Every community, from LARPers to knitting circles, has its version of the hipster. If you think about it, comics are particularly fertile ground for these creatures, because the medium marries literature and art — two subjects that bring out the hipster’s trademark qualities: pretension and a penchant for constant one-upsmanship. Let’s call this geek/hipster hybrid the “geepster” (pork pie hat, optional).
When you meet another comics lover and begin the what-do-you-read dance, there’s always the danger of being harshly judged if your pull list contains Spandex. Or as V. recalled from one such maddening encounter, “You read superhero comics? That’s so mainstream.” It’s like talking to a Sigur Ros fan and proudly saying you adore Coldplay (raises hand).
“I haven’t read those books since I was in high school,” the geepster sniffs. “I mean, they’re fine for what they do, but I’m really into this series by a French farmer/architect that you can’t even get in local shops. It’s a wordless commentary on sexuality and environmental warfare, and, no offense, but it makes Sandman look juvenile.”
The geepster’s blanket dismissal of popular comics grinds my gears. First of all, there’s nothing mainstream about reading comic books, and that includes capes. I live in a city where it’s considered normal to paint oneself a festive shade of cranberry on football game day, but put a Dr. Fate figurine on your desk, and suddenly, you’re downright alternative. The major publishers are staunchly corporate, but comics have deep underdog roots. Some of the best-loved characters were created by Jewish guys who, in their day, were considered outside of mainstream American culture and the power structure. Plus, if reading comics of any kind were a common pursuit, geeks wouldn’t need the equivalent of an international coming-out day to show the world that “normal” people read then. Superhero movies are popular with the general public, but that’s not the same as having a standing date on Wednesday with your LCS owner. Not even close.
V. and I read under-the-radar books all the time, and we are evangelical about the ones we like. Our issues with the Big Two are well documented, and who hasn’t cracked open a superhero book on occasion and groaned with disdain? But when geepsters act as though there are no worthwhile “mainstream” comics, that tells me they haven’t read any in a long time. Secret Six? Fantastic Four? X-Force? Invincible? Call me crazy, but those are some pretty damn fine books. And I’m not reading them ironically. A good comic is a good comic, and some of the indie stuff is sketchy, too.
On a related note, I ran across some thoughtful essays on the shaky relationship between geeks and hipsters, and how some books (Scott Pilgrim) are bridging the divide. So perhaps we can all put down our trade paperback-stuffed messenger bags, roll up the sleeves of our shrunken, Goodwill cardigans and hold hands.* For giggles, I highly recommend this.
*In the interest of full disclosure, I do own a messenger bag and a shrunken cardigan sweater. Don’t judge me.