Written: 18 July, 2000

Nobody at my work knows that I read comics, and I've been there almost five years. Of course, I don't talk about myself much being somewhat of a shy person in real life. I'm very untalkative unless I already know the person, and then I can babble with the best of them!

One person at my church knows I'm a comics fan. He wanted to know how I became a Christian, so I had to tell him how I met some Christians on a comics board that I post at, and that I'm a big comics fan, etc., etc. Generally I don't just tell someone "I'm a comics fan" because they might get the wrong idea about what that means. Mentioning that one is a comics fan seems like the kind of thing that you need a lot of time to explain, not something you can do while making small talk for 5 minutes.

One of the reasons I post on comics boards is that I usually don't talk about comics in my real life, since most people I know don't read comics. I missed an opportunity to possibly meet a fellow comics fan yesterday. I was straightening up the school supplies aisle where I work and I noticed a person around 20 perhaps looking at the art supplies and I asked him if he needed anything. He replied, No, he just liked the aisle because he enjoys writing and drawing. I smiled and kept on straightening and he walked away after a few minutes. Even before he walked away, I thought to myself, "Hey -- "writing and drawing"? That's what I always say that I like, too. I wonder if he is a comics fan...." But I couldn't bring myself to ask him, for some reason. It's like I've instituted a "don't ask, don't tell" policy on my comics hobby.


Is there something wrong with our critical faculties?

I'm the kind of person who rarely if ever goes to the movies, or even sees 'em when they reach videotape or TV. But it seems like whenever a big film comes out relating to something I'm interested in (especially comics), I pay attention to all the hype, read the reviews, and so on. I was even that way when the Batman movie came out in 1989, and I still have stuff I videotaped about the movie (such as Siskel & Ebert's review of it, or a local newscast's coverage of the premiere), even though I never did go see any of the Batman movies.

But even though I wouldn't see it, I'd use the opportunity that the movie provided to talk about the topic with friends and family who normally wouldn't give a rip about the topic. For example, when the 1989 Batman movie was coming out, I recall babbling to my older sister about what I loved about Batman, and the different phases in his publishing history, and so on -- probably sounding like an embarrassing idiot in the process. One of my favorite things about Batman was how he operated on very little sleep, and I talked about some stories where he finally got some sleep after so many night patrols. (Such as a World's Finest story circa 1989, or a Batman annual circa 1985.) That was a little-known fact about Batman that I oddly treasured, and I naively wondered if it would be reflected in the movie.

Anyway, the new X-Men movie is having the same weird effect on me. I've actually visited both Jonah's and Alvaro's X-Men boards and read some of the posts there during the past few days, something I can't remember doing in the past. I actually posted a message on Alvaro's X-board, noting fans that the X-Men were on the cover of TV Guide and that it included a short comics story in it. I've even visited a Hugh Jackman fan site for Pete's sake! What's the matter with me?? The weird thing is that I probably won't even see the movie, but I'm starting to think maybe that I ought to since people on the boards are saying the movie is so good. Even the people who post on the Comics Journal message board, who say they hate superheroes and went to the movie prepared to trash it, have said they enjoyed it. There's a thread there titled something like "why the X-Men movie will suck s***" which starts out negative -- before the movie had been released -- but by the end of the thread, as posters saw the movie, most admitted that they enjoyed it after all!

But then I read the reviews by real reviewers, and they didn't like the X-Men movie. Roger Ebert didn't like it, and put down the comic, too, in his review. So, obviously, there is something wrong here: comics fans are liking the movie, while non-fans are disappointed. Is it because, as Fly said before, that there is an "inner X-men fan" inside each of us who is enjoying the movie because of our familiarity with the comic? Did the makers of the movie sacrifice making a truly good movie for the sake of appealing to comics fans, whose taste is at odds with normal people? What's the matter with us?


[The above two posts caused some people to question my attitude toward comics and comics fans, and here is a sampling of some of my replies:]

I have to admit that I found the juxtaposition of favorable fan reviews to the high-profile pans in the mainstream media to be curious, making me wonder if maybe our heads were on backwards or something.

For example, it reminds me of the time that I loaned a friend of mine an audio cassette containing a radio drama that I'd enjoyed. The next day, the friend came back to me with a very bewildered, almost outraged expression, asking me why I had wanted him to listen to it. I said, because I thought it was great. He looked at me like he couldn't believe it, and he said that he "hated" it. In fact, he said that he hated it so much that he had to turn it off after the first 20 minutes because it was so annoying. That reaction so different from mine really gave me pause, because it made me wonder if I could trust my own taste anymore after that. It was kinda disturbing, and I saw a bit of that same difference of opinion in the X-men movie reviews, with fans thinking one thing, newspapermen another.

"Real embarrassment issues"? No, not really. It's true that I don't advertise the fact that I read comics, but I usually do mention to people that I want to be friends with that I'm a comics fan. I think it just has to be done in the right way or else they might get the wrong idea about me. But I know a lot more people who I know in only a superficial way (such as co-workers) and I'm not likely to bring up the comics thing with them because there probably isn't enough time in our small talk for me to bring it up in a coherent fashion, and if I did talk about it at length, I'd just look like an obsessed comics freak babbling about stuff they don't know or care anything about.

Plus, comics have a bad reputation, as being for little kids or idiots. Even some comics fans that I've encountered in my life I've not cared to befriend because I thought that there comics interests had nothing to do with mine or because they presented themselves in a way that I didn't want to rub off on me. I guess maybe if I befriended them, then I'd have to be seen with them, and then people would view me the way that I'd view that comics nerd. But then maybe people already view me as a nerd, anyway. I dunno. Sorry if I made you "worry," rick. I wrote the post here and the post at Alvaro's around the same time last night, and I think I wrote the Alvaro post because after I already posted the Jonah post, I admitted to myself what was really bugging me, that I didn't ask that customer if he was a comics fan yesterday.

I have talked to total strangers about comics before, though, mostly around in the early 1990s. For example, around 1993, I recall meeting someone on a bus who was reading comics and I asked him if he was a comics fan and we got into a fun conversation. Another time at a library when I saw that a woman was making xeroxes of an Ayn Rand article, I mentioned to her that I was a fan of Steve Ditko's Objectivist comics. In my senior year in high school, over 10 years ago, I regularly wore a Spider-Man T-shirt to school and sometimes brought comics to class (e.g. Twisted Tales, Stray Toasters, Taboo #1, Epic Illustrated, Frazetta reprints, the airbrushed Warlock 5, -- and other such acceptable "cool" stuff).

I live in an apartment building. It's a nice sunny day out. I could go downstairs and sit on the porch with some comics and read them. Such an action would possibly cause some kids or other comics fans to say "Hey, comics!" and want to see what I'm reading. I could share some of my collection with some strangers, spreading love of comics by letting them borrow some of my comics, instead of having boxes and boxes and boxes sitting untouched in my closet gathering dust. But I probably wouldn't go down there and sit on the porch and read a comic because I might look funny. I have gone and sat in the park with a comic before, though, but the park is pretty empty of people. I have to admit that I love reading comics outside, though.

I kinda have the belief about things like comics that if only people would try them, give them a chance, then they'd feel the way I do: that comics are a legitimate artform. That requires that the people who write reviews for the New York Times, USA Today, and so forth, be able to appreciate them. It's fine if Joe Shmoe on a comics board says he likes it, but what's more important to me is if someone outside comics says that they like it, that it's respectable. I'm open to the possibility that maybe comics aren't recognized as a legitimate artform because they haven't been good enough yet, not that serious literary critics are too dumb to appreciate them as comics fans do.

If I think something is really great, and share it with them with the expectation that they'll also enjoy it, and they tell me that they hated it and in the past I've highly respected the intelligence of their opinions, that causes me to re-evaluate my own position: Is the thing not as great as I thought it was? Does the other person make a good compelling case that may cause me to adjust my opinion of it? Am I being blinded somehow to the obvious badness of the work?

Even "a simple discussion of my hobby" would revolve around names of creators, names of series, publication dates, company names, and so on.

For example, my favorite comics creator is probably Steve Ditko. He's been doing comics since 1953 when he started out doing short horror stories. In the 1960s, he co-created Spider-Man, but he left the character after a few years and hasn't drawn him since. Ditko refuses to give interviews or even be photographed. A lot of his self-published work since the 1960s has been a reflection of his philosophy, inspired by the writings of Ayn Rand.

Now, if someone was asking me about my favorite comics, I'd probably mention something like the above, which is a summary of Ditko's career in about as simple a form as I can manage. Probably the only thing that the non-fan would pick up on would be the mention of Spider-Man, and they'd probably assume I was a big Spidey fan as a result.

But why would this make me sound "obsessed"? Well, the mention of publication dates is a good example. I know that Ditko's career started in 1953, and that FF #1 was published in 1961, and that Superman debuted in 1938, and that Barry Allen debuted in 1956, and so on, without even having to look it up. Most people don't refer to dates like that; they couldn't tell you what year Jurassic Park came out, let alone King Kong. Also, the references to creators (Ditko, Kirby, etc.) are just names of people they never heard of before. Even if I take the dates (historical context) and the creators out of the discussion, I'm left talking about Spider-Man and other characters, making it look like I'm the comics equivalent of a soap fan who is obsessed with fictional characters ("obsessed" because I know the characters' names, their history, and care about what happens to them).