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07/09/2003: converting new fans to the Batverse (and the difficulty thereof)

Did you ever start writing a blog entry, thinking that you had a point or an argument, and then a few paragraphs into it you just sort of lost track, or rather noticed that what you are saying doesn't really lead anywhere, and turned all rambly, but you already spent like an hour an a half on it and don't want to abandon it? Well, this is that kind of blog entry...

So anyway, a few days ago Sanj posted in the Gotham Gazette about how hard it is to "convert" people to Bat-fandom, and what could be done to make it easier. (Somehow I'm not really happy that the fandom vocabulary for this process is either reminiscent of proselytizing some religion or, with the alternative "to pimp," of soliciting seedy sex, but I digress.)

And I'm down with the goal of attracting more fans to the Batverse, I'm just not really sure that a primer would work, that is, I'm not sure people don't get into Batverse comic fandom because there isn't enough info on what happened before, or because they don't know where to start reading, or even because comics are expensive. Don't get me wrong, comics are expensive -- compared to watching tv at least, and having a good primer does help with easing into reading the comics: character bios, recommended reading lists (for main events, for important character moments, etc.), synopses, excerpts, FAQs, etc. all that is very helpful. I mean, after a couple of months I still have to look up things that are confusing and unfamiliar to me.

Still, I think the main "problem" goes deeper, and I put "problem" in quotes here intentionally, because I think while it prevents (some) people from getting into the Batverse comics, it's inherent and not really a "problem" as such, like, say, that comics are expensive is a "problem" -- I think most comic fans would like it if comics still had so large print runs that they were cheaper and the artists and everybody else involved could still make a living. So what is it?

First, it might be self-evident, yet is still worth pointing out in the context of "promoting" Batverse comics to reach new fans: some people just don't like reading comics. Incomprehensible as this is to me as a lifelong comic fan. And I don't mean that some people are sort of "snobby" and don't take the medium seriously as something adults might enjoy. Sure that happens, just like some don't get why one could be interested in tv series or sf, but I haven't really seen that attitude much in the broader (media) fandom. It's just, far more people are familiar with tv as a narrative medium than with comics (reading cartoons now and then really isn't the same), and at the same time that comics became less common, their visual language has developed further, just like in any other media, but fewer people followed those changes or are used to them. Like, I've really noticed that some people have problems to "read" comics, when I showed them some. Not the text or the images, but they just don't get the whole. I imagine it would be much like someone familiar only with very early movies, like from the 1920s, trying to follow a modern movie which uses lots of cuts, or something like that. It's not that there is some insurmountable barrier preventing understanding, but it is unfamiliar and takes time getting used to. Fairly often if you want to convert someone to Batverse comic fandom, you might well have to convince them to give a "new" medium a try, and not just a fandom.

Second, you just have to approach continuity differently than for tv series, and I've noticed in myself that I just have to get over some of the "habits" that I acquired during a few years in tv fandoms, or otherwise I'd see things as "failings" that are also really cool if looked at differently, and in fact also strengths of a source as sprawling and diverse (and as a result also often overwhelming and contradictory) as a long-lived comic universe. Anyway, I've talked about the challenges Batverse canon presents compared to for example the typical tv series canon before. It comes down to that in tv fandoms there is a strong emphasis on knowing all canon, if you are a "real fan." Or at least knowing of all canon if you haven't watched everything. Even in "fanfic-centric" fandoms like TS, where a fair number of people seem to be into the fandom more for the fanfic than for the show, those who haven't seen the eps are most likely aware of what eps there are, and what, at least in general terms, happens in each.

For example when I first found TS fandom I had only watched up to the middle of season two, because that's what had been aired here before a hiatus started, and I was looking on the net whether there were more episodes in the US. And soon, even before I figured out how to get tapes, I was aware of all the episodes aired then (it was, iirc, towards the end of season three around the time Crossroads first aired in the US), and read at least summaries. And it was fairly easy to get the gist of what everybody was talking about and feel reasonably certain about events and characters. It helped that TS wasn't a show where I was worried about being spoiled for episodes before having the chance to see them, unlike Buffy for example. I might not have known all canon first hand, but I knew of all canon, was aware what canon there was and knew what I didn't know, so to speak. And it didn't take more than an afternoon of reading episode summaries, reviews and some transcripts.

With Batverse comics even that is impossible. Okay, I guess it is possible in that the totality of all DC comics, and thus all comic canon involving Batman and related to Batman, is a finite set, and with enough resources you could possibly buy them all, and probably there are even indexes out there somewhere giving summaries of everything (though I haven't found one yet), but for practical purposes, there is no way new Batverse fans can orient themselves in the manner new tv series fans are used to. Nor would that approach really make sense for this comic continuity.

A couple of times I have heard someone say that they can only write (or even get into) series with a "closed" canon, i.e. after the series ended. Obviously to those fans the Batverse will be a hard sell, no matter what. I mean, they could choose some fixed time period and decide to be just into Silver Age Batman or something, but I'm not sure that would work for them either. And that might be an extreme example, most fans don't seem to have a problem with series that are in production after all, but I'm just saying that there sometimes people might not "convert" to the Batverse, no matter how appealing characters, stories and themes may be to them. (There might be a better chance with all those fans who are frustrated that their favorite shows are always cancelled prematurely. Even if a comic series get discontinued, chances are that your favorite character will appear elsewhere or at least that you can still spend a lot of time catching up with collecting all past comics the character was in.)

Of course all of this isn't an argument against compiling a "primer" like Sanj proposed, I think primers and such are helpful for the (potential) newbie fan, and I think that excerpts showing key moments cater more to the comics' strength, especially their visual appeal and the art, than continuity overviews, timelines and such things do. Much like vids are more likely to lure new fans to tv shows than "dry" episode guides or transcripts. (As much as I really enjoy all things related to continuity and the organization of information relating to it, it's probably not the most obvious attraction, and accentuating that image of "it's all really complicated" is maybe not the best way to go either.)

Um yes, this is the point where I stop without any conclusion or point, but hey, I put a warning at the beginning. <g>

Posted by RatC @ 02:56 AM CET
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