Prior to officially “launching” Novelly Graphic (you know, talking about new comics and the industry) I wanted to discuss a few loose ends from my earlier comic-based writing endeavors to transition into a new era. This is Part Two.
Previously, I discussed the discovery of parasocial relationships as an explanation for why I (and many others) become angry when bad things happen to characters we care about. However, justification of the root of my vitriol is not justification for how I chose to funnel it in 2013. And over the last couple years I have grown increasingly displeased with how I conducted myself back then.
There was no grace or compassion in what I wrote. My words were merely conduits for unbridled rage, and I slung them anywhere I could. Axel Alonso, Joe Quesada, Dan Didio, Dan Slott, and Dennis Hopeless all received personal attacks from me, though Hopeless received them the most because he had the unfortunate position of being the author of the book that most directly threatened characters I deeply cared about.
It is incredibly easy, especially as a new reader, to lose sight of the bigger picture whenever a decision is made which frustrates or enrages. Add in the very real emotional ramifications of such decisions — studies have demonstrated that when a character you love dies, you experience the same physiological grief as when an actual person you care about dies — and it makes sense that the immediate impulse is to lash out at the people responsible for what you despise. Of course, it’s fairly clear that Dennis Hopeless was not singlehandedly responsible for ruining everyone’s lives. Editorial directives on various levels turned his pitch for one thing into something else entirely.
And you know what? He was new. Can you imagine the thrill of finally getting a chance to write for a company like Marvel, and trying to deal with that kind of creative intrusion/oversight (which has famously driven many people away from the company), while also trying to do right by some characters you love and offering new ones… only to have people calling for your head before a single word of what you’ve written has even seen the light of day? Remember, it was editorial that got fans riled up. It was advertising that prepared readers for the worst. Judgments about Avengers Arena, and thereby about Dennis Hopeless, were formed before anyone ever interacted with his work at all.
And even if you remain convinced that there are very real flaws in that work, it’s worth asking: isn’t that inevitable? Not everyone passes the road test the first time. And talk about terrible driving conditions. Over the past couple years I have become convinced that I was too shortsighted in my criticisms, and too myopic in my reception of what was being written. The fury became license to hold Arena under a magnifying glass to which I have never subjected any other creative endeavor. Every week became an excuse to call out one panel or page and get upset all over again. Time slowed to a crawl and suddenly Arena went from a year-long publishing experiment to a seeming lifetime in hell.
I think many of us acted like a proverbial Gary King, immaturely refusing to accept that we’re never getting the band back together and bringing a wave of destruction upon ourselves because of that denial. While living in a fantasy where the Runaways was going to come back, it became natural to view Avengers Arena as the Thing Standing In Our Way. If it weren’t for that misguided hope of a reunion, wouldn’t we have more seriously considered the “at least these characters are showing up in something” perspective? Were the changes in characterization truly that much more extreme than when any creative team takes up the mantle on a character we love?
Maybe not. Or maybe so, and if so, then it makes sense again that we responded badly: we felt like we didn’t recognize our friends anymore, and that sense of loss, of not being able to go back to the good old days, left us reeling.
What I do know is that today, I really love a lot of what Marvel is doing. I see characters whose writing I have complained about in new hands. I have seen creators whose work I used to hate start making things I actually enjoy. Heck, I’m pulling Inferno, by none other than Dennis Hopeless. He has been writing for Marvel for a couple years now. And like anyone who cares about their craft and puts time into practicing it, he has gotten better.
What we seek in our fiction (and our fictional relationships) is going to differ wildly. We are entitled to have strong reactions to things, and there is a place for those reactions to be voiced. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years of comic book reading, it’s that the relationship is only going to be as toxic as you allow it to be. Something happens that you dislike? Someone writing or drawing a character in a way you can’t stand? Identify that emotion. Respect its origins.
But then don’t permit yourself to fixate on it. Move on to something else, and be ready to check back in on the character in a few months, or in a year. Remember that even though we read comic books one at a time, they are often telling stories over the course of half a year or longer, and sometimes things we couldn’t get behind with 1/6 of the story are fine when we have the whole thing.
Perhaps above all, remember that there are actual people on the other side of the fictional ones, and that generally speaking they are not intentionally trying to torture you. Some of them will make mistakes, and you need to learn to forgive them. Others have problematic ideas about the world, and you need to focus on challenging those ideas rather than on the fact that they come out in the creator’s work.
But in all things, preserve charity. They may be in a unique position to help or hurt someone you have come to care about — and reminding them that with that power comes responsibility is obviously fitting — but they are also a person doing something they’ve always dreamed of doing, hoping for the best, dealing with a lot of different people’s ideas of what needs to happen, all on a pretty tight schedule.
There are many blogs in which writers and artists are minutely criticized and castigated. Novelly Graphic will not be one of them.