“You’re not a serious comic book reader.”“You have too many interests to be a real comic book geek."“You have an outsider perspective on comic books.”“You only think you like comic books.”“You’re too outgoing to be a comic book nerd."“You read too many different types of comic books to be a real comic book fan.”
These are things friends have said to me, none of them meant as insults, simply letting me know that in their eyes, I don’t quite belong in their club. From their perspective I am not obsessed enough to fit in. Over six years ago I published my first column about comic books, writing about what had been a childhood secret obsession for me. At the time a friend suggested that I name my column “secret obsession”, but I knew that “obsession” wasn’t quite the right word to describe my approach about comic books, at least not the way it gets used now.
Depending on how long you’ve been reading comic books you probably already know this, but for most of my life there were a lot of negative associations with the medium. Now there is so-called geek-chic which gives us all permission to like what we like without being judged, or at least that’s the idea. I’ve begun to understand that it’s never really going to be enough, I am just not built the way some comic book readers are and I can’t seem to focus on one aspect of it to the exclusion of all others. Even when I do sustain a laser focus for a short period, I don’t retain names and dates particularly well, (I’ve never been very good at that, in any field), and worst of all I am interested in too many things.
I love comic books, but I also love movies, a slew of television shows, abstract expressionist painting, contemporary fashion design, photography, modern architecture, science fiction, travel, and an increasingly broad variety of music. It’s a problem because I’m not obsessed enough with one thing to be easily identified and put into any single social category.
It is always funny when friends and colleagues talk about my “outsider perspective”, because friends and colleagues outside of the comic book industry always talk about my “insider knowledge”! Everything is relative. To one group my broad variety of interests earmarks me as a kind of affectionate dilettante, dabbling on the outskirts of an interest in comic books with no desire to immerse myself entirely. Other people who have no interest in the medium see my walls decked with original page art, my shelves filled with action figures, graphic novels, and comic books and they label f me as that woman obsessed with comic books. It isn’t that one group is correct, it is simply that their barometers are very different. It’s similar to the way American people hear my accent as very British, but British people hear a lot of American in it because I've been here for so long.
However I am seen by others, I am aware of the impact that comic books have had on my life in the same way that I appreciate the impact of Anselm Kiefer or Frank Lloyd Wright on my psyche, (to name just two examples out of many). For years I worried about my strange obsession with American comic books that set me apart from my friends growing up, they weren’t interested in the medium and saw me as stupid because of my love of it. Yet I now find myself in the odd position living in a world where my interest in comic books is not nearly obsessed enough and so I once again I don’t fit in, this time with the world of “true” geekdom.
Do you know those in-depth discussions about comic books, movies, and television shows where people discuss the exact parts which aren’t logical or don’t work within the constraints of the world depicted? I don’t often have those, in fact they don’t really interest me, I don’t want to dissect entertainment in that way. It isn’t that I don’t see the problems; sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, and sometimes I choose to ignore them so that I can enjoy the subject. The point is, that kind of detailed analysis of entertainment media seems exhausting and isn’t the way I want to experience them. Of course I understand that kind of analysis because I apply that approach my field of work, and that is exactly what it can feels like: work. It isn’t fun for me, it detracts from my enjoyment.
This disinterest in critical, minutiae-oriented analysis is another way in which I am not obsessed enough to be a true fan of comic books (in some people’s minds), and that is something I can relate to. For me, when my colleagues in graphic design do not see the work this way then I find it hard to take them seriously and I don’t really know how they can un-see these (to my eye) glaring details. However, this is because graphic design is my work, I chose it as a career specifically because I am only able to see it in this way, my natural inclination makes me well-suited to it. When enjoying entertainment media, as much as possible I try to switch off the analytical parts of my brain, dissecting it as I do graphic design would turn it into work and as much as I enjoy my job I still need to escape it sometimes.
It may be that I read too much philosophy and existential fiction when I was too young and malleable, but not fitting in didn’t used to seem like a problem to me. If anything I eschewed things that became popular, hating the feeling that I might be following the herd and worrying that I might become homogenized. I wanted to find my own path and I hope I still am… And so I’ve decided that whether I’m deemed to be not a true comic book fan by my fellow fans, or conversely judged to be a massive comic book nerd by friends and colleagues outside of this medium, doesn’t matter. I like what I like and I love living in a world where so much amazing human creation is available for our education and entertainment every day. The only sensible conclusion I can come to is that we’ve got to keep enjoying whatever we love in the way that feels best, and ultimately that is probably a little bit different for each of us, no matter how much some people would like to categorize and label us.