The online comics community is full of outrageous statements and meltdowns - and that's just the creators. Should they log-off to preserve their reputations? Plus, a look at why DC's Humanoids and 2000AD lines may have failed.
18 April 2005


When I first discussed my doctoral thesis with one of my supervisors, she suggested I look at the various subcultures found within the comics community. An expert in feminism, the closest she'd ever got to comics was a love of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, a life-sized promotional stand-up of whom dominated her already cramped office.

Instead of mentioning Buffy's comic-related roots, I looked at her slightly aghast and shook my head, muttering about how unpredictable that topic can be. Also, I wasn't sure what it had to do with literature. I told her that fan culture, especially online fandom, is a place any sane person would do well to avoid.

As impenetrable as post-war comic continuity is, fandom is worse - and a damn sight more childish, like the parliament of a small Asian nation, where discussions tend to break down into slanging matches as the insults grow pettier and more personal the longer they go on. It's enough to do a newbie's head in. If this were the real world, a bouncer would've stepped in on most of these exchanges and thrown both parties out onto the street, where you can't change your log-in name, and where a punch to the head is a better deterrent than an IP block.

A lot of the fixtures of comic commentary sites are amusing to watch, with their meltdowns and pissing contests and ultra-nerdy diatribes, but when it's a comic creator who chucks the degenerates into Rasputin the Mad Monk territory, it's a strange, sad spectacle.

'Online fandom is a place any sane person would do well to avoid.' Much of this can be chalked up to the changed interaction between comic fan and comic creator. Personally 'talking' to Creator X on his/her message board or blog is a long way from when the only way you'd know the vague personal details of your fave artist was a births/death notice by Smilin' Stan in the monthly Bullpen Bulletin, when the only way to voice your displeasure at Jean Grey, or Elektra, or Hal Jordan being killed off was to write a letter, or at the very least phone in a death threat.

We take for granted the fact that there are creators who take the time out to interact (as it were) with fans. And sometimes it's like they forget that people other than sycophantic fanboys are watching and scrutinizing.

The internet provides an intimacy that doesn't often exist in other creative fields. Kindred creators such as science fiction and fantasy authors occasionally pop-up online (usually in the form of blogs or the odd message board), but I haven't heard of notable directors or scriptwriters lording it over message boards the way some notable comic people do.

Can you imagine George Lucas fielding questions about why the new STAR WARS films are crap compared to the old ones? It would quickly turn into a John Byrne-esque farce, while fans abuse Lucas for leading them on and accuse him of 'raping' their childhood. Lucas is far too busy swimming around in his money bin to care what the people who'll give him their money anyway actually think. Hmmm, that sounds awfully familiar.


Still, it's easy to see the need for comic creators to foster an online persona. By all accounts Warren Ellis (for example) is a nice guy, but online, faced with legions of people wanting to worship him and hate him in equal measure, he built his Stalinistic Old Bastard persona (with a disturbing hint of Sleazy Old Man thrown in for good measure) to combat this. Take no shit, put your foot down, keep the natives in line. Poke the bear at your own risk.

Sometimes, though, it does get a little nuts. Take the April 1st backlash against Rich Johnston by Mark Millar and Brian Michael Bendis: a small joke that got blown out of proportion and splashed across comic sites. The way Millar handled it, bolstered by his faithful, made him look like the bad guy.

'It's easy to see the need for comic creators to foster an online persona.' I'll admit right off the bat that if a creator (be it of comics, novels, films, whatever) does something in a public space that changes my opinion of them, then it's more than likely to follow through to my appreciation of their work. I understand the argument that the art should stand on its own merits, but as in the case of Byrne's Alba comment, or Orson Scott Card's homophobic diatribe, the comments are sometimes so narrow-minded and repellent that it's hard to see past them. Why should someone who shows such utter contempt for others deserve my respect and my hard earned money?

This barely scratches the surface, I know this, and I'm sure a thesis on the subject, with the right psychoanalyzing, would make for a good read. But I'm hardly the person to do it. Looking up at the cardboard cut out of Buffy, I scribbled something in my notebook, murmured something non-committal - I'd already decided on a different idea - and left my supervisor's office.


So, DC have dumped Humanoids and 2000AD. Its Summer Euro Fling is over, and it's gone back to its horribly haggard Missus in Tights for more Killing/Raping Two-bit Characters No One Really Cares About. Good for them. Seriously.

I mean it. The two lines, along with the CMX manga line (which will be cancelled any day now: the blood is in the water), weren't really economically viable for DC. I mean it's easy to see why these two companies were picked: 1) they're those mythical European comics, which aren't like comics from the Good Ol' US of A - they're full of sex and floppy bits and gore, 2) 2000AD was the launch pad for about 90% of the people working in American comics today, all the early stuff by Garth Ennis, Alan Moore, Mike Carey et al, and, 3) the Humanoids albums were made for the bookshop shelves.

But these books have been around for years anyway. Warren Ellis has been pimping the METABARONS since the turn of the century (this century, that is). My local shop still has the older non-DC distributed editions on the shelves. Diamond apparently has a massive backlog in a warehouse somewhere.

The Humanoid (and 2000AD) books were easily available, and thanks to the free press from pros like Ellis, people were giving them a go. Titan and Rebellion have been bringing out 2000AD-related books for years too. It felt like only yesterday they were reprinting SKIZZ and THE BALLAD OF HALO JONES, both of which were brought out by DC this year.

Luckily Humanoids and Rebellion have both said their books will continue to come out, though, obviously, not through DC, while DC has said the books already published will still be available as backlist items.

DC may have provided an ever so slightly larger market for the books, (in place of, you know, providing any publicity) but the fact remains that the books were already out there. If people wanted them, they were already there to order. Seemed all rather pointless to me. Although, it did give Travis Charest a chance to work at his own pace for once.

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