I don’t pay much attention for what passes for comics journalism these days, mostly because I don’t pay much attention to what passes for comics these days. Despite the protestations of the heavily invested, comics have become a niche medium — a currently fashionable niche medium, but still one of limited reach and scope. Writing for comics publication — print or online — is a matter of preaching to the choir, with each venue offering minor variations on the same copy and pasted press release sermon.
Combine a rather thin stream of bona fide “news” with the pressures of a regular schedule, and you’ve got an environment where industry gossip, tangential novelty pieces, and facile yet overlong “Top XX” lists assume an unhealthy importance and percentage of column space.
Granted there are some diamonds to be found amidst the piles of dross. Young Master Sims’s exploration of the racial politics of nostalgia was one of the finest pieces of comics commentary in recent memory. On the other hand, there’s Andy Khouri’s recent piece about white supremacists getting into a tizzy over Idris Elba playing Heimdall in the upcoming Thor movie, in which Khouri takes a meaty topic and reduces it into canned taco filling.
The article has the feel of a product commissioned around the strength of a handful of modestly clever jokes, which it delivers reasonably well (despite falling back on the “it’s all imaginary” cop-out used to sidestep the underlying and enduring appeal of “fantasy” genre material and the issues it entails).
When it comes to the wind-up, however, Khouri whips out this masterpiece of internet-based journalism:
The reason Kenneth Branagh cast Stringer Bell as Heimdall in Thor is because that is awesome. Did you see the Thor trailer? Heimdall is awesome!
Way to strike a blow, kid.
It’s not just symptomatic of the state of comics journalism, but of the state of geekdom in general — the insidious influence of the cult of “awesome” (or “fuck yeah” or “WOO!”). It’s the flip side to camp’s patronizing elitism, where fandom takes on the aura of a sensation craving fratboy and high concept becomes an end it itself. The end result is an empty pursuit of raw spectacle fueled by puerile ideas hailed as moments of genius.
One of my favorite books about the comic business is The Comics Journal Library 6: The Writers, an anthology of interviews conducted in the days before TCJ retreated to its lonely ivory tower. It features “mainstream” creators like Denny O’Neil, Gerry Conway, and Marv Wolfman taking some challenging questions about creative vision and the realities of laboring on corporate-owned properties under a more-or-less work for hire system while pining for more personally fulfilling avenues within the medium.
Fast forward to the present time, and we’re gone from questions like “How can you reconcile your work on Nova with your advocacy for more sophisticated material?” to “What’s your favorite Dukes of Hazzard episode?” asked by a fan-slash-drinking buddy during the course of a podcast that is equal parts “morning zoo” and every Sci-Fi Club conversation I was forced to suffer through in college. Creator-owned properties do abound, but exist mostly to serve as tickets in the Hollywood optioning lottery or to prove one’s worthiness to take the reins of an upcoming JLA or X-Men relaunch.
(I understand there’s a powerful financial incentive — not starving to death — involved in these decisions, but it doesn’t change the fact that the comics industry is a place where top chefs aspire — out of need or blind fanboyism — to work the french fry machine at Burger King.)
That’s the current state of comics and comics “journalism” today, a self-perpetuating feedback loop of inbred fandom which masks its entropy with the pursuit of hollow spectacle and infantile antics.
By the way, did you see that latest Thor trailer? I have it on good word that IT WAS AWESOME! LULZ!