She Has No Head! – I Have Nothing Incendiary To Say (Probably)
I’m feeling a little burned out both as a writer and as a comics reader. Add to that the fact that the focus of this column (women in comics) is sometimes too narrow a focus for my interests. Hell, it’s kind of amazing that I’ve been able to talk about such a thing for nearly 4 years (yup, 4 year anniversary coming up in November!). On the subject of women in comics, most of the time, you need only ask, and the comics gods will provide. Still, I’m a bit exhausted. So I thought maybe we could just talk. I’ll say some things, and I’ll ask some questions, and if I’m very lucky some of you will be interested enough in what I’m talking about to talk back in the comments.
Comics burnout. Why does that happen to me? Does it happen to you guys too? For me, it’s not even that I’m not enjoying things I’m reading, it’s just that my to read pile gets bigger and bigger and I get several months behind on certain books and it starts to feel like a stressful obligation to catch up, rather than a good time. If this happens to you have you found ways to stop it from happening? Has it ever made you stop reading entirely? It did for me, a couple times. Once when I was in college (ironically, studying Sequential Art) I stopped having a monthly pull for the first time since discovering comics. But that was more about not liking my new local comic shop than reading fatigue, I guess. I had a really great shop as a teenager (run by a woman no less – woo! – shout out to Night Flight Comics!) and then an even better shop (which I wouldn’t have thought possible) when I was studying at UofA (shout out to Capt Spiffy’s – even though I don’t think it exists any more). In fact, it was taking some sequential art classes at night through Capt Spiffy’s when I was supposed to be doing my graphic design homework that eventually led me to SCAD and studying Sequential Art in earnest. I got back on the comics reading wagon in full I guess when I moved to LA after graduation, but fell off at some point and didn’t pick it back up again until my boyfriend forced me to read The Walking Dead. From there it was a slippery slope back into monthly reading. Of course sometime in that last batch I started making a living (or at least a partial one) in talking about comics, so it kind of elevated itself from love/hobby to “work”…which is perhaps not an elevation at all.
Is there something that gives you malaise about comics? If so, do you stop reading them? When/if you find your way back, what is it that draws you back?
Actually that’s maybe the MORE interesting question, what KEEPS you reading?
I know there’s a certain amount of habit involved for most of us — but with how much comics cost — a lot considering how quickly most comics can be read — it’s got to be more than habit that keeps us coming back, so what is it for you? Just a general love of the medium? Intense connection to characters? I’ve been thinking about this answer a lot for myself and I’m not sure I have an answer.
Definitely I love this medium very specifically, and as a creator I both love that aspect and like to see what others are doing. But if I’m honest I don’t (generally) connect to comic characters in the same way I do with a great television show, or a great novel. There are exceptions, sure, but on the whole, characters are the things that attach me so intensely (ahem, fanatically) to something — like when I think back on Buffy The Vampire Slayer I don’t think “wow, I miss the plots!” or “I miss the action!” or even “wow I miss the sharp, funny writing!” (though I do) — rather I think “wow, I miss Buffy & crew…” That emotional connection to characters is the tie for me, and pretty much has been as far back as I can remember–but comics rarely manage that for me, at least mainstream comics–maybe because characters change so much in comics when different writers (and to a lesser degree artists) take them over?
For example, I’m interested in Hawkeye now and never was before Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye. However, I have trouble imagining following the character outside of their book. I guess that’s yet another argument to me for comics with definitive endings. Because it’s easier for me to attach to the characters in Saga (and I enjoy doing it) because I know it will eventually have a definitive end. And that feels more like something that will satisfy me from a character arc/character development standpoint than something that has to keep coming up with new ways to re-invent the character I’m invested in.
It’s one of the many similar problems that soap operas and ongoing comics face. Comics fare better (in general, IMO) because they can fill their pages with drama, action, adventure, comedy, romance and more, whatever they want really, while soap operas mostly get whittled down to drama, romance, and sometimes if we’re lucky a dash of comedy. But action and adventure in soaps is notoriously bad. Seriously, if you haven’t seen some soap opera action scenes, check them out, TERRIBLE. In comics, action is our bread and butter, and you don’t NEED the forced drama/romantic shenanigans (so and so slept with so and so’s twin brother’s nephew’s cousin and is carrying their baby! omg!) simply to keep things interesting because being a superhero IS interesting, and you’re not relegated to just superheroes, your characters can do almost anything, whereas soaps generally don’t have that freedom and a lot of times when they TRY to step out of the box they’re stuck in they botch it horribly.
But I’m not trying to come down too hard on soaps, while they’re not generally to my taste as an adult (too repetitive, too saccharine), I was relatively interested in them in my formative teenage years and became terribly attached to some of the romantic pairings (I promise this is coming back around to comics, bear with me). But those romantic pairings never lasted — largely because they had to find something for these characters to do in a story that never ends and frequently that meant breaking up and putting back together the many romances. Comics has to do the same thing, constantly trying to find new ways to tell stories for a story that never ends. It’s kinda exhausting.
But the even bigger reason that my fanatic attachment to a romantic soap pairings would die is because of re-casting, which seems similar to me to a new creative team coming on board a comic book. Sure, the writers on a soap matter too, the words they choose to put in an actor’s mouth obviously matter, but it’s just hard to stay attached to say…Joey and Kelly (Nathan Fillion shout out, yo!) when Nathan Fillion needs to move on to Hollywood and not be on a soap anymore. And more power to him, and thank the gods that he did move on, cause, well, he’s amazing at everything he touches and how would we get everything from Capt Mal in Firefly/Serenity, to the best damn Dogberry I’ve ever seen, to pictures of him covered in kittens or holding bunnies? Life would definitely be worse without those things, so thank the universe he’s not still Joey Buchanan on One Life to Live (which was recently canceled anyway). But the second Fillion left that show the character became pointless to me. And I stopped watching the show entirely. I’m sure they recast him and maybe the new Joey was great, but he was no longer the character I had become attached to thanks to Fillion. Conversely, will I still be attached to Hawkeye when Matt Fraction and David Aja leave? I kinda doubt it. But of course like with Fillion, I can’t expect nor on some level do I want them to do Hawkeye forever. That would be silly. But will I abandon Clint when they leave as I abandoned Joey Buchanan? Makes me kinda sad.
I think the reason this whole “soap analogy” is coming up is because I generally don’t think of myself as a “shipper.” There are some exceptions however and I was thinking about what those exceptions were and was surprised to find no comics pairings made my list…not even close (and the only ones that even warranted a thought were from books with definitive endings). But since comics is really up there for me as a medium I adore, that surprised me. It definitely suggests to me that I have trouble attaching to those characters and their relationships in powerful ways…so what is that about if not the fact that it’s hard to hang on to something that has to constantly change and go on forever?
Do you guys have this problem at all? Am I talking crazy here? Are you able to attach to characters and/or their relationships easily in comics? Does it matter to you if the characters constantly shift due to the ongoing nature of books? Do you hold onto certain “ships” long after comics moves on? I know I do this with characters (hence my lifetime devotion to Cassandra Cain whether she’s ever in another damn comic book or not) but I can’t see myself doing it for a pairing. But I *know* there are die-hard Lois/Clark shippers out there. And more non-traditional ships like Booster Gold/Blue Beetle. If there’s a ship you’re super attached to, what made that true for you? Was it a long run of them together that solidified it? Was it some small thing that felt “right” to you whether it was erased eventually or not?
Well, I’m sure I lost a good percentage of you with the soap opera analogy, but I can’t help it, it’s been on my mind, and the comparison seems really obvious and both interesting and kind of depressing.
I was going to talk about some more things, like print versus digital, and how much consistent character voice matters to you over just reading a good/funny comic, and going to cons and what you like about it and such, but I’ve basically run out of time/space, so instead…see you next week, same bat time, same bat channel!