I’ll try to be brief, I know I only have your attention for so long, but I’ve noticed something and it’s been bugging me. Comic readers have short attention spans. I know many would claim this is a problem endemic to society at large, but I don’t have a podium for those folks, I can only talk to you. So what exactly am I talking about?
It seems that every month there are a half dozen or so controversies in comics. We can all accept that in the grand scheme of things these issues are minor problems but comics are the wagon we’ve hitched our nerd horses to, so we care about them and when problems crop up we take interest. But when was the last time you felt a sense of resolution? As comic fans, resolution is nigh anathema to our whole reason for being here. We want the story to continue. An ending is usually the result of low sales, a move to a more lucrative project, or even just us as fans calling it quits at the end of a particular arc. There is the odd exception, and of course the Vertigo line in general, but amongst the cape-and-cowl adventures we always expect to get another yarn out of each and every character.
And I think this story-arc structure is part of what’s fueling the attention deficit in comics these days. An average story takes around 6 months to complete with 20 pages per segment. That’s 120 pages total over the course of half a year. For most books this amounts to barely an hour of reading, less than the average crummy action movie. So the expectation is that after 10 minutes and/or 20 pages, our attention is shot and we can wait until next month. I know some of you will disagree vehemently in the comments, but you can’t deny that it is this expectation that has and will continue to be the backbone of the industry. “A snippet of the story is enough, they’ll be back.”
And they’re right, we will be back. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve picked up, mid-story mind you, and never read, only to drop them the next month because I realized I hadn’t read an issue I already had. But it’s not just about the books; it’s also about the nerd rage. I see nerd rage every day. Mostly in comment sections and Twitter. I avoid it as much as possible because it’s exhausting and representative of the entire issue at hand in this column. A month ago a character was acting skanky and not wearing enough clothing. This was deemed a monumental problem facing all of comics, yet what has been done? Have the fans revolted? Maybe a few. Was there are populist uprising against the books, creators, or publisher? Nope. And are people still buying the book? They sure are. Perhaps the people who were truly disgusted just stopped reading, and good for them, but those that advocated a change in the fabric of comics really dropped the ball.
And I’m not just attacking this one issue. Nerds get enraged over every little change they disagree with. It’s like an established part of the culture now. Something new happens; nerds cry foul, earth continues to spin. The publishers seem to know that deep down we all want more of the same graphic comfort food, and we’re not doing much to prove them wrong. Change only comes with a bit of tenacity, which isn’t the milieu of the focus challenged group.
The great irony is that this isn’t how the heroes in our comics behave. Batman never wavers in his mission, Reed Richards never loses focus, and Superman, for all his super senses, never gets distracted. Why not take a page from our supposed heroes? But at the same time, our very method of heroic consumption bellies our inattentive nature. Do you sit and reflect on the happenings of Daredevil after finishing and issue? Or do you immediately snatch the next floppy off the stack to find out what the Flash is up to this week?
So maybe if you’re upset about something, be upset long enough to do something. And if you’re reading a story, try to give it some time to breathe; if it really can’t hold your interest then it’s probably not a very good book. Don’t be afraid to step away from the media torrent you’ve created for yourself amidst your stack, various queues, Tivo ad infitum. Go outside and just be for a moment. At least until you get bored. Good gravy, do I hate being bored. That’s why I always have a podcast ready when I leave the house.
I guess what I’m really trying to say is simply— What’s that? Sorry, I saw a really cool bird outside my window. Be right back…