I recently finished reading Rob Salkowitz’ book, ‘Comic Con and The Business of Pop Culture‘, and it got me thinking a lot on some of the finer aspects that comprise what truly constitutes fandom and pop culture.
The book, incidentally, is an enjoyable read, broken up into accessible sections that end up making the novel feeling more like an amalgamation of different blogs, which negatively affects the overall flow and feel of the narrative that is attempted to be told. I picked it up as a souvenir from my recent trip out to Indianpolis’ Gen Con, and enjoyed reading about pop culture and comics culture in such an intelligent, respectful way. If you’re interested in comic culture, or the business elements of what comprises pop culture and its equivalent to Mecca (the San Diego Comic Con), then this is a book worth picking up.
I found it pertinent that yesterday I ended up not only finishing Season 2 of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but also finally making my way through Volume 1’s entire 62 issue run of the original Mirage comic book; the, mostly wonderful, source material that started it all.
The two coupled together led me into contemplating how far a fandom can stretch, and at what point people within a fandom start to tear at each other over legitimacy claims at who can, or cannot, like whatever specific fandom you may be into.
The people who wear Batman t-shirts, but do no read the comics, yet love the movies; the Spider-Man fans who collect every single issue of the comic book, but hate the cartoons; the TMNT fans who collect all the toys, and that’s it. At one point can one claim to be a ‘true’ fan of something, whilst decrying the validity of anothers love for the same IP? And does one truly have a right to claim superiority over any other because of it?
I happen to be the proud owner of an extensive, and growing, New Era Cap collection, mostly because I hate my hair.I love being able to fly my geek flag, courtesy of New Era. Am I guilty of wearing geek brands that consist of characters I like, without the in-depth background knowledge that would label me a hardcore, ‘true’, fan? Hell yeah. More than ever, recognition and appreciation of a character is enough to buy into a fandom, something I, like most people, am a part of. Does that make me any less of a fan, or affect my ‘right’ to sport it?
For transparency purposes: I used to be one of those people who would take issue with the 14 year old girls who would wear the Superman merchandise, yet had no idea what Krypton was; or with the guys who would call themselves a huge Batman fan, yet have only watched the movies and read, perhaps, The Dark Knight Returns.
“These aren’t fans,” I would snidely remark to myself, “They don’t know anything about the character(s), or the rich history of their world. Fucking posers.”
That was before. Now, more than ever, due to the increasingly transmedia world in which we inhabit, IP’s co-exist and incestually devour one another in order to achieve a simple goal: make money.
If feels as though even spreading the popularity of the characters and their products become a secondary priority in the face of the almighty dollar/pound/yen/rupee sign. But is that really so bad? More transmedia opportunities leads to more acknowledgement to popular IP’s; never has it been so socially acceptable to be into niche, geek, counter culture concepts, directly because of this.
The popularity of the TMNT comic book may be lacking in the high numbers it was once associated with, and the influence it had within the 80s, but that hasn’t stopped it from enjoying a resurgence of popularity, thanks to Nickelodeon’s great new cartoon show. Could this potentially lead people to looking into the original comics? Potentially. But it leads us down a rabbit hole that incapsulates video games, movies, and a plethora of other products. What does this mean? It means that whether one media outlet for a particular IP is more popular than another doesn’t matter, it all contributes to a greater whole. Without the popularity of the comics, the 80’s cartoon wouldn’t exist, the 90’s live action movie wouldn’t exist, the 2003 TV show wouldn’t exist, and so on and so on. One eats into the other, borrows material from the other, all creating an intricate web of growth, extrapolating upon a history even further.
Is it frustrating to see people who clearly have no deeper understanding to these hugely mainstream characters outside of an outside concept? “Dark Knight rules, bro. Wait, what’s a Killer Croc?” “Fucking love Spidey! Kraven the what?”, etc, etc. Yes, to a degree. It showcases a shallow appreciation of characters that have long outgrown their initial adventures, lived out within 22 pages and numerous action packed panels, and highlights their evolution into belonging not just to the geeks and nerds, but to the masses. Those who do not care for the comics will still shell out the necessary cash in order to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster in which the IP is based, in turn feeding the machine of transmedia output. Just look at the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Does it matter if the Doctor Who comics sell, as long as the merch shifts, thanks to the TV show? Sure, at a certain point they could just cancel the series, but it doesn’t mean the interest wanes.
This is the world we live in now however, and it’s one that long term geeks and nerds need to adjust to, whether they want to or not. They have an outlet (thank you, Internet), and, like with most things, if you give a person an outlet to be heard, whether their opinion is needed or not, they will utilise it. Ultimately though, just because a kid loves the new Turtles cartoon, doesn’t mean that your fandom is any more important, or legitimate, than theirs. These kids are the new wave of fans, and the fandom that we cultivate within them now will hopefully cause inspiration within them for the future, leading to new writers of comic books, new voice actors for cartoons, and new creators of some amazing concepts.
The transmedia nature of the shows we enjoy, and the socially interactive way in which we enjoy them, has evolved over the years, adjusting the way in which we actually consume any, and all, of our media, and so to claim unjustified superiority of one fandom over another, whilst all intrinisically connected to the same IP, is an exercise in pointless futility. After all, shouldn’t we be celebrating the fact that so many people are aware of, and enjoy, the things we love rather than looking for an opportunity to deride it?
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I’d love to know your thoughts on the current state, and potential future trends of transmedia IP’s. What does it mean for the future of comic books, pop culture and the big, mainstream names; the Batman’s, Superman’s and Spider-Man’s, in your view?