pack of comic bagsIt took me a long time to crack it, but I feel I’ve finally got a handle on what’s wrong with the comics industry: The colon. And Mark Millar. But stepping back a bit, and pushing Millar aside till next week (inspite of the resonances – Millar’s obsession with anal rape, for instance), I can’t help coming to the conclusion that the preoccupation with storing, categorizing and consistency that typically characterizes the anal personality type serves as a fairly accurate general diagnosis for all that ails fandom and WHY SO MANY COMICS ARE SHIT ™.

It’s impossible to say what happened during the potty training phase of the X-Men readership – why that time became synonomous with a deep and altogether unhealthy focus on the comings and goings of, ahem, foreign elements within the body, and thence spun out into an obsession with the structural integrity of fictional universes – but nevertheless we are informed by Dr. Freud that this must be the case; and who am I to question 100 years of Viennese butt probing, sheathed, as I am, head to toe in a thin mylar casing, like a second skin, surrounded by similarly cocooned complete runs, special and variant editions and, err, funnies, in my perfectly sealed world…. So smooth… Ordered…

Fair enough, I know I’m generalizing from my own case here, but if even half the readership out there share even an inkling of my craving for alphabetizing and filing cabinets, then we’ve got a real problem. Alright, I don’t really give a shit about the aforementioned, but I can relate to an extent. As a young poodle, I internalized the rules of the big brands. There was no way Ram-Man shared the same space as Predaking – unless Simon Furman told me so. I even balked when I saw some fan art detailing Spidey’s rogues gallery featuring Doctor Doom. How could this be?!?

But I was 8.

I mean, to a certain extent this has continued. I still feel a bit weird about DC/Marvel team-ups and I enjoy the self-containedness of fictional environments – I even dig Who’s Who books – but part of the pleasure stems from watching writers transgress and toy with the conventions of the characters’ diagetic crawlspace. It’s the gaps, the bits inbetween, that’s where the magic happens. And the anus is, sadly, still unsure of this stuff. Plus, the anus is invariably older than 8. Its hang-ups regarding naughty universe touching and all the rest of it are the cause of so many sins… I’m not sure I can countenance its presence in Dave’s Comics any longer!

THINGS THAT SHOULD NOT BE:

  1. Men in their 30s/40s/50s should not buy 20 different titles on comics’ Thursday. For a start, I’ve only got a couple of books in my hand and I’ve actually got to get back to work in the next 15 minutes. Guys, you are the reason people think comics’ readers are a bunch of anally retentive collectors! I mean how many times has a new chum given you that knowing look as it dawned on them, ‘Oh, so you like comics, then?’, making you want to rail, ‘No! I DO NOT like comics! I like some comics! I know there are freakish men who hoard every DC book going, every month, including swimsuit editions, but I’m not one of them!’ For fuck’s sake! Nobody asks, with arched brow, ‘So, you read books, do you?’ No indeed. And, yes, that’s in part because books aren’t a niche interest, but it’s also because that scary collector bloke’s doing the rounds of everyone’s collective unconscious. Perhaps he’s the reason funny-books are still such a niche interest, anyway.

Move over Fatbeard!

  1. The notion that everything that happens to a superhero, in every book, and on every T Shirt, has to be somehow shoe-horned into a rigid continuity. That way leads to the dark side and the faulty assumption that Grant Morrison was, for instance, foisted upon the Caped Crusader and that, when something like Damian happens, some sort of GROSS VIOLATION has taken place. No, Batman and Son isn’t simply a story that the fan might dislike and could potentially ignore, but a flagrant sullying of precious Bat-integrity! And, inspite of this terrible act of rape, because all of this is Batman’s life, he has to read all of Mozzer’s books anyway. And all the others. Everything. Every month. No wonder these guys are bitter.

Anyway, this leads swiftly on to…

  1. The travesty that took place on the DC message boards (at least I think was the DC boards – I trawled a lot of them before posting this) the other week. A thread should not exist on the interweb where tens of fans attempt to cobble together their own ‘personal bat-history’ out of over 50 years of continuity. No-one should be able to list the titles of more than a few of a character’s story arcs. 20 or more is just unacceptable. I know it’s important for the fictional worlds we inhabit to have depth and solidity, but the kind of fetishizing of detail that I suspect is going on in some of these (not so) young minds is really worrying. I used to get pissed off playing Warhammer* when I was younger because the GM was more obsessed with the Nipponese [racist, then! - ed]/Imperial exchange rate than he was with creating any kind of atmosphere. I’m sure, to him, that stuff was atmosphere, just as the specifics of how Batman actually gets around town are to the fanboys. Only they’re not to me.

To me it’s all fucking boring shit.

  1. Bloody rule-making generally. Superheroes do not respond well to the kind of measuring and boundary-setting inflicted by the aforementioned Who’s Who books. Only the anus does. Actually maybe the Marvel lot do – they’re less about the magic, myth and wonder, and more about the ACTUAL FACTS OF REALITY (oh, God, can Mark Millar wait till next week?!? It’s too much…) – but the DC guys? Well, how shit would it be if someone actually provided you with a proper breakdown of exactly how Bats pulls one of his vanishing acts on the roof of the GCPD? A real anal fanboy’s got it all worked out, don’t you worry! If he could give Bruce Wayne’s martial arts prowess a numeric value he would. Talking about RPGs; what about the DCU game? Batman’s strength isn’t 10, for the love of God! And I don’t give a shit if, in the real world (the anus loves talking incredulously about how things happen in comics, contrasted with how things happen ‘Iiiiin the reeeeal woooorld’) Supes would kick Batbastard’s arse! Bruce beating down the next unstoppable threat should be a feat of fucking magic, not probability, you dry, limits-imposing motherfucker! I always remember a few people bitching on Newsarama about how we weren’t given a complete rundown of the Seven Soldiers’ powers and how annoying this self-evidently was. I know! God forbid a comic should ever surprise us! Actually, I get pretty miffed when I meet someone and don’t know immediately how much they can bench-press. Frankenstein is no exception. Jeez! Super-powers aren’t boring, flat things that we should have the instant measure of – they’re supposed to astound us. Baffle us. This desire to make everything knowable comes from an unhealthy place, pre-occupied with gate-keeping. What’s allowed in and out. Pooing.

And it makes everything else poo.

I could go on and on, but I think you’ll have got the general point by now. This isn’t rocket science. In fact, it’s a cliche, but it’s a cliche I needed to rant on. I just hate that weird, conservative bent in fandom that insists on putting the breaks on the narrative, thematic, visual, ideological and, ultimately, mythic scope of our super-books. Sure, they’re silly and trashy and all the rest of it and we should all be buying Fantagraphics books instead, etc., but Wonderwoman et al are still the popular face of this industry and there’s no reason why the entry level stuff can’t be just as out-there and forward looking as a Chris Ware book. The silliness and the trashiness are the crux of it, really, because they represent brilliant jumping off points for genuine transgression. In the end, I guess this is why I prefer the DCU to the Marvelverse – it incorporates everything from super-cats to the Dark Knight Returns. This internal reality-hopping makes for a much more interesting, fluid imaginal space than the consistently straight-down-the-line-ness of Spidey’s New York. It opens up the space, emphasising the soft zones, the liminal. Everything is possible, because everything is permitted. When the DCU is comfortable with it’s glorious internal inconsistencies, as it is in works like the aforementioned Seven Soldiers or Mark Waid’s Brave & the Bold, it’s at its best. The anally retentive fanboy, however, doesn’t know this. He’s too busy apologising for all the wonderful shit he should be celebrating, logging onto weird, ummm, *bagging* websites in order to seal off the wonders of Metropolis from the harsh reality of downtown Tunbridge Wells, and trying to iron out all the conceptual wrinkliness that puts the fun in the funny-books.

*Inbetween dating hot chicks, raving on 9 pills a night and actually being a superhero called Night-man: Fluxor.

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28 Responses to “Anal retention and the comics fan”

  1. Qthgrq Says:

    Lol

    It’s tricky, one man’s fatbeard is another’s valiant supporter of the comic book industry. Also, I don’t think we should overlook the role the publishers and good old, common or garden, everyday conservatism play in stifling creativity.

  2. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    Continuity is a bastard – can’t live with it, can’t live without it. As long as you accept it’s a flexible and fun thing rather than a straight-jacket life should be peachy.
    Interestingly continuity was pretty much created by the fans back in the forties, when the first zines appeared. Publishers caught wind later when they realised there was money to be made from having Superman and Batman exist in the same Universe.(of course).

  3. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    Incidentally – Man Ape = fucking yes!

  4. Qthgrq Says:

    Point 2 is fantastic description of what seems to be going on in the minds of some geeks.

    By the way, I think fans traditionally love a bit of naughty universe touching.

  5. Qthgrq Says:

    …At least in part because it is transgressive. The original thrill of mega-crossovers like Secret Wars was that all those heroes were sharing each other’s space. If that could happen, thought the young Qthgrg, anything could happen.

    Of course it’s interesting to see just how bloody boring it’s all got. DC’s recent attempts to drag its multiplicity of continuities together and fix them in place with a horribly contrived, internally dissonant conceptual framework (lacking in any poetry or elegance) managed to flush all the love down the toilet.

  6. dfalcon Says:

    Ah, “naughty universe touching” will go some to be beat as a tag in the history of der comics internets.

    I NEED to use that shit now.

  7. dfalcon Says:

    I’m adding a good tag to mine RIGHT NOW

  8. Qthgrq Says:

    You do that, Big man!

  9. amypoodle Says:

    Hmm, I’d forgotten about the pleasures of slotting two universes together. The meta-anus.

  10. neonsnake Says:

    “The travesty that took place on the DC message boards (at least I think was the DC boards – I trawled a lot of them before posting this) the other week. A thread should not exist on the interweb where tens of fans attempt to cobble together their own ‘personal bat-history’ out of over 50 years of continuity.”

    So, what happened to my thread then? That list took me bloody ages…

  11. Qthgrq Says:

    The bat continuityists strike back!

    Poodle, apparently you are, not only a retard, but a post ironic spanner with misanthropic tendencies. You are also angry. Very angry.

    Must be what it’s like being famous

  12. Qthgrq Says:

    Course, probably a better, less ire bating, way of framing the post, would have been to attack certain tendancies rather than a group of people. Because while there certainly are people who exhibit tendencies that I think hinder the creative impulses of the industry, it’s the behaviour which I’m inclined to take issue with rather than the person, mainly because I know next to nothing about the person in question.

    As a Barbelith veteran you know all this, but it is worth saying.

  13. bobsy Says:

    ‘judge, jury and executioner’

    Executioner? Poodle, who’ve you’ve been executing man? That is NOT cool. I’d like to make it clear that, like Batman, we here at Mindless Ones Dot Com in no way endorse capital punishment.

  14. neonsnake Says:

    I’ll confess to being the guy calling the poster (amypoodle?) a spanner. A post-ironic one, at that.

    I mean…come on now. A travesty? Because we happen to enjoy comix in a different way to you guys?

    How are these kind of statements any different to the ‘you don’t like Frank Miller? what are u, sum kind of retard?’ crowd over on the DC boards?

  15. neonsnake Says:

    meh, that came across more ‘flamey’ than intended. I’m genuinely more curious than annoyed.

  16. Qthgrq Says:

    Hey, spanner is always a good insult. Not sure what post-ironic is supposed to mean is this context, though.

    Like I said above, the way Poodle’s framed his argument detracts from some of the points he’s making, in that they’re obscured by a largely puerile (if humorous) rant about a group of semi-imaginary people. As far as I understand it there are two things which really bug him a) collecting for the sake of collecting rather than following talented creators, b) obsession with continuity. The argument seems to be that neither activity/attitude encourages creativity, innovation, or even imagination, in fact quite the opposite: that they are stifling the industry.

    Now, I happen to think Poodle’s position here is defensible, and at the very least has some merit. On the other hand I’m equally sure that things aren’t quite as black and white as he’s painting them. Collectors, for example, may well be the backbone of the superhero comics market, making them, at least to some extent, the unintentional engines of innovation and creativity.

  17. neonsnake Says:

    Post-ironic – well, once upon a time we loved comics because they had BIG FREAKIN’ ROBOTS and the like beating each other up, and that was just great in it’s own right. Then we hit our teens, and got all teenaged and mopey, and a little snarkey with our beloved BIG FREAKIN’ ROBOTS, and insisted that they being saying something deep about the plight of the llama farmers. And we only liked them coz we woz being ironic, natch.
    Then we grew up and realised that we were right first time, and BIG FREAKIN’ ROBOTS are their own reward. Hence, post-ironic.

    It’s not a criticism; unless one thinks that post-ironic is somehow the only way that comics can/should be enjoyed. I begin to get twitchy when someone tells me that I may BE enjoying comics, but the way in which I’m doing so is wrong wrong diddley-wrong wrong. As it were.

    As for the points made – they made me laugh. Especially when I realised that at least one of them was specifically about me. I’ve been slagged by someone I’ve never met! *WOOT WOOT!*

    I like DCU continuity. It’s like a big ol’ puzzle of a Constable painting with a few pieces switched with pieces from a Pollack. Part of the fun is trying to put it together *shrugs*…sue me.

    I don’t buy the argument that continuity stifles the industry. If a writer can’t write in continuity, then write something outside of it. And Jeebus H Christopher, just LOOK at the continuity we’ve got in the DCU, from New Gods to aliens to 5th dimensional leprechauns to fellas dressed in tights beating up muggers. How can you NOT find something in there to encourage some kind of creativity?

    Collectors…well, I’ll confess myself to spitting out the occasional ‘Well don’t…fricking…buy…it…then…’ when faced with the nth thread about Mr J.Todd, but a lot of people follow the character rather than the creator.

    It’s no different to films – surely you must know people who would class themselves ‘James Bond’ fans, but wouldn’t have a scooby who directed them; nor would they then go to see any other film just on the basis of the director?

  18. Qthgrq Says:

    Ah right, the standard definition of post-irony then (as much as there is a standard definition – it’s not exactly a rigorously defined term). Not sure that Poodle is suggesting that all comics need to be enjoyed on that level, in fact I’m absolutely certain (and I am in a position to know) that he isn’t. Can you point to where he makes that case? Not sure I can.

    On your point that continuity can act as a creative smorgasboard and a source of inspiration, I totally get you. Grant Morrison – almost certainly Poodle’s favourite comic writer – loves nothing more than to mine the histories of his characters for nuggets of imaginative gold. That said, we all know that the realities of the business mean that creators can’t simply choose to ignore continuity if they are writing within the DCU or 616. Sometimes unusual projects like ASS and ASBats show up and offer a little more creative freedom, but creators generally don’t get to pick and choose their projects – they have contractual obligations to fulfill. Most writers are installed to service a product, and little else, and servicing that product usually means following continuity guidelines, amongst other things. Of course there’s always the independent route, but I get the impression Poodle is talking specifically about the world of superbooks here, so that’s really a moot point.

    Gone off at a bit of a tangent, to get back to continuity as inspiration, what you’re missing is that continuity isn’t simply a load of cool stuff just waiting to be dug out, it’s also serves to place limits on the kinds of stories that can be told, because any story written within continuity is subordinate to what has gone before*. Now, I’m not trying to suggest that closing down options is always a bad thing – genre fiction, something I’m very keen on, revels in it’s limits. But the best of it, finds ways of pushing against them, subverting or even transcending them. That’s something a writer like Grant Morrison understands. His Club of Heroes arc, for instance, stepped well outside of current continuity and referenced a silver age story and the comic was all the better for it. But, hmmm, I’m just not sure everyone gets that kind of leeway, ya know.

    On balance then, I’m not against continuity – TBH, I think you’d be hard pushed to find a superhero fan who is – I’m against slavishly following continuity. (In many cases) I’m against not doing something fun now because something that happened ten years ago makes it ‘impossible’. And I’m against an attitude that needs everything to be consistent all the time because to be consistent all the time must, necessarily, place severe restrictions on creativity.

    There are, of course, many more things to be said on this topic, particularly on the relationship between continuity and the reader’s subjectivity: “Spider Man would never do that because he’s still mourning Brian” or whatever; and the relationship between continuity, tonality and genre.

    Maybe there’s a post in that.

    *Of course, the elements of continuity that are considered sacrosanct can (and do) change over time. It’s not a iron-clad straightjacket despite its restrictiveness

  19. amypoodle Says:

    Okay, I know I should have attacked the attitudes as opposed to the (straw) man, but, seriously, if I could change those attitudes overnight believe me I would. Comics would be better in my opinion. If that makes me TEH EXECUSHONOR! then so be it, but, frankly, I’m fairly certain mine is the minority position and the collectors and continuity hounds will survive my ‘ickle lambasting. Also, I’m hardly losing any sleep over this stuff. The post was fueled by a certain amount of ire, sure, but laziness and an ability to think of anything else to write about played the greater role in its creation.

    I will endeavour to be less insulting to individuals next time I spew my brain over the hallowed walls of this blog. Oh. Wait. Maybe after I’ve dealt with The Millar…..

  20. amypoodle Says:

    Let me also add, that I like you neonsnake. Yr thoughtful and coherent and I may be slightly oppositional in terms of yr POV, but fighting can be fun.

    Flattery is, I know, a low blow, but it’s hard to be horrible to a man with the balls to bring it to the house of the enemy, especially when he does it with a good deal of grace and a nice writing style.

  21. NeonSnake Says:

    Well, that’s very kind…and I’ll be as clear as I can, I agree with a number of your points; just not all of them, and I think that your aim is slightly off.

    The guy who buys 20 comics every week? Good on him – if he’s enjoying all of them, and is buying them for that reason.
    If he’s buying them out of some sense of ‘duty’, or some kind of ‘mmmmunbrokenrun’ compulsion, then that’s different. If he’s buying them and he doesn’t like them, and then he’s whining about how he still doesn’t like (for instance) Morrison’s Batman after a dozen or so issues…then by all means, point at him, laugh, take the piss out of his beard and his t-shirt with the screen-print of a wolf howling at the moon.

    The continuity-guys? Again…depends. Speaking personally, I just like to know ‘when stuff happened’. I like to know that ‘by this point, Black Canary has left the Birds of Prey’. And just to give you a little more ammo, cuz I is nice like that…I’ve actually got all my trades arranged in chronological order. And I’ve got them listed, in order, in an excel spreadsheet, no less. Ooooh, yeah, baby. Hardcore. You know the score.

    Or…are you talking about the ‘since when did they have a batpole’ crowd? If so…then, yes. Laugh, point, beard, etc.

    Qthgrq (yeah, I copy-and-pasted your name) makes a good point about subjectivity. Spend some time on the DCMB, and you’ll come across any number of kiddiewinks telling that Vic Sage would never, ever, EVAH (forever-ever?) pass on the mantle of The Question, because he, in issue #7, panel 4, said that he wouldn’t blah de blah de blah. Yeah, well, that’s one way of looking at it. Course, he could have changed his mind. Subjective continuity should never get in the way of a good story. Ever.
    Because, well, your subjectivity is different to mine. And his. And that fella over there (No, not him, the guy next to him). And who’s to say who is right?

    Factual stuff, though, is a little different. Qthgrq talks about it being restrictive…but every piece of fiction is restricted by something, and making sure that you don’t use Big Barda because she’s dead is not restricting in any meaningful or important sense. If the story is desperately compromised, then set it earlier than her death. Or come up with something different. Use those creative urges, eh? If you can’t…probably best if you don’t play in a sandbox where the walls are made from continuity.

    I wholly agree with the point about those who want to strip the magic away – but I think that you’ve applied characteristics to those people that aren’t really representative of the ‘stifling urge’, and then you’ve railed against THOSE misapplied characteristics, instead of the ones that matter, the ones that you get to later in your post when you talk about rule-making. And that, of course, is why I called you a spanner.

    Some collectors want to enforce all the boring rules, sure – but not all of them by any means. Some continuity hounds want the same, but again, it’s not a 100% correlation by a longshot.

    Anyway, all my lunchtime rambling aside…good website. I look forward to reading more.

    Rob

  22. Qthgrq Says:

    If you can’t…probably best if you don’t play in a sandbox where the walls are made from continuity.

    As I’ve said above, I don’t want to see those walls knocked down, just vaulted on occasion. Perhaps a bit of phasing…

  23. NeonSnake Says:

    Well, people like me get to have it both ways, really, because we have the get-out clause to end them all – Superboy-Fisting. And, well, I’m not so rigid that I’m uncomfortable with that.

    For example, Damian’s conception was not, originally, a drug-induced genetic experiment. That was, indeed, a continuity-gaffe.

    But whilst I may be disappointed that Damian is not a product of teh hairy-chested lovin’ (crucially, I think that even Mike Barr has him keep his mask on. [i]Because it’s better that way[/i]), I can just put his change in origin down a swift fisting by Superboy, and I’m quite happy with that.

  24. Qthgrq Says:

    Superboy fisting is there to be enjoyed

  25. Shade1983 Says:

    This post about disliking rules contains a list of rules.

  26. Botswana Beast Says:

    A timely, if not wholly accurate, rejoinder!

  27. amypoodle Says:

    fufffcking heck! i forgot about this post!

  28. Botswana Beast Says:

    so’d I.

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