I have spent some time lately thinking about the world of comic books, and it has stuck me with a nagging thought: the real world is kind of boring. Now, I know that there are many fascinating things in this world, but none of them has that comic-book level awesomeness.
So I thought a bit more about comics. Most of them are about superheroes, because that’s how the medium got started. The superhero genre began with both Marvel and DC, and it has changed throughout the years. Both companies have taken different approaches to the same core ideas, and those ideas have continued to be successful. Each company has inspired a billion-dollar movie, specifically The Dark Knight and The Avengers. People like superheroes, but I just don’t understand why.
Don’t get me wrong, I think She-Hulk is hot just like everyone else. I’m just trying to figure out why she and the rest of her ilk are so damned popular. It’s a weird idea, really. If a person really had exceptional superpowered abilities, why would she use it to fight crime in a big city? Why would that eventually cause world-ending cataclysmic events every other year? No one knows.
There are a few constants, though. The superhero is always, on some level, a normal person. The superpowers almost always come from a random event or an hereditary source (or both). No one really works to become a superhero, it always just happens. Spiderman was bit, Batman was traumatized, Hulk was irradiated, and Superman was launched across the cosmos.
Because they are allegedly normal people, superheroes also have normal people problems. Many are angsty and brooding, most have innumerable romantic entanglements, and some are downright stupid. And why not? All characters have to have some kind of distinct characteristics, no matter how trivial.
So superheroes abound. There are hundreds of them, all with varying degrees of success. There are some serious problems with the comic book industry, though and several have to do with the shallowness of the superhero premise. First of all, comic books have to sell. Since you can’t tell a whole story in one (36-page) issue, the story stretches out between issues. Writers and artists come and go, and with them the story changes radically. If a story, writer, or artist doesn’t work out, he (or she, but usually he) is replaced. They have to sell the next issue, after all. But how does the story stay interesting? There are plenty of options, including long story arcs, crossovers, the end of the world, another end of the world, and sometimes an artsy one-shot story.
Besides all the story issues, another big problem is the decay of the monthly comic structure. Each issue will usually cost about 4 dollars, unless you subscribe. Of course, all of us have countless magazine subscriptions, right? Well, maybe not countless. Okay, maybe not any. Even if they were released on the internet, comic book issues would be a flop. No matter how fantastic the writing and art, both of which can actually be quite good, it’s too expensive.
Last, there are the fans. Comic book fans are some of the worst people in the world. I don’t mean people who read comics (I do that, and I’m terrific), but true comic book FANS. They are despicable people who are never satisfied. Here’s something you will never hear a comic book fan say: “Wow, the new <character, idea, story, writer, artist, series, company, etc> is really neat. I am impressed by the change and am sure things will continue to improve.” No. Comic book fans are never satisfied. They are always convinced that things are getting worse. Here is the timeline of comic books: the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, and the Modern Age. See a pattern.
They do have a point, though. (Hypocrisy, anyone?) Modern comic books are not very good (on average), but the decline is mostly due to the age of the concepts. Superheroes are old, the ideas are old, monthly comics are old, and comic book fans are old. Modern comics tend to rely way too much on continuity with past issues, self reference, and escalation. Here’s a fun challenge: pick up an issue of a modern comic book (if you can find one) and see if you can figure out what the hell is going on. Here’s a bigger challenge: see if you give a shit.
You may have gathered that I am unhappy with the state of the comic book industry. I don’t read them and I tend to avoid the movies, although there are exceptions. So why am I so upset? I’m upset because the comic book industry draws an incredible amount of writing and artistic talent and wastes them. You will almost never be disappointed by the artistic quality of a modern comic book, unless you’re one of those people I mentioned. Comic books are truly a visual medium, and with a better tier of writing, some new ideas, and a modern distribution mechanism, it would be an incredible industry.
Comic books are all about potential. If you sit and read a really good graphic novel, like Watchmen, or a great series, like Sandman, you will see that potential. Contrast it with most of what you see and you probably will be very disappointed. You can see the same thing in the motion picture industry. The Dark Knight is one of the best movies in recent years, and it is based on a 70-year-old character, but try sitting through Green Lantern or Spiderman 3 and you’ll see how comic book concepts can go wrong.
The potential is there, and if I’m being honest, it actually does come out from time to time. I haven’t mentioned the manga industry, which is huge, and the independent/artistic side, which is also quite good.
It all comes down to disappointment. My cynicism about comic books extends to the real world, which also disappoints me in many ways. I was stuck with this question: Why isn’t She-Hulk real? It’s an important question despite the fact that she wouldn’t go out with me if she did exist. If I followed the wisdom of Dr. Seuss’s “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?”, I would not complain about my lot in this life, where there are no superpowers or green women. Given that excellent advice, I think I will have to be satisfied with the human ability to imagine those fantastic worlds.
At that point, the idea hit me. I will take my life and make it fantastic … as a comic book. Before you mention Harvey Pekar or any of the thousands of autobiographical webcomics out there, let me explain further. I want to take my dumb boring life as the inspiration for a fictional story, and make it not dumb and not boring. The idea is perfect. Many of the things that we encounter in the real world actually are amazing, but just don’t LOOK like it. Technology in real life is amazing, but it is fairly ordinary when compared with comic book technology.
I want to show how amazing the real world is by making it truly visual. The central concept in my story is working through my own depression. I want to take what is a fairly common story and make it extraordinary. Something like 10% of the US population deals with depression (or similar illnesses) every year. Those people all have families and friends, and I’m told that depression takes a toll on those folks as well. (Heh.) I want people to see that it is anything but ordinary. I want to demonstrate what it does by visualizing it. One of the biggest complaints of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals is that there are so few diagnostic tools for depression. There are no satisfactory biological tests, so diagnosis relies on the patient realizing the problem and describing it effectively. In other words, depression is nearly impossible to see. That’s why I want to show it.
It still has a hint of the superpower concept because the main character is chosen at random to have this shitty illness, but in most other ways he will not be a superhero. I can also focus on writing a story that is internally complete without having to worry about continuing it indefinitely, and I can look at distributing it online, thus avoiding all the comic industry issues. (Heh).
Assuming you know me, you will also know that I am no artist. (Feel free to look at my Halloween costume photos, by the way). My next step is going to be writing up some of my ideas, and then I need to find an illustrator. I have no idea how to do that, so I want some advice. If I can work this out well enough in my head, I will be willing to pay (money!) in order to try to get a basic prospectus together. Again, I have no clue where to start, but I need to find someone who is willing to do the work and also work with me. I imagine there are places to do that on the internet.
Anyway, I wanted to write up my complaints and ideas, and that’s what this is. I think this could be a good concept, so I really want to make an effort.