Monday, October 12, 2009

These truths we hold self evident...

Tom over that Comics Reporter has spent a great deal of time thinking about assumptions that he has had in regards to comics, and put together a rather thoughtful column about them. While we both have come to comics from a similar perspective, I find that my idea of comics has changed radically in the last 20 years to encompass both my experiences with becoming a professional in the comics industry (and all the revisionist/disillusionment that comes from that), as well as having children and watching them come to comics from a number of different angles rather than one direction: the spinner rack.

We hold these truths self evident: That comics will come out each week in a serialized periodical format in the corner drugstore. Well, yeah. 30+ years ago. One of Tom’s sacred cows is that the serialized form of comics will continue, and yet he scans one of the lovely paperback books that collected Peanuts in the “foursquare” panel format, a format that was in all the bookstores of the 1970’s and had a lot to do with the continued availability of the older Schultz works while other comics artist’s work languished and disappeared from the public consciousness. To me, the serialized work makes little difference in the impact of the work. My own daughter reads each issue of wonder Woman as it comes out and sees no difference between that and the New Frontier work, which to her is only two issues long. All she knows is the TPB version of New Frontier and it makes absolutely no difference to her whatsoever. It makes little difference to me know except that I can see the seams of the collections: the artificial breaks ever 22 pages to cliffhanger out, the occasional change of artist as the story arc needs a break.

Whereas Tom found himself reading and collecting the Celestial Madonna storyline, yet was even more intrigued by the Kree/Skull War, I found that it is hard to imagine loosing my science fiction cherry to anything by the Thanos War. Instead of the making the Kree/Skrull war into more than it was in my head, I can’t possibly extricate my childhood brain from being melted by Thanos’ desire to use the Cosmic Cube to become God. I can’t be nostalgic for someone else’s loss of virginity while experiencing my own.

The Kree/Skrull war also finished completely unspectacularly, whereas Englehart actually got to finish the Celestial Madonna storyline in much better fashion.

Tom talks about wanting comics to fashion as an entertainment for a child, which is something that I agree with, having two daughters, but in writing the sentence “Whether or not there are comics for kids, I still want comics to function as a pastime for a child.” Tom falls into the trap of seeing “comics” as a thing, not as a medium. Try substituting “movies” for that sentence and you’ll see how quickly it falls apart. More than ever before, I want comics that entertain my children and comics that they can move to as teenages and comics that we can discuss as adults. I want my children to love the cinematic form enough to go from Nemo to Harry Potter and Star Wars and then on to countless movies after that. Same with books, same with comics. The medium should make no distinction between ages. The material presented in the medium is the distinction, that’s all.

Tom’s last point, about material lasting forever is an interesting one. At what point have Superman and Batman run their course? There have been plenty of other characters that have had their day and since moved into sustained existence only in the presence of back issue bins and Yahoo chat rooms. That last great new Doc Savage book? Didn’t buy it. Same thing with the last new issue of The Shadow, Tom Mix, Furry Freak Brothers and Longshot. Had the discussion with my wife the other night about why Neil Simon’s work seemed to work so well in the 1970’s and not so much after that. There are times when the artist’s work finds favor with the current cultural zeitgeist and then peters out and the nostalgia factor starts to kick in. I don’t know where I stand on this, given that I prefer stories that have beginnings, middles and ends (and to do this with my favorite Marvel characters, I just pretend that the book ends at a certain point and move on. Should I like the direction that a book goes later, I’ll just pick it back up.) but then I get used to having those different artists and writers moving in and out of the books, so its easy to abandon that completist mentality that I used to have. Captain America seemed like a great idea in 1940, wasn’t relevant again til Kirby made him fun in Tales of Suspense, made some interesting points in the 1970s with Englehart and then pretty much dropped off of the radar of interesting (Stern/Byrne aside) until the Brubaker/Epting run.

Nothing lasts forever. Great stories do last though, and maybe one of the reasons that they last is satisfactory conclusions that leave the audience feeling, well, satisfied. Satisfied that they got the story, whether they liked the ending or not.


Tom Spurgeon said...

Thanks for the compliment of your attention, although I have to admit, I have no problem with the sentence, "Whether or not there are movies for kids, I still want movies to function as a pastime for a child."

In fact, I went to the movies a lot as a kid, and so did a lot of my friends. I don't know that my friend's kids ever go without their parents involved, so if I were a movie guy I might indeed muse over how that's changed.

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

Tom - Your post was thought provoking and i've been needing to have thoughts provoked recently. ;-)

the last part of your 5 comments is the social component, and I didn't address it yet as i am not sure how i feel about it. on one hand, I love going to conventions and talking comics with people who know their shit, but then i reach a point and i want to get the hell away from some of the con idiots. why is that? why such a polarized reaction? not really sure to tell you the truth.

Anonymous said...

Tom, part of it's a social change too. When we were kids, our parents let us do lots of things without supervision, including going to the movies, when we were very young. Now parents panic about everything and leave children unsupervised at virtually no point - if they want to be thought of as good parents. So kids not seeing movies without a parent present is as much the fault of the parents as the movies. As far as I know from my own child's experience, kids still love movies and love going to them, but the social dynamic has changed.