Thursday, February 13, 2014

The 12 Days of Birthday, Day 9: Getting Into Comic Criticism

At the same time that I was slowly but surely returning to comics, I was also being exposed to literary criticism for the first time. I mean, I understood conceptually that people dissected and argued about literature, but I'd never actively studied or participated in that world before college. As a creative writing major, though, I had a whole ton of literature classes over the course of my college years, and most of them followed the same pattern: read 1-3 books and have class discussions on them, write a paper about one or more of those books using X number of lit. crit. sources to back up your thesis, repeat until the semester ends. So I became quite familiar with reading and compiling lofty literary analysis, as well as developing an overactive critical muscle in my own mind when reading anything. I'd always been the sort to overthink my entertainment, and college only encouraged that impulse.

As I started to get more and more enthusiastic about comics, a big part of what I wanted was to fill myself in on all that I'd missed. The continuities of the Marvel and DC universes are impossibly complicated even if you know your stuff, and I knew almost nothing. Plus there were publishers I'd never had much experience with, like Wildstorm and BOOM!, or places like Image and Dark Horse which were familiar names but had become much larger, more important players in the game since I'd been away. I was way behind, and it was a vast landscape to explore, so I needed maps. Where do you go for maps? The Internet!

It started with the simplest of Google searches, things like "comicbook sites," "comicbook history," and "blogs about comicbooks." You get a shit ton of results if you look up those things, and I did my best to dive in head first, reading at least something from every source I could find, trying to suss out which ones were worth more of my attention and which could be quickly moved past. And while I expected there to be reviews and news and other current coverage, I was admittedly a little surprised to found out how much in-depth criticism was out there on older comics, too. There was a vast community online of people writing about comics from every era in serious, thoughtful, thought-provoking ways. It was just like the dry, long-winded lit. crit. I'd gotten so used to at school, but way more fun and personal because it was being written for the Internet by comics people for comics people, so no one was all that concerned with formality. I ate it all up, learning about loads of titles I'd never heard of before, having old favorites shown to me in whole new lights, and just generally loving the bottomless well of critical comicbook content. There was a lot of heart and humor and personality in it, and it gave me a whole new way to indulge in my new favorite pastime.

The more I explored comic criticism, beginning to follow certain sites or writers religiously and listen to podcasts and just generally increase how much time I spent on it, the more I wanted to take a crack at it for myself. There were a few reasons for this. First of all, I was eager to have a reason to write again. Something else college taught me was that I didn't really want to be a creative writer, or any kind of professional writer, because I don't have it in me to do the grind and deal with the struggle to get established enough to make a living at it. Mad respect to you if you can hack that, my energies and priorities just happen to be focused elsewhere. But I still enjoy writing as an activity, and I was looking for a project that would force me to do it with some regularity. Also, I had quite enjoyed the critical writing I'd had to do for school, because I like talking about stories. They have power, they affect us, and I like to examine why and how. Finally, I felt like I was getting so much out of the comics criticism I was reading, like it was enhancing my overall enjoyment of comics and making me a smarter reader. I figured if I could contribute to that for someone else, anyone else, even in the smallest way, then that'd be pretty amazing. We're all in this together, we comics fans, and I want to offer my perspective up to the world just in case it might ever in any way do anything positive for anyone other than myself. I'm thinking these thoughts anyway, might as well express them for others to judge.

So I started a blog. I called it Comics Matter because, a) they do matter, b) comics are the matter at hand, and c) my name is Matt (so Comics MATTer, get it?). It's done everything I wanted it to do, and more, since it has unexpectedly led to me writing for a few other sites as well. I don't expect or even necessarily want it to take me anywhere, because as far as writing about comics goes, I'm already where I want to be.

Tomorrow: How the love of my life supports my love of comics.

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