The Three Stages of Comics Fandom
This is something I wrote in 2010, but I think it still holds up. It was inspired by a hot issue of the time — Jim Lee’s redesign of Wonder Woman, in which she wore pants. Or, for some of you, “leggings”, because those are “not pants.”
In 2023, is that still a debate?
In any case, that’s the set-up, now here’s the rest. Stick around for the end, where I’ll do some updating…
The Controversy Over Wonder Woman’s Pants
The “firestorm” over Wonder Woman’s costume last week was fun for about five minutes, before it devolved into the same old, same old. The first thing that jumped out to me was her leather jacket, which reminded me of an old “What The — ?!?” story that Joe Quesada may have even drawn, about all Marvel heroes getting leather jackets to be cool — including the Human Torch.
But, I still like it. Maybe it’s because I’m a comics child of the 90s, and so it doesn’t seem so out of place to me. I don’t know. It’s not like they gave her an eye patch and a belt full of pouches, plus one on her thigh. (Honestly, I’m not sure I’d hate the pouches. Like I said: Child of the 90s.)
I liked Jim Lee’s design sketch more than the preview pages that were available online, where the cleavage seemed to be on even more prominent display. Wonder Woman’s top now strains at the straps to hold her in, and the jacket opens up to focus attention on her chest frequently. (The eye is drawn to the point of greatest contrast, so the white skin amidst a sea of dark colors is where the eye goes. Hello, cleavage!)
While the overall costume might be more demure, the unintended consequence is that it draws even more attention to her chest than the old mostly bare look did. It’s the functional equivalent of Power Girl’s boob window.
Still, it’s just a costume change. Not a big deal. It’s fun to fuss over for a little bit. It’s always interesting to see creators play with these things, but we also all know that it won’t last forever. It never does. Spider-Man’s black costume didn’t last forever. Daredevil’s armor costume is long gone and mostly forgotten. Superman’s mullet got chopped off. Iron Man — well, he’s never had an armor last long enough to be considered canon, has he?
It’s fun to see the newspapers and the TV stations that DC planted the story with take up the gauntlet and run with it. Although, honestly, how long will it be before they realize that this isn’t news at all? Are they so desperate to fill air time and column inches that they’ll take stories from other publishers’ marketing departments? Don’t they feel stupid for making such big deals out of Spider-Man’s unmasking and Captain America’s death? Have they not learned their lessons?
In any case, some in fandom are more prone to outrage. They look for the drama. They look to be insulted. They want to argue vehemently over the stupidest things they can find on comic book message boards. A new Wonder Woman costume is cause for a flurry of their fun. I sit back, shake my head a bit, and go back to ignoring them.
The Three Stages
On the other hand, I used to be them. I have to admit that to myself. But I’m 20 years older now. (Yikes!) It got me to thinking about my Stages of Fandom, and I was able to break it down into three parts:
- Drooling Fanboy
- Reasonable Fanboy
- Detached Fanboy
Drooling: I can’t hide this one. I had letters of high praise printed in “Youngblood” #2 and “X-Force” and “Star Trek,” commending each for being revolutionary. I was relatively new to comics, and everything was new and crazy to me.
I didn’t have the knowledge of the history of comics I have now. I didn’t have the knowledge of the business behind the books I was reading. I didn’t know about a lot of things. All that mattered was what was on the page.
In some ways, I miss those days. I miss the easy excitement comics provoked. That wide-eyed wonder can never be recaptured, and that’s probably a big part of the reason why so many people look so fondly back to the Golden Age of Eight — the comics when they were eight years old were the best they’ve ever read.
On the other hand, it’s embarrassing in retrospect. We’ve all been there. We’ve all held comics in our hands when we were younger that we thought were the bee’s knees, but we know today were really schlocky hacked-out crap that pandered to our immature selves. At the time, though, it’s all cool.
Reasonable: Eventually, the drooling fanboy learns enough that he can make more reasonable statements. Knowledge of how comics work — both in the stories and from the creators and publishers behind them — informs opinions.
Having seen a few years of comics, certain patterns emerge, but it’s still not known if those patterns are routine, or exceptions to the rule. Comics still maintain a very important part in the Reasonable Fanboy’s life, though, being the main hobby and time waster.
This is probably me in the first decade of Pipeline. By the time I started writing Pipeline, I had been a subscriber to “Comics Buyer’s Guide” for a few years, hung out on comic book message boards, and even interacted with a few creators on-line. I felt like I was part of it, in some small way.
But I also began to recognize that there are different types of comic fans. We’re not all alike, and there are definite cliques in fandom. And that’s OK. There’s something for everyone. And we can all learn from each other.
Detached: The current phase I’m in, it’s where you like comics and enjoy them and are highly specific about what you buy and read, and when and why, but they’re not the focus of your life. You don’t need to know about or be involved in every little thing.
It’s OK to be clueless about what’s going on with a certain creator or a certain character. Not coincidentally, this often coincides with having a wife and/or a child. Either that, or utter burn out.
It might sound like a depressing phrase, but it’s oddly liberating. I don’t feel as tied down to comics as much as I used to be. And while my eyes are still bigger than my wallet, I find myself picking what I want to read more carefully, and re-reading the forgotten “classics” that have sat unloved in boxes in my closet and storage unit for years. What point is there in keeping those old comics if we don’t dig through them once in a while, right?
The bright side of this is that my highs and lows are generally less spikey. Sure, I’ll rant about digital distribution or the sad lack of appreciation for “Asterix” and other Franco-Belgian comics, but I’m not getting worked up over Wonder Woman’s costume change, or the death of whatever fan-favorite character nobody cared about until he or she died.
I’ve also seen the cycles. The comic book industry, like everything else, is cyclical. Good ideas come and go. Usually, a good idea comes, everyone jumps on it, it quickly turns back, and then someone discovers the next big thing and we’re off to the races.
Event books were constant in the 90s until they were done away with in the early Quesada/Jemas era of Marvel. Then, they returned in the Bendis “Avengers” era, and now they seem to be waning or, at least, morphing into something smaller again. Character deaths are huge until character resurrections are huge. Characters going dark is big until characters being “lighty and brighty” become the new fad.
Back and forth the pendulum swings. But I don’t swing with it. When it goes in a direction I’m not a fan of now, I look somewhere else. I explore new options, or I go back and reread books I enjoyed in the past and often find new angles on them. It’s not just being cheap or having to save money for diapers. It’s about getting more enjoyment out of what I already have, and the renewed joy of discovery and history all at once.
This isn’t to say there aren’t days that I’d like to go back “Reasonable Fanboy” status and haunt the message boards and live and breathe comics, but I also accept that it’s a period of life that likely won’t come back again. Life is change, right? I need to find other ways to be productive.
It also gives me new perspectives. I think “outside the box.” I see what’s going on in the worlds of technology and publishing and think about how it might apply to comics. I step back from the angst and furor of the day to think about where it’s all coming from and why people say what they say. And I think about things from outside the Wednesday Crowd or Direct Market perspective. Those are the things that drive me these days. Why can’t comics change? Why aren’t they? What makes sense?
I’m less afraid to broach those topics now. I don’t feel like I’m in that “in crowd” where I might offend my friends. There’s a level of self-censorship I feel disappearing. The freedom is nice.
Now, this doesn’t mean I’m quitting Pipeline or comics. Far from it. I still love the impetus Pipeline gives me to think about these things, and to read these books. I enjoy a slight bit of controversy here and there. I love the doors Pipeline opens for me, and I love comics.
But am I ever going to be outraged about a storyline happening to a favorite character? No. Nothing is forever, particularly with corporate characters that exist to feed a licensing machine that makes exponentially more money than the comics they started in.
Am I mad that comics are $4 these days? Yes, but I understand the economics of it, and it doesn’t bother me, personally. It doesn’t affect me. I’ve all but moved to the trade, anyway.
I’m only disappointed in the way it’ll cut into others’ budgets, and keep some away from comics who might otherwise buy in at a cheaper price point. But you know what? Comics don’t sell enough to hit the economies of scale needed to drop the price lower while maintaining the same quality standard.
I wrote this back in 2010, which is now long enough ago that there’s likely some kind of nostalgia for that Wonder Woman costume, often from the same people who hated it so much back then.
I have no idea what the state of DC Comics is today, other than total confusion between what the continuity is supposed to be. Have they rebooted their universe yet this year? Are the Batman books still suffering from the 5G plans that failed to launch? Does Wonder Woman even have a series right now?
Comic book pricing hasn’t gotten any better since 2010. And once they couldn’t raise cover prices anymore, they tried printing more covers.
The bit about crossovers kills me now. Crossovers happen so frequently that they’re no longer special. They’re just a constant pain in the butt. It’s all Marvel and DC can do to make themselves feel relevant or special. It’s one crossover after another, and the stakes are so high and ridiculous that it’s all noise.
2010 was also a time when I was thinking a lot about digital comics. The iPad was new and digital comics were set to explode in popularity — or were they? If the market for them capped out at 10%, then I guess it was only a slight boom.
Today, we sit at the far end of that boom and bust, too. ComiXology jumpstarted everything when Longbox failed to materialize, and now ComiXology is on the precipice of its own doom, and we’re soon to be left with separate subscription models from DC and Marvel. That could be a whole article on its own, but it’s very disappointing.
I think I’m more detached from comics than ever now. I am far from giving up on them, though. I just haven’t had enough time in front of the computer to get serious writing done. I’ve also had less time to read comics. Izneo and Comixology blowing up together made things slightly more difficult, as well.
But I still love comics and still plan on being a small part of them. I also have one or two things I’m working slowly on that I’m very excited to get finished and published. So please stay tuned!
Day after day, year after year, decade after decade, I keep being dumbfounded when I see DC, which has the best characters in comics bar none, constantly fumble when it comes to figuring out what to do with them, or even just to market them properly. For a long time it was just comics, now it’s TV and cinema. It would be hilarious if it weren’t tragic, considering that so many longtime readers, myself included, developed an attachment, a fondness for these characters, back when they were good fun, in the Silver and Bronze Ages.
This WW redesign coincides with the Adrianne Palicki pilot, so even though I’d mostly stopped reading DC for a while at that time, I was aware of the New 52 reboot and the brouhaha in mainstream press (also thanks to Fox News, as ridiculed by the Daily Show, also back when it was good).
Now let’s be serious for a minute. Has Jim Lee ever been a good designer, or even a solid artist for that matter ? My heart says no. At the same time this came out, he also redesigned Superman, gone were the briefs, as well as Darkseid and a bunch of others, for the worst.
In my book, Jim Lee was the weakest artist of the Image founders on the basics, barely above Jim Valentino, but for some reason that I can’t fathom, that generation of readers fell head over heels for his scratchy style and his approximative anatomy. I’ll probably never get it, that and boy bands.
Clearly, he made his way in the corporate world, good for him, and for me the benefit of not drawing as much was outweighed by all he clones who imitated his “style”, emphasising most of his shortcomings artwise.
I follow you pretty much about the way you analyze the three stages, but the first one, the teenage wonderment, starry-eyed, ability to be enlightened by some vintage book or a newly discovered creator, on occasion, is still in me when I go to Angoulême like I did again this year and I go through the aisles of some publishers and bookstores. On certain aspects, I can be jaded today, but on others I’m once again this 11-year old kid who held my first issue of french mag STRANGE in the summer of ’77 that had Kirby’s Eternals, Colan’s Daredevil, Starlin’s Captain Marvel and Romita’s Spider-Man in that very issue. that day literally changed my life. It was a pretty big year as Star Wars came out in cinemas, my grandmother fell asleep, I didn’t.
A new world opened to me and I still feel the same sometimes. Apart from the knees, I am.
Yes, Jim Lee X-Men was awesome. There, I said it. In retrospect, most things after that wind up being echoes of that work. Lee is capable is so much more, but he’s trapped in drawing in that popular style. He can’t play around too much. And now he’s just too busy being a corporate executive to draw comics anymore. It’s a shame.
There was a debate going on recently that I think started on YouTube before I saw is spread to Facebook — rank the Image founding fathers. I’m not going to do it. I liked them all for different reasons at the time.
As for the stages — yeah, there are still moments of that early stage fandom. I get it when I discover a new European artist or series. We all crave those moments, which I think is why we persist. =)
I’m not afraid to do my own ranking of the image founders, At the top for me Erik Larsen, best work ethics and consistency, he’ll beat Dave Sime for single volume of workover time, next up Portacio and Silvestri for most accomplished artists, then Liefeld for unparalleled grit, and finally Lee and Valentino who both sold out to corporate in different ways.
Gosh my spelling is awful today. Sorry.