They say it with a smirk. A knowing snarl of snark masked behind a smile. “Oh, you were ‘reading’ were you? Your little comic book?” And you look up, with your full beard and your receding hairline, and you know they’re laughing at a perceived childishness. A perceived inferiority. Most of the time it’s tossed aside as charming innocence, but a lot of the time it’s also condemned as weird. Just freaking weird. You’re in your twenties? Reading comic books? Do you still sleep in the same bed as your mother? (That’s really beside the point here).
This is the plight of the comic book fan. The upward struggle against the unceasing, relentless label of “low-minded freak-baggery.” It’s why the plight of mainstream – really, genuinely mainstream – comics has always failed (or at least a non-pricing/access reason why).
And guess what? This might be the most important year ever for ending the reign of casual dismissal against comic book nerds. As I’ve discussed, some of that has to do with the ultimate summer of comic book movies. And some of it has to do with DC’s own new 52 initiatives.
What I realized last night, though, is a lot of it also has to do with a newfound comic book tag team on AMC: The Walking Dead and Kevin Smith’s Comic Book Men
The Walking Dead, in and of itself, is already an institution. The show is pulling in insanely massive ratings – like Red Hulk massive.
Even more amazing, the second season of the show has been riddled with criticisms over the pacing and direction of the show. Even as a fan of the series (largely predicated on my own love of Robert Kirkman’s ongoing comic book run), I have a hard time disagreeing with this labeling of the show as a “claustrophobic disaster.”
And yet. The Walking Dead is still the best thing to happen to AMC since all the other last best things to happen to AMC. Over 10 million cable viewers on Sunday night? For a television series that started as a comic book? That’s spectacular.
So What? What Does This Do For Comics?
Just in case you’re dubious that a Walking Dead tv show is doing anything for actual interest in comic books, I’ve gathered some Google search data below. Obviously, a tv series is going to generate brand interest in any creative title that started in another medium, but I can understand the link of thinking that people who enjoy watching a show on TV aren’t particularly likely to all of a sudden start reading comics. But what does the data say?
The above graph charts American search interest in the term “Walking Dead comics” over the last 12 months. Those enormous spikes you see from October-December? Those all correleate directly with the first half of AMC’s airing of the second season of Walking Dead. You could call it a coincidence if you like, but you’d be horribly wrong.
The same spikes apply to searches for “read walking dead” which seem to indicate a direct interest in transferring from the medium of television to comics.
Not buying it? We can see a very similar effect for all sorts of comic book related search terms. For example, the below graph charts the interest in “Robert Kirkman” over the last 12 months.
The second season of The Walking Dead has even helped the comic creator gain added exposure.
In short, this series is doing search volume wonders for The Walking Dead comics, and I’d have to imagine the sales figures reflect a positive growth. But the majority of this interest probably begins and ends with this specific comic book series. How can TV branch out and really boost the interest in the medium as a whole? Well it seems Kevin Smith has a few ideas.
Comic Book Men – No Girls Allowed
As many have already pointed out, Comic Book Men has a lot of flaws. If the name of the show didn’t give it away, it’s bro-centric to the point of laughability. Really? All the employees in this comic shop have to be nerdy looking dudes who love a good wiener joke? And the first – the very freaking first – topic we’re going to discuss is “which comic book heroine would you bang?” Honestly, Kevin Smith? I really want to like this show, and love the Pawn Stars for comics angle, but this is not helping the comic book stereotypes. Not in that first episode at least.
That said, Comic Book Men is in TV-time-slot heaven. It immediately follows the hugely popular Dead and serves as a smooth transition for the intended audience. I have to admit, I had no intention to actually watch Comic Book Men, but because it came on right after I got my Rick Grimes on, I was hooked. And chauvinism aside, there’s a lot to like.
For starters, I’m a sucker for a good comic book podcast/discussion. And I’m also a big Pawn Stars fan. So the fact that we could have comic book employees from Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash discussing something like original Bob Kane Batman artwork? That was pretty cool. It was also pretty funny. If the show can keep up that level of banter mixed with interesting comic book collectibles, I’ll be hanging around.
The unfortunate reality, though, is this show seems to play up all the stereotypes that make people decide comic book lovers are weird and largely unlikable. The staff is played up as socially awkward and dismissive of women.
Worse than all that, the one non-white guy on the staff is the brunt of just about all the jokes. I like to believe this is more character than race-based, and it probably is, but there were long stretches of this show where Alan Moore-lite was insulting the hell out of the poor little Asian dude. To a point so far past being funny that a damn New Jersey flea market participant had to step in and give him a talking to. It was uncomfortable to watch and not in an interesting way.
You can click here to watch the first episode of Comic Book Men. I really want to like this show, if for no other reason than it’s guaranteed some decent ratings following The Walking Dead. It could do some really good things for the world of comics. Or it could just derail the whole damn movement and move all us nerds back to the cave from whence we came.
Came. Heh. Get it?
Maybe they’re stereotypes for a reason.