I’ve always been more comfortable on the fringe of whatever it was my friends and the rest of popular culture was into. When my buddies in high school all started showing up in class with copies of X-Men comics, I wanted in on the fun of reading them, but it didn’t need to be exactly what they were reading and I didn’t want to mess around with having to find a good spot to jump into the story. Fortunately, Marvel introduced a new title about that time, so I tried it out. It was the first issue of John Byrne’s Alpha Flight.
Of course, I soon realized that there was a lot of back-story even to that first issue, and I still ended up hunting down X-Men back-issues. But that was okay, because I liked the characters and enjoyed knowing that obsessively tracking down their every appearance was a possible feat. In those days, there were no Marvel Milestones or Essential collections, so hunting after your favorite characters meant browsing long box after long box at the comics shop. Pretty unfeasible if you were a Thor or Green Lantern fan, much less a devotee of Batman or Spider-Man.
Since then, I’ve fallen in love with the very idea of fringe characters and concepts. Things that are of no less quality – and are often better – than the blockbusters, but for whatever reason don’t have the same wide appeal. It’s partly joy of discovery, partly snobbishness, but mostly it’s just a love for good storytelling regardless of the characters involved or the genre that it’s in or who else is reading it.
At the Random House panel in San Diego this year, one of the editors of the world’s largest English-language general trade book publisher made a profound observation about what’s mainstream in comics. Only in the comic book shop is the superhero genre considered mainstream. You put the exact same stock of comics into a Barnes & Nobles and suddenly superheroes are the nichiest of the niche, while horror and romance and science fiction and fantasy and pretty much everything else under the sun outsells them.
But most people reading this will be buying their comics from a specialty shop this Wednesday, not a bookstore. So, for most of us, superheroes are still the mainstream, while everything else is fringe. And that’s okay.
The goal of this column isn’t going to be to convert anyone away from superhero comics. I’ll be talking a lot about the benefits of reading comics that are on the fringe, but that’ll include superhero books along with the horror and the artsy, navel-gazing stuff. And it won’t be all positive either. I’m not very snarky, but in addition to recommendations and talking about what’s cool in indie/alternative/smaller press/fringe comics, I also expect to have a healthy percentage of “What were they thinking?” articles.
And though I intend to leave most of the Marvel and DC talk to my fellow bloggers, I bet we’ll also occasionally get into the fringe characters – like Alpha Flight or the Power Company or Heroes for Hire or Primal Force or whatever – of the Big Two. If it’s fringe, we’ll talk about it.