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Why? The Last Comic Fan

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Welcome to VOX POPULI Week VII. Can you believe I’ve been doing this column for seven weeks already? As always, thank you so much to those who have contacted me by e-mail, PM and smoke signal to let me know you are enjoying VOX POPULI. Keep it coming, my friends.

Oh—I’m still looking for reader questions for an upcoming article, so put on your thinking caps and get writing! Don’t get me wrong: I love all the positive feedback, but I’d also like to hear your questions. If I don’t know the answers right off-hand, I have several knowledgeable friends who are more than happy to provide them. One way or another, I’ll get an answer for you.

Moving right along, I’ve chosen the topic of “Are there any Comic Fans Left?” for this week’s excursion. I’m certain that this question meets with a resounding “Well duh, obviously there are. If there weren’t, no one would read this column.” I don’t believe this is true. Most of you are reading because you either:

A) Hope to gain insight into the biz for general knowledge or
B) You hope to gain insight that will help you break into the biz or
C) You have a morbid fascination with seeing a comic book writer tap-dance his ass off like Fred Astaire (I’ll be doing “Tea for Two” at three o’clock, so hang around for the second show).

Well, let me tell you something… when I was growing up, Marvel and DC were moving a bazillion copies of their books. You couldn’t escape them! They were on every rotating rack, newsstand and magazine display in every Podunk town in America—as well as abroad in this great big ol’ world.

Everywhere you looked: comic books. In fact, I remember perusing the latest comic books in a bookstore at the local mall when an older gentleman approached me to ask about the best titles. He was wearing a business suit and had one of those terminal conditions they call a “British accent.” That’s—a joke. Anyway, this gentleman told me that he wanted to pick up several comic books for his son who lived in London. He was in the States for business and wanted to surprise him with some super cool new comic books. As we scanned the racks—and I pointed out several comics I considered the best of the best—the man admitted that he enjoyed reading his son’s comics as well. I was 13 or 14 at the time, so I thought that was the coolest thing in the world.

I’m not going to get into the direct market debacle or the rise of Diamond, but the point I’m trying (badly) to make is that at one time, comic books were widely accepted and enjoyed by readers of all ages. Sure, they were available at every supermarket and dime store from here to Walla Walla, Washington, but overall as a society; comic books were regarded as a credible artistic medium. What happened? You remove comic books from the public eye and now comics regarded as being for kids or unusual types. When did this change occur?

As many of you know, I was in the Army for almost 14 years. Well, if you didn’t know that, you do now. Anyway, several years ago, I had the misfortune of being stationed at Camp Casey, Korea. During the year I spent in Korea, I observed the influence—and acceptance—of manga in Korean society. I mean… there were men and women my grandparents’ ages reading manga in public places, trains, malls—you name it. That was actually where I first encountered Myung-Jin Lee’s Ragnarok.

An old lady on a train gave me a copy of—well—an issue for me to look at on a train ride to Seoul. I say “look at” because I damn sure couldn’t read the thing. Anyway, it was so cool to me that this old woman could read and enjoy a manga—our equivalent of a comic book—and then pass it on for another to enjoy. And I did enjoy it! I was thrilled when Tokyopop released them here in the States. If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and go pick it up!

Ah, digression.

The point of my Korean story is this: in many cultures, comic books are as widely acceptable and read as frequently as porn mags are here in the states. Okay—that was a joke, too, but you understand what I’m saying. In Japan, Korea, China and many other countries, comic books are not only viewed as an artistic art form, but are also enjoyed by people of all ages and walks of life—much like here in America when I was growing up.

So what’s the deal, yo?

When did we lose our way? Was it the advent of computers, the internet, iPods and other mediums that are much “cooler” than comic books? Let me tell you… my children would rather play videogames than play outside or read. I’ve tried to pass on the comic tradition to them, but I’m afraid that comics simply cannot compete with the media that is available out there today.

Before anyone cries “BLASPHEMY!”—let me explain myself. If you ask me, kids nowadays are action junkies. I can say this because I observe three children on a regular basis—even when I don’t want to. That… was another joke. Comic books—and literature in general—cannot even compete with the high-faulting graphics and action available in videogames and movies. The payoff is instantaneous nowadays—and it’s what kids expect. It’s too much of an investment for kids to read—and the payoff takes time in literature.

In this Ritalin-Adderall country, it’s just not worth it to kids to invest their attention in comic books or novels. Hell, I have to bribe my kids to read! How do you think that makes a future English teacher feel? I… I need a hug.

What’s ironic about this shift in attention is that comic books aren’t even for kids anymore. Exhibit 1: I bought a GI Joe comic for my 8 year-old. After promising him ice cream for reading the book (I feel so dirty), he returned to me and asked “Daddy… what does ‘shit’ mean?” Now, perhaps that wouldn’t bother many of you out there, but it infuriated me. Granted, you seem to hear cursing everywhere in today’s society (and I could argue the decline in intelligence or morals in society), but that isn’t something I want my children to read. A couple weeks later, I bought him a Spider-Man comic book. Same thing: “Daddy… is ‘damn’ a bad word?” Come on… cursing in Spider-Man? That’s like having Barney pull a train on Baby Bop and B.J. I mean come on, folks… comic books aren’t for kids anymore.

Not at all. And once the damage was irreparable, you saw many all-ages books pop up. Guess what, guys? Too late. You lost your young reader contingent. Just because cursing and violence seem to be commonplace in today’s society doesn’t mean that we want to feed it to our kids. Some of us are actually trying to raise our kids to buck society’s downward moral slide.

Listen… I’m not saying that mature books don’t have a place in the market. They definitely do. I enjoy seeing Moon Knight taint kick a baddie as much as anyone. And I realize that comics have had to ramp up the action, violence and graphic content to compete with other mediums, but come on… Marvel once produced comic books that could be read and enjoyed by readers of any demographic. Why did they feel the need to lower their standard?

Joe Q, if you’re reading this, I’d love to discuss this with you.

As a parent, I think you need to answer a few tough questions from parents who aren’t very happy with this shift. Not to say that I blame you. I know that the slide hasn’t been immediate. No, it’s been a gradual slide. Still, I’d love to hear you address my questions. And I’m not calling you out here. I think it would make for a heckuva column. So… the invitation stands.

In wrapping this up, I think that many things have contributed to the decline in comic book readership. The direct market, the shift in comic books to mature—well, teen and adult—readers and the rise of the technological age have all added logs to the fire. And it continues to burn. The thing about fires is that after you exhaust all your wood, the fire goes out. Without resources to keep a fire burning, the fire dies and only ash remains. I have to wonder if the last log is burning on the bonfire right now, which will leave the comic book industry in ashes.

Will comic books sink even further into obscurity? I sincerely hope not.

Well, that brings us to the close of another installment of VOX POPULI. Remember, folks: the views presented in this column are mine and mine alone. I take full responsibility for my statements, and would be happy to defend them any day of the week on our forum. So drop by and yell, rant or tell me that I am your hero. I encourage the latter, but feel free to do the former as well.

VOX POPULI is designed to spark conversation, so if you are angry and want to curse me out or you want to drop by and slap me a virtual high-five, please do so in the forum. And please, join us next week when I’ll be discussing “Can you make a living in comic books if you are not a publisher?” It should be a million laughs, so please join us next Thursday.

Okay… back to math homework.

###

Dwight L. MacPherson is a creator, writer, editor, terpsichorean and poet. He lives in a circus tent full of midgets with his three children in the mystical land of Tennessee. Dwight makes up for his deserted whereabouts by being present all over cyberspace:
- E-mail:
dwightmacpherson@brokenfrontier.com
- Personal site: www.dwightlmacpherson.com

- Writer’s café site: http://www.writerscafe.org/profile.php?id=4190

- Myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/dwightlmacpherson

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