It’s Hard Out Here For a Fanboy

imagesIn just about a week, movie fans will line up by the millions to see Iron Man 3. It will be an event in a lot of ways, the first big superhero blockbuster of the season. The crowds will be big. There will be a lot of tweeting and Facebook-ing; people will review the film in a hundred and forty characters or just plain brag about the fact that they went to a movie on opening night. Instagram pics of movie marquis will abound. People will feel compelled to share with the world their reasons for liking or disliking the movie. And for a short time, everyone will become an Iron Man expert, in essence, as opinions are free and everyone’s got one. Thanks, Internet. People want to be a part of something…and Iron Man 3 will be next week’s “something.”

But the interesting thing about those lined up in front of the local cineplex on opening night is the fact that very few of them are likely to have ever read an actual Iron Man comic book. Now I freely admit that I don’t have any scientific data to back this up, but I think it’s safe to say that the average Iron Man or Avengers or X-Men moviegoer does not have his or her love of the characters rooted in the very books from which they were born decades ago. There are exceptions, of course, but generally speaking, we’re talking more movie fans than comic book fans come opening night. Just the way it is.

So you’re the average Joe and you see Iron Man 3 on opening weekend. Next, you go into work on Monday and you images-1discuss it around the water cooler or whatever it is people congregate around in offices these days. (I work from home most of the time, so I can only imagine.) You discuss the film, its good parts and its bad parts. You discuss what would have made it better and all agree that one particular aspect of the story was “bad ass.” You discuss the teaser after the credits and express excitement for the next installment of The Avengers. The movie deserves this conversation. People are into it. Sure Iron Man is just a drunkard in a fancy metal suit, but he’s also a complex character, a flawed superhero whose human frailties are what ultimately make him worth watching. And again, through all this, there’s likely to be little acknowledgement of the very comics from which these modern day myths are born. Fans of the comics are certainly fans of the movies, but this abundance of Iron Man faithful doesn’t translate to new comic readers or even any acknowledgement of the very art form that made Iron Man a household name in the first place. It’s almost as if the comics don’t exist.

The real reason for this may simply be that people like movies more than comics. Movies are big and flashy while silly old paper comics are on old-fashioned and lacking in the kind of fireworks that get people excited. Print is dead! But in my opinion, there’s something else going on and it isn’t simply that movies trump comics in terms of popularity with the new generation. Everyone’s talking about Iron Man. So why then can’t this same sort of conversation happen regarding actual comic books? Why is it that people are willing to embrace the movie version of a comic book hero, but when it comes to actual bona fide comics, the topic often feels almost taboo in a way? Simply put, in my experience with most people, even the mere topic of comics tends to illicit a mixture of reactions, most of which feel essentially negative.

images-3My sense is that most people who don’t know anything about comic books fill in the blanks of their lack of knowledge with stereotypes about comic books and comic book fans. And because those stereotypes carry a certain stigma, the basic idea of a person being a comic collector, aficionado, or just pain fanboy is essentially rejected up front. In the eyes of Average Joe, comic fans live with their parents’ basements, live on Hot Pockets and are social outcasts. And if one’s perception of comic book fans is negative, then that same person will tend to reject comics without hesitation, even if that same person is rushing out to be part of the Iron Man 3 opening weekend hoopla.

I myself have been guilty of a sort of self-censorship when it comes to talking about comics with “civilians.” You’re talking to someone you don’t know very well and the question of “What are you into?” comes up. You mutter something about comics and the reaction is often tepid. People don’t know what to make of comic fans, especially when there’s a challenge to preconceived notions of who actually reads comics. As a result, you move on to other topics, despite the fact that comics are a passion, something you hold dear and something you have a lot to say about. You end up putting on the mask of someone with more palatable mainstream pursuits. You sacrifice your true comic-loving self for the sake of not challenging the expectations of the person you’re talking to. images-2And of course, you just know that person is going to see Iron Man 3 opening weekend.

So what is the comic book fan to do? Do you hide your true self to fit in with the movie-going masses? Hell no. In the end, there isn’t much you can do other than let your geek flag fly and accept that non-acceptance of your hobby as a part of any sub-culture. It wouldn’t be a “sub” culture if it weren’t outside cultural norms anyway. Those who reject comics solely because they don’t understand them are missing out. So in the coming weeks, if you find yourself face-to-face with Average Joe and his opinions on Iron Man 3, don’t hesitate to take off your mask of “normalcy” and mention with more than a little pride that none of this would be happening if it weren’t for comics.

Gabe Roth is a TV writer fighting the good fight in the Los Angeles. He’s @gaberoth on Twitter.



  1. Or you could treat the fact that you love stuff like it’s not big deal, that being a comics fan is the same as liking anything else, and you’re not the Elephant Man, or under the caste system.

    In 2013, I think the actual reality is that the greater population doesn’t really think about comic books, and comic book fans. They don’t even run into comic books on a rack like they used to.

    • I think that people on average do have an opinion on comics, but that the opinion is that ‘comics are for kids’. At least that is usually what people tell me when I express a liking for them.

    • @VichusSmith Agree 100%

    • Ya ochsavidare thats what most people think “comics are for kids”. I dated a girl for two years that used to look at my comic related graphic novels, posters, boxes.. and laugh in a condescending way a lot (what was i thinking?) Now she watches walking dead (which is basically a simplified/inferior version of the comic) ..and.. ha .. I suppose its like me laughing at reality tv or court tv watching… but i think that watching “Reality” about drunks or murderers is a much less worthwhile pastime. I think a lot of this goes back to the 60’s Batman TV show that so many people watched in reruns all the way into the 90’s (its good as a jokey/ goofy show but it doesnt represent any comics ive ever read). I find that conversion / gifting trades works to shut people up. After reading Preacher or Fables.. people shut their ignorant mouths up (yes even nice people occasionally disparage comics because of ignorance). I dont know why anyone would suggest to sit on the sidelines and not try to convert the masses.. comics arent a religion.. they are just fun,, like any medium (i dont do any harm politely suggesting.. it aint any different that suggesting a TV show). And yes of course its easier to watch a movie or tv show rather than read game of thrones or harry potter but comics arent novels (we are talking about 10 minutes of reading vs 10 hours /10 days /10 weeks.. it doesnt really compare). While im on the subject … YES THE BOOKS ARE MUCH BETTER THAN THE HBO SHOW GoT…ha.. i still like the show though and i dont really tell people that.. but its a fact and its a fact with every comic movie pales in comparison to many comics except the last 3 Batmans (which were better than any batman comics ive read). One last thing.. people also connect comics with cartoons maybe because of the similarity in art form.. that is another problem that you would think would be changing because of all of the good all ages animated movies that have come out in the last decade. Fuck Ignorance. If you dont know..Shut the Fuck up. I mean that in the most polite way possible, I kid .. i kid… oh not really.

    • Avatar photo ochsavidare (@ochsavidare) says:

      I have been in heated arguments with people (normally reasonable and rational) whose position were that stories that as films would have been for adults automatically are for kids just because they are in comics.

    • Hmmmm.. ya im sorry to hear that ochavidare.., That seems extremely unreasonable and frustrating. I normally let the comics speak for themselves but of course most people wont read them if you beg them. I just have to catch the ones that are open minded. I dont really like people without open minds anyway,, so in a way its no loss for me to cut the cord if i feel too much disrespect. My best friend a few years back who always used to initiate conversations about marvel movies in enthusiastic ways said “man theyre really making a lot of these super hero movies” with a really condescending/ negative tone. (I think maybe he momentarily forgot that i was a comic fan) I dont mean to overuse the word ‘condescending’, but that word sums up my experience with people that are NOT trying hard enough to be nice when they comment on comics related stuff… basically Instead of just flat out saying “your a child pal”.. they speak to me as if i was a child and smile as if I am a moron. The bottom line is that the amount of negative attitude people have about comics is always inversely proportional to the amount of comics they have NOT read. I really dislike people that have loud opinions about things theve never experienced (whether about comics or anything else). Oh and i agree with Gabe’s article 100% .. just want to clarify my passion is directed towards people that probably never frequent this site. i wouldnt post this on a soap opera site. Im hoping i reach like minds here. Dont want to step on toes.. then id be like a everyone else in the “mainstream”.

      I just realized that there are comics fans posting on this thread that say we should basically not let peoples lack of knowledge about comics bother us (lack of knowledge is us putting it nicely). First of all (as a background) i almost never initiate comic conversations so its not my fault when someone looks at some of my stuff and comments negatively (i dont display it anymore nor do i hide it). Heres my point .. if the tables were suddenly turned and most people suddenly starting laughing or smirking every time someone turned the channel to the simpsons or to NFL football.. those simpsons fans and football fans would think everyone else is an asshole and they would be right. Again i dont expect anyone to have a conversation with me about comics.. however.. i do expect people i care about to not chuckle as they peak over my shoulder only to realize im reading a comic. If they still chuckle after they have finished Preacher.. im fine with that.

  2. Seems like most of the world has already started to line up for Iron Man 3. At least in Sweden it premiered on april 24, I am going tonight 🙂

  3. This is true of most big fads that hit. Lots of people read Twilight and Harry Potter but millions of people saw the movies. Comics are obviously less popular than even these two examples but movies will always outpace other mediums.

  4. I wonder if the reticence you mention is true of most hobbies. It just seems somewhat impolite to discuss the minutia of a hobby in normal conversation, when you are talking with someone who doesn’t share your passion and to whom your topic is somewhat irrelevant. Having a discussion about the movie with someone probably would not warrant any mention of the latest plot twist in Iron Man #9.

    If someone starting blabbering on about their yachting hobby and the latest innovations in sloop rigging, my glazed-eye reaction might come across as negative as well. My negative reaction has nothing to do with my views on yachting, which is a perfectly fine hobby. It has more to do with the social ineptitude and inconsideration of my fellow conversationalist, who should know better than to drone on about something that I have no knowledge of.

    However, it might make more sense to say, “oh, if you liked the Iron Man movie, maybe you’d like to borrow this new iron man collection I have by this cat named Michelinie.” If that pans out, let the detailed demon in a bottle conversations ensue.

  5. First, don’t let yourself feel like your love of comics is some sort of taboo. That’s silly.

    My coworkers don’t judge my comic interest any more than I judge their varied interests.

    And, on the off chance someone does judge your love of comics? Explain in quick fashion that you’re quite sorry that they allowed their prejudice to cut them off from something awesome.

    It’s sad that this is a discussion that still happens. Comic readers need to get over their shame. The biggest convention of the year has the word comic in it. You think Robert Downey Jr. hasn’t cracked a TPB of Iron Man at least once? Again, it’s silly that we still worry what someone else might think or say about comics.

    Comics are awesome, the haters are just missing out, poor bastards.

  6. we may be over thinking this. My wife LOVES the Iron Man movies as well as The Avengers, Spiderman and all the Batman’s. So do lots of my friends, But they have no desire to read any of those comics. We have shelves with all my books on there and she’s not picking them up. Friends aren’t asking to borrow. She reads a ton, but its just not something she’s into. I’m not a missionary and i’m not trying to convert anyone to my hobby.

    I see it like when i go to the State Fair once a year and get a deep fried candy bar (moon pie FTW)…i’m good for the next year or two. Doesn’t mean i didn’t like it, but i’ve had my fill. I think a lot of it is, the movie is *just enough* of the character to fill their needs.

    We’re all pretty hardcore on here, but i think we have to face the idea that dropping by on any kind of regular basis to read the adventures of superheroes on a comic page is a bit next level. At some point the desire has to be there to make the jump.

  7. i will admit, i’m puzzled by the non desire of the movie studios and comic publishers to effectively cross promote. They do it with toys and merch and fast food but not with the comics. I’ve always wondered what the strategy is there? At some point a decision was made that its not worth the investment….but i mean adding a title card before or after the movie? Putting in a mini 15 second motion graphic trailer for comics before the movie starts? I ‘m sure its doable, but they just don’t think its worth it. I’d love to hear those reasons.

    • From personal experience, I’ll tell you that I hate those commercials they play in theaters before the trailers. Hate them. They’re either dumber than tv commercials, or advertise tv shows in a freaking movie theater!

      Money might be a problem too;
      Marvel: “Ok, we want to put little clips before our movies to get more people aware of the comics”, Studio/Advertisers/Whoever:”That’s great, well the movie is showing in 100,000 theaters in the US so to buy space to show the clip in all of them will cost $25 million”
      Marvel: “Oh, well we don’t make much from the comics and running this studio is expensive, I mean do you know how much it cost to have RDJ in just 1 movie?! What about if the clips were 15 seconds long?”,
      Studio/Advertisers/Whoever:” Oh, only $24.9 million”.

      That’s probably nowhere close to how that conversation would go so I apologize if anyone has any better info or knows anything about advertising in movie theaters. Although I forget where, I remember seeing a New 52 commercial play somewhere besides online. I think it was when I went to see TDKR the second time maybe? So it has been done before, not sure what effect it had.

  8. My wife LOVES the Walking Dead TV show, but will not pick up the comics and TPBs I have. She loves to read, and is starting Rise of the Governor. I asked why not comics. She said she doesn’t like the pictures. She said it’s “too distracting” and takes away from the words. oO

    This probably is not the reasoning for most, but it does illustrate (haha) that there are a multitude of reasons that people do not like to read comics….

    • I talked to a guy in high school who came up to me while I was reading a GN, he said it was too confusing trying to follow the panels. I tried to explain to him it goes left to right, up to down, but the page I was using broke those rules quite a few times and weakened my argument. I love innovation in paneling, but to the average person I can see how that would be off-putting; not knowing where to point your eye and all.

  9. I don’t know why comic book fans – fanboys or whatever – feel the constant need for broader acceptance. So what? You read comics, big deal. You want a medal? I don’t.

    Comics are just a thing I like, my life doesn’t revolve around them any more than all of my other interests.

    • There’s a difference between acceptance and pinning a medal on someone.

      My hope is that, some day, when someone says “I like Iron Man Comics” it will illicit the same response as some one who says, “I like the Oakland Raiders.”

  10. No. It’s not hard. They made a multi-million dollar movie out of something you love. Watch the movie or don’t. Talk about it with people or don’t. Comics will never be mainstream and they’ll never be “water cooler” material. Big deal. Everyone saw it, no one will read the source material, it happens all the freaking time with every movie and TV adaptation ever. I love “A Song of Ice and Fire,” and I don’t like the “Game of Thrones” show. So? I don’t watch the show, and I don’t talk to people about it at the water cooler. The fact that it’s successful just means it’ll probably force George R.R. Martin to finish those books sooner rather than later. And Iron Man 3 being successful means you get more Iron Man comics.

  11. It really sucks having to live in the closet, even if it is full of long boxes. I generally don’t publicize it, but I don’t hide it if it comes up. I do think that, by some, I am often judged as a poor specimen of an adult for reading comics.

    As far as reading vs. film goes, I think a lot of people are too busy or too lazy to read a 900+ page Harry Potter book, when they can spend 2.5 hours watching a movie of it. The same thing probably applies to comics. They don’t have the time to chase down these issues (maybe lending trades would help?) and keep up.

    Another thing that is often off-putting is years of continuity and history. I don’t think it’s as bad as it was, since DC has cut a lot of ties to that with New 52 and there are so many new indie books out. But I’m not sure if people who are turned off to comics would be more inclined to read something with a well-known character or a creator-owned/indie type book.

  12. I know what you mean. Back in high school (more than 13 years ago now) I got bullied and laughed at because I liked comics and especially Batman.
    Fast forward to 2008. I am on a early high school reunion, more than 3 people wear TDK Joker shirts and everybody talks about how great that Batman movie was, even if they don’t really get if its supposed to be before the Burton Batman or after.
    Nobody had seen Begins, and most of them didn’t get that it had nothing to do with the old movies.
    What pissed me off the most was that now, everybody was a big Batman fan. As soon as I talked about comics they just shook their heads. Aaaarrrrgh… whatever. I wear my geek card proudly on my sleeve.

    • I remember during the Schmacher era, I could not tell anyone I liked Batman without being laughed at by my classmates. That changed with Nolan and TDK thankfully. It always annoys me tho how people loved TDK but pretend/ignore “Batman Begins”. Perfect example: when TDKR came out and people want to me to explain/remind them of the first 2 movies, the only thing about BB they could recall was that “It had that Asian guy as the villain right?”.

    • Yeah, it was the same for me, in the mid to late 90s. And now its so easy being a fan. Back then, I literaly had to take beatings for it. When I was dating, a few years ago, it was even a bonus that I was a geek. A lot of women suddenly seemed to like that. Well, I guess it helps when you are not looking like the comicbookguy from Simpsons or Harry Knowles, but still. Being geeky is not the women repeller it was, back in the day. Thats a good thing.

    • I’m happy that’s your experience, it’s not the same for me tho. Right now women in my area just seem kinda indifferent about it, rather than pity or laugh at it. So I guess that is an improvement.

    • Yeah, indifferent is better than being laughed at.
      Not all of them responded well, but overall, most kinda dug the fact that I enjoyed something other than soccer or drinking (I am from Germany, so both is the main hobby for a lot of men) and it seemed to come across as interesting and different, I guess.
      I even got a few into comics. Even my current girlfriend really enjoys superheroes now. She even orders new Wonder Woman, Batgirl and Catwoman trades on her own and before she knew me, she never read a comic in her life. Did you get your girl or wife into it? Thats one of the coolest things, for me, as a geek. To have a geek padawan 🙂

  13. People who play D&D have the same problems. It’s ok to play a role playing game (like Elder Scrolls or Star Wars) when it’s on a TV but completely taboo to do the same thing while sitting around a table with friends. Frankly, it’s even worse because all of the stereotypes about Comic Collectors are magnified tenfold for Pen and Paper RPGers.

    • Ya frankly.. good D&Ders are pretty impressive people. Im talking putting on “good” accents and doing convincing roll play.. im impressed by those people.. it takes some guts .. but of course.. most people look down on them. I played D&D for like a year at various friends houses but no one seems to stay in that long (probably because of the stigma, and because of how easy online play is now). Seriously though its like acting without a big audience. Its cool in my opinion when its done well.

    • Oh, man. I really miss good pen and paper roleplaying. But when you get closer and closer to your thirties, it gets harder and harder to find a cool group that plays at least semi-regularly. Its sad, I kinda miss that.

  14. I admit that I face this stigma from time to time. Even though I live in New York which is pretty much a comic book town, and I work in theatrical advertising which is generally a pretty creative field, there are still people who give funny looks and smiles when they catch me and my comic book reading buddies discussing the latest Spider-Man issue (or whatever) around the “water cooler”.
    Generally, I try and be as up front with my interest as I can, because like this article says – I want to challange the preconcieved notion of what a Comic Book Fan actually is. True I come on here and bitch from time to time, Conner, will tell you 🙂 but in truth I am far from the Simpsons version of a comics fan. So far I think its worked, even on a micro level, to change the way fanboys are looked at.
    Hopefully other fanboys are also upfront about their interests and are ok defending the medium when it gets unfairly attacked by outsiders.

  15. I don’t understand why, considering Marvel is doing their own movies now, that they don’t promote their comics on the movie screen. Whether before or after the trailers, before the credits…whatever. People complain comics don’t get enough exposure, yet Marvel with now deep Disney pockets don’t do this. Marvel I’m sure can even afford tv commercials to promote comics.

    • When YuGiOh (trading card game) made a movie, they gave everyone who bought a ticket a pack of cards. Disney could do the same thing. Buy a ticket to see Iron Man and get a cool Iron Man comic to go with it.

    • Maybe, instead of a free comic, a coupon/voucher/whatever for the free comic book at the LCS. This way people can look into other books and peak an interest.

    • @TreesoftheStoneAge, giving people a coupon and asking them to find a store to redeem it in sounds like alot to ask of Joe Blow and 2.5 kids out for movie night. Why not a digital comic coupon or week long subscription to Marvel’s online catalog?

    • @TreesoftheStoneAge Because no one will be enamored with the idea of a free comic enough to actually seek out a Comic Shop. Additionally, no comic is every going to be free to the Comic Shop (not even the Free Comic Book Day comics are free to them). Better to shove a small comic in the patrons’ hands right then and there.

      As for coupons, few people will actually follow that through. Most especially if they have to make a Comixology/Marvel account to view the comic. A link to a few free comics is not a bad idea. No sign up, no hassle, just go to the lin kand read. However, it pales in comparison to the raw viewing potential of shoving a comic in someone’s hand.

    • When I first wrote this I was thinking of being in a major city where comic books shops are much easier to find and did not at all consider any place which doesn’t have these types of stores, so yeah, give away vouchers totally wouldn’t.
      At the same time, giving away printed comics at any given movie theater isn’t feasible either, I would think. The overhead could not be justified as an attempt to create interest in comics.

  16. I get the comic-book fan stigma every now and then, it used to just be in high school but I was a big reader in general and read regular books too so I think it wasn’t just the comics. Mostly now I get it from my family, my brothers tell I need to grow up and stop reading comics. Its funny they love the Gi Joe, Transformer, and X-Men movies but those on a comic book page and its entirely different. I try hard to not look like the stereotypical fanboy but I don’t know how successful it goes. Most of my friends and current classmates know me as a comic guy since I don’t really find it and usually carry around 1 GN to just read. They sometimes call on me to explain the Avengers movie universe or who Bane is or is “Green Lantern” worth seeing (if only). I get my friends to read the comics I put in front of them but the interest doesn’t really crop up. One classmate in my Bio class tho can’t get enough of the comics I lend her, so hopefully I can foster her into a collector.

    As for why people who watch the movies don’t rush to the comic shop after, it’s probably a mix of things; money ( or lack there off), time (going to the comic shop, looking for books, storing them), the geek stereotypes, never growing up around comics, etc. Someone brought up a really good point, that after the movie is over, you’ve had your fill so why go to the source? In my experience tho, the movies were a big influence on my pull list. After I saw “Hellboy” I started buying the existing books to catch up and now I have all the main ones, but I probably wouldn’t have even picked up the books at all if it hadn’t been for the movie.

    • Same here. I only got into Marvel comics again, after really enjoying Thor and then Avengers. Before that, I was a DC/Vertigo/Image reader only. I stopped after most Marvel stuff after Civil War, but now really love it again. I have almost as much Marvel stuff on my pull list as DC right now.

  17. Seems like a lot of hand-wringing over what is essentially a non-issue.

    Comics are a particular form of media that some people enjoy.

    Superhero comics are a genre within that medium that an even smaller group of people enjoy.

    The fact that they make movies of characters from that small world is heartening to me.

    I don’t expect anyone to run out to the store, suddenly converted.

    I also don’t really care if people share my love of comic books, science fiction, or flatwater canoeing.