Thursday, April 06, 2006

My baby's got a secret (Lilys' version, not Madonna).

One of the stranger things about becoming involved in “the industry,” even to such a small extent that I am – somewhere off on the edge of wherever the real industry professionals live, where they can look out with their jewel-encrusted binoculars at people like me, and watch as we dance as they throw us scraps of news or spoilers like Comics’ Own Dian Fossey – is that you hear things. Not voices, because that hasn’t happened for years, and I’ve never seen dead people no matter what anyone says, but little tidbits. Gossip. Rumors. Secrets.

Knowledge is power, of course, especially in a fandom like this, where people like Rich Johnston and whoever’s doing All The Rage this week are treated like celebrities not because of what they’ve done, but because of what they’ve heard from someone who knows someone who used to intern at Marvel. I’m not necessarily putting down that kind of behavior because, God knows, I’m as bad as most of them if not worse, but still… There’s this unusual emphasis put on secrecy and insider knowledge and “I know something you don’t know” in comic fandom that just seems to be taken as a given, these days, and it’s something that you suddenly become aware of when you know something that other people don’t.

First of all, when you realize that other people don’t know what you know – which isn’t always obvious, because sometimes you find out these things in such an offhand way that you only realize that most people didn’t know when it suddenly becomes public knowledge and causes uproar weeks later – then it’s not unusual to suddenly become overwhelmed by the incredible urge to go and tell lots of people just to show off. It becomes a potential status symbol, whatever this pearl of wisdom is, and there’s no use in having a potential status symbol that no-one else knows about. What kind of status does that give you? What use is that?

(There is a comic creator who is infamous for telling people secrets of upcoming big event comics, including his own. He sends emails to friends with art and scripts and plots even though he knows that he shouldn’t, because his publisher wouldn’t want him to let everything out of the bag, but still. It’s like he’s compelled to do it, to show how in the know he is. Those people who receive the emails with art and scripts and plots that they shouldn’t have but do send them to their friends, or at least send out more emails, hinting at what they know and what they’ve been told, and their friends get those emails and want to know more and feel jealous that they’re not as cool as their friends because they don’t know this comic creator and don’t get emails like that all the time. I mean, I’m jealous of those people because I don’t get emails like that all the time, and I don’t even really like the comic creator I’m talking about.)

(And there, I’m doing it already. Hinting at what I know, this rumor about the comic creator that I’m not mentioning on purpose because I don’t want everyone to know what I know. Well, that and the fact that I don’t think said comic creator would like the attention if I mentioned his name, and that doesn’t seem like a good way to suddenly appear on his radar… But I digress.)

The worst thing is having the greatest gossip and not being able to share it for whatever reason – Normally, in my case, because it wouldn’t be great for the person who shared it with me in the first place. Whenever that happens, I always read the rumor columns for weeks afterwards, waiting for the story to appear, for someone to spill, just so that I can say “Well, I knew that ages ago…” with a tone of practiced boredom. Before I started doing Fanboy Rampage!!!, back when I was entirely out of any kind of loop, I had this idea that Rich Johnston was somewhat psychically attuned to each and every piece of interesting gossip that had any comic-related interest at all. In my head, no matter what happened and where, he’d magically know about it and put it in a column for me to get my fill of semi-celebrity juice. Imagine my disappointment, years later and with my little pure heart twisted into something cynical and black, to go through Lying In The Gutters every week and fail to find the stories that I thought everyone knew about creators having bar fights with editors, or Machiavellian moves from creators trying to swindle and talk each other out of work. In cases like those, I always like to presume that Rich still knows about all those stories and more, and doesn’t share them to protect the innocent. Or his mates. It’s small lies like that that help me get up in the morning and make it through the day.

The sad thing about the secrets of the comic industry is that the ones that are genuinely secret are pretty dull, in the grand scheme of things. They’re the ones that rely on your fannish nature to be of any value at all, because otherwise you wouldn’t care about what happens at the end of Civil War or who the creative team on Action Comics is going to be. The truly amazing rumors and gossip don’t really count as secrets anymore, because they’re so good that everyone already knows them: which comic creator likes to engage in hand-to-anal activities with prostitutes dressed as his own characters, for example, or the so-infamous-they’re-almost-back-to-boring-again IM chats of certain other creators. They’re the truly successful rumors, the ones that don’t require a knowledge of certain comics continuity or backstory to understand, but in an industry and community as small as comics, they’re also the ones that just can’t be kept secret for too long because there just aren’t enough people or lines of communication for something like that to go around without it covering everyone sooner rather than later. It’s depressing and comforting, at the same time. I mean, it shows that, despite any and all divisiveness that you see online or hear about in hushed tones at cons, people all want to hear the same old shit. But at the same time, it also shows that I can’t lord it over anyone by telling them about underage hookers and men with beards who wrote the comics they grew up reading.

Life is so unfair sometimes.

And all of the above is what I do on the day when I find out something that I’d really like to share, but can’t, because it wouldn’t be great for the person who shared it with me in the first place. Well, I had to do something to keep myself busy.

True Believers

So, Ian Brill and I are talking about DC Nation, the new version of the promo page at the back of DC’s superhero books which is centered around a weekly column by Dan Didio where he tries to sound enthusiastic about everything that DC’s publishing and make people excited to buy a book called Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters which is, admittedly, no small fear, and Brill (who I shall refer to with his last name for the rest of this column, because his last name is Brill, and I’m jealous. Although if my last name was Brill, I’d be too tempted to add an exclamation point at the end for emphasis) makes a comment about Dan Didio being the new Stan Lee.

Now, please know that Ian Brill is a very intelligent man. He writes not only his own blog, but also for such publications as The Comics Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, which means that many people are not only aware of Brill’s intelligence but are willing to pay for the ability to use said intelligence for their own nefarious ends. Brill gets sent free comics by lots of publishers because they want to read what he has to say about them, because publishers also recognize his intelligence. I have very little doubt in my mind that one day Brill will be running some comic company of his own, having gone from critic and journalist to being co-opted by the publishing machine that he shall then carve out his own niche within, and that niche shall grow until he gets to be The Man, but a good The Man, who makes good comics that shall be loved by many, because Brill is a man of insight and taste as well as intelligence. But nonetheless, for Ian Brill to say that Dan Didio is the new Stan Lee, can only mean one thing.

Ian Brill is high.

(High on life, of course. I have no knowledge of his experience with jazz cigarettes or any other type of intoxicant, and really I have no desire to have any knowledge along those lines.)

It’s a strange thought that Stan Lee, of all people, needs some kind of critical re-evaluation. But these days, it’s as if what he’s become best known for is being the official Marvel shill and the man behind such catchphrases as “Excelsior!” “Nuff Said!” and “True Believer!”. Anything that ends in an exclamation point, in fact. When we see Dan Didio or Joe Quesada act like assholes for the sake of selling comics and getting people to talk about their company’s latest shock-horror stunt and grab for mainstream media attention, it gets defended as somehow being in the spirit of Stan Lee, as if that was the man’s greatest contribution to comics.

It wasn’t always like this. There was a time, way before the internet and controversy and fanboys like me having any kind of public voice outside of trade magazines and fanzines, when Stan Lee was officially considered The Creator of Marvel Comics. People – fans and pros alike – had problems with that idea, of course, and made noise to bring attention to the enormous contribution that the artists had made to the whole shebang, what with the infamous “Marvel Method” of writing and all… But now it’s as if the pendulum has swung too far in that direction, and we’re losing sight of what Lee brought to everything in favor of giving Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita and others their due and then some.

Sure, Stan Lee was a salesman wherever possible, and a fan of hype that went so far overboard that it actually went over, under the entire ship and then back onboard again on the other side. Yes, he was given to hyperbolic statements at the drop of a hat, and liked to write in a somewhat hyperactive style not unlike a man who’d just discovered a thing called “alliteration”. But he’s also kind of one of the more important people in comics because of his creative work. His recollections of how everything came about may differ wildly depending on when he tells the story, but without him, there would be no Fantastic Four or no X-Men. No Spider-Man. No Marvel Comics at all, which I’m sure some would not really have a problem with, but still: You can’t imagine a world without Marvel Comics, never mind just a comic industry without them.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Stan Lee was one of the greatest comic writers who’d ever walked the earth. I’m not even necessarily saying that Stan Lee was that good of a comic writer (although I like him, personally). I’m just saying that his comic writing is infinitely more important a contribution to comics than his work in the hype industry. Dan Didio can’t be the new Stan Lee; he’s just an editor. Joe Quesada’s claim may be somewhat stronger – He works for Marvel, after all, and he is a creator himself – but even so. He has worked, for the most part, on other people’s creations – with the exception of Painkiller Jane and Ash, I know, but he abandoned those for the possibility of playing with other people’s toys – and hasn’t shown the manic, desperate, creative drive that Lee had at his best. Both Didio and Quesada are great at what they do, yes. It’s just that what they do is something else.

If I had to make a claim for the new Stan Lee – and it’s my column, so why not? – then I admit that I’d have to choose Larry Young, of AiT/PlanetLar fame. He’s a creator and a salesman, with a love for both positions and – perhaps more importantly for this particular comparison – a reputation for both, as well. He’s someone who understands what it takes to effectively sell your own work to an audience that isn’t already eating out of your hand, which alone makes him different from the heads-of-comics-juggernauts mentioned above (and similar to Stan Lee, way back before he was “Stan Lee” with a trademark after the name), as well as someone who isn’t afraid of a little self-mythologizing along the way. Give it ten years, and he’ll be doing voiceovers for the Saturday morning cartoon version of Astronauts In Trouble and some younger comic pundit on whatever the internet of tomorrow is will be arguing that whatever Editor In Chief of the latest indie publisher is the new Larry Young.

They’ll be wrong, of course.