What I Can’t Write About, by Elayne Riggs
So last week my column was criticized for not being primarily about comics, the same day that my fellow columnist John Ostrander got over a dozen comments writing about politics, not one of which queried the appropriateness of his subject matter. Obviously people who have written and drawn comics for a living (Denny, Michael, etc.) can get a little more slack than someone who’s only ever written four comic book stories and had them all published. Not that I’m bitter! Oh no, indeedy; I’m actually grateful those critiques have given me fodder for this week’s column!
As I mentioned in my reply to this criticism, I understand some readers’ frustration with me not writing about comics more often. Even my mom asks me why I don’t focus on comics more often, and she doesn’t even read the stuff! But after all, ComicMix is a pop-culture site dominated by people heavily invested in the artform. Heck, that’s what CM 2.0 is all about, giving our readers original comics content. And we haven’t yet introduced a separate tab for our columns to distinguish them from our regular pop-culture news, so it’s probably reasonable to expect that we columnists will focus on comics as much as our news reporters do. And I love reading comics, but… but…
But nowadays, when I talk about my favorite reading material and hobby and community, I can usually only discuss what’s happened recently, not what’s going to happen in the near future or even Right This Very Week. As many of you know, this wasn’t always the case. About 10-15 years ago I did weekly comic book reviews on Usenet and CompuServe under the header "Pen-Elayne For Your Thoughts." I’d get the books on a Wednesday and most of the reviews would be up by Friday. My job at the time allowed me to do this, I was being somewhat under-used (technology and outsourcing would eliminate that position in ’97) and I had plenty of energy when I got home. Then I got a new job which proceeded to harness a lot of that energy, so the reviews had to go, I just couldn’t keep them up any more.
When I married Robin, I stopped buying most DC books the week they hit the stores, because as a regular freelancer for DC he receives a comp box each month of all the "pamphlets" they put out. For a time the comps were usually current to within a couple weeks of what was in the stores, so I could still keep up as plot discussions moved from Usenet to message boards. But by the time blogs became big, the synching had fallen a bit behind. (The new comp box arrived at our house on Monday, and I now have all the Countdown issues up until "04," when of course the current big discussion is about the final issue.
I also now have the first issue of Tangent: Superman’s Reign so I can finally read issue #2 which Robin inked and which came out in stores the Wednesday prior to the NY Comic Con. Just to give you an idea of the lag time here.) Four years ago, when my boss moved the office out to Westchester, my weekly visits to Midtown Comics to view the new books and collect my non-DC haul became an every other (or every third) week mail order. And because I no longer had the new comics when most of the active online discussions took place, I could no longer participate. By the time I acquire and read the book featuring the return of Barry Allen, or the mostly-Spanish issue of Blue Beetle that has this xenophobe’s drawers in a bunch, it will be well into June and everyone will have long since moved on.
Also, I can only superficially discuss "behind the scenes" stuff. Every time I see a thread somewhere talking about, for instance, late books, I’m tempted to wade into the discussion and add in my two cents about all the stuff the fans don’t know about, never will know about, that might contribute to a book not coming out on time. But this is how my husband makes his living, and right now it’s the only income we’ve got and I’m not about to burn any bridges. I’ve had to remind myself that, in the grand scheme of things, it’s really not that important that I Know Stuff to which readers who aren’t Married To It aren’t privy. Because none of it is all that important and it’d just sound like so much bragging or name-dropping anyway. Talking about inside-comics stuff based on conversations with friends in the business is one thing; talking about it when it could genuinely affect your ability to pay the rent and the bills is quite another.
So, while I can tell you that Tangent: Superman’s Reign is more a Justice League book than a Tangent book, I can’t run scans of the completed unlettered boards for #4, because that would require all kinds of permission which is not worth pursuing because it’s not that important, even for fair-use illustrative purposes. And while I can make a general observation that, for instance, the contemporary pros to whom I spoke at NYCC were refreshingly effusive in their praise of John Byrne’s talent, I can’t go into detail on any specific projects to which they may or may not have alluded. It’s like being in the friggin’ CIA sometimes. I can neither confirm nor deny that I have had interesting discussions with industry professionals about other pros and upcoming projects! Nein, nein, you vill get nothink from me!
So there you have it. When I’m gainfully employed again I hope to get back into the weekly purchase habit, but it’s not happening yet. As it is, this limbo of unemployment and job-searching has assured that I’m often not even caught up with the comics blogs I read for fun, much less all the places I used to visit when I had the leisure time to scour the ‘net for ComicMix news items. So by the time I get to pop-cultural controversies like the Amanda Marcotte/Seal Press chapter art or the Open Source Boob Project (the "boob" in question referring not only to the female anatomy but to the fanboy with no social skills whose overblown sense of entitlement dreamt up this license to sexual assault), it’s been talked to death just about everywhere. I’m even late to the conversation when I choose to write about these items in my own blog.
So I concentrate more on the general, and the timeless, and the things that are in and of popular culture even if that culture isn’t necessarily nerd-centric. And thus I get overlooked every time people decide to award kudos to comics bloggers, because I’m not strictly a comics blogger. And thus I hear from frustrated readers when I don’t touch on comics here. Although sometimes the non-comics stuff gets what I consider to be a pretty good response, as with my Beatles columns. Maybe commenters are like what many pros observe about some comic book readers, that they don’t know what they like until it’s given to them. (No, I’m not naming these pros! I know nothink! NOTHINK!!)
Of course, like the other columnists here, I often like to focus my observations on what’s been in the broader cultural news. And I find it very interesting that two major stories have come up since my last column which illustrate the nexus of sports and feminism and culture that I was trying to convey, so I’ll wrap up by talking about them.
Last Saturday was the annual running of the Kentucky Derby, one of the only sports where females are allowed to compete on the same playing field as males, probably because they’re not humans. (Okay, human females are allowed as well but certainly not in the same numbers as the men.) The only filly in this year’s field of 20 was named Eight Belles. And in trying to become only the fourth filly ever to win the Derby in its 134-year history, she came in second — and immediately had to be euthanized on the field because she suffered two broken front ankles. Unbelievably, this incident brought out the usual political crazies eager to analogize the tragedy to the Clinton-Obama race. ("See, the filly even lost to a horse named Big Brown, get it, get it?") As blogger Dorothy Snarker puts it, "Wouldn’t it be nice if humans could be just a little more like the animals we think we control? Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our bodies could accommodate our hearts?"
Well, some athletes have an awful lot of heart to make up for what their bodies can’t always accommodate. Take a look at this video which Mark Evanier (yes! another comics person who doesn’t always write about comics on his blog!) passed along:
Now that’s sporting behaviour. That’s what we need more of, not only in sports, but in life. This idea of togetherness, community, pulling together toward a common goal, and just plain being nice to one another goes beyond comics, beyond any one hobby or interest or nerdgasm. It goes to the heart of what it means to be human. That’s also where the best stories come from, comic book or otherwise. I ignore them at my peril.
Elayne Riggs blogs here about anything and everything, and would love to see the Central Washington-Western Oregon softball game turned into a comic.