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February 10, 1998

Comix

Breaking the Silence:

A Comic Book Fan Speaks Out

by Chuck Miller

Hi, my name is Chuck, and I'm a comic book addict.

They say the first step toward getting help is admitting that you have a problem. Well, I don't want any help, and the only problem I have is that I can't afford to buy all the comic books I want. If I could, I would read ten times as many as I do now. Or 100 times as many. The thing is, I have to work for a living, and that cuts into my comic-reading time; I make money, of course, but over half of it goes for shelter and food and other frivolities. But I make do. I read as many as I can. No one can accuse me of not giving it my best shot.

I'll tell you something else. A few months ago, in a review I did of PREACHER, I said I wasn't really very interested in superheroes any more. Well, that was a big damn lie. I just said it for effect. I LOVE superheroes. If they made Spider Man Underoos in adult sizes, I'd be wearing a pair right now. A whole room in my house has been made into a virtual shrine to superheroes, with toys and posters and artwork on loving display. I'm very grateful to my girlfriend (Yes, I have a girlfriend, which ought to dispel another myth about comic book fans) for allowing me to pursue this magnificent obsession without comment. She has never once thrown it in my face during an argument, which makes me love her even more than I would have anyhow.

Why do I like comic books so much? Search me. There must be a reason. It's probably psychological, and since I majored in English I don't have the background to theorize.

But I do have the background to judge literature. As far as I'm concerned, comic books are literature. Good literature. Does that sound silly to you? Well, you can't argue with me. I went to college! I was so meticulous I spent ten years getting a four year degree! I know what I'm talking about.

The only question is, how far am I willing to go? Do I think comic books are as good as, say, Shakespeare?

Sure, why not?

I mean, let's take a look at them side by side:

HAMLET: A guy's father is murdered. The guy sees his father's ghost and decides to pretend to be a madman so he can secretly take revenge. He dresses in black. His arch enemy is Claudius, a guy who likes to poison people.

BATMAN: A guy's parents are murdered. The guy sees a big bat fly through a window and decides to disguise himself as a big bat to secretly take revenge on the criminal fraternity. He dresses in black. His arch enemy is the Joker, a guy who likes to poison people.

As you can see, the themes are virtually identical in both cases. The only difference is, Hamlet is tormented by uncertainty, which interferes with the completion of his mission. Batman is not. Therefore, Batman is better. I mean, who would you rather have covering your back in a fight? The wishy washy Prince of Denmark or Gotham City's stalwart Dark Knight?

I rest my case.

But the sad fact is, the American comic book fan, of which I am unashamedly one, gets very little respect. We are regarded as geeks and goofballs; our concerns and preoccupations are foolish. Our heads are crammed with useless trivia about Mister Spock and the X-Men. We dress badly. We don't get laid.

The problem is, we suffer from bad press. We have never had a major sitcom star come out as a comic fan.

Okay, I'll admit I know a lot about "Star Trek," and I know the secret identities of everyone in the Justice League, and I could probably even tell you in which issue of Action Comics Brainiac first teamed up with Lex Luthor... But let me ask you this: How is that knowledge any more useless than knowing by heart all the stats for the last 20 years' worth of University of Alabama quarterbacks? The very same people who jeer at us are the ones who regard the outcome of a bunch of grown men tossing a ball at each other on a field as a matter of life and death. Who is more foolish?

Now, I'm not putting down sports fans. Well, maybe I am, but I'm not asking anyone else to. To each his own. I'm just trying to establish a little perspective. We all pretty much waste most of the time we spend here on earth. Very few of us are out developing cures for cancer. One man fills the interval before the grave with football games. I fill it with Spider Man.

Not all cultures are as comic book negative as America. I want to be cautious about citing the French, on account of that whole Jerry Lewis thing, but, to their credit, they do like comic books. Check out these statistics I got from a story by Jon Henley in the London Observer:

Forty one percent of French adults read comic books. Two fifths of books borrowed from French libraries are comic books. They are totally acceptable over there. No stigma attached at all.

But, you know, in France they don't call them comic books. No, they call them bandes dessinees (not "Royales with cheese"). Of course, the article I read doesn't say what the comic books are about. They may be about sex and stuff (knowing the French) instead of superheroes. Or gloomy philosophy. But the point is, they don't dismiss comic books as childish, which a lot of Americans tend to do. Which is ironic, because, as comic book advocates never tire of pointing out, comic books are one of only a few uniquely American art forms. Another one is jazz. Not everybody likes jazz, but everyone respects it. Nobody pokes fun at you for listening to Miles Davis. They may think you're weird, but, if anything, they regard you as an "egghead," a person of intellectual and cultural superiority. They don't accuse you of being "childish," like they do when they catch you reading an issue of IRON MAN.

But that's okay. Let the infidels think what they want. We know we're right.

I think I had a point when I started writing this, but I forget what it was. I actually started out to do a column on non-superhero comics, small publisher stuff for those of you who don't dig the capes and tights crowd. I'm afraid I've used up all my space this week, but next time I promise to tell you all about a new company called Oni Press, which publishes all kinds of neat stuff, including work by Kevin Smith (director/writer of MALLRATS, CLERKS, CHASING AMY, etc.).

PARTING SHOTS

What has happened to Alan Moore? He used to be such a good writer... No one will ever forget his work on SWAMP THING and THE WATCHMEN. So what is he doing writing that godawful SUPREME crap for the thrice damned Rob Liefield's Awesome Comics? Is this the SAME Alan Moore? What ever happened to honor? Time was, a man would fall on his sword before he'd disgrace himself in public...Oh well, I guess everybody's gotta eat...

Superman is getting his old red and blue costume back in April. Big surprise. Anybody with a lick of sense knew the big change was only temporary. Why some people allowed themselves to get UPSET over it is beyond me, but it happened. DC got all kinds of hate mail. Some people have a difficult time separating fantasy from reality. (Who, me? I know what's real and what isn't. I only WISH Superman were real, I don't BELIEVE it...)


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