You Got Your Reality In My Comics!



You’ve probably heard about the today’s issue of The Amazing Spider-Man #583 where Spidey will hang out with President-Elect Obama after defeating The Chameleon’s attempt to derail the inauguration (though it’s in a backup story). I guess Joe Quesada found out that Obama is a fan of Spidey (and other heroes — but not of Superman, Alex Ross’s painting notwithstanding) and figured it would be fun to celebrate the inauguration in the pages of the comic book itself — in continuity, natch.

Reading about this got me thinking about a few things, then a few more things when one my comic book shops emailed me to suggest I reserve my copy, which was really the first time I’ve ever had a shop give me the chance to pre-order a book — which, I must admit, I have mixed feelings about, so bear with me as I try to figure out where to begin…

First off, it must be said, that this is one of those times when you can really tell that comics have a much quicker “turn around” time than other forms of media. Obama was just voted in a little more than two months ago, you know? (Yes, I know Marvel might have just risked it and created the issue ahead of time, or at least planned it, but still.) I’ve talked to a few creators and I’ve heard that one of the reasons they love working in comics is the (relative) speed in which they can be delivered. Comics are one of those story telling forms that can truly adapt and incorporate to the time in which they are being told, which makes them valuable cultural artifacts, methinks, so it is no surprise that something like Obama’s inauguration is being featured so prominently. (But does anyone think that McCain’s inauguration would be the subject of a Spider-Man story? I don’t, for some reason… but I digress.)

While I think it is great to include this momentous historical event in comics, I find myself wondering what the ramifications are. The publication of this comic will no doubt drive many people to their local comic book store, and we can only hope store owners are prepping their counters with other books that new and returning comic book fans might be interested in. This issue of The Amazing Spider-Man is bigger than “just” comics — yes, it was a big deal when Captain America died, but that was still an event that happened in the Marvel Universe. The election of Barack Obama and the inauguration itself is a Real Universe event, so I think we’ll see Real Universe Humans going to comic book stores to pick up this book — which is, as far as I know, the first time a comic book has described a real event so close to the actual event itself. You know what I mean? It’s like people who bought extra issues of the paper after the election as souvenirs, time-stamps of an event. So, I am basically for it — if we can get a new president and some new comic book fans in the same week, that’s fine by me.

I guess I worry about the people that are just in it to make money (I bet there will be a limit per customer at many stores, and we know that Marvel is shipping variant editions with Obama on the cover to spur sales), but I guess that’s how it goes. Part of me hopes that this issue will be part of Free Comic Book Day — but I should probably read the issue first. Actually, that brings up one point: this comic book had better be good. This is a huge opportunity for Marvel to sell more books, and the spillover to other publishers could be huge (I find it pretty easy to imagine someone going in for the Spider-Man book and then picking up other titles that he or she might have read as a kid); I hope that all the books that week are pretty good, come to think of it. I’ll try to visit a few shops when this book comes out to see if how the shops handle the crowds — let me know if you notice anything different, too.

So, okay, it’s fun to see Barack Obama in a comic book. But do we like it when “real” people are in books? It can be really effective to use real figures in books (check this: various presidents in comics), but it can also date the book if they emphasize the character’s inclusion too much. In The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller uses a very Ronald Reagan-esque figure as the president but I think his caricature is broad enough as to make readers who may not “get it” understand what Miller was trying to say. But I must admit, I am of two minds. Sometimes it’s distracting when I see a real president or celebrity in a book, especially when the person is not drawn that well, but then if they don’t use a real person (usually a world leader), I find it somewhat distracting as well. It really depends on what the situation is, I guess, but I figure that it’s probably easiest to just stay in the “make believe” universe, unless you are try to send a specific message or tell a relevant story commenting on a particular event (like the inauguration).

Speaking of which, it’s not like this is the first time comic books have talked about an event — look at the various 9/11 comics that came out — but I must say, I really wish there were more. I don’t mean, “let’s tell a Daredevil story in Baghdad during the surge” (though, honestly, that might be kinda cool), but I think it would be more than awesome to have comics that are talking about the struggles in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, etc. We know how powerful editorial comics can be when commenting on the stories of the day, I think it would be interesting to have a publisher rely on the world around us for its stories. I get comics as escapism — I have boxes and boxes of them — but there seems to be an opportunity for comic books to address reality, as well. I was sitting at the doctor’s office yesterday and realized that there were no ER style comics (that I have seen) — we don’t really even do police comics, or firefighter comics… or sports comics, you know? I mean, we’re not Japan, where one does see these kinds of stories, but manga is held in such a different regard than comics in the US.

I guess what we are seeing, with this interest in the Obama-Spidey Team Up, is people’s excitement about having a world figure inside the world of comics, that somehow Obama is even more real, even more important, now that he’s in Spider-Man. I find myself chuckling at the idea of this actually being an Obama comic in which Spider-Man makes an appearance. Would people read a comic book about The West Wing? They loved the TV series. Heck, I would read it — I really like the political machinations in Ex-Machina — but I guess it’s matter of scale. Still, though, I think there’s an opportunity for comics to be more relevant in people’s lives, that there are more stories out there, stories that people can relate to, than are being told currently. I wonder if this could start a trend — perhaps release Obama Annual #1 this time next year, discussing the events of his first year in office?

We keep hearing about how comics are a niche market, that the publishers have to do all kinds of things to keep readership up. Instead of charging $3.99 for books, how about trying to tell different stories to different markets? I’ll always remember this home-made comic that James Sime at Isotope suggested I check out about this kid who was a butcher at the grocery store down the block. It was cool — I bought it and I liked it, and it was about this kid who worked as a butcher. But it was personal and it was interesting and I still remember it, years later. No, I am not suggesting someone try to start “reality” comics like the stuff that has ruined so much of television, but perhaps if the publishers tried telling different kinds of stories and go them into different outlets, perhaps they’ll find a market. I bet you could do some cool car development stories in Detroit, or some cool music comics in New York, or NASA stories down in Florida. Heck, I would totally buy a comic that explains the whole financial meltdown.

Of course, reading the tragedy of my 401(k) might not be all that fun — especially at $3.99 — which is why I will always like reading superhero comics, but every so often, injecting a bit of reality in my comics can be a well placed jolt to my senses. I am intrigued by the idea of comics that reflect our life and times, though, and will be looking out for them in the months to come to discuss with you. If you know of any, let me know.

What do you think of the Obama appearance? How about the inclusion of “real” people in comics in general?

 


Mike Romo is an actor in LA. He’s never been on a reality show, but if there’s one that is mostly about hanging out by the pool reading comics, he’s interested. He can be reached at mike@ifanboy.com and you can suffer his tweets on twitter.

 

Comments

  1. I would totally read a west wing comic.

    How to build a fire, by Josh Lyman and Sam Seaborn

    Josh: Could you possibly get us some dried leaves?
    Donna: Yeah. I’ll just run out to the forest and be right back.
    [leaves room]
    Sam: You know what?
    Josh: You think she was being sarcastic?
    Sam: Yeah. I don’t think shes getting the leaves.
    Josh: You know what we could use?
    Sam: Newspaper.
    Josh: See, this is what I’m talking about. This is teamwork.
    Sam: It really is.

     

  2. I can’t seem to make up my mind on this.  I love that Obama is a Spidey fan, and part of me thinks it’s great that he’s getting put into this issue.  And the other part of me can’t help but think Marvel is just trying to sell more comics, especially with the $3.99 price tag.  But the appearance of real life people or events doesn’t bother me especially as a Marvel Zombie.  Marvel always had a touch of the real world (being in New York, San Fran, etc) and I like the idea of that potentially being expanded.

    I would also like to hear what Obama’s thoughts are on this issue.  Any fan of Spider-Man would love to be IN Spider-Man.  If he’s released a statement I missed it, but I would love to hear his thoughts.

    Also, congrats on any of you that good it.  I went into my (former) comic book store this morning and was told I couldn’t get it.  I’ve had a pull there for four years with Amazing having been on that list the whole time.  I understand the demand but as their former customer I deserve better than "tough shit".  The search for a new store begins.

  3. @DarthDuck: they just sold your copy? thats fucked up.

  4. didn’t Superman fight Ali at some point?

  5. I have no doubt that Marvel is just doing this to try sell more comics and get some mainstream press.  I am sure that like everyone else is the comic indusrty, Marvel is made up of mostly Obama supporter.  But this just seems cheap, like the Obama speail edition collectors plates.

    I can respect what Erik Larson did in Savage Dragon because it did not feel like he was jumping on the Obama band wagon. 

    And by the way, WFT!!!!! Obama does not like Superman.  Now I’m glad I voted for McCain.

     

     

  6. Sorry for the type-o’s.  In a hurry for a lunch meeting.

  7. I may actually buy this issue, but if I do, I’ll probably get the 2nd printing with Obama on the cover. *shrug*

    Personally, I’m just glad that it’s Bush that hired Norman Osborn. 🙂

     

  8. Back to the topic at hand…

    I don’t mind reality in comic books, fundamentally.  The purpose of art is to comment on society and the world around us – that is its reason for being – so in that sense comics should deal with the real world.  But it has to be done in a way that makes sense.

    All those 9/11 books that came out helped me tremendously with my grieving process.  To read other people’s personal stories helped to process mine.  I still can’t read them without tearing up.  On the other hand, it was ham-fisted and stupid when Marvel put 9/11 into the pages of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and had mass murderers Dr. Doom and Magneto crying over it.  To me, that cheapened the evenand left a very bad taste in my mouth that still lingers.

  9. If "Marvel just wants to sell more comics," 1) they meet the commonly understood definition of "a business" and 2) it’s working. The shop I went to was sold out within an hour of opening, and the phone rang with a question about it every time the manager put the receiver down. This was exactly what I deserved, because I woke up this morning thinking, "Pfft, hype! Do they really think this is going to get anyone to go to a comic store?"

    Personally, I like my comics to reflect the real world and its issues as much as possible. Seeing President Carter in a comic with a character that hasn’t aged since throws me a lot less than fictional cities and presidents for some reason.

     

  10. I’d say, as a general guideline, try not to directly pull the real world into your books.  More often than not, it just doesn’t work.  I’d even say Dark Knight Returns, a classic of epic proportions, is hampered by directly sticking Reagan right in there in all his cariactured cartoon cowboy glory.  It just brings the discourse down.  If you want to throw in proxies to make your points, fine, but if you’re going to throw a naked Dubya on the White House lawn and say he just licked Magneto’s boots clean, for every person fist pumping at that, you’re going to have two or three rubbing their brow at how stupid and hacky that is no matter their politics.  In the same way, when you throw Thor into New Orleans where people can yell "Where were you?!" it just looks cheap and ridiculous to me. 

    Sometimes it works (Geoff Johns’ use of Bush in Avengers I think qualifies) but even then, it’s something that’s just off to the side and didn’t really make any statement or was even key to the story.  So, I’d say, more often than not, if you’re going to inject real life politics into your story, it’s probably a good idea not to.

  11. Any good work of storytelling art (movies, TV, books, comics) is going to reflect the reality of their era, blatant or not. Often it takes awhile to notice the shifts in societal moods, but there is definite relationships between what is reality & how the storytellers reflect that back at us. I can’t blame Marvel for putting Obama in "Spider-Man", a lot of people want a piece of the guy either to make some $$$ or show their excitement at the (thankfully) upcoming change in American administrations. What’s the harm? That said, Dr. Doom crying over the tragedy 9/11 seems way out of line (I wasn’t buyng books then so I missed that one). 

  12. I really don’t mind the reality in my comics – it’s not like I’m thinking there really is a Spider-Man because the President (or President-elect to those who are sticking to it until next week) is in my comic book. It does take me out of the story a bit, but not enough to stop reading and throw the book across the room in disgust. To me it seems like it can often come off as gratuitous when using a real person doesn’t add or detract anything from the story aside from that ‘real world’ setting. I’d rather see Lex Luthor as president in a comic more than I’d like to see Obama if there is no reason other than stunt casting.

  13. My LCS was jammed with people looking for this issue today…Frankly I really don’t care who is in the comic. It’s done as a stunt. We’ve seen Bush in a lot of comics over the last few years. The only thing I don’t like about it that much is that it specifically dates the story, but ultimately–I really don’t care.

  14. "Please keep obama out of my comics. I am so sick and tired of hear about our flower child select president I could puke blood."

    Ha, I have pretty much the same opinion of the guy’s media coverage that you do, but I’m strangely very much OKAY with him being in an issue of Spider-Man. I can’t get worked up about it, and don’t want to. This seems like harmless light-hearted fun.

  15. @Dan WHAT!? There’s no real Spider-Man!?! Next you’ll be telling that Santa and the Tooth Fairy don’t exist.

  16. Thing is Mike, if you weren’t right on top of all the mini-series marketing stunts and special issue marketing stunts, I’d have to buy them to figure out what was in them. Ideally, to every 10 fanboys/girls, there is one uber-fanperson who buys every insane p.o.s. out there, and explains what happened to the rest of us. Basically, you’re my own personal Jesus – you suffer the marketing stunts for all of us, and we love you for it.

  17. i work at my comic store after school, and we sold out of the obama covers in a minute, teh other regular covers were goen within an hour. luckily for me we set some of to the side for us.

  18. Just heard that there’s going to be a Obama variant of Youngblood #8 or whatever. So, looks like the movement’s over, since, uh, no one’s going to want to follow Liefeld after he simultaneously makes this seem like gimmick overkill AND draws what I’m sure will be the definitive portrait of the 44th (?) President.

  19. It will lead to a Spider-Man event where villains will be released from Guantanamo and he will have to fight them. No longer will he have the support of Bush.

  20. I am on the side of not wanting real people in my comics. I want my entertainment to be fairly disconnected from my reality. It is what I do for fun, and I don’t really want it to portray politics or current events directly. Some books are subtle with real world references, and that I don’t mind so much, but the direct reference bugs me. This particular case I don’t like because I disagree politically with Obama, but I also didn’t like Bush in the Superman books at the beginning of New Krypton even though I support him. I understand that publishers do it because it helps sales, and some people like the more direct reflection, but its not for me personally.

  21. How about a BOB DOLE special issue! huh? huh?

  22. @sonia–ha, yeah, well, I haven’t bought it YET; it IS on my pull list, but I don’t think I am going to fight the masses for the second Obama cover. (I do try to keep abreast of this marketing stuff, though, if only to see how the comic book community feels about them). One thing that I didn’t really emphasize was how annoyed I am at all this fervor over a backup story. I mean, it’s not like the Superman/Ali issue, which was the focus of the whole issue, as far as i can remember, it’s probably just 4-6 pages in the back.

    But, the good thing about it is that if the MAIN story is good (which may it may not be–Peter goes on a date? whee, I guess), it might get people to come back to the store again. Marketing stunts work—I got back into comics based on the Batman 10¢ Adventure…I went in with a dime for one comic and came out with 12 books. It wlll be interesting to see how much of an impact this book makes on sales.

     

     

  23. Political post deleted.  This isn’t a discussion about politics, it’s about reality in comic books.

  24. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    In all honesty, I don’t have a strong feeling either way in regards to real people in fictional stories.  I look at it like any other writing technique.  If it works, it works.  If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.  Good writing is good writing is good writing. 

     ..is good writing.