Fanboy Entitlement vs. Common Decency: Who Wins?

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The “Liefeld Incident” shows how Internet culture has spread to the real world. But what is it really about, righteous indignation or ego? And does doing bad work make you less than human?

The most talked about event to come out of the Chicago Comic-Con wasn’t a movie deal being struck, a new title being announced or a big name creator signing an exclusive contract. No, the biggest story of the con was a disgruntled fan’s confrontation with one of the comic industry’s most controversial names.

Ryan Coons, who blogs by the name of “Yellow Hat Guy”, was surprised when he found out Image co-founder Rob Liefeld was going to be at the con. Not a fan by any means, Coons, with a bevy of his friends as an audience, went up to Liefeld’s booth and “demanded” an apology for what the creator did to Captain America during the “Heroes Reborn” experiment. All he got from Liefeld was a “Nice to meet you” in return.

Later on in the day, Coons found a copy of the 1978 how-to book, How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way in a bargain bin. Not satisfied with the earlier encounter with Liefeld, Coons purchased the book, inscribed it with a personal note and his contact information, and dropped it off at Liefeld’s table.

Coons wrote a boastful blog post about his escapades the Sunday after the con. The comics news media picked up on it on Monday, and the confrontation became the topic of conversation that consumed Twitter and Facebook immediately thereafter. After an initial positive response, the comments thread at the original blog post soon turned against Coons, with negative posts outnumbering positive ones by a margin of about two to one by the second day after the story broke.

Some of the most vocal critics of Coons have come from the comic book community. Creators such as Jim Lee, Mark Waid, Gail Simone and an all-star cast of others have spoken up to condemn Coons. Coons’ defenders say he was entitled to do what he did. His joke was a form of criticism about a series Liefeld completed over a decade ago. After all, he helps pay his salary.

This sense of entitlement is nothing new in comics fandom. It has really flourished during the Internet era, where an anonymous comment on a message board can get you a legion of “atta boys” and a blog can pull like minded individuals into your own secluded microcosm. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking your thoughts and ideas are absolute and shared by everyone, that your opinions are more valid than others.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe sharing an opinion or being critical is evil. Heck, if I did, my Guiding Lines columns would be a lot less fun to write. But I try to keep in mind that there might be other opinions out their other than my own. Yes, I will be sarcastic but I try to provide reasons for my side. Trust me, if everyone shared my way of thinking, Jeph Loeb and, yes, Rob Liefeld books would sell zero copies, All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder would have been cancelled after issue #3 and ‘Mazing Man would be still be going strong. Obviously, this is not the case, so I try to respect the opinions of those with ones different than mine.

Coons, however, was so sure that his sense of entitlement was shared by everyone else that he asked, nay, demanded an apology from Liefeld. And when his ego wasn’t sated because Liefeld did not play along, he ups the ante by trying to humiliate him by giving him a drawing manual. And when that didn’t get the reaction he wanted (as shown on the video he included on his blog), he tries to spin it like it did.

But Coons’ inflated sense of entitlement made him cross a line. Creators are human beings with feelings that can get hurt. They deserve the respect that every human does. Just because you might have bought a comic you didn’t like or a creator has done something to a character you didn’t like doesn’t give you permission to ignore this. By all means, don’t buy any of their books. Write critical blog posts listing the reasons why you think your readers should avoid their work. But don’t try to humiliate them in public to prove your superiority.

Coons speaks of being “confused” by the condemnation so many professionals have showered on him. There is nothing confusing about it. They realize the falsely justified bravado Coons has shown is not unique to him. I experienced another example of this. At last year’s San Diego Comic Con, Joe Quesada was being interviewed by G4’s Blair Butler at the network’s booth. As I was walking past, someone from the crowd shouted at Joe, “Thanks for ruining Spider-Man!” Yes, he was expressing an opinion, which is shared by many, but he did it in such a way as to try to embarrass Quesada on national television. I’m sure the heckler had friends taping G4’s con coverage so he could have a record of his great moment for posterity. I wonder if his voice was actually picked up by the mikes. Probably not.

What the pros see in Coons is an inspiration to others. They can see a convention experience where self-righteous critics try to do their damnedest to make their time at the con as hellish as possible. Some might think certain creators deserve that kind of treatment. I think no human being deserves to be treated that way, especially since it is so much easier to just ignore something you dislike. The Internet might have given people like Coons the mistaken impression that they are entitled to ignore proper manners and common decency when addressing the targets of their scorn in public.

I think differently. But, of course, that is just my opinion.

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  • Eric Lindberg

    Eric Lindberg Aug 18, 2009 at 8:46pm

    Man. I didn't hear about this when I was at the con. That's incredibly tacky. I'm not a fan of Liefeld's work either but this Coons guy crossed the line from constructive criticism to outright cruelty. Not cool.

  • CA3

    CA3 Aug 23, 2009 at 12:46pm

    The worst thing you could do to the work of someone you dislike is ignore it and endorse the work of those you do like.

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