After writing yesterday about Gregg, I've been struggling with how to continue working on my blog here without sounding dismissive or flippant. Gregg was my friend and I'd like to honor and remember him, but you might not have known him at all. I don't know that I'm that great a writer to expect that I'll be able to pull you into his story well enough that you'll continue reading.
A strange series of things happened this week, though. I learned of Gregg's passing, as I've mentioned, but I also learned that two of my other online comic book friends became engaged recently. (Not to each other! Two different guys, and each found their own respectvie soul-mate. Congrats, again, Russ and Kevin!) It got me thinking about comic fandom in general.
For a long time, I've considered myself something of an outsider. Not that I think I'm particularly strange or unusual, I just never felt like I connected with people -- any people -- very well. That's why I've spent time studying comic book fandom: to see what it is about comic book fans that brings them together. To see how they think and feel. To find out how a group of people can "unite" around a set of ficitional stories.
But this week I became privvy to, and was emotionally affected by, someone else's "life events." People I'd met through some association with comic books. But, more significantly, people I'd come to know outside the realm of comic books. Our early conversations were all comic-themed -- when did Spider-Man say this relative to this other story, how does this Human Torch backstory jibe with the old Strange Tales, etc. -- but we've progressed beyond that. Maybe a little note here about work, a quick reference there to a family member... before you know it, I've accumulated a body of knowledge about a person that paints a more complete picture of them as a whole individual. I've become interested about the person as a person and their opinions about other things begin to matter more than their opinions of the latest issue of Aquaman. And wouldn't you know it... those people, somewhere along the line, became friends!
What it boils down to is finding connections with people. When a comic book creator works on a story, they're really just trying to find a way to connect with the outside world. "Here's a story that tells a message I think is important." But more often than not, even the readers that connect with the story very strongly are somewhat removed from the creators. Of the 120,000 (or so) people who bought Astonishing X-Men last month, how many of them do you think writer Joss Whedon has actively connected with? How many have contacted him and said, "You know, this book really said something to me and I feel that we're on the same wavelength." By contrast, though, how many people read that issue and talked about it on a message board? Or at the local shop where they bought it? Or while lounging on the sofa in the basement with some friends? The connections comic creators are facilitating are not their own, but those of other people. I would never have met Gregg were it not for the Fantastic Four; I would never have met Russ were it not for Marvel's extended continuity; and I would have never met Kevin if not for Russ.
There was a new episode of Dr. Who a couple of weeks ago in which a group of people who all had run-ins with the current Doctor got together to share their experiences. Sort of a group therapy session. It's relayed quite clearly in the story that, over time, they grew to know each other as unique individuals and continued their friendship, not because of their alien encounter, but because they'd become friends. It seemed somewhat strange and a little forced to me at the time, but looking at it just a few weeks later, I see exactly what the writers were shooting for. And, yes, it was maybe still a bit strained because of the television format that forced some storytelling shortcuts, but it wasn't that far off.
I've been trying to wrap my head around comic book fandom for several years now. I think, maybe... just maybe, I'm starting to get it.