Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Thoughts on fanfic, part II (or, more appropriately, attempting to decipher the world of comics)

This post originally started as a second foray into the world of fanfic with grand proclamations about comics as a form of fan fiction. Instead, it turned out more of a neophyte's cherry popping experience with comics. Bear with me.

Corner of my coffee table

The problem with having friends who read fanfic, one of whom I podcast with, is that it's never terribly far off my radar screen. It's a topic that is frequently debated and has become one of those things I find myself trying to unpack. A few months ago one such debate led to the realization that comics themselves are really nothing more than legitimized fanfic*, what with the reboots, spinoffs and the way the stories have changed hands over time. Combine this with my interest in circumnavigating the comics world and suddenly I had a project. I would pick a series and follow it from the original issues through more modern reboots to spinoffs in the fanfic world. Given the recent popularity of the movies, I chose the Avengers.

Caveat: Before I tell you about my trip down this rabbit hole, let me just say holy cow! If I thought there was a barrier to entry before embarking on this journey, I'm more convinced than ever that jumping into an established comic book series is HARD. The series first debuted in September 1963 and contained at least 567 issues by 2010 (via Comichron). From what I can tell, these don't even include spinoffs like Dark Avengers, Avengers vs. X-Men or any or the story lines for the individual heroes. Basically, I could have easily spent the better part of a year reading the complete Marvel catalogue. I'm not yet to the point of wanting to be that much of a completist, so gird yourself for potentially half-formed opinions. ;-)

I chose to focus my reading on Essential Avengers, Volume 4, which includes issues #69-97 from the late '60s through early '70s, an issue each of Dark Avengers and Avengers vs. X-Men (September 2012), and Some Things Shouldn't Be a Chore, Avengers fanfic by scifigrl47. My goals were to (1) become a little less precious about original works and evolving story lines and (2) to try to gain a greater appreciation for comics. While I'm feeling more comfortable with the former goal (at least where it relates to legally formalized story evolutions** like comics and screenplays), I feel like I'm filled with even more questions when it comes to comics.

Here is what came out of it...
  • Avengers/Dark Avengers/Avengers vs. X-Men have had 21 different authors among them. I was overwhelmed but also much more willing to accept when the story went in crazy directions or jumped into a multiverse. 
  • This automatically made me more open to the idea of the fanfic community taking it on, though I wasn't really a fan of the particular piece that I read. 
  • Reading the comics written in the '60 and '70s was a challenge. The writing was really juvenile (perhaps because of the audience it was originally written for?), and I found myself frustrated again and again by the writers feeling the need to iterate what was clearly depicted in the drawings. Don't even get me started about the isms (sex and race***).
  • The language doesn't really improve in the newer issues. The attempt to use current, of-the-times phrases just seemed forced and was more distracting than anything else.
  • It was still confusing to start near the beginning of the series. I forget that this series is a continuation of stories in each individual hero series. Sprinkled through the issues in Essential Avengers were "footnotes" to earlier comics that told the particular story being referenced.
  • Which comes first, the writing or the art?
  • The art, itself, was okay. I surprised myself by finding the black and white ink drawings of the original comics more appealing (and seemingly more alive) than the new titles.
As you can see, I didn't really come away with a lot in the way of overriding theories. Instead, I've got a jumble of random thoughts and questions and an increasing interest in the evolution of characters that span decades and authors. It did sort of make me want to read Glen Weldon's Superman: The Unauthorized Biography even more than I already do and to perhaps pick a newer series to follow for a while.

*Yeah, yeah. I'm sure hundreds before me have already had this realization, but let me have my moment.
**Maybe even Amazon's new entre into the arena.
***Though they are actually better than I would have expected. The appearance of Black Panther sent me off on another tangent as I started to explore Marvel's handling of the civil rights movement at that time.

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