Leaping Tall Buildings… Or Jumping to Conclusions? Part 1: The Fans

Baseball is a sport that I will freely admit I have absolutely no knowledge of or zero interest in. I’m a complete outsider on the game & while there are people that would no doubt tell me otherwise Baseball, to me, looks like Rounder’s for people with Roid Rage. I’m not saying that this is the case & no doubt with some research I could probably say otherwise, but my point, in short, is that I am a comics writer who knows as little about Baseball as Baseball writer Tim Marchman appears to know about comics in a piece he has recently written for the Wall Street Journal.

The piece in question (which you can read here) is a review of the book Leaping Tall Buildings by Christopher Irving & Seth Kushner. For the most part however the piece does not concern itself with actually reviewing the book & instead chooses to make a poorly researched attack on industry that inspired it. What’s more the piece has inspired my own ire against Marchman to such an extent that I have had to break it down into two separate parts. In the first of these two parts I’ll discuss Marchman’s assessment of superhero fans & in the second part I’ll discuss his opinions on the creators.

Marchman begins his piece by asking why comics are not as popular as they once were despite The Avengers movie making more money than it would cost to buy one of Tony Stark’s suits:

If no cultural barrier prevents a public that clearly loves its superheroes from picking up a new “Avengers” comic, why don’t more people do so? The main reasons are obvious: It is for sale not in a real bookstore but in a specialty shop, and it is clumsily drawn, poorly written and incomprehensible to anyone not steeped in years of arcane mythology.

While it can often seem that mainstream superhero comics & the mythology they are steeped in are impenetrable to the outsider saying that comics are only for sale in speciality shops & not a “real bookstore” is something of a blanket statement. My local bookstore has always sold collected editions of comics, usually with helpful written reviews & tips on where to start from the staff. Before it shut down my local Borders also sold a good selection of floppies alongside the British reprints of Marvel & DC books. I spent a long time picking up trades & floppies from those shelves before I actually moved onto buying books monthly from my local “speciality shop” – A term which, let’s be honest, makes collecting comics sound like a far more sordid a hobby than it actually is.

Marchman goes on to say that the people who produce these comics have given up on the mass market audience & it, in turn, has given up on them citing the Avengers vs. X-Men crossover as an example. While it is true that sales figures are at an all time low for comics, laying the blame for this entirely at the feet of their “arcane mythology” is like saying that in order to understand what is currently happening right now in Eastenders you need to watch every episode from the beginning.  While I have many criticisms of the current AvX crossover I actually thought the first issue did a reasonably good job of providing all the information a new reader would need to get started. If said new reader wanted to know more then they’re in luck because the Dark Phoenix Saga has been re released twice this year already. What’s more “jumping on point” seems to be the current buzzword in comics right now with reboots & retcons happening left right & centre. There are also a slew of “Year One” trades available for pretty much any major character in an effort to welcome the fans who have just strolled out of the multiplex & into the comic book store as well as All Star & Ultimate lines & if you missed all that then there will no doubt be a .1 issue right around the corner.

While I understand Marchman’s point, his opinion is actually quite insulting to both old & new fans alike. It perpetuates the Big Bang-esque stigma that all long time comic book fans are socially inept geek-savant’s, while assuming in equal measure that any new fan who wanders into a comic book shop is incapable of reading a blurb, performing a Google search or simply asking a member of staff for help. While the words ”local comic shop ” may instantly conjure up the image of a dark pokey shop run by the guy from The Simpsons, the truth is that most retailers will be more than happy to help any possible convert to the four colour faithful. What’s more the characters themselves are as ingrained into the popular subconscious as Coca Cola, Mickey Mouse & Jesus Christ. While I can appreciate that anyone walking into a comic shop may well never have read the books chances are they aren’t picking up a Superman comic without some prior knowledge of the character or who he is. I know I shouldn’t assume that but Marchman seems to assume that anyone who is new to comics is also new to television & the internet & books & education in general. Which is stupid because as everyone knows, those people are busy writing about Baseball. Right Tim?

So that’s the first part done. Join me here in a couple of days when I share my thought on Marchman’s views on comic book creators.