Only The Lonely…Sit Online Waiting…Sometimes Angry

Posted by Dan Billings on April 17, 2012 under Off the New Comic Rack, Uncategorized | 2 Comments to Read

In college, everyone had America Online Instant Messenger (AIM). We all had screen names that were related to us but that were not our God-given monikers. Mine was nightwing8782.

I wish I could pull this off

I still use that today on many things, such as my Xbox. I remember sitting at my Dell for hours at night hoping that someone would send me a message to see how I was. I would post statuses that would just ask for communication. And it drove me crazy whenever no one would say hello. I would go to chat rooms or other places just to have some personal interaction. The ironic part is that only five feet away was a roommate, twenty feet away were fellow cross country runners, and within a quarter-mile was over 900 real-life people.

When I read the article Is Facebook Making Us Lonely in this month’s The Atlantic Monthly, I had to agree with the main point, but I also had to disagree with the idea that this is a new phenomenon or that it is isolated to Facebook. The Internet has created a home for the lonely in a way that even Roy Orbison couldn’t imagine. It gives us a glimpse into the good days of all of our acquaintances. It allows people to stay close but far enough away as to not get hurt. But as the writer notes in the article, it’s a tool that can be used in many ways.

Over the past few years, I have worked at using the Internet, Facebook, and even this blog, as more of a tool instead of my source of communication. I do not sit on Gmail, or AIM, or any other instant message mechanism hoping that someone will contact me. I do my best to call people and now I actually make the bold decision to have physical friends. I turn to Facebook to share in people’s joys, not to dwell in my failures. I use Facebook to post stories that I have written, this blog that I have begun to take more seriously, and share a few thoughts about my day.

But the Internet over the years has also given me confidence.

This past weekend, I went to C2E2, the Chicago Comic-Con. Yes, there are lots of people who wear costumes of their favorite superheroes (as shown above), video game characters, and other themes that they enjoy. I went with friends from work who had listened to me talk about the mundane daily interactions among the comic book Internet community. When I first read comics in high school, I did not know a single other person who went to a comic shop on Wednesday. Even in college, I would hide them under my bed because I thought they were embarrassing. No one understand my AIM moniker for instance. Nightwing is the adult version of the first Robin, Dick Grayson. But then I went online to find people who like what I like. I found communities with message boards, blogs, podcasts, and lots of other mediums. I wrote a Blue Beetle story for a fan fic Yahoo Group. I realized I wasn’t alone. And it was marvelous!

But the Internet can be an angry, lonely place. At The Iceberg Lounge, Steve K. writes blogs about recent trades or comics and recently wrote about the state of the Internet community. This is a community that I dream of becoming a part of. I imagine sitting around a table at a convention one day with all of these great critics and men and women who just love comics. I find comics so interesting and amazing and I dream of talking about it. I love talking about the different art styles, some that I like and some that I dislike. I think to myself about the great writing being done at many of the small presses.

As Steve K. notes, it is also full of vitriol, and it seems to be on the rise. The Internet (and Facebook) give us all the chance to complain to a wide audience. We all become Simon Cowells – judging people we barely know to try to be funny, iconoclastic, annoying. I am sure that everyone has at least one friend on Facebook or Twitter or whatever that is constantly complaining about their job, their spouse, their kids, their … I might be that friend to you.

And there is a reason why: people like reading angry diatribes. People like bad reviews. A good review or a good story doesn’t get the attention of someone talking about how sad they are or how bad their friend/spouse/boss/President is. Think about your likes or comments on a wall. Do you respond to positive thoughts or to negative thoughts? I know I remember the negative ones more. The same is true about comic book commentary. I remember when someone writes badly about Stephen Wacker or Marvel. I remember when someone badmouths something that Dan Didio is doing over at DC Comics. It’s more entertaining.

From Comic Book Resources

This creates isolation, however. If the marketplace of ideas does not hear good thoughts due to lack of voice, then those who, for instance, liked Avengers v. X-Men don’t feel comfortable adding their two cents to the dialogue. If someone is trying to get attention on Facebook posts about how great their day was and no one asks why, but if they post about how bad their day was and get five people trying to sympathize, what behavior is incentivized? The Internet can become very homogeneous with everyone agreeing and posting on a topic such as to to fit in. The Internet can become very homogeneous because no one wants to counter the points that others are making and decide to hide in the shadows instead.

Loneliness created from a man-made device is difficult. It may be ingrained into distant relationships. But when people reach out because they want to talk about a comic or their day at work, it may be helpful to try to respond to the positive ones than only the negative ones.

 

Batman and Robin #8 Review

Posted by Dan Billings on April 13, 2012 under Off the New Comic Rack | Be the First to Comment

After the relaunch, I did not continue reading Detective Comics or The Dark Knight because I was not impressed with the prior creators’s work. It wasn’t my tone. Batman and Robin has hit the sweet spot for me.

When Grant Morrison introduced Damian as Batman’s son with Talia al Ghul, he was a jerky kid who had a chip on his shoulder. He didn’t think anyone could teach him anything and had the ego of a boy that had a psychopath as a grandfather and a mother…

Let alone a vigilante as a father.

Batman and Robin #8 Cover

And that is the story of Batman and Robin. Damian has been Robin since Batman “died” and he was Dick Grayson’s sidekick. Their relationship was great because Dick as Batman was more laid back and Damian did not respect him as a leader. Throughout the precursor series written by Morrison and art by various artists, including Frank Quitely, Philip Tan, and Cameron Stewart, among others, they developed a respect for each other. But Damian was still a loose cannon. And now his dad, whom he really does not know, is back.

Bruce Wayne is a powerful figure. Damian seems afraid of him, like many sons fear their fathers. Not a fear of punishment or pain, but of not being what the son believes their father to want. This story has been told multiple times in literature, on film, and even in comics. But not with Batman.

Peter Tomasi (writer), Patrick Gleason (pencils), Michael Gray (inks), and John Kalisz (colors) have created a beautiful story in the first eight issues of the new 52 Batman and Robin.

First, the art is dynamic but also very telling. The touching scenes between Bruce and Damian (and usually Alfred) are beautifully portrayed. The color schemes and inking appear to change with the tones of the room. If they are angry, the art gives it away in more than just the pencils. When they are Batman and Robin, there is that sense of kinematic fighting as well as dilemma. In this last issue where Batman has to rescue Damian, the reds are amazing. The expressions on Bruce’s face as he rushes into the Batcave with a waiting Dr. Alfred and touching and really provide a beautiful set of images.

Now, the story, as I noted above, is not original. But it doesn’t matter. We all understand the feelings of wanting to satisfy a parent or to watch one of our children try to match what they think we want. Tomasi has created a faulty dysfunctional family built around violence. We believe Batman to be a good man who is trying to stop crime in his city. But does that same intentions create a good father? He enlists young men to be his sidekicks to fight insane people in a little costume. At every turn, Alfred is trying to remind Bruce that Damian is still a boy who needs a childhood, even though both of his parents have been advancing him in age unjustly. To have the surrogate father act as a grandfather to slow down Bruce is an amazing storytelling technique.

This book has moved to the top of my pile and has become a must read. Way to go, DC Comics!

I’m Not Digital Yet – Comics Edition

Posted by Dan Billings on April 5, 2012 under Off the New Comic Rack | Be the First to Comment

When I received the e-mail from Graphic.Ly that they are no longer in the app business, I wondered what would happen with the apps I bought there. It wasn’t much, but there were a few. And now it looks like Comixology is basically on its own. Over at Bleeding Cool, they note that this is good news for them and it’s hard to disagree. I cannot wait until my iPad crashes or something and I cannot redownload the Graphic.Ly add and then have to read whatever I bought on my computer until I forget about it.

This really is my largest concern about digital comics. Yes, there are paper pamphlets all over my floor and boxes are crowding me out of my room, but I at least have them. And they are not cheap. If I am going to pay $3.99 for something, I don’t want to lose access to it unless I decide to throw it away. If I decided to go all-digital, what happens if Comixology fails? Will I, like Graphic.Ly, have access through a computer or somewhere else? Doesn’t seem like great odds. It does make them very toss-able, like they use to be.

 

Book 5 of 52: The Nerdist Way by Chris Hardwick

Posted by Dan Billings on April 3, 2012 under A Literal Corner | Read the First Comment

I began seeing a therapist when I was in college because I was having a hard time dealing with loneliness. I had friends. I ran cross country and track, so I was involved. I did well in class. But I beat myself up on a constant basis. I felt that I wasn’t doing something right and that there was something wrong with me.

After being picked on for more of my primary and secondary education, this seemed rational. I spent my weekends hoping friends would return phone calls and seeing in the basement reading books. These skills led me to work very hard, to understand myself, and to reflect on what I dream to be.

But I was still unhappy. At one point, my therapist recommended a Dr. Phil book that was meant to see myself in a more positive light. It wasn’t helpful and when I reminded her that she recommended it to me, she wasn’t sure what she was thinking at the time and apologized. So, when I picked up The Nerdist Way by Chris Hardwick, I was not expecting more. I thought it would be funny and that was about it.

Hardwick was the host of Singled Out on MTV back in the 1990s and fell on hard times afterwards. But he decided to change his life around and work towards new goals. He founded The Nerdist website, podcast, and now media empire. Although everyone doesn’t need to do that, there are many tips and strategies that Hardwick discusses that I find useful for myself and that I imagine many others do as well.

However, it turned out to be the self-help book that I needed. It turned self-improvement into a game and all of the things he said he needed to tell himself are the things I need to tell myself. I do not have the same addictive personality when it comes to drinking or video games, but I do have one when it comes to self-doubt and to being alone.

From the opening chapters, I could see this book was going to change how I looked at myself. It was funny and true. And for the first time, one of these books seemed designed for someone who wasn’t just a sad sack moaning about things. It was designed for the person who is just hyper-critical about themselves. Hardwick asks you to use these skills for good. Turn them around and be hyper-critical about your self-improvement.

To start, you create your own character profile, a la Dungeons and Dragons. And you set up goals and point systems to level up and be the best you that you can be. So, each month, I will be setting up goals that I want to achieve. They may be short term goals, like finishing a book, or medium term goals, like building traffic to this blog over the next year, or long term goals, like buying my dream house. And as I go through my days, I will think about things that help me work towards these goals and to not dwell on things I did not accomplish. As we all know, no one achieves all of their goals, but it is important to keep having goals and to keep moving forward.

The other parts of the book touch on physical fitness, which I do want to focus on (it’s a mid-term goal), and the last part is to take all of your skills and put them to best use.

If you are someone who gets down on yourself and sometimes cannot understand why the world is out to get you, this book is for you. It has made me look again at many things that I have done and worked on and made them stronger. It has enhanced my therapy sessions and my life.

 

Highly recommended.