This column was originally posted on GeekNation.com as "The GeekNation Pull List – Letters Page" on October 16th, 2014.
Today, I’ll examine a topic that has been on my mind for a while: comic book culture. In order for me to dig into it, though, I hope you’ll indulge me with a bit of an autobiographical walk down memory lane, and what actually led me into being a proud member of that culture.
When I was a teenager, growing up in a very small pacific northwestern town (literally about 5 minutes from Canada), I was fortunate to have a lot of friends. People knew me, (I think) most people who knew me liked me, and even though I would stand awkwardly by myself in a corner at school dances when the slow songs played, I generally had a decent social experience during those years.
The one area, though, in which I felt like I didn’t belong was in my hobbies. Sure, everybody liked video games (even though I was one of the few kids in the early 2000s that placed their allegiance behind the GameCube over the PS2 and Xbox), but I also liked comic books. I really liked comic books, and for the most part that seemed to be something that a lot of my friends found weird.
I know. High school, right? Especially pre-Avengers, pre-Dark Knight high school.
Becoming a “Comic Book Guy”
When I finally graduated (or “got out of prison,” as I like to call it) and started attending college, I thought it’d be fun to put my extensive and seemingly useless knowledge of comics and their characters to use. I emailed the webmaster of Batman-On-Film.com cold one day and asked if he needed someone to review comic books, which he graciously gave me the opportunity to do (even though those early reviews were pretty horrendous and more glorified plot summaries than actual critical analyses), and I thought I’d see if the best local comic shop in town would be able to use my fandom to try and sell more books.
At first, they politely declined. Then, they seemed vaguely interested, but said they didn’t need anyone at the moment. Finally, the store changed owners, and after a year of lobbying for a job there, the new owner agreed to bring me on. Pretty soon, I’d be a pacific northwestern “comic book guy.”
It was only after I started working at that store that I started to understand that there was such a thing as “comic book culture,” and that I had wandered into being, if not a local authority on the subject, at least someone whom people started to trust with notions of which titles, characters, and publishers they should support by spending their hard-earned money. It became a role that I took very seriously, and frankly, something that I became quite good at.
It naturally forced me to extend beyond the boundaries I had set for myself as a casual comic book reader, and I then tried to do everything that I could to learn as much as I could about everything that was going on at the moment in pretty much every major comics title. It also led me to being a representative for our store at conventions, where I got to talk seriously with representatives from DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Image, IDW, and various other independent publishers about what the needs of fans were, what the needs of retailers were, and the state of the comic book business in general.
It also led me to becoming a fully-fledged, card-carrying member of comic book culture. You see, comics culture has become a more popularly accepted entity in recent years because of the success of comics-based movies, but much like video game culture or tabletop gaming culture, it’s still viewed as an extremely focused niche, filled with pedantic fanboys who are more concerned with the right color of Wolverine’s costume than they are with any other more “important” topic.
It also has a reputation as a “boys-only” club, that either looks down upon or outright rejects the idea that women and girls can take part in it. Admittedly, some of these perceptions have a ring of truth to them, but only in the sense that they are such stereotypical ideas that even fans themselves have started to believe them.
What Comic Book Culture Can Be, and Largely Is
The best examples of comics culture, though, are extremely diverse across racial and gender lines because of one primary factor: overriding inclusivity. As a comic book retailer, whenever I saw someone new walk into the store I worked in, I would always try and relay one primary idea to anyone and everyone that wanted to read a comic book when I would say to them, “you’re among friends.”
It’s true that some segments of comic book fandom feel they are set apart and can dictate to people who can be a “real” comic book fan or not. As a retailer for six-and-a-half years and a comics fan for much longer, though, those people in act bring shame to the community. They certainly don’t define it.
By and large, comic book fans have been the most kindhearted, accepting, and diverse group of people I’ve ever had the good fortune of knowing. Every community has a few bad apples, which is just human nature, but just because they behave badly and draw attention to themselves does not mean that they should be seen as the de facto “speakers” for every comic book fan out there.
The community experience is vitally important to being a comic book fan, and is also one of the most rewarding. I’d definitely encourage you to be a part of it, since there’s just something fundamentally awesome about sharing common (or uncommon) interests surrounding a great and efficient storytelling medium. There's no shortage of stories and characters that are right for anyone, and I always love sharing in someone's joy as the excitedly turn the crisp, colorful pages of a hot-off-the-presses comic book every Wednesday.