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Sonia Harris | Writing About Comic Books

Committed: Comics Should Be FUN

I feel that I ought to be thinking of something to write about that I’m really worked up about over comic books, but I can’t. Comic books are fun, I like them a lot, love them even, but I don’t have it in me to get really furious up about them right now. A lot of my friends who write about comic books are vehemently arguing about something… I’m afraid I don’t know what it is all about. In general, people seem to get very worked up about comic books and I’m beginning to wonder why. After all, wasn’t this created to be a disposable medium, a bit of fun to spice up a day? And isn’t it that very disposability that makes them so open to diverse, free, unfettered creativity?

When I read the abusive comments that fans throw around over their differing opinions about comic books, I find it difficult to understand the level of vitriol and anger that is being expressed. I begin to wonder what else is going on for people when comment sections are filled with violent threats to strangers, after all, unless someone is actually working in the comic book industry and having actual work problems, what is in a difference of taste, that merits such fury and aggression?

This is probably naive, but the comic books I love are fun for me, whether or not other people agree with me. When my friends laugh at me for liking an artist or writer that they don’t, I don’t care in the least. It could be that I’m just not used to this environment. After all, up until 4 or so years ago, when I was first asked to begin writing about comic books, I didn’t pay any attention to online discussions. It wasn’t a willful decision, it is just that because I’m self-employed, I feel like time online outside of work is time when I could be working. So I didn’t read reviews or forums, and offline I was relatively uninterested in other people’s opinions too, I rarely even took recommendations from store owners. When I started reading comic books as a little girl in the UK, it was in a era when the medium was far more openly despised and so out of necessity I was reading in a bit of a vacuum, just reading what I found on my own. Nowadays that habit of browsing on my own and reading whatever I find has continued and pretty much stuck.

I think the last time I unintentionally wrote something divisive was over a year ago, since then I’ve done my best to keep things light. Actually I always did before as well, but somehow I still occasionally instigate a deep and impressive rage from the odd very vociferous commenter. Realistically I expect at some point I will incite ire again, I’m really not sure how or why. This is meant to be fun.

The level of aggression and furious personal attacks thrown around in interviews, articles, and comment sections on comic book articles is consistently shocking. Over the 4 years or so that I’ve been writing about them, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to avoid reading about comic books. But reading too much of this stuff sours it. In the same way that I avoid watching too much reality tv (because I don’t need any encouragement in finding humanity unpleasant), I really just want to stay out of it. Like everyone, I can get stuck into watching “Hoarders” or some other insanity, because 10 minutes of some poor woman who’s stopped using a toilet because she wants to keep her poop in bags in the spare room (or whatever) is actually pretty mindblowing), but when the cleaners start find the corpses of multiple “lost” cats it quickly becomes depressing. Similarly, I’ll dip my proverbial toe into reading the odd comment sections to check out the tone, but things can get very strange very quickly. Lately I’ve noticed that many people who comment on my weekly column here, do so via email, or on social networks and because of the personal connection engendered by Facebook, Twitter and Google+, those comments are generally of a similar tone to conversations I have with friends in real life. It would be nice if, even if we’re commenting anonymously on a website, we could all assume that the person who wrote the article is another human being, whether we agree or disagree, and treat them accordingly.

Plenty of my friends and colleagues disagree with my opinions on comic books (and all sorts of other, more life-threatening issues), but I will never threaten physical injury because I disagree with their opinion. That will never happen. It has happened to me though, and frequently happens to my colleagues, particularly the female ones. This is not okay.

I like my comic books and I liked them just as much for the 30+ years that I was reading them without being able to talk about them, online or otherwise. I just bought what I fancied and enjoyed it. Most of the time, I still do. When Brian Cronin talked to me about writing these Wednesday columns, he noticed that I don’t write about news, that I don’t pay much attention to the “insider” talk about the comic book industry. That isn’t an accident and it surprises me that so many people do otherwise. Working on designing comic books themselves now, I make an effort to focus on the joy of the medium, because knowing too much about how the sausages are made takes some of the fun out of it. I do my best to focus on the comic books themselves, to read the comic books which catch my eye and appeal to me and reserve the bulk of my debates to real-life, where people treat each other with a modicum of respect. This way the comic books continue to make me happy, much more so than reading about them ever has.

Note: All pics are from cuteoverload.com which is an excellent antidote to bad moods, about comic books or otherwise.

Originally published here.