Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Comic Books: Not Just Kids' Stuff

I’m not easily offended, but when I came across one particular blurb titled “Comics and Combovers” on The New York TimesCity Room Blog, I couldn’t help but shake my shiny head in disgust. As many comic book fans know, New York Comic Con opens on February 6 and is the premier geek gathering outside of San Diego where the main event, Comic-Con International, opens in July. Of course, both events—and all comic book conventions—have grown beyond a sole focus on comic books to include programming to drum up awareness of new films, books, television series and video games.

However, whenever a comic book convention starts grabbing headlines, the geek culture—and I use the term affectionately—is approached with a disheartening ethnographic detachment, as it is in the City Room Blog piece. Posted by Alan Feuer, it reads, “The culture is strewn with examples of grown men in their 40s — some in their 50s — unabashedly proclaiming love for comic books, an obsession that hints at lingering boyhood hungers and ranks up there with coin collecting as something to be given up by age 13. Maybe the security of affluence has permitted men to remain adolescents at heart well after middle age has taken their bodies.” It then directs readers to New York Comic Con's website for ticket information so they can observe these sad, strange people in person.

What’s being said here perhaps isn’t all that bad. Comic books, since their inception, have always been viewed as a childish diversion. However, not only is the NY Times blogger ignoring the fact that the majority of comic book readers are adults these days—and not all of us are the basement-dwelling introverts that stereotypes would suggest—and that the subject matter of most books is geared toward a mature audience and has been since the mid-1980s or so. I would hardly call Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen or Neil Gaiman’s Sandman “adolescent” in nature. But what do I know? I have “lingering boyhood hungers.”

The New York Times Building is located just seconds away from Midtown Comics’ Times Square location. Perhaps staffers should plan a visit and get educated before marginalizing a legitimate art form.


Jenn D. said...

Here's what I had to say to Mr. Feuer:

"I’m offended by the stereotypes Mr. Feuer uses to describe comic book readers. As a female in her mid-20s who has ties to the comic book industry, I think Mr. Feuer hasn’t done his research. The percentage of books about our friendly neighborhood superheroes is diminishing as the medium expands to include stories of all genres. Horror, suspense, crime drama, comedy, romance, historical fiction, autobiography… all of these genres have substantial representation in comics, with nary a mention of capes or tights in an already large and growing number of books. The majority of comics today are not suitable for children, and are not marketed to them. I doubt a 13-year-old is equipped to understand the political commentary of Warren Ellis’s Transmetropolitan, or, well, anything else Warren Ellis has done.

While Neil Gaiman has written critically acclaimed children’s books, I would be hard pressed to find a child who could follow his graphic masterpiece “Sandman,” and I would pay to see anyone tell Mr. Gaiman to his face that Sandman is a work for children.

Even in the superhero genre, stories are becoming deep and rich and adult-oriented. I challenge you to read DC Comics’ Kingdom Come and try to tell anyone that Alex Ross’s painting isn’t art.

In a society where only about half the population admits to having read ANYTHING in the past year, Mr. Feuer would do well not to alienate a group of book-lovers whose numbers increase every year. Or didn’t he know that the comic industry had its biggest year ever this year?

Know your subjects, Mr. Feuer. The NY TImes building is within walking distance of a number of resources for industry research. DC Comics is a few blocks away. Marvel is nearby as well. Ask either company how many of their books are appropriate for children.

Ignorance is not becoming in a NY Times writer, Mr. Feuer."

It's not even the stereotype that ticks me off. How do you write for the NYTimes and not do industry research?

Anonymous said...

see the full post version of my comment at nerdinanutshell.wordpress.com