work is made available digitally, or attack people with legal and moral claims to the proceeds from a certain work if those claims are deemed to provide even the slightest impediment to the way those readers are accustomed to consuming that work. For better or worse, we the readers really do have some power thanks to the Internet. And you know what they say about power.