Friday, 28 December 2012

More Irrelevance (part 1)

Many years ago, in another century, I wrote a review of a book and kinda felt a little like Salman Rushdie and his fatwah. The review, which appeared in Comics International, was of a novel/linked collection of short stories and it got held over a month because Dez [Skinn] wanted to read the book himself.

The thing was, it was Alan Moore's Voice of the Fire and it had lots of fans and most everyone knew that there was this acrimony between Dez and Alan and my review could easily have been construed as Dez having a dig at Alan via a third party, mainly because I gave it a really bad write-up. Dez felt that his magazine would come in for unnecessary attention and criticism if a negative review of Alan's debut book was published by him with my name attached to it. At the time I probably agreed with him, so the reviewer's name was changed. Dez got halfway through the book and couldn't read any more and it sat in his bathroom between 1996 and 1998 when I believe one of his 'friends' borrowed it. He went with the less than flattering review...

It was at the 1996 Christmas party in Finchley which polarised it for me. Peter Hogan (DC and 2000AD writer) was laying into Sarah Bolesworth (the reviews editor) about this horrendous review; she explained to Peter that it 'was fucking Dez's idea to run a novel review' and for him to take it up with Dez. The aforementioned was already 9 sheets to the wind by this time, so he pushed Peter in my direction and said, 'Talk to Phil, he knows the bloke that reviewed it' and normally I would have been quite straight with whoever was demanding of a situation like this, but Peter was almost apoplectic, arguing the reviewer 'just didn't get it' and 'obviously didn't understand the place Alan was coming from' ... Well, Alan is a bit older than me and I haven't lived in Northampton all my life, but I have been here for 7/10ths of mine and I fancy I know a fair bit of it - unlike the non-existent part of the town that Alan referred to in his recent Observer interview which either was altered to stop loonies from putting impromptu blue plaques up or because he really comes from a very nice part of town and doesn't want people to see his true middle class roots.

There was also this guy in Wellingborough who claimed he was Alan's brother - he ran a pub and the resemblance was there even without the hair and beard - but everyone I've spoken to about this said Alan was an only child...

Anyhow, the point was, that kind of scared me off of writing that many scathing reviews again - it didn't stop me and as an editor and it got me into trouble more often than it didn't; but I figure I've always meant well (um, well maybe not meant well, perhaps being honest and opinionated, but hey everyone has one, an opinion too). This preamble is because I watched something the other day; I was impressed with it as a documentary film; I knew some of the people in it (one I class as a friend), but in its attempt to be post modern about a subject that almost by definition isn't ever going to be post modern in the eyes of Joe Public, I think it did nothing but accentuate many of the stereotypical points I made throughout the book. I watched Morgan Spurlock's Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope and while it was clear that the message was 'the geeks will inherit the earth', the reality is the geeks will NOT inherit the earth. The geeks will inherit some sad lonely bastard's comic/book/toy/action figure/porno collection and maybe their parents' debt.

What this film does is perpetuate a myth, except it isn't a myth, that's just an expression - a stereotype - we keep using, but the reality is despite the mainstream coverage San Diego gets and the fact it is used as a vehicle for Big Entertainment, it is a geekfest, pure and simple and yes people make money out of geeks; it isn't football, but it keeps people in work, makes a few millionaires and even if it metaphorically is killing people, it doesn't normally do it for real (eh, Greg?). What Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope does is say, 'look at these people, take pride in the fact that you aren't them (but wouldn't it be nice if the soldier gets a job)' and by the end you get a pay off even if millionaires aren't involved and my lack of knowledge of the industry now means I have absolutely no idea who offered the soldier some work, but I hope they paid him and that he's not given up his day job.

The thing is Spurlock likes sensational, but he's so obviously a comics fan and the film is produced by a Who's Who of icons and well known geeks, that there was never going to be much more than sugar coating. The two joined at the hip lovers were a perfect example. By the time they'd been on screen for ten minutes and he could not even go to the bathroom without her suspecting he was going off to have fun without her. What he wanted was to get her an engagement ring and propose to her at a Kevin Smith talk; Smith was in on it, the organisers were in on it and obviously Spurlock was. Bunny Boiler Girl was probably clued up by the time he was in the queue to ask Smith a question; she even kind of spoiled his big surprise and all you wanted to do was grab hold of him and scream as loudly in his face as humanly possible - DO NOT MARRY THIS LIMPET MASQUERADING AS AN ASIAN WOMAN, SHE WILL DRIVE YOU TO SERIAL KILLING! Spurlock just upped the schmaltz levels and made it look like a really cool thing, when in reality he was saying 'please do not allow these two people to procreate'. It was probably only the 2nd really subversive thing in the entire film (the first being the two minute skit on how badly the place smells after a couple of days) and it was done so subtly perhaps it was just cynical old me who saw it.

The problem is a film like Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope is not going to change the opinion of someone who doesn't understand the kick. The reaction is likely to be derisive rather than of interest. One of the 'famous' talking heads commented about how it took a certain kind of person to look at a comic to become that kind of person - it's what happened to me. Comics is one thing, but this was really a documentary about the SDCC and that meant costume parades, video games, films; about breaking in, making a splash, having your heart broken. The theme was acceptance, the feeling it gave was of a bunch of weirdos in a very hot place for 4 days every year - avoid.

For all the celebrity endorsements in this film, there were actually very few true celebrities on show; Kevin Smith, Joss Whedon, Seths Rogan & Green, Eli Roth, and Stan Lee, who, of course, is most famous for ... comics. The film and TV guys drafted in all have something of the geek about them (while Whedon and Smith came over as the two most irreverent and erudite, yet in many ways as uber-nerds) and it was their contribution to this celebration of geekiness and nerdism that lifted it.

My wife sat and watched the documentary with me. She did so because 18 years ago, long before SDCC became this mythical near-nirvana for US comics fans, I was there, doing my bit for Britain in a predominantly USA world. I had to explain to her that things haven't just expanded, they have exploded and the irony is that while comics continue to wane, the peripheral ephemera of toys, films, TV and general nerdism has grown exponentially. If SDCC in 1994 was a 7 on the Geek Overkill monitor, 2010's SDCC was an 11.

Yet, I was rooting for Eric Henson - the soldier with the right balance of naivety and talent to either succeed or get royally butt-fucked - and watched Skip Harvey's dreams get pulverised - and yet there was I almost shouting at the TV screen that 'this guy needs to learn from this and go away and do all the things the editors told him to do', but for a while I thought we'd get nothing but self pity from him. He redeemed himself at the end by having a Never Say Die attitude and while he won't ever be a big time comics artist, he should have fun trying - rejection is part of life. Holly Conrad's story was the least interesting because I've never understood the need or desire for cosplay or fancy dress parades - it will never be cool, it will always smell vaguely of 8-year-old's birthday parties. The fact that Holly, presumably on a shoestring budget, is knocking out SFX that were pretty damned good was probably the reason why I didn't end up fast forwarding through her bits and she will be a success in her field even if her story felt like padding.

The rest of the film was taken up with Chuck Rozanski's struggles at being the leading comics retailer in the USA. I've met Chuck a couple of times, he's a nice genuine guy and he is successful. yet, amazingly, he doesn't fit the bill for a successful retailer - he's a fan and as times were hard he was considering selling his Red Raven #1. I said right at the start, he will not sell that book, he doesn't want to and he didn't have to, he took enough money from the weekend to mean that he could stick it back in the vault for another 30 odd years.

The Red Raven #1 Chuck had for sale was almost as new and he was looking for $500,000 for it. As someone who has owned this book and can trace how I lost it with vivid accuracy, I'm glad my mother isn't alive today, because I would have shown her this film repeatedly because I just know that the kids my mother gave this comic to will have destroyed it within 24 hours of getting their shit-encrusted mitts on it. It was maybe only worth about $500 in 1971; when I wrote My Monthly Curse it was probably only worth about $10,000 and my copy would have been vg+ at best... But... You know...

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope is the best film I've ever seen about comics and a comicbook convention, but it is also a horror show of serial geekiness that tries to be post modern but only succeeds in looking like it's trying to be post modern but remains the domain of people with deep social needs. It doesn't matter how articulate or passionate someone is about their subject if the rest of the world is going to point at you and laugh or sneer at your supposed childishness.

You need to understand that I tend to think of myself as an anomaly. I have grown to hate comics and everything about them because of my experiences. I have more venom in my blood than anyone attached to comics that I know; yet the many people I know or who have met who have even more disparate and disparaging views on comics and geekery is frightening. I know people who will go to the cinema next summer and watch Pacific Rim and come out sporting massive fanboy-like erections, waxing lyrically about how that film rocked, but if you put, I don't know, Appleseed or Guyver in front of them, they wouldn't wipe their arses with it and would be even less respectful to the people who worship comics such as these. Transformers movies are fine; but the comics or the toys - getoutohere!

Geek Nation exists and it's a growing democracy of diverse and independent nerds, but it will never rid itself of a certain image and there will never be enough members of the Geek Nation to allow it to rise above the derision it gets. The geeks will inherit the earth, but only in their dreams.