I wasn't expecting the current comics scene to provide me with much material for this series of entries, and I actually wanted to avoid it, but I just couldn't resist the opportunity.
Last week, Gail Simone and Lea Hernandez got into a very minor dustup on Lea's Livejournal, starting with Lea commenting on something someone else had written about the cheesecake in Simone's Birds of Prey posing a barrier to recommending it to his students, escalating when Gail made a comment, and eventually branching out into an argument between Gail and someone else altogether, with, I can only assume, Lea looking on with a mixture of bemusement and befuddlement (much like me when I swipe my 30-day Metrocard only to realize it's expired). It was all sound and fury, and over in less time than it took me to write that monster of a sentence, but it got me thinking.
Gail mentioned over on her message board that she's shocked and appalled that this kind of thing serves as news to the blogosphere. I thought about that, and concluded that I was too, but for different reasons. She was so because it's such a petty thing to spend time and energy commenting on. I'm so because it's so damn common, it hardly qualifies as news. To adapt a phrase, if Spider-Man beats up Rocket Racer, that's not news. If Rocket Racer beats up Spider-Man, that's news. This is definitely Spidey beating the Racer.
Remember Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane? Back in the Image days, they had each other's backs. When the aforementioned Mr. David made a comment in his "But I Digress" column that Rob and Todd's friendship was not likely to outlive their business partnership, Todd responded with an "Everybody's Got Opinions" titled "Best Buddies," complete with art of Badrock and Spawn with Rob and Todd's heads poorly photoshopped in. He swore up and down that his and Rob's friendship was beyond such pettiness, that they were akin to borthers; you half expected them to arrange a marriage between their kids, or team up to fight Dragon Ninjas, or something.
But why do comic professionals behave in such a, well, unprofessional manner? Kurt Busiek aside, pretty much everyone's done it at some point; some seem to have made it their hobby. Peter David vs. John Byrne, Joe Quesada vs. Dan Didio, Mark Millar vs. Rich Johnston, Mark Waid vs. Rich Johnston, etc., etc., ad nauseum. It's gotten so you can't swing a drawing of a cat without pissing off an artist these days. (God, that metaphor sucked. Let's all just pretend it never happened, OK?) Some of them are even dumb enough (I try not to use this space to insult professionals, but that's the only word that fits) to go along with fan attempts at "Let's you and him fight," which is just the lowest you can get. That's lower than the opening-day gross on "From Justin To Kelly." (Sorry for the dated reference, I just couldn't think of anything else that bad.)
After what I wrote last week, about everyone in the business at least having the love of comics in common, I couldn't help but wonder why comics professionals would segregate themselves even further. We're a niche industry inside a niche industry, and by rights, we ought to be hanging together so that we'll not hang separately. So what's the deal?
Simple: We're nerds. Comics professionals are no different from comics fans in most respects: easy to wound, quick to judge, slow to forgive, and capable of becoming the most petulant little shits imaginable when the right buttons are pushed. I mean, good God, hang out with nerds sometime. I've seen people call off life-long friendships over Magic cards.
Two years later, direct quote from Mr. McFarlane: "Rob is dead to me."
We make wonderful friends, but the passion we put into love can so quickly turn to hate if you piss us off. I don't know how Busiek does it, honestly; I read a minimum of three things a day from a comics professional that make me grit my teeth and curse the heavens. Hell, Gary Groth alone has been responsible for my keeping a small supply of Ativan handy.
And then there's the competitive side of things. Comics professionals, most of them freelancers, are in direct competition with one another for work. Writer A getting the duties on Black Knight means Writer B doesn't. Penciller C signing exclusive with DC means they have one fewer book to assign. And America is a competitive culture; it's been in our rhetoric and our zeitgeist since the beginning. Can relationships of trust really foster in such an environment, where everyone is a potential enemy? Well, yes, they can, but not easily, and the one that do form are brittle, and the wounds left when they break can fester or scar.
We're torch-carriers and bridge-burners, the lot of us. And when you put together any group of people, you're going to get differing opinions and ideas. It's a volatile combination, and the Internet only fosters it by its ability to somehow bring out the asshole inside everyone (again excluding Mr. Busiek. What is up with that guy?). I myself can't imagine bearing so much ill will towards anyone; I've long since stopped carrying the grudges I developed in my early years, the hatred having turned to pity, which is far more satisfying and healthy. I've always felt I'll be dead before my time anyway, so why waste any of it on anything so petty?
The solution to the problem is a simple one, but not an easy one. After all, if "do unto others as you would have others do unto you" were second nature, Christ wouldn't have had to say it. But since we're at the start of a new year, maybe now's a good time for everyone in the industry to take a moment and resolve not to let our lesser impulses get the better of us, to promise that we'll try to treat everyone with an even hand, agree to disagree, and look for the experiences and emotions we can share instead of the ones that tear us apart. We have better things to do than tear each other apart.
I mean, there's always J-Bolt.