Few people believe me, but I actually attended college. And, while there, I would engage in lots of comic book discussions with fellow comic book geeks. When you’re in the dorms and it’s 2 in the morning and everyone is relaxed, tired and ready for the weekend, well, discussions get going. It’s fun.
One of the discussions we had was on comics. Not the particular characters, but the people behind them. The artists, the editors, the publishers, and so forth. I loved comics, but I have to say that the people in comics occasionally annoyed me. My argument was that the world of comics was a smaller scale version of Hollywood, but with more intense drama. My theory was that this was largely because most comic creators don’t actually have to deal with the scrutiny. I guess I was right.
I have a general dislike for drama in comics-land. The reason is that the fantasy sold via comics is so complete. Go watch a Tom Cruise film some time. Even if you like the film he is in, how easy is it to forget all the couch-jumping he did a few years back? How hard is it to put away the Scientology proselytizing that nearly destroyed his career? How about Lindsay Lohan? Is it really so easy to forget how she’s driven herself straight into the ground? With comics, there was a time when readers didn’t get exposed to that. There’s nothing tainting the product because no one sees the people behind it. Unless, of course, you are or were interested in working in the industry.
I remember reading Wizard: The Guide to Comics and observing with some interest and confusion the public spat between the creators of ElfQuest and A Distant Soil in the letters section. Fun to read, but why on Earth would anyone do that? What’s the point of a public spat between two professional comics creators? There’s no profit upside and both sides look petulant. Something similar happened when Peter David finished his run on The Hulk. He wrote this highly emotional issue in which Betty Ross Bruce Banner’s love interest dies due to gamma radiation poisoning from her close contact to Bruce. This leads to a breakdown where Bruce Banner finally gives in completely to his Hulk persona and more or less disappears. Thus concludes Peter David’s run on The Hulk. John Byrne, another writer, then casually states in an interview that he could undo everything in a couple panels. Possible? Sure. I thought it was a little disrespectful to casually throw aside a contemporary’s swan song, though.
Of course let us not forget Rob Liefeld, who to this day seems to consider himself a gift to the comic book world. This in spite of the fact that he has a problem with basic anatomy, composition, layout and general facial expressions. He co-founded Image Comics, drove Marc Silvestri to the point of quitting the group, and then quit before they could kick him out. And this is years before his famous Twitter meltdown where he basically attacks people in DC and Marvel for insults real and imagined.
That last incident is worth noting. Twitter. The Internet has caught up with the comics world. With the earlier examples, the drama manifested in industry magazines. You could enjoy comics and never discover how petty everyone behind them really was. With the Internet, all the foibles and “quirks” are out on full display, just like any Hollywood celebrity. Now the drama will bleed into the work and people will read Watchmen or The Invisibles and think of the battle between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. If not them, then some other artist or writer.
I understand that for many the drama is a sort of icing on the cake. I also admit that good Internet drama can be a lot of fun. The thing is, I do like the view of the naive comics enthusiast, the idea that comics just magically appear on the shelves to be purchased and deliver this wonderful escapist fantasy. Years ago, in college, I described comics as a smaller scale version of Hollywood but with more intense drama. I was quite proud of my analysis, but these days I don’t really want to remember I was right. I just want to read some comics.