Mar
31

Fandom, Readership and Snark

Posted by David Uzumeri on Monday, March 31st, 2008 at 07:28:39 AM

Why Comics Readers Are Setting It All Back (And Not For The Cliched Reasons)

The other day, I read a pretty insightful entry in the mega talented Mike Choi’s blog about the way creators perceive internet fan discourse. I know I’m not bringing anything new to the table by observing that there are posters out there who hide behind anonymity and make crazy/threatening remarks all the time, but those people are easily filtered and relatively harmless and, to be honest, pretty much just boring at this point. So are the flipside, the insanely positive fans who are unable to critique and defend their favorite creators and characters with a quasi-religious zeal.

What’s starting to disturb me more is the reaction to this that I see on a lot of the more moderated/respectable blogs – this conscious attempt to cut ties with the tastes of the hoi polloi and instead turn the topic to how cleverly you can savage a certain creator or book. Mike Choi is right – the switch is defaulted to “snark” all across the blogging community and everyone’s tripping over themselves to be the funniest guy to say something’s going to suck.

I’m increasingly beginning to feel that the topic of conversation is turning from comics themselves to the comics community, because everyone’s trying to take sides and generate controversy. Everyone wants to start some shit or get some gossip, everyone wants to know if marvel b0y’s going to set the photocopier on fire and dress up like Dan Buckley to try to fire Joe Quesada. Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting to know that, I’m enjoying this little drama as much as everyone (except for when people turn their blogs into dedicated spoiler dumps), but doesn’t everyone remember comics? Does it really take All Star Superman #10 to get comics discussion going these days, even if it’s just “OMG best issue ever”? And no, I’m not counting the latest 40-thread viral controversy about whether (X) or (Y) is racist or misogynist.

The only conclusion I can come to is that fandom has gotten so comfortable in its insular little group that it’s completely forgotten how to be a readership. It seems like the majority of commentators on the Internet either take comics so seriously they achieve that fanlike zeal and are unable to critically assess it, or so eager to differentiate themselves from the first group that they take nothing seriously and dismiss a great deal of material based on excerpts and press, a phenomenon exacerbated by the scans_daily group. Quoting that place is like Roger Ebert referencing Beavis and Butt-Head watching ten-second clips of films.

If you’re so jaded with the industry that the default reaction to any announcement is to jump to be the first person to make the wittiest slam, why do you care enough to write about it so much? The entire thing is starting to feel like a self-feeding Player Haters’ Ball. It’s not like we’re blameless; we ran Downcounting, but I’d argue that was somewhat different. I just see a plethora of pessimism – a lot of slamming books for “mistakes” that are the reader not reading closely enough, a lot of slamming comics based on assumptions of what is ‘bound to happen’ in later issues.

This has gotten a little rambly, but this topic just really gets me these days. I’m not asking for an end to criticism by any means, but it just seems to me that criticism without reading is the default position now, and that really precludes any constructive discussion. In the end, I guess this is really what I was trying to get at:

Thesis Statement

Posted in Blurbs · Read more by David Uzumeri

13 Responses

  1. Your comment “everyone’s tripping over themselves to be the funniest guy to say something’s going to suck” reminds me of how ESPN’s SportCenter has changed over the years. What used to be the occasional funny line added to the reporting turned into constant jokes and catch-phrases.

    It feels like a lot of the funnybook critics have their intricately crafted insult sitting in a drawer, just waiting for the right book to come out so they can plug it in.

  2. David, thanks for writing this. You’ve captured a lot of thoughts I’ve had for a long time and said something important that I think needed to be said, not that any of the chief offenders will ever read it or listen to it, frankly. They’re too busy posting about Why Bendis Suxorz.

  3. This is going to sound like *way* cynical, but here’s my opinion on what’s happening….

    There’s just not that much to talk about in superhero comics. For instance, I regularly read Iron Fist, Legion of Superheroes, and Captain America and I honestly don’t feel like I have a single worthwhile thought to share on any of those titles. Those are 3 of the best titles being published in superhero comics right now. There are maybe, what, 15 or 20 decent titles being published? The rest are garbage just published to be IP placeholders. (Also a cynical opinion, but no one can tell me there’s any redeemable quality to, say, Batman and the Outsiders.)

    The blogosphere for superhero comics just has nothing to talk about. Add that to the fact it has a couple notable faces who are bitter and have axes to grind (Occasional Superheroine and The Beat are two that spring to mind) , and we’re going to end up with a bunch of people trying to out-snark each other for a lack of anything else to say.

    I don’t know which is worse, a snark pissing contest, or the same views being parroted over and over again, e.g. Mighty and New Avengers suck but Ultimate Spider-man is good; Millar is a racist; Quesada is doing a bad job; etc.

    “Downcounting” is a nice change of pace because it’s having fun with an embarassingly bad book without ever coming off like the writer is better than the genre he’s writing about. This whole site is fun because there’s almost a base assumption that superhero comics are fun. A lot of people want to come off as being better than the genre, so they write articles about how the emperor has no clothes and then make fun of the clothes he’s not wearing.

    I know I’m cynical, but that’s how I’m seeing this stuff nowadays.

  4. That’s not just cynical, that’s hopeless and also unfairly dismissive of the authorial effort put into a bunch of books. Between Hits Off The Source and the Wizard hitpiece I did, I can guarantee you which was more popular: The Wizard hitpiece. Because that’s more entertaining than actually having to sit down and consider superhero comics on something resembling a literary level. If you think the only alternative to snark competitions is posting the same shit over and over and being bereft of a point to make, you’re simply wrong. And if you think there’s nothing to talk about in modern superhero comics, you are also straight out wrong. How the hell could Batman and the Outsiders be to preserve intellectual property anyways? They’re going to lose the rights to Katana if they don’t publish an Outsiders book? Really?

    I understand you’re jaded, but superhero comics are both fun and worthy of deeper study – all of them, even the bad ones. Saying there’s nothing interesting to talk about simply isn’t true.

  5. Hey, David, sorry if I hit a nerve.

    I don’t think I’m being unfairly dismissive of any authorial effort because how many superhero books are written by people really, honestly trying to tell the best story possible? How many superhero books aren’t hacked out recycling the same elements over and over? Admittedly, I don’t read many superhero books anymore, but I find it hard to believe I’m passing up piles and piles of the best stories the writers are capable of telling.

    “How the hell could Batman and the Outsiders be to preserve intellectual property anyways? They’re going to lose the rights to Katana if they don’t publish an Outsiders book? Really?”

    Well, yeah, they would. Whether the value is in the name “Batman and the Outsiders” or in the Katana character herself, I honestly think the only reason DC is publishing the book is to keep the IP rights. Look at what happened to Marvel with “The Order.” Matt Fraction came up with a legitimately worthwhile story to tell and chose to call it “The Champions,” but because Marvel didn’t protect the name “The Champions,” they had to change the name to “The Order.” I think it’s only fair to assume DC might someday want to publish an honest attempt at worthwhile storytelling called “The Outsiders” or whatever and maybe even use the Katana character. How will they do that if they don’t protect the IP?

    I honestly believe that in the current marketplace of superhero books, there’s very little being published that anyone could say anything worthwhile about. You guys do a great job of it on this blog, but if I were to start up a blog, what could I possibly find to say that you guys, 4th Letter, and Cheryl Lynn aren’t already saying?

    That’s not to say that superhero comics won’t return to a place of fantastic stories coming out left and right that are fun to talk about. I’m hoping either Final Crisis or Secret Invasion will be the story to change that and introduce all sorts of new elements to talk about. But right now, I just don’t see much in modern superhero comics worth talking about. Clearly, all of you at FBB do, and that’s one reason I read your blog everyday, to read new insights on superhero comics without trying to get across you guys are better than the books you review.

  6. [...] Funnybook Babylon » Blog Archive » Fandom, Readership and Snark What’s starting to disturb me more is the reaction to this that I see on a lot of the more moderated/respectable blogs – this conscious attempt to cut ties with the tastes of the hoi polloi and instead turn the topic to how cleverly you can savage a certain creator or book. Mike Choi is right – the switch is defaulted to “snark” all across the blogging community and everyone’s tripping over themselves to be the funniest guy to say something’s going to suck. [...]

  7. “Admittedly, I don’t read many superhero books anymore, but I find it hard to believe I’m passing up piles and piles of the best stories the writers are capable of telling.”

    Dude, this is the exact attitude I wrote this blog entry about. I’m just saying.

  8. “Dude, this is the exact attitude I wrote this blog entry about. I’m just saying.”

    Hmmm…. Lemme read your post again….

    “…or so eager to differentiate themselves from the first group that they take nothing seriously and dismiss a great deal of material based on excerpts and press, a phenomenon exacerbated by the scans_daily group. Quoting that place is like Roger Ebert referencing Beavis and Butt-Head watching ten-second clips of films.”

    *gasp*

    OK, I’m like *really* dense today! lol You’re right.

    I was more responding to the snark mentality. I mean, I’m not reading many superhero comics anymore because I’m just not interested in what’s currently being put out. But I’m also not purposely trying to be all snarky, either. Like, I think The Factual Opinion is funny, but that dude’s on some “I hate all superhero comics and I’m going to make as much fun as them as possible” tip. I think it’s possible to have fun discussions about superhero comics, I just can’t think of much to add to that discussion other than, “Iron Fist is fun!” lol I think a lot of the more snarky people are running into that same wall. I don’t think most bloggers, except those out to grind axes, are waking up everyday thinking, “Hey, let’s tear into the newest books from Marvel and DC,” as much as they’re faced with, “What can I say about the current Wolverine books that will differentiate me from everyone else?” (To that degree, it seems like spoilers are the new snark.)

  9. It’s really easy to not read something and dismiss it. Like, incredibly easy. People do it all the time, and it’s no reflection on the quality of the material they are dismissing.

    “Man I have no time for Chris Ware/The Wire/James Joyce/Miles Davis, that shit doesn’t interest me in the slightest!”

    is immaterially different from

    “Man I have no time for superhero comics/reality tv/Harry Potter/Kelly Clarkson, that shit doesn’t interest me in the slightest!”

    All of those are totally valid opinions to have and no one is ever telling you that you NEED to check those things out, but the difference between the two is that no one says the former because they worry it makes them look dumb. People like to spam the shit out of the latter, because it makes them look smart.

    And there are tons of things to say about a new Batman comic, good bad or indifferent, than “haha I bet Robin and Batman are gay”, which is about as far as the thoughts of many snark blogs seem to go. But then again, to come up with new snark you’d actually have to read comics, and that’s asking an awful lot.

  10. Is it obvious I have too much time on my hands today? lol

    Anyway, I’m honestly not trying to be all “superhero comics are dumb and so are the people who read them.” Let me try a new way to say things.

    I think both of you, Chris and David, are right. I think dismissing superheroes *just* because they’re superheroes or dismissing Marvel or DC *just* because they’re Marvel or DC is being incredibly unjust and small minded.

    I was reading a lot of superhero comics until, ummm…6 months ago? Then I decided to try manga and re-rvaluate what I was buying, so I could afford to try manga. When I looked at the books I was buying, but putting off reading, I noticed something. By and large the books I liked least were the ones that in my opinion felt like they were just stories going through the motions. Like, here’s a couple I dropped, Black Panther and the Flash. In both cases, it didn’t feel like the stories had anything redeeming to say, it felt like both books were being produced just for the sake of it.

    I haven’t tried reading all superhero books, so maybe there are piles and piles of good stories I’m missing, but based on the analysis I did of the comics I was reading, most of the books I was buying from Marvel and DC just felt like going through the motion. I can only think in terms of myself here, but if I were to have a comic book blog and task myself with saying something everyday about comics, I’d run out of stuff to say about Black Panther pretty quickly. That’s all I’m really trying to say, that trying to come up with something new to say about books on the quality level of Black Panther would be difficult, and I think a lot of the snark is due to a lack of creativity in trying to find a new angle to examine Black Panther on.

    Is it lazy? Yes. Is it pointless? Yes.

    I dunno, maybe I’m just trying to be too forgiving or maybe I’m just *super* dense.

  11. This is so dismayingly true.

    I do really wish there was more talk about the good books. A lot of the books I always hear being touted as “the best book out by big two right now!” tend to be books that are on the chopping block for low sales and/or books that I wouldn’t be interested in on my own.

    I liked the Ultimates when Millar and Hitch were on it. I like Mighty Avengers. Damnation Crusade from Boom! studios had everything I want from a book about the coming of age story of a man chosen to be genetically modified into a chainsaw-wielding, powered armour wearing murder machine.

    But all of these supposedly awesome books don’t seem to get a lot of promotion beyond, “dude, it’s awesome!” Nothing telling me why it’s cool. Chris Sims on his Invincible Super Blog frequently says of books he really likes (and I paraphrase), “I have trouble coming up with anything new to say about this book. It’s just as awesome as it ever was.” And that’s not really enough to get me to pick it up. The only reason I went out and read a bunch of Fables was because a guy I chat with on the instant messenger spent an hour talking about all of the neat things going on in the book. Mr. Sims spends more time taking apart Jim Balent’s Tarot or an issue of Anita Blake than he does talking about three issues of books that are “top notch.”

    I’m sure there’s lots to talk about in comics. But no one seems to want to do that.

  12. [...] of this site might remember earlier this week I posted an article about my exasperation with the contentless snark that’s become the de facto mood and tone [...]

  13. [...] her art, must be pretty awesome), but never actually gives us any anecdotes. It’s like what David Uzumeri said a while back. What’s starting to disturb me more is the reaction to this that I see on a lot of [...]

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