The Culture of Comics Part 1: These Days… We’re All Comic Geeks
I could start this series off with a tired old “living under a rock” cliche or reference some dry statistic on how five of the ten highest grossing films of bladdy-blah, but I’ll spare you of all that. The fact is you’re reading this, so that means you live on Planet Earth, which means you already know; comic book culture has hijacked entertainment and pop culture. Similar to the villainess networks commonly depicted in these stories, comic books have achieved global transmedia influence over film, TV, video games, retail, and even hit records. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan plus a writer of comic books myself, and even I’m shocked at how this trend seems to show no sign of slowing down. It begs the question, what makes comic book stories different from other trends in entertainment?
The answer is, well… there is no easy answer. I feel a good place to start, however, is to look at how we socially and stereotypically perceive comic books and the culture that surrounds them.
The Comic Book
For some, the words ‘comic book’ have a dirty connotation reserved for childish stories, but as Hollywood and other entertainment heavyweights have learned, they are in reality fully realized, ready-to-go storyboards in a nice, neat package that have been road tested in an open market.
In its essence, a comic book or graphic novel is nothing more than sequential artwork set in story form on the page. Like literature, film or similar mediums, the comic book is ultimately nothing more than a delivery system for narrative. Yet, when we hear that word, comic book, nine times out of ten one thing pops into our minds – superheroes, and this is with good reason. Going as far back as the mid-1930’s, superheroes have dominated comic books, and the current advent of superhero oversaturation in mainstream entertainment doesn’t help in further cementing this association. As far as the types of stories that can be found in comic books, however, superheroes, in all actuality, only scratch the surface. Any genre found in other forms of literature, such as drama, historical, comedy, horror, pulp, children’s, political, crime, etc. are all available in the comic format, and with quality just as competitive as you’ll find in any other medium. This well-known fact for long time comic lovers has taken the executives in the entertainment industry close to a century to wrap their heads around. For some, the words ‘comic book’ have a dirty connotation reserved for childish stories, but as Hollywood and other entertainment heavyweights have learned, they are in reality fully realized, ready-to-go storyboards in a nice, neat package that have been road tested in an open market.
The Comic Fan
It’s safe to assume that the average person doesn’t particularly identify themselves as a “comics geek.” You know who I’m talking about. That image of the awkward, skinny, pimple-faced fanboy, hiding away in his grandma’s basement reading comic after comic, obsessing over and memorizing the most minute of details for the eventual goal of the unleashing of his meticulously curated knowledge on the next poor soul who crosses his path who shows even the slightest interest in comics. Well, I hate to break it to all the cool guys out there, but these uncouth stereotypes have become the new taste makers and have had a monumental role in ushering in this era of comic dominance. The undisputed king of comics himself, Stan Lee, laid it out. “Being a ‘geek’ has become a badge of honor. It’s geeks who really make or break a TV show or movie or video game. They’re the ones who are passionate about these things and who collect and talk about them. A geek is really somebody interested in communication and entertainment and [finding] the best way to avail himself or herself to it.”
“Being a ‘geek’ has become a badge of honor. It’s geeks who really make or break a TV show or movie or video game. They’re the ones who are passionate about these things and who collect and talk about them.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but, although the average person might not associate with hiding in basements or attending comic conventions, they have become, in a way, the latest incarnation of the comic geek. Since the 1990’s, for example, there have been hundreds of comic based feature films, many of which rank among the highest grossing films of all time. Most cable television and On Demand providers have at least one comic based show on their lineup if they don’t have several, and like in the case of Image Comics’, The Walking Dead on AMC, or Netflix & Marvel’sLuke Cage, they are insanely popular. The fact is, numbers don’t lie. Somebody is lining up in droves to consume this endless stream of comic based entertainment, and I might be wrong, but I’m willing to bet that there aren’t enough fanboys in enough basements on Planet Earth to pull these kinds of numbers off. So if you are one of those who has yet to realize your official membership to comic geekdom, let me be the first to say, welcome to the fold brothers and sisters.