I have recently been troubled by the goings on of the comic book community. It seems like every day I go to my favorite websites or peruse Twitter and I become inundated with rage filled comments, inflammatory columns on controversial subjects, and generally a feeling of bubbling anger and indignation from the comic book community at large. People seem angry at each other, their books, and creators all at the same time. But why?
As I drifted off to sleep last night I was musing about these conundrums. When I finally dozed off I was hopeful to forget about the cares of the day. But my dreams were interrupted by large and calamitous thunder. It sounded to me as if the world itself may tear asunder. I stood in an empty field as energetic crackles swarmed the skies and filled my ears with the low hum of the cosmos. Suddenly, the ground swelled before me and erupted in a towering mountain of gleaming and polished stone! Higher and higher the peak rose until I was fairly sure the top was somewhere off in infinity. What was this? Where was I? It was then that I heard the distinct noise of something flying from the top of this soaring peak. I gazed as off in the distance a silver speck began a rapid descent to my level. It wasn’t long before I realized the speck was in the shape of a surfboard and that a human figure stood on this alien device. Soon the board hovered only a couple of feet away from me and its rider jumped down to meet me. In front of me stood the King himself, Jack Kirby! He was wearing something straight out of his New Gods comic book series, behind one ear was a pencil, and in his mouth was one of signature cigars. I opened my mouth to speak.
“Mr. Kirby! I’m a huge…”
“Huge fan, yeah, yeah. I know kid. I didn’t bring you here to stroke my ego,” replied my greatest comic book hero.
“Where exactly is ‘here’ anyway?” I asked, the surreal nature of my circumstance finally striking me.
“This old place? It’s just where Roz and I live. I guess you could call it paradise or heaven. Me, I call it home.”
I rubbed my hand across the jutting stone. Sizzles of energy bounced between my fingertips and the rock like little lightning bolts.
“But, again, my fancy mountain isn’t the reason I brought you here. I hear you’re having some trouble with comic books. I thought, maybe we could have a little chat. Maybe I can help.”
“Golly Mr. Kirby! You want to help me? I don’t know what to say…”
“Well don’t canonize me a saint yet kid. It’s not just for your benefit. I got a few messages I want you to take back.”
“This isn’t going to turn into some kind of ghost revenge scheme on Stan Lee is it?”
“No, I got a different guy to do that smartass. Listen, you got some paper or something you can write this on?”
“I don’t think so, I’m not sure I’m even corporeal at the moment…”
“Fine, fine. Here”
With that he pulled from his side Mighty Mjolnir, the hammer of Thor, and struck the side of his massive mountain. Two perfectly shaped stone tablets fell off and into his hands. He grabbed the pencil from behind his ear and drew into existence a chisel for me to use.
“Here, pay attention and take notes.”
“Alright, but what’s this all about? Who am I supposed to tell about this?”
“The messages are for everyone who enjoys the medium I helped to create. It’s high time someone tells them to shape up.”
“You think you and I can change the way comic book fans act?”
“No, I think I can change the way they act. You’re just my Moses kid. Alright, here we go.”
“First on the list: Stop buying things you don’t like! I am sick and tired of legions of people flocking to message boards and making laundry lists of complaints about the newest crossover or lamenting the state of Action Comics or whatever. As a consumer you only get one way to vote and that’s your purchase power. Editorial and management aren’t going to change a book if it’s selling. If you don’t like the way a title is going at the moment, then don’t support it with your hard earned moolah. Don’t be a completest. Be a savvy purchaser. Buy only what tickles your fancy and only what you won’t later regret. If you’re just buying to fill your long boxes, you’re missing the point.”
I sat there chiseling furiously as Kirby lit up another cigar in preparation for his next diatribe.
“Next, everyone needs to calm down a bit and step away from the ledge. People seem to take it real personal when creators change anything about their favorite books. Look, I get being personally invested in a character, it’s the sign of a good creation, but nobody is out to get you. Your childhood is, and always will be, safe from the machinations of the writers and artists of today. Nobody can go back in time and take those happy memories away from you. But nobody can let your nostalgia dictate the market either. That kind of thinking leads to treadmill storytelling, where we just sub out creators to rehash the same plots and ideas over and over. It’s unhealthy. Change is and must always be a constant. Otherwise you aren’t creating, you’re just masturbating. You can’t keep everything the same as it ever was. Any desire to the contrary strengthens the buttress between comics and new readership. Without new readers we will find ourselves in a dearth of imaginative creators in the future and eventually the whole medium will just wither away to nothing.”
At this point I had to switch to the next stone.
“And another thing, stop being so jaded about everything. Comics are a form of serial storytelling. Just because one month they tell you a guy is dead, don’t mean he is really dead or always will be dead. That’s a literal trope in fiction, the fake out death. No, it’s not always okay and yes it’s been used a lot lately in comics but you make them do it! Every time they kill someone, they sell thousands more copies of that issue. Again, if you don’t like it, don’t buy it! Just because Doc Ock is in Spider-Man’s body doesn’t mean there won’t be Peter Parker stories again! Even if the company and the writer say this is the new status quo, always remember that you are just in the middle of a story. The plot is always moving even if you have to wait a month to see the next installment. They aren’t going to tell you where it’s going. You’ll just have to read and find out!”
The air was thick with cigar smoke and dust from the stone I was carving. It didn’t matter though, I was holding onto my breath fearful that if I breathed too loud I might miss some important lesson.
“Anything else Mister Kirby?”
“Of course! All of these readers need to really think hard about supporting some new talent! I worked in the Golden Age of Comics and I have to tell you, I think there is a new one going on right now. There are lots of new people coming onto the scene with crazy and interesting ideas or artists with styles we haven’t experienced yet. But they can’t get people to buy their stuff, so sometimes they wither on the vine. People are too caught up in keeping in the loop on continuity driven tales from Marvel and DC that they don’t know what’s passing them by. The internet can tell you what you missed in one of the 10 titles starring Batman and you won’t have to spend your money on it. Use those dollars to pick something new and different up. Don’t give super heroes up, don’t give up Marvel and DC books, just be aware that there are other books out there that are dynamic and worth reading! You can say you were there for the first tales put out by the next crop of superstars. You can be a part of the new Golden Age! Pledge to buy an independent comic a month you never know what you might find.”
“So true Mr. Kirby, so true.” I said rubbing my throbbing wrist.
“Still not done kid.”
“My last bit of advice is for the really angry folks out there. I want them to stop forgetting that the characters are fictional and the creators are real. No more death threats to writers just because you think your childhood has been stolen from you. No more accosting people at conventions and telling them how much they suck. Writers and artists are people, working hard to make a living. That doesn’t mean you can’t be critical. Criticism is constructive, it can help the creator and the industry grow. But that isn’t what usually happens. ‘Fans’ everywhere rip into creators and will take any opportunity they get to tell them to go home, pack it up, that they’re the worst, and how dare they think they could create something. These people aren’t helping, nor do they want to. They haven’t created anything themselves and don’t like that someone else is succeeding in producing something. They aren’t coming from a place of help, they are coming from a place of spite and vitriol. They hate themselves because they don’t get to create things so they tear down the people who do create things. Don’t be like that. Nobody likes that person. Someday one of them will go too far and Joe Quesada or Dan DiDio will set fire to the offices and books of their respective companies and they will mail the ashes to these people and ask ‘Are you happy now?’ If we move away from these kinds of attitudes we can create a more inclusive and awesome community of fans and creators. Things will change and they will be great.”
I sat silently nodding my head as Kirby finished. I may have shed a tear.
“And that, is what you will tell them kid.”
With that a rainbow bridge appeared and Kirby motioned me towards it. I got on and it started to pull me back towards Earth and I watched as behind me Kirby and a legion of comic book creators and fans waved goodbye. When I woke up, I swore I could still smell the cigar smoke and I wrote every word down on a real piece of paper.
So that’s my story and those are the words of one our mightiest creators. If you don’t mind me saying, I think they are pretty prescient. Maybe if we thought about them and really took measure of ourselves we could help to destroy “the comic book community” we have always known and make something better for the future.