Looking To The Stars: The Light Of A Fading Star

It occurred to me this week that all the truly big changes in my life have always come together in sudden rushes.

In December 2002, I was unemployed, out of college and was without a regular writing gig following the final issue of Fanzing. Within two months time, I had been accepted to Graduate School, found work at my local comic book store and began doing a weekly column for – what was then – the comics page of 411 Wrestling.

Five years later I find myself in a similar state. I now hold two degrees. I stand on the threshold of a new career using those degrees. And I have decided to retire from writing regular commentary for Comics Nexus.

Now before my fans get too upset and my haters become too jubilant, let me explain something: this is going to be a working retirement. I’ll still be posting random thoughts on the industry on my blog at http://looking2dastars.livejournal.com/. I’ll still be providing convention coverage for every Con in my immediate area. And I will, when the mood takes me, still write the occasional piece for Comics Nexus. But the days of my being the regular Monday Morning Pick-Me-Up are over.

Why? Well, there’s more than a few reasons.

For one thing, it’s a bit hard to be a reviewer when you buy more comics for your girlfriend than you do for yourself. And one quickly runs out of ways to describe the glory of Fables to people who are already likely aware of the book and have an opinion about it one way or the other after five years of publication.

I have also lost a lot of the fire I once had for discussing comics.

The problem with being an angry young man is that eventually you became an angry old man or you stop being angry. And for the most part, I’ve stopped being angry. I’m still boycotting Marvel over One More Day. I’m still unhappy that Judd Winick is continuing to write Green Arrow AND Black Canary on a monthly basis. But there is a world of difference between ‘not happy’ and ‘angry’. Angry writers are amusing. Sad writers are not. And I’m more inclined to pity hack writers and editors who don’t listen to their fan bases than to be annoyed by them now.

I had a conversation with an old high school friend – now a professional in the business – about how I was growing tired of being “just a critic” and how I wished I had his talent. He thanked me for the complement but told me not to sell myself short as a critic.

“Good critical writing is rare. You should be proud of that.”

Thank you, Randy. But I think you were wrong in one respect.

When I first started in this business, comic book critics were few and far between. Now, there’s a plethora of bloggers out there doing what I do and with a lot more enthusiasm and passion than I can muster right now. There will always be a need for the voice that stands up and says “This is unacceptable”. That need is being filled ably enough that I can leave my post guilt-free.

And lest anyone out there think that the critic be completely powerless, explain to me how – after years of protest by feminist comic fans – Stephanie Brown was finally acknowledged as a real honest-to-God Robin in Batman’s heart and mind in Batman #673?

Ultimately, the main reason I am retiring is a problem of time. It’s going to be all but impossible for me to manage my new job, my column, my acting and all the other creative opportunities I have on my plate right now. Something has got to give and I need my job for food, shelter, clothes and comics. To that end, I am mostly giving up my regular weekly column in order to start creating my own comics.

I’m tired of being the H.L. Mencken of comics criticism. I want to be Mark Twain.

Naturally, once my first project is published and available I will let you all know about it here. I’m sure my friends at Comics Nexus will want the big exclusive too.

If I can leave you all with one bit of something that seems like wisdom, let it be this. While we may not like what a writer or editor is doing to our favorite character today, whatever damage they do in one story cannot be inflicted on the stories in our heads and in our hearts.

We create our own continuity and are free to ignore the stories we don’t like.

You don’t like the idea of Hercules being a rapist? You can ignore those myths which say that’s what he did to Hippolyta. You don’t like the Robin Hood stories where he’s a lucky coward bolstered by his more competent allies? You don’t have to count those legends. You don’t like what’s happening with Spider-Man right now? Peter Parker and Mary Jane live happily ever after following Amazing Spider-Man #491.

They don’t own the characters. They don’t own the stories. We do. And while reading a story is fun, it’s even more fun to make up your own.


***

Before I go, I do have a lot of people I need to thank for various things.

Mom and Dad, thank you for bringing me into this world, supporting me when things got rough, for teaching me the value of standing up for what’s right and for encouraging my love of reading – even when I was reading things you didn’t like or understand.

Sierra Thomas, thank you for being the guiding star of this Starman.

Michael Hutchison, thank you for giving me my first big break. I know we’ve never seen eye-to-eye politically and that we had more than our share of shouting matches. But you were always a fair editor and a gentleman. And I really wish that DC Comics would let you write Elongated Man.

Ben Morse, thank you for giving me my second chance. I’ve disagreed with your career choices since you left us but – on reflection – I think those choices were right for you if not for me. And most of my reaction was born out of not wanting to lose such a good editor. And whatever disrespectful things I may have said about your employers, I have had nothing but the highest respect for you. I wish you all the happiness in the world. You deserve it.

Daron Kappauff, thank you for being my editor and my partner in crime. We created one hell of a web comic together, my friend. Shame that the artist hit it big and left us in the lurch. Still, when it came time to fill Ben’s big-shoes you stepped up to the plate and grabbed the brass ring. And as an editor you never gave me a hard time about mixing metaphors.

Manolis Vamvounis, thank you for being so very, very Greek. And for – over the last year – being the nagging voice about special projects I should consider helping out with and deadlines I never actually missed.

The rest of the writing and editorial staff of 411 Wrestling, 411 Mania, Inside Pulse and Comics Nexus, thank you for being my peers, my colleagues and quite frequently my test subjects.

Gail Simone, thank you for being the first professional to write me about something I wrote and for making my work-situation a lot more tolerable.

Kurt Busiek, thank you for one heck of a half-hour chat.

George Perez, thank you for that same heck of a half-hour chat and but also for remembering me three years later.

Scott Kurtz, thank you for proving that the words of critics have power to rival any magician and for being the model of hubris I shall strive to avoid as a creator.

Ron Zimmerman, thank you for taking the time to tell me what a jealous hack I was before sinking into obscurity and for giving me another example on how a professional should not act.

All the other writers, artists and professionals – both fans and haters – thank you acknowledging my work.

And finally, I’d like to thank all of you. Thank you, my fans. Everyone who read this column. Everybody who wrote in to this column. Every single one of you who I spoke with at a Con, wrote back to on a message board or had any form of contact with. Without you, I wouldn’t be a star. Just a Starman


***

I find it fitting to end this, as I began it, with a certain comic. A comic I wrote about a week ago.





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