Fan Classifications

June 16th, 2009 by | Tags: , ,

When you ask a certain type of person what kind of comics they like; well, first they’ll correct you.  They will say ‘graphic novels.’  And then they will tell you that they don’t have one specific interest, they just like high-quality graphic novels.

While I can admire a search for the best quality products of a medium that you like, I’ve always felt a certain contemptuous pity for those people.  Really?  Just ‘high-quality’?  Just ‘good’?  Just ‘insightful’?  These people are either liars, or are the stunted, gnarled, embittered kind of jerks who will tell you that they only listen to classical music and NPR.  Sure, their taste is unquestionable and their likes and dislikes as pure as the driven snow, but – really?  They have no guilty pleasures?  No specific areas of interest?  No morbid curiosity?  No nostalgic favorites or fannish loves or goofy objects of affection?  It just seems so flavorless and bland.

And I can say this because I without a doubt know that those people, when I tell them I like the Batsquad and the Arrows and have an irrational prejudice against Marvel, pity me just as much.

As well they might.  I’m a character-based-fan.  That?  Is like attending a Rolling Stones concert, making it backstage, and spending the whole time talking about your favorite member of the Monkees.

There are many humiliations to being a character-based-fan.  Start out with the fact that, prestige-wise, you are the lowest rung of the ladder (and considering you’re already into comics, that’s a really low ladder to begin with).  Add to that that artist-based-fans can flit to one book or another, ignoring all plot and dialogue and rhapsodizing about a page layout, and writer-based-fans can camp out for a story-arc or two before moving on.  A character-based fan is pretty much stuck in a book forever.  We’re like those frogs who get put in cold water, and then don’t jump out when it’s heated up, boiling ourselves to death.  But at least the frogs go quietly.  Character-based-fans are the ones at Cons, arguing with a panel of uncomfortable comics-professionals about how our character would never do that, while the audience hisses at us.

We’re the idiots who get into ‘who would win in a fight’ arguments and talk about the logistics of what Batman can carry around in his utility belt, and complain about how terrible a comic is while they’re buying it.

Still better than yakking about the artistic merits of Lost Girls, though.

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31 comments to “Fan Classifications”

  1. I know it’s not relevant to the main thrust of your post, but this is something like the fifth time I’ve seen this come up recently (one guy I saw even titled his book based on it), so I have to point out: that frog thing is an urban legend, they do jump out.


  2. I used to get in arguments with my ex every once in a while about this. She would insist that she would *never* read “comics”, but only “graphic novels”, while I insisted that these distinctions were “snobby” and “stupid” and “used to make people feel smarter”. It’s perfectly reasonable to not be into superhero comics, sure. There are tons of genres in all sorts of mediums I don’t care about. But “graphic novels” to me always sounds like “oh, I don’t watch ‘movies’. I only Attend the Cinema.” Like that “television is no friend of mine” David Cross character from Mr Show. Boring.

  3. I don’t class the “high quality” folks as fans. Anyone can read a book with a great artist and a strong writer. It takes dedication to read a book through a period of second-rate hackery because you care about the character.

  4. I think of being a character-based fan as being very much like being a sports-team fan. A character-based fan has to weather bad writers, bad artists, bad VPs of the company, bad economies driving books out of print. A true soccer fan in Europe/Cubs fan/LA Clippers fan (???) weathers bad players, bad finances, moronic managers and horrific ownership because there’s a connection between themselves and the story – the vast story that invites you along. To celebrate and to suffer, in the company of the other die-hards.

  5. They’re the kind of people that only like stuff once they’ve been told to like stuff. They’ll never have the fun of finding new things on their own, because they have to have some arbiter of good taste point them in the direction of the next applauded, socially acceptable book. There’s no love there.

  6. Re: Paul Wilson

    Your point is well taken, but it seems to me if you continue to purchase a product when the quality turns to poor, then you’re not anything admirable or noble. You’re just a mark. Being “judgmental” of what you consume forces artists and craftsmen in any field to stay on their game. I’ve been just as guilty as the next in my time. I’m just saying is all. Negative comments do not a sea-change make.

    Brand loyalty is for suckers. Oh, totally agree on the “graphic novels” tip. Guess what, folks? The Sandman was comics. likewise Chris Ware and Yummy Fur and Fun Home and Preacher and Arkham Asylum and Miracleman. Yes, even Lost Girls.

    Stop hating yourselves, people.

    1st time post. I just discovered this site a week ago. keep it cranking.

  7. This. This exactly. I’m a *Titans* fan*. My friends keep asking me when I’m going to stop reading, because I’ve hated pretty much everything Titans related that DC has put out since…. 2003? But I keep reading. Because the (Teen) Titans are my team, and I need to know what they’re doing, even when I then start yelling about how they’re still all out of character and will someone please give Cassie her personality back. But they’re my team and I will continue to read about them always.

    *I’m also a Bat fan, Arrow fan, and a Jubilee fan. It’s a problem.

  8. @Paul Wilson: You, sir, are hilarious.

  9. I think all of these characters are sort of bland and uninteresting blanks without an awesome writer behind them. I do love Batman, but I’m probably not going to thrill to the adventures of Dick Grayson under the cowl with Judd Winick writing it when Morrison is next door doing all kinds of crazy shit. It’s the same thing with the X-Men.

  10. Esther,

    I totally feel what you’re saying. You are quickly becoming one of my favorite comic bloggers.

    I have this one friend. I got him into comics. God bless his heart if he reads this. He can be a total pretentious douche about it. He like, you know, had to like instantaneously be all upon downloading all of Preacher and then all this Wildstorm stuff. He was also really into Punisher but he felt like only Garth Ennis could ever write the Punisher and truly understand him. The he was talking about how he probably won’t be into comics later in life after he’s downloading thousands and thousands and thousands of pages. He says its not pretentious cause he actually likes it. I say boo hiss.

    My biggest peave was when some of our mutual hipster friends saw my copy of season 2 of Justice League on his bookshelf and he was embarassed and tried to explain it away.

    Then I have another friend that “only likes graphic novels” who is going to graduate school to study Arthurian poetry in dead French languages and was shitting on my academic work around black superheroes and pop culture behind my back.

    I hate this whole, “comics are good cause they don’t have to be about superheroes” shit. I mean, I like some of that artsy shit, but I live and die for Spider-Man.



  11. I would like it known that I grew up a diehard Marvel Zombie. I have since discovered a lot of wonderful characters on the DC side of things.(J’onn, Dick, Wally, Hal, Dinah, Sanderson, Roy…someone stop me please.)I just can’t afford to keep buying on a regular basis. I did pick up one of Mcduffie’s JLA issues the other week and enjoyed it, but income is kind of a bear these days.

    Superheroes aren’t all of my comics reading anymore. I have tired of, for instance, a large quantity of Vertigo fans to be in denial about their level of geekery. There’s nothing wrong with it. I just wish they wouldn’t assume some kind of specialized “otherness” because of their reading habits.

    Let the record show: I am not a “character” fan or a “writer” and/or “artist’ fan. I am a “story” fan. If it works and/or moves me(Bendis’ Daredevil, Whedon’s Astonishing, Vaughn’s Runaways, Promethea, The Great Outdoor Fight, Calvin and Hobbes,Cerebus:High Society, Thomas & Windsor-Smith’s Conan,et al.), that’s all that matters to me. I simply refuse to be pandered to and /or used by either an individual or a system.The Dark Knight was a good movie, like Raging Bull. No qualifiers, be they “comics” or “boxing” need apply or need to be applied.

    If anyone wants to keep up with beloved characters, that’s cool. I just question the idea that whatever is being published at any given moment is canon as opposed to ideas floating in the ether. If you have followed these characters long enough, you probably know them well enough for your interpretation to be equally valid. Isn’t that the whole idea around fanfic?
    My mind is always open to being changed, but it won’t be just because I don’t own the rights to the characters. It’s the creative process, not marketing, that drives my interest.

    I’m listening to The Stylistics on Slacker Radio. sans irony. so, if anyone’s thinking of branding me with “elitist” or “pretentious”, value your time and don’t, please.

  12. You know, I can read Marvel and DC *and* Vertigo *and* Jimmy Corrigan and not have to pick a side, or have my brain explode. I love superhero stories, and silly comedies, and deep, introspective character work, and all sorts. I love the form of comics, and I like good stories. Blind character loyalty is not the path to good stories, it’s the path to wrist-slitting.

  13. I’ve been trying to think about how to respond to this without being vitriolic, and I think the main issue here is that you’re operating totally on blacks and whites. Yeah, I’m more of a Batman/Superman/DC fan than I am most Marvel stuff, but I’d rather pay money for an issue of Brubaker’s Captain America than, I dunno, Red Robin, even if Tim Drake did used to be my favorite character, because I don’t like Red Robin and I don’t think it deserves my money. If I continued buying Red Robin without even trying other titles because of some sort of sick brand loyalty and fetishization of a particular subcontinuity, I honestly hope someone would have the courtesy to put a bullet into my head behind the barn. I guess you pity me because – I don’t know, I don’t know what it’s like to complain about bad comics? Is that your point? It’s perfectly well and fine to have guilty pleasures and personal preferences, but saying you “pity” the “pretentious” people who follow the creators they enjoy over specific characters is mindbloggling and unusually small-minded for this site. There’s a gray area between “I only buy Batman comics” and “I only buy books that win Eisner awards” and you’re not acknowledging its existence.

  14. @ACK: There are no Clippers fans, just Lakers fans who haven’t wised up yet.

    Anyway, Esther, I’m more of a creator-based fan, if anything. I had being a fan of characters beaten out of me in the ’90s. It’s the creators that make the stories that make me like the character. A character in and of itself, isn’t anything to me. The stories make them go, and the creators make the stories go. Not that it’s blind loyalty or anything– there are Grant Morrison stories that I hate more than anything, and he’s one of my favorite writers.

    At the same time, it isn’t just creators that drive me. I’ll check out a Spider-Man comic just because. I bought Conan reprint book yesterday half because of the talent, half because I like Conan, and a third half just because it looked interesting. My new “Thing” right now is war comics and Judge Dredd.

    People who self-segregate (“Oh, I don’t read those. I only read these.”) confuse me. I want to read everything, as long as it’s good. And if it’s bad, it better be bad in a good way. Everything… except for mopey auto-bio books. Go cry in the woods on your own time!

  15. @David Uzumeri: I don’t think that is what Esther is saying at all, actually. It seems to me that she’s saying she doesn’t like people who make a point of loudly distancing themselves from those plebes who insult their good taste by reading COMICS, with a sniff and a “what fools these mortals be” attitude. They read GRAPHIC NOVELS, and don’t you forget it.

    She isn’t talking about people who follow writers. In fact, she doesn’t even mention them. She mentions the idea of following characters only because she’s describing her particular strain of fandom.

    I feel like I’m a No-Hate-Zone fan. What I mean is that whenever anyone rhapsodizes about how so and so sucks ass in a bellicose, melodramatic manner, I will often leap to the defense. It’s a knee jerk reaction to the Comic Book Guy stereotype, I suppose. Not to say that I never criticize anybody myself, but I try to keep it about their body of work. I feel exasperated with how quickly some people resort to personal attacks, and equate them with legitimate criticism. Rob Liefeld might be a bad artist, but he doesn’t drown puppies (that we’re aware of)

    Other than that, anything I would write about how I read comics would just echo David’s post above me… Except that my particular character blinkers are usually oriented around Vertigo characters like Tim Hunter.

  16. @haloHAWK I preeeetty much agree with you there. But you lost me at

    “I’m listening to The Stylistics on Slacker Radio. sans irony. so, if anyone’s thinking of branding me with “elitist” or “pretentious”, value your time and don’t, please.”

    Because isn’t it elitist to think that The Stylistics aren’t elite? They’re the bees knees, son!

    But seriously, I think I fall somewhere along the lines of David Brothers’ philosophy. I mostly follow creators, sometimes to characters that I have no background knowledge of. Of course, I’m still a sucker for Spider-Man. Rain or shine.

  17. No offense, but I kinda feel there’s some reverse snobbery going on here. I don’t see what’s wrong with trying to seek out only the highest quality material, without regard for characters or genre. And if someone wants to discuss the artistic merits of Lost Girls, what wrong with that? Honestly, as a former literature student, I like doing stuff like that.

    I feel like I’m stradeling the fence. On the one hand, I try to seek out the best material (although I do find it difficult to venture from my comfort zone of superhero comics). On the other, I also have those fannish obsessions, with the X-Men for example (although I do not let that completely rule my buying habits).

    When it comes down to it, cash is always in short supply, and if I have to choose between something I know to be good and something that just contains a character I like, I’ll almost always go for the first option. Is that wrong?

    David Uzumeri’s comment also nicely expresses the way I feel. And I suppose I agree with what David Brothers writes, both in that I also follow creators and that “I want to read everything, as long as it’s good.”

  18. @Derk van Santvoort: I hesitate to speak for Esther, but I believe she’s talking more about what Lugh said, people who are of the “Oh, I’m not like those people, who read ‘comic books.’ I read graphic novels.” or “I don’t read anything with superheroes in it, those are for children.”

    That kind of thing. Not “I like good books” or “I like books by _____.”

  19. @david brothers: I reckon I misread the point she was making, then (the hour is getting somewhat late over here, in my defense). Perhaps I should have better read Lugh’s comment before I posted.

    I suppose my main bone of contention was and is her last line, about discussing the artistic merits of certain comics, that kind of stuck in my craw.

    Or perhaps I was being (subconciously) defensive, because I do feel like a comic-snob sometimes, in spite of myself.

  20. @Derk van Santvoort: I’m an unrepentant comics snob, myself.

  21. @haloHawk: I should have elaborated on my point. By my own definition I am not a “character fan”. I have characters I like, but I don’t follow them devotedly. If the creator appears to be doing something interesting with them, i’ll go in. If they get passed to someone I don’t particularly care for, then they’ve got one arc to make me care or I’m gone!

    I’ve known some character fans in my day. The poor saps who buy every X-Book because it’s there and who grit their teeth through the Lobdell and Austen runs. I envy their dedication even as i pity it.

    I’m pretty much a writer fan. Morrison will always be picked up by me, no matter how impenetrable it seems at first. Waid, Simone, Moore, Ellis, Ennis and a few others will if the concept interests me. Millar has used up his currency with me, ditto Johns and Leob, and most of the other writers out there simply have my ambivalence. It would be hard for me to consider myself a “story fan” simply because I can only judge a story’s worth once I’ve read it.

    But back to Esther’s original point. I hate the term “Graphic Novel” when it’s used to describe anything that isn’t a stand-alone book-bound comic story. If it’s a collection of floppies, then it’s a trade or a collection. “Graphic novel” just makes me think of people I knew who wanted to justify owning Watchmen or a few Sandman collections, without admitting that the puerile antics of Spiderman or Batman were fun!

  22. I’m far more of a writer fan than a character fan, as I generally find when it comes to determining whether you’ll like a book, the creators are far better predictors than the creations. After I finally finished with John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad, I tracked down both the second Suicide Squad volume that Keith Giffen wrote and some of the Star Wars comics Ostrander writes these days. Since Suicide Squad had crossed over with JLI quite successfully before, I expected good things and really wanted it to work. By the time I was done, though, I had to conclude that as fun as it was seeing Amanda Waller again, Giffen’s Suicide Squad just didn’t click.

    In comparison, I’ve never been a Star Wars fan outside of KOTOR, so Ostrander’s Dark Horse comics had an uphill battle convincing me to care about the established races, characters, and various minutia Wookieepedia documents. Once I got past the unappealing setting, though, I discovered that John Ostrander was telling great action tales about unpredictable, morally ambiguous characters. I’d found the true sequel to Suicide Squad, in spirit if not in name.

    That’s not to say I’m not a fan of certain characters or that I don’t understand that attachment. When I was quite young, I picked up quite a lot of X-Factor comics from bargain boxes, with my favorites being the light comedy ones Peter David wrote for a couple years after the original team left. It was because of these fond memories that I later picked up Young Justice. X-Factor at the time had gone all dark and unpleasant, and would soon be cancelled. Young Justice, on the other hand, was *fun*.

    Now, I’m sure talking about Young Justice here is preaching to the choir. After all, Esther, you’ve made clear your love of the skinny, nerdy, human Tim Drake, and Margot mentioned missing when Wonder Girl had an actually personality. My favorite Young Justice character was Impulse, the very embodiment of the short attention span, whose tendency to get bored and run off while someone else was talking I found oddly endearing. As a result, I feel somewhat protective of the character. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen Impulse in years, just a series of strangers going by the name Bart Allen. The humorless Kid Flash who whines when his grandfather comes back to life isn’t my Impulse, nor was the adult the Rogues kicked to death. I may have a Peter David X-Factor to read again, and I’m glad for that, but I still miss my Bart Allen.

  23. @Paul Wilson: how do you feel about Marvel: 1985, though?

  24. @ACK: Damn. That sounds almost noble, there. “They may take our lives, but they will never take – OUR CHARACTERRRR! . . . What do you mean the book’s being cancelled?”

    @Margot: Oh, Margot. Titans? Your suffering is unimaginable.

    @Will Emmons: Hey, Will. Thanks for the compliment. I like to think that the snobs in various artforms lend the art some local color, and then I try to ignore them. Poor, tormented souls.

    @David Uzumeri: @Derk van Santvoort: Hey, David and Derk.

    This entry wasn’t meant to be a condemnation – more of a tongue-in-cheek look at the ideological rivalry between specific groups of fans. I admit that I roll my eyes at some of the graphic novel snobs out there and consider them to be somewhat bloodless. But I also admit that my particular quirks cause me to waste a lot of money on dumb comics by bad creators, and that the people who hold out for the quality rightly roll their eyes at me as well.

    It’s not that I hate or feel contemptuous of anyone, it’s just that I don’t really seem to connect with the pure-quality seekers because I approach the medium from a very different way.

    Either way, thanks for the comments.

  25. @Master Mahan: I’m beginning to learn that I often have to be a writer + character fan to get anything like the kind of comics I want. Still, it’s a slow, painful process.

  26. @Lugh: Didn’t read it. Last thing I bought by Millar was the first issue of his FF run.

  27. Nice job drawing some eyes, woman!

    I figure more to the point is, I read what I want and I don’t apologize for what drives it. I am often confused to be attacked for enjoying comics in a different way – you’d think people would be excited to have more folks into the industry.

    I do follow European soccer, and ALL THE TIME, I run into people who snipe how you’re not a ‘real fan’, because you weren’t born in Liverpool and you’ve never been to Manchester and you didn’t vote in the last Barcelona election. It startled me, but with an unpleasant sort of deja vu, to run into the ‘I do it better than you’ sort of thing in comics readers. Isn’t the point that you like comics? Instead of being brought together by your common interest, you become people divided by a common interest, because damn, humans just gotta be the best some way, some how, at some thing.

  28. I know I didn’t read it as any sort of attack, but rather a discussion of the different ways fandom can manifest.

    I can think of one big advantage of being a character fan, and that’s emotional investment. When the Birds of Prey run into Prometheus and he takes down Lady Shiva in three seconds, I’ll get more excitement thinking “I wonder how Dinah and Helena are going to get out of this one” than “I wonder how Gail Simone is going to write her way out of this one”. Caring about the character brings greater lows *and* greater highs.

  29. I think the worst part of being a “character based fan” is that you must spend tons of money on terrible comics.

    Honestly, your best bet is to stop being “character based”. It will NEVER serve you well. You can have favorite characters but to read good comics, you have to focus on creators. It’s like any other medium.

  30. The only thing worse than yakking about the artistic merits of Lost Girls is reading Lost Girls.

  31. […] on fan classifications. […]