Comic Book Fanthropology examines the questions of who and what comic fans are. What prompts them to join fandom in the first place, and why do they so often choose to remain a part of it throughout their lives? The specifics of comic fandom have changed since its hesitant beginnings in the 1920s and ‘30s, but the fans themselves have not. Whether they’re interested in superheroes or in shōjo manga, whether they express themselves in letter columns or through costuming, whether they enjoy minicomics or webcomics, Comic Book Fanthropology explains who they are.

From November 27, 2009 until January 18, 2010, I serialized the main body of content for Comic Book Fanthropology here. Completely free for everyone to read. I'm leaving it online for people to reference and browse.

"That's crazy! Why should I bother to buy your book then?"

The online version will not have any of the interior artwork, Marvel Vice President Tom Brevoort's Foreword or any of the Fan Profiles. I'm also betting that most people won't be keen to read the whole book online and those that are probably wouldn't have bought a copy anyway. Plus it might just provide a sufficient enough sample to convince someone unfamiliar with my work to pick up a copy.

So, feel free to start reading below and, if you like what you're seeing, you can find links to purchase paperback and hardcover versions of the book on the left.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Blurring the Lines, Part 2

Robert Crumb proves to be another problematic example. He spent a great deal of time in his youth making Treasure Island Days comics with his older brother. The books were mainly for their own amusement and they stopped making them when they were teenagers. In 1958, they began a fanzine called Foo based loosely on the EC horror comics they enjoyed. Crumb eventually left home and began working at American Greetings in Cleveland, doing cartooning in his spare time. He eventually moved out to San Francisco and took freelance illustrating jobs to keep himself fed. He began submitting work to “hippie underground papers” and one publisher liked his work well enough to devote a whole issue to Crumb’s comics. That went over so well that he suggested Crumb do his own books, which soon turned into Zap Comix. Though Crumb initially did a lot of leg work to sell them himself, word of his work spread quickly. But despite gaining a great deal of recognition and attracting some economically impressive offers, Crumb opted against them, instead preferring to remain honest to his vision (to some consternation of his wife). It was only after several more years of work that he was able to financially support himself expressly through his comics. But exactly when that occurred is unclear and, in any event, recognition of Crumb as a professional appears to have taken place some time earlier and was what was the impetus for the generous offers that were extended to him.

Further complicating matters from the other direction are professionals who then pursue fan-like activities. Wally Wood famously started his own ‘zine called witzend which bore many similarities to comic fanzines, but contained the work of professional creators who worked for major comic publishers. Creators were credited but not compensated, instead simply being given the freedom to express themselves. Steve Ditko contributed several original “Mr. A” stories and art to not only witzend but a number of decidedly amateur fanzines as well, again going without compensation. Their work for fanzines was decidedly much more akin to that of other fans with regard to their mind-set rather than professionals earning a living through their craft.

Do I self-identify as an enthusiast? Yeah!
—Jerry Holkins, Participate

Yes, I am still a comic book fan. I am absolutely a comic book fan.
—Jim Lee, Comic Creators on Fantastic Four

Hey, I’m still a fanboy!
—Carlos Pacheco, Comicology #3

What is interesting about these examples and the hundreds, if not thousands, of others like them is that they highlight that comic book professionals are often a subset of comic fandom on the whole. Many who work in the industry began by engaging with their favorite comics beyond the basic reading. Indeed, comics like Penny Arcade, PvP and Least I Could Do became successful, in part, by their respective creators being very open with their interest in the medium. These comics, and many others like them, are not only the results of creating fan works in the creators’ spare time, but frequently also use comics and fandom as subjects and themes. The creators use comics to express their ideas about comics. They engaged (and continue to engage) the medium of comics on the whole and do not limit themselves to a single character or even publisher.

With the improvements in technology, these very fans indeed can become publishers in their own right. The start-up capital required is minimal compared to a generation ago, and many creators today can go out on their own to produce, market and sell their creations. Breeden did precisely that with The Devil’s Panties. Comic fans have the opportunity to effectively step into the comic creation process at any level their skills and desire allow.

What this means is that comic fandom can engage the medium at any level of participation they choose. In 1950, fans were largely limited to letter-writing and producing their own sketches. In the 21st century, fans can certainly still do that, of course, but they also have a greater ability to make costumes and sculptures and magazines and books and movies and almost anything else they can think of. Furthermore, if they’re good at it, they can have other fans pay them to continue doing that and, if they’re really great at it, they can get paid enough to support themselves engaging in something they love.