PopMatters Comic Book Feature by Michael David Sims - PopMatters' Multimedia Editor examines the recent tumult surrounding the firing & subsequent rehiring of Mark Waid, writer for Fantastic Four.
Don't write. I'm telling you this now as a warning: writing is a drawn-out, torturous act best left for masochists. Sitting alone in a room for hours on end with no human contact is not something many people can handle.
Doing that every so often might not sound too bad -- we all need time alone once in a while -- but I'm talking everyday. If you're a writer (paid or not), writing is your job and you might as well be stuck in some Siberian outpost while you're doing it, because there is no water cooler to gossip over during a break. No coworkers. It's you and your ideas, my friend.
Still think you can handle this isolated lifestyle? And don't kid yourself, that's exactly what this is -- a lifestyle. One has to live and breathe writing to call oneself a writer. Even when you're away from the computer or notebook, your characters, ideas and stories will creep from the darkest recesses of your mind and interrupt all other thoughts. Are you prepared to ignore your spouse's recap of his/her day because, out of nowhere, a fresh idea hit you? Can you write in a pocket-sized notebook while driving (because, if you don't, you know you'll forget this new character)? Are you willing to change your ideas, your story because an editor thinks you should take it in another direction? Can you deal with honest, even harsh criticism?
If you can't cope with all of those, then you're not ready. And I guarantee you're not ready for readers' comments. If Marvel Comics wasn't ready, there's no way in Hell you're ready.
The decades long tradition of the comic book letters page underwent a major overhaul a few years ago with the surge in online usage and comic book-related chat forums. No longer did one have to handwrite or type a letter, slap a stamp on it, stuff it in an envelope, and drop it in a mailbox. Now, all one has to do is hop online and send the editor an e-mail, or visit one of the many forums and spout off with thousands of other fans.
As convenient as that may be for the opinionated reader, it can be a hindrance not only to the company but the creators as well. Whereas before the Internet, people had to want to spend the price of a stamp to mail in their opinion(s), now anyone with an opinion has easy access to an editor's ear. And with the increase in individual creators' sites, fans have easy access to their ears as well, something that was unheard of a mere ten years ago.
Though it's always good to know who your audience is and what they think of your work, it's entirely different to change your plans and/or the direction of a book because of a mini-revolt.
But that's exactly what happened earlier this year when Marvel unceremoniously fired fan-favorite writer Mark Waid from the Fantastic Four. As rumor has it, Mark was asked to take the title in an entirely different direction (there's been speculation that he was asked to make it a family sitcom), and was removed from the title (Read: fired) when he refused. Upon hearing of his termination, fans of the series shot off e-mail after e-mail letting their discontent be known. They flocked to their favorite message boards, and bitched up a storm.
What was Marvel to do? Had they ignored their fans and went on with the Fantastic Four in its rumored sitcom form, the company risked losing thousands of readers. On the other hand, if they buckled to the fans' demands to rehire the writer, it could set a precedent allowing fans to not only decide who the creative team is, but also what direction the book should take.
Feeling the pressure, Joe Quesada, Marvel's Editor-In-Chief, ceremoniously rehired Waid and apologized many times over at Wizard World Chicago this past year. And though that's all well and good for Waid and his supporters, one's left to wonder what it means for the future of the comic book world.
Before this incident, the primary way for fans to express their discontent with a title was to stop buying it. If the numbers got low enough, creative changes were initiated. But with Waid's rehiring, the fans have seen how much power they wield with the click of a mouse. And how much quicker the response time is. When sales were the primary means of determining readers' satisfaction, it could take months or even years before changes were made. But now (assuming the issue hasn't been drawn yet and the editor is open to last minute alterations) a writer can change his/her story right in the middle of the arc because one too many fans posted negative feedback on a forum.
Every writer should have a general sense of who his/her audience is as well as their likes and dislikes, but when a writer (comic or otherwise) starts to worry about what a select few readers might think, they're altering their creative process and hindering the natural course of the story.
Remember, writing is a lonely, solitary art, and your audience shouldn't be in the room with you -- figuratively speaking. They're best left in your subconscious where they can't gnaw away at your thick skin with harsh criticism -- that's an editor's job.