The Importance of Being Curious

I am writing this poolside at a small motel in Palm Springs, having left Los Angeles for the long weekend to get some time away, hang out with my in-laws, and, finally, catch up on my reading. I have been in one of those times where I have been reading recommendations from my friends, needing a bit of a break from the wonderful (and densely written) Reamde by Neal Stephenson (which followed an equally dense but frustrating Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin) and turning to lighter fare, beginning with Ready Player One and The Hunger Games, which I just finished about an hour ago.

It’s odd how I have this impulse to defend my choice of The Hunger Games.  The haughty geek in me derides the title as pop teen science fiction, not “serious” enough for me, who has spent most of his life reading battered paperbacks of “real” science fiction.  (Of course, haughty has another urge to list them and will ignore it.) That geek, of course, may be chastened to hear that I bought the book late Saturday night, not even two full days ago; I have not read a book that quickly since I was devouring Hardy Boys mysteries once, sometimes twice a day – the book is a page-turner, that’s for sure.

Over the years, however, I have really worked hard to cleanse myself of this idiotic prejudice. Popularity does not mean something is bad — or good. I find myself feeling good when I see copies of Harry Potter or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, or, now, incredibly, Clash of Kings, popping out of handbags or sitting on a beach towel.  I had a similar sneering when everyone and his mother seemed to be reading Watchmen — they won’t get it, they are only reading it because there’s a movie coming, they’re not really into comics. Just as folks reading the aforementioned titles are not really into fantasy or science fiction.

Those folks? The ones my “dark nerd” sneers at? They are reading those books because they are curious. Which I have not been lately.

In addition to finishing The Hunger Games, I just now finished the final issue of DMZ, which I found to be a bit disappointing, while at the same time understanding that there really was no other way to finish the story.  I wrote an article about endings before, so I won’t go into that too much, but as I put down issue 72, a bit of my curiosity about what to read next…died a bit, probably because I just felt let down. I stuck with the title for the entire six year run and…well, we’ll get to this later.

Similarly, at the end of The Hunger Games, there’s a little ad facing the final page, with one of tags reading, “What will happen next?”  I realized, somewhat to my chagrin, somewhat to my disappointment, that I did not care, really. I had half-expected to swing by Barnes and Noble on the way home to pick it up — everyone I know has told me that it just gets better, my wife Whitney assures me that the third book will be my favorite, which is fine, but that curiosity that she felt, and seemingly every other reader has felt, just felt muted for me. Probably because even though there were aspects of the story that were interesting, it didn’t blow my mind, since most of the time, my mind is occupied with high concept science fiction stories, fast paces superhero adventures or dense fantasy epics filled with dozens of characters. For me, the story of this one girl dealing with her interesting problems…eh, kind of been there. Or at least been to that neighborhood. (I actually started reading the next one before I went to bed and now that I see where the story seems to be going and now I am even less inclined to keep going.)

If we’re not careful, too much experience with a given subject or experience can cultivate cynicism.  Cynicism kills curiosity. I remember reading once that cynics are “optimists who have been disappointed too many times.”  These days, as I scan the issues available on my iPad or as I peruse the covers at my local comic book shop, I find myself fighting the urge to be cynical while at the same time, propping up my need to be curious.

Why is this happening?

We’ve talked before about the heroes that keep us going, the relationships we can’t get enough of, the artists who bring us back to comics, month after month. That’s all fine, good and real, but none of this is fun if it feels like work, and I think when we are so used to a storytelling medium, when the twists and turns feel less inspirational and more rote, than the weariness creeps in.  We see the same patterns start to emerge after awhile because, well, we live this stuff, and I find myself less and less willing to take that leap with the creators, especially after last year, which I honestly don’t think was a fantastic year in comics.  What I am trying to say is that many of us, we are just too close to this stuff, that we can get in our own ways when trying to actually enjoy it.

I am sure some of you may have felt the same way and am looking forward to reading how you dealt with this slow erosion of curiosity — and when it started happening for you. For me, as I now sit back down, to finish this article, a few hours later, it seems to boil down to endings. In this day and age, where things move so fast and everything seems to be serialized, I think we bump into real endings less and less often. After reading DMZ, Ready Player One and Reamde, I understand that it’s been awhile since I’ve thought about how important it is to end stories, and perhaps the feelings I’ve had today come from a feeling of gentle resentment, that many of the books and shows and comics I read just keep…on…going.

Which is the whole point of serialized comics, sure, But with stories that end, I can think about the story as a complete work, and can file away that experience in a different way than forty issues of said comic.  Though I might not have felt satisfied by Wood’s endings for DMZ and Local, the ending still completes a statement, a definitive story that he leaves behind. Endings are important. Beginnings are important. Without them, what do we learn? What do we get from the experience? When there is a end, my curiosity about the story is resolved, it’s done — I got the answers, and if I didn’t get all the answers, well, too bad, because there’s no more story coming.  An ending releases curiosity. So, when I remarked at the beginning of the article where I was complaining about being let down by the ending of DMZ, at least we got one. Yes, I was disappointed that I won’t be seeing Matty Roth again, but perhaps that’s the whole point, you know? No one will.

The fact remains, that most comics I read are ongoing, and only end when sales taper. For me to complain about the format is unfair, to talk about my curiosity flagging and cynicism building can only be met with a shrug and a “what did you expect? It’s comics!”  Well, it’s a lot more than comics, it’s happening with TV and movies as well, and I think maybe this is what can propel people into telling their own stories, you know? Furthermore, I can see one of the thrills of being a parent is because you have no idea how your kid’s story is going to go — not to mention that you get a chance to see stories you’ve grown up with from a totally new perspective.

And that’s probably it, right? To keep things fresh, especially when experiencing stories that really will never end, it is up to you to keep your cynicism at bay, and to do that you need to change your perspective, and accept the fact that that takes energy. It is easy (and, let’s face it, fun) to complain about how lame a book is, but go to far, doing so can result in a poisonous perspective that’s hard to shake.

Perhaps what I need to do is read different kinds of comics completely. Start reading non fiction. Watch more documentaries. Go to more plays. Fill my head with different ways of telling stories so that when I do go back to comics (I always will), it will be easier to enjoy them. I will be more interested in that new fantasy book. Wait, with actual excitement, in line for that genre movie.  Fo stagnation kills curiosity, and I have a feeling that curiosity is what keeps life…life.


Mike Romo is an actor living in Los Angeles. You can reach him through email, visit his Facebook page, connect with him on Google +, and collect his tweets on Twitter.


  1. I’m guilty of lacking curiosity from time to time. I’m very lucky to have the people on this site to encourage me to try new things (people like Paul seem to exude curiosity.)

    As for documentaries to try: I can’t recommend “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop” enough. I really enjoyed it. I also like “The Comedians of Comedy”

  2. Gotta say, “Catching Fire” ends up being way better than “The Hunger Games,” at least IMO. Hope you enjoy it if/when you finish it.

  3. I have a new mantra that feels like something from an 80s Frank Miller comic… “…and my dark nerd sneers.”

    Heheh, thanks for that, Mike. 🙂

    I’ve been thinking about beginnings in comics, too. DC’s 52 gave us a whole SLATE of beginnings, and I was genuinely intrigued by many of them. But I’ve seen that erosion as the months wear on, where I am less and less curious about what happens next. Not all the books, but some I didn’t expect to find myself bored by.

    Serialized comics, I think, try to give that sense of ending in various arcs… we assume, for example, that there will be some kind of closure to Batman and the Court of Owls in the Batman book. But we know Batman will go on to fight another threat. I think one of my solutions has been to just jump away when reaching one of these smaller endings. I’ve noticed in the past ten years I tend to stop a series mid-stream, after the conclusion of an arc, and just as quickly jump onto another ongoing series that may just be starting a new arc. That helps to keep the beginnings and endings fresh.

    That said, there’s something to be said for the series that have a definitive conclusion, and the creators that plot those. I’d say most of my “all-time favorite” comic books would NOT include “oh, that one arc of Spider-man” but more along the lines of New Frontier, Watchmen, Preacher, Sandman, Box Office Poison — finite books with a strong direction.

    The more I think about it, the more I really appreciate what Bendis was able to do with Ultimate Spider-man… a serialized life that went on for awhile and then was able to come to a conclusion — while setting up another story (Miles Morales) that piqued my curiousity just as Peter’s story was coming to an inevitable conclusion.

    • While I have my favorite arcs of favorite series, I agree that some of the best “arcs” are those books that have definite beginnings and endings. Y The Last Man. Scalped. Starman. Camelot 3000. Ronin. These are books I would LOVE to continue reading as a series, but at the same time, I wouldn’t want them to fall into a Spiderman or Batman kind of series where the only good stories are, indeed, occasional arcs, and the characters never change. Nothing wrong with Spidey or Bats in their own genre, but you know what I mean.

      I just have to think of them as novels with graphic art inside. Wait, that sounds… kind of familiar… Giant complilations of 60-issue stories that, when complete, deserve a place right beside any best-selling novel on NY Times’ Best-seller list.

  4. I still think last year was a great year for comics.

    When I want a change in comic reading, I look to our local library. It has a ton of stuff I wouldn’t have paid for but looked great. Based on reviews, casual “hm this looks interesting” thoughts ’cause I might be sick of something else, and recommendations from – of course – Josh, Ron and Conor, I’ll check anything out. I suggest that to anyone who has that option, and isn’t sure about investing into a potential long arc-ed series. Really, that goes with my reading too. If I can check out one of any thousands of books, I’m completely open to trying different genres, bios, military, essay, etc., if I temporarily overdose on, say, Jim Butcher or Michael Crichton.

    Arcs in comics, TV and media? Sign of the times, our evolving thought processes. Marketing. They’ve got you hooked longer if they streeeeeetch out the story. Sometimes it works with comics. Sometimes not. For me, this trend has finally gotten me thinking about collecting some of my books in trades, since they would read better collected anyway.

    Nothing wrong with reading YA fiction (aka Hunger Games or Harry Potter) as long as you’re not getting some perverted pleasure out of it. I loved Hunger Games, not just because it’s a good story. It reminded me of reading the best teen science fiction when I was young, like the series of Heinlein books that you could lose yourself in. However, I can never read the trilogy again. I was so invested, so interested and so satisfied with how everyone’s tale finished up once I reached the ending, to read it again would merely remind me of everything I read before, as well as how the last book ended. I call it my “Watership Down” syndrome… except I didn’t cry at the end of the Hunger Games trilogy.

    Finally, the average non-genre person will read science fiction or fantasy IF the product in other media is good enough.
    Although, Harry Potter’s first books were read by both sexes and all ages before the movies. Now that we’re post-Harry, ask yourself how many non-genre adult males pick up a YA novel? I notice more women reading SF/Fantasy/YA than men, but I think that’s that particular audience who doesn’t change. (hope I’m not stereotyping).

  5. oh wow, great article. Yeah i totally get what you are saying about the curiosity. I think you nailed why so many of us are in to comics and other forms of stories in general. We want to be amazed.

    I get discouraged when i seek out new comics…things that are supposed to be fresh and new and what i often find is things that are trying too hard to follow the leader. I’d love to see some real risk taking and experimentation in comic and writing wise. Just go nuts, not much to loose.

  6. i can honestly say that i am now more curious than ever with comics. Since the big two having been waning over the past year and half, my interest in comics dropped significantly. But as my curiousity dropped off from the regular superhero comics universes, it only started to peak with independant comics. Now, with ever Prophet and Peter Panzerfaust that is released, the more and more I get excited to take a chance on a new indy number one. I also think this is compounded by the fact that digital comics are making these books more accessible than ever to me. I may have been interested in an indy number one in the past but never got a chance to read it as the store i shopped at hadn’t ordered it, eventually forcing me to wait for the trade or forget about it entirely. Well with digital, that book is ready for me to read with the push of a button.
    This is an amazing time to be a comic fan, just not if your a fan of the big two. Im more curious now than i’ve even been!

  7. I’ve been buy-curious for some time now.

    Sometimes I become decidedly mainstream, even one-publisher-for-the-most-part.

    But I still enjoy the many, many, many independent or creator-owned projects and titles that I have found interesting and used my hard-earned shekels to support.

    Curious comics is fun comics.

    And who wouldn’t want that?

  8. Comic readers are a curious bunch. They have to be to spend money to find out what’s happened to a bunch of paper people. We care about these people. But familiarity breeds contempt. I mean that in the sense that we’ve all seen how this works.

    I’ve found that independent comics can feel fresher because its usually a new character that hasn’t been around for X amount of years. No baggage or continuity.

    I’ve never really lost a sense of curiosity but if I did maybe a media fast would be necessary. With everything being a click away, it’s easy to get over saturated with entertainment and stories and such. Finding new ways to satisfy curiosity would be the best way to change perspective and like you say, come back with new eyes and enjoy them. Good article Mike!

  9. What you call being “curious” I call becoming “plot addicted”. I call it this, because there are times when I may not be enjoying the writing, or the story telling in general, but I absolutely have to know how it ends. I’ve done this with TV series, book series, and comic book series. I really should be trimming my pull list, since I haven’t had time to read them all these last couple months, but instead (since I’m addicted and lazy) I let the cancellation notices do the work for me.

    Note that I know this is not a real addiction, and I’m not making fun of those with real problems.

    On another note. This is one of the reasons I enjoy anime series. The good ones (and most of the bad ones) hardly ever go longer then a single season of 26 episodes. Even the ones that do usually have an ending at the end of the season, not a cliff hanger.

  10. Interesting article 🙂

  11. All good subjects to think on, positivity, endings, etc. I will say, for one thing as for things not endings, I guess it depends on how big of a scale you look at. I wouldn’t consider never TV or movies as unending like you suggest myself, since TV shows seldom last over 10 years and always end. Movies are more often than not stand alone, and series typically end. (Except for James Bond, and well remakes/reboots)

    For indie comics I also feel that way, I know Savage Dragon and Invincible for example will both end sometime, even if its not for twenty years. But even then I don’t necessarily look at those titles as unending, I look at them as epics.

    Definitely true for Marvel/DC though, we’ll always see those big characters. Personally I don’t mind, I guess I’m more of a “it’s about the journey” kinda guy. Plus as an anime/manga fan, those often have very open non-endings too. I appreciate a good ending, but the ending isn’t always what draws me in.

    Also agreed it’s good to stay positive, and of course a good way to do that is find more stuff that grabs you.