Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Growth of a Fanboy

By Chris Buchner

I guess you could say my first love is comics. At over 16 years, it’s definitely my longest relationship. Then again, at almost 14,000 issues in my collection including trade paperbacks, I’m sure some would call it a mildly unhealthy obsession rather than a hobby at this point. So how does one grow to become the kind of fan who constantly buys the comics they need and eventually end up working in the field?

Well, we all read comics of some kind in some form. For many, it’s in the newspapers that print one to two pages of strips, or the Sunday paper that does a whole pull-out section. Then there are magazines which do strips, especially the ones geared towards kids. I had both of these growing up, with the addition of the Archie Comics family of digests I’d read sporadically and the exposure to superheroes through my Saturday Morning Cartoons (you know, before they became crap). And of course, I would draw what would literally be one-panel comics using my favorite characters at the time like most kids do.

The real foray to comics came in 1991, when I was away for the summer with relatives in Poughkeepsie, me and my cousins were taken to an arcade where I saw the X-Men arcade game by Konami. I remember just becoming enamored with the characters; Cyclops, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Dazzler, Storm, the Brotherhood of Mutants, and especially Wolverine. Don’t know what it was about the olCanuckle-head, but something about him especially got me. Maybe it was because of the time, with how they did his special attack graphic-wise in the game, I thought he had cool claws that shot electricity. I’d come to learn later that energy burst represented a berserker barrage attack with the claws. Ah, well.

That Christmas I got my first bundle of comics as a gift, the top two I remember being Silver Surfer vol. 3 #55 and Amazing Spider-Man vol. 1 #356. Think deep down my parents regretted doing that with how that evolved. The following year I also started collecting the cards based on the comics, even though I had the Spider-Man card from the 1991 Marvel Universe series since that summer (was given to me in summer camp by someone).

For most of my comic-reading career, I was what you could call a “Marvel Zombie.” This was a term that was coined to describe a reader who would only read titles that Marvel put out. Yeah, that was me. I read any Marvel book I could get my hands on, and started learning exclusively about the Marvel characters. At the time, for me, DC’s characters were too lame (except Batman, the movies and subsequent cartoon made him stand out for me) and Image was too dark for my tastes. I didn’t even KNOW there were other companies out there except for NOW, but that was only because I was also a Ghostbusters fan and my parents had gotten me Real Ghostbusters vol. 2 #1, 2 and 4. I also didn’t know I had come into comics in a time when legitimate readers were disgusted by the content and speculators were about to put a huge dent in the industry (known as the comic boom and bust, talked about in my first Estella article COMIC BOOKS: THE FOUR COLORED HISTORY).

My parents fueled this growing addiction by giving me a $30 comic budget every month. I would head to the comic shop, Comic World, and get all the issues I could for that much, aided by the random discount the owner would give me. Soon, it became $30 a week of my own money and my main shop became the one I predominantly bought cards from, Mutant Mania (my other shop closed). I began to look forward to Wednesdays, or new comic day. That was the best day of the week for me. At this point, I had mostly been reading X-Men or Spider-Man titles, but I slowly began to expand into the rest of the Marvel line (as well as gradually increasing my budget per week). Every now and then, a non-Marvel comic would find its way into my possession. I’d read them, then disregard them and treat them like crap when compared to my other books. I will admit the very first non-Marvel I actually bought on purpose was the Death of Superman trade, since I disliked the character so much and didn’t know at the time he’d actually be back (see COMIC BOOK DEATH ).

All this time, I had been working on my writing and artwork. My original goal was to become an artist for Marvel, so I drew their characters all the time and I was doing what most call “fan fiction” (a term I really hate for some reason, sounds so degrading and insulting to the talented people who want to work with their favorite characters but have no means to do it legitimately). The way I would work was I would draw my comics first and then word them as I go. As I read more and more comics, I learned not only more about the characters I was working with, but little things like story structure, pacing, dramatic effect, spelling (without Dark Phoenix, I’d never know how to spell phoenix). I also learned things about the world, then-current events, science. It had gotten to the point where I couldn’t identify the elements of grammar worth a crap, but I knew my way around a sentence.

With school and work to contend with, time for drawing began to get tight so my writing began to dominate. Eventually, I came to realize that my writing was evolving far better and faster than my artwork was (that, and several rejections from Marvel as an artist helped) and decided to switch gears. Art became a “when I was able to” type thing and my writing took center stage, as well as the position I wanted in the world of comics. I was not a comic artist, I was a comic writer.

To stay current with trends and characters in the hopes I would someday be a professional, I jacked up my budget to the $70 it is now and bought every single Marvel I could every week. If that wasn’t enough, I had discovered the joys of shopping on the Internet (where discount comics are to be found), eBay, and the .25-.50 cent bins (see COMIC CENTS). In time, my collection began to outgrow the three rather large plastic tubs I had originally stored them in, having to upgrade to cardboard filing cabinet-type boxes, and within the last few years the long boxes made for comics. I still use the tubs around my house for different functions now, and I have to laugh when I see marked on their covers that I used to be able to fit A-X in just three of them.

As the 21st century continued to trudge on, I had begun exploring outside of Marvel. Books were starting to catch my interest, and Marvel was beginning to do some things that made my unwavering loyalty, well, waver, so I figured what the hell. Stan Lee wrote a Superman special comic, so I picked that up. 88MPH put out new Ghostbusters comics, so I picked them up. I’m an Evil Dead Trilogy fan, so of course I had to get the Army of Darkness comic by first Devil’s Due and then Dynamite Entertainment. The real change in my reading came when I heard about DC’s “One Year Later.” I was gradually expanding outwards, even though I left DC relatively untouched.

My main problem with reading DC was this; my only exposure to the characters was through the cartoons by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm (affectionately referred to now as the Dini-verse), and of course the various ones that popped up in the 70s and 80s like Superfriends. Since the TV versions of the characters differed slightly from the comic versions, I only really knew the basics. DC is not new-reader friendly at all. They will throw you head first into continuity, spin you around until you feel sick, then start it all over again. If something or someone wasn’t in the cartoons, and that’s all you knew, you would be thoroughly lost. DC was once again trying to fix continuity problems and reinvigorate their characters with another Crisis like they did with 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths with the aptly named Infinite Crisis. Following this, each comic would jump one-year ahead in continuity with basically fresh starts, the year-long mini-series 52 being used as the official bridge to fill that time gap. I thought this would be my chance.

Now, my weekly haul still includes mostly Marvel, but I get a healthy dose of DC and a few independent publishers’ comics in the mix. Since joining the Comicbook Artists Guild in 2006, I’ve been exposed to a lot of small-press books I otherwise wouldn’t have been, which has me checking those out when I can as well since it seems the little guys get what the fans want these days more than the big guys. When I had a stint as a reviewer for 215ink, I was given the chance to preview comics for free so I could do preliminary reviews, and that got me into Devil’s Due’s G.I. Joe series which I never even considered checking out.

Since collecting my first comic, I think I have grown considerably as both a fan and a writer. I’m more in tune with the industry as a whole than I was when I was younger. I’ve allowed my tastes to expand beyond one company and one particular genre in order to sample everything and maybe discover something I never knew I liked. The lesson here folks is its okay to stray outside your literary comfort zones. It’s okay to prefer one company over another or one genre over another, but that doesn’t mean you need to be exclusive to them. A friend in high school tried to tell me that once, just took me a while to learn it.

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