I have been married for oh, let’s say seven years, and my wife has never, ever asked me, “What are you reading?”
All around the house, books and periodicals are stacked high. I come home late on Wednesdays with a paper bag full of more of them, even as the paper bags from previous weeks pile and become makeshift furniture in the living room, going from tall stacks on the coffee table to sort of wobbly paper endtables on the floor. The sitcom cliché dictates that the Ol’ Lady is supposed to be incensed by the way I’ve turned her den into a garage sale/fire hazard, but it never comes up. Tolerance rules the day. It’s like I have an imaginary friend, Harvey, the invisible hobby only I can see. In fact, my wife gets way more annoyed by the virtual clutter I leave on the DVR: “Are you ever watching all these Daily Shows? The hard drive’s down to 14%. It is a disaster in here.”
There was a time when I took this sort of thing as a personal affront and would try to provoke a conversation by, like, leaving Black Kiss 2 open on the kitchen counter. It never made any difference, and soon I was glad. The more time you spend living in a house full of other people, the more having your own thing all to yourself becomes a precious, cherished gift from the merciful Skyfather. It’s not that my wife doesn’t care; she just takes it all as a part of the Complete Jim Package and already has plenty of interests of her own.
Obviously, I’m not a great evangelist. I’ve made halfhearted attempts over the years; I think we’ve all had that Christmas where we decide to buy graphic novels for everyone on our list, despite the fact that most of them rarely read books, or magazines, or food labels, or road signs. Some of the gifts are hits, but you see enough of the “Ohhh…. that’s… great! Thank you so much for obligating me to keep this somewhere in my house!” face to realize you may have just done a sad thing.
In my old age, my approach to comics evangelism has consisted of two steps:
- Read comics as if that is a typical, humdrum thing to do. Don’t call attention to it. Don’t declare a national day for doing it. You’re reading for pleasure; you don’t need a Pride Fest. Shouting “What I’m doing is not weird, and I don’t care who sees me doing it!” does not help your case.
- Be a normal, non-creepy human being with more than one interest.
Because of my upbringing, I tend to think of this as the Catholic school of comics evangelism. You don’t go around pressing your book into people’s hands; you just set a good enough example to make the people around you think, “Maybe there’s something to reading She-Hulk, that cover notwithstanding.”
Part of getting new people into comics has traditionally been a quest for validation on some level, as if convincing cool people that comics were cool would prove we weren’t insane. Part of it has been the universal desire to share the things we love with the people we love and involve them in a part of our world that is important to us. That drive to have things in common is what brought most of us to this site.
Of course, part of it was also a kind of street-team boosterism of self-interest: “We gotta get more people reading these things, or they’re gonna stop making them and I won’t get my fix anymore.” I have done the math on that premise, and the formula goes something like “(Disney purchase + Avengers box office) ÷ Walking Dead ratings = I am not worrying about this anymore.”
That’s not to say I wouldn’t welcome new readers. Quite the contrary. I’d love to hear people talking casually about Scott Pilgrim or the speed force out in the wild somewhere other than The Big Effing Bang Theory (a show my wife loves, by the way). I don’t want to discourage anyone, and believe me, plenty of people who do are out there. The weird thing is, despite all the mail we get asking, “How do I get my _____ into comics?” I often get the sense that there are a lot of people in this hobby of ours who don’t want to let anyone else into the clubhouse, especially girls.
I’ve been reading a lot lately about trolling and misogyny (and if you spend time on sites like this one, you probably have too) and so much of it seems to stem from nothing more than men relentlessly attacking women for the crime of coming into “their thing.” It’s not just comics, either; I mean, geezum crow, have you seen what the gamers are up to these days?
Trolls are a pet fascination of mine, and the more I read about them the more I realize that the iFanbase has spoiled me. There are people actively making their communities hostile places to scare people away and keep them out (and apparently spending a fair chunk of time doing it, by the way; hell, I barely have time to read the books, much less circle the wagons around them and shout). Meanwhile, over here, we can’t go a week without someone asking us for help hatching a plan to get his girlfriend into our little group. That’s a group I’m proud to be in, even if the best advice I have is “don’t get her an Omnibus for Christmas.”
Jim Mroczkowski has converted two people in the last ten years, but one of them was a little kid and the other was the Elusive Female New Reader, so those are worth, like, triple points.