Circle Of Friends

By | Friday, February 25, 2011 Leave a Comment
When I was growing up, I was absolute rubbish with rock music. Oh, I liked it and I played a number of rock songs in bands. But I was terrible with the word end of things. In the first place, I rarely listen to song lyrics; the singers may as well being singing scat. In the second place, I didn't spend much money on albums so I was limited to what I heard on the radio and, then, couldn't always catch the DJ explaining what the song title or even the name of the band was. I had trouble for years differentiating between Journey, Yes, Chicago and Boston.

I also generally didn't catch musicians' names. I knew the headliners like Bruce Springsteen and Billy Idol, but I never heard who the guitarist for AC/DC was. Or the drummer for The Who. I remember being really surprised when this new group called the Honeydrippers came out and got so much attention. "Why the heck is this brand new band getting so much hype," I wondered. Of course, it wouldn't be until a few years later that I learned the lead singer was the same guy who used to sing for this other band called Led Zeppelin.

Since I didn't really travel in music circles, even the small local ones, the notion of fame and celebrity among musicians was lost on me. Not only did I not know who was talented and/or influential, but I didn't know anybody. I didn't even hear about bands like Devo or Talking Heads until they were largely off the American stage.

This is all about cultural capital. (I talk about it at length in chapter six of my book.) If I'm outside someone's sphere of influence, however much cultural capital they have is completely worthless to me.

I'll give you a comics example. Doug TenNapel recently started up a new webcomic called Ratfist. A lot of people were hyping it up in the first week or two it was out there and my first thought was, "Yes, it looks interesting, judging by the three pages he has up right now, but there's a lot of hype for just three pages." It wasn't until a week or two later that I caught the "From the Creator of Earthworm Jim" line at the top of the home page. "Ooooooh! That guy! Yeah, this'll be cool!"

(I still have my Sega Genesis hooked up in the basement, and I have been known to fire up Earthworm Jim from time to time. Still a really cool game.)

I didn't have TenNapel's name in my mental database, so his cultural capital (all the creative ideas he had, including EJ) wasn't worth anything to me. Once I was able to connect TenNapel to something I was familiar with, then I was also able to see the value of his cultural capital.

Reverse example. I've known David Gallaher for several years now. Nearly a decade, I think. (Yes, Dave, it's been that long!) So when High Moon came out, I knew what he was bringing to the table with it. I was familiar with his other work and how he approached his stories. For me, he had a reasonably high level of cultural capital going into the Zuda contest. For me, more than the then-more established creator/competitor Pop Mahn. For me.

This is what makes it hard to gauge your own cultural capital. If I don't know your frame of reference (which I most likely don't) then I can't say whether or not you even know who I am, much less be any sort of judge about my significance. Just because I know who I am doesn't mean you do as well.

I catch myself doing that probably more than I should. I'll see someone's name get touted as some great writer or artist or whatever, and my first (and second and third and...) is not infrequently, "Who the hell is this guy? I've never heard of him before!" So I find I'll have to remind myself that just because I don't know someone doesn't mean they're not important. Even within the realm of comics. And someone else who I've been following for years still might not be very well-known.

Just something to keep my/your own perspectives in check.
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