EDITOR’S NOTE: I’ve been sitting on this piece from THN Ombudsman Keith Silva for almost a month now, trying to figure out a way to respond that wasn’t simply defending against his points, but making points of my own.
I wanted to talk about how a rating like “skim it” has taken on a negative connotation when it shouldn’t, and how a phrase like “not for everyone” is just a simpler way of saying something to the effect of “look, I loved this thing, but you should know going in that it’s really weird/scary/gory/violent/surreal.” I wanted to talk about my own unabashed love for the superhero genre, and why those kinds of comics will always have a huge impact on THN, even as we strive to be diverse. There’s also the idea of explaining to guys like Frank Barbiere and Jim Zubkavitch that they’re part of the “1%” to contend with (see below).
I was going to try to work this into a longer “Nerd Fight” column, but after revisiting Keith’s essay, I’ve decided that there’s nothing to be gained from that because we’re BOTH right.
Last week, Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson addressed a group of comic retailers at a ComicsPRO event in Atlanta. During his speech, Stephenson spent several minutes shitting on everything from superhero comics to licensed properties to variant covers. He definitely made some strong points, but his decision to fire directly at the hard work of a lot of dedicated creators — whom many readers genuinely enjoy — has left both fans and his professional peers divided.
My reaction to Stephenson’s speech was this: Love the comics you want to love, and don’t let ANYONE — Stephenson, me and Matt, or Keith #$%@ing Silva — tell you that you’re wrong for doing so. And if you love something so much, that a “skim it” from me prompts you to respond with something like the piece you’re about to read, then the comics industry is lucky to have fans like you.
— Joe Patrick
By Keith Silva
Topic: “Not for Everyone”
It’s not on every podcast (Comics Therapy aside) where I hear an expletive added in between my first and last name. On THN #148 aka “Not for Everyone,” Joe Patrick threw a rod and in exasperation explained to his (always) clueless co-host why he kept repeating the phrase “not for everyone.” Joe said: ”This is from Keith [expletive deleted] Silva who just locks onto something we say and harps on it and harps on it!” Dude was pissed off.
Joe’s anger came from an honest place. Earlier in the week he had (very nicely) sent me a tweet to say THN was reviewing Mind MGMT, a book he knew I’ve championed. Since it was Twitter, I wrote a sarcastic response asking what the over/under would be on how many times he uses the phrase “not for everyone” in his discussion. My snark came from an honest place, too. For their “Take a Look It’s in a Book” segment on ep. #144, Joe and Matt reviewed Ryan Browne’s God Hates Astronauts. Although they both liked GHA, Joe gave it a “skim it” due to its overall weirdness. The phrase “not for everyone” was liberally applied by Mssr. Patrick.
GHA is great, and I’ve written about why I think it deserves more than a mere “skim it.” I took Joe’s comments to heart because I thought (at first) that he was being dismissive of a comic that’s mainstream enough for most readers, especially if superhero satire doesn’t give you the fantods. GHA is weird, sure, but there’s weirder out there … a lot weirder.
After a couple of emails back and forth, Joe and I retired to our respective corners agreeing that rating systems are flawed and reductive (Matt NEVER pays attention), and we, as critics, have to do our best to deal with these inherent flaws — all of them. Subtlety is tricky to achieve in short-form criticism (a first-world problem, for sure).
I thought Joe was “speaking as a retailer” and not as a well-informed critic with a podcast. I was wrong. Joe was speaking as Joe. I admire him for that. My guess is corporations like Marvel, DC (and Diamond?) are the rising tide that floats much of the retail market. So dissing mainstream comics wouldn’t be in young Joseph’s best interest or that of his darling wife or their dog. Bergen Street Comics can reduce how many Marvel and DC titles they choose to rack, but many retailers can’t (probably) be so brash or so choosy, and most comic book readers are creatures of habit. Know your audience. No judgment.
There are a lot of comics out there. Some of them are from Marvel and DC, others from Dark Horse, IDW and Image and others from places like Uncivilized Books, 2D Cloud or direct from the artists like those at Studio Lounak. Here’s where I’m coming from: Marvel and DC don’t need Matt, Joe or me to sell comics for them. They have TV shows, movies and 75 years of tradition. Pre-ordering your comics is smart and guarantees two things: you’ll get your comics (weather permitting) and companies will know what readers want, the ol’ vote with your wallet. While I’m throwing around clichés like truck tires, here’s another one: DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Image and IDW are the 1%. There are thousands of comics out there NOT distributed by mainstream companies. So, what are we missing?
When we use phrases like “not for everyone” it’s a turn-off. If there’s one thing I’d be willing to guess about comic book readers, they don’t mind doing some research or picking something up especially if it’s from a trusted resource, even a friend. Small-press publishers and self-published comics won’t have the superheroes you’re used to, but so what? Some do feature superheroes, but there’s so much more. Some are gonzo, some are derivative, some are so cool they can’t be easily categorized and most are not “for everyone.” If you can imagine it, there’s somebody out there who’s making a comic about that very thing right now, and chances are good it ain’t comin’ from DC or Marvel or even Avatar. You have the great democratizing power of the Internet on your side, and failing that, you have your local Joe Patrick.
Comics are niche-y enough as it is. Let’s not continue to ghettoize this medium we love by talking (and writing) only about what we know everybody else is reading and talking about — so says the guy who wrote 800+ words on Ms. Marvel #1 this week. I want Joe and Matt to champion their favorites and talk about big releases because I (we) value their opinions. However, what I really want is to get turned on. Turn me on, nerds. Turn me on to a comic I missed or better yet, a comic I thought “wasn’t for me.”
THN Ombudsman Keith Silva works in television. It’s a small space, but, hey, it’s show business! In his spare time, he writes for Comics Bulletin, Read Comic Books and his blog, Interested in Sophisticated Fun?.