If you’re a human person, you’ve probably seen a superhero movie or two in your day. According to the box office, you likely saw three in the last month. Comic book movies capture the hearts and minds of young and old alike.
I’ve had numerous encounters where people will randomly tell me that they LOVE Spider-Man/Wonder Woman/Batman/Whoever is on my shirt at the moment.
I genuinely love that so much. I truly enjoy making connections with random strangers (WARNING: do not try this with other comedians, as we are mostly garbage) and find myself excited to further the conversation. I’ll eventually get to the inevitable “Do you read comics?” question. It usually goes one of the following ways:
- “Yes, I read comics and I wish to discuss those comics with you right now and possibly in the future.” Hell yeah, new best friend!
- “No, I do not read comics, but I would like to start,” with a sense of piqued curiosity.
- “No, I do not read comics,” with a sense of slight shame at being called out for being some kind of nerdy imposter.
- “No, I do not read comics, ew, I am being incredibly judgy toward a stranger,” with a surprising sense of derision at the idea that they would ever waste their money on something like a comic book.
Okay, so for now, Person 4 can go suck an egg. For the rest, I’m going to offer up a few hints and tricks on how to make sure you’re the best damned comics fan you can possibly be. From grizzled comics veterans all the way down to those fans that have never picked up a single floppy copy in their life, there are several things we can all do to improve our collective fandom and increase our nerd karma.
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1. SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL COMIC SHOP
Many people don’t know how to actually get comics beyond “Amazon probably sells them, right?” Well, they do sell comics, but please stop giving them money. Most areas have a Local Comic Shop (That’s right, capitalized, because it’s important!) that isn’t a morally questionable worldwide online retailer. They pretty much carry everything a happy dork needs to feel fulfilled.
For decades, the Local Comic Shop (or LCS, for short) has been a haven for nerds that want to talk until their heart’s content. Although, is a nerd’s heart ever actually content? Regardless, comic shops are pretty easy to find. There are several resources such as Comic Shop Locator to help you find your nearest nerd den.
“But aren’t comic shops filled with judgmental, sarcastic nerds?,” you ask like an attentive little Simpsons fan. The stigma of comic shops is mostly misplaced. Gone are the days of the stereotypical comic book guy spouting off toxic, gatekeeping diatribes (more on that later). More often than not, most successful LCS’s (LCSs? LCSes?) are chock full of helpful staff with a wide diversity of knowledge and interests to help steer you in whatever direction you need.
Comic shop employees are your tour guides into a world of pure imagination (think Willy Wonka, but hopefully with much less child murder). They are first and foremost, fans. Owning and running a comic book store isn’t exactly the bridge to unbridled wealth. It is a career path for the dedicated and passionate fans that want to be a part of the comics ecosystem that helped shaped them to be the people they are today.
“Every comic can be someone’s first,” says Leland Pierce at House of Secrets in Burbank, CA. “The world of comics can be overwhelming, but with a good store, they can make it easy and fun to get into.” Hell yeah, Leland.
Supporting your LCS is pretty easy. Just, you know, go and buy some comics. Ask for help if you’d like to know more about a specific title or character, or if you need help picking out a book that a friend might enjoy. You’ll not only be a satisfied customer, but you can feel like a community member, too.
On top of that, most LCS’s have subscription boxes, which contain comic books that regular customers commit to purchasing ahead of time. These are a great way to help a comic shop stay open by guaranteeing a future sale. That is, if a customer actually fulfills their commitment. Getting a sub box and not paying for your books can really hurt your LCS.
“Pick. Up. Your. Subscriptions,” says Tony Barry of Super Fly Comics in Yellow Springs, OH. “I’ve had to reshelve $300 to $500 files from long-termers who swore up and down they’d be in. But in the meantime, I had rent.” Yikes. Putting a small business owner in that kind of a situation isn’t good. “It sucks because it’s like you’re losing a friend, too,” adds Barry.
Holy shit, that’s not what we want to be doing. Small business owners are, according to every politician that’s ever lived, the backbone of America. By patronizing your Local Comic Shop, you are not only supporting the industry, but you’re fulfilling your patriotic duty.
2. SUPPORT CREATORS AT CONS
Comic book conventions are a lot like comic book movies in the vein that they have grown in size, scope, and attendance exponentially over the past 20 years or so. What once was a series of low-visibility, $5-At-The-Door, Holiday-Inn-Basement, See-If-You-Can-Finally-Complete-Your-Run-of-Moon Knight, Saturday-Only, Nerd-Speakeasies has transformed and rolled out into a billion-dollar, mainstream industry featuring the who’s-who and what’s-what of pop culture faster than you can say, “Holy hyphenated hyperbole, Batman!”
It’s easy to get swept up by the wave of insanity that is a Con because there’s JUST SO MUCH going on. Among the crowds of thousands, massive publisher booths, flashy cosplayers, the ubiquitous t-shirt tower, and amazing displays by companies like Sideshow Collectibles, Funko, Lego, and more, it’s easy to become quickly overwhelmed. Many conventions have created a symbiotic relationship with Hollywood.
Cons now feature appearances by some of the biggest stars in some of the biggest movies. You can get your picture taken with Captain America, Thor, Star-Lord, Steve Trevor, and many other famous Chrises. You might literally walk by the 1970’s-Hulk on your way to get your photo with the Now-Hulk. What you might not have noticed is that you probably walked past nearly a dozen people that actually contributed to the mythos of your favorite Green (or Gray or Red or, I don’t know, Wolveriney) Goliath.
While meeting millionaires that play make-believe can be exciting as all hell, oftentimes the people that created those same roles that helped propel these celebrities into the stratosphere are right there, in the same convention, with all kinds of cool stuff for you to check out. They want to hear how their work on [insert comic book title here] helped you through a tough time, changed the way you viewed the comics medium, or inspired you to fight crime.
On top of talking shop and signing books, every creator has SOMETHING for sale at their table. Artists have prints, sketchbooks, original comic book pages, and oftentimes will even take commissions to create a one-of-a-kind piece JUST FOR YOU! Writers also have comics, graphic novels, and, in some cases, scripts of your favorite stories just waiting for you to peruse, buy, and proudly display.
For the tenth of the cost of a photo with a Hemsworth (prices vary based on your choice of Hemsworth), you could buy some art and put money directly into the pocket of a comics legend like Walt Simonson. I mean, he didn’t CREATE Thor, but he sure as hell perfected him.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record or creating a “Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain” repetitive loop, I’ll say this: if you want to be a GOOD comics fan, you’ll do everything you can to ensure creators can afford to keep creating. Comics are a labor of love and every little bit helps. A direct purchase from a comics pro, especially those trying to break into the industry, can be the difference in someone’s day, weekend, or even year. You can be THEIR superhero.
3. SUPPORT THE HERO INITIATIVE
Historically, many comics creators got screwed. Work-for-hire contracts in comics have been terrible and there isn’t exactly a 401K. Sadly, there wasn’t a very “for-the-creators” mindset in the front offices of The Big Two. I, as if you created something for Marvel or DC, it belonged to Marvel or DC. I’ve seen countless stories of creators living in poverty because they simply can’t afford to live, even if they created stories and characters that have grossed millions of dollars for the companies they worked for. Not only is it a tragedy, it’s one of the comics world’s greatest failures. Enter the Hero Initiative.
For the past 20 years, the Hero Initiative has been working hard to ensure that those that need help, get help. Their fundraising process covers a lot of ground, from donation cans at con tables, to exclusive variants, to Challenge Coins, to the 100 Project.
Aside from raising money and donating over $1,000,000 to those in need, they have a “HIRE THIS ARTIST” section of their website. Acting , acting as a kind of comics-specific LinkedIn with resumes and work samples, it provides opportunities to creators that could use the signal boost. As a comics fan that’s also a starving artist, I can’t think of a better cause than taking care of the previous generations who worked so hard for so little.
Many of our trailblazers are in great need, and while it would be nice for Disney and Warner to do all the heavy lifting, let’s be honest, that’s not happening. However, the Hero Initiative is happening. Right now. If you want to be a GOOD comics fan, tossing a few bucks to help out is a pretty great way to ramp up that nerdy karma.
4. STOP GATEKEEPING
Gatekeeping is the act of establishing specific criteria for what makes a “true” fan. It is an unfortunately common phenomenon in many nerdy communities that is toxic, ugly, and it needs to stop. The idea that one has “paid their dues” in fandom is utterly ridiculous. Gatekeepers often jump to the conclusion that someone who may be attractive, athletic, or even (GASP) a lady, can’t possibly be a TRUE fan of the thing that they also like. How could that even be possible?
Bullies (gatekeepers ARE bullies, make no mistake about it) are often victims of emotional and physical trauma. Many nerds get bullied when they’re young and, according to that one uncle that rarely wore shirts, “it builds character.” But for normal humans that aren’t my shirtless Uncle Jerry, it can create emotional scarring. Sure, many of us liked comics back when they were “uncool,” and some believe they paid for it socially. Maybe they believe they were excluded from social events because they liked comics, and that certain people shouldn’t get a “free-pass” into what they feel they’ve earned.
But a very harsh truth might surface were a gatekeeper to take an introspective look at their past experiences. Maybe, and this could come as a shock, maybe comics probably weren’t the reason they were bullied. There are a myriad of reasons why kids might be shitty to each other, but regardless of those reasons, bullying another fan makes you the asshole.
It honestly isn’t that hard. Comics are for everyone. No amount of pretending that isn’t the case will validate acting like some sort of nerd-bouncer that gets to choose who should be able to cross the velvet rope of comic fandom. As comics author/all-around good person Jody Houser (Star Wars, Stranger Things, Star Trek, Dr. Who, and other stuff you probably like) simply puts it, “Be welcoming to others.”
Now that’s being a GOOD comics fan.
5. CALM. THE HELL. DOWN.
Let’s say you’re a fan of comics. Let’s say you’ve been reading comics for 30 years, through all the ups and downs. You’ve spent thousands of dollars on thousands of comics. You’ve survived Clone Sagas, Nose-less Wolverines, Super Mullets, and worse.
You’ve been through it all. Congratulations on liking a thing. Now repeat after me: “I do not own the characters that I love.”
Now, I understand that you might feel overly invested in these characters. Sometimes stories will be told that you might not like. Artists whose style you don’t enjoy might show up on titles you read regularly. Character designs might shift away from what you loved about those characters. But here’s the thing about these characters: They’re not real. “Good comics fans should try to remember that it’s all make-believe,” says Jamal Igle (Wrong Earth, Black, Supergirl).
Okay, I know you know that. But like, do you KNOW that? Do you REALLY KNOW THAT? These characters don’t actually exist. When boiled down, they’re actually just scripts and drawings. That doesn’t mean they’re not important or significant, but it does mean that they’re not anything to truly act crazy about. Too often we’ve seen immediate backlash by fans because something happened that they didn’t like.
Let. Stories. Happen.
Creators are paid to tell these stories. They have plans. If those plans aren’t in line with what you wanted, fine. But comics are a ride, not a drive. You wouldn’t get on a roller coaster and then complain that you couldn’t steer it, would you? Then maybe stop trying to control art. Artist Mark Brooks (Han Solo, Marvel & DC covers) lays it out, saying, “Not everything is specifically made for you. The more wasted time you spend focusing on what you don’t like, the more you’re going to miss the comics [that are] made to your specific tastes.”
Toxic fandom is an ugly part of this world, and it needs to be rooted out. The creators writing these books are fans. They pour themselves into these projects because they have stories to tell. So calm the hell down. If you don’t like something, don’t buy it. Captain America/Batman/My Little Pony won’t mind because, well, they’re drawings.
Writer Christos Gage (Spider-Man, Avengers Academy, Netflix’s Daredevil), said it best, “Try to emulate the heroes [you] read about. What would Peter Parker do?”
Comics are fun. Being a comics fan is fun, and the more of us there are, the more our community gets to thrive! Being a good comics fan is easy and will improve every aspect of our nice little corner of the world. Comics is going through a glorious evolution right now, and by embracing the past, enjoying the present and welcoming the future, we’ll all end up with a healthy and happy fandom that will continue for decades to come!