ROD, TOD, AND HOMER THEORY OF FANDOM
or, a plea that you do better.
Some of you may remember a couple of scenes from THE SIMPSONS. In one, Lisa is babysitting the neighbors’ children, Rod and Tod. The younger boy asks her for a bedtime story, and before she can think of one, he continues, “…about TWO ROBOTS! Named ROD AND TOD!!!” So, Lisa begins to tell this story, making it up as she tells it. “Once upon a time there were two robots,” and the boy is pleased, “Named Rod and Tod…” and the boy smiles, “And one of the robots was just a little bit older than the other one…” and the boy shudders and hides under his covers, wailing, “I don’t like this story!”
In the second, Homer is at a fair where Lynrd Skynrd is playing. They announce that they’d like to play some new material that they’re happy with, but Homer is in the audience bellowing, “PLAY FREEBIRD!!!!” Since he won’t stop, they sigh and start playing the song. Still not happy, Homer yells, “NO! PLAY THAT PART THAT GOES ‘DEERN-DRRUN-DRRINNNN’!!!”, leaving the unhappy musicians forced to play three notes over and over again, at which point a satisfied Homer pulls out his lighter and begins swaying happily.
Both of the above illustrate a perceptual flaw in comics fandom and how they set their expectations; the demand that comics companies produce the exact stories the readers already expect. Any deviation from what the reader wants is treated as an atrocity from the start.
By “fandom”, I mean a great many of you; you readers that post on message boards and blogs, who write letters to the companies, who stand around and often work at comics shops and talk about what’s going on, or who go on at great length to anyone who will listen. I have heard it in every forum. So many of these “readers” don’t understand what comics are.
Comics are a form of literature, and a very special form at that, because unlike most mediums, these are stories can continue and develop for generations. The stories about a given hero can be looked at in different eras and enjoyed on many levels, for the stories themselves, for the different styles of art, the varying qualities of production, of dialogue, or how the stories reflect, or deny, the times in which they are produced. All of this is fascinating, and what it means is that comics have more potential than most other storytelling mediums.
Really. As derided and overlooked as comics are, they actually have the potential to bring stories to more vivid life movies than can, or then most novelists can, or than TV can.
This is because comics have all the time in the world to tell their stories, and because they are a collaborative effort, which invite input from many creative minds.
Literature is an art. It is the dramatization of vital themes, and reflections on the nature of life. There may be those who feel that comics shouldn’t be taken as seriously as other forms of lit, but I throw that right back in your faces. Comics that are not literate are not worth a fraction of the paper they are printed on.
So, onto fans, and the issue I take with them. Comics draw a wide and varied base of fans. It is the nature of comics fans to imagine that they become experts on the subject pretty quickly, but many of these fans do not have more than basic reading skills, and no ability to recognize the presence or absence of literary themes or even devices. Even so, they blare their angry criticisms and denunciations at full volume. Most fans have no idea what is involved in writing, or editing, or drawing a comics story, but are more than eager to mouth off that a given writer or artist “sucks”, or that a story “sucked”, or that a whole company is no good, or that an editor-in-chief doesn’t know his job.
The reality is, no, that writer does not “suck”, and that artist does not “suck”. You, the griping fan, may not have been turned on or titillated in the exact way you wanted to be by their story or art, but that is a matter of taste, and more often than not, it is matter of what expectations you had to begin with, expectations which may or may not have grasped a story’s actual possibilities, and which the writer had no way of knowing in advance.
Which is good, because if stories are written to meet an audience’s expectations, they are pointless. That kind of readership may as well just read whatever past chapters they liked over and over again, like Homer and his favorite three notes, instead of demanding that they be repeated in the place of new product. They may as well stop reading new things, and just close their eyes, and imagine their own Rod and Tod Robot stories. Or write their own, which will just be repetitions of other writers work.
You might be this kind of fan, because it’s not a rare breed. Here on the Comicboards, you can go to any page and find reams and reams of this kind of correspondence, this kind of obnoxious, insulting diatribes. I have read posts that say that Brian Michael Bendis is a bad writer, or that Mark Millar is a bad writer, or J. M. Straczynski, or Chuck Austen, or that Joe Quesada is a bad editor-in-chief (that one is hilarious; what do ANY of these goofballs know about being an editor-in-chief??). I have read posts that claim that Alan Moore writes “unimaginative crap”, and posts that claim that this is the worst era ever for Marvel comics, or for comics in general. Obviously, NONE of these people know what they are talking about. They aren’t well versed in even very recent comics history. They do not know what is involved in writing a story, or about visual storytelling, or writing dialogue. All they know is that if their immediate expectations are not met exactly, then the writer must be bad, the artist must be bad, the editor must be an idiot, the book must “suck”, and so on.
And below, just in time to provide an example, we have another genius, Halo82, with his “A post CW Marvel and the SHRA is still a flaming pile of crap and Tony is an idiot” post. Well, no, “Tony” is not an idiot, he is a character. More importantly, within the context of Civil War, he is a literary comment on the nature of commitment. Do you commit to something for only as long as all your friends agree with you? Do you stick it out even to the point of doing things you don’t want to do, because you believe that your goal is necessary? How close does this come to “the ends justify the means”?
This is good, thought provoking stuff. All the fanboy hatred for the Iron Man character over the past year, and I haven’t read more than one or two posts that acknowledge this, and that this is the major (not the only) point of the whole story. These are readers who do not recognize what they read.
The truth is, these are very exciting days for comics. I have been reading regularly since 1984, and I have seen many eras and styles come and go. What we are seeing in mainstream comics today is a whole new level of development. We saw something like this in the late 80’s at DC pre and post Crisis, and before that you have to go all the way back to Marvel’s Silver Age for this kind of innovation. Well trained and educated, high quality writers are being given a lot of freedom to work, and the result is that comics stories are being pushed into new directions. This is all for the better.
So, my call to fandom is this: be a little self-aware. A very good friend of mine told me that the recent issue of Waid and Perez's BRAVE AND BOLD “pissed him off” because it was too wordy. This same guy hated the DARK KNIGHT RETURNS (the art “sucked”, he prefers Michael Turner) and Frank Miller’s work on DAREDEVIL for big “too wordy” and couldn’t get through WATCHMEN. See what he missed out on? If something is “too wordy’ it’s not because Frank Miller “sucks”. You need to step up your reading game. While most fans are not quite THAT handicapped, most DO need to step up their game to a large degree.
Set aside your weird hatreds and jealousies, set aside your preconceived notions and unreasonable expectations. You are not professional writers, or artists, or editors, and should not be judging and denouncing those who are as if you could do what they do. Drop the words "suck" and "crap" from your vocabulary. True, a story may not be exactly what you want it to be. I tell you this: If you look at a story for WHAT IT IS, rather than for what it is NOT, you will find a lot more enjoyment and surprise in what you read. You will stop missing out on good work.