This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on February 18, 2016.
Every two weeks in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Mark Stack will ask Comics Bulletin’s very own Chase Magnett a question he must answer. However, Mark doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Chase. He’ll be setting him up with questions that are anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.
So without any further ado…
What is it that makes someone want to like a comic more than they actually do?
This is a question that requires a bit more presumption than I’m comfortable with, and we both know that I’m comfortable presuming plenty. There’s the problem with discussing any one example of what you’re setting out to understand though. For every comic that someone might be pretending to like more than they actually do, there’s someone that genuinely likes said comic just that much.
Taste is that special snowflake our kindergarten teachers told us we all were; it’s truly unique to each person. Even if there are specific cases or wide swaths of overlap, no two people are going to agree on the reasons or intensity for their enjoyment of any work of art. I could bring up an example of a comic I thought was objectively bad as an example, like Batman #23.1 (the Joker issue of Villain’s Month), and find out you have a deep and abiding affection for it, which you do. As much as I may like to give you shit over specific matters of choice or vice versa, we can’t say the other person is wrong.
However, that doesn’t mean everyone is up front about what they like and why. It’s the difference between the conversations you have on Twitter and the ones you have after a few drinks in private. In public it’s typically easier to play nice and not steer against very vocal, widespread opinions. What’s the benefit in raining on someone’s parade, especially when almost no one is getting paid for their opinion and professionals work in very small circles?
This doesn’t apply solely to liking comics either. I wouldn’t be shocked to find out there are people not apt to speak up about liking Identity Crisis just because there’s such a vocal contingent of fans who absolutely loathe that book. Sure, that book is a profane disgrace whose stain will never be entirely removed from the medium we call comics, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have people who genuinely like it. Rags Morales artwork sure looks nice and Deadshot almost gets to kill Kyle Rayner.
The kind of hyperbole with which I speak about Identity Crisis might provide a decent window into why someone might find it easier to not speak up. I doubt we’ll see any comments on this article speaking out about how much Sue Dibny’s retroactive rape and brutal murder added to the DC Universe. It’s a lot easier to just walk away or nod along than it is to argue about the quality of a thing.
It’s not always about avoiding confrontation though. I suspect sometimes people misrepresent their own taste sometimes because of what they want or need a comic book to be. This could be for a variety of reasons. Maybe you love a specific character, maybe you’re friendly with the creator, maybe you need a comic to support social changes in the industry. I know I’ve been guilty of feeling all three of these reasons throughout my comics reading career. You walk into a book with set expectations and sometimes it’s easier to push ahead than admit the comic isn’t everything you wanted it to be.
This isn’t to say that having those expectations or this type of reaction is invalid. The North American comics market has made strides towards becoming more diverse over the past few years, but it still lacks in a big way both in creator and character representation. Every example of increasing diversity still feels like a victory. If you’ve been raised on superhero comics and love the genre only to see no characters that reflect who you are, that has to be painful. I can’t blame anyone for taking anything they can in a market like this.
The truth is that Sturgeon’s Law, an adage essentially stating that about 90% of anything is crap, applies to comics just like it does any other form of media. Occasionally, you get a great superhero series with a gay lead likeMidnighter where the creative team is firing on all cylinders (at least on the ACO issues) and that creative team isn’t entirely composed of cishet, white men like 90% of comics (no correlation intended, mostly). It’s great when you get exactly what comics needs. However, sometimes the thing that you hope will be Midnighter turns out more likeAstonishing X-Men #51, the cliche-ridden marriage of Northstar.
Again, none of this is to pass judgment. People should respond to media exactly how they want to respond to it. There are no grand inquisitors of taste, nor should there be. If you want to rank 90% of comics you read as “10 out of 10”, that’s your prerogative and none of my business.
What I will say regarding this subject, how we often modify our opinions on work based on circumstances outside of the work itself, is this: It’s unfortunate that these discrepancies between what we say and feel as readers are so common. Whether it’s due to a rabid fandom, the #TeamComics mentality (please don’t make this the next question), or a lack of representation, we should all ideally be able to represent exactly how we respond to art without any worries.
That’s not the case in comics right now, obviously. Like I said before, no specific people or series are to blame for how often we try to like things we don’t. For every example of someone feigning enjoyment despite feeling only apathy or worse, there’s at least one example of someone genuinely enjoying the same book. I’d rather see less of the former and more honest discussion of how comics (or any artwork, for that matter) affects us, because honest conversation about how we interact with art is a lot more likely to lead to better artwork.