Robot 6

Quotes of the day | The Best American Superhero Comics?

The problem with superheroes is it’s not a personal taste so much as it just requires so much insider knowledge to read these things. They don’t stand on their own. There have been about three superhero comics, maybe two, in the past five years that stand on their own. That you can just read and not have to know what happened in issue #56 and ever since. It’s a real problem, I think, and it’s a problem for the industry. How do you get into this stuff if you’re not into it already?

— Jessica Abel, cartoonist and co-editor of the Best American Comics annual anthology series, explains why so few superhero comics have made it into their best-of collections in an interview with CBR’s Alex Dueben. (Though this isn’t through lack of trying — DC previously turned down their request to use Paul Pope’s Batman Year 100.) Her husband, fellow cartoonist, and co-editor Matt Madden agrees:

I feel like superhero comics at this point [are] as segregated as ever from the rest of the world of comics. I feel like indie comics and webcomics and manga have more interaction than the superhero world with the rest of the world of comics. It would almost require a separate “Best American Superhero Comics” volume.

Anthologies like the Best American series are already at a disadvantage with regard to the long-form, novel-length works that comprise the bulk of alternative comics today, since they need a discrete, almost stand-alone excerpt that doesn’t require readers to have read the rest of the book to understand. When you think about the years-long storylines of superhero comics, it’s easy to see how the problem’s compounded for the spandex set.

Read the whole interview for a fascinating look at Abel and Madden’s procedure for editing the series and helping to select its contents. I was particularly struck by their use of the “Notables” section in the back of each year’s volume — a list of honorable mentions that they see as a way to both honor flawed but promising works and to keep a running chronicle of the state of the (sequential) art.

News From Our Partners

Comments

28 Comments

Genre snobbery, pure and simple.

Rightly so, superhero comics are shit.

I think Abel and Madden are right on the money.

2 MAYBE 3? Wow, pretty incredible exaggeration, there

Their comments make sense. Yet, maybe some of DC’s new comics like Animal Man will make it next year if DC agrees.
I think a Best of Superhero Comics is a good idea to introduce more people to the medium, especially those who like superheroes but don’t have an idea where to start. However, partnering the major publishers is probably not an easy task.
Overall, a high price point for a hodgepodge of comics that I might already own is a turnoff to current readership like myself.

Did they put in any pieces from out-of-continuity gems like STRANGE TALES or GIRL COMICS – both of which were mostly populated by “alternative” comics / comix creators? Those were accessible and excellent.

But I would bet actual money that the answer is “no.”

honestly, if you have difficulty understanding ‘All-Star Superman’…..
sorry to say, but then you’re not exactly the brightest apple in the basket….

I think ‘All-Star Superman’ is one of those exceptions to the rule. General point stands.

So far, I would say that a lot of the New 52 address this issue.

I find half the fun of superhero comics in the inherent inaccessibility of them. Tracking down back issues that are referenced outright and discovering connections I never knew were there by reading back issues is extremely fun to me. It makes the whole world of the comic feel more fleshed out and real. If you’re willing to put in the extra effort I find superhero comics to be the most rewarding kind.

I strongly believe the problem is that we, the fanbases, have made the superhero aspect so insular it turns off others–no wonder there are so many comic book geek stereotypes, with Comic Book Guy being the most prominent of them. That, and the lack of exposure since newsstands and grocers stopped carrying them.

I started reading superhero comics in 1975 when I was 3 years old. The Marvel Universe had existed for over a decade before my birth, as had the DC Universe. I wouldn’t consider myself any more or less intelligent than the average joe. Somehow I was able to, as a child, enjoy and understand the characters and stories without any “insider knowledge.”

I’ve dropped in and out of Marvel Comics over the last ten years and been able to follow pretty much all storylines without having to acquire any substantial new level of “insider knowledge.” If there has been a need to find out something about a character’s background I’ve just Wikipedia’d it, but I’ve rarely needed to.

The inaccessibility of superhero comics is just the same old, same old excuse from critics like Jessica Abel and her husband. The argument has no substance.

@ Acer

Superheroes in general have never been MORE accessible than they are today. The majority of kids today, (in my experience as a Primary School Teacher) absolutely love superheroes – but have a preference for following the cartoons and movies, and playing with the action figures than reading the comics. In fact many of them have no idea that there are comics about Iron Man, Green Lantern, and Batman.

The Comic Book Guy stereotype doesn’t exist anymore. No one thinks about that guy anymore. It’s been replaced by the “I hate everything Lucas and (insert any other prominent TV/ Film creator) makes internet Bulletin Board Blogger.

I think these people are full of shit. As mentioned above, its pure snobbery that perpetuates this bullshit.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to read from issue 1 to understand everything. To quote the “Hitler gets mad about the DC relaunch” video on Youtube: “Superman can fly and is really strong, what the fuck else do you need to know?”

Everything is collected in story arcs and 9 times out of 10, you don’t have to know what happened before that trade. Maybe the big 2 should be better about telling people this, but its the truth. In fact, the trades that are numbered on the side that you do have to read from the beginning are the Vertigo books and those are the only books from the big 2 these snobs would read!

Also, the latest issue of Optic Nerve has a great little piece at the end about comic snobs.

Leave it to a bunch of superhero enthusiasts to vehemently insist that superheroes are of course, perfectly understandable, always.

Nevermind when people who aren’t entrenched in superhero culture indicate their trouble penetrating the stories. Their experiences are wrong. God, what is wrong with them.

I’m far, far from an enthusiast (at least concerning modern superheroes) but yeah, what ‘chris said’.

And judging from that interview, you can almost smell the undercurrent that tries to disguise dislike as inaccesibility.

And: Batman fights crime, swings from rooftops.

I am sure some people feel they are impenetrable, although I that is most likely due to a lack of interest more than anything else. As Jamie noted, anyone who started reading comics after 1970, and probably a fair share of those who started even earlier, most likely began reading with an issue numbered anywhere from #56 to over #200, and somehow managed to not only figure out what was going on but actually enjoy it as well. My first X-Men was #102; I was 10 years old, had no idea who the characters were, what they did, or why they did it but managed to understand enough to enjoy it and keep reading.

How are Abel and Madden the snobs when DC refused to let them include an excerpt in the anthology?

X-Men #102 was undoubtedly a much better-concieved work of art than Wolverine and the X-Men #1 of this past week.

And superhero fans have the gall to wonder why 100,000 is considered “good sales,” what a joke. A terrible, unfunny joke.

Lookit, I’ve been reading X-Men comics since I was like eleven or something in 1991 with Jim Lee’s X-Men #1. Before that, I studied the backs of those Marvel Universe Series 2 trading cards, watched the “Pryde of the X-Men” TV show, played the X-Men Nintendo video game (look it up)…it’s a fair thing to say that I was very prepared to read that comic. And it’s just as fair to say that I highly resent (and mock whenever I see) people who whine that superhero comics ARE in fact accessible (as they stamp their feet and throw tantrums).

There is nothing about superhero comics that I wasn’t pre-prepared for as a kid. Marvel Universe Series 2 cards were HUGE in my elementary school. They’re the reason I didn’t grow up reading Batman comics, despite the Adam West TV show being in reruns all throughout summer. The trading cards, modeled after baseball cards, broke this fictional world into tiny, managable blocks of information and trivia. There isn’t a Marvel comic book whose accessibilty to me cannot be traced back to the year when Marvel cards were the hottest thing in the streets. I had insider knowledge before I ever read a superhero comic book. I was an expert before I set foot into a comic shop.

Everybody knows that superhero comic books aren’t written as cohesively and coherently today as they were in 1970-whatever, so why even bother equating X-Men #102 with comics being put out today like the extremely-inbred, user-unfriendly, new-reader-proof DC New 52 or Wolverine and the X-Men? It’s obvious that the respondants are too close to the matter at hand to even guess at what another perspective might be like. It’s much simpler to pretend that Abel and Madden are a bunch of snobs.

Personally, I don’t think Jessica and Matt are snobby enough.

Hands down one of the best superhero comics I have ever read WAS in an issue of Best American Comics. It was in 2006, “The Amazing Life of Onion Jack,” by Joel Priddy. It doesn’t LOOK like a superhero comic, but the story is beautiful and deep and obviously written from a position of a love of the genre (a cautious, measured love perhaps), and it has more to say than ten long boxes full of Big Two comic books.

Darryl, I get that you don’t care for today’s superhero comics, and that’s fine. And I suppose they are not accessible in the sense that, if you showed any random one to a person who has never read a comic before, they won’t pick up on absolutely every single thing that is happening. But, leaving aside issues of quality (which are subjective) “instantly accessible” is not the same thing as “impenetrable”. In an age when most superhero films are seen by millions of people, anyone with half a brain and a desire to read about superheroes would be able to pick up and enjoy almost any superhero comic. It’s not like you need to know every single thing that has happened to the X-Men from 1966 to the present in order to understand the most recent issue. We are not talking about high literature here, and starting to read “Superhero Comic X” with issue #357 or whatever it is currently at is not the same thing as trying to read the Harry Potter series by starting with book #5.

And I guarantee X-Men #102 (I think that’s what it was) was not a better entry point than any comic on the stands today. It featured a bizarre cast of characters fighting another bizarre cast in a castle in Ireland, with a subplot of a bald dude in a wheelchair having dreams about a female space alien. I had absolutely no idea what was going on, could barely even tell who the good and bad guys were, was somewhat freaked out by it all, and I loved every single panel.

I suppose I meant to say above that “not instantly accessible” is not the same thing as “impenetrable”.

DC denied them Pope’s 100 percent because its from freaking 2003.

And since the book reads best american comics 2011, they thought that wouldnt make any sense. (which it doesn’t haha)

>>”DC denied them Pope’s 100 percent because its from freaking 2003.

And since the book reads best american comics 2011, they thought that wouldnt make any sense.”

No, it wouldn’t make any sense would it? What was that about reading comprehension and brightest apple in the basket?

It was Batman Year 100 from 2007 and she was referring to that year’s Best American Comics.

reading comprehension? you mean glancing comprehension.

“How do you get into this stuff if you’re not into it already?”

By getting into it.

One of the stories in this collection is Browntown by Jaime Hernandez. A really excellent and remarkable story that can be enjoyed by the casual reader but really hots home when read by someone that knows a thing or two about the last 30 years of Locas stories. I started reading Love and Rockets about 15 years ago. And when I picked up my first collection I had no idea who the characters were, no idea what the stories were about, but I got into it. And I bought other issues. And I loved it. It was fun.

It’s really not hard. If you try.

Leave a Comment

 



Browse the Robot 6 Archives