Quickie

I just finished watching  Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. While there are many things I’d like to say about it, as a story, as a movie, and as a comic event, one thing really grabbed my attention.

At the end of every movie released to DVD or video, there are a series of statements about copyright laws and how they apply to you. These statements are made in languages the production company expects the movie to appear in.

I just spent eight minutes of my life watching (approximately) thirty eight languages scroll the same message past me about when and where it was okay for me to play this movie. There were languages I couldn’t even identify on this list, and I consider myself well educated.

Think about that, o ye who feel alone. Consider that when you think no one else gets it.

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Don’t Get Me Started #3: SDCC

jjjSo another San Diego Comic Con has passed and the tide of FB posts and tweets are ebbing away like the proverbial tide.  And what has been the primary outcome of this massive, nigh-legendary gathering of media, games and comics?? Karen Gillan shaved her head for an upcoming Marvel movie.

I kid you not, true believer.  Not only was that trending on Yahoo searches but it was one of the very few revelations from Comic Con to become a news item in Yahoo’s news-ticker. (You can read it here, if you care.)

So that’s it, kid.  Might as well pack it all up and cart it down to the dump because, if SDCC has proven anything this year, it’s that comics don’t belong here anymore.  Just like when we were kids and the teachers and bullies would rip those brightly colored items of joy out of our hands, the message is clear: “Comics?  What comics?”

SDCC began as a humble convention back in 1970.  Here’s the history as shown on their own website:

Comic-Con International: San Diego began in 1970 when a group of comics, movie, and science fiction fans — including the late Shel Dorf, Ken Krueger, and Richard Alf — banded together to put on the first comic book convention in southern California. Comic-Con started as a one-day “minicon,” called San Diego’s Golden State Comic-Minicon, on March 21, 1970 at the U.S. Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego. The purpose of this single-day event—which included two special guests, Forrest J Ackerman and Mike Royer, and drew about 100 attendees—was to raise funds and generate interest for a larger convention. The success of the minicon led to the first full-fledged, three-day San Diego Comic-Con (called San Diego’s Golden State Comc-Con), held August 1–3, 1970, at the U.S. Grant Hotel, with guests Ray Bradbury, Jack Kirby, and A. E. van Vogt. Over 300 attendees packed into the hotel’s basement for that groundbreaking event, which featured a dealers’ room, programs and panels, film screenings, and more: essentially, the model for every comic book convention to follow.
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Now THAT’S a show I would have loved to been at!  However, being only 7 years old at the time, I doubt my parents would have allowed me to fly from the East Coast for the event.  Or maybe they would have.  I’d long suspected that they had latent ‘fairy tale parent’ motives when I was in my youth particularly with all the encouragement to seek out the “house made of candy in the woods back of our house”.
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Anyway, what’s the thing that really stands out in that description?  The fact that it was something put on by fans because they really loved comic BOOKS.  There were no comic book movies in 1970.  The BATMAN show had already died out and the Hulk tv show was still years away.  These were people who came together to celebrate an art form that, quite frankly, many others thought was a load of crap.  (Some comic creators didn’t have that high an opinion of comics back then either.)
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Today, it seems that the actual comic books that drive many of these movies and mega-media events are pushed to the side like a  dirty, little secret.  Almost all of the news ‘headlines’ out of SDCC had to do with movies, entertainment stars and reunions. (While I dearly love X-FILES, what did a 20 year reunion panel have to do with comic books?  Was it to hype the new comic series that takes up where the show left off?  If so, did anyone hear that?)
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I hear report after report about how many people jam the convention.  Of movie stars climbing over each other for the opportunity to plug their upcoming whatever-it-is.  In previous years, cable channel G4 has had coverage of SDCC which was pretty much just an endless assembly line of celebrities and directors and producers hawking their product like shameless used-car salesmen.  (And someone PLEASE explain why Chris Hardwick is allowed to speak?  His determination to be the David Letterman of pop culture is migraine inducing.)
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I don’t know if G4 covered this year’s convention.  Frankly, I don’t care because when they did, every hour was the same.  “Look at this great guest we have from a show that you might know or remember and clap fast because we’ve got this other great guest lining up behind them!”
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I just bought a used-car recently and damn if SDCC doesn’t remind me of that experience.
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Does anyone even GO to SDCC just for comics anymore?  And where are the panels talking about OLD comics and comics history?  I don’t see those hyped to the gills… if they even exist anymore.  I don’t CARE about a SUPERMAN/BATMAN movie because it’ll just be another blatant money-grab by Warner Brothers.  I don’t CARE that Bryan Cranston walked the con floor dressed as his character from BREAKING BAD.  In what frigging universe does BREAKING BAD have to do with comic BOOKS????
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The answer, of course, is absolutely nothing.  And that, dear friends, is the point.  SDCC has nothing to do with comics books anymore.  It’s all about selling you something, stoking the fan flames to make you want something which, if you thought about it, you’d probably never have wanted to begin with.
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Back in the 80s, I would have loved to have gone to SDCC.  It was a dream of mine that I never realized and never will because that type of convention has vanished from the earth.  Now, when I think about SDCC, all I can hear is some slick huckster’s greasy voice as they slither, “What do I have to do to get you in this movie/tv show/game today?”
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(Sam Gafford is a 25 billion mile gas nebula currently sweltering from the super nova that is the East Coast and is a comic reader and critic.)

Some things never change…

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(Note: This is a sample pic and NOT the comic store I visited.)

I had some extra time the other day so I did something that I rarely do now… I went to a comic book store.

Now, keep in mind that not only was I a part owner of a comic store years ago (circa 1988) but there was a time when I would go to comic stores several times a week.  At one time, roughly around 1993 or so, there were about 12 comic books stores within quick driving distance from me in Rhode Island.  Now, I think there’s about 5 (and two of those are owned by the same person) so the economy hasn’t been the best for comic stores.

Anyway, I bitch and complain a lot (as anyone who has read these blog posts realize) about how there’s not much good worth reading for comics these days.  So, every so often, I make the trip and stop in at my LCS to see if I’m not just being a whiny old comic fart.

Sadly, I wasn’t.

During the 70s and 80s, I read EVERY Marvel and DC that came out… even the bad ones.  Yes, I read all of Marvel’s NEW UNIVERSE titles and even such illustrious DC fare as PREZ and BROTHER POWER, THE GEEK.  I knew all of the characters, all of the history, even all the obscure trivia.  This time, I looked over the selection of Marvel and DC comics and did not see ONE comic that interested me or made me want to pay the expensive price they demanded.

There were a few independent comics that looked interesting but, invariably, the store only had the 2nd or 3rd issue or it was the 14th issue and there was no way I could afford to pick up the 13 previous issues even if the store had them.   Clearly, stores could no longer afford to stock a lot of the independents either as the selection was spotty and a completist’s nightmare. And if stores don’t stock the titles, how will anyone discover them?

As I looked through the stacks, desperate to find SOMETHING to buy, longing for that same connection that had sustained me through my youth, I could hear the conversations taking place around me.  The speakers were young men, probably around early to mid 20’s, and they were standing around the cash register much as I spent time so long ago.  And I heard conversations that brought back memories and, at the same time, disturbed me.  They were discussing who was ‘hotter’: Black Cat or Scarlet Widow.  Some relatively racy dialogue was sprinkled through which I’ll spare you here.  Needless to say, if you’re a guy who grew up reading comic books, you’ve probably had this conversation yourself at one time as I’ve had.

That’s when it hit me: I was out of place.  I didn’t belong there anymore and that shocked me.

You see, comic stores were my domain when I was their age.  Other guys strutted through bars or gyms.  I strutted through comic stores.  That was where I had the most confidence I’d ever had and could talk to others who felt the same.  It was my Cheers, my Arnold’s, my Pop’s Chock-Lit Shoppe.  But somewhere, at some time, that had all changed.

I was the one thing that I thought I would never be in a comic store: the outsider.

I didn’t fit in.  They were discussing the NEW DC or Marvel’s AGE OF ULTRON and I was about as clueless with them as other kids had been around me in grade school.  I’d lost my mojo.  I’d become the “old man comic fan” who I’d seen in my own shop so many years ago.

Quickly, I made my retreat.  As I drove away, I realized that this was the same feeling that had come over me the last few times I’d been to major comic conventions.  I couldn’t relate to the comics or the people.  These were the new fans, the ones that all the comic companies are fighting to attract.  The comics were tailored to what they wanted to see with the mindset and attitudes they admired and emulated.  And they were not mine.

I haven’t been back to a comic store since then.  I probably will at some point but, in a way, I lost a little something that day.  Something that, barring a time machine, I may never feel again.

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