14 November 2005

COMMENT: On Snobs and Good Comics Shops

I hate snobs. Of any stripe, really; literature, movies, music, TV...

I hated them in the poetry scene, where snobbery usually takes the form of condencension towards anyone who was popular and/or topical, without necessarily being the finest craftspeople. I hate them equally in the comics scene, where superhero fans are looked down upon like high school dropouts and [insert late-shipping indie darling du jour here] is offered up as the equivalent of a GED, their first step to a better, more fulfilling four-color life.

MEMO TO THE COMICS BLOGIVERSE: Stop trying to tell people that what they read sucks, and what you read is far superior!

I've read a lot of what some of you so aggressively recommend on your blogs and on the messageboards and, to be honest, I've found as much of it lacking as the superhero titles you so happily mock, like pseudo-intellectual bullies picking a fight with the class nerd. Indie doesn't automatically equal greatness; nor do superheroes written by anyone other than Grant Morrison automatically equal suckitude. It's a big world out there, made up of many different tastes and as a comic book reader, you're a super-minority to begin with. Get over yourselves!

I love bloggers who praise the comics they love, even if I don't always agree with their choices. What I don't love is those who want to forcefeed their preferences down everyone else's throats, coming off like religious zealots looking to save the unwashed masses' souls.

Mind you, I'm not talking about snark. I love snark. A little too much, perhaps, as this particular COMMENT surely makes me something of a hypocrite. (Actually, no; fuck that. If you don't like Bumperboy, you ARE an idiot, and you're killing comics, and I should come to your house and set your comics on fire!)

This out-of-left-field rant was brought to you by the absence of Fanboy Rampage, the ongoing adventures of John Byrne, and fans of every mid-list Marvel and DC title that was lost in the shadows of the big summer crossover events.

On a completely unrelated note (really!), I visited Main Street Comics up in Middletown, NY this weekend and it instantly lept onto my Top 5 Comics Retailers list. It's a small space, last storefront in a small shopping center, but it's well-stocked and, the first time I've ever seen this, their comics are arranged alphabetically! Not by publisher, not by genre, but from A-Z. The perfect answer to the fanboy vs. snob scenarios that comics shops typically face in designing their floor plans, especially for those operating in less than 1,000 square feet. I likes!

The owner, who's name escapes me, was a really nice guy, originally from Staten Island, who opened the store in 2001 or 2002, a couple of years after moving up there. I picked up a couple of mini-comics - Reporter #1 by Dylan Williams, and Or Else #1 by Kevin H. - and the wife and kids each snagged a little goodie for themselves. If we end up moving to that area next year, I can't see myself making the trip down to Midtown Comics any more, even with the discount I get.

25 comments:

Erech said...

Somewhere, ADD just shed a tear on his copy of SuperF*ckers.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

I'm guessing that fine coat of spooge that covers all of his Kochlaka books will protect it from the tears. :-O

I hate to admit how much his advocacy for certain comics...um, I mean, comix, have tainted them in my mind.

Erech said...

Yeah totally. Although I don't really pay that much attention to the guy, I decided years ago on usenet he was kind of a douche, so now I generally skim right past anything he says when I see it now.

I like Kochalka a bunch actually, but I don't get ADD's rabidity (what?) for the guy and his work, it's kinda creepy, yes?

That said, I too am a bit of a snob - for good comics. I don't care if it's Sleeper or Superman or Street Angel, good comics is good comics. And anything else is just uncivilized.

Greg said...

But ... Whatever I read IS great, and everything everyone else reads IS crap, except where it coincides with my reading material. I thought that was just a given.

Jason said...

Just breathe and look at the bog picture -

No-one on the blog-o-sphere is really influencing anyone's buying anyway.

I mean, we should listen to them, they are right. And yes, comics should indeed be good. But I don't think a single blog has yet to cause me to DROP a book, although they occasionally raise awareness of new ones. It's not like I read the hate and say, "Oh shit - I was wrong - I actually don't like that book either."

Erech said...

I can't think of a case where I've dropped a book because of a blogger either really. Hmm, anyone else?

I know I have steered clear of picking up something new based on reviews I read from certain bloggers who occasionally jerk things off too much, who have taste I find questionable - that's in the same ballpark right?

Jason said...

Well, I mean, I think the thing is - people are going to buy what they buy. Even I get that elitist chip on my shoulder sometimes but every blogger, message board and comic site could be absolutely dogging a new Dr. Strange series that's written by Chuck Austen and illustrated by Rob Liefeld and I'd still buy it because it's a new Dr. Strange series - that's what I'd buy.

How many time have you talked about the person who buys X-Men books despite the fact that he hates them? How many times has a group of people threatened to drop a Spider-Man book and yet the numbers don't decrease significantly.

People are just going to buy what they buy, no how much negativity it gets. The blogs, message boards and comic sites can introduce people to books they’d of never bought (and whether that will lead to increase of sales for said book is a whole different discussion) but as far as being a strong source of negativity, I don’t see it. Because, honestly, as someone who edits comics freelance, knows a bit about the art-form and what it can do – most books on the stands today on both the indie and mainstream side aren’t good. They’re really not. And some people will correctly call them out and some people will blindly promote them and in the end, they do about what one would project when considering the property, genre and creator.

People are going to buy what looks good to them, at least to try it out, no matter what they read on the internet. And, with comics, trying things out usually means four issues.

It’s such a weird medium.

Ed Cunard said...

Responding in pieces, bit by bit.

I hated them in the poetry scene, where snobbery usually takes the form of condencension towards anyone who was popular and/or topical, without necessarily being the finest craftspeople.

There is something to be said for craft, though, isn't there? Maybe I'm too snobby for my own good, but craft is one of those things I look for to use as a stepping stone to get onto my high horse to proclaim things as capital-G Good.

I have short legs.

I've read a lot of what some of you so aggressively recommend on your blogs and on the messageboards and, to be honest, I've found as much of it lacking as the superhero titles you so happily mock, like pseudo-intellectual bullies picking a fight with the class nerd.

Name names, Guy--it's hard to see where you're coming from without listing the actual comics. If something isn't as good as people are saying it is, why isn't it as good?

Indie doesn't automatically equal greatness; nor do superheroes written by anyone other than Grant Morrison automatically equal suckitude.

I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who things that all indie comics are brilliant, Guy. I think most intelligent readers of comics of any stripe will admit that 90% of everything is crap, as Sturgeon's Law suggests.

It's a big world out there, made up of many different tastes and as a comic book reader, you're a super-minority to begin with. Get over yourselves!

Tastes, though, are more subjective than the quality of the work. I think in the end, one can (and should) make the distinction between "what I like" and "what is good"--there are a lot of great comics that I just have no interest in, for various reasons. They don't stop being good just because they're not my cup of tea. Similarly, I don't think, say, Rex Libris holds up as a Good Comic, but I'm enjoying the fuck out of it.

Erech said...

"It’s such a weird medium."

Yes, t'is. And the interwebs is a poor indicator of it generally anyways. I usually find the bigger comic snobs standing around at the local comic shop anyways, not on any blogs.

Joe Rice said...

I dunno, Guy. This seems to be a lot of flailing about and frustration. So some bloggers enthusiastically like things and dislike other things. Why does this get you into a snit? I just . . .I don't get the outrage, here.

I think we nerds are very easily convinced that we're being bullied or picked on. It's kind of what the media has always told us will happen. So we're, like, uber-aware of it at all times, ready to point out our own victimhood wherever it may arise.

But how does people thinking some of the books you like are shitty really affect you? How would the fact that some of the books you like actually ARE shitty affect you? As long as you enjoy them, what's your problem? I can't get enough of America's Funniest Home Videos, but I don't get mad when someone says, "Hey, you should watch Arrested Development, it's much better."

Yeah, some things are better than other things. That doesn't mean no one enjoys the less-good things, or that they shouldn't, or that there's anything wrong with them for enjoying it. Why is this hard to understand?

What would people with bad taste complain about if we didn't have ADD?

That said, I do think blogs are better at promoting the good than preventing folks from getting the bad. I know I've hooked at least ten people on Amazing Joy Buzzards, and on a small book, that's not so bad. The slagging of the bad, I think, is more akin to hanging out with your friends and making fun of a bad movie. I know that's how I see my occasional negative posts. More of a, "Oh, holy crap, look at this junk! It's hilarious!"

Anyway, if this is the first alphabetical comic shop you've seen, Guy, you really need to see more comic shops.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

What the...? Where the hell did all of you come from? Get off my lawn!

Just to clarify, the whole "snob" thing is just my lazy way of referring to the hipper-than-thou bloggers out there who typically couch their praise of X by bashing Y, Y almost always being an easy target like the X-books or whatever Jeph Loeb's writing this month. I've been guilty of it myself, too, so the old one finger pointing outward leaves three pointing inward rule applies.

Several bloggers have influenced my purchases, though, via well-written praise that extolled the virtues of the title itself, judging it on its own merits. While I can't think of an instance where I dropped something because of a particular blogger, there have been some things I've avoided because certain people liked them and I've found over time that my tastes generally don't match up with theirs.

The rant, though, was inspired by the latest round of "how to get superhero fans to read good stuff," and my annoyance with the whole missionary mentality that typically goes with it. Hell, it's not even really akin to missionaries, who were at least reaching new audiences; more like shifting deck chairs on the Titanic.

A more interesting discussion, IMO, would be how to get comics of all genres beyond the direct market and into the mainstream. More smart retailers like R!OT, Rocketship, Isotope, and even Main Street Comics, whose bookstore-shelving model I wish more shops would consider. More smart publishers/creators working on distribution beyond Diamond and the direct market, and marketing plans that include more than a NEWSarama preview. (And no, I don't mean Buzzscope!) And, of course, a weeding out of some of these indie publishers that are basically vanity presses, clogging up the pipes with subpar work, making it that much more difficult for retailers who want to support more than the Big Two/Four.

I've forgotten what, if any, larger point I was making, so I'll stop here because Gmail just told me two more comments have come through as I was writing this one.

Joe Rice said...

Interesting, Guy. I agree with some of what you said there. The bookstore shelving is working well at Rocketship, and I know Alex and Mary only order the books they know or suspect they can sell. So the "vanity press" indie publishers don't get much action, really. I don't think I've seen a single Alias book there, for instance.

And this may not be a good rationale, but I think a lot of the "let's get superhero readers to read something better" stuff is coming from guys like me who are/were/whatever superhero guys. Someone opened a door for us and we found stuff we liked just as much and sometimes more than what we were reading before.

Ed is right: most everything is crap. Most indie, most corporate, whatever. I think the drive, for me at least, is trying to get people to focus less on one area, thereby broadening how many actually decent comics they have access to.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Joe: Believe it or not, I mostly agree with you. I don't have a problem with the missionary thing, per se, especially from those who've converted themselves, it's the superior tone some take in doing it that annoys me. Like the ex-smoker who loves to tell current smokers that cigarettes are bad for them.

For the record, I consider myself a Big Two superhero fan with an ever-growing interest in other genres. I often go out of my way to experiment with new titles, either via recommendations I've picked up online or random blind picks off the shelves. Honestly, though, looking at the sales figures each month, I think I'm (we're) a minority in that regard compared to the average comics reader.

Ed: One example, which I'm reluctant to make since Remender and I kissed and made up thanks to the wonderful Fear Agent, was Sea of Red, which was praised up the yin-yang when the first couple of issues came out. I picked up #1, didn't love it, and only bought #2 because all the blog-love the first issue got made me think I'd missed something. I hated it with a passion. Scott Pilgrim and Street Angel are two others, both relatively entertaining reads, but nothing I felt merited the rave reviews I've seen for them all over the blogiverse. Different strokes...

Erech said...

I don't think I would have liked Street Angel had I picked it up in single issue format - the trade is just so much fun though.

Again though, as far as SA and the hype, that's a case of the internet skewing reality, since I don't think a single issue of that sold more than 2500 copies - I've given more people than that the clap!

The internet is pretty much full of shit though, all you can do is keep fighting the good fight, turn people on to cool books, and talk up the stuff you think needs to be talked up. And beat up newsarama posters at conventions. Right?

Ed Cunard said...

Ed: One example, which I'm reluctant to make since Remender and I kissed and made up thanks to the wonderful Fear Agent, was Sea of Red, which was praised up the yin-yang when the first couple of issues came out. I picked up #1, didn't love it, and only bought #2 because all the blog-love the first issue got made me think I'd missed something. I hated it with a passion. Scott Pilgrim and Street Angel are two others, both relatively entertaining reads, but nothing I felt merited the rave reviews I've seen for them all over the blogiverse. Different strokes...

I haven't read SEA OF RED--it doesn't look to be my cup of tea--but I have read SCOTT PILGRIM and STREET ANGEL, and enjoyed them both.

Are you basing your opinion on their quality on how much you enjoyed them, though? Or on something else?

That's what I'm getting at--if we base our opinion of "good" on just what we enjoy, we're no better than those who dismiss anything with a simple "this sucks" (or, more commonly, "this sux"). That's why I think craft has to come into play when talking about what is or isn't good--it helps ameliorate the tendency to assume our taste is wonderful and that we only like the good stuff.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Erech: I have the floppies, but I bought all 5 at once. Read the first two, smiled throughout, but never got around to reading the other three. They were fun, but not terribly compelling, I guess. Alternatively, I pick up my Bumperboy stuff to reread all the time. :-)

Ed: Depends on what level I'm offering my opinion, really. In casual conversation, it's generally about how much I enjoyed something. From a critical perspective, though, I'll usually try to acknowledge the craft in some way, especially if it's a relatively negative review. (ie: Sea of Red #1 had some impressive artwork, particularly its smart use of the color red throughout.)

My earlier point about craft and snobs wasn't that craft isn't important, but that in the poetry scene, it's led to the canonization of many well-constructed but emotionally empty poems. By definition, any formal poetry has a certain level of craft to it, but too often poets lose sight of the forest for the trees. The typical sonnet makes my ears bleed.

At the risk of beating another dead horse, a good comics analogue might be a few of the later issues of DEMO, where Cloonan's great artwork carried some less-then-well-crafted stories.

Man! I'm not used to so many comments here. I need to turn my Gmail notifier off and get some work done!

Mark Fossen said...

Blogs have definitely influenced my purchases, and gotten me to try new stuff. I don;t think they've made me drop anything, except that my budget is finite, and something needs to go as I add new stuff.

Believe it or not, I mostly agree with you. I don't have a problem with the missionary thing, per se, especially from those who've converted themselves, it's the superior tone some take in doing it that annoys me. That was how I took your original post. I don't think there's a problem in praising what you enjoy ... but you don't need to do it at the expense of other books. Couching your praise of Scott Pilgrim in yet another attack on Marvel/DC is tiresome, and simply continues to propogate the idea that the artform revolves around two companies. It's the difference between "Scott Pilgrim is great" and "your taste sucks, and your comics suck ... read Scott Pilgrim instead".

jdonelson.nyc said...

It's the difference between "Scott Pilgrim is great" and "your taste sucks, and your comics suck ... read Scott Pilgrim instead".

I agree: telling somebody that they have lousy taste is not going to make them amenable to your suggestions. But are people really telling people that they have bad tatse when they suggest something new and different? Or is this just a knee-jerk, defensive reaction on the part of the superhero fan? 9 times out of 10 it's the latter, and I suspect that's rooted in the lifetime of disrespect that most comic readers have suffered at the hands of non-comics readers. If somebody ventures outside the sandbox of superheroes, the folks still on the inside take it as a betrayal and they immediately launch into their defensive posture. I agree that it's easy for medium fans to slide into scorn for their genre-fan counterparts, but it's also easy for the genre fans to get up in arms over perceived slights that aren't actually there. For every attention-hungry loudmouth like ADD who berates superhero fans, there are dozens of bloggers or message boarders or whatever who are simply trying to promote books that they think deserve bigger sales and that they genuinely believe their fellow comics fans would like. Building something up isn't necessarily the same as tearing something else down, yet suggesting that a superhero fan might like Street Angel or Sleeper - which are essentially superhero books without the decades-old licensed trademark characters - is taken as a slap in the face.

I'm surprised to hear this from you, Guy, because I know you're not exclusively a genre fan and I know you like to recommend comics that you think are under-represented in the market. Your weekly comic roundup features the subhead "Try something new each week!" I find it incongruous that you're lending support to the kind of reactionary B.S. that you usually work so hard to undermine.

alex said...

"What I don't love is those who want to forcefeed their preferences down everyone else's throats, coming off like religious zealots looking to save the unwashed masses' souls."

I know this phenomenon.
You can observe it whenever anyone says that they like Grant Morrison within earshot of Guy.

Ohhhh! Rimshot! Thanks folks, you've been great. Remember to tip your waitress.

-a

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

I'm so gonna get fired today...!

I find it incongruous that you're lending support to the kind of reactionary B.S. that you usually work so hard to undermine.

Hunh? I'm not criticizing anyone recommending other comics to fans of particular genres, I'm criticizing the "attention-hungry loudmouth[s] like ADD" who take the "superheroes are for idiots" approach in their recommendations. And I even noted that I was being a tad hypocritical as I've been guilty of doing it myself.

[Have YOU bought a copy of Bumperboy yet?]

Alex: Yeah, the Morrison fans do tend to get a rise out of me, mainly because he's generally treated like some sacred cow and I don't believe in sacred cows. Having read some of his work late in the game, I'm just not as impressed as most people who grew up with his work seem to be. Of course, it's been pointed out in the past that I made a big mistake by starting with an Invisibles TPB, so my perspective on him is kinda fucked!

I think Fossen made a great point on his blog about this whole subject: "If you want to say someone shouldn't read Superman because Super-F*ckers is so much better ... someone going to eventually come along and throw Joyce and Pynchon and Tolstoy in your face. And then you'll be sorry."

For the record, I don't like Joyce, Pynchon or Tolstoy, but you're an uncivilized pig if you haven't read any of Matt Ruff's work. ;-)

Mark Fossen said...

For every attention-hungry loudmouth like ADD who berates superhero fans
I thought that was Guy's specific point.

jdonelson.nyc said...

I thought that was Guy's specific point.

Well, you know, reading comprehension isn't exactly my strong suit. Let's keep fighting!

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

That's because you read all that superhero crap! If you read more Bumperboy, you'd not only be a much smarter person, but your chances of facing eternal damnation as Rob Liefeld's assistant would be lessened, too.

Dan Diaz said...

A few days away from the net and I miss all this!! It's like I'm the last one at the party.

Guy said: "A more interesting discussion, IMO, would be how to get comics of all genres beyond the direct market and into the mainstream."

A good start would be to get Free Comic Book Day out of comic shops and into mainstream places.

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