Dave Stevens As Cultural Capital

By | Wednesday, March 12, 2008 3 comments
I was in my Local Comic Shop at lunch today, browsing the new selections. Being a Wednesday, it was (not surprisingly) crowded but, being a relatively small store, that was still only 8 or 10 people.

One of the regulars was talking geek (something about DC's current books -- I wasn't really paying attention) and finished his dissertation of fanboyishness to a largely disinterested crowd. He then fired up his next topic of conversation: the recent death of Dave Stevens, which he evidently learned about through Newsarama and, for the benefit of whomever might not know, provided a short biography of the man as it related to comicdom and how tragic it was following so closely on the heels of the death of Steve Gerber.

The thing that struck me was the patron's attitude. Now, he certainly wasn't disrespectful of Stevens or his work, but he wasn't particularly remorseful either. He presented the information not unlike a newscaster might -- factual, but emotionally removed. He was certainly informed about Stevens and his work, but largely (it seemed) through the relative commercial success of Rocketeer. Indeed, most the subsequent discussion centered around the movie and Jennifer Connolly's appearance in it. But, as Mark Evanier pointed out in his obituary of him, the movie did little for Stevens financially or creatively. The "success" which Stevens achieved with the movie was largely assumed and not realized. The population of this LCS was clearly pretty ignorant of Stevens, I suspect, in large part because he wasn't a creator that was associated with a DC or marvel property.

Further, the patron who brought up the subject was just as ignorant for, I'm sure, the same reason. He brought the subject up, not because he felt that comic community was dealt a tragedy in the loss of Stevens, but rather because he could laud himself into the spotlight as the local source for the most up-to-date news and information in comicdom. He was creating cultural capital for himself and trying to raise his perceived importance in fandom by being more knowledgeable than the next guy. [begin sarcasm] He is the guy who reads Newsarama almost daily! He is a man who knows his comic books! He is clearly the master of comic book knowledge in this store! [end sarcasm]

Now, granted, in some form, we're all trying to present ourselves in a more positive light and raise our social status. There's some part of my brain that says, "I can show myself as more important than I really am by blogging about comics." While that's not my primary motivation, I can recognize that it is a factor in what and how I write. But it bothered me in this instance because the patron's interest in Stevens' death was almost exclusively limited to raising his own importance. He didn't seem concerned about Stevens' work, the family and friends who lost a loved one, or even the business speculation that's bound to occur in this new time in which no new Stevens work will be produced. He viewed Stevens' death as simply a means to make himself look smarter than the rest of us.

Now I could've jumped in at any point to add any number of details. I could've said something about his work on the Tarzan newspaper strip, the costume designs he provided for The Flash TV show or the general helpfulness he provided to an aging Bettie Page. But that would've been just as disingenuous since I'm not that particularly well-versed in Stevens' work either, and those details are things I only picked up yesterday myself. I think Stevens' work is gorgeous, to be sure, but he was never a creator I followed or had much emotional attachment to. Any discussion of the man or his work from me really does nothing but show that I'm more knowledgeable about him than your typical comic book fan.

Believe me, I understand the desire to develop your own cultural capital and become a big fish even in the relatively small pond of a LCS. But I also think it ought to stem from a genuine interest in the subject at hand, rather than a tangental interest that only serves your ego. I try to blog about things I care about, not whatever the current hot topic happens to be. Sure, sometimes I'm going to become excited about something topical, but the fact that it happens to be topical is irrelevant compared to my interest in it. Not only does using Dave Stevens' death as cultural capital make the person using that information seem shallow, but it's disrespectful to the man who devoted so much of his time to being the best artist he could be.
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Pj Perez said...

Exactly why I only blog about things I know/care about. People that read my blog know I'm not into indie comics or manga and if I started talking authoritatively about them just because of the comic blogs I read (which are many), I'd be nothing but a poseur. YEAH!

Swinebread said...

Don't worry Dave will be remembered and this guy won't.

bermudaman44 said...

Have to agree