THREE STAGES OF FANDOM
The "firestorm" over Wonder Woman's costume last week was fun for about five minutes (see the PIPELINE EXTRA I devoted to it), before it devolved into the same old, same old. The first thing that jumped out to me was her leather jacket, which reminded me of an old "What The - ?!?" story that Joe Quesada may have even drawn, about all Marvel heroes getting leather jackets to be cool - including the Human Torch. But, I still like it. Maybe it's because I'm a comics child of the 90s, and so it doesn't seem so out of place to me. I don't know. It's not like they gave her an eye patch and a belt full of pouches, plus one on her thigh. (And, honestly, I'm not sure I'd hate the pouches. Like I said: Child of the 90s.)
I liked Jim Lee's design sketch more than the preview pages that were available on-line, where the cleavage seemed to be on even more prominent display. Wonder Woman's top now strains at the straps to hold her in, and the jacket opens up to focus attention on her chest frequently. (The eye is drawn to the point of greatest contrast, so the white skin amidst a sea of dark colors is where the eye goes. Hello, cleavage!) So while the overall costume might be more demure, the unintended consequence is that it draws even more attention to her chest than the old mostly-bare look did.
Still, it's just a costume change. Not a big deal. It's fun to fuss over for a little bit. It's always interesting to see creators play with these things, but we also all know that it won't last forever. It never does. Spider-Man's black costume didn't stick around. Daredevil's armor costume is long gone and mostly forgotten. Superman's mullet got chopped off. Iron Man - well, he's never had an armor last long enough to be considered canon, has he?
It's fun to see the newspapers and the TV stations that DC planted the story with take up the gauntlet and run with it. Although, honestly, how long will it be before they realize that this isn't news at all? Are they so desperate to fill air time and column inches that they'll take stories from other publisher's marketing departments? Don't they feel stupid for making such big deals out of Spider-Man's unmasking and Captain America's death? Have they not learned their lessons?
In any case, some in fandom are more prone to outrage. They look for the drama. They look to be insulted. They want to argue vehemently over the stupidest things they can find on comic book message boards. A new Wonder Woman costume is cause for a flurry of their fun. I sit back, shake my head a bit, and go back to ignoring them.
On the other hand, I used to be them. I have to admit that to myself. But I'm 20 years older now. (Yikes!) And so it got me to thinking about my Stages of Fandom, and I was able to break it down into three parts.
Drooling Fanboy: I can't hide this one. I had letters of high praise printed in "Youngblood" #2 and "X-Force" and "Star Trek," after all, commending each for being nearly revolutionary. I was relatively new to comics, and everything was new and crazy to me. I didn't have the knowledge of the history of comics I have now. I didn't have the knowledge of the business behind the books I was reading. I didn't know about a lot of things. All that mattered what was on the page. In some ways, I miss those days. I miss the easy excitement comics provoked. That wide-eyed wonder can never be recaptured, and that's probably a big part of the reason why so many people look so fondly back to the Golden Age of Eight - the comics when they were eight years old were the best they've ever read. Everything truly was new and exciting to them.
On the other hand, it's embarrassing in retrospect. We've all been there. We've all held comics in our hands when we were younger that we thought were the bee's knees, but we know today were really schlocky hacked-out crap that pandered to our immature selves. At the time, though, it's all cool.
This is the time you're most prone to getting into on-line arguments about foolish things, so often borne of one's own ignorance or lack of perspective. There's a bit of Santayana in there about forgetting the past and being doomed to repeat it. This is closer to "not knowing" the past and thus being doomed to repeat it.
Reasonable Fanboy: Eventually, the drooling fanboy learns enough that he can make more reasonable statements. Knowledge of how comics work - both in the stories and from the creators and publishers behind them - inform opinions. Having seen a few years of comics, certain patterns emerge, but it's still not known if those patterns are routine, or exceptions to the rule. Comics still maintain a very important part in the Reasonable Fanboy's life, though, being the main hobby and time waster.
This is probably me in the first decade of Pipeline. By the time I started writing Pipeline, I had been a subscriber to "Comics Buyer's Guide" for a few years, hung out on comic book message boards and even interacted with a few creators on-line. I felt like I was part of it, in some small way. But I also began to recognize that there are different types of comic fans. We're not all alike, and there are definite cliques in fandom. And that's OK. There's something for everyone. And we can all learn from each other.
But comics-related things are still important. It's worth discussing them, and having strong opinions on them, and defending them for the sport of it. There's just enough knowledge now to be dangerous.
Those who don't eventually reach this stage have a maturity issue. They lack perspective from their own insularity. There's no other reason not to make it here, because after a few years, all the pieces are in place. It's up to the fanboy to put them together, or even just to recognize that there's a puzzle there to put together.
Detached Fanboy: The current phase I'm in, it's where you like comics and enjoy them and are highly specific about what you buy and read, and when and why, but they're not the focus of your life. You don't need to know about or be involved in every little thing. It's OK to be clueless about what's going on with a certain creator or a certain character. Not coincidentally, this often coincides with having a spouse and/or a child. Either that, or utter burn out.
It might sound like a depressing phrase, but it's oddly liberating. I don't feel as tied down to comics as much as I used to be. And while my eyes are still bigger than my wallet, I find myself picking what I want to read more carefully, and re-reading the forgotten "classics" that have sat unloved in boxes in my closet and storage unit for years. What point is there in keeping those old comics if we don't dig through them once in a while, right?
The bright side of this is that my highs and lows are generally less spikey. Sure, I'll rant about digital distribution or the sad lack of appreciation for "Asterix" and other Franco-Belgian comics, but I'm not getting worked up over Wonder Woman's costume change, or the death of whatever fan-favorite character nobody cared about until he or she died.
In fact, the things that are most important to me in the world of comics now are matters outside the comics page - how to get new readers, how to sustain the publication history of the sequential narrative format, seeking success with different genres. What an individual character wears is very far down the list. It's a cause for chuckles and not much else.
I've also seen the cycles. The comic book industry, like everything else, is cyclical. Good ideas come and go. Usually, a good idea comes, everyone jumps on it, it quickly turns back, and then someone discovers the next big thing and we're off to the races. Event books were constant in the 90s until they were done away with in the early Quesada/Jemas era of Marvel. Then, they returned in the Bendis "Avengers" era, and now they seem to be waning or, at least, morphing into something smaller again. Character deaths are huge until character resurrections are huge. Characters going dark is big until characters being "lighty and brighty" become the new fad.
Back and forth the pendulum swings, but I don't swing with it. When it goes in a direction I'm not a fan of now, I look somewhere else. I explore new options, or I go back and reread books I enjoyed in the past and often find new angles on them. It's not just being cheap or having to save money for diapers. It's about getting more enjoyment out of what I already have, and the renewed joy of discovery and history all at once.
This isn't to say there aren't days that I'd like to go back "Reasonable Fanboy" status and haunt the message boards and live and breathe comics, but I also accept that it's a period of life that likely won't come back again. Life is change, right? I need to find other ways to be productive.
It also gives me new perspectives. I think "outside the box." I see what's going on in the worlds of technology and publishing and think about how it might apply to comics. I step back from the angst and furor of the day to think about where it's all coming from and why people say what they say. And I think about things from outside the Wednesday Crowd or Direct Market perspective. Those are the things that drive me these days. Why CAN'T comics change? Why aren't they? What makes sense?
None of this means Pipeline needs to suffer. This column has always been a journal of my comics experiences and opinions. Sometimes, it's a review column. Other times, it's a personal journal. Yet other times, it's a commentary on the industry as a whole. I still love the impetus Pipeline gives me to think about these things, and to read these books. I enjoy a slight bit of controversy here and there. I love the doors Pipeline opens for me, and I love comics. But am I ever going to be outraged about a storyline happening to a favorite character? No. Nothing is forever, particularly with corporate characters that exist to feed a licensing machine that makes exponentially more money than the comics they started in. Thanks to trade paperbacks (and maybe digital comics?), the past is no longer buried. It's fairly close from here.
Am I mad that comics are $4 these days? Yes, but I understand the economics of it, and it doesn't bother me, personally, because it doesn't affect me. I've all but moved to the trade, anyway. I'm only disappointed in the way it'll cut into others' budgets, and keep some away from comics who might otherwise buy in at a cheaper price point. But you know what? Comics don't sell enough to hit the economies of scale needed to drop the price lower while maintaining the same quality standard.
Perhaps "detached" is too strong a word. It's the closest I can come from someone who still enjoys the scene, but doesn't want to get too involved with it to the point of arguing in circles and getting outraged over cosmetic changes and temporary fixes.
While three stages might be too broad, looking back on twenty-one years of comics reading and experiencing, it's the closest I feel I can come. Is the next stage one of enlightened reinvention? A return to rabid fanboyism? I don't know. Stop back here in a few years for Pipeline #1000. We'll discuss it then.
A WORD ABOUT HAWAII
Did you know that Hawaii doesn't get its new comics until Friday each week? The U.K. gets its comics before our own homeland's 50th state. I'm shocked and appalled. SHOCKED! This is the biggest failure of the Direct Market I've ever seen. How dare Diamond treat Hawaii as a lesser land than even Wales?!? Has Steve Geppi no shame?!? Didn't we just celebrate the Fourth of July in this country, and our spirit of independence? Why do we let Hawaii hang like this? Why do we treat them like...like...GUAM?!? (I know we got Guam first, but run with me here. . . )
Maybe this is why Joe Quesada was taking a meeting at the White House last week? Surely, he was there to represent this unfair trade balance happening inside our own borders. How can Hawaiians hope to include themselves in the near-instant internet discussions surrounding the top tier books of the week, when they don't get them until the internet has shrugged its digital shoulders and moved on to the next biggest outrage?
Mahalo, my Hawaiian brothers and sisters. Someone in the Contiguous Forty-Eight is thinking about you. I'm ashamed. This nation owes you an apology. This is not what Phil Seuling had in mind.
PIPELINE BONUS: WONDER WOMAN TWITTER STORM
I had a lot of fun with the new Wonder Woman costume on Twitter last week. Presented now, a Best Of for those Tweets, in chronological order:
- Make fun of Wonder Woman's costume all you like, but you'll be seeing it a lot in San Diego. Easy cosplay!
- No, everyone is right. This new Wonder Woman costume is ugly. We need to get back to her classic bike shorts look!
- Let's take a break from this WW madness to ask the leftover question of last week: How bad was that "Arsenal" comic last week?
- Shouldn't we all still be complaining that Superboy's costume is a black t-shirt and blue jeans?!?
- Not only was Zuda still alive, but did you know that Wonder Woman has her own series, too?
- In response to this week's events, I expect Marvel to announce Black Widow's new bathing suit like costume next week. And a pixie haircut.
- WW's new costume doesn't go far enough. I want a ripped Ed Hardy t-shirt on her, too!
- You know what they need to do with Wonder Woman? Replace those bracelets with silly bands! Merchandising bonanza!!!
- Anyone else notice that WW is drawn off-model in Page Two of the preview story in #600? The ankle ornaments are missing.
I am still reading comics. Hope to review one or two of them next week, but with the way the news cycle has gone in the last month, I'm not sure I want to guarantee anything. With San Diego approaching, things are on hold, so there's hope.
I'm over on Twitter for most immediate discussions.