KC Column: Interlude (Mark Waid walks into a bar, wearing a duck…)

KC

KC

by KC Carlson

Long-time comics writer and editor Mark Waid said something interesting on Twitter the other day:

“Annnnd today was the day I stopped reading super-hero comics. One that I won’t name finally broke me. Collection stops as of now. No joke.”

He went on to clarify, as others responded to him:

“It’s not one bad comic. It’s the unbearably last in a long string of bad comics.”

“…It’s been building. I didn’t say they were all bad. I said I’ve reached a limit.”

“…I LOVE comics. And I LOVE super-heroes. And I’ll keep writing ‘em. But there is a new, recent cynicism to many of them that I find exhausting and mean-spirited and uninspiring and life-denying.”

“Lotta good super-hero comics out there. Grant’s stuff. Bru’s stuff. Fraction’s Iron Man. Etc. My issue is much deeper than that.”

Reactions ran the gamut of outright anger (from those who thought Waid was somehow betraying the cause of superhero comics, I guess) to endless speculation on what comic it was that set him off (ultimately pointless, except for further gossip fodder) to a lot of folks silently (or not so) agreeing with him.

Granted, this probably wasn’t the best forum for such a pronouncement, and it probably wasn’t particularly calculated. Those of us who personally know Mark (jeez, I’ve known him for over 20 years now) know that he can be emotional, especially about things that he loves, and when he reacts, he may go too far. He’s very passionate about comics — and Rao knows the comics industry today could use more actual, honest passion. His reaction is the opposite of the exhausting, mean-spirited, uninspiring cynicism we see in the kind of superhero comics he was talking about — much of which has been thrown back at him in response.

Why are readers overreacting to this simple statement by one man? We’ve all known fans who hit a point where they felt burned out or contemplated dropping a title, a franchise, or the hobby altogether. Maybe this is just Mark’s way of saying this time, he’s the one thinking of taking a break. But in his case, it’s different.

Mark Waid has become in many folks’ minds Mr. Superhero Comics. He’s been their champion, the tireless defender of the four-color hero. The uber-Fanboy. The ultimate fan-turned-pro. The kid with the most comic books in America. The guy who has the bottle city of Kandor in his living room, next to his key to the Fortress. The one with the kind of career comic fans dream of, writing all his childhood heroes and running a successful comic company.

It’s as though Santa Claus called a press conference to say that Christmas has become too commercial.

Actually…

I doubt very much that Mark is completely and finally done with superhero comics. For one thing, he’s got so many friends in the industry that he’ll probably want to keep up with their careers. Because that’s what friends do. I do think he will take a break from certain comics for a while — especially the ones currently driving him crazy. I’m actually doing some of that myself and consider it a reasonably healthy thing to do from time to time.

Imagine that you hear that your childhood friends are now criminals, into hard drugs, associating with bad people or worse — actually killing people. It would be difficult to be around them — possibly illegal as well — but you want to be able to do something for them, if you can. It’s very easy to see Waid’s blast as a warning shot across the bow — a relatively harmless act intended as a call for action and attention. Or put another way, an intervention of sorts for the current caretakers of our childhood friends.

If Waid is concerned about the state of superhero comics today, what does that mean for those who still buy and read them. Should we all reconsider our hobby?

Keep Your Love Alive

It seems weird to say this at a blog mostly devoted to selling you new comics (and I give Westfield a lot of credit for allowing me to say this), but often, the best thing that you can do if you don’t consistently like the comics that you are currently reading is to stop buying them. Seriously. The trick is to remember that with literally hundreds of new comics every month, there’s always something different to try. It’s unlikely that you’ll come to hate all comics, especially if you’ve been reading for a while and love the artform of comics. Growing out of certain comics — or just taking a vacation from them for a while — is a sign of maturity and an indication you’re ready to try something new. That’s why all the folks here at Westfield love to point you in the direction of something different to seek out — sometimes even by the same publisher of the series you’re thinking of dropping.

There’s a British proverb that “a change is as good as a rest.” If you try something different, taking a break for a few months from your old favorites, you’ll return refreshed, with new eyes, better able to appreciate what brought you to them in the first place. Or maybe you won’t — but you might find something you like even better. Don’t keep following the same old habitual ruts. That will just make you hate something you used to love.

Here are a couple of case studies from personal experience. Back in the late 70s/early 80s, I was a complete and total superhero freak. (It was hard not to be — superheroes were practically the only thing being published at that time.) Both Marvel and DC had a pretty captive audience during those days, and while both had some great titles, a lot of stuff from that era wasn’t too exciting. At that point in time for me, the only reliable source for comics was a comics store about 40 miles from the city I was living in. So, every Friday (new comics day back then), I would make the trek to and from the comics store to get new comics.

One Friday, I arrived at the comics store only to discover that there weren’t any new Marvel or DC comics — I had forgotten that it was a “skip week”. (Back then, in months with five Fridays in them, the last Friday of the month was “skip week”. Marvel and DC were locked into a four-week shipping cycle per month, and during that fifth week, no new Marvel or DC comics were shipped.) I was pretty mad about making the long trip and having nothing to buy.

Cerebus

Cerebus

Smartly, the store owner showed me some new, independently produced comics that had just come in. Both were black-and-white, and one was hysterically funny while the other had some really beautiful artwork in it. Both of the books were from genres that really didn’t interest me much — fantasy and sword and sorcery. But these looked interesting, and since there was nothing else to buy, that day I went home with the first few issues of both Elfquest and Cerebus — both of which I loved so much I ended up buying every issue of both series until they ceased publication many years later. They also opened my eyes to the world of indy comics — which was just beginning to boom in a very big way — as well as other types of comics beyond superheroes.

Kingyo: Used Books

Kingyo: Used Books

For my wife Johanna, a completely different form of comics saved her from a waning interest in superheroes. About a decade ago, she was getting bored with what she was reading, almost to the point of giving up comics altogether. Then an editor assigned her a manga to review, and that was her entry into a new, exciting format with different subject matter. The then-exploding manga boom made available a huge — and vastly different — range of subject matter. Many of the titles that she found were directly aimed at female readers — something that American comics have been traditionally bad at (unless you’re a woman who enjoys gothic horror).

The funny thing is, the particular series she started reading, she wound up hating. By the time the 12th and final book rolled around, she’d outgrown the story (which didn’t go anywhere positive), but she kept trying other works in the format and found some lifelong favorites. Now, Johanna’s love for manga is on display, along with comments on all kinds of comics, at ComicsWorthReading.com (where I occasionally stop by with comics or animation reviews, as well).

Do you have a story about a positive change you made in your reading habits? Don’t forget that we have a comments section below for you to share your stories. (Please don’t use it solely to complain about comics you dislike. There are literally dozens of other forums around the internet where you can do that. Thanks!)

Sending a Message

There’s another benefit to shaking up your buying habits. If you don’t like the direction a favorite title is taking, voting with your wallet is the best way to make your feelings clear. Emailing or sounding off at online message boards is cheap and easy — and offers slim chance of even being noticed by anybody who can actually change things. A classic 80s comic editorial made the case that the only way a publisher can tell what fans like or dislike is voting with your wallet.

These days, everybody with internet access has an opinion, but unless they’re doing it on their own time, no comic company has the staff to go out and look at everything said about their comics on the internet, much less note it for later or respond to it. A lot of comic fans think that what they say has a lot of impact with what the publishers do and think. Nothing could be further from the truth. While it might be possible to sway a creator or an editor (and you’re crazy if you think that most line editors actually have power to make or change policy decisions) to your line of thinking, publishers and decision-makers turn to the bottom line to make most of their decisions. If their latest comic tanks in sales, that means the book is canceled or the publisher scrambles to make editorial or creative changes to save the book. If sales indicate that it’s a hit, then the publishers have really no other choice to think that they have a success on their hands, and there’s absolutely no reason to make any changes whatsoever.

Thus, you vote with your wallet — if you buy (and continue to buy) comic books that you think are bad, you are actually telling the publishers that you think the comic is good. And why would they change a good thing?

All of this — and especially the phrase “Vote with your Wallet” — was much more elegantly explained (I think, unless my memory is completely gone) in a regular text feature called “Meanwhile…” published sometime in the latter part of the the 1980s in many DC comics. Its author was DC’s Executive Editor at the time, Dick Giordano. Dick was a very strange comics executive in that he did not want to publish bad comics — only good ones. He wanted to earn your money, an idea he strove to inspire in all the people who worked with him.

(I spent hours in the comic vault looking for this specific Meanwhile… column, until I came right up against deadline. I would be very grateful to those with a better memory than mine — or more time to search — for more information on this particular column.)

_____________ Is When You Keep Doing the Same Thing Expecting Different Results.

It’s understandable that people operate out of habit. It’s comfortable to stick with the same old favorites. Plus, as comic fans, many of us are infected with that weird “collector mentality”. We think we need every issue or appearance of our favorite characters. But it’s so unnecessary. We also keep buying issue after issue of comics we no longer enjoy because we keep hoping “maybe this one will be better.”

We now live in an age where most everything that’s worth reprinting already has been (or will be soon). Further, it probably already exists somewhere electronically, and hopefully soon everything will be legally downloadable (and hopefully the artists and writers will continue to be compensated for their work).

If you stop buying a series and regret it later, you will be able to find it again somewhere, eventually. If it was bad, you will find it for cheap somewhere online, or in a quarter (dollar) box at a con. If it is good, it will be reprinted in some highfalutin’, super-expensive format (which will decrease the perceived value of the actual comic, which as soon as it is reprinted will suddenly be available everywhere as a back issue). And when the series does get better (they usually do), you’ll hear about it right away. That’s one thing the internet is really useful for.

Take the chance. If you don’t like what you read — read something else. PLENTY of good stuff out there every week.

(By the way, in case you’ve never heard the little adage that is this section’s subhead, the missing word is “Insanity.”)

The Wrap-Up

New Avengers

New Avengers

Ironically, for the first time in a couple of years, there are a number of current titles that are actually propelling me to the comic shop every Wednesday, making it more than just a weekly chore. Many of these are Avengers-related books under the Heroic Age banner. For me, a lot of these books show great promise in combining traditional heroic values with modern-day storytelling, without feeling like they’re retreads of the Silver Age.

One of the best things about comics is the diverse amount of material that’s available. I don’t particularly like zombies that much, but I’m happy that zombie fans have a number of different options to choose from if they want to read a comic book about zombies. Same goes with vampires, who are immensely popular among a lot of readers.

Same even goes for superheroes. They aren’t all for me. Some — like Kick-Ass or The Boys — take things to such an extreme that I question whether these characters are even heroic at all. But they still have a place in the world of comics. I don’t really care for those comics’ particular world-view, but I don’t begrudge those that do. I don’t have to read or buy those comics, and it’s great that there’s an outlet for those who enjoy those kind of stories or characters.

_________________________________

KC CARLSON regrets the interruption of the ongoing look at comic book storytelling, the Never-Ending Story. But as you’ll see as we get back to the history of 1986 and beyond (in two weeks), you’ll discover that aspects of what was discussed here today is a part of  the wrap-up of that history.. And, as always, his opinions are his opinions alone.

Hugs and kisses for Johanna for saving my butt on this one, as there was so much I wanted to talk about here that my brain came close to exploding (again). If you understood and liked this column, that’s her fault. If you hated it, it’s mine.

Bonus points for those who get the reference buried in the title. Hint: I can’t tell a joke.

Don’t forget to share your stories about discovering new comics!

The Cerebus cover comes from the Grand Comics Database.

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  1. KC Fights Burnout and Keeps the Love Alive » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] to respond to Mark Waid’s recent earth-shattering Twitter. KC’s column is about the dangers of burnout and how you can avoid it. And I guest star. There are also some thoughts on the virtue of diversity [...]

  2. James Schee Says:

    I think everyone does or at least should probably go through cycles when it comes to reading comics. When I first got into the hobby it was G.I. Joe comics I bought after seeing those incredible TV commercials, that I had to rush out to my local grocery store to buy.

    Then when the grocery store stopped carrying comics, I went through about a 3 year lull before stumbling onto a comic shop just down from where my mom worked. I was like a starving man just finding a horde of food and tried to read EVERYTHING (early Image, DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Malibu etc.) but about the time of the Spider-Clone saga realized I didn’t like what I was reading and quit just about everything.

    Then I found two comics, Legion of Super-Heroes where the random issue I picked up had them blowing the Earth up. And a miniseries that had this incredible looking cover that made me want to read it, The Ray #1 by a writer named Jack C Harris (never read anything by him before or since) and some kid named Joe Quesada. They kept me going for years, before another burnout period happened.

    Then your now wife Johanna got me to read these weird little b&w comics called Akiko, Castle Waiting, Whiteout and Andi Watson’s work. That launched me again for some years, then when interest started to wain again I discovered manga and that lasted for even more years.

    To the point where I’m at now. Most of the manga I like has ended, I follow a few but not a large amount. Thankfully Marvel suddenly has these interesting titles like Brubaker’s Captain America, Secret Avengers, Hawkeye & Mockingbird and here I feel like I’m off and running once again.

  3. Hsifeng Says:

    “…There’s a British proverb that ‘a change is as good as a rest.’…”

    This applies not only to comics and other hobbies but even to work! Stuck on one of your projects? Switch to working on another one of them for a while, then after a while working on the latter you can see the former with fresh eyes. :)

    “…Plus, as comic fans, many of us are infected with that weird ‘collector mentality’. We think we need every issue or appearance of our favorite characters. But it’s so unnecessary. We also keep buying issue after issue of comics we no longer enjoy because we keep hoping ‘maybe this one will be better.’…”

    That’s so not just comics fans. ;)

    “…Don’t forget to share your stories about discovering new comics!…”

    In my case, I’m into trying comics from all over the world, not just the ones originally in English or Japanese. Part of that is because, between my previous comics-fan phase and my latest one, I got into seeking out and reading non-comic books in translation from all sorts of languages (and discovered a lot of good stuff!). So, now that I’m a comics fan again, my taste for translations still applies. :)

    Also, I want to thank the Ships and Giggles forum (the 2nd reincarnation of the Brian K. Vaughan Cabal forum and hosted by Tony Harris’s Jolly Rogers Studio) here, because so many people there helped me find more of this stuff to read! :D

    Meanwhile, it feels weird to me to see how (among comic books) English translations of books written in Chinese or Spanish are so rare while (among other books) English translations of books written in Chinese or Spanish are relatively common and it’s the English translations of books written in Bengali or Yoruba that are far rarer.

  4. Harry R. Hertel Says:

    The dilemma for me with more realistic comics appearing in the aftermath of Spider-Man and drugs, and Green Lantern and social issues, was that the sense of goodness in heroes began to become clouded. Although that can be much like real life (Bill Cosby, John Edwards, Pete Rose, Tiger Woods), there was something important about comics being a respite from some of the world’s tensions, where fantasy could run wild, and yet good would triumph in the end. I did develop a better acceptance of more mature comics, as more appeared on the scene, but I also found my time occupied with other pursuits (like graduate school, marriage, children). I still have over 44 long boxes of unread comics from the mid-70′s through early 90′s, when I stopped buying regularly due to the expense, as well as the closing of my comic store, Cover to Cover (ah, KC, those were the days). Although Tom and Rob had opened another store, going cold turkey on comics had amazingly not resulted in delerium tremens or hospitalization, but rather the realization I had more funds for my family, and no longer had to feel guilty about picking up a large stack of new books weekly as I had previously when collecting.

    Since then, I’ve picked up first issues to avoid high prices on the books later, as well as lots of quarter box comics at the Chicago Comicon or local comic shops in Wisconsin or Minnesota. But my main interest is in filling the holes in my Golden Age DC’s and Fawcetts. The obvious common denominator is that the books are indeed more innocent (assuming “innocence” includes a worm trying to conquer the world or a real world dictator trying to destroy human life), at least as to the moral compass of the heroes. In looking at current comics, I see tremendous page quality, great artwork, creative stories, but a sense of reality–Captain America can get shot, Hal Jordan can turn evil (at least until a movie deal is in the works), Superman can die. And that’s not even touching the mature independent comics which pull few punches on violence. Somehow, there isn’t the same feeling as when I read a Silver Age Adam Strange story, or Spiderman, or even The Watchmen. (I know, not a great moral compass there in everyone, but there were still characters with a sense of right and wrong).

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that despite loving the medium, and being thrilled by the characters (including some new ones), in general, my collecting bug no longer requires that I buy the books, much less read them. Maybe when I ever get to those boxes from the 70′s through the 90′s, I’ll have a different point of view. But for now, the thrill in finding 4 of the last 5 issues of Strange Adventures I needed while at the Chicago Comicon is satisfying enough (especially when it turns out the Public Enemy #1 is actually a gorilla). I don’t begrudge those who feel otherwise, and it’s likely it’s just a reflection of enjoying what I liked when I was in my first 20 years of collecting, but without knowing what triggered Mark’s reaction, I feel I understand it.

  5. Harry R. Hertel Says:

    I forgot. Brave and Bold #33 with Wonder Woman, Zatanna, and Batgirl was terrific in every way.