Friday, June 24, 2005

On Being Mean

“Humor trumps kindness”
-David Brenner

One of the things that bugs me most about the online comic geek community is how fucking rude people can be towards each other as well as creators and pros. This may seem odd/hypocritical coming from me, but bear with me here.
“Fandom” in general has always suffered from a loud minority of fans with a surplus of time and resentment who take potshots at professionals online. I’m not just talking about comic books here; when I speak of “fandom” I’m talking about sports fans and trekkies and movie geeks – any group with a vested interest in a particular form or genre of entertainment has a certain percentage of people who are just total assholes. Have you ever read the talkback section on Ain't It Cool News? Holy shit, do those people even like movies? I’m embarrassed for their parents.

One of the things I’ve tried to do with Dave’s Long Box is to create an online environment that is snarky without being cruel. I mean, I actually like comic books and I hope that comes across. What I don’t like is making personal attacks on creators based on their work.

Comic book creators are public figures (although just barely) who invite comment on their work simply by putting it out there. Anything that say, John Byrne creates is fair game to me – if I want to take the piss out of an issue of Babe, I can do so with a clean conscience because Byrne has offered Babe up to public praise or criticism by having it published. What I consider off-limits are personal attacks on John Byrne because I don’t like his comic book. Babe might suck (and trust me, it does) but does that mean, by extension, that John Byrne sucks or is an asshole? Hmm, Byrne might not be the best example…

Ha ha! Kidding. But seriously, I don’t know a thing about what Writer X or Artist Y personally, aside from what I read online. I’ve read some stuff that Byrne has written on The Byrne Board that I didn’t agree with or thought was rude, but what does that have to do with his comics? I read all the gossip about different creators; who’s crazy, who’s an asshole, who’s a lecherous pig, etc., but I’m not sure why all that extraneous crap should have any bearing on whether I enjoy Writer X’s book. I should point out that I think comments made by public figures, comic book creators included, are fair game for criticism - I just don't factor that stuff heavily into the equation, unless they're a Nazi or something.

Plus, I don’t personally attack comic creators because I would like to write comics among other things, and it doesn’t seem like a good idea sniping at pros on a personal level. It’s the whole “don’t shit where you eat” principle.

But the big thing for me is that I don’t want to be just another dick online.

Don’t get me wrong, I love mocking and ridiculing bad comics – I just don’t think it’s cool to attack somebody personally for making a bad comic. So Bendis killed my beloved Hawkeye. Does that make him a horrible human being? Last time I checked Bendis wasn’t slaughtering anybody with a machete in Darfour, so I have to put it in perspective. Hmm, again, I may not have chosen a good example, because clearly Bendis is a fucker. GIVE ME BACK MY HAWKEYE, YOU FUCKER!!!

Anyway, anybody who reaches a certain level of success in the insular world of comics becomes a fair target for trolls, who are usually anonymous. People like Chuck Austen, Bendis, Byrne, Joe Quesada, Geoff Johns… it’s amazing the level of venom generated towards them sometimes. What do I have against these guys? Maybe they put out a crappy book, or they can’t finish a book, or they KILLED HAWKEYE. No reason to bust out the lynch mob. For instance, I’m not interested in attacking Chuck Austen personally. The guy was practically hounded out of comics by trolls! I fully intend on savaging his WorldWatch series in the near future, but I’ll leave the character assassination to Gambitfan666 or whoever.

I do think that there is a place online for discussing comic book pros as public figures. The Micah Wright thing, where he lied about being an Army Ranger? That’s fair game for anybody, it’s just not something I focus on for my blog and wouldn’t impact the way I wrote about Wright’s Stormwatch: Team Achilles. I just want to talk about comic books, man. I avoid message boards for the most part, except for occasionally The Isotope Lounge, which has a civil atmosphere that is reinforced by their Deborah Harry policy. No, if I want to get my fill of gossip and seething, I visit Fanboy Rampage.

God bless Graeme at Fanboy Rampage for culling through the boards and sites for dirt, because that means I don’t have to. Rampage is like a clearing house of web snark, and it’s hilarious. The comments on each post are sort of a snarky game of one-upsmanship that only occasionally degenerate into catfights. Mostly it’s just a bunch of geeks commenting on the catch of the day and trying to make each other laugh, and I think it’s a well-needed tonic for some of the histrionic bile that makes it online.

I guess what I’m saying is that Fanboy Rampage exists to fill a certain need; I don’t have to talk about the behind-the-scenes stuff, because how could I do it better anyway? This frees me up to bitch about the comics themselves and not the comics-creators.
"Climb on my Peace Train and ride it, baby - all night long."

“Now hang on a second there, Dave,” you might say. “You can be pretty mean yourself if you don’t like a comic…”

It’s true, I can. But I think I manage to tread the line and aim my mockery at the art and not the artist. Even when I’m savaging a comic like Alpha Flight #121 or Greg Horn’s J.U.D.G.E., I try not to personally attack those involved. I mean, the guy who ripped off Byrne’s art in that Alpha Flight issue? He deserves to have that shit pointed out and loudly ridiculed, but I stop short of actually calling him a hack or a dickhead, or whatever. What’s the point? Besides, the guy was a fill-in artist; he probably had 36 hours to jam the entire issue out during a bout of stomach flu. What do I know?

Okay, so personal assault and character assassination are off the table, for the most part. The other thing I’m cognizant of when writing these posts is who may be reading this shit. I’m not talking about my mom; I’m talking about women and gay guys. Bear with me again.

I’m a straight, married white guy and a bit of a commie. I attended one of the most liberal colleges in America – The Evergreen State College – during the height of the Politically Correct Movement. On that campus, straight white guy was The Oppressor, and we all became very sensitive about issues of gender, race, and sexual inequality – hyper-sensitive, in fact. You can’t help absorb some P.C. if you’re in an environment like that.

One good thing about being steeped in the Cauldron of Correctness for four years is that it helped me come to appreciate that certain environments can feel unwelcoming or even discriminatory, even if that’s not the intention. Comic websites and message boards, for the most part, are a guy’s world. A straight guy’s world. I’m sure many would protest, but guess what? In general, women don’t think rape jokes are funny and gay men don’t like being called “faggot.” Just a little something I picked up on the way.

So I’ve consciously tried to avoid making Dave’s Long Box a big testosterone-fest. Sure, I talk like a dude and swear and dig macho shit, but that’s who I am. I’m White Guy. But just because I’m White Guy doesn’t mean that I have to use misogynist or homophobic language and turn my blog into Creepy White Guy’s Straight Guy Only Clubhouse. Fuck that. And if that means I’m being P.C., sue me. That’s right, have your lawyer send me a letter of representation and you can just sue my white ass.

“But wait, Dave!” you may say. “What about that ‘bitches and money’ NWA quote you recently put up?”

Shut up, that was funny! I was trying to make a point about how Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser were sort of contemporary, opportunistic characters! Damn you, shut up!

I’m not saying I’m going to be 100% consistent with my goal of Not Being a Dick. But at least I can try to keep things in perspective and save the snark for the comic books.

See? I’m all about The Love.


Jamie said...

Beautiful post, sums up so many feelings I've had while wandering the web (and the university PC cauldron).

Harvey Jerkwater said...

To quote C. Montgomery Burns when leading the Springfield Nuclear Plant employees in morning calisthenics, "Push out the jive, pull in the love."

Anonymous said...

What is this obsession with being "snark-free"? If you don't like something that's being published I think you should feel free to denigrate it in the strongest possible terms. Don't hold back.
I'll just come out and say it: any comment you make I'll consider a rhetorical device that no one should take personally.
If the only position it's acceptable to take is a mild one what is the point of criticism exactly? I want to know what you really think, not what you think is "acceptable".

Anonymous said...

very well-written, Dave. and I hear you on Hawkeye, man. but hey this is comics after all, and nobody stays "dead", right? unless your name is Bucky, or Matter Eater Lad. keep up the great work, Dave. I really dig your blog.

Greg said...

But, but, but, if you're a "bit of a commie," doesn't that mean you don't like the Thing! You have been exposed, sir! (And not in a good way, like Janet Jackson.)

David Campbell said...

'What is this obsession with being "snark-free"?'

I never said anything about being "snark free." I don't think I can be accused of holding back on how I feel about comics; I let it all hang out, baby. I'm just saying that if I don't like a certain book, it doesn't nescessarily folow that I should personally insult the people who made it. Or call them fags. Or pussies.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dave,

1. the Evergreen State College describes itself as a ' distinctive public Liberal Arts & Sciences College in the Pacific Northwest '. Does a public college in the USA require monthly/annual fees?
If one was to study there, would it be possible to cover the college fees by working as a waiter or something similar?
What is the difference between a public and a private university or college in the States ?
Sorry if this is off-topic but I 'd like to study in the USA at some point in the future, and I currently have insufficient funds.

2. the link to the J.U.D.G.E. review (ignited by a comment of mine) isn't working. See to it, please.

3. both your blogs rule. With an iron fist.

Shon Richards said...

I don't think the mission statement was needed, but it's nice to see. I don't understand people who feel the need to insult a comic creator's life, dog and mother when discussing a comic. I rather read about enjoying comics, or enjoying how bad some comics are.

SwanShadow said...

In the immortal words of Buckaroo Banzai, M.D., Ph.D., "Don't be mean. We don't have to be mean. Because remember, no matter where you go, there you are."

David Campbell said...

Konstantinos - thanks, I'll fix the link. Evergreen is a public four-year college full of hippies that is run by the State of Washington. You can work on campus to help defray costs, but it probably won't make that big of a dent. Tuition is due every three months or so. The State of Washington does have financial aid packages, but competition is fierce and the money isn't there like it used to be. Private colleges are even more expensive... Email me if you want some more info, I might be able to give you some useful links re: financial aid if you're interested. Peace out.

David Campbell said...

Jeez, G Bob, somebody wrote that to you? That's evil.

N., I agree with you, I definitely do think that one should be able to call John Byrne or anybody else on stupid shit like the latina hookers thing, absolutely. I just choose not to because it's a) not super interesting to me, and b) other blogs and sites can do it so much better. I didn't mean to imply that stuff like that wasn't fair game. I don't think I made that point very clear in my post; thanks for bringing it up!

Brian Cronin said...

Agreed, David.

Then again, it's kinda hard to disagree with "hey, let's not be assholes!"

As for snark, I think snark is great.

I have a Snark-Free blog as well, just for those folks who dig that (and I do think it is worthwhile to have an option for those folks who just want to embrace strictly the positives of comics), but I think snark is great - but yes, don't be an asshole.

thekelvingreen said...

As a fully-paid member of the Twin Cities Communist Collective (est 1964), I have to express my dismay at your incessant ridiculing of my chosen socio-political system.

No, really, you're doing fine. It's good to have the mission statement here, so you can point it out to those who might be offended, but I wouldn't hold back too much. You're a good writer, and it's usually very clear when you're joking and when you're not.

That said, you're right about being personal. I think Chuck Austen might be the worst comics writer in the history of this and all other worlds, and I've said so again and again in reviews, but I've never attacked him personally.

But to go back a bit, I think you're doing fine. You've crossed no lines as far as I can see. It's good to see that you're aware of the danger of doing so, but you're doing fine. Komrade.

Anonymous said...

I believe that the 1st 'War Machine' volume written and drawn by Chuck Austen was great. I haven't read the 2nd WM volume.

Therefore, not only is he not a bad writer ; he can be a great one (IMO).
(my syntax rocks)

Verily, I have steered clear of his mainstream works; but because of my dislike for generic mainstream superhero crap. His most mundane, or simply bad works seem no different from the crap published by 'the Big 2' and their imitators on a monthly basis. The problem is with the publishers who are dependent on the monthly fuel which is (for them) the superhero genre. On a relatively smaller scope it's writers such as Mr. Austen (and Mr. Millar and others) who contribute to comic book badness by ( /when) choosing to pay their bills by writing generic, uninspired and pointless stories. (on the other hand are people such as Grant Morrison who give us stories at the very least resonant and relevant to theirselves)

To recap, IMO Chuck Austen is not a terrible writer; his 1st volume of War Machine is great.

Comics is an artform and a business; as such inside comics there exist many hacks and over-rated people. Also, many of the mainstream-uplauded works can be utter crap.
I don't see how you could not ridicule them (in style and with delicacy) as you have done so far.
Cheers for that!
Plus, a few has-beens and offensive misers deserve to get the shit beaten out of them - at least in an online, written manner.

PS Regarding the US universities & colleges : how can some of them be called public, if the general public cannot afford the fees in them?
Here in (post WW2 - US backed) Greece, anyone can pass the exams required to enroll in a public university's classes. No fees are ever required.
I suppose if you are to attend a private university you must at least have a parent often taking part in rituals involving being 'knee deep in spunk and blood'.

PPS All hail comrade Stalin

thekelvingreen said...

Konstantinos, I'd direct you to Austen's Avengers work if you want something to counterbalance your pleasant War Machine experiences! :)

Anonymous said...

dear kelvingreen,

In the big budget superhero team books if you exclude the arcs created by a few notable 'visionaries', what remains?
Endless, boring, crappy filler issues.Lots of them.
For instance:
In the recent past, excluding Grant Morrison's run.(maybe Mark Waid's - haven't read it)

= crap

Also, Mark Millar's MK Spider-Man and Wolverine. At best a handjob for retards. At worst pure crap. Boring, predictable crap.

Does this mean that Mark Millar is a terrible writer? No, as he has given us Red Son, some excellent Authority issues and Chosen.

The suckiness begins when one writes so as to pay the rent. Millar and Austen can be bad or good writers.

Sorry; I am very tired and not a native English speaker. I 'll need to crawl back in to my glycoprotein & glycolipid tank so as to rejuvenate this currently frail body
Hope I'll make it

Anonymous said...

Blog and need medication for ADHD...GRAGHhhhhll

Anonymous said...

Konstantinos - Public colleges and universities are funded, in part, by the state governments. That cuts the costs dramatically. Private schools don't have that, so they're more expensive.

In America, free public education is only available through 12th grade.

After that, you're on your own and it's time to learn some self-reliance. Yes, people can afford those state schools. Between scholarships and government loans, it's do-able if you're willing to work and have the slightest bit of smarts.

Dave - Amen on everything you said above. I'm about as far from a P.C. hippie as you're going to get on the comics corner of the internet, but even I cringe when I see mostly the immature idiots calling each other "retards" or saying that something is "so gay."

Anonymous said...


You've hit the nail on the head --- and that is exactly why I visit this site every day. Keep up the great work.


thekelvingreen said...

Konstantinos, fair enough! :)

Mark W. Hale said...

I'm never going to stop hoping Rob Liefeld's hands fall off.

Does that make me a bad person?

David Campbell said...

Yes. Wait! No.

Jim Roeg said...

Dave--your blog is a masterpiece and you are scholar and a gentleman. I don't like mean either, but I sure do like snarky.

Dayna said...

To my mind one and all must browse on it.