THE BENDIS BLOWOUT
It's not like I couldn't see it coming. In the wake of last week's column, the Bendis Message Board erupted. The thread began with the subject, "Augie Complains About Us In this Week's Pipeline."
The very conclusion reached in the subject line, of course, was wrong, but I went with it for the sake of the debate, anyway. (I mean, did everyone miss the part of the article where I wrote, "OK, I can understand people not talking about it on his message board, but I can't find any discussion of it anywhere else.")
A steady stream of responses followed. Basically, you could have taken the forty-two messages in the thread and boiled them down to about three that wouldn't be redundant.
Those three would fall under these categories:
- Dude, he asked us not to and we respected his wishes. What's wrong with that?
- It's the creator that counts, not the character. And it's your attitude that's to blame for the malaise comics find themselves in today.
- Why are you trying to dig up dirt? Typical internet columnist looking for mud to throw...
So let's discuss these three topics, in order.
RESPECTING HIS WISHES
Why does Brian Bendis' wishes get respected with nary a murmur, when just about any other creator's wishes would be steamrolled over?
I've been on-line since the days of local BBSes and Q-LINK, a Commodore AOL predecessor, in 1987 or so. I've been on the internet since 1994, an active participant of rec.arts.comics.misc and its associated USENET groups back then. (A lot of the longer-running web columns started out on USENET - just about the entire Fandom gang, CBR's own Gail, Ray C. Tate, and myself, amongst others.)
I've seen this news cycle happen many many times in my time on the internet in fandom.
I've never seen so many people willing to keep their mouths shut when asked, as when it happened last week. I can understand people respecting his wishes on his message board since it's his home and you don't drag mud onto his carpet when you walk in. I do find it odd that there were so few, if any, passing mentions to it. "Bendis, dude, I'm sorry to see you go. You'll be missed on Sam & Twitch. I wish I knew why you were leaving, but it doesn't matter in the end." Nothing even close to that.
But why the silence on the CBR message boards? Other message boards? USENET? Etc. (As I mentioned last week, the Ellis boards had a little peep about it, but it degenerated into McFarlane name calling and the thread was shut down.)
Let me quote what I wrote in reply to Bendis' reaction to the post, the next day:
"You've always been open, honest, and friendly with [the internet fans]. So when you make a small request, they'll honor it. Maybe the reason such a request hasn't worked in the past is because those other creators have frequently felt the need to spill their guts whenever a situation like this came up in their career. Thus, their fans come to expect an airing out of the situation. Or, maybe it's that the creator is so openly sarcastic and cynical and lowbrow, that to suddenly be asked to be quiet in this instance is an oddity and not to be taken seriously.
"You've been most consistent on these points."
Maybe that's all that need be said. Consistency and honesty will get you through. Railing against editors on one day, and then asking us not to ask about it the next, sends confusing messages. Giving all the behind-the-scenes gossip one month and then not commenting on any of it the next month when it applies to you would be contradictory.
But Bendis has always been open and honest, and never one to gossip-monger or spread background dirt on anyone. So when it came his turn, his previous behavior came into play, and people went with it without question.
Or, at least, that's one theory.
I'm not ruling out massive amounts of Kool-Aid just yet. ;-)
CREATOR, NOT CHARACTER
Also quoting from my response to Bendis:
"I have to admit -- I'm not a big fan of that point, either. In the middle of what was clearly labelled a rant, I started throwing everything against the wall to see what would stick. I debated the point yesterday, because I thought it would be a healthy thing to do. I found some reasons behind it which even make sense, I think.
"You know what the supreme irony behind the point is? I first heard it coming from Todd McFarlane's mouth when he left SPAWN the first time. (I think it's when he stopped drawing it.) But to mention that in the article would only have allowed people to ignore the point and start deflecting argument against the man and not the idea. (Look at what happened to poor Erik Larsen after the Name Withheld letter.)"
I follow creators, not characters.
I very carefully, however, worded what I said in the column last week:
"(That Bendis might have recreated a couple of characters into such an interesting duo that people would want to stick around after he left is apparently a foreign notion. Are they supporting Bendis politically on this one? That can't be it; nobody knows what the political situation behind his departure is. If a writer can't make the characters likable enough that you care to follow their adventures after he leaves, has he truly done his job? I can understand your qualms if a writer is coming on who you think has no talent, but these people were dropping the book before they heard who the replacement was. And I bet most have never heard of him even afterwards.)"
Here's my take on this:
I follow creators and not their creations, generally speaking. I go for the good stories, not necessarily the good characters. Why is that? Because a good story will always be entertaining, while a good character may not necessarily be so. In the hands of a bad storyteller, even the most interesting of characters can be insanely boring. Besides which, we shouldn't be rewarding bad comics by buying them out of blind loyalty. I know there are people out there who suffer through years of bad comics because they know that eventually it'll turn around and a new creative team will come in to clean it all up. While I can understand this in the short term, it makes no sense in the long term. If you're collecting SUPER HAMBURGER BOY for 50 issues and some hack writer and artist come in to do a fill-in for issue #51, I won't hate you for buying it just to keep your run alive. The regular creative team will be back the next month and you can go on enjoying your comics. But when the creative team of SHB leaves with the 75th issue and those two hacks whose work you didn't enjoy in #51 come back as the new regular team, why bother?
But here's the counter argument to that:
The original creators of SHB have just spent more than six years of their life on the book. You enjoyed their work. You care for the characters. Does that end just because the original creators are gone? Don't you owe it to them to give their creations a chance? Can you just turn the switch off and say, "Nah, these characters aren't interesting anymore?" Did the creators truly do their job if you don't give a damn about their characters after they leave?
The easy answer to this is creator control, which isn't available at the Big Two companies. When Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett decide to move on from SECTION ZERO, this whole issue probably won't come up. I doubt they'd hand over the reigns of the book to someone else. And if they did, it would be someone they trusted and someone they probably would explain all the intricacies of the book to, just to maintain the book's flavor, if you will. But the decision wouldn't be arbitrary and the book wouldn't continue just to feed the company's multimedia division.
There are a couple of other exceptions to this rule that I can think of off the top of my head. The first is money. Not everyone can afford a limitless comics budget. If you follow a specific creator and have a limited budget, you'll need that money to spend on his new project. The money you save on SAM & TWITCH and HELLSPAWN will get you whatever new projects Bendis has lined up next. (Admit it - you want to see Bendis' ULTIMATE HINDSIGHT LAD!)
The second is one of politics, and it's one I hinted at already. This is something that would most likely only happen with a non-creator owned book. The example I used at the Bendis Board last week was of THE INCREDIBLE HULK and Peter David's departure from it. When he left the book, so did I. Does this fly in the face of every argument I've used to support the notion of a writer only doing his job if you care about the characters? It may look it, but it's not so. First of all, Peter David concluded the story. His last issue gave a satisfying ending to all his years on the title. You could follow the rest of the Hulk's life story in that magnificent final issue. So, technically, there was no need to read any more. The rest is just details, as they say. Second, it was a matter of politics. I didn't like the way David was forced off the book. I didn't want to support that, so I didn't want to throw more money into Marvel's coffers as a way of condoning their actions.
One last definite exception: Uncle Scrooge. I'll give any comic with Uncle Scrooge in it a shot. This is something of an exception, though. The Disney Duck comics are virtual anthologies. You can't really tell from one month to the next how good they're going to be. Even the worst of them comes out with something entertaining once in awhile. Any issue with something in it from Carl Barks or William Van Horn or Don Rosa or David Gerstein is worth reading. But not all issues have something with one of them in it. And the sales figures are so slight on those books that it's something of a political statement to continue to support the books with my dollars.
Of course, all of this is moot at this point since nobody is publishing the Duck comics in America. Overseas, they sell well enough that my support wouldn't necessarily be needed.
Nope, I wasn't digging for dirt. The whole column was about fan reaction to the news and the curious (a word I'm using way too much on this debate) silence in its wake. It became about a much bigger thing that Bendis' reasons for leaving Todd McFarlane Productions.
However: I think it's quite natural to wonder why any creator would leave a title. Most creators give reasons when they leave. It's de rigueur. Even if it's just the politically correct and always malleable enough to fit into any situation, "creative differences," it's there. It's particularly questionable when said creator has in the past discussed his love for the book in such glowing terms as to evoke pictures of the title being snatched from the clutches of his hands in a state of rigor mortis. If you're that public about your love for a title, shouldn't you expect a little curiosity when you leave it so suddenly? Mark Waid explained his reasons for leaving THE FLASH, for example. Of course, it seems to me, also, that the fanbase has always been quietly respectful when he didn't go into deep personal detail about his relationship to Wally West on that title. He's hinted in numerous interviews to how Wally's life mirrors his own, for deeply personal reasons. For the most part, people have been respectful of that and not tried to tear into him to get all his childhood traumas.
Maybe there's a line that comics fandom is learning to draw between the personal and the professional. Truly, this craft is one that utilizes both. Every writer in every field puts a bit of themselves into their creations. While sometimes the question comes up looking for particulars, I realize now that it never goes any deeper than the author seems willing to go. Such is not the case when a writer, generally, leaves a book or has creative clashes with his or her editor.
Furthermore, what should we, the internet fans, expect from creators? Isn't just their best work enough?
Ack, this is an age-old debate and one that will go on for as long as there's a comics field. In other words, it should be solved in about a year or two. ::duck grin run::
As for the dirt digging - nah, there's more than enough of it to go around. I know more of it than I ever let on, as I suspect do most people with internet columns, who have the chance to talk to creators on a regular basis, or see them at cons.
As far as the reasons for Bendis' departure go, I'd just say you should believe the rumor on this one and leave it at that. At this point, I don't care enough to rail against it anymore. There's the larger issue of fandom to be considered here.
More reviews. Also, there should be a rant against some distribution issues in comics. I've come across a couple of things this week that really ticked me off. It's the anti-retailer/anti-Diamond rant next week! That's right - I'm out to make more friends! See you then!