I was sick. For the first time in a year of doing this column, I just couldn't get a new one out last week due to the fact that my sinuses had united together in a hostile takeover of my face. They refused to let me do anything other than sleep, sneeze, and tear through my Netflix queue. I couldn't get anything else done. After all, I'm only human.
That's a relatively small-scale and personal way to introduce this week's topic (it's also my roundabout way to brag about my super-powerful sinuses!), but I feel it's an apt one. Sometimes, life just gets in the way and plans have to change, whether we like the new plan or not. I experienced that first-hand last week, and I saw it happen again on Sunday.
After over a decade of service, coverage, and community-building, comic book site iFanboy put a halt to its editorial efforts -- including it's popular pull list feature -- to instead focus on their podcasts. The reason as given in the announcement seems life-based: the founders have grown during their time at the site and their priorities have shifted, especially when families, finances, and other job opportunities come into play. Honestly, if you're going to end a website, that has to be the most boring way to do it. There was no controversy, no bad blood, no flame wars, and nothing to be ashamed of. Life just happened, and sometimes you gotta make a practical decision as opposed to a passionate one. There's no doubt that everyone involved at the site loves comics and is proud of what they accomplished, but pride doesn't pay bills. It might have been a boring reason to close a site's editorial branch, but it's one that I am one hundred percent sympathetic to and understand.
A select few people, though, didn't understand and responded to a heartfelt and honest post about a very serious subject with the usual level of spoiled entitlement. A small group of people were upset about the pull list feature disappearing, while others felt the need to publicly "peace out" of the community with a callous bluntness that lacked any empathy towards the founders' situation.
To be fair, this was a very small percentage, but even a small percentage is too big from my point of view. I'd like to use an Internet where fans are understanding and supportive of the people that create content for them, whether they are comic book journalists or comic book creators, or just fellow comic book fans. It's sad that we expect assumption-based annoyance from a section of the community instead of empathy. Literally everyone that makes and works in comic books is a person with feelings -- none of us are Skrulls.
I'd like to think that the rise of social media has trained generations younger than me to ease up on the cyber-bullying, but I don't think that's the case. Before the Internet, serving out gallons of Haterade was relatively harmless. Unless you kept the post office busy with angry letters or had the guts to confront creators in person at conventions, grievances were just aired in comic book shops. Now the majority of comic book creators are heavily engaged in social media and open to all forms of praise and -- unfortunately -- harassment.
James Asmus revealed in a tweet that someone had created a Twitter account for the sole purpose of dissing his "Gambit" series. Kelly Sue DeConnick fielded an ignorance-soaked question on Tumblr blaming Spider-Woman's recent anger on "that time of the month." And let's not forget the fiasco around Dan Slott's "Superior Spider-Man," where a comic book creator received death threats because of what he was doing to a fictional character. I'm not saying it's wrong to have problems with comics; I'm saying that taking those issues with your issues directly to their source has to be done with care -- if it truly has to be done at all.
When you insult a creator online, who wins? The publisher wins, because you're most likely still paying money to read this comic that you're ranting about in 140 character bursts and giving it free publicity. The creator might win, because now they know they're doing something provocative and also have the power to block you or report abusive behavior. The insulter definitely doesn't win, because there is nothing more immature than insulting a stranger behind the anonymity of a username. Instead of bad-mouthing the person, I fully advise dropping the offending book and moving on.
The lack of compassion some fans feel surprises me, because alongside the increased visibility everyone now has is what I would call increased "human-ness." When I first started reading comics, I had no idea what any of my favorite creators even looked like. I bought Wizard Magazine just to put faces to the names I saw printed in my comics every month. Now I feel like everyone knows just about as much about their favorite creators as they do their friends. Musical taste, clothing style, hometowns, favorite sports teams, all of these things come up with such regularity that you can easily forget that the biggest Alabama football fan in your Twitter timeline just so happens to also write "Thor." More so than ever, we get to know more about these public figures than just their name. How has that made it easier to insult them?
Here's a theory -- insults require zero thought. An insult can really just be two words: "you" and "suck." It's not original, it's not clever, and it lacks all basic human compassion. I think that any insult can be quelled or lessened by just remembering that a real person made that comic, podcast, or website, and they did so without any personal ill will towards you.
To get honest for a sec, I am not somehow void of disliking and disagreeing with things I read in comics -- probably wouldn't have this column if I though things were awesome all the time. Without naming names, there are big name books out there that I do not like and have contrary opinions on. I recognize, though, that there is absolutely nothing to gain from insulting the creative parties involved. Heck, I can't even think of a creative way to express my waning interest in these books that would be interesting enough to write about here. If I found the book to be furthering a social injustice, you bet I'd be writing about it here -- and I think those types of criticisms with valid examples to back them up are incredibly important. But the other type of criticism, the one I feel towards a few comics, is just as bland as "it's not for me."
Life is full of disappointments. That's just the truth of things, to get a bit glum here at the end. But disappointments should not lead to outward hostility -- they should lead to understanding. The next time something in life angers you, take a step to think about why it does before you turn on the Hate Ray. Let's all do our part to make the Internet a No Hate Zone.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).