By the time you read this, I’ll probably be at Fencon. It’s a great sci fi convention in the Dallas area, and if you happen to be in the area, it’s well worth your time. It also holds a special place in my heart because when I was a teeny tiny novelologist just starting out, Fencon was my first convention as a guest, and it was a wonderful experience for a guy who was way in over his head. So drop on by. Say hello.
In the meantime, here’s a smattering of thoughts running through my head.
Nobody succeeds or fails on their own. It was the wonderful Elizabeth Warren who recently observed, “Even if you built your factory on your own, your products were shipped via roads built by public works projects and your factory was protected by a police force paid for by tax dollars.” That’s really the problem though. Roads and police and other things provided by the public sector are invisible when they work. We take them for granted. Until they’re gone.
So it is too with our own successes and failures. Psychologically, we have a much higher opinion of our own abilities and reason than of others. If you ask most people why OTHER people are religious, they’ll usually say it’s for primal emotional reasons like fear of death or sense of powerlessness. But ask someone why they’re religious, and you’ll usually get a more profound, more nuanced answer. If we see someone else throwing a temper tantrum in public, we just shake our head and assume they’re classless jackasses. But when we do the same, we excuse ourselves by saying we’re having a bad day or that the target of our wrath deserved it.
We are immensely forgiving of ourselves, cruelly judgmental of others. WE are amazing. THEY are lucky. It’s in our nature.
In this way, I don’t find the wealthy and successful any different than any other group. Of course, the wealthiest people will consider themselves hard-working and deserving of their success. And they’ll assume that the poor, the unsuccessful, are lazy or just need to apply themselves. That’s not an attitude that comes from having money. That’s just an attitude that comes from being human.
Yet as a professional writer, I realize just how dependent I am on all the people around me. Whether it’s the mother who supported me all those years, the DFW Writer’s Workshop that encouraged me endlessly when publication seemed impossible, or the first editor who finally was able to convince someone to take a chance on me. (Thanks, Paul.) Beyond that, there are all the people who help in the editing process of the book, the hard-working folks who actually manufacture and transport the things, and the fans and critics who get them noticed. And the people who buy the books. At the end of the day, without those people, I’m out of a job.
That’s why I’m not entirely convinced of the merits of self-publishing. Not because I believe the writing is innately worse, but because the self-published writer is often working alone. That, more than any other factor, is why I’m reluctant to recommend self-publishing. Novelology is a tough biz, and I can’t imagine going at it alone. (Though I’m certain that as technology continues to advance that self-publishing will become more and more viable. Just not entirely convinced it’s where it needs to be at the moment.)
I haven’t achieved my meager level of success because I’m awesome. It’s because of the work and support of a hell of a lot of folks. And the world would be a better place if we’d all take a moment to remember that, to view the other guy not as an obstacle toward our success but as a necessary partner in our endeavors. Or we can all just sit around, resenting each other.
Yeah, we’ll probably stick with that.
Meanwhile in the world of comics…
DC Comics relaunched all their comics with a new line up of 52 new titles. I’ve read through a few of the new titles and have yet to be impressed. They’re not bad comics, but they don’t really seem new and interesting. Especially because the stated reason for the reboot is to make comic books friendly to new readers. Yet the comics seem to be plagued with all the same problems that have been dragging down superhero comics for years.
There’s continuity, which despite claims to the contrary is still just as overwhelming and incomprehensible as before. Except now it’s even a bit unfriendly to old time readers because some of the old continuity doesn’t count and some of it does. Even if it really doesn’t make much sense. Like Hal Jordan, who apparently in the space of five years became a Green Lantern, turned evil, died, then came back to life and returned to the Green Lantern Corps, fought an intergalactic war with Orange, Red, and Black Lanterns. That’s a lot of livin’ in five years.
Granted, comic book time is always kind of wonky, and it should never be taken too seriously. Which is why it should never be set in stone. Dates and times are something to be avoided in ongoing universes with characters that literally run for decades. I’d much rather DC reboot the universe and just start from the beginning. Not that I’d be too crazy about that either. But starting from square one would certainly be easier for new readers to jump on board and diehard fans might complain, but they’d still buy the titles anyway. They always do.
But what really gets me is that the comics are still struggling to find an acceptable level of reality for superheroes. I don’t need to read about Batman and Catwoman having sex. In point of fact, I tend to prefer my superhero comics very light on the sex. There’s something unsettling to me about superheroes having sex, something absurd. Bruce Wayne, I have no problem with. But Batman, it just seems like weird fetish porn. It’s just a bad idea, is all I’m suggesting. Especially since superheroes should generally be about punching people, not getting it on.
Even the violence though tends to be on the unpleasant side. Once again, realism is not your friend in the superhero genre. Now every supervillain seems to be a sexual deviant, more likely to rape and murder than build a death ray or rob banks in unnecessarily elaborate ways. And where once it was a genre of escapist fantasy, it so often seems to revel in reminding us that superheroes would be awful and frightening in real life.
I get that I’m an old man. The comics I grew up with are not the comics being written. They certainly aren’t the comics that influenced the current generation of writers and fans who seem intent on rewriting Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns endlessly. I’ve never really understood why the deconstruction of the superhero genre became the default goal of mainstream superhero comics. Deconstructions only work in limited capacity. What makes Watchmen readable is that it is a single story. You can do whatever the hell you want to the characters and their universe with no fear of having to keep things going.
But if you write that story where the Joker murders schoolchildren, you’re stuck with it. Forever. And suddenly, every time the Joker shows his face, we’re reminded that here’s a remorseless killer that no one can stop. And if you write that story where “nothing will ever be the same”, you’ll soon realize that everything HAS to be the same because you can’t really change anything important in an ongoing, shared universe. Not very often anyway.
I wouldn’t say DC’s new titles are bad. They certainly aren’t any worse than most mainstream superhero comics, and just because they don’t appeal to me, that doesn’t make them objectively bad. Taste is a subjective thing. But at the end of the day, the reboot doesn’t seem to have changed anything. All the same problems are still bothering the industry and while they’re sure to get a nice boost from the publicity, I don’t see it solving the long term problem of an business model built on writing stories originally intended for children and selling them to a confused market that isn’t even really sure what it wants.
That’s the real dilemma, and I can certainly relate. I’m a guy who often complains about not being taken seriously enough just because I write stories about robots and space squids. Maybe if I threw in more sex and ritualistic disemboweling, I could prove I’m a gritty, hardcore writer. Though I’m not sure I’d want to write a cephalopod sex scene. And I’m definitely sure I wouldn’t want to meet the fans who were eager to read it.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,