Avoiding the Negative Zone

images-2So each week I sit down in front of my computer and try to come up with something to say about comics. The goal is typically a thousand words. I’m usually doing this late on a Wednesday or a Thursday night, having allowed the process to get much too close to the deadlines I’ve set for myself. The clock ticks. I’m not going to say I thrive on the pressure of having to get things done at the last minute, but it’s the way I’ve always written and it’s perhaps too late to change that now. In any case, I sit down in front of my computer, having opened my mind earlier in the week to what I hope will be some sort of comic book muse, and attempt to say something. I ask myself a number of questions. What’s my angle? What happened this week in comics? How did comics affect my experience this week? What was great about comics? What bothered me about the industry? Most weeks I’m able to find that angle or topic, and I’m off to the races, sharing my thoughts and opinions in something close to those aforementioned thousand words. It’s a labor of love.

In general, I tend to enjoy waxing nostalgic about comics book history or deconstructing things that I think could be improved about the industry. Or I simply explore characters I’ve been re-acquainting myself with in recent weeks. For me, it’s part education and part exploration, as writing about comics is essentially an extension of my ever-growing fandom. But there’s more to it than just listing opinions for opinion’s sake or reminiscing about simpler times in comics. With this platform comes a certain responsibility, a certain desire to set an example of what it means to be a fan. It’s about opening a dialogue with fellow readers and the hope is that constructive chatter about comics will elevate the communal experience. We’ll all be better for it. That’s the idea.

15010449961Most of us fight the stereotypes foisted upon us as comic book fans, as there’s nothing worse than being labeled something you’re not. So I generally try to avoid the cliché rants that have become the mainstays of a world in which the idea of a comic book fan has been boiled down to something it really isn’t. I genuinely try…and sometimes I fail. Truthfully, I’m not getting any younger and there’s part of me that sometimes feels compelled to channel my inner crotchety old man and his opinions about the way things used to be or the way things should be. Positivity and passion for the medium seem like the best approaches when it comes to exploring this thing we call comics, but that’s not always easy. Truth be told, writing about what you don’t like about something is far easier than writing about what’s good about something. So very often the opinion compass has a tendency to gravitate toward the magnetic north of negativity and criticism. And sometimes it seems that the opinions or the conversations born from these opinions take precedence over the actual experience of simply reading comics.

406px-NegativeZone442Ultimately, comics are something I love, something I cherish and something that strikes an emotional chord with me most days of my life. Sure, there are times when our comics disappoint us or creators make choices that confuse, but ultimately it’s how we react to those moments that define us as fans. Nevertheless, there are those times that we fall into the trap of negativity and that desire to vent about comics for whatever reason. We complain that certain titles aren’t as good as they could be; we call out the very creators who are charged with the task of delivering great comics. We complain about subjective things and insist that opinions are facts. We dissect the minutiae, often forgetting the big picture, namely that comics are supposed to be fun. Fun, damn it! And we do it publicly because the Internet makes it easy. We do it because the social network we’re all a part of allows us the opportunity, for better or worse, to be heard.

As they say, opinions are like…well…everybody has one. And at times, the very nature of opinion-giving images-3and editorial pontificating tends to overshadow the comics, the stories, the characters and ultimately the simple joy of opening a comic and being transported to another place. Sure, I can spend a thousand words discussing the pros and cons of digital comics versus print comics. I can happily dive right into a discussion of why changing Thunderbolts to Dark Avengers was a bad idea. And yes, I can piss and moan a bit about the fact that my local comic shop isn’t living up to its potential. I’m entitled to that. But this sort of dialoguing, while admittedly the bread and butter of what we do, can also be a trap. With the social networking aspect of today’s comic collecting, it’s hard not to feel compelled to spew one’s opinions out to the world. It feels good when people share your opinion and it also feels good when something your write gives rise to a worthwhile discussion. Unfortunately, the discussion sometimes just ends up feeling like noise, a cacophony of “takes” that shrink an actual comic into near insignificance when all is said and done.

None of this is meant to imply that I’m changing the way I do business. It’s very likely that next week’s column will take on something I have an opinion about. I might even rant a bit. It’s my right as writer and comic fan to throw my two-cents into the mix and see what happens. It’s part of the fun, too. I get that. As long as I’m being authentic, then I’m cool with letting the chips fall where they may. But while the web invites us to “join the conversation” it can cause one to lose sight of the lure of comics in the first place. I can remember a time when it was just me and my comics (I’m waxing nostalgic here). I didn’t have a lot of comic collecting peers. I was alone with my books; just The Amazing Spider-Man and me. No noise. Just a comic and a reader. And that was okay.

605285This week I have no real opinions about the industry. All is right with the comic world from where I’m sitting at this particular moment. I took my kids to see Iron Man 3 this week. I read a few books on Wednesday, I recommended Scalped to a random dude asking about it in comic store. Comics are part of my life and I don’t need to get involved in a lengthy comment threads to see that. If this column prompts you to sit down and read a comic instead of getting mired in meandering discussions about creator choices and industry politics, then maybe I’ve done some version of my job. I’m all for going down the rabbit hole of discussion, but sometimes it’s nice to just experience a comic without all the hoopla. Because in the end, it all comes down to the simple fact that, as stated so simply and eloquently each week in the Pick of the Week Podcast, “we like comics, we read comics…” All the rest is just noise.

 

 


Gabe Roth is a writer trapped in the suburbs of Los Angeles (aka The Negative Zone). He’s trying to stay positive. He’s @gaberoth on Twitter.

Comments

  1. This week has taken a down turn for me, all my friend are busy and now I’ve got nothing to do but grueling housework or read comics (guess which one I prefer?). Now I’m staring at a dull weekend with little to do and I’m getting antsy. I’ve some good books stacked up on my nightstand (the Books of Magic, Fairest volume 1, Marvel Knights 4, assorted Flash comics) but all I want to do is just discuss comics or do something exciting. Usually I don’t have alot to complain about comics, and I’m trying to counter the negativity (which may or may not lead to pointless discussions) and sometimes I’m in a discussion where I exchange jokes or ideas with others which is nice. Bottom line, I feel like I spend too much time reading comics (yet still not enough time reading somehow, WTH?!) that I feel like I need a change of pace. “My mind rebels against stagnation”.

  2. I’ve found that the limit to stating that you don’t like a storyline, is two to three. I’m not sure who decided that rule, but it seems to be a rule. Any more than that you and are labeled a negative person and from that point on you are mocked, scorned and insulted no matter how you phrase your thoughts. Some of the fun I’ve been treated to are listed bellow.

    “You take comics too seriously”
    “If you don’t like it why do you buy it”
    “aren’t you spending a lot of time talking about what you don’t like? Shouldn’t you seek help?”
    “Why are you still here?”
    “Every word I read from you I picture eyeoore saying.”
    “You don’t like the character because of that storyline? That was a long time ago, move on (you idiot).”

    If you go onto a board and say that you don’t like a comic and hold to that then you better be ready to take lumps. Especially if you are in the minority. There are negative fans and I guess I’ve been one, especially where marvel is concerned (I don’t like that heroes commit murder), but there are fans who are negative about comics and fans who are negative about other fans and the later category is far more vicious than the former.

    • I agree with alot of what you said, tho I’ve never been accused of being a negative fan. I’ve been reading mostly DC lately, so I’ve taken some lumps for that but it’s nothing I’m not used to. I have met what you might call negative or jaded fans and I gotta say I don’t enjoy their company 60-70% of the time but that’s just because I don’t like being around negative people in general.

  3. If I have a comment in response to an article or what have you, I mainly like to sound positive and excited about it — because I am. I always hope it’ll wind up with someone else checking out a title or a series.

    Why bother going on negatively about something? It’s just a waste of my time…I’d rather fill that time doing something else constructive or enriching with my life.

  4. That first paragraph really hit home. Procrastinators Unite!!
    Remember: nothing can fall into your lap unless you’re sitting down.

  5. This is not getting many responses. If it was “Why DC Comics Sucks Ass” or something, this would be blowing up!

    I, too, am beyond sick of all the bitching. I love comics. New, old. Stuff I bought this week, stuff I’ve had sitting around for years. I just bought the first TP of Sandman and am enjoying that. There is so much goodness in print – the internet brings out the worst in people, and the decent folks tend to leave as places get overrun by hateful trolls. The good thing in real life is you can just ignore or avoid the mega complainers – sadly not every internet site has an ignore/block/avoid button.

    But I know there are some good comics fans on this place and that’s why I’m happy to be here most of the time. The negativity can be a little rough, though. Then again, overly positive comments can be a little bothersome too – “OMG this is the best book ever!” – yeah I’m looking at you East of West and The Wake!

  6. @BCDX97 “hateful trolls” is a great term and they are the reason I never got into comment threads, that bitching, hating, and general negativity is just so off putting and didn’t get that from this site and probably why it’s the 1st and only site I frequent about comix and comment regularly. An honest opinion about something bad or just pointing out what is disliked is dine here and there but in statements not continual bitching. Debates are welcomed too and the hater is usually an uninformed automaton so they usually get a foot in the mouth w a side of verbally bitch slapping.

  7. I guess I would be considered a negative fan by some. I do complain about things that happen in comics but only because I think it is just as important to voice an opinion on the things that don’t work as the things that do.

    One of my negative rants of late is about the state of the industry’s retail outlets. There are some great stores out there but most of them are closer to bad than great. Employees in a comic shop that do not know who or what Hawkeye is and have never heard of The Untold History of Marvel Comics and are not interested in finding out. Stores that are always willing to order things but never actually have anything in stock on Wednesday afternoon – ever.

    Stores that used to be great in the 70’s and 80’s but are now living on their old reputations as their stores disintegrate into a stereotype. We need better retailers and I do think it is worth talking about.