Before the sprawling, rich online social interaction there is today, in ye olden days of yore there was no internet. Before there were smart phones, and social networks, or even specialized comic book shops, if I liked a comic book I had to scour local newspaper shops to see if they had it every month. And if I wanted to talk about a comic book, I could lend it to friends and try to get them to read it. If they didn’t like it, I was out of luck.
Nowadays I see an announcement on CBR and I can immediately discuss how I feel about it with my friends online. In fact, not only can I do this with friends, but also with strangers, people I only know only from places like Twitter and Facebook. These people are entirely outside of my daily experience, some live in completely different countries, and they say things that I might otherwise never think of. After the arid wasteland of my lone childhood comic book reading, this is a a magical experience. After the early years of zealous campaigning amongst my disinterested friends (“Go on, read it. I know it’s a comic, but you might enjoy it. It’s good, really. Try it… come oooooon”) this new age couldn’t come too soon.
15 years ago when I first moved to San Francisco, the only person that I knew here was one girlfriend from London. She’d been here for a few months, and enticed me to move here with a letter (written by hand and sent by snail mail, which was really the only option for us then.) Her letter said “Today I ran naked along a beach. It is beautiful here; The men are happy and the sun shines. You will love it, when are you coming.” Suffice to say, it didn’t take long before I quit the (very boring) job, split up with the (manic-depressive) boyfriend and moved to San Francisco. Once here I saw that, as promised it was indeed sunnier and more upbeat than London, but it was also a hell of a lot easier to indulge my comic book and science fiction tendencies in a city filled with artists and programmers (both more open to the aforementioned tendencies than my friends in the UK had been.) My London girlfriend was horrified though, and while out at a bar one night she looked at me and exclaimed “WAITAMINNIT… You like comic books and science fiction and you work with computers… You’re a GEEK!?” I’d known her pretty well for years in London, but somehow I’d inadvertently hidden these things from her. Back in those days you see, that was possible because without the internet, there was no obvious way to publish and share information, and in fact it never occurred to people to do so. The current way we all publicize our likes, dislikes, our photos, and videos, etc is an incredibly new thing and before it, we used to simply ignore aspects of each others lives. Some people still do, but that’s a whole other story… Me, I find it refreshing.
There seems to be a general acceptance that we all get to share information, we are given to believe that we all get to know everything, and sometimes people even become indignant if they don’t. Being able to find people who share my interests, anywhere in the world, to talk, swap information and opinions with them is an incredible leap forward from the way I began reading comic books. The online friends that I have talk about the early comic book discussion boards and forums that they belonged to, pioneering the current online comic book culture, but I wasn’t privy to these. Back then, I was still quietly reading comic books, making up my mind about things, and generally getting on with the business of enjoying the medium on my own. Oddly, (since I was designing and building websites at the time) I never thought that there might be like-minded people out there, building a strong community online. Mock me if you like, but I was just completely oblivious because it was so far outside of the way I’d grown up (i.e. reading comic books as a solitary past time.) Ignoring the budding online comic book community wasn’t by choice, this comic book social media stuff just crept up behind me, and blossomed into an entire universe while I had my head down at work. I feel like I turned around one day and suddenly the whole world was full of people enjoying all the stuff I’d privately loved.
In a strange twist of fate, it wasn’t until a few years ago when I was asked to write a column about comic books by the good people at iFanboy that I properly discovered the broad online community of comic books (and there is an archive of those here if you’re interested.) At first I wrote simply to get the crazy ideas out of my head, (the thoughts that run around my brain entertaining me personally, all the things I never thought I’d share with anyone), and posted them as benign entertainment. For about a year, I wrote it in a sort of daze, constantly shocked at the feedback I was getting. Gradually the comments and emails that I got started to really hit me, and I found that it would impact my own desire to share my thoughts. Since this shared discussion wasn’t how I began my comic book reading life, I found it unsettling at times, like being hit with a tidal wave of sorts – overwhelming and intimidating… Still does some days. Over time I’ve done my best to bring my brain back to a sort of mid-ground, staying aware of the greater community of comic book readers and their own proclivities, but still remembering why I personally enjoy the things. It is a work in-progress.
As time goes on I try to enjoy the broad internet community more and more, dipping my toe in enough to share the love of the medium, while staying just distant enough to remember my roots; When I first picked up a comic book, there was no one else to read it with me or discuss it with, so any love I had for it was purely my own, as were any opinions or ideas. It is still incredibly important that I stick with that and stay true to myself, and I hope that we all can do so. I never want to lose touch with my personal feelings for the medium, or be swayed by popular opinion about it (or even let that intimidate me.) Having said all of that; How bloody marvelous is it that there is a popular opinion about comics books as a medium? I never thought that I would be part of such a wide ranging community of people, all caring so much about this tremendously effective and enjoyable art form. We live in a time of communication miracles, able to share our thoughts and feelings easily with diverse people all over the world and for that I’m incredibly grateful.
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