Inevitably, if you’ve ever had a job at a comics company, you’ve had an experience where someone asked you what you did for a living. Before the Simpson’s made Comic Book Guy famous, before comic book movies were known as box office blockbusters, before Entertainment Weekly even existed (let alone ran reviews of graphic novels), most people only associated comics with either Richie Rich or the Adam West-Batman television show.
Back in those days, many professionals fell back on, “I work in publishing” or “I work at a magazine publisher” and hoped the questions ended there. I remember very clearly telling my future father-in-law (this would have been sometime in 1981) that I planned to pursue a career publishing comic books. He tried to put up a brave front, but the blood drained from his face. Clearly his mind had fixated on the abject poverty that his daughter would have in her future if she married the “comics” guy.
Even today, if you can proudly tell family, new friends and strangers that you work in the comic book industry, you probably get the same response, “Well, that must be fun … “
The unfortunate truth is that on a day-to-day basis, having a non-creative or semi-creative job in the comics business is like most other office jobs: struggling to make office equipment work properly, negotiating with difficult customers, haggling with finicky suppliers, desperately trying to make unrealistic deadlines set by your boss and dealing with the peculiar office and personal habits of your co-workers. Fun very seldom entered into it.
When it is your job, you tend to take very seriously the issues surrounding your career and the industry in which you work. Sometimes it is easy to lose perspective, especially when what you do is viewed by the outside world at best frivolously and at worst with open contempt.
There was a time when most comics professionals, both creative and non-creative thought that their lives would be better (maybe actually … maybe only in the perception of the public) if the media would just take them SERIOUSLY. So they acted like they thought they must to be taken seriously, with a humorless and dour approach to their work, their employers and their co-workers. I never thought those things went together.
My buddy and former business partner at Malibu Comics, Chris Ulm pointed out during lunch the other day that I was the only one he ever knew that routinely referred to comics as “funny books.” The other guys at the table looked at me askance. Was I crazy? Why would I refer to the subject of my life’s work (to date) so flippantly?
I do it intentionally and with utmost respect for everyone involved in the industry (well … almost everyone). I do it to keep the work in perspective, to create a frame of reference where I take the work seriously, but I don’t take myself too seriously. I call them “funny books” to set an example for those around me hoping they will follow my lead.
Now you know why I call this blog, Funny Book Fanatic.
NEXT: How the best of intentions created the gimmick cover fad?