Monday, May 18, 2009

They're Tearing Down Harry Donenfeld's Bar

The last days of the comic book shop I used to work at as a teenager were filled with a to-the-floorboards purging and tearing-down that managed to make the already-barren landscape upon which it was situated for over 15 years even more stark and existentially sad. They couldn't give away the bagfuls of memorabilia, the detritus of the entire boom of the early 1990s. Piles of shit left out on the street, many with their original price tags: unopened boxes of trading cards, polybagged collector's editions, promotional point-of-purchase standees that were in theory supposed to be "worth something one day."

As a person (one of many) who had been royally screwed over by said shop, I received the reports of its continuing dissolution with unrestrained glee. Not very Christian of me, I know. But at the time it was absolutely delicious; to hear that the worker who my ex-boss trusted the most had silently robbed him blind, to hear that the comics he purposely held back from public consumption – so he could artificially raise the price – were being let go for mere dollars. Ha de fucking ha ha ha.

But it wasn't just the end of one particular comic book store – it was the shake-out of an entire boom industry based on inflated prices and uniform/uninspired dreck. Even I, who was so forgiving – and even a fan – of B movies and retro-cool children's entertainment knew that a lot of the stuff being foisted on comic book fans as "must haves" were cookie-cutter garbage. I was happy to see all the waste and banality die.

But it didn't die. It just turned tail and got far more insular and inbred. At least comics like Spider-Man #1 (polybag, of course) brought in a wide range of people, a mass audience. After the shake-out, that audience – and the publishers that brought them their entertainment – largely calcified. After so much cash and optimism had been thrown around in that early-90s halcyon era, the new vibe at the comic companies was continual dread and fear. Constantly the idea that the bottom – what was left of it – could fall at any minute. Play it safe. Keep the fans you have. Keep your job.

Occasionally you would have the Next Great Idea, the prodigies, the comics and talent that seemed to come out of nowhere and dazzle audiences with startling new approaches. Sometimes, these wunderkinds were purposely nurtured, the new classics carefully and lovingly made. But often, it was simply a fluke – the real talent got through despite the System, not because of it. And, utterly shocked at the success of something they hadn't processed out of the Machine, the publishers did the only thing they knew how to do – tirelessly replicate it, beat the deceased horse, run it right into the ground. Oh, and alienate the wunderkind in question.

Then there were all the new imprints and Cool Ideas, those lovely attempts at breaking out of the male 18-34 superhero fan niche market. Failures, most of them, as the Old Guard are only too happy to point out, as the Old Guard point outs out while smothering those nascent Cool Ideas in the cradle.

To me, the ultimate symbolic face of everything wrong with the industry today is the character "Syndrome" from "The Incredibles." The once-idealist awkward mega-fanboy who now has all this power in the hobby he loved as a boy. He rapes the essence of the childhood heroes he so loved at the same time he puts them up on a pedestal (and sells that beautifully-sculpted pedestal to hardcore fans). He had a hard-on for the superheroines of his youth (and the girls who would never give him the time of day), and now whores them up and makes them his de facto prostitutes. And some of these men can become so addle-brained and confused that they sometimes mix up the superheroines they are pimping with their own female employees, pushing SuperTit Lass to the retailers at conventions at the same time they're pushing their dick inside their female subordinates.

Oh, you Rock Stars™.

I welcome the flood that washes you out, that preserves the forward-thinking brethren among you and flushes the rest of you the hell out of Dodge. You almost murdered this industry with your greed, short-sightedness, and parasitic clinging to jobs that are almost like welfare at this point. Take your big boxes of complimentary collectible crap – the reason you often cite for staying in jobs you claim to hate – and get the fuck out.

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