Hating Your Heroes: How the Sausage is Made

It’s hard to believe now, but there was a long time when nobody anywhere was thinking about Star Wars.

No, not like the Jazz Age. I mean a time after Star Wars had been made, before the prequels and Special Editions, before the EUs and MMORPGs and CCGs and (especially) WTFs, when everyone watched Star Wars, liked Star Wars, played Star Wars, and then boxed Star Wars up and moved on with the business of wedgie avoidance and girl-not-impressing. As I remember it, Jedi was a big hit in 3rd grade, and in the next year or so there were some Droid cartoons, but by then we all had action figures who could actually bend their arms and were out in the yard protecting Mom’s landscaping from Cobra and transforming cassette tapes. I can remember seeing Star Wars on cable in eighth or ninth grade and having a reaction like someone had said my Manchurian Candidate trigger word and activated a repressed memory: “Hey… I remember this! We all used to like this!” Timothy Zahn got something started with some novels when I was in high school (subtitled Oh, Man, Are We Ever Going To Take This Too Far) but by and large, there was a period from about 1985-1996 (yes, fine, “the dark times”) when Star Wars was not so much as a blip on the cultural radar.

During this pre-Jar Jar utopian era, before we had all been cursed by getting what we wished for, some friends and I were screwing around in a place we often screwed around in called The Library Ltd. In the days before Borders and Barnes & Noble were ubiquitous, this two-story book palace full of highfalutin volumes was the go-to place in town for hanging out and pretentiously acting like you weren’t a seventeen-year-old Sega wizard who thought Nabokov was a sports car. I was browsing the shelves this particular night pretending that I had twenty dollars to spend on a book when I came across the newly published memoir of one Alec Guinness.

I was surprised and delighted. I had not yet discovered the Ealing comedies or Hitler: The Last Ten Days; I only knew Alec Guinness in one capacity, that of Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi. (Side note: about that Last Ten Days thing? If you’re not ready for it, turning on PBS one night and seeing Hitler Kenobi will spin your head the hell around like some Disneyworld Tea Cups.) This memoir in front of me was a thrill, because unlike now there were no published behind-the-scenes Star Wars anecdotes that were of any real interest to me. Sure, you could find hourlong specials about the effects, about which little person worked Jabba’s eyebrow or how many hours it took ILM to storyboard the historic Sy Snoodles song, but you never heard a word about the people doing this thing. I wanted to hear what it was like to spend a week in the Tunisian desert in a bathrobe; I wanted to hear about the time Harrison Ford got wasted and punched out a Jawa. What was it like the first day they handed you a glow sword and you got a look at whatever a Darth Vader was? What was it like to work on this bizarre event, not knowing it was going to define/ruin popular culture for decades to come? Before Tony Daniels’ column in The Star Wars Insider (my subscription to which I swear to God was a gift) this Guinness memoir seemed to be all I had. I excitedly sat down in the aisle and found Star Wars in the index so I could begin flipping to the juiciest Death Star stories.

There were maybe two Star Wars references in the index. Though a decade has fogged the glass of my memory, as I recall both mentions were along the lines of, “Went to get the mail today. More autograph requests from the goddamn Star Wars fans. I burned them all. What idiots. Yeugh. Goddamn Star Wars.”

I was genuinely taken aback. I got up and returned the book to its perch on the shelf quickly, almost embarrassed, the way you close a bathroom door after opening it and accidentally seeing someone naked on the other side.

“Wow,” I said to the book like it was its own author. “Man. I apologize. I am so sorry — wow — so very sorry for ever liking your work. My bad. I don’t know what came over me. I had no idea what an a-hole I was for appreciating something you did. It will never happen again.”

I think about my insane conversation with that bound paper a lot these days, because when it comes to comics I have a special weakness for not being able to separate the art from the artist. The gnat-envying size of the “comics community” allows us as consumers to see with incredible intimacy how the sausage is made, but at the same time it provides us a unique opportunity to meet our heroes and find out that we hate them.

And I’m not just talking about the usual stuff. I’m not talking about the work itself, where you read that arc advocating sexually exploiting the mentally handicapped and think, “Wow, what is going on in your life, C____ __aremont?” Now there’s the work, but there are also the blogs, and the podcasts, and Twitter.

Oh, Twitter.

Have I followed creators on Twitter? I certainly have. Do I know Brian Bendis’ whereabouts for the entirety of this past week? Indeed I do. Does watching Brian Reed’s process playing itself out on a daily basis make me love him all the more? Totally!

Have I stopped following a creator because his d—head Twittering was wrecking my enjoyment of his book? I sure have. Have I dropped at least one book because Twitter revealed its creator to be a 24-carat jagoff? That’s a big ten-four, good buddy. (Have I started talking like Donald Rumsfeld long after everyone else forgot about him? Well, you betcha.) You can follow a creator so closely now that you literally know he had tacos for lunch, but I’m not always sure that’s such a great idea.

I’m not unsympathetic
. God knows what impressions people get of me by following me on Twitter. “Wah, my conference call went badly!… at grocery store: why the hell is the pizza sauce in a different aisle than the pasta sauce?… something something existential crisis.”

I don’t mean to diminish the positives. Almost every time I mention a creator on this site, I end up having a wonderful interaction with that creator. Rarely do you post something online about a movie or TV show and have the creator of that movie or TV show e-mail you about what you wrote. Comics are different, and inherently they are incredibly special. Still… the familiarity cuts both ways. The thing that makes the industry so unique is also a kind of poison in the wrong circumstances. In the last couple of weeks, it feels like that poison has been a big part of my diet.

I haven’t had the chance to bump chests with my favorite writer at a convention. All of my fan interactions have been online, a degree removed. What about you? Are there creators who you now feel like you “know”? Have you ever had your reading experience improved (or irretrievably damaged) by contact with the writer? (Note: resist the temptation to post “Well, I stopped reading iFanboy because of you.” 1: I might get fired. 2: posting a comment on a site you claim to have stopped reading might create a rift in space-time.)

Jim Mroczkowski still spends as much time reading about comics as he spends reading comics. Interventions may be held at, yes, Twitter or Jimski.com



  1. Frank Tieri did a lot to imrpove my opinion of his writing when I met him at Wizard World Philly two summers ago. I had read a good amount of his work, and never really connected to it, but I really loved the mini Underworld that he did during Civil War, and I asked him if we’d ever see that character again. He was a genuinely nice guy about it, and he seemed really excited that someone was asking him about that character (whose name escapes me at the moment). Clearly he has a lot of passion for what he does and since realizing that, I’ve noticed it in his work.

  2. Like any kind of knowledge, I think the information gleaned from Twitter can either be a good or bad thing.  Sometimes I want to root for a creator just a little bit more.  Sometimes it almost taints my enjoyment of a book that I loved otherwise.  It’s difficult to set those thoughts aside.  

  3. Greet article Paul. 

    I have to say, meeting Mark Millar in SF was a real treat.  He gets some hate, but I have for the most part enjoyed his work.  When I met him, he was the nicest guy in the world.  Even on the last leg of his trip, he was extremely nice to each and every person that was there.  I even got to talk to him for several minutes (about Doctor Who and Simon Pegg of all things!)  To me, it was really a wake up call that these are real people and, like their work or not, they should be totally respected for what they do.  So after that, it really started to irritate me when people would insult and/or bad mouth individual creators.  Not liking their stuff is one thing, but throwing personal attacks and proclaiming "he sucks balls!" is not the way to go IMO.  So I thank Millar, and Tony Harris of course, for…well I suppose for opening my eyes to the humanity of comic book creators?  Is that the right word?

    Oh, and meeting Robert Kirkman made me totally respect creators who sport beards

  4. Jim, not Paul.

  5. I don’t Twitter.  I don’t care about when in the day my friends are mailing some letters or tying their shoes, let alone some complete strangers whose comic book I happen to read.  I can’t offhand think of a time when a person’s personality has kept me from enjoying their work… but then, I wouldn’t mind if the Mets signed Manny Ramirez even though by all accounts he’s a giant D-Bag, so maybe that sort of thing doesn’t really matter to me.

    Jimski, I love your work, but there’s two things I wanted to find out when reading this article that you didn’t give us: 1.) Do you now understand what Alec Guiness was griping about?  Because it seemed at first that that’s where you were going and then you changed directions.  2.) Whose work did you drop because of Twitter and why?  Gossiping minds want to know. 

  6. I actually had a letter printed in Dynamo 5 by Jay Faeber.  It’s not that I intimately knew him or we were buddies all of a sudden, but it’s one of the few mediums that you can write letters and see them printed.  That issue is pretty special to me.

  7. I can’t say i ever follow twitter, but i too spent as much of my time at Library Ltd. as i could before it became Borders and finally moved. I was lucky in that my dad worked across the street so whenever i went to work with him on weekends or over the summer i could spend all day there reading. Not only was it a great store, i mean they had Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon there how awesome is that, but they also had Stacks Cafe which had a great atmosphere and some good food.  Man i forgot how much i missed that place.  Thanks for bringing back some great memories.

  8. @Conor- Oh shit, I feel like an idiot!  Sorry, I just saw Paul’s avatar right before I started typing and all of a sudden I found myself typing his name.  Apologies to Jim for my massive massive bad.

  9. For whatever reason, I’m much more likely to find some exciting new dimension to a the work of a creator I like or am neutral on, based on reading more about them than I am to be offended or turned off.  When negative things get to me, it’s usually in a case where there was already something in the work that bugged me.  I’m *sure* there are exceptions to this, but the good examples have definitely outweighed the bad ones for me. 

    Now watch me get infuriated over somebody’s twitter post in the next 24 hours. . .   

  10. @Neb-I also had a letter printed in Dynamo 5!!  I forget which issue…6, 7, or 8 I think

  11. (BTW, I should say my answer specifically applies to writers — artists or actors are something of a different story; and I mostly don’t expect anything out of musicians).

  12. I try to avoid learning too much about the creative types behind the stuff I like.  The information to be gained more often than not detracts from my enjoyment instead of enhancing it. 

  13. @drakedangerz – No worries.  It’s not the first time someone has said my name when they meant to shout someone else’s.  

    According to reports.   

  14. Oddly enough, I just mentioned something about this in the user reviews thread. Basically, Warren Ellis keeps saying shit that rubs me the wrong way and makes me not want to buy his stuff, despite the fact that it tends to be pretty damn good.

    I dunno, maybe I should just ignore the dude and enjoy the work. Isn’t there some famous quote about confusing the art for the artist?



  15. Great article Jim.  I’ve always been of the opinion that good work is good work and it can stand on it’s own.  I do not need to know about the source of the story to enjoy it.  In my experience, with few exceptions, the less I know about a creator, artist, musician, actor the better off I am. 

  16. I got to meet Peter Tomasi at the local con, and it really made me like him all the more. He was really nice, and agreed with me about the R.I.P tie-in they forced on him

  17. my best moment ever was meeting Steve McNiven because i love his art and his works. i was so glad meeting him. he was really nice and was cool when we talked about his different artworks

  18. So far every creator I’ve gotten to interact with at a con has only made me an even bigger fan than I already was.  I do tend to ignore all the Twittering and such, but I ignore people I know when it comes to that nonsense too, ’cause who has time? 

    Meeting Wil Wheaton at a con led to my buying the book he had on him that day and then buying everything else he’s ever written, plus reading his blog regularly and watching his recent episode of Criminal Minds. 

    By contrast, I decided long ago I had no earthly need to read any comic by Dave Sim ever in life, based on what I’ve read of his non-comic writings. 

    So it works both ways.

  19. I have definitely learned things about a creator that changed my view of the work.

    I won’t list the negative examples here — I really believe in not slagging people on the internet.  Largely I have stopped buying or reading works of writers or artists who I have heard make remarks I consider to be unthinkingly  disparaging of people as categories.  Dissmissive of the essential equality and humanity of others — that gets me to stop buying your book.

    But I have also gone out and bought works by a writer or artist who I’ve heard on iFanboy, or WordBalloon, or read on LiveJournal, or heard at a convention.  People who can speak passionately about what they meant to do make me want to read their work and see if they did it.  Was the vision reifed?  Was the word and image successfully translated to me?  Why?  Why not?  Can I see the shadow of what they meant?

    I do this with dvd commentaries, too.  I watch the film and then listen to the commentary, listen to the creator explain what they saw in their head and how they tried to make that picture, that feeling, as real in my head as it was in theirs. 

  20. I think one of the most salient risks with any creators web presence on the Net, provided said creators don’t offend fans, is over exposure. In a certain respect, the less I know about him or her, the better I’m able to accept his or her characters’ voices. Same thing with actors. This way biases are less evident.

     Thanks, Jim.

  21. I always appreciate the comments. I was sure there would be at least one person weighing in about the Star Wars stuff, but I’m sort of glad to be wrong, which happens more often than you’d think.

    @RaceMcCloud: oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t ya? I just pop in and start calling writers douchebags. Well, no thank you, sir. I’ve found that any time I mention a creator by name in a column, they appear in my inbox; I swear it’s like summoning a f***ing genie. As for getting a better grip on Sir Alec’s point of view… I don’t know. I would not want to become one of those guys who travels from convention to convention talking about a job I had for a month in the seventies, so I appreciate his resistance to that, but at the same time I’m still put off a bit by the sentiment, "They liked something I did. Idiots."

    @HerrStarr: was that place not the pinnacle? A friend of mine worked there when they sold out to Borders and moved, and apparently that building was a money pit; they would routinely walk into the store room and see water leaking onto the stock. Pity.

     @Neb/drake: I got a letter published in Marvel Age in the 80s and I still cherish it. Mind you, I imagine people who get letters published in Powers don’t feel quite this way about it.

  22. So if you miss a creator and he isn’t working on something, all you need to do is say his work is crap in here, and he’ll reemerge from his slumber.