Since I’ve gone “public” with my Chasing Amazing endeavor, I’ve had a number of people from my past either leave comments on the site or privately message me that they had no idea I was such a comic book enthusiast. I had maybe dropped some clues here and there that I liked comic books, or at least wouldn’t judge somebody else for liking comic books, but the extent of my fandom, or better put, addiction, was a mystery to them.
There’s a reason for the mystery. As I mentioned in an earlier post reminiscing about my purchase of Amazing Spider-Man #102, I’ve always struggled with the idea of becoming fully assimilated into the world of comic books. Despite my love for comics – specifically Amazing Spider-Man comics – I guess I’ve always been a little self-conscious about how my fandom is perceived. Like it or not, comic book enthusiasts have a bit of a Scarlet “N” (for nerd) tattooed on their chests and I would hate to ever devolve into one of those classic comic book nerd stereotypes.
A couple of recent columns by Phil Hall, a former comic book shop owner, over at the great comic news blog Bleeding Cool, have stirred the pot of this topic for me even more the past two weeks. In one post, Hall gives his take on the perception that the comic book world is “subversive, dark and smelly” and in his most recent column, Hall profiles three former customers at his shop, who all had different needs and obsessions as buyers. The point being that comic book buyers and collectors come in all shapes and sizes. And while I’m not one to think of myself as some kind of unique little snowflake, I’m yet to find many other collectors/enthusiasts who have a similar profile as me in this off-beat world.
You have to believe me that it’s a bit unsettling to think that you have a hard time fitting into a world that’s filled with people some would deem “outcasts” or more gently, “alternative.” Let me say definitively that the “subversive, dark and smelly” perception is a bunch of garbage. I’ve made my case in the past that there are a number of comics and graphic novels that are as deep and insightful as books and mainstream magazines. At the bare minimum, there are a number of comics that are at least on par in terms of story and message, as popular and revered classic novels like the Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter series. Personally, I find Amazing Spider-Man much more readable and accessible than Tolkien, yet I don’t remember ever seeing any collected early ASM trade paperbacks on any summer reading lists when I was in high school. And considering that there’s a congressman in Florida currently using a very famous exchange from an old issue of the Green Lantern to make a political point about race relations and the erosion of the middle class of America, I’d say that comic books cater to more than just those who have been deemed “dark and smelly.”
But even though I can be a cheerleader and advocate for comic books, I’d make a terrible front man. For one, I’ve just been completely unable to get enthusiastic about events and gatherings that are geared towards bringing comic book fans together. Despite having poor experiences at previous large-scale comic book conventions, I just recently looked online for the dates of the 2011 Comic Con in New York City and nearly doubled over in shock to see tickets for a Saturday were approaching close to $50. I know that a ticket buys you an opportunity to hear industry folks speak, meet others who have worked on comics, or at least really, really love comics, but I just don’t care enough about all those things to justify dropping that kind of money to essentially visit a glorified showroom, where I would then drop more money for comic books and other merchandise. There’s a reason that for the past few years, I’ve done the bulk of my buying and “collecting” from a computer. Because it’s a low-pressure sales environment and I don’t have to feel like I’m justifying my fandom to some seller or fellow buyer because I’m only looking for a specific issue of ASM in that exact moment and I really don’t care that he has a copy of the first appearance of Wolverine for cheap.
You might recall that a few months ago, I attended a “warehouse sale” in my neighborhood to try and find some old copies of ASM where the proprietor basically told me to take a number and get in line for my requests comic books. It’s obviously not this guy’s responsibility to have any of the current ASM issues I’m seeking, but his response to me was so dismissive and despite leaving my name and contact information, I haven’t heard “boo” from him since. Simply put, I was just not enough of a general overall comic book “guy” to warrant his attention or care. And its people like that who have caused me to be tight-lipped for so long about my Chasing Amazing quest. Because if the guy selling you the comic books won’t accept you for who you are, who will?
Something that I find interesting about Hall’s most recent column is how different each of his three customers were from each other, yet each one was absolutely critical in the survival of his shop. Me, on the other hand, would probably have been a nightmare for Hall. I already subscribe to the primary series I buy, I’m only looking for very specific back issues, and my only other purchases in a comic book shop are the occasional one-off, or crossover that applies to the Spider-Man universe.
But does that make me any less of a comic book fan? Am I allowed to pick and choose which aspects of the “culture” I’d like to identify myself with? You would think as someone who writes my own site dedicated to a comic book collection, I wouldn’t be having such an identity crisis – nor should I really care how I’m perceived. I guess, ultimately, I don’t. But as someone who doesn’t think of himself as “subversive, dark and smelly,” I’m just curious as to where I ultimately fall on the spectrum of fans.