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That Way, Madness Lies

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Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy believes we face a nightmare world where everyone spends their time endlessly Googling themselves while true knowledge becomes swamped by a flood of blogs, written by self-obsessed teenagers.

I have the greatest admiration for the professionals who resolutely stay away from the internet. In fact, the advice I always get from editors is to never ever log on to message boards. “That way, madness lies,” I’m told. But I have to admit to being an internet addict. It’s a rare day I don’t check out the news sites and some of the more vociferous message boards, like those on Newsarama and CBR.

These last few weeks, purely in the interests of research you understand, I have been Googling myself, plumbing the depths of the most obscure blogs to see what people are saying about my work. My current books are Silent War and Spawn and I’ve come across a whole range of responses. Some praise, some controversy and some pure hatred.

I don’t worry too much about reviewers who clearly don’t like my approach to comics. You can’t please everyone and you really shouldn’t try. Here’s something I keep around for when I’m depressed over a bad review. It’s from Paul Gravett’s highly respected Escape Magazine from 1988. A review by Harley Richardson of the first issue of Grant Morrison’s legendary run on Animal Man: “A complete No-No. Grant Morrison tries hard to have fun with this stupid superhero, but fails completely, through attempting to be like Alan Moore yet not like him at the same time. The characters are lifeless, the plot terminally dull, the art a hack job. Is the ‘realistic’ violence and the tackling of social issues like rape meant to make this a better comic? I hope not.”

It’s useful to recognise a general rule of thumb with reviews. It goes like this. If you’re indie or self-published, reviews are generous, respectful and encouraging. Once you move into the mainstream (i.e. making a living at it) you start to feel the slings and arrows a little more, and once you hit the top fifty you’d better duck and run for cover.

Blogs and message boards are the worst. Balance and reasoned argument are not exactly the order of the day. This is where the fans let rip with the love and the loathing. Some of these people get incredibly possessive about their favourite characters and the longer running and more popular the characters the more resentment you’ll get.

X-fans can be particularly harsh. Then there’s Spawn, a book that has its own sub-species of detractors who simply loathe and despise the book. Most of these haven’t actually read it in ten years, but they hate it anyway. Interestingly, the tide has begun to shift a little on Spawn over the past couple of months. People are actually saying nice things about Spawn again. But just when it seems like it’s safe to go back in the water, Silent War has started making waves. I’ll get to that in a moment.

The previous most controversial scene I wrote was in Spawn #164. This is where Al Simmons brutally assaults his wife, Wanda, causing her to miscarry her child. We had quite a few people who said they’d never buy Spawn again because of this scene.

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The thing is that Al’s violence to Wanda had been mentioned several times in the past, even in the first year or two of the book’s existence. Long before I started writing the book, that specific event was described. And no one seemed too bothered. I guess this was because Todd McFarlane and Brian Holguin had slipped these references in quite subtly, leaving the spousal abuse to lie beneath the surface growing like a cancer. For me this had to be the event that lay at the heart of Al Simmons’ character – the dark side that made him the man who would be Spawn. And I felt it was time to deal with it head on.

When I write comics I want to move the readers. To make them feel anger, loss, sadness, frustration. My characters tend towards extreme behaviour but it’s never gratuitous. All the actions grow out of the situations and the histories of the characters. Extreme situations demand extreme responses. But those responses are not always violent or horrific. Here’s one of my favourite moments from my What If…? story with David Yardin.

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With the execution of Joel Flood from Daredevil Redemption, the violence of state execution by lethal injection is all but unseen.

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Now to Silent War and a scene that has aroused extreme animosity on one blog in particular. Here’s the scene:

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Maximus kisses Medusa. I agree that it’s disturbing. It was meant to be. I wanted the readers to feel the betrayal as Black Bolt would feel it. It’s a deliberately ambiguous scene, which leaves it open to debate whether this is an actual betrayal or whether Medusa is under Maximus’s mental control. But that’s beside the point. Black Bolt is feeling intense jealousy and the anguish of sexual betrayal by the woman he loves above everything. That’s intense.

Some people out there think I should be hung drawn and quartered for betraying the integrity of the characters. Black Bolt and Medusa are supposed to be the perfect couple and I’ve ruined that. Perfect couple? No such thing. Not in life. Not in comics. Everything changes. No relationship can go unchallenged. Drama comes from conflict and emotional drama is more interesting to me than endless punch-ups.

Not everyone hates what we’re doing of course. There are those who have suggested that Frazer Irving and I should do an Inhumans ongoing, a suggestion I’m happy to pass on to the powers that be at Marvel. And anyway I prefer controversy to being ignored.

All the examples used here are dependent for their emotional resonance on the talents of the artists interpreting my scripts. Respect to: Phil Tan for Spawn, Michael Gaydos for Daredevil Redemption and David Yardin for What if Deadly Genesis…? And of course Mr Frazer Irving for the Max/Medusa smooch.

Trawling the internet this past week I went a little deeper than I usually go and when I came across this next item I actually felt like I’d sneaked into this guy’s room to peek into his diary, which in a sense is what blogs are all about. Here’s the entry Google picked up from http://fatmalegamer.livejournal.com/:

“2:07 pm
Woke up, chilled for a bit. Laura called me to go to the store with her. I went down to meet her and ending up snuffing out a spider at her behest. I don't know about you, but I enjoy gender roles. We picked up stuff for dinner tomorrow. I'm looking forward to feeding people again.

I got bored, so I started deleting unwanted comments and wallposts from my facebook. I can't wait to forget the vast majority of my junior year.

This summer, I'm gonna go to the pool more. That is the goal. I want to get just enough sun to brighten my hair, like it used to back when I did things.

Comics later today! Let's see what's coming out.

Civil War: Fallen Son - New Avengers #2
New Avengers: Illuminati Secret History
Silent War #4

Sweet, Silent War. David Hine is one of my favorite writers of all time.

I wonder what kind of trouble I can get into this evening...”

This one really got to me. Here’s a guy laying around in his room, waiting for life to happen. Filling the time with music and computer games and comics. He has no axe to grind, no bones to pick, he just digs my comics and that, believe it or not, means more than any kudos from critics, editors or even my fellow professionals. 

Good Night fatmalegamer, wherever you are…

That’s it. I’m googled out.

Command:QUIT

Command: SHUT DOWN

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