The Circle of Life

By | Friday, December 22, 2006 2 comments
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.
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Anonymous said...

Well, the theme of E.M Forster's nove "Howard's End" was just this :
"Only Connect".

Maning philisophically, that is what we're here on Earth for. It's cool that you are describing how your interests have brought people into your life; but this is not just comics fandom. People who love opera or art or NASCAR cna also form bonds..

Well dunno about NASCAR.

But it is true that anyone who is a true artist- in comics or in any field- at heart there really is a human desire to connect with an audience, a desire so strong that it defines their lives.

Relatively few people make livings from writing novels, making paintings, starting bands..but they continue to do so even though there is not any material reward forthcoming. there's hope of reward, but i do think that the desire to create and express is a big part of what makes us human.
Comics or elsewhere.

Without connection, life is quite hard. I don't know how old or young you are, but i think you are asking yourself the right questions.
best to you.

That's an excellent point; ANY club is about forming bonds and relationships. The problem I've certainly had in recognizing that -- and I suspect many other people have the same issue -- is that every is club is ostensibly and superficially about something much more shallow. Whether that's comic books or opera or art or NASCAR or whatever.

There's something of a stereotypical image of guys hanging out and watching football, rooting for their favorite team and/or players. (Well, in America, it's football... American football. I suspect other countries favor, say, rugby or something.) It's easy for guys to enjoy football (generally) because it's largely a testosterone-filled spectacle, wish an achievable sense of wish-fulfillment. Lots of machismo all around there. The joke is, though, that guys get together got that not to express their own sense of masculinity, but to bond with others.

Me? I don't like specatator sports. I don't like TV. I'm not big on movies. I don't knit or sew or do any sort of craftsy things. My biggest interest is comic books and it's easiest for me to make that first connection through them.