All I ever wanted to do was talk about comics

HOFS Year Three: A Retrospective/ 500th Post

I guess it’s not a huge coincidence that my third year anniversary falls almost exactly onto my five-hundredths post but it still feels like sweet serendipity. Those of you who have read my previous milestone posts know my penchant for reflection and sentimentality. As the years go by and the more readers come in and out of my timeline, they stop being twitter followers and start becoming friends. In fact they are firmly part of my life. I see Rob, Rathan, Kyle, Mark, George, Trey twice yearly at cons, I always attempt to meet Kieran because we both live in Liverpool but rarely succeed, every week I make sure I send a response to Aaron’s Honour Roll post, almost monthly I check up with Alison on how her writing is coming along, I sporadically podcast until 4am with Spin and Chief and at least every other week I participate in the abuse of Ben together with Brian and Cameron (come on he deserves it!) with Aaron ending the conversation with a Doom quote. These relationships have been forged in the smelting pits of the House and are here to stay. Not only that but the House of Flying Scalpels is forever expanding and in need of constant renovation, but it is a sheer joy for me to build and will continue to do so for as long as it is. I have always felt lucky to have these friends and circumstances because it has become quite apparent, I actually am one of the fortunate ones. Through multiple conversations on social media, many people have had quite the opposite kind of experiences. As the invisible world of the Internet affords the opportunities to voice an opinion it also affords the opportunity to berate and intimidate. I decided to focus upon it with last years HOFS questionnaire when I asked the question regarding what readers hated in comics. The most common response was other fans.

There was an incredible set of diverse and well-articulated responses, which I would like to share some of them with you:

“Not necessarily the comics or industry but people’s cynical reactions to comic “stuff” on Twitter. I’ve unfollowed quite a lot of folks because I don’t want to hear their negativity towards comics/writers/artists I like. I can read it myself and make my own mind, thank you very much”

“The continual misplaced whining of people who think that diversity either isn’t relevant, or can realistically be achieved anytime sooner without swapping out an established character for someone who is either a woman or a person of color or both”

“Hearing professionals in the industry complain that comics have somehow been “taken away from them” by new groups of fans who are not white males and who want to ruin everything with their diversity and feminism and cosplay.”

“I don’t envy creators at all in this day & age because most fans seem to think that each book should be made specifically for them and their preferences. Then if these books don’t end up being what they want some people take to Twitter and are completely obnoxious. The worst is when fans get abusive towards creators and/or fans of what they don’t like. It’s disgusting and I wish people would just let people like what they like. A little less obnoxious are the people that make you feel bad for liking something. I shouldn’t feel bad for liking a book where the writer made some inflammatory tweet that upset a group of people. You can go get upset at that writer and not buy their work, but don’t make me feel bad for enjoying it.”

And quite simply stated:

“Of course the main problem seemed to be the online bickering and lack of respect too many folk have for each other in the comics community.” 

It is impressive the diversity of news that leads to such negative behaviour. It is not just the dislike of a book but it is the changing of a creative team, altering a costume, reimagining a character, companies moving location, announcing an actor to play a superhero and the cancellation of a book. It is everyone’s right to give an opinion but it quite clear when the negativity pervades over everything else that the enjoyment is sucked out of social communication. When that wave of pessimism hits readers trying to maintain a degree of enthusiasm or even defend against the flow, then exclusionism runs rife. This is what turns social media into a caustic arena and encourages people to leave. Then only those that shout loudest remain.

It is extremely important to mention that there are certainly issues regarding sexism, misogyny and bullying in the comic community that require us all to stand up together. These are situations where the converse to the above applies and social media plays an essential role in bringing about change to the future. I would like to think that the majority of readers would be in agreement with this, but I am certainly not naïve.

Reconciling the above comments with my own experiences is quite difficult. I remain very optimistic and positive throughout but perhaps this is genuinely to do with the experiences I have had or the way in which I handle them. Maybe it is because I keep my twitter friends close and unfollow those exhibiting behaviour I do not condone. With regards to my writing, it may be because I try to give an informed opinion or that I only review comics I enjoy. In any case I like to think I can argue any of my opinions because they are not based upon emotion or sentiment but on the work itself. I genuinely try to be as objective as I can, but reviews are an opinion and everyone is entitled to one and, more importantly, their right to voice it. As comic fans we all face a degree of mocking and isolation and I have remarked upon the years that comic reading remained a solo hobby prior to the development of the House. In fact it is still rather a lonely escape because I still find the need to justify my passion to most people I meet. If I could go a day without the roll of the eyes or a sigh, I would be a happy man.

I recently placed a Frank Miller Black and White Batman figure on my work desk and it is so beautiful. One of my bosses walked past, noticed it and asked,

“What the hell is that?” I shuddered at the thought that my secret love of comics was about to be revealed to the world of surgery, where it is all balls and bravado. I simply replied,

“It’s Batman”

“Why is that there?” and this was the crunch question because as much as I barely fit into the workplace with my jovial demeanour, vegetarianism and abstinence, I really do not need another aspect of my personality pinned to the wall. His look of disdain almost brought to a bead of sweat to my forehead as I said,

“Because I like Batman” and that was it. I moved the conversation onwards to what it was and how much it was worth, which surprisingly piqued his interest. It is now known that I obsess over comics and write about them religiously, leading to a great deal of mockery. But this is my point.

Unless you exclusively spend time with fans of the comic world, you will find a degree of contempt wherever you go. No matter how popular The Big Bang Theory becomes, the nerds will always be the ones laughed at. We all share this in common, it binds us and it brings us closer together. Why do we convene at conventions and talk passionately all night long on Twitter? We have found a forum for us to share our love and that should be celebrated. This has always been the fundamental points of my previous anniversary posts. So why do some of us treat others so badly? Are we not in this together?

Perhaps social media acts as a model for real life, where certain people are just unpleasant or inconsiderate. Are those social inadequacies that drew people to comics in the first place, the same reason for the inability to converse politely online? Is it the obsessive compulsiveness that makes a comic fan meticulously order their comics, or display them in a ludicrous fashion that makes it impossible to entertain another opinion? Well the answer is all of the above. The medium that we love has such diversity that there is something for everyone. In fact I pride myself on being able to pitch the perfect first comic to a new reader based upon what their personality and interests are. Not every book is for every person.

Nobody enjoys being told his or her thoughts on a book are stupid or just incorrect. Snowballing is so easy to be caught up in and it happens all to often, leaving the victim harassed and scared to ever speak again. This gatekeeping behaviour is exactly what we rebel against in the first place. There is not a single person out there that enjoys being subjugated for liking comics, but we seem to be able to do that to fans who like certain books or have a less than encyclopaedic knowledge of their cosplay. To remove that fundamental right of every person is disgusting and ridiculous. I know numerous people who stopped writing or discussing certain topics to avoid the level of vitriol they once received. To those people, I say, you must continue and stand up against this despicable behaviour. It is so easy to say but why would you open yourself up to more insult when you are already injured.

This certainly was not meant to be an advisory post because I don’t feel I am in a position where I give meaningful guidance. I have never encountered real victimisation and wouldn’t want to admit I know how terrible it can feel. However I do know I agree with so much of the questionnaire responses above but I have few personal grievances because I steer clear of so many of these situations. I keep a light profile and interact with people I trust and even when I do argue, I know how far to take it. I certainly know when an argument has reached a brick wall, which has saved my sanity on a number of occasions. Especially in times where quite serious offences have led to standstills and a particular racist/sexist opinion is not going to rationally be shedded. The realisation of that fact is all important but you have to ensure you have made your point.

As a comic reviewer I have discussed certain features of comics that are inappropriate or insensitive. I feel I have an obligation to highlight these points and provide evidence to the statement I am making. I have even stalled in my approach to writing about certain books that have disappointed in particular way, such as weak endings and delayed stories. I have no right to remove someone’s love for a book but I have every right to voice the reasons for why it might not to be to someone’s taste without lambasting unnecessarily. I do take time to consider the impact of a review, but it never stops me from writing about it. I thought very hard and carefully about this post because it is not a celebratory one as you might expect. It is a reflection on the comic community as a whole and why it can be so rewarding but also so tormenting. It would be easy to tell people to not be cynical, hateful, belittling or impulsive but most people think that they aren’t. I would ask that people think about why they think as they do before impulsively voicing their opinion, even just for a second. Well at least that is a start.

There is an art to critiquing and it is a form of writing I take very seriously. I have no intention of offending any person out there but inevitably that will happen. As long as it is a reasoned opinion and there is no unnecessary chiding, you have performed your role as a reviewer. Unfortunately not all comics are as good as each other but that is okay, everyone is still learning and trying to produce their best. They may not hit it every time but the whole process is practice after all. This goes for reviewing and critiquing too and I have certainly gotten better at it over the last three years. I even appreciate that my work may be long winded, too introspective and a little pretentious. This leads to the realisation that my reviews may not be for everyone but that is fine. As long as someone thinks about something they might not have thought of before, or picks up a book that they never knew existed, it was all worthwhile. There is no value in providing a hateful diatribe because there is nothing to be gained by the unknowing fan. It only feeds hatred when quite simply a reason for disliking a book is all that is needed. After all we do not do this because we hate comics, we do it because we love them and want to share them with one another. If you feel that certain social circles do not fulfil that role, then you leave and find others that do.

My three years as a blogger have been amazing and I find no reason to waver from my dedication to this craft. I hope you only find passion and love from my writing and if I veer into dismissive critique make sure it is not unnecessary and do please tell me if it is. I never realised how much there is to gain when I set out on this adventure, because all I ever wanted to do was talk about comics.

Thank you for all of your support


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