RANT! aka "The reasons why comics are having difficulty changing their image"
By Glenn Carter
Part I: Introduction
Anyone that genuinely cares about comics and believes them to be a valid graphic literary medium will tell you that comics suffer a bit of an image problem. Generally the readers and content of comics are misunderstood and misconstrued by the general public in the UK and the USA (not Japan, though, the public perception of comics in Japan is vastly different). In the UK and USA, comics are seen as either a kids thing or something really nerdy, what is worse is that comics are seen as a Genre and not as Medium.
Don't get me wrong, comics have certainly made, at least, some progress towards the lofty goal of universal acceptance. The film of From Hell is the latest in a series of efforts to enable comics to crossover into the mainstream and a commendable one it is. Even so, there are still a lot of people who fail to get one simple and irrefutable truth, the truth that COMICS ARE NOT A GENRE THEY ARE A MEDIUM. It doesn't seem an important message, does it? But it is, in fact, pivotal and vital to comics' mainstream future that this message is conveyed onto everybody! Why is it that important, you ask? Well, I'll tell you...
The truth that COMICS ARE A MEDIUM AND NOT A GENRE is important because it is an answer to the ignorance and prejudice of the masses. If, for example, someone you knew read a book and then loudly declared that they don't like books because they didn't like that book, you'd think that they were a total knobhead and moron. You may not say it to them, but the thought would be there at the back of your mind, in your darkest depths (or in my case much closer to the surface). Similarly, if a person saw a Disney movie they wouldn't automatically assume all movies were for kids. Only a knobhead would do that, right?
The same applies to comics. You don't read a manga comic and then think ALL comics are total shite, do you? No, of course you don't, just as you wouldn't listen to a Blink 182 record and assume all music is shite! (It's a matter of opinion, of course.) So it's an important distinction to get across to people.
Even more than that is needed to change comics' image and in this series of articles I will be laying out the things I think cause a lowering of comics' esteem and do little to shake off certain myths the public at large have about comics. Some of my choices may seem a little unorthodox to you, but bear with me and we'll get through this strange and bizarre journey together.
Part II: Why we need the word "comics" like we need a hole in the head
A quick lesson to those persons not familiar with A-level or above sociology: words have two series of meanings. The first is the denotative meaning. This is the dictionary definition of what a word means. What a word denotes, then.
The second is the one we have to watch for. It is the connotative meaning of a word. A connotative meaning is a meaning or series of meanings that are culturally and socially defined based on urban myths and/or beliefs and/or ideals. This is a word's excess baggage, meanings for the word that passed generation to generation and are added to, amended and occasionally replaced by each successive generation. It is culturally specific; however, British and American culture are sufficiently alike for everything I say here to be relevant to both cultures.
A case in point is the word "pussy". In England, its denotative meaning is a cat. All perfectly innocent so far, but over the years two other meanings (connotative meanings) have evolved and grown stronger. The first connotative meaning is coward and a weakling; a big girl's blouse who blubs at the first sign of trouble. The second connotative meaning is a vagina. Those of us in England have the American media to blame of the proliferation of the second connotative meaning, which is now so strong that you cannot say the word "pussy" without someone assuming you mean its second connotation. I could give you hundreds and hundreds more examples, but I won't.
With me so far? Excellent, I think you're now ready to learn a third sociology term. It is that when I say something is LOADED, I mean LOADED with connotative meanings, i.e. it is not neutral, it has IMPLICATIONS. Now I've explained all that I'll go on the point of this piece.
The word "comics" is loaded with culturally defined meanings. What it denotes is obvious, but the connotations of the word are the problem I have with it. Say the word "comics" out loud and think about what it suggests to you. It suggests children. It suggests fat spotty teenager girly-boys. It suggests the comic store owner from The Simpsons. It suggests males. It suggests Spider-Man, Superman and the sodding Beano. It screams all the things comics should be trying to disassociate itself from. It DOES NOT suggest a valid art form or expressive media and it DOES NOT suggest adult themes and topics.
Do you see what I mean now? The word is loaded! So that gives you two options really: 1, Change the public's perception of the word (and that is a LOT of people); or 2, Change the word used for comics. The former is difficult, really, really difficult and, as many companies have found out, a simple name change is just the job for fixing many public perception problems. So stop calling them comics and call them something else. My suggestion is Graphic Literature.
Part III: Figuratively speaking
I HATE comic figurines. You know the ones, those limited (and mass-produced at the same time) edition figures of the Sandman or John Constantine or Spider Jerusalem. I HATE THEM. They are not beautiful and they are not art. At first, I thought that they were harmless (but a bit sad), but now I'm older, wiser and more cynical I have begun to genuinely believe that they are utterly detrimental to the perception of comics from the view point of the ordinary man in the street.
Firstly, they are collectable and collected. Stamp collectors collect stamps, train spotters collect numbers of trains, but do you really want to be tarred with the same brush as those bastards? No, you don't and you don't want comics to be tainted by association. So don't collect f**king figurines then.
Second, although they usually are "limited editions", let me get one thing straight: They are NOT going to be worth any spectacular amounts of cash in your lifetime - so this is NOT a good reason to collect them. This is just an excuse to justify the innate sadness of these things and everybody knows how feeble and transparent an excuse this is. Don't bother.
Thirdly, they do not look "nice" on your mantelpiece, they look ridiculously sad and you know it. Again, comics will be tainted by their association with YOU and YOUR FIGURINE.
Fourthly, to purchase these things does not to show support for the author. The author usually gets absolutely nothing from profits from the sale of your figurine; however, their publisher takes the spoils. If you really wanted to support the author you send them a cheque. If you're very lucky you may get something signed by them or an autograph or a little drawing which is a lot more meaningful than a stupid pewter or plastic figure.
So, where am I leading with this? I am leading to the inescapable conclusion that having these things damages the perception of comics and selling them in a shop is the same. I am leading to the conclusion that these figures are good for nothing except toys and if you see "toys" sold in a shop it suggests kids. The fact that they are sold in a comics shop only, tells the public that comics are for kids.
So, if you own them - burn them, smash them, break them - it's the only thing they're good for. Shop owners - do not sell them. Stick by your principles - you are a comics shop so sell comics not stupid figurines. I call to you all do not propagate this filthy affliction.
Glenn has three more RANT!s to come...look out for them in the near future...
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