Monday, November 24, 2008

The Car Analogy

With the economy tanking around us, with the darkness coming earlier and earlier (thanks Daylight Savings Time), with the weather turning cold and bleak, and with our sunshine-oriented Vitamin D intake depleting, it feels like our SADs are already kicking in. It's hard to keep our heads up and remain posimistic (that's a combination of "positive" + "optimistic") about anything, never mind comics. Cynicism and snark is one thing, that's pretty much expected from the internet comic community, but generally just being down on comic books, the industry that produces them and how we feel about both, that there is a problem. Is it really us or is it really the industry that's to blame? Quite frankly, it's symbiotic. We're not victims here, we're enablers allowing ourselves to be victimized.

Think of it like this, in this topical context: the Detroit "Big Three" auto-makers have been making an inferior product for years, gas-chugging automobiles built for a obsolete society, cars and trucks built with planned obsolescence in mind, but still there's droves of car buyers who keep "buying American" because that's what they're used to, or what they've bought into for years and stubbornly refuse to give up. But eventually, people get wise, or they get angry. They either find alternatives or they abandon American altogether. Eventually, as we've come to know, there's not enough people buying American these days to make the Big Three viable in their current business and manufacturing models. The idea that "they'll keep buying whatever we sell them" has blown up in their faces, and a few major institutions are facing bankruptcy.

North American comics would be so lucky as to have a Big Three, but the Big Two are having the same problem. Their "if we make it, they're going to buy it anyway" model of comic book production is blowing up in their faces. The more they try and reach out to the same crowd, the more they give us what they expect we want, the more they're going to isolate, divide and lose customers. Event Comics are the gas-chugging SUVs of the comics world (they fun, but rarely practical) and while they will have their loyal buyers, they're turning everyone else away.

But comics are hardly stagnant, they're hardly unevolving. Like the auto industry, there's constant movement, just those of us that focus solely on what one spandex universe or the other is doing, we tend not to see it, we can't see the gridlock for the cars in front of us. If you look outside the DC and Marvel Universes, you will find all kinds of hybrids and hydrogen fuelled vehicles, you'll find bicycles and mopeds, public transportation and some things you wouldn't even think were thought of yet (and even some things everyone forgot about). There's a whole exciting world outside of the big makers to explore. Of course this does require you to step outside your comfort zone, but follow Big Mike's lead there's stuff out there that you will like. Just like your new Volvo may not feel like the last two or three Fords you've owned, there's an adjustment period. The pedals will feel a little different, the dashboard isn't going to look the same, it's going to handle much differently, and there's a lot to get used to. That Ford sensibility is going to have to be put aside as you get used to this new world of driving, but eventually you'll come around. Maybe not in the first Volvo you drive. Maybe you need to try a Toyota Matrix and a Volkswagen Jetta before you decide the Honda Civic is for you, but you will get into the spirit of trying out new things, of seeing the different and exciting alternatives that are out there.

But you know, sometimes it's really just the memories that you love, about your car or your comics. Sometimes what you're really fond of is attached to a specific place or time, and that too is okay. Cars these days just aren't built like they used to be, and comics certainly aren't made the same way. Go ahead, buy that run-down Charger and start tracking down the parts to restore it to life once again. Start amassing that run of Legion of Superheroes, filling in the gaps over the years. Let the memories bring you back. Sometimes all it takes is a look back, to see how far you've come. Sometimes looking back allows you reassess what you think you know and love about the things you think you know and love. You may find many of your perceptions have changed or you may find an even deeper appreciation for that which is no longer around. Does that mean you can't still buy a new car or read new comics? No, but it does mean that you understand that nostalgia has its place, and that it's not at the new car dealer or on the new release rack.

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