Columns / Discourse / March 4, 2009

Too graphic for the kids

It isn’t enough anymore to be a girl who reads comic books. The rugged pride I once possessed because of my cursory knowledge of secondary Batman villains has, I fear, permanently vanished just like Julie Newmar’s interpretation of Catwoman.

Comic books are in right now, and I’d say it’s more than likely that they owe their superhuman strength to nothing less mortal than star power. Iron Man, Hellboy, Batman, The Fantastic Four, Daredevil: all sprinkled with big name actors. Summer blockbusters like these make comic books considerably more digestible for those who might have, in the recent past, crammed some bespectacled Iron Man enthusiast into a locker.

They’re great movies, but they’re just so easy. As a result, any would-be comic fan can walk into a Borders and grab a copy of V for Vendetta off an indiscreet display. Graphic novel in hand, the purchaser might then order a grande chai, straighten her keffiyeh, and peer critically at the panels through two-hundred-dollar frameless Wayfarers.

Now hold this against the vintage model: kid in basement, dirty t-shirt, sucking on his retainer, surrounded by forgotten and discarded Hot Pockets, indecipherable dice, and blinding, vibrant, thin paper pages of BAM!s and BIFF!s. He hunches over a volume of the same, acne-framed eye sockets crowned with unreasonably thick frames. A valiant figure, straight and tall, the classic comic book guy is (was) the base of the social food chain.

That kid doesn’t read comic books anymore. He reads manga or anime. I’m not sure why this is a bad thing (similarly, I’m not sure why reading comic books was ever a bad thing). I have simply been conditioned to politely ignore anyone who eats Pocky or watches Fruits Basket.

It’s nothing personal, really. I wonder if it might not be because of my American Midwestern roots. I like American things. I like Bugs Bunny and Superman. There’s nothing wrong with Japan. Japan’s great! But for some reason the immersion in Japanese culture common among manga and anime patrons makes them seem withdrawn, therefore subjugating them to a necessary position at the bottom of the societal heap. Sorry.

The major difference between the archetypical comic book fan of days gone by and the anime/manga fan of the present lies in gender. Anime/manga fans can be either men or women and it really makes no difference. Gender doesn’t affect your probability of being a manga/anime kid nor does it affect social rank if you are one.

Up until the mass-market comic book boom, I was a princess. I could stroll into Metropolis Comics, a dimly lit storefront near my hometown, and get a full dollar off my issue of American Splendor. The owner is eerily reminiscent of The Simpson’s own Comic Book Guy character, sans the yellow skin. I’m not an especially dazzling girl but the presence of a being with two x chromosomes made this fella trip over his words as if they were rubble on the streets of a Metropolis shattered by an especially irritated Lex Luthor.

The new face of comics, by upping the popularity of comic books amongst women, has lessened the individuality that I so hoard. It’s not novelty enough to know who Black Canary and Harley Quinn are when they’re being imitated by supermodels at Comic Con. Call me old fashioned, but I like to be objectified so long as it is to my advantage. One dollar off American Splendor is to my advantage.

But those days are gone and I can’t help but feel a little obsolete. Sure, maybe nerds rule the world now and I should be reveling in the power, but I can’t help but feel like Alan Moore’s Watchmen. In a world where superheroes are typical front-page news, the mystique gives way to a chintzy bandwagon of half-hearted vigilantism. Sure, everyone likes comic books enough to be a self-proclaimed fan, but who pores over volumes and volumes of old issues of Spiderman to pinpoint the ups and downs of his relationship with Mary Jane when Wikipedia has done the same with bells on?

I’m anxious to see what the movie release of Watchmen will bring to popular culture. I can hardly imagine a little boy enthusiastically touting a Rorschach lunchbox. Moore’s dark look at superherodom from the inside out might very well smash some of the comfortable ideas held by the general populace. Whether or not this is a good thing is completely up to you, but I know my stance.

Sarah Colangelo


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