Open up that pie hole!

Flame Wars and Comic Book Lore
by Ben Herman, aka 'The Purple Vengeance'

Much can be gleamed from the mindset of the typical comic book reader merely by observing the postings and discussions that take place at comic-related message boards. The behavior, the so-called “netiquette” of these posters can differ dramatically depending upon one single, solitary factor: the knowledge that a comic book creator, a professional in the industry, is known to read and participate on a particular message board. Christopher Hicks is one such creator. He is a regular poster on Jonah Weiland’s Message Boards (, where, under the screen name “Loop Garoo,” he offers his opinion on various categories, particularly independent & small press books. Over time it became known by the other regulars at the Weiland boards that Loop Garoo and Christopher J. Hicks were one in the same. And it would not be inaccurate to note that, with this discovery, the tone of many posters’ messages altered. The change wasn’t lost on Hicks. He inquired, with some bemusement, why so many posters seemed so afraid of offending him. To answer that question, it is necessary to examine how comic book readers typically perceive both creators and the industry.

I cannot speak for everyone, but based on my own point of view, I will try to explain this phenomenon. I suspect many of the people who post on Jonah's boards harbor a desire to work within the comic book industry. I certainly fall into that category. As I have read comic books over the years, I have periodically wished I could draw. I see a good number of talented (and not so talented) comic creators wasting their abilities on stupid books, and I ask myself "Why them? Why not me, damn it? If I could draw half as well, so many doors would be open to me. I would have an opportunity to tell the stories I want to tell, the chance to draw my favorite characters."

In a way, the job of creating comic books can be viewed as a kid being led into a room filled with their favorite toys and being told they are going to be paid to play with those toys. In other words, a comic creator may very well be making a living doing something he or she happens to enjoy tremendously.

We fans view comic creators as having climbed the mountain, as having made it to the pinnacle, as having breached the forbidden tower of comic book creators to become one of the chosen ones. Yes, this does sound incredibly hokey. I suspect for most comic book fans these feelings are probably subconscious. But there is a fair chance they are present, nonetheless.

So, when someone comes along who actually works in comic books, there is a distinctive feeling among fandom: awe & admiration, mixed with envy & jealousy. There is a simultaneous love and hatred. We, the fans, admire the comic creator for having achieved the impossible dream, yet we are envious that WE are not the ones doing it. I suspect this is partially the reason why so many creators are flamed on message boards. We, the fans, view working in comic books as not just another form of employment, just another way to make a living. Rather, we perceive it as a lofty honor.

Therefore, when we perceive a creator apparently putting less than 100% of himself into his work, or doing something we disagree with, we very much dislike, even hate, him for it. For, you see, WE want to be doing comic books, and we are so certain that, if we were lucky enough to be in so-and-so's shoes, we wouldn't be doing a half-ass job writing or drawing Spider-Man or Batman.

But, of course, we nevertheless still idolize comic creators simply because they HAVE succeeded. And this adulation is still present even when we think they are doing a rotten job. An analogy is helpful to illustrate this point. Let's compare the local auto mechanic to Rob Liefeld. If the mechanic does a crummy job fixing your transmission, you are going to go down to the garage and give him a piece of your mind. You might ask for your money back. If you’re feeling really pissed off, you might even sue the bastard. However, if you buy a comic book by Liefeld that sucks to high hell, you are NOT going to go down to the comic convention and let him have it. And why not? Because he is not just a guy doing a job, he is a COMIC CREATOR. We fans do not want to anger creators, don't want to court disapproval by those whose status we so envy.

This is why so many people are fearful of offending comic creators. Going back to Christopher Hicks, to some he is not "just" a guy; he is a COMIC CREATOR. I can draw upon personal experience here. I knew of Christopher Hicks simply as 'Loop Garoo', a message poster, a good while before I learned he was the creator of Mister Blank. But when I learned that, my perception of 'Loop' changed, however subtly. Suddenly he was more than just a poster: he actually CREATED comic books. And he was here, on the message boards. He, the creator, was talking to us, the fans & readers.

Another occurrence on Jonah's message boards marvelously illustrates this phenomena. A couple of years ago, a heated discussion was going on about John Byrne's work on Wonder Woman and New Gods. A good many posters disliked his work on those titles, and they were very vocal in their criticism. I was one of those who posted that I believed Byrne's writing on those books was far below the high standard he had set in the past. This discussion/flame war continued for a few days. Then, one afternoon, I logged on to the internet and went to the message boards. There I found that someone calling himself `John Byrne' had posted replies to these criticisms. “No, it couldn’t be,” I said to myself. "But what if it is?" Tentatively I typed a reply to 'John Byrne's' postings. Did I tell him how much I disliked the current direction of Wonder Woman? Did I offer any criticisms? Did I even give my honest opinion of his work? Nope. I meekly said something along the lines of "I liked your work on the Fantastic Four".

Of course, 'John Byrne' really was not the real McCoy. This was just one of the regular posters, trying to prove a point. And prove it he did. For almost everyone who was mercilessly flaming Byrne suddenly became tactful, diplomatic, even sycophantic when they found out there was a possibility Byrne might actually be reading their postings.

The only equivalent I can think of is a famous actor walking into a party and acting all casual & buddy-buddy, saying stuff like, "Hi there! I'm Frank! Great to meet you! How are the cocktail franks?" Are you going to tell him that his last movie stunk, that he is always appearing in cruddy pictures? No. More likely, you will be as friendly and personable as you can possibly be. And that’s if you can manage to stammer out a coherent sentence. No matter how strongly you dislike that actor, you’re not going to let him know that, because you want him to like you.

I believe a similar cult of celebrity exists in the comic book industry. But I think that we, the readers, the fans, can achieve a more realistic view of the word of comic books if we come to realize that being a comic book creator is not all roses. Let’s return to my earlier analogy of a kid being led paid to play with a room filled with their favorite toys. Contrary to what we may at first believe, things are not so simple. The kid is not alone with the toys. There is an audience in the room, watching him. And they are only going to stay there for as long as the kid is entertaining. And the man who led the kid to the room, the owner of the toys, is charging the audience admission. He’s not going to want them to leave. So he’s going to tell the kid how to play with those toys, how to keep the audience happy. And if the owner doesn’t think the kid is doing a good job, then he’ll just boot him out of the room and get another kid.

So it is with comic books. For all the pleasures and honors of producing comics, of writing & drawing your favorite characters, there are also definite drawbacks. Overbearing bosses. Lack of creative freedom. Uncertainty as to regular assignments. Fear of sudden cancellation. Well then, you might reply, what about creating your own characters, publishing your own books? That’s no bed of roses, either. More than half of the self-owned businesses started in this country don’t last beyond a year. A self-published or independently released comic book is akin to a small business; the majority are not going to succeed. And, no matter what type of comic creator a person is, be it a penciller at the big two or a pioneer of self-publishing, there is one constant: a worry about money. I’ve met artists at conventions who were very saddened at having to sell their original art pages. They would have kept it, except for one thing: they needed the money.

What is the point of all of the above? Simply this: comic book creators are not gods, nor are they monsters. They are people. The next time we are criticizing a comic creator on a web board discussion, we should remember that. Yes, there are a few gracious creators who care deeply for the fans, who give one hundred percent each and every issue. Conversely, there are those who don’t give a rats ass about the readers, who are only in it for the money and their own personal aggrandizement (I shall name no names here). But I suspect the good majority of comic creators lie between these two extremes. Yes, they care about the readers. Yes, they want to produce quality work. But they also care about making a living. First and foremost, their most important goal is not to insure that Spider-Man or Batman are treated with the respect they deserve, but to bring home a paycheck. We should keep in mind that, like the rest of us, their priorities are to put a roof over their heads, insure there’s food on the table, and care for themselves & their families. So, the next time we meet them at a convention, we should not treat them with an undue awe or reverence. Nor should we regard them as the anti-Christ. How, then, should we treat comic creators? Politely and decently, the same way we would treat other human beings, the same way we hope others would treat us. Of course, having said all this, I shall no doubt show myself to be the ultimate hypocrite any minute now and start running off a stream of vile curses about the writer, artist, and editor of such and such title. But at least I know I'll be in good company.

Flame Wars and Comic Book Lore
by Ben Herman, aka 'The Purple Vengeance'

My mom always wanted me to be friends with the little girl across the street. She is not so little anymore, she's about twelve, and probably ever since she was nine, she was taller than me. I can overlook these differences, except for the fact that every single day of her life, she has been ceaselessly engaged in some sport or another from the time she gets home from school until way past dark. I usually have no problem with sports or physical activity, it's just in such excess. I have tried talking to her before, but we really have nothing in common. After all, I am typically non - physical, and simply stay in my room and draw. Okay. It really pisses me off (bear with me, this is tangent time) that some people are just not human if they don't maintain some sort of sporty life. At least try to wear the ugly Adidas flip flops. (I know you've heard this one before) but it's like the world is figgin' run by these jocky types. And it's inherently ingrained into our consciesness that acceptance comes from the team and our physical abitlities. You know, like all of those sappy commercials on TV that are like " Johnny was hit by a car, and lost his legs and eyelashes, but today , with the help of ( I dunno) Lobster Juice, Johnny can swim, play fooball, jaialai, and predict reallly boring psychic things." If Johnny were to invent some new type of algebra (Please, Johnny , don't do it!) they would be like "yawn". This reminds me of Stephen Hawking. But it's much cooler that that chick without the leg is able to run in marathons or whatever. Does this come from the need to survive in a primitive condition, one where one's physical inadequacies must be compensated to prove that you can bring down a deer for dinner just as good as the next guy? Every commercial is marketed toward jocks, or people who go to the gym. I know some folks who , although they are sick as dogs, would drag themselves to the gym to show off and maintain the "perfect" body. (what about the classic european build? Have those waifs weaned us off them?) Allright, and , I thought, there was always a place for those people who draw. There will always be a corner for artist like Tim Burton and that sicko Chris Hicks to huddle in. But I have met these so - called creative people. The "outcasts" and they draw like stan lee. Or they base thier stuff on weird and imaginitive things like OOH drugs!! I don't care if people do drugs, it's their experience, but if I hear one more crap ass storyline about "there's this guy, see, and he's on acid, so he sees stuff" and "there are these guys see,and they have to stash this cocaine" . What about if a guy hallucinates without drugs? Then what? "Uh...." and the drool collects. Or they read "alternative" comics like Spawn. Or if they read good comics like Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, they are always always always like " This guy kills the people he doesn't like!!! He's so cool! I want to be just like Johnny!" Urgh. Or they write about their terribley mundane lives in intricate detail that add neither depth nor emotion and convey nothing!! Lives that we need to know nothing about. Lives that are just like ours , and are even more exceptionaly boring. It's like they are devoid of imagination. they do not give us a "slice of life" , really. I am not interested in how long you worked at the Taco Bueno and how you needed to get stoned. Also, most of the people who come up with this sort of crap are always talking about how they don't want to be "normal", yet they always whine for acceptance! Don't pretend you don't need at least a shred of acceptance! Eveyrbody does at some point or another! Okay, moving away from the "outcasts" ( oh yeah, those Columbine kids repeatedly said they were alone, but there were scads of them!!) let's go to the girls who's major creative force in life is to write their friends names in big bold letters using the bucket of markers they haul around all day. These people will asess souless reproductions concieved in art class and , after complimenting it, complain how they can't even draw a straight line. Not even the best artists can. Straight lines do not an artwork make, and niether do reproductions. There is always a personal twist , and it doesn't matter how well you draw, it's how good your drawings make you feel. (well, they don't always make you feel good, but you get the picture!) My art teacher would rather vomit on my best work, but one time I did a really boring study of a fictional creature, and suddenly, she wanted to consume it. The worst part about it was, that she wanted the creature to have a mate, and for their tales to be locked in a heart shape. Isn't that great? Also, it's really annoying that some people simply live their art lives out on the computer. I know it's considered a medium and all that, ,but there is joy and satisfaction in completeing something manually. Okay, back to the girl. What I'm trying to say, is that she is swallowed by sports and doesn't seem to have a shred of imagination, and that's very sad. They make computer problems now that you make your Barbie dance on screen, instead of playing with the dolls. This kid walked into Pizza Hut the other day with a shirt that had a floating basketball hoop with a ball about to enter it agaisnt the background of a clear blue sky, as if this goal was leading to heaven. Bloog. Like the Blair Witch project. Some elements of it were different and good, but mostly it was some kids saying "fuck" in the woods and whining for more ciggarettes!

Angry Rant #9
by Bvgard

How is it that certain artists garner hundreds of dollars a page on books that are terminally late? Artists that CAN draw, but DON'T because the newest Playstation game just hit the shelves and well...the fans will just be standing on their heads anyway until the art is done, so TO HELL with them! My dollars are going to the independent comics nowadays. Men and women who still remember what a WORK ETHIC is and how to keep it. Is it so hard to take a minimum of 4 hours out of your day to work on a friggin' page of art? If you spent so much time honing your skills, endless summer days and nights hunched over a drafting table, alone ... and then piss it all away when you get recognition....doesn't that make you a LAZY BUM? And what's with this half assed ".. I want the page to be perfect," excuse? MY BUTT!! Put the Playstation controller down, and pick up the pencils and pen that help create the masterworks that people pay for! If you don't work, you don't get paid. Don't charge me $5.00 dollars for 8 pages of your art and 15 pages of substandard art from some poor schmuck that has the misfortune of following your lazy arse.