Comic book collectors are a unique bunch. Not comic book readers, which can and should be everyone. Collectors that bag and board, get into minutiae, and schedule their Wednesdays around getting to their local store for new releases. Most of us are very smart and sarcastic. There’s a good chance we were mocked for loving this hobby when we were younger. A thick skin becomes our armor. However, much like a blast of radiation or a exposure to strange chemicals can give anyone super powers, it is up to the individual to decide how to use those powers.
Over the past month I have been watching and listening to hundreds of hours of comic book fan shows. The more I viewed the more discoveries I made. The biggest light bulb turned on last week. On the one hand there is a show that is self hating, hating of others, elitist, and ultimately damaging to all of comics. On the other is a welcoming home with pizza, beer, and respect for all. Both shows have sarcastic assholes, but there is a difference between laughing with you and laughing at you.
The villain of this piece is the recently canceled Kevin Smith created AMC reality show Comic Book Men. I’m finally done with all seven seasons and I will never watch this show ever again. I am now and always will be a Kevin Smith fan. The movies, his podcasts, his drive. The guys on Comic Book Men might be different in real life. Reality shows are scripted if you’re not aware. Thus I’m willing to give a little space between a character portrayed on a show and the real people. So these are thoughts based solely on what I saw in near 100 episodes of a show.
What I saw is a show treating comic books and making comic fans look like a joke. The premise of most episodes is a pop culture question with answers and a witty insult to an answer. Customers come in either to buy comics and related merchandise or sell them. Finally, there’s some out of the ordinary thing in the store every episode. A celebrity guest, a road trip somewhere, whatever. All of this is based out of the Kevin Smith owned store in Red Bank, NJ – Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash.
I watched the first episode years ago when it debuted and hated it. A fellow comic reader told me to get through the first season and then their true selves come out making a better show. I had to stop watching for a week when I saw the episode featuring Ernie Hudson (Winston Zedmore from “Ghostbusters”) selling comics out of an ice cream truck. While the celebrity interactions are forced, they are also insulting to the celebrities. The forced reality nature of the show has the celebrity of the week coming in and having to be introduced because all four main cast members don’t know who the person is. If this person is important enough to be on the show, then they are important enough to be addressed by name and recognition the moment they walk in the door.
Speaking of walking in the door, customers come in to sell various pop culture relics. Yes, it’s set up and pre planned. Of course. But what doesn’t need to be set up is insulting the customer and the item. “Why would anyone want this?” “This is garbage.” “I have no interest.” Then why are they here?! Fifteen seconds of fame on a reality show is a dangerous drug but none of it is worth traveling to be insulted. If you’re not into… video games, bootlegs, My Little Pony, POGs, and the list goes on and on of actual items brought into the store and dismissed then there are two options. Say this is cool but not something I got into, or don’t have it as part of the show.
Maybe they think it’s okay because they insult each other. Geeks that can’t get laid. “I can’t believe you’re married.” Or if you were curious how to get away with saying “that’s gay” as a 1980’s insult and get away with it on cable in the 21st century they found a way to imply it.
But even worse is the way they lessen comic books. “This is a wall book. It’s worth $20.” This book is hot, I’ll sell it for a hundred. It makes all of comic book collecting look like a joke. Remember when speculators almost killed all of comic books and baseball cards in the 80’s and 90’s? This show sets up that danger yet again. Non comic fans will see this and think they can scam people and lowball prices. The first appearance of Wolverine just sold for $37,000. A poor quality first Spider-Man for $30K. A very good first Hulk for $70,000! The beauty of this hobby is the range of prices. Readers can find fun stuff for a quarter. Starting collectors can find nice books for under a hundred. And a bigger player can drop six to seven figures on investments. With new books out every week that could become either.
Not that you would know it from this show. I even took a look at their social media, “world’s most famous comic store”, which is probably true. Let me find a tweet about comic books. Looking. Looking. Self promotion, self promotion, buy our stuff. Yeah, I can’t find a single thing informing your followers about a comic book coming out in stores.
This show insults themselves, insults fans, insults those that came before, and does nothing to promote or add to the long tradition that is comic books.
On the other hand, there are heroes who have been discussing comics round table style out of a basement in Brooklyn for over 10 years.
Pete’s Basement started as a way to get some people together to talk comics and put it on the internet. Through the years people have come and gone from the panel due to life changes but all are welcome. Pete sits as host surrounded by his collection with a shot in hand. “Oh hello. I didn’t see you come in. Hello, and welcome to the Basement.”
I’m watching the most recent episode as I type this and they have discussed comics, pro wrestling, and video games. Four people have been on camera. And not one, not a single one, has said anything to insult the other about their interests. Not wrestling sucks, video games are stupid. None of it.
There is not a moment that doesn’t promote comics. Reviews of new books, with an emphasis on brand new smaller publisher titles in order to bring more attention and help sell more books. Hashtags galore for every book they talk about. You want to invest in a “wall book”? They will tell you what characters are about to be in the movies and where you can find their first appearances now before the price increases.
Everything about this show on paper should be selfish. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Writers and artists are frequent guests and given ample time to talk about their projects. Any and all local comic book shops are given acclaim and even directions to the store. Even the Pete’s Basement logo shirts are partnered up with various charities.
Yeah, they’re sarcastic and goof around with each other. But never, never, has it come across as insulting. It always is having a good time with your friends. No new person is slighted, no one is judged. There is a unity, even in the reviews. When one member of the basement crew disagrees with another on the quality of a book the response is not to insult. t is not to imply ‘you’re stupid and so is your opinion’. The response is, “why did you like this book? Huh, I never thought about it that way. I’m going to take what you said and give it another try.” Holy crap! Do you know how civil this is? In 2019 when the internet is full of horrible people.
Sometimes the line between hero and villain is a fine one. Not here. There’s a big difference between give me money and give me a hug. Villains are out for themselves, heroes are here for all of us.