Ten years ago, my friend Joe Rice and I were full of hot piss and flaming vinegar. The comics that were getting most of the attention online were, by and large, mediocre (or so we had decided).
And thus it was that our mantra “Mediocre is not enough… comics should be GOOD” became the name of a blog. We swung fists, wrote diatribes and jeremiads, and from time to time, produced something funny. This lasted a few months ( or maybe a year?) before we realized that calories were better spent elsewhere, and we passed the reins to Brian Cronin, putting away our keyboards like Sheriff Andy Taylor locks away a shotgun.
2004 was a different world. The internet landscape was less social media, and more message boards. Usenet groups were still hanging on. Delphi forums still were a thing people were happy to use. Twitter was not a way to become a loudmouth of note. Blogs could gain some attention just by getting linked to a few times from the much smaller pool of news sites. The world was not a wasteland of everyone holding a smartphone chiming in on every topic with a thumbs-down or a “TL DR”. Comment sections often had thoughtful responses, and I KNOW THAT SOUNDS INSANE NOW.
I stepped away from the infancy of CSBG and did a few things. I opened a comics shop, and I closed a comics shop. I got married and had a kid. I moved through four apartments. I got a new job. I had two D&D characters pass 13th level without grisly deaths. I made a popular webcomic with my friend (and fellow CBR alum) Tom Fitzgerald of www.tomandlorenzo.com.
But mostly the REALITY of making, selling, and working with comics took precedence over the bizarre parallel universe of the comics internet. When I owned my shop, and previous to that, when I worked in another high-traffic NYC store, I straw-polled customers from time to time, and found that an astonishingly low number of them spent any time reading about comics online. And even fewer still actively participated in any sorts of discussions. The percent that did read the comics internet was divided further by the percent that used it as anything past a casual scroll. I realized that the numbers of comics sold were not reflected in the amount of online chatter about any given comic, and vice versa. In other words, if two worlds existed of comic fans, the people shopping every Wednesday and the people on twitter all night, the twain were not necessarily meeting. There is a great value in sites like CBR, and the myriad of other news outlets, but too often people convince themselves that comics begin and end on tumblr, and the world is a much bigger place than that.
Also, at a certain point, the outrage began. In 2004, many months were spent declaring Ron Marz a war criminal for ruining Green Lantern. Letters were mailed and campaigns were mounted and garments were rended. To be fair, Marz is a monster, and should be stopped at all cost, but that was the most holy crusade of the era, and it was mostly (and rightly) seen as a huge joke. Today, a new outrage cycles through the atmosphere every 24 hours, like whale urine flows through Aquaman’s beautiful beard. Witches are hunted, goalposts are moved, reducios are ad absurded, and bad arguments choke a twitter feed to death. Individuals are made scapegoats, with all the ills of society laid on their back. Twitter crusaders shake their fists at the sky and declare us all sinners in a dark time of tribulation. This isn’t to say that there’s nothing worth getting upset about and there are certainly awful things in the world we should be shouting at, but to paraphrase clickhole.com, social media has homogenized our outrage. Fights that should be fought against actual crimes can get the same level of as response as an ornery tweet from a Notable Person that everyone will forget about by the weekend. And the darkest secret of all lives in this dimly lit corner… arguing and posturing online has never solved anything. I guess it can be entertaining from time to time, and I’m as guilty of it as anyone, but jeepers creepers it makes life exhausting.
It should be clear now that I’m out of practice when it comes to making a point online. I have meandered and wandered in this piece today, but it comes back to this; after ten years, what I’ve come to learn is that the best way for me to enjoy comics is just to go to the store, buy a stack, read them, and pass them along to the next person. I love comics deeply, and in a human-to-human conversation, I can get deeply passionate about them. But social media is focused on a lot of bullshit most of the time, and the signal to noise ratio is enough to trigger a migraine.
Ten years ago, we set out to fight a holy war and declare that “COMICS SHOULD BE GOOD”. Well comics ARE good, and they always have been! In a lot of ways, comics are better than ever. In the past ten days I’ve read THE INCAL, SOUTHERN BASTARDS, a PEANUTS hardcover, a reprint of classic STAR TREK comics, a new HELLBOY comic, a Michael DeForge collection, NAUSICAA in a gorgeous hardcover, a Carl Barks UNCLE SCROOGE collection, and SAGA. All masterpieces. There is a bounty of amazing comics every week, and comics I searched for far and wide as a kid are now available in deluxe, remastered editions. It’s a great world, even if a toe dipped in twitter paints an apocalypse of hurt feelings and self-righteous rage. Comics should be good, but so should the internet. Let’s work on that one next.