Monday, February 18, 2019

"How Much Do You Need?" Hate and Jealousy in Comics, 2019-Style

The recent spate of comics hate that has emanated from certain dethroned creators reminds me of the early Image Comics years. I happened to have had a front-row seat, thanks to Moondog's Comics in Chicago, who hosted the Chicago Comicon in 1992, and my friendship with Larry Tales of the Beanworld Marder and Chris Eb'nn Ecker. Both worked for Gary Colabuono in the Moondog's central office and along with Bevin Brown, masterminded the Image Tent.

The Image Tent has now become a thing of legend. Seven Marvel Creators - Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, Jim Valentino, Whilce Portacio, and Jim Lee - had decided to form their own imprint and shared universe called Image Comics, to be distributed through Malibu Comics.

As guests of the Chicago Comicon that year, it was foreseen that Image Comics as a singular attraction was going to create multiple traffic-flow problems for the show, in a dealer's room and artist's alley that were already bursting at the seams of its host hotel, the Ramada O'Hare. Somebody - Gary, Larry, Chris, or Bevin, or all of the above in conjunction with the Image guys - decided to pitch a tent in the parking lot.

The Image Tent was a brilliant idea - effectively adding 1/3 of the space to the convention without disrupting the rest of the show.

It also created a massive blowback. Everyone not a part of the Image phenomenon, it seems, regarded the tent as special treatment. In a huff, Marvel decided to pull out of the show altogether; DC, as I recall, complained vehemently and only sent a skeleton crew to man their booth; other various guests canceled, etc.

The blowback, in turn, backfired. Without any competition from Marvel or DC that year, Image Comics became the biggest attraction at the Chicago Comicon, and hence the biggest story in comics - as if it wasn't already.
It's convenient when everything one doesn't like about pop-culture can be blamed on ephemeral "social justice warriors" who just want to spoil one's innocent fanboy fun. It's also kind of pathological, especially when real people are bullied for getting their turn.

Somewhere along the line, Larry hooked me up with Jim Valentino and Rob Liefeld, and my two-issue parody Splitting Image was born; as a result of that, I somehow got to hang out in the tent and in the pizza break-room suite provided for the Image guys, which resulted in Erik Larsen's suggestion of doing a Savage Dragon vs. Megaton Man one-shot. I got paid off, as it were.

The rest of the industry, however, was not as content as me. Peter David wrote a series of scathing diatribes for the Comics Buyer's Guide, and John Byrne grumbled (he would eventually form a pseudo-Image imprint for Dark Horse called Legend with Frank Miller, Mike Mignola, and Paul Chadwick).

If anyone can remember - let alone reconstruct - what anyone was complaining about back then, it would be a miracle. It came down to jealousy, and hoping that Image would fail. (Once it got around that Image would actually publish other creators and/or hire people to take over the founding titles, the complaints - miraculously - dried quieted down.)

One thing I remember from the Image Tent was a remark Todd McFarlane made to me (I'm pretty sure Larry, Chris, and Val were nearby, so it wasn't purely for my benefit). Todd was remarking on all the bellyaching emanating from the Peter Davids and John Byrnes of the industry. I paraphrase: "You know what I would say to them?" said the Toddmeister. "I would say, 'You had twenty years at the top of the business. Isn't that enough for you? How much more do you need? How much more would make you happy? How sick and bitter a fuck are you that you can't step aside and cheer somebody else on, and be glad that somebody else is getting their turn?'"

I've often thought of that sentiment in the wake of the hateful speech and bullying that has emanated from certain long-time pros who were at the pinnacle of Marvel and DC for a decade or two, but now feel dethroned for a new batch of creators. Disguised as a fan-lead movement decrying various efforts to widen the audience for comics, these people spew hatred over every happening in pop culture they happen to disagree with: every creative choice on a comic book title that departs from their norm, every casting decision for a movie franchise they goes against their grain, every plot turn that may or may not pan out or toy license that isn't painted in a skin color they feel comfortable with.

Every change that the American comic book has ever seen - from Superman's sideburns and Lois Lane's miniskirts and Wonder Woman's pant-suits in the early 70s - to the racial and gender code-switching that passes for a stroke of editorial genius today - has been met with blowback, derision, and verbal abuse.

Only today, the nay-sayers attribute everything they don't like to some nefarious, nebulous, and always ephemeral "social justice" agenda, foisted upon them by malicious "social justice warriors," with the explicit goal of destroying their fun (how in the world these operators ever worked themselves into a position to lose money for corporations and drive away fans - and why the  mechanism of the free-enterprise system isn't enough to remedy the situation - is never explained). And the response is not merely to bitch and complain, but verbally bully, boycott, and physically intimidate the perceived perpetrators.

I've seen it before - with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with Image Comics, with any new fad or fashion or phenom that threatens the status quo. The complainers complain, the haters hate -- until they get hired to write and draw the very thing they claim to despise.

In some cases, the current crop of whack-job conspiracy theorists - all dethroned creators, by the way; not fans - continue to complain, even after it's clear they haven't lost a scintilla of work, and even after their crowd-funded Stick-Figure Slobber-Toad has broken all records for slavish fan adulation. Even then, their outrage continues unabated, every opinion they have must be vented - because now they are culture warriors, engaged in holy battle.

One may well wonder what kind of mentality could possibly care whether the latest Disney-Marvel-Lucasfilm vehicle or comparable comic book or video game featured characters that were illegal-immigrant unwed mothers or from the Planet Mongo, or narratives surreptitiously proselytizing for birth control, or were subtitled in Esperanto? Who could possibly care if the latest licensed toy based on a corporate-owned title some used-up old pro will never write or draw again makes its projected target for the shareholders or not?

And yet, it seems to matter to the haters.

"You had twenty years at the top of the business. Isn't that enough for you? How much more do you need? How much more would make you happy? How sick and bitter a fuck are you that you can't step aside and cheer somebody else on, and be glad that somebody else is getting their turn?"
More: When Phantom Mommy Spoils Your Fanboy Fun
Also: Why Comics Hate Has Erupted in the Superhero Mainstream

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