The Life & Times of Prat-Man!
When I was a youth, comics got a bum wrap a lot of the time. “They’re just for kids!”, “They’re sexist”, “The pages are too thin” or “There’s blood in the ink” were phrases you used to get shouted at you as you clutched your copy of ‘The Amazing Spiderman‘ to your chest. The comic book store used to be a bit like a SpeakEasy where you’d have to check around you before you entered for fear of a wedgie or being attacked with belts or panadols (I grew up in Gravesend, it’s a bit like Belfast but without the nice accents). Sure there were titles that were “cooler” than others, if you had ‘Spawn‘ or ‘HellBlazer‘ you wouldn’t get bullied you’d just get treated like a mysterious outsider who might unleash emo craziness at any moment. As a teenager anything that sets you apart from the norm opens you up for abuse but for some reason even into my twenties there was always a sense that comics meant I still attracted some abuse. I’d grown a thick skin and now held my comics aloft in the street, I no longer heard the cries of ‘Man-Child!‘ or ‘PratMan!‘ and had found other grown men and women who I could converse with about my secret childhood passion. What I’m saying is comics had been misunderstood for a while and I’d come to terms with that, then something happened…
Since 2001, in a post 9/11 and post Sam Raimi’s ‘Spiderman‘ world where Marvel movies are top dollar, event cinema while DC eats it’s own tail with poe-faced realism and comic book news like Captain America or Jonny Storm dying are front page news it’s a strange new world to live in. On the one hand it’s awesome, with people of all ages openly enjoying comics, titles like ‘Maus‘ & ‘Wolves in the Walls‘ being studied in schools and comic artists being accepted into the artworld to exhibit their detailed and beautiful work. Comics are the “Teensies” (Like the 90’s or Noughties) hot topic which shows no signs of stopping.
Last year I’d said to all my friends if ‘The Avengers‘ fails then we’ve seen the peak or crisis point of comics in the mainstream but after the resounding and enjoyable success of that film and with ‘Iron Man 3‘, ‘Man of Steel‘ and ‘The Wolverine‘ as the tent-pole films of this year it looks like I was wrong, this superhero boat shows no signs of stopping! In light of this onscreen success, actual comics seem to be flourishing too with loads of independent publishers coming out of the woodwork, exciting and original work at Marvel & DC with the likes of ‘A vs X‘, ‘Daredevil‘ and ‘Batman Inc.‘ as well as exceptional quality in continuing titles like ‘The Walking Dead‘ and ‘Unwritten‘. Comics as a medium have become recession proof by the sheer fact that they’re producing original and fun material whilst getting insanely high coverage due to all the Hollywood vehicles and merchandise, even if most of that money goes to Disney or Warner Bros. it’s keeping comics as a near constant trend in the news. Well executed adaptations and developments in how we read comics with tablets, online comics and moving comics mean that what could have become outdated and stale has actually flourished in the digital age. Sure there’s nothing better than an actual paper comic in your hand with a cup of tea and a biscuit but research and new methods are a necessity, OK some of the moving comics (Astonishing X-Men) are pointless and strange but you have to try otherwise nothing would progress. Who knows what we’ll be doing in 2020? Will we be reading comics through our glasses or potentially walking through the latest cross-over titles on a giant holo-deck? (not that far fetched, check it out at Project Holodeck) I’m not sure, but I for one can’t wait!
The flipside is, as a big comic fan who in the past had to seek out people like Smallimus, Dead Canary Comics or The Mindless Ones to converse with about who the coolest X-Men was? (it’s Beak by the way) or whether the end of ‘Y:The Last Man‘ was genius or a cop out? (genius IMO), now everyone and their dog’s talking about it. I was always the least knowledgeable guy in the group/message board but I’d make up for it with passion and a desire to learn devouring more and more titles to increase my wisdom and enhance my insights. Now I keep finding myself in conversations with people who have a new found love for the medium and are excited about characters, films and comic history but I keep going too far. I keep answering questions and then getting carried away whilst having to watch their eyes glaze over as I harp on about the myriad of literary characters in ‘LOEG‘ when they only wanted to know why there’s so much rape in the book. I joined in a chat at work the other day about Batman and was prattling on about the ‘Hush‘ arc when I realised they’d both started to walk away, I think the original discussion had been about the Tumbler in ‘Batman Begins‘. Whoops!
I love the fact that comics are being recognised and hopefully we’ll see this continue because as a young boy I never dreamed we’d actually see Spidey swinging through Manhattan or The Avengers annihilating an alien menace and it would look real! I’m excited to see what they do with Supes and hopefully we can get a good ‘Spawn‘ film at somepoint but who knows? The most important thing though is that good quality comics continue to be published because without them the whole trend comes crashing down, without the writer’s and artists working on the comics, films and TV shows they wouldn’t be the successes they are and without titles like ‘Casanova‘ what have we got to live for?
Let’s just say it’s a fun time to be a comic book fan but Prat-Man need to remember to not be quite such a bore all of the time!