“It’s Just Comics”

You know, I really didn’t think I had an article in me this week. I had planned on doing a “catch up with modern comics” kind of piece, where I went through my weighty stack of actual, physical, printed comics, and do my best to jump back into the conversation, especially since one of the titles I reading, one that I was just ready to pounce all over and tear it apart, was chosen as last week’s Pick of the Week, but for a variety of excellent reasons, I never got the chance to read anything.  And so, I woke up this morning and thought, “well, maybe something will come up.”

Something did come up, of course. I found out Joe Kubert died.

Now, I am not going to pretend like I am a huge Joe Kubert fan. I honestly just came to appreciate him over the past decade or so, and though I know that he is incredibly influential, I never read of any of his books until relatively recently. I always thought his work was really powerful, but I did not realize his incredible skill until Wednesday Comics came out. Now his work on those pages may or may not be particularly amazing, but I was shocked at how much he could do with so very little. With just a few lines and the most rudimentary of layouts, he could just tell a fantastic story.  For someone who always equated “good art” with detailed pencils and imaginative pages, it really turned everything I knew about comics upside down, and his art helped me appreciate work I may never have appreciated before, including Jeff Lemire, and other artists whose work I would have pegged as “simplistic.” Now, every time I see Joe Kubert’s name on a book, I grab it, without hesitation.

When word of Kubert’s passing hit the web, I found myself not really able to say anything, as I didn’t feel like I really had the right to comment on this sad event. While I really liked his work and understood, at least on an intellectual level, his contribution to comics, I was not an authority on the man and just felt like reading other people’s reflections on his life and work. I felt sorrow for the family he left behind, but hoped, in my heart, that the general feeling was that he lived a wonderful life, touched a generation of readers and inspired a multitude of artists to follow their dream. It would be a quiet way of honoring a man whom I admired, if from a distance, and I assumed would inspire me to pick up a bunch of his work and perhaps write about him a few months from now.

But, of course, something else happened. Something that reminded me, sadly, of the peevish vitriol that surround the late Michael Turner’s death in 2008, where people would say something about his passing but making sure to add some snarky comment about their opinion of his work. Turner was, by all accounts, an incredibly nice guy and was a definitive creative voice and, in my naivety, I wrote an article expressing frustration at how people were remembering him.

The situation with Joe Kubert was much more localized (a single article) but so jaw-droppingly abhorrent that I will not share the name of the writer who wrote the piece, which is, somehow, still up. There is an an apology by the author, an apology that you have to click through to find, but that apology only came about after the appropriate thrashing of the piece, which, let’s face it, should have been taken down and replaced by said apology. Even if one supposes that the piece should still be up, it should open with the apology — but it is still up and that’s why I find myself having to write this article. For those of you who haven’t had the particular misfortune to read the piece (and the tortured apology), suffice to say, the author makes an incredibly insensitive and absolutely unforgivably evil comparison to Joe Kubert’s death, one that could only have possibly been worse if he had accused Joe of basically being a murderer. Seriously. All because Kubert contributed to the Before Watchmen series.

Now, I can hear some of you sighing, “Oh, that’s just the Internet for you,” or, worse, “well, that’s just comics, there are always going to people like in comics.” And you know what, what’s truly awful? I totally understand that sentiment.

Why is it that comic book fans have one of the worst possible reputations in all of fandom? Why is that? Why is “the comic book guy” both awful and absolutely spot-on? What is it about comics that fills many a comic book fan with such destructive self-righteous indignation and vitriol when it comes to this medium that they supposedly love so much? Why do comic book fans take this stuff so damn seriously? I mean, I have been around some serious nerds, people. I have been to my share of Star Trek conventions. I’ve played Dungeons and Dragons at gaming conventions with guys whose BO was so bad it literally brought tears to your eyes. I’ve waited in line for Star Wars for 8 hours and argued why Macs are better than PCs basically all of my life.

But never, in all my years, which are numerous but not so numerous enough that I don’t get upset about this kind of bullshit from time to time, have I met fans that have had such blatant hatred for other fans and creators of the same freaking medium that they have spent their lives obsessing over.

What is the problem with comics? I say that sarcastically, of course, because, on the surface, this has nothing to do with comics — it’s some kind of weird personality thing, where an earnest appreciation turns itself inside out into something legitimately sinister. But maybe…maybe it actually does have something to do with actual comic books. Indulge me for a second:

Comics are, after all, comic books, and like all books, once in one’s possession, are completely useable — as long as there is a light source — at any time. You don’t need to be around other people, you can read them over and over and over and over again, you can read them in bed, you can read them in school, you can read them on the bus, you can bring them with you wherever you go. And for many of us who discovered them as kids, comics are crack hits of an idealized fantasy, where, literally, the shy dork is actually a superhero and, on a regular basis, saves the day. (By the way I totally get this, I was more shy than you and a bigger dork than you were (or are), I absolutely guarantee it — no one out-dorked me as a kid, I totally sucked at everything even remotely cool, was stratospherically unapproachable to the opposite sex, and just verbal enough to play D&D every Friday night.)

And this fantasy, for many folks, is where it all just clicked. And the stories and the art and the format itself, became the one thing that would always be there, as long as you had a flashlight at night by which to read to return to stories under the covers. For many of us, comics were home, and as such, we have a strong emotional connection to everything that touches comics.

I remember when Watchmen was published in mid-80s. Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns came out, and quite literally, comics haven’t been the same since. But they were just overpriced books on thicker paper back in the day! I remember flipping through Watchmen being bored instantly and grabbing Daredevil because the Dark Knight books were too expensive and the covers were weird. I was obviously a kid and I liked what I liked and I had no money.

Let’s be clear: no one freakin’ grew up with Watchmen.  No one had Watchmen sheets and Watchmen lunch boxes and, until the movie came out, no one wanted to dress up like anyone from that book for Halloween. So, it is with some degree of honest — truly honest — surprise, for me, that people are being so freaky about the new Before Watchmen series; yes, I understand why people are up at arms, I get the debate about creator rights — but regardless, the books are out and I’m reading them, I like them, I think they are great, and they don’t diminish Watchmen for me at all, which, by the way – shocker! – I don’t really think is all that great in the first place, so what do I know, right? But I do know that there are literally thousands of books that I don’t find interesting so I don’t read them.  And I certainly would never trash the legacy of a legendary creator and, by the way, a dead man who cannot defend himself for the apparent crime of working on one of those books (with his son!) that I didn’t deem worth of reading anyway.

This is not “just comics.” It cannot be “just comics.” People whose views bring only senseless vitriol and anger into comic book discourse are not comics. They are a poison and do nothing to help this art form, which, by the way, needs all the help it can get.  (Speaking of which, whomever at DC who approved mentioning Kubert’s Before Watchmen work in their brief condolences to Kubert’s family and fans made a huge mistake there as well — it came across as amateurish and desperate and definitely inappropriate, but for obviously different reasons.)

Here is what “comics” is to me: Comics is a community of some of the best artists and writers in the world, whose work inspires millions of people, whose artistry is proof that there is good in this world. Comics is being able to follow artists like Becky Cloonan and Ben Templesmith and Fabio Moon and Ryan Kelly on Instragram and be treated to their sketches and paintings, just because they feel like sharing their work with us. Comics is being able to tell superstars of the industry, like Darwyn Cooke, Frank Quitely and Grant Morrison, that you really appreciate their work and they touched your life and make it better to their faces and get an earnest handshake, a smile and bit of honest conversation in return. Comics is the ability to complain about comics because you love comics and that, just like a relationship with someone you love, you are not always going to get along. But the love is still there. Comics is about the ability to take legends and make them new again, they are about being able celebrate the past while embracing the present. To me, the notion of comics means perseverance, a commitment to a creative endeavor that will almost certainly never result in financial gain, but people do it anyway because they love the medium and are happy to be part of the story. Comics is being able to go to conventions and parties and websites and twitter and celebrate the work of people whose work has helped comics make the world a little bit better.

Joe Kubert was one of those people.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

 


Mike Romo lives in Los Angeles.

Comments

  1. karatechop16 karatechop16 says:

    Nailed it. Excellent article.

  2. ctrosejr ctrosejr says:

    Great article, Mike. I agree completely. Thank you.

  3. Well done, Romo. Some people are malcontents and forget that comics are entertainment.

  4. JokersNuts JokersNuts says:

    Great article, I haven’t seen the post in question but it sounds like it was / is pretty tacky.
    I think in your anger, you might sound a bit dismissive of Watchmen’s legacy and effect on people, and not just on Wendesday Warriors like myself.
    “no one wanted to dress up like anyone from that book for Halloween” this just isn’t true, i’ve seen plently of clever Walter Kovac’s costumes at halloween parties prior the release of the movie, Dr. Manhatten as well.

  5. It’s not comics; its anything today.

    The internet is a place where every voice has the same weight. The egalitarian nature of it means that we are exposed to more and more different perspectives. A Google search of “Joe Kubert” gets you Comixology, IMDB, piracy sites and obituaries. The need for eyeballs on content means the articles have to deliver sensationalism.

    As these sensational opinions become widely read, other writers and voices have to be even more outrageous to generate attention. Its a horrible feedback loop where the entire context of anything is just totally lost. Add in total anonymity and removal from actual physical contact and you have a recipe for some horrible things being done online.

    • daningotham daningotham says:

      I totally agree. It’s not comics at all, it’s anything online. If you go to a chat room or forum about ANY topic online you will see people slinging mud at one another. Whether it be sports, politics, or yes even comics. I have been around the comic community and comic fans for, probably about 25 years, and they are the most fun people I have ever known. And the majority are good people. When people are faceless they can say pretty much say anything they want and get away with it. Those same people wouldn’t say it to your face. I just try and filter through the bad stuff and read the stuff that is worth reading.

    • BCDX97 BCDX97 says:

      I was gonna say the same thing – I don’t think comics fans should think of themselves as especially rotten when the bile is spewed all over the internet. We just have to be better than this, not as comic book fans, but as people.

  6. @Mike: That article you mentioned sounds awful. I’d be interested to read it though just to give context to the article. What I was most appalled by was DC’s shameful promotion of Before Watchmen using Kubert’s death on their Facebook page.

  7. Kipper2099 Kipper2099 says:

    I’m still very new to the comic world since September 2011 when the New 52 started so i’m still learning about comics, but I don’t see the problem the Before Watchmen series. Are people just upset that the series should have been left alone? If that is the case people need to really grow up and be a little bit more mature.

    • jasonhart jasonhart says:

      Really briefly: Yes, that was half of it. The other half was that the writer, Alan Moore, never regained rights to the material (through a contractual loophole/anomaly) and very much did not want these series made. A lot of people feel his wishes should’ve been honored, and that’s probably the larger issue in that debate.

    • Lemurion says:

      It wasn’t so much a loophole or anomaly as an unforeseen circumstance. No one expected that Watchmen would remain in print as long as it has, and so the rights transfer clause was keyed to that rather than a set time. Personally, I think that while it’s understandable that people would wish to honor Alan Moore’s wishes, there isn’t really a major ethical issue involved.

      What’s more important is that it all pales in comparison to Joe Kubert’s legacy.

  8. JimmyD JimmyD says:

    Well said, sir. As calloused as we have grown to internet vitriol, the post you reference was absolutely infuriating.

  9. LeviHunt15 LeviHunt15 says:

    Great article. The comic book fans internet wide, even on this site are out of hand. It’s something I’ve been trying to harp in some of the weekly reviews recently. It’s fine to not like how someone writes or draws, or to like a particular story, but please remember these are human beings you’re talking about. And to say their work is a steaming pile, or that they’re sellouts/idiots/completely without integrity is totally crossing the line. I feel like a middle school teacher, “remember we’re only looking for constructive criticism here.”

  10. Gabby Douglas just won the gold medal in gymnastics and there’s jerk-offs who are fixating on her hair. WTF does hair have to do with her accomplishments?

    So, no this kind of petty envy and vitriol and hate is not just limited to the world of comics. And its all dependent on the internet. Was this kind of content available in the 80′s? For the most part: No. Don’t get me wrong, scumbags have existed since the beginning of time and their words right along with them, its just that the internet provides a safe and easy access outlet for this type of speech.

  11. koryrosh koryrosh says:

    That was a beautiful sentiment at the end about what comics are. I’m adding it to my favorite quotes on fb (and providing the appropriate citation!)

  12. AceBathound AceBathound says:

    It seems the author of the post you referenced, Mike, has removed the analogy between Mr. Kubert and Joe Paterno. Granted he still calls him a scab, and the “apology” is still at the bottom of the article. What a douche.

  13. Part of me KINDA wants this guy to get his page views, since it’s obvious that page views are all he cares about in life. All of this, including his “apology”, was planned from the start in order to ruffle feathers and become noticed. As Mike alluded to, the purpose of his “apology” is to draw MORE attention to his original horrific article. It’s Trolling 101. I want him to get his page views so he can be happy now so that in the future, he can look back on his life and reminisce on how meaningless chasing those page views were, and so he realizes how empty of a person he was.

  14. Zhurrie Zhurrie says:

    I used to argue this same point but I have since given up. Comic fans don’t actually care about the people, they care about their comic or their character. They may have favorite artists/writers but the instant a book gets delayed or runs late they are entirely content to drop the team and have someone else do the work rather than be so grievously inconvenienced as to have to wait for something.

    The musical teams the big two plays on books disgusts me and the fact that they are so willing to just exploit crop after crop of young talent that they can get to work on spec or for peanuts and then strong-arm because there is always another wave of fresh faces to fill their spots if they dare speak up or ask for more gruel. The fans don’t demand better either, they are mostly content to just get the next fix even if it is at best mediocre. Respect the creative *professionals* more than the corporations or the characters and things will change, or just keep this kind of crap up forever and let comics die the slow death they have been.

  15. ghostmann ghostmann says:

    I hate to give this dude any “hits” to his page but here the fucked up article that Mike is talking about.

    http://troublewithcomics.com/post/29340691163/remembering-joe-kubert

    and dudes, if you delete this post I understand.

  16. icn1983 icn1983 says:

    I understand your frustration. Completely out of line, especially the comparison between Paterno and Kubert, even it was withdrawn. Gross.

  17. great article mike, thanks for writing it. I really agree with a lot of your take aways and have often asked the same questions. I think comics is a unique field in that so many…maybe even an overwhelming majority of its customers think they not only can but should be the ones creating these books. In a lot of ways its like sports fans who go on the message boards and talk about how they should be the GM, owner or coach because they just think they understand what should be done more than the real pros.

    Perhaps its because the creators and publishers are so accessible? We chat and tweet with them and they kind of become “one of us” which might open the doors to the “i can do it better” mentality? That’s my personal theory. There is a certain value to creating art behind a shroud of mystery.

    The misery of comics fans turns me off to talking about books especially recently. If i dare say that liked something, i don’t want to invite the attack or vice versa. Just a lot easier to read my books, smile and move on. All too often we forget this is supposed to be fun and being part of a community isn’t supposed to be about arguments.

  18. cromulent cromulent says:

    Whether its a comic book legend or a bus driver from Palookaville, talking shit about someone who can’t defend themselves is just plain scummy.Trouble with comics? More like trouble with humanity.

  19. theWAC1 theWAC1 says:

    Your article was excellent and true, and reminds me how sad the human condition has become now that we communicate facelessly so often hidden behind our computer screens. It is so easy to type words of unfounded criticism as a relief path for one’s own feelings of inadequacy. Give a ‘dork’ the chance to bully without repercussions and watch him shine. And as the avenues grow in number, we will only see it more. Bad comic reviews have their place, creators need a little kick in the rear to up their game from time to time, but the blatant disrespect for other people is ‘self righteous’ and is symptomatic of this current generation (thirty somethings) and is a stigma that comic fans as a community need to shake.

  20. djtrudeau says:

    One of the negative things the internet has done is to elevate the battle of “moral superiority” that drags any sort of conversation into the muck. How many times has a potentially interesting discussion about something been ruined by people who spend most of their energy on pushing their right-ness in your face? The internet, due to its ability to give anyone a wide platform, draws these people in like moths to a flame.

    I’m sorry I ever saw the article you’re referencing. Even with the Paterno references removed, it’s yet another self-righteous blogger using an occasion, in this case the death of a comic book great, to parade their moral superiority. It’s an empty, but immediately gratifying, way to make yourself better than others. And in the meantime, what has this person done? While he’s patting himself on the back for his righteous tirade, has anything been accomplished for creator rights? I doubt it because actually creating some good takes a lot more work than tearing down a professional who not only helped build the industry this person “loves” and, as a bonus, passed his knowledge to several generations following him. If someone is so morally appalled by Before Watchmen, then just deny them your money and attention. Those are the only things that count to the folks at DC anyway.

  21. Neb Neb says:

    Nice article Mike. I think you nailed some of my recent frustration right on the head. Somehow, some folks have lost sight of the fun we should be having with comics, movies, and other media. Even watching the Olympics, it was amazing to see people shitting on the athletes just to make a joke or a punchline.

    I’ve just started to ignore all of the “noise.” The beauty of the Internet is that I can choose what I consume, and if someone is being a douche, I don’t have to pay attention. The Internet may have given everyone a megaphone, but a mouse click shuts them up.

  22. flapjaxx flapjaxx says:

    Great article. I felt much the same way about Kubert (liked him but am not an authority on him) and about the reactions to his death.

    The politicization of everything annoys and disappoints me. Joe Kubert signed on to Before Watchmen, so now he is forever tainted? Even though I generally really didn’t like the idea of Before Watchmen, it didn’t affect my opinion of Joe Kubert much.

    It’s also been a disappointment to notice the… “double-think” (maybe?) negative reaction over DC’s initial press release which mentioned Kubert’s work on Before Watchmen. That prompted many anti-Before Watchmen pundits to lambaste DC in typical fashion… and they did it out of defense for a guy who… supported and signed on to do Before Watchmen. On the one hand, yes DC’s initial press release wasn’t the most tactful thing I’ve ever read, and I was happy to see it revised. But on the other hand, it seemed very apparent to me that the usual suspects of comics internet pundit/”outrage” land were really just using this as an excuse to hate on Before Watchmen again.

    It’s all so weird and disappointing. It reminds of politically-skewed people who instantly hate Clint Eastwood and anything/anyone connected to him, for example, once they find out that he holds some conservative views, even if those particular views aren’t very egregious. Yeah, Joe Kubert supported Before Watchmen. I didn’t and don’t. Does that mean Joe Kubert is instantly on my enemies list? Of course not. People are too obsessed with political issues and with being “right” all the time, only hanging out with or endorsing people whose political (and quasi-political) views are at least 99% in line with their own. What a boring worldview that must be.

    People who are generally known to be nice, creative, thoughtful and good should obviously be immune from demonization just because of one perceived “misstep”.

    Again, great article, Mike.

  23. JSAkid JSAkid says:

    Great article and exactly why this is my only source of comic news,articles and comment threads. My friend(whom I got into comix a cpl yrs ago and is literally obsessed) is always telling me about these arguments and negative things people say in other threads he reads via facebook or some other comic site and I told him why waste your time with those pessimists who have nothing better to do but try and bring others down and trash peoples hard work? F@#k them!!! The cynics and pessimists of the comic world are tiresome and give us all a bad rep, just read your comix and shut up,lol….I’m all for opinion but when a legendary artist like Joe Kubert passes with a legacy behind him, its not necessary to even mention Before Watchmen. To hate on him for a project that (and I love The Watchmen) doesn’t even take away from the original but add more to the canon is ridiculous. He had an opportunity to collaborate with one of his sons on a book they were probably both excited about so let em do they’re thing and especially don’t chastise him for it after he’s gone like the asshole who wrote the aforementioned article whom I refuse to read cause that kind of thing only irritates me and I look to comix for escapism, why would I want to tarnish that? Can O’ worms Mike but great article and one that needs to be read and said by more.

  24. mickmac59 mickmac59 says:

    Beautifully said Mike, & I couldn’t agree more. I made the mistake of reading the offending post & even though I wouldn’t describe myself as a Kubert “devotee”, I felt physically ill. It’s hard to even feel sorry for the fool who wrote it.

  25. cutty cutty says:

    Isn’t there another side of this of internet message boarders getting outraged and self-righteous about everything? Same thing seemed to happen on the Black Kiss POW podcast with Josh’s comment.

  26. It’s amazing hat I can’t stand most fans of h hings I love the most. There is. Frightening similarity between fans of comic books and fans of opera. People just complain and bitch and talk about how much better things were back in th day. I never understand why people constantly trash something they love. And ont even get me started on pro wrestling fans…..

    • KenOchalek KenOchalek says:

      That’s an interesting point about opera. Outside of the popularity of the superhero movies, I think there might be a strong argument that comics and opera have similar levels of popularity and exposure to the general public (at least in the US).

      I wonder if there’s any similarities in the way the audience for opera has contracted (I presume it was more popular in the past) and the way the comic book audience has contracted.

  27. zattaric zattaric says:

    Well written article. Thank you.

  28. Sensei44 Sensei44 says:

    Wonderful. I love this article. 100% true.

  29. batman3785 says:

    Yea I LOVE comic books but I don’t even talk to other comic fans hardly at all because all they do is hate on EVERYTHING. They make me feel “dumb” for liking a book like A vs. X. It’s really annoying but I’m a baller so I just tell em to sssshhhhhh

  30. cromulent cromulent says:

    I don’t even understand why being attached to Before Watchmen is being tainted. Most of them are decent to pretty good, at least in my opinion.

  31. Tribonk says:

    Thank you. Reading your article got me thinking as to why I have been staying away from comic websites for the past few months. I couldn’t put a finger on it, and then it hit me. I am tired of reading trash talk about creators and or publishers, and the choices they make to put food on their table.