Everyone probably recalls one of the first comics they read that really hooked them, or at the very least opened their eyes to the bigger possibilities of comics.
Perhaps there is a fan out there who started reading the first issue of The Avengers in 1963 and has never stopped since. For that fan it might have been the dynamic art of Jack Kirby that entranced them and remains an indelible part of “what” made or makes reading The Avengers great for them.
For some, comic art becomes a tangible link to comics, while for others the writing and storytelling is what keeps them coming back. Whatever this bond is, the personal connection made between fan and comics is undeniably important.
The reason for addressing why personal connection is an important issue within the comic community is because, many, many times, readers intermingle personal connection with what I call “canon history.” Sometimes, people re-write a comic moment (say, something we read and LOVED) and being more or less important in the grand scheme of a comic’s entire history, i.e. the canon of a series. This might lead some to mentally re-writing what we think is an opinion is really fact when we talk about comics.
What I mean is, we often talk about things in comics as if our views were concrete and Truth.
If somebody says “Oh man, Gwen’s death in Spider-Man is over-rated. The death of Wilbur Daywas far, far more important.” Well …on a personal connection-level, for the speaker, sure? In terms of the canon history of Spider-Man, publication sales and comic history say something else.
Still, the trend to imply that our opinion is the Truth where comics are concerned comes up in local comic stores and on the internet often. We might sometimes desire (strongly!) to argue X is [the best/worst/most moving/least meaningful/most disrespectful] part of a comic, when we might not have ever read the whole comic.
Or, even if we have read a whole comic run, we might not actually know if what moves US, presently, is of the same impact as something else that another reader encountered in the same series. Hence, it’s why we sometimes get defensive or aggressive responses when we share these views aloud.
But just because you hate that Alexandra DeWitt was killed in the way that she was does not mean that other people will instantly understand said moment was The Worst Thing in the whole canon history of Green Lantern when you talk.
Or, to clarify, you shouldn’t expect that the person you speak with will feel the same, because their background in or breadth of canon history may not include that. Nor should you imply that they should feel the same, if it turns out they do not harbor similar feelings. It just means that her murder was the worst thing in the history of the comic to you. And maybe further dialogue could be fruitful. Or maybe not.
What this also means is that, while readers may well understand the history of a character (or, not at all), they are free to understand that their moments of personal connection are just as important or even more important than the entire scope of a comic run’s entirety on a personal level.
Because you hate the death of Alexandra DeWitt, you are justified in feeling like … yup … that for yourself, this was the worst thing in the history of the comic, as you understand it.
To clarify, I am fully aware of the long canon history behind the comic series Thor and still think that Jason Aaron’s work is the best. I can also know nothing about the canon history of Thor and also think Jason Aaron’s work is the best. I can also be free to enjoy all Thor comics, Jason Aaron’s work included, but think that Aaron’s work is not my favorite when compared to that of Walter Simonson and what his work did/did not illuminate for me about the canon history of Thor, such as I understand it.
Regardless of how much history (or, how little) I have for a comic, the information I have is all I have and that is all I can draw an opinion from. And that opinion is right and nothing — not even the history I don’t know about, or who tells it to me — is valid, until I decide to make it meaningful. I can make meaning either by reading the comics I am told about or by understanding the character of the person telling me.
There is, in the end, no “wrong” way to understand one’s own personal connection or canon history ties to a comic, a character, or a writing team. What becomes complicated is when we try and talk about comics with other people, people who are going to understand the same comic in drastically different ways.
The reason I want to write about how we talk to others about comics is because recent events within Marvel and DC have led to heated discussions (the kind that are civil and not-so-civil) about what is or is not “right” to see in the pages of works we read together among the community.
Regarding Captain America, weeks ago there was the argument over Steve’s Hydra connections (as depicted in Issue #1 of Captain America: Steve Rogers). Reactions were rampant, and all of them were justified in that they were the natural views of readers. If a reader got to the end of the first issue and thought “nope, that isn’t my Cap’,” then said reader was completely within her/his rights to think that.
As far as this hypothesis works, the reader’s personal connection might not allow for the comic story, where it ended at that moment in time, to mesh well (or at all) with what made/makes Captain America important to them.
What becomes messy is when people start talking over everyone else to justify why “their” Cap’ is the right one. This kind of issue has now come up again with the introduction of the character Riri Williams and, again, many people have views about who the “right” Iron Man is or is not.
As a comic reading community, many struggle to talk about how change impacts them. Many also have a problem listening. Some of the things I hear most when issues of change in comics happen are the following:
“How could a person get to X plot point/reveal and not know ____________ about comic publication trends?”
“How could a person get to X plot point/reveal and not know that ____________ was where the story/trend was headed? The evidence was right there!”
“How could the real world history of _________ not be taken into account by people when seeing X … ?”
These questions are the “Three Big Sins” of comic community rhetoric. What you understand most easily about comics is how YOU understand comics. It is infinitely more difficult to “get” how other people comprehend comics because … well … we can’t plug ourselves into their history with a comic. I’ll have more to say about these three demons and how we can slay them next week, but they’re worth touching on for right now.
One of the most meaningful comics I have ever read was the Fantastic Four Vs. The X-Men limited series from 1987 by Chris Claremont. This comic was gifted to me by my spiritual-Dad-in-all-but-blood, a gentleman named David Hill. David wanted to share a certain comic story he enjoyed with me, hence why the comic was gifted to me in the first place. I had read some older Fantastic Four comics, but I had never touched much of Claremont’s X-Men run outside of a few key stories.
On paper, this comic was something I had absolutely no personal connection with, but this was a comic heavy with personal connection for David. Now, because David has fantastic taste, the comic turned out to be one of the best stories I had ever read (and it is one of the best Dr. Doom stories as well). Dave’s gifting of the comic to me in conjunction with the plot made a very strong personal connection for me with this particular story. While I did not understand David’s ties to the comic right away, after reading them we talked about the comic.
The comic created a bridge to get to talking about other things. Genuine, important things. Alas, we don’t always get to make these bonds through comics easily or with as much time as David and I had to talk about important things through the mechanism of Dr. Doom.
At times, we need to share more comics with people than opinions. Let the works that inspire and move is inspire and move others. We can’t know everything about comics, nor should be judge those who try and demand we should.
My personal connection with a comic is not more important than another person’s personal connection with a comic.
Another person’s canon history knowledge is not more important than my personal connection.
All the personal connection and knowledge of canon history in the world doesn’t matter until I choose to create a connection between it and myself. Nobody can control what a comic means to be, but that doesn’t mean I can’t listen or point them to some comics to check out.
Arguing personal connection and canon history in comics is similar to how we argue in regards to other things. The beauty of comics is that, say, unlike politics, we can easily share our love by hand or by digital copy and point to EXACTLY what moves us. Few subjects of argument concern tangible, physical things we can effortlessly give or lend to others and then ask them to get back to us.
Comics are small, cheap, and easy to distribute. We need to share as many comics as we talk about. We need to make more personal connection moments between people we talk with so we understand them as people, that way comics thus become bridges to link us, not walls to force us into all into private bubbles of “(Personal) Truth.”
Share comics with people. Listen to them.
Next week, I’ll touch on ways some ways we can foster stronger comic communication!