Comics Evangelism or The Secret Shame of Comic Readers
I was on the number seven subway the other day, heading home from work, when I looked over and saw a familiar splash of color in a guy's hands. It was a comic book, and he was just sitting there reading it on the subway. I craned my neck, out of curiosity, to see what he was reading. He probably thought I was hitting on him, and he had headphones on, so I couldn't easily say, "No, I'm a happily married heterosexual and I'm not interested in your body...I just want to know what comic you're reading." But I couldn't help staring a little, because I was so surprised to see someone reading comics.
I don't know why it surprises me. After all, I was with 40,000 comic readers in San Diego, and I see dozens every week when I make my stops at the shop. I know they're out there, I know somebody is reading my reviews and buying the comics. Somebody is populating those Diamond sales charts that Previews prints every month. But I'm always surprised when I see folks reading comics in public. I saw two young boys reading Yeah! on the bus home to Jersey. I saw a man in his twenties reading a copy of Spyboy on the subway going home from work, and another man about the same age reading Mutant X on the bus. And despite the fact that none of those titles are particular favorites of mine, it made me really happy to see people reading them.
One of the reasons it makes me happy is that I can see someone who is clearly not ashamed of their hobby. And that's something far too rare in this industry. Too many people buy into the line that comics are for kids, and they should have outgrown them by now. That maybe there is something wrong with them for reading comics.
See, with all the doom and gloom in the industry, all the talk of "comics are dying," it's easy to think that they're already dead. And then you see somebody reading them in a place like the subway or the bus, somewhere other than a gathering of comic-book people, and you realize that they're not dead yet. It's a very good feeling, and I have to wonder if it doesn't translate into the non comics-reading populace. I have to think maybe it's important to read comics in places other than your bedroom, or in the comics shop.
Because if the feeling I get when I see a comic being read is "we're not dead yet," and I already know that, what feeling does the average person get? Think about it, most adults probably figure kids read comics, and they're not even sure that Thor or Green Lantern or whatever other character is still being published anymore. They left those behind, and forgot all about comics. Suddenly they're confronted with evidence that comics do exist, and that it's okay to read them on the subway, just like you would a novel.
I know that I have more than one reason for reading comics in public. On the bus, it's because it's a half-hour ride, and I need something to occupy my time. But it's also because I hope that maybe the person next to me will look over at what I'm reading and ask, "Hey, what's that?" I'd love nothing more than to have my reading time cut short so I can preach the good word of comics to someone who is interested in hearing it.
It also says a lot about the books, I think, if you're willing to read them in public. If we send the message that comics are something you should be ashamed of, reading them only in our own homes or surrounded by other fans, than maybe we're right. Maybe they are just children's entertainment that we all should have grown out of by now, if we feel guilty when we read them around "grown-ups."
No, I think comics should be something you read out in public. If you carry a copy of Whiteout with you onto the bus and read it, it says to people, "Here's an adult reading a comic." If it's just you, maybe they'll write you off. They'll think, "what a geek" or "what an arrested adolescent." But there are tons of us comic fans out here, and if we all started reading our comics in public, maybe that would come across. I know the market's shrinking, but there's still a large fan-base across the country and across the world, and if every one of us read our comics out in the world instead of in isolation, it would have to make people take notice.
The message then wouldn't be, "Oh, look what a goober that guy is for reading comics" it would be "Look at how much that guy loves comic books. He's reading them with no shame at all. Maybe it's not the kid hobby I thought it was." After all, if we're ashamed of our hobby, how can we expect the so-called mainstream not to look down on us? We're basically telling them it's OK!
It's not OK. Comics are a legitimate art form, and in many countries, they've already recognized that. But in the countries where they haven't, maybe it's up to us fans to show people. And the first step is being willing to read the comics in public and share our love for the medium in a visual way.
And if somebody gives you static for being a geek, just remember this: You probably knew who Kevin Smith was before a lot of them. You'd seen the visual style of The Matrix long before anybody else because you had seen art by Steve Skroce or Geof Darrow. You're on top of half the hot movie trends because Hollywood is raiding comics left and right. In short, you're probably far more hip than they are. And since comic-book movies have a tendency to suck, you're getting better entertainment too.