Wednesday, April 20, 2016

In Response: WHAT BRAND LOYALTY MEANS IN COMICS

Nearly a month ago, a group of great writers got together at Women Write About Comics and had a wonderful roundtable discussion about WHAT BRAND LOYALTY MEANS IN COMICS. Go read that first. It's worth your time (especially the one-act play by Ray Sonne).

Later, Claire Napier tweeted that she wanted to hear other voices, other perspectives. I originally wrote the following to be part of a roundtable on Comics Bulletin, but the world works in the ways that it does and it has been languishing in the ether ever since. 

As I have no reviews running this week, I thought I would draw this out of the ether and throw it into the "world".

Please pardon my self-indulgence. Hopefully, if you make it to the end of the piece, you will understand why I wanted to post it.


My first experience with comics came when I was wee, old enough to read, yet young enough to be still unformatted; I was a sponge absorbing stimuli to tell me what was true. I have distinct memories of being in my maternal uncle’s house in White Plains, NY and discovering a thick, hardbound reprint collection of early Superman comics. I remember pouring over them, page by page, and being entranced and amused by the certainty of it. In this black and white world, Superman was a hero dogmatically, firmly, the protectorate of the downtrodden and powerless, capable of anything, indestructible and sure.
And yet, I also distinctly remember an arc that featured Mr. Mxyzptlk, who was a villain, and yet seemingly harbored no evil intent. He was the trickster, Coyotl, the Shakespearean Puck, and I, unnerved, had not the moral sensibilities to comprehend him as anything other than a clown. Why Superman saw him as an adversary was too ambiguous for my young conceptions. The simplicity of the 1940s morality stood at odds with what I had already sussed out about the world in the 70s. The liminal state engendered by this contradiction was formative, in a way, and my unease with the dogmatism and rectitude of the DC stable left me feeling inimical to their heroics.
Some of us are born rebels, I guess.
And so began my maturation and embrace of the Marvel line. Here were heroes who seemed as uncertain about notions of right or wrong as I. I devoured those early trades: Origins of Marvel Comics, Son of Origins of Marvel Comics, The Superhero Women, and my favorite, Bring on the Bad Guys, all of which I found in the bookstore in the mall. Then, in the late 1970s, I discovered Lone Star Comics (a comic shop!) and, therein, Claremont and Byrne’s X-Men. As with so many others of my generation, this became the flagship title of my sense of comics as a medium and cemented my “Make Mine Marvel” nerd swagger. I’d pick up a DC book now and again and scoffed at its simplicity, its naivete, its woodiness, and would argue for hours with my dad about how square “his” superheroes were.

By the mid-80s, though, concerns about being cool became far more the focus for me, and the lure of cars and girls and bands and booze overcame my interest in the trappings of the chintzy world of capes and tights.
When I finally became a father myself, though, I had a return to comics -- because I wanted my son to enjoy them as I had, or more likely because of the infantilism inherent in this realization of adulthood -- and of course my past loyalty to the House of Ideas guided my choices. But much like a young man comes to the point where he realizes that the lionized lyrics of Jim Morrison are, in fact, garbage, I started to see that even the exploits of my much cherished X-Men were actually vapid and inane. Struggling with this abdication of my youthful enthusiasm, I did the best I could, trying to justify what had once been so important, afraid that even this aspect of my childhood was ultimately insipid and plastic.
Hell, I even started WRITING about superhero comics, lauding as much praise as I could in order to stave off this untethering from my past. It had not been a lie, there was value and depth in these tales, aspirational and poignant.
But you can only polish a turd so much before your hands are covered in shit, and whatever loyalty I held to the Marvel brand had to be scrubbed from beneath my fingernails in order for me to finally face the truth of the man I had become.
When you keep getting punched in the throat by the brand to which you are loyal, who ultimately is the asshole in that relationship? 

But I still have “brand loyalty” when it comes to comics. There are creators doing amazing things out there, and I will gamble on them anytime. There’s a new book by Derek Van Gieson? Noah Van Sciver? Julia Gfrörer? Theo Ellsworth? Emily Carroll? Sean Ford? Conor Stechschulte? Eleanor Davis? Simon Moreton? Roman Muradov? Jillian Tamaki? Jason Little? I’ll plunk down my sheckles. They have earned my trust.
Likewise I trust that if publishers like Uncivilized Books, Retrofit, 2dCloud, Youth in Decline, Nobrow, Birdcage Bottom, Kus!, InkBrick, and Tinto Press have something new to offer, I want to see what it is. I trust that the books they are publishing aren’t an exercise in cross platforming or IP shepherding, but are books they believe in for the merits of the art and the voice of the creator.
That’s my brand loyalty, earned through trust and understanding. In a way, small press publishers such as these are like a good friend who says to you, “Have you seen this? It’s spectacular!” Your real friends aren’t trying to milk you for money; they have something honest to share and they want to connect. They deserve our loyalty, our attention, our money, and our time. They continue to give back, share, and celebrate.

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