When I was an undergraduate, my roommate at the time was checking out something I wrote for some class or another and commended me on my ability to write things that go endlessly in circles. What he meant was that the stuff I wrote had no center, no thesis or destination, but my style had enough sheer centrifugal force to keep the reader unaware of that until they’d already reached the end. I never had to bother coming up with a point to make.
This sort of thing only becomes a problem when you stop wanting to go round and round. When I stopped circling, I realized there was nothing there except for the trench-ring dug into my carpet from all that pacing. The concept of “nothing in particular, really” is not an inherently interesting one, nor is it especially inspiring.
When I started writing about comic books at a semi-pro level in 2010 or 2011 (I don’t remember which), I wanted to be a Tucker Stone, a Joe McCullough, or most of all a Tegan O’Neil. I wrote reviews of Avengers and Transformers comics that I wasn’t interested in, and when I was given chances to engage things that I was, I pulled out the old writing-in-circles trick. When I look back now at the things I wrote then, I see a tap dance, and not a very good one. At one point or another, all of the three names I listed ran out of ammunition for doing the things that I wanted to copy about them, and so it’s only natural that I copied that part, too.
There’s more writing about comic books than ever, now. You can’t escape the spectrum of it, from fanboys stiff on $4.99 little blue pills to strident Twitter pundits trying to appeal to the moral conscience of sales charts. The twist in the story, at least from my seat in the balcony, is that comics have never been a less interesting thing to write about.
The Marvel vein is collapsed and what’s left in it is more lard than blood, but let’s look at Marvel anyway. Marvel is run by Ike Perlmutter, and out of every dollar they make, no doubt some micro-portion of it is going to his Mar-a-Lago membership dues. These dollars come from buying comic books, from collecting toys, from $26 Luxe Level 3D IMAX movie tickets, from leaving Marvel’s Daredevil Season 1 on in the background for the umpteenth playthrough while you fold your laundry…
I see people who think that it’s noble to support, say, America Chavez or Kamala Khan, in the name of representing diversity. This is only true in a vacuum. The game Marvel plays is a rigged one: every dollar you spend supporting Kamala Khan is a dollar that also pays the custom publishing division who took a gig promoting a weapons manufacturer. Every dollar you spend to support Bobby Drake’s solo adventures is a dollar that helps pay the Christmas bonus of Akira Yoshida. You can’t choose one and leave the other. Like I said, the game is rigged. Heads they win, tails you lose.
Marvel isn’t the only part of comic books that leaves me disillusioned lately, but it’s certainly the most brazen about it. Even a publisher with good intentions like Image comes up short if you actually stop and look for a second. Image puts itself before you as the brand of authenticity, whose creators can present their visions to the world without filters. If we take this at its word, then it means we’re really fucked, since the authentic, unfiltered work most of these creators want to bring you is crap. They want to make the new Saga or the new Walking Dead, the new big movie deal if not the new phenomenon. “Authenticity” sells better than sex, and the bad grrrls of the 90s have become gormless sci-fi/fantasy in the 2010s.
What is there to say about comics nowadays? What #content can be mined out of an industry that pimps the meme of “modern mythology” among fandom so that they’ll more eagerly accept the greased feeding tube sliding down their throat? How can anyone survey this wasteland and find the will to look for flowers? Writing about comics right now seems like writing in endless circles — once you slow down, you realize there’s nothing there but the blisters on your feet.
People don’t change as much as they like to think they do, so here I go again.