I am an audience member, here. I watch and react to the words in the bubbles and squares. My eyes glow from the reflected light off of the page. My imagination interprets the language of symbol and art: and creates dreamlike imagery in my mind to compensate for the static representations from gutter to gutter. I give appropriate responses to the material before me: laughing when prompted, stiffening at an intense scene. In the end, I applaud and cheer, (or, perhaps jeer) then: lay my money down once again. I am the first responder to the crinkling page. During this exhilarating experience, I may develop the sense of an intimate bond with some bearded fellow across the pond, as I enthusiastically partake in his flourishing expressions. There is no other way to properly affirm his actions, though, then to just read the damn thing. Soak it all in. Enjoy the experience. Feel something new. Appreciate the efforts that were made to produce such a wonderful tablet full of adventure, sorrow or glee. Then, I must move on. I am just the audience. I am not the muse. I don’t belong in the fabulous worlds on these pages. I don’t have an actual special relationship with the bearded man or any of the other creators. There is no real connection between our selves. I’m just a visitor.
Communication is an act of compromise. You must drag out visions of language from your mind and try to fit them together in a fashion that you hope the other person might understand. Then, there is the reciprocal act of fostering some interest in how the other person responds. If you are successful, something of a conversation might ensue. During this dialogue, there is usually an effort on both sides, to find some common understanding with words. A dead heart has no such compulsion. Words and symbols to those without concern are merely tools used in order to sway perception or change a view. They are often wielded like bludgeons on the unsuspecting ear. Talking heads. Blah blah blah. Perhaps the listener cares not for the content of your message. Communication, however, is a two-way street. But, how does this relate to the printed page? Is there a case for reciprocal value in publications or is it just about digesting a volume of words strung together by someone banging away on a keyboard in his or her basement? A vast amount of literature can seem to be insular both in its connection between author and reader, and in how it is consumed. The writer hunches over the keyboard at much length so that you may someday, curl up on the couch to read it. There is a sort of “message-in-a-bottle” quality to prose: information formed in the ether, collected in your brain and just as easily dissipated when the laundry is done or dinner prepared. There isn’t often a way for one to respond to the author, regardless of the necessity. This is a curious way for us humans to communicate.
Comic books have always been a unique medium, not just because they are serialized periodicals that mix words and pictures, but also because of the opportunity available for communication between creators and consumers. There were channels formed well before the internet age; with letter columns in the back of magazines, and comic fan conventions. We, the consumers of this product enjoy the prestigious opportunity to have direct contact with those who create them. We feel connected to the medium, even as we absorb, protect, disregard or admonish it. We are the audience to the story, but we also feel a part of the story as well, through this contact. Does that mean we, as fans, have any affect over the content that is produced? We like to think that we have some small part to play in the future of the industry as we lay down our cash or make comments in an online forum. But, as viewers, we can only enhance the product with our commentary. We cannot actually change the minds of creators with our reciprocations. Our only power is in commerce. And in that: we merely influence who has work in the field and who does not.
Consumption of comic books validates both those who create them and those who receive the messages within. Responding through media or personal contact does help to nurture this unique community comprised of professionals and fans. But, what does any of this extraneous dialogue even mean? Any perception of personal interaction beyond the page is an illusion of true connectivity. Even if I am a “friend” on facebook, or get to talk to my favorite creator at a convention, I am not truly a part of his or her life. I am merely an accessory. I am a member of a throng of fans with widely differing perceptions, preferences and economic means. None of our collective voices have any bearing on the production of comic books or how the stories are told. In a school setting, for example, I could be someone who falls asleep in class, or is an attentive learner; either way, I am still just a source of income for the educational facility. I am a consumer of a product called “education” in that setting. Same goes for any other product. Same goes for comics. I am a person who supports artists with my cash: full stop. This is where the relationship ends. I am a source of revenue for artists so that they may continue to create instead of reverting to brick-layering or whatever trade a failed artist falls into. Teaching; perhaps.
But, you might still feel a certain bond with these wonderfully imaginative people as you move your eye from panel to gutter to panel to page. The idea of any connection you have, though, is an illusion. The only thing that is real, while reading a comic book, is located in your mind…and if there is someone who has caused you to experience amazing visions in your imagination, that’s a really wonderful thing. Cherish it. Nurture it. The reality you are experiencing is opening your vision, expanding your cognition and enhancing your life. Comics live in your soul. In your heart. In your mind. It’s inside YOU where the wonder lives. The artists and writers who create such things are merely helping to open a portal for your enhanced life experience. Appreciate that. Any further relationship that may occur from consuming a comic story, is only when the familial admiration of the medium is effectively communicated. Beyond that: there is just the medium, message and audience….oh, yah: that and the cash.
Here are some good comics I have recently read:
Teknophage #1-6; Tekno (1995)
Meet Rob: a scummy businessman about to steal the property of an old woman right from under her nose, when along comes the biggest, meanest bad reptile lord the universe has ever known. Teknophage is delicious satire from the cheeky mind of Rich Veitch and wonderfully realized by Brian Talbot. More coughup, please! Grade A.
El Cazador #1-6; Crossgen (2003)
Adventure on the high seas in the late 1600’s: a young woman turns the tables on her pirate captors and learns to command a crew of her own in search of her lost family. Chuck Dixon is at the wheel with his mate Steve Epting rigging the sails. Grade B+.
Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses #1-10; Image (2015)
More mayhem and devious schemes from David Lapham than you can shake a pistol at. Dave doesn’t miss a beat from his previous foray into the seedy underbelly of American culture. Grade A.
Black Cross #1-6; Dynamite (2015)
A twisted look at the generic adventurers from Project: Superpowers, penned with a healthy dose of disdain for their origins by master writer, Warren Ellis. Grade B.
Material #1-4: Image (2015)
Here is some deep socio-political musings from the incomparable mind of Ales Kot. It’s a fascinating look at a handful of seemingly unrelated characters exploring themes of popular culture, global communication, racial injustice and torture latticed into a wholly satisfying experience. Grade A+.
Jessica Jones #1-6; Marvel (2016-17)
Bendis brings his baby back for more decompressed talking heads and minimal action. The slow-burn mystery unfolds like a backwards origami, but continues to fascinate the reader, thanks to the atmospheric art by Michael Gaydos and great characterizations from Brian Bendis. Grade A.
Doctor Strange #12-18; Marvel (2016-17)
This continues to be my favorite new series each month. Even in the aftermath of magic’s demise, there is still nothing ordinary about Steven Strange’s life. Now, he must contend with his manifested inner demon: Mister Misery. But, the self-proclaimed Master of the Mystic Arts still has a few tricks up his sleeve to combat this self-inflicted horror. How Wong…er wrong could it go? Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo consistently serve up a treat for the eyes and brain. Grade A+.
That is all.
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