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Why Comic Book Men is Bad for Business

When I heard that a roundtable-style show about comic books would soon follow up AMC's hit series, The Walking Dead, I was ecstatic. Finally, a television show about the comic book industry. What a great way to introduce readers to new books! Oh, how wrong I was.

First, Let me give you some brief context. I've been a comic book nerd since my early teens. Now in my thirties, I've enjoyed comics for half of my life. My original reading comprised of comics from the two main publishers, dubbed "The Big Two," DC Comics and Marvel Comics. Being a big fan of The Man of Steel, my collecting started with The Death of Superman. Since then, I've expanded my tastes greatly. I don't get the same pleasure from reading the same monthly adventures of the most well-known costumed crusaders. Once in awhile, I'll discover some great story arcs by a great creative team, but overall, I'd grown tired of the same stories being told over and over. Changes in continuity and big events drove me away. My tastes expanded beyond The Big Two. Today, I enjoy a plethora of different titles from a variety of publishers: Chew, Elephantmen, Kabuki, The Unwritten, DMZ, Essex County, Criminal, Queen & Country, Mouse Guard, Asterios Polyp; the list goes on. Friends have come to me with recommendations. Just recently, an old friend asked me for suggestions for kid-friendly comics for her son. There's so many undeniably great comics out there that I strive to turn new readers to those books.

But then the new AMC series, Comic Book Men completely destroys any and all hopes I had of people taking my favourite storytelling medium seriously.

Honestly, I should have been apprehensive from the beginning. Film maker Kevin Smith, known for a range of movies (mostly comedy), is an outspoken proponent - like myself - for comic books. He's written a number of comic books, some of which were quite good (Daredevil: Guardian Angel, Green Arrow: Quiver), and some...not so good (Batman: The Widening Gyre, Spider-Man/Black Cat). Most times, his humour is, to say the least, juvenile. He writes for a certain audience and panders to them greatly. He has the ability and talent to be a great storyteller, but I firmly believe his audience pandering, along with openly-admitted lack of work ethic, holds him back. With Smith playing essentially the host - or at least most known spokesperson in the group - it immediately categorizes the show into a certain, juvenile expectation.

The manner in which Comic Book Men started told me everything I needed to know about the show. In Smith's store, The Secret Stash, its employees discuss the relationship between Batman and Robin. Akin to twelve-year-olds, they laughed at the mention of Robin's secret identity, Dick Grayson (emphasis on "Dick"). Following the opening credits, the very first discussion they have is...who is the hottest comic book female. Really, guys? The rest of the show is split into two parts. One includes immature, juvenile antics among the employees who are grown men - some of which is near-bullying, such as racist and homophobic taunting, especially towards Ming. The second half is bartering with customers who "conveniently" come in to sell rare nerd items. Sadly, the items they sell aren't even comic book related, but mostly movie paraphernalia.

This is where Comic Book Men fails greatly: rather than show that people in the business are mature, open-minded individuals who strive to bring respect to an otherwise looked-down-upon storytelling medium, we get typical Kevin Smith-style material. Almost everyone on the show comes across as immature man-children. Even Walt, who is perhaps the "best of the bunch" (and I use that term loosely) talks down to Ming just as much as his employees.

What bothers me most about this show is the failed opportunity. The Walking Dead is a huge hit. pulling in millions of viewers; many of whom likely have never read a comic before. Sales on the comic have sky-rocketed since the show debuted in October 2010. Yet, this show is taking all the clichés that the average person assumes about comic books and comic book shop employees and only cements their assumptions.

Why couldn't the show have been more about today's comics, not just some poor excuse of a pawn shop? Have Robert Kirkman come on the show, talk about his other books like Invincible. Why not have a discussion on horror comics in the industry, which could include talking about things like Locke & Key, Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing, Hack/Slash, or Beasts of Burden. Or how about discussing other books relating to survival like DMZ, other post-apocalyptic style books like Y: The Last Man?

Comic Book Men, rather than showing the exemplary work by comic book creators today, only personifies everything that I hate about the how most people view the comic book industry: chauvinistic, homophobic, childish gathering of collectors.

Comic Book Men? A more appropriate title would have been "Comic Book Children."


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 24th, 2012 07:59 pm (UTC)
Growth of comics
I couldn't agree more with you on comics as you get older. I first started my large amount of comic reading when the Civil War arc came out for marvel. And collected lots of series from that and after that from Marvel and DC. But over the past few years the stories, while still entertaining, have become repetitive and while I wouldn't say boring, I would say that a new twist needs to be thrown in. Which is when I started expanding into other series.
Dark Horse is a current big one for me, following on several TV shows since they have been canceled on the networks. Helped me fall in love all over again with Buffy. And some fantastic ideas and stories from Neil Gaiman's Sandman which an ex set me on the road for. Also Fables which re-invented the classic fairy tale stories with a mature twist.

I'm not sure if any of that matters, but I just wanted you to know yours article spoke to me, and since I do want to expend more beyond Marvel and DC, would you please recommend a half dozen comics that have truly spoken to you. Thanks, William. :)
Feb. 24th, 2012 08:41 pm (UTC)
Re: Growth of comics
Gladly, William. *cracks his knuckles* This is the sort of thing I live and breathe for, brother. One of these days, I'm going to post a list of ALL of my recommendations, which will span several genres, from kid-friendly to horror and sci-fi.

With all due respect, I've never understood the love for Civil War. For one, it's another event where they promise big changes where nothing will ever be the same again...at least until the creative teams change and everything goes back to status quo. I also don't like how they portrayed registration = evil, because honestly, like gun control, the IDEA is solid. Implementing it by treating superheroes like Jews or Natives? Not so solid. Not to mention the horrendous 180 character changes on Tony Stark and Reed Richard's behalf. Or Peter Parker thinking that people knowing his identity would make anybody he loves safer. Or the fact that the main story (Civil War #1-7) is very disjointed unless you read some (if not all) of the tie-ins.

*ahem* Sorry. I'll digress and step off my soapbox.

In the meantime...

1) If you dug Sandman and Fables, I absolutely recommend The Unwritten. I'm an English Literature graduate, so all the literary references make me drool. But there's a damn good story to it, too. Here's the basic premise: a writer creates a series of Harry Potter-like books. His son, Tom Taylor, shares the name of the title character. After writing one last book, the author disappears. But Tom Taylor becomes something of a pseudo-celebrity for the books, promoting movies, etc. That is...until someone investigates and uncovers that he might actually BE Tommy Taylor from the books, and that his father conjured him into this world.

2) If you like Buffy (the witty adventure fighting evil), then read Atomic Robo. That's all I'll say. You can thank me later.

3) Elephantmen is one of my favourite books these days. It's akin to science fiction pulp, with a lot of really brilliant ideas. Most of it is based around a race of characters, essentially mutant animals like the Ninja Turtles (all of African descent, though, like elephants, zebra, and crocodiles). Personally, I really enjoy it for its take on racism, equality, and fear of the other.

4) Chew is, hands down, the funniest, most original, and well-written comic on comic stands right now. The less I say about it, the better. Image has the first issue of it for free on their website or on Comixology. I THINK Elephantmen as well, but don't quote me on that.

5) DMZ is another one of my favourites. It's odd, because ordinarily, I'm bored to tears with political issues. Yet this book is really engrossing. Basic premise: the U.S. is in the middle of a major civil war. Manhattan is at the centre of this and become a de-militarized zone. And one lone news photographer is stuck in the middle of it all. Really compelling stuff.

How's that? *grin*
Feb. 25th, 2012 02:51 pm (UTC)
If you expected something serious from Kevin Smith, you give the guy too much credit. As a writer, thats one thing. As a person, he's really kind of a dick, to be honest.

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )