Lately I think I’ve been writing from a place of preachy exasperation. This might not be the case as you see it, gentle reader, but know that I’m my own worst critic (and also my own worst hair-style-decision-maker). I think there are going to be times in this column’s duration where I will fall so far down the social issues rabbit hole that I will forget exactly why I jumped down that tiny hole to begin with.
I love comics.
Now, this isn’t to say that using comics as a platform to demonstrate the need for social change, and to illustrate the areas where it is progressing is a bad thing. Anyone who thinks comics aren’t political is a dope. Everything is political. Marvel introducing the Black Panther in 1966 was a radical move. The X-Men are so political they deserve a weekly show on MSNBC analyzing the newest issues. The immigrant experience is as essential to Superman as his red cape and trunks (personal plea: bring back the trunks). So I’m not crazy for writing about social issues, but I will go crazy if I don’t take a breather every now and then to remind myself why I’m doing this.
So again, I love comics. And the reasons I fell head over heels for them still hold true today. For me, they’re about as personal as a medium can get. This initially happened because I was my elementary, middle and high school’s resident comic book lover. Seriously, I remember the exact moment when the comic book bubble burst for the fourth graders of Wessington Place Elementary in 1993. After riding an X-Men high sparked by the cartoon’s debut with pretty much everyone else in my grade, it was all over by the time the second season started. Everyone else had moved on, leaving me alone with my comics. I had no one to talk to about any big comic book event after “Fatal Attractions,” leaving me alone with my comics.
To this day, even after working professionally in the comic book industry and finding a circle of friends both online and in life that love comics, I still take my hobby very personally. For some reason, it’s easy for me to accept that my comedy friends love “Parks and Recreation” as much as I do, but I just can’t believe that anyone loves Paul Smith’s run on “Uncanny X-Men” more than me. I don’t mean that in a snobby way, either. I just mean that the love I feel for my favorite comics is way more personal and passionate than the love I have for my favorite shows (and I must state, I really love “Parks and Recreation”).
To really get specific about my love of Chris Claremont and Paul Smith’s “Uncanny X-Men” (aka the sentence I have been waiting to write for this column), those issues feel essential to who I am as a consumer of art and who I am as a person. I first discovered those issues in trade paperback form when I was in third grade, probably just after everyone else gave up on comics for Jonathan Taylor Thomas/Power Rangers/I have no clue. Reading those issues of “Uncanny” (#168-176) felt empowering to little me. Along with a trade of “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” those collections were my first step into back issues. They were me experiencing the extensive history these new-to-me characters had. The fluid, masterfully and expressively simplistic art style that Paul Smith used perfectly illustrated the slow turn from superhero fare to dark, politically conscious heroics that Claremont was writing. This wasn’t Jim Lee action poses and speech bubble blasted fight sequences with dastardly evil-doers. The X-Men almost revolted over Rogue joining the team. Wolverine got stood up at the altar. Storm stabbed Callisto in the heart. Kitty Pryde called Professor Xavier a jerk. Storm got a Mohawk. This trade would be one that I would revisit at least annually for every year of my life, and the relationship is one that even this totally dope paragraph fails to accurately convey.
I think this is how every comic book fan feels about their favorite comics. I think this is why people get so upset when the Big Two alter their favorite characters. The hurt I see from “Community” fans on Twitter is nothing compared to the hurt I saw Green Lantern fans go through after The Movie That Will Not Be Mentioned. It’s important to remember that while a lot of the vitriol and nerd-rage online is just that, it’s coming from a place of unparalleled, intensely personal love. For us comic book fans, this is our medium. Weezer, a band who I kinda based my entire existence around for my senior year of high school, released the dreadful “Make Believe” and it did not come anywhere close to doing the amount of damage Chuck Austen did when he made Nightcrawler the son of the literal devil. I’m now indifferent towards Rivers Cuomo, but Mr. Austen…we are not cool, man.
I still feel this. I still root for my characters when they succeed (Cannonball being an Avenger feels like ME becoming an Avenger). But (ugh, here comes some preaching) I try to not focus on when they fail. So yeah, I hate what Chuck Austen did to Nightcrawler, but I still have BOTH a mini-bust and Minimate of him flanking my work laptop. When comics get me down, I want to be the kind of fan that shifts focus from what he hates to what he loves. If new comics are bumming me out (and comics being an ongoing, cyclical medium, they sometimes do bum me out), I switch to old stuff.
Lately I’ve fallen in love with Ed Brubaker’s “Catwoman,” which has made me appreciate a character that I previously wrote off as being an iconic nobody. I had no grasp on who she was and what motivated her, and after reading the first 20 issues of Brubaker’s stellar run, I love the character. It made me really appreciate what Christopher Nolan and Anne Hathaway pulled off in “The Dark Knight Rises.” I have learned that as my fandom enters its third decade, there are still surprises ahead. Oddball characters that have previously befuddled me can become ones I care about, as evidenced by the Rocket Raccoon mug I now own (if it’s not clear, I have a real attachment to material possessions).
I know I said I was going to turn off the preaching and turn up the loving in this article, but after doing so I kinda think they are one and the same. By talking about how much comics mean to me, I hope it inspires more people to do the same. I hope it makes people focus less on negativity and more on I-love-it-so-much-it’s-essential-to-my-being-ity. We all love comics. Every one of us on this site. That’s one thing you have in common with whoever you end up disagreeing with in the future, and maybe that’s something to bond over.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre show Left Handed Radio: The Sequel Machine. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).