Some weekends ago I found myself in one of the older malls in the city. I’ve been going to this mall ever since I counted my age in single digits, its been refurbished and rebuilt several times but I can still see the shadow of the old mall when I look at it. My family goes to this thrift shop full of a gaggle of things: toys, bags, candy, magazines, gadgets – all sorts of stuff. It used to sell comics. I used to just be able to pick an issue from the stands. These days the stands only has magazines; not a comic book in sight. I remember buying an issue of the Flash (Infantino/Heck issue) here right after watching the movie Flash Gordon. My Mom, seeing me with the comic said: “You know the Flash (Gordon) you saw in the movie isn’t the same as the Flash in that comic book right?”. Of course, Mom. I also remember buying Starlin’s Warlock from the racks and, maybe because I was coming down with something to begin with, I remember I felt dizzy and sick looking at the heavily inked panels. The point is, this was one of the stores that filled weaved my comics into my life. I don’t go in the thrift shop anymore. There’s nothing there for me. I just hand my wife some money and wait for her and the kids to come out. While I’m outside I go around at that part of the mall and reminisce. There used to be a comic specialty shop on the lower level – gone. Another second hand comic shop on the third floor – gone too; the place is packed with toy shops. On the other side of the mall was a place called the Arcade and the first comic shop I know used to stand there. When it closed others took its place. At its height, the Arcade had no less than three comic stores. Now, none. Nada. Nothing. Just eateries and antique furniture shops. The mall where I used to go to get อ่านมังงะ comics fix had a total of zero stores.
It makes me sad, but not for me, the city still has comic book shops and I know where they are. It makes me sad for all the young people who will miss out on comics, and the magic that reading comics can bring. Getting into those issues and collecting them was a highlight of my young years. The kids of today have what I didn’t: video games, movies on dvd, some other stuff I don’t know about. I’m almost sure that comics won’t be a staple, because these days, you really have to get out of your way to grab an issue or two. Maybe the graphic novels and trade paperbacks in the bookstores will keep the hobby alive. I’m talking here not about the financial aspect of comics as a business but the pleasure aspect of comics as a hobby. I’m talking about reading comics and getting hooked on something absolutely enjoyable.
Like all comics lovers with access to the Internet I’m an avid reader of comics sites and comics reviews online. There’s a lot of good and enjoyable material out there, but there are also a substantial amount of reviews that are puzzling to me. I’m talking about comics reviewers who, I notice, are simply unhappy about anything that they read, or nearly everything. These are readers who set the bar so high that only a very select handful of comics make their grade. It’s their right to say what they want and I don’t begrudge them that. I’m puzzled, because why is it that nearly everything (but not all) of the comics I’ve read are good or great but the same comics get shot down in the reviews? The answer is, of course, the subjective, deeply personal nature of reviews. But all this points to an even bigger truth about reading comics: If you read comics in the spirit of fault-finding and with a mindset deadset on criticizing and simply not enjoying the work, then you won’t enjoy it. You will find that fault, you will feel derisive of the work, you will think you wasted your money and you will have an altogether terrible experience. Barring some truly terrible comics out there ( we all know of a few), you will get into the read what you bring into it. If you are open to having a good time, if you know a bit of the sheer talent and hard work it takes to illustrate, write and edit a comic book; if you look for the strengths of the work rather than the weaknesses, you are very likely to have a wonderful read.
A lot of the enjoyment of comics depends on the mindset of the reader rather than the work itself (although, I repeat, there are some truly terrible, gag-worthy comics out there). You have to give the medium a chance. Heck, read like a young kid, and believe, no – know, that you’re going to enjoy it. And you will -because you approached the work that way. If you approach it with an eye to doing a negative critique, you’ll find what you’re looking for, because the flaws are there in all but a very select group of comics.
Right now I’m avidly following an ongoing work, “Demon Knights”, from DC’s New 52; I’m also re-reading an old series from the early 80’s, Roy Thomas’ “All-Star Squadron”. The flaws in both works are very obvious to me and I can choose to have a perfectly horrid time by focusing on those flaws. But a change of approach on my part has me focusing on the strengths of the series; more than that, I find myself looking at what was once a flaw as a wonderful eccentricity or quaint aspect of the work – from this vantage point, comic book reading is pure enjoyment and this hobby is magic. A lot really depends on my approach to it.