I have a confession to make. I am not a comic expert.
Despite the fact that I write mostly about comic books and the industry, I am a relatively new fan in the grand scheme of things. Sure, I have a decent amount of knowledge now and I read comics when I was a kid— mostly Batman and X-Men. The Legends of the Dark Knight series actually gave me nightmares when I was little, though looking back on it now, I think that was caused by the cover art and not the story itself. Like many other tomboys (and nerds in general), the social landscape changed as I grew older and I gave up a lot of things to try and avoid the merciless teasing. Comics and video games were among those things but before I hit my twenties I started to reclaim them– one game or comic at a time. Before I knew it, I was back to reading copious amounts, catching up on the stories I’d missed in a medium that’s truly unlike any other.
There were benefits to being late to the comics party: reading completed series’ like Transmetropolitan or Y: The Last Man without having to wait for the next issue, having new nerdy friends take me under their wing with tonnes of book suggestions, and getting to relearn the language of comics as an adult. You can take a lot of things for granted as a kid, or miss nuances in books you never noticed before, so reading older comics now gave me insight into them. Sure, sometimes that backfired (e.g. realizing a character you love isn’t always written so well *cough* Wolverine *cough*) but the pluses outweighed the minuses.
Unfortunately with nerd culture becoming more and more popular over the past ten years, a wave of elitism also became more present in the nerd scene. Sure, there have always been know-it-alls—and if anything, that was a stereotypical defining trait of a nerd in the past— but with the Internet giving everyone equal footing to share their thoughts, sometimes the loudest, most obnoxious smarty-pants rose to the top of the pile. Exalted for their knowledge, they berated anyone who wasn’t able to keep up, regardless of if they had only started reading the week before. Being a newbie was shamed and that was and is the stupidest possible thing you could do to new readers. Nerds were becoming the bullies that tormented them before. I’m ashamed to say I even partook of this sort of elitism to some extent but thankfully realized how idiotic that was and snapped out of it. I know I don’t always succeed in being unbiased, or not getting angry over an idealized view of a character or universe. But I try not to because it’s never worth it. That knowledge of how cruel people could be— myself included— made me hesitant to write about the things I enjoyed so much. I’m no expert. Then again, who says I need to be?
Simon Pegg said it perfectly. “Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection. It means never having to play it cool about how much you like something. It’s basically a license to proudly emote on a somewhat childish level rather than behave like a supposed adult. Being a geek is extremely liberating.” Reveling in the excitement and happiness of a comic book or video game or whatever it happens to be is the best part of being a geek/nerd/dork. There is no shame in an honest display of appreciation for what you love, so why judge that trait in other people, especially over the same thing we love? It’s time to stop tearing down fans and start celebrating the fact that there are more and more people every day who like the same things we do. More potential for community, friendship and bonding over shared interests. It may sound naive but new nerds of all ages are a good thing. It’s a new batch of fans to support the industry and perhaps even become the creators or artists behind the books we love. Not to mention that the more familiar this brand of pop culture becomes, the more accepted it will be in time. Wouldn’t it have been amazing to have not suffered at the hands of bullies as a kid due to your love of Batman? To have made more friends because of it?
No one is born an expert and it takes time to learn about the wide range of beloved characters and universes. I may not know the exact issue Aquaman first appeared in or the first four decades of his history, but I do know that Geoff Johns has taken this character mocked by fans for years and made him a force to be reckoned with in the New 52. I know that Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force explored dark territory in the X-Men universe, doing so respectfully and with consequences. I know all of that because I read the books and talked with other fans about them, learning new things every step of the way. I try to keep that in mind when I talk to someone new about comics. Not just new fans, but anyone I’ve just met, regardless of how long they’ve read comics. I don’t know what their experiences are so I shouldn’t assume anything. I think that just makes sense, whether talking comics or anything else. It may seem simplistic but I’d rather have a dialogue and pass along the meagre amount I know than ruin something new and exciting for someone else.
I know that eventually something I write will be torn apart because I didn’t discuss a crucial moment in a characters history or overlooked an iconic issue. I haven’t read it all. No one has. But I do my best to fact check and at the end of the day, I love comics and want to share that with other fans. Old or new. I’ll take writing a review that gets people reading a great book over breaking a new fans heart over minor details every time.
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