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03/11/2003: somehow tv fandoms are easier...

Any of you following this blog might have noticed my slight preoccupation with the Batverse recently. I've always read Batman comics from time to time (though I never liked either tv series, animated series, or movies, and still don't), yet I've almost never read the continuing universe stories with this huge cast of characters, but usually stand alone stories by artists I really liked. In a way I read them despite being Batman (and thus superhero) comics not because of that.

To follow Batman comics on that "level" you don't need any in-depth knowledge of the canon or the characters really, beyond the fairly superficial things nearly everybody knows about the backstory. OTOH the characters aren't really fascinating on that level either. Now though, now I'm sucked into this complicated web of a sprawling backstory, even if I just try to get the main events of the retconned post-crisis version straight. And that makes the characters much more interesting, but it also makes things more difficult. I mean, before it never mattered that I missed some huge chunks of the story, or read stuff out of order, I just wasn't really aware of these things.

Of course, like with any (new) fandom, I want to talk about the characters, the universe, the plots, about the comics in general, but now each time I write something, I have this nagging doubt that I'm missing all sorts of stuff, that I need to put these huge disclaimers on everything I say, like "And oh, btw, I've only read the issues from #xxx to #xxx and I've only read about the Knightfall/Azrael/New Teen Titans/whatever on a website, I don't really know the canon."

Gah, I feel like those TS slash fans who've barely watched three and a half episodes now. :/ All I can say in my defense is that I'm trying to catch up (and of course you can read summaries somewhere, but that's not the same, just like transcripts and screen caps are no adequate substitute for watching episodes). But really it is a bit harder than in tv fandoms to get to a "sufficient" level of canon knowledge. I mean I had to get tapes for TS and some other series from other fans, buy lots of Buffy and Angel videos, and though much is easier with a decent internet connection, I'm used to the fact that I have to invest more time, money and/or organization to get the source material than to just turn on the tv/vcr combo. What makes the Batverse different is that it is much harder to decide which comics to get, unless you happen to be able to spend a lot of money and could simply track down and buy any DCU titles relating to Batman characters.

Unfortunately that is not an option for me. So I have to choose, and to decide what is "essential" (i.e. within my means) and what not. And I try to go by what are good character stories, which is a somewhat new approach to comics for me, since many of those comics don't have artwork I'd usually buy a comic for. It's not like I buy comics only for the artwork, but until I got sucked into this I didn't buy comics whose art I don't enjoy (or more accurately, enjoyed at least at the time I bought them), whereas I have bought comics solely for their art even if I wasn't particularly interested in the story. I love comic art especially when it's not self-indulgent and supports the story perfectly, but what exactly the story that's told with the artwork is doesn't matter as much. I think it's rather like some readers enjoying language just for itself. And while I like some of the art in those Batverse comics, I don't care for much of it, that's one of the reasons I've read Batman only sporadically in the past. So it's a rather unusual situation for me, and I'm not quite used to collecting comics even though I don't like their art.

And still I bought six Batman and Nightwing compilations and 35 single issues of Batman, Nightwing, and Gotham Knights since early February, and I'm waiting for orders of two more paperbacks and 28 single issues to arrive. Incidentally this also resulted in a negative, Bat-shaped imprint on my finances, right now limiting the speed with which I can catch up on the universe somewhat. I mean, I buy some comics every month anyway, but the last weeks there were rather more than usual. And unfortunately I can't keep up even this level of extended buying up over a longer period.

Posted by RatC @ 02:41 AM CET
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Replies: 4 comments

I suspect every comics fandom has the potential to be similarly frustrating, but the Batverse seems to be worse than most, from what I hear.

The question of what makes canon is a tricky one. There was a general panel about this at Escapade -- we talked about how to reconcile competing canon. As in, say, the Batverse, where the comics themselves don't always agree -- much less agree with the old television show, or any of the movies, or anything.

As we get further into a digital age, I suspect television and movie fandoms will get easier and easier to fall into, since people will be able to copy shows onto dvd and stuff like that...but duplicating comics is still a trickier thing, and for some reason I think I'd feel sleazy about duping a copy of a comic, even though I feel okay duping a copy of a tv show. Maybe because I can tape my tv shows off of my television for free, or for very low cost, whereas with comics (especially the independent ones I usually favor, and the ones I get the sense you usually favor too) I'd feel weird about taking money out of the pockets of the artist and writer, or something. Hmm.

Posted by Kass @ 03/11/2003 04:27 AM CET

I wouldn't copy comics. I mean, there are not that many comic artists who can live comfortably just from their work in comics in the first place. At comic conventions I've seen well known artists (well known among people interested in comics anyway, though not absolute "stars") sell gorgeous comic pages that must have taken them hours to complete for little over €100 a page, sometimes even less. Because otherwise they couldn't make a living. And many comic publishers barely stay afloat as it is, especially smaller publishers, but larger ones aren't free of trouble either.

It's not that I'm not conscious about the income of artists and other industry employees in the tv or movie sector, but there it's not such an immediate connection. I mean when possible I buy DVDs and videos of my favorite tv series, and I watch movies in the theater, etc. but that is not an option for all tv series. But unlike television I can buy US comics here or get them shipped to me, even if it's more expensive than buying them in the US. I don't get digital book bootlegs instead of buying books either.

And with comics you have the added immediacy that a lot of the people living from comics in one way or the other are also comic fans themselves, you can talk to artists, writers, editors, publishers and vendors at conventions, so it is more personal than some tv network that you might hurt remotely because by getting an episode duped from an US source they have a potentially smaller audience in the foreign markets they might sell that show in. (Not to mention that for example after having watched part of one episode of SV in a dubbed German version, I can safely say I'd never become a fan of that show through that, so it's not as easy as saying that I might have turned into the tv audience for the German channel airing SV.)

Posted by RatC @ 03/11/2003 01:47 PM CET

Yes. yes. And also yes.

Since I got into Batman, I've done just about everything I once derided TS writers for doing. I've written a (unfinished) story in which the characterization of one major character (Garth) is based almost entirely on fan fiction. I've relied heavily on web summaries and other secondary sources to fill in gaps. I've written knowing I had read only a scant portion of available material.

At the same time, I've come to realize that comic fandom is fundmentally different from TV fandom. Unless a fan has substantial resources and free time, keeping up with all the available canon in the present is well-nigh impossible, much less getting a handle on the past. And most fans seem to get that. I will admit that I've been somewhat reluctant to jump into wider discussions of the comics (even if I could find the discussions I wanted or venues where they could potentially exist) because I know my knowledge is pretty limited. OTOH, at least in slash circles, I've yet to have anyone with more knowledge jump all over me when I display ignorance.

Also, at the panel Kass mentioned, I said something that I've discovered when writing (or talking to Sanj about writing) in a universe with so much canon: there's a certain freedom that comes with it. No matter how hard I try, I will never get all the ducks to line up. I could read every single comic available and be left with canon that contradicts itself at every turn. Since I already have to pick and choose just to arrive at a coherent backstory, there's no real shame in paicking and choosing the elements I want and discarding the others.

Posted by Lucy @ 03/11/2003 03:20 PM CET

It's not that I'm in search of the "one true canon" for the Batverse (finding that has about the same chances as finding the holy grail), but I still want to make informed choices about the Batman universe in my head, and for me that means knowing about the alternatives first. So the ideal state is still to know about all the alternatives first hand and then to construct my personal favorite version of events that makes most sense to me.

It's not really a realistic option for me at the moment, but it would be still the best one. That is because I can't quite bring myself to a "relaxed" attitude that regards the "offical" different views of the universe much like I read and enjoy fanfic for a tv show, different versions of the same characters and their history with only a few binding basics in common.

Posted by RatC @ 03/11/2003 04:37 PM CET