About 370 million years ago, give or take, swimmy little critters biologists now call lobefish developed appendages that were helpful in getting around the bottoms of the ponds and lakes where they lived. Their descendants eventually flopped onto land and those appendages evolved into things that are useful for tap-dancing, kicking field goals and, attached to the likes of Jessica Alba, drawing admiring glances.
Comic books began as a low-common-denominator, novelty entertainment and became an industry and, arguably, an art form. Lobefish spawned, among other phenomona, karate and Ms. Alba’s thighs and comic books spawned, among other phenomona, comic book conventions. These were, at first, quite modest affairs, as described in last week’s installment of this feature, but, like the lobey appendages, have evolved into quite something else. They’re, some of them, held in gigantic auditoriums – the San Diego Convention Center and New York’s Javits Center, to name two – and attended by tens of thousands of participants. And people far more knowledgeable regarding showbiz than I am say that anyone wanting to launch a fantasy or science fiction-themed movie or television show is well-advised, if not required, to do so at one of these mega-soirees.
They have become an integral part of the huge modern monster media and I wonder if they’re not more influential as that than as places for hobbyists to gather and share enthusiasms. Further – I wonder if some folks forget that the “comi” in comicon refers to these visual narratives still being published in glorified pamphlet form.
A lot more entertainment seekers will see the forthcoming Fantastic Four movie (starring our friend Jessica, by the way) than will read any years’ worth of Marvel’s Fantastic Four comic books. And how many of the millions of ticket buyers who made Ghost Rider the box office champ for two weeks running, despite iffy reviews, even realized that the character had been born as a Marvel superhero?
I think it’s clear that the term comic book is in the process of redefinition, though what it will mean in 10 years I don’t know. It certainly won’t be merely a noun referring to the aforementioned pamphleted narratives. Nor will it any longer be a modifier meaning low, dumb, semi-literate, borderline immoral, as it has been until recently, and might still be in some venues. Probably it’ll describe a genre, or combination of multi-media genres. Or, could be, it’ll be entirely forgotten. After all, we don’t call legs lobes, do we?
And now, in the spirit of Jon Stewart, who on The Daily Show has his moment of Zen, we have our Recommended Reading: Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre, by Peter Coogan. Full disclosure: I wrote the book’s introduction. But I won’t profit if you buy it. I recommend it because it is, quite simply, the best treatment of the subject I’ve encountered.