Comics

Of Geeks, Genre, And Why Fantasy Football Is Just D&D Without The Elves

A football fan on the left; multi-sided dice on the right.

The guy on the left would need only a small tweak to enjoy the pursuit on the right. iStockphoto.com hide caption

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On Monday, this website's Books section published the graphic novel recommendations of writer Harriet Reisen.

I'm a big fan of Reisen's selections - Fun Home, La Perdida and Cancer Vixen: A True Story. Excellent picks all, and the piece's assessment of what makes each book so great is a pleasure to read. Do so, if you haven't. (There's excerpts!)

Now. As there's a very good chance that the article's headline ("These Aren't Your Geek's Graphic Novels") wasn't written by Reisen, I'll let it go.

You know, mostly.

After the jump: I don't so much let it go. Also: Sports, the Geeky Geekishness That Hides in Plain Sight. Plus: I respectfully offer Reisen several suggestions for genre comics that should pleasantly surprise even her own bad, non-genre-lovin' self.

Okay, sorry, let's just go back and note that "These Aren't Your Geek's Graphic Novels" headline, which raises a couple of interesting issues about both graphic novels and geeks.

For one thing, there is surprisingly little daylight between it and the "Pow! Zap! Comics Aren't Just for Kids Anymore!" headline. Just swap out "Kids" for "Geeks" - a word that conjures, as it's used here, the spectre of the doughy, introverted dweeb who harbors an immoderate love for superheroes, sci-fi/fantasy and other similar genres that, Reisen notes in her piece, just plain leave her cold:

The trouble is, I'm not crazy about tales involving superpowers, fantasy worlds, horror, sci-fi or armed combat, which leaves out about nine-tenths of the genre. My heart belongs to women's stories about their own flawed selves and their tribulations in the big bad world.

First thing, a little disclosure: I write as one of those doughy, introverted dweebs who harbors an immoderate love of superpowers, sci-fi/fantasy, etc. Our numbers are Legion. Of Super-Heroes.

Second: She's absolutely correct that comics shelves are dominated by tights, knights, frights, bright lights and firefights. If anything, her nine-tenths figure's on the conservative side.

And of course there's nothing wrong with just plain not digging a particular kind, or kinds, of story. And though I'd quibble with her characterization of comics as a genre in that first sentence (they're the medium, while superheroes, sci-fi, etc. are all various genres) she clearly loves the comics she loves, and professes a perfectly understandable preference for real stories about real women.

Her genre of choice, you might say, is non-genre. And whether you call it non-genre or indie or, God help you, literary, I'd bet many if not most of you reading these words would put yourself in a very similar camp - if you could be convinced to pick up a comic/graphic novel in the first place.

An Interlude: On Geekishness
But back, briefly, to that "Your Geek's Graphic Novels" thing, and the fact that conflating the word "geek" with "sci-fi" or "superheroes" or "fantasy" or indeed any supposed signifier of nerdy interest distracts from a central truth about what it means to be a geek.

Surely we can agree, can we not, that true geekishness is best defined as a function of the depth of one's ardor, not the object of that ardor?

Now, I will grant you that baseball is a more socially acceptable pursuit to find oneself devoted to than, say, the Super-Friends.

Wear the jersey of your favorite player to school? You're one of the crowd.

Wear your homemade version of Aquaman's costume to School Spirit Day, which shouldn't really be such a big deal because his colors are exactly your school's colors I mean honestly what are the odds of that and anyway it was just that one friggin' time way back in the beginning of the school year?

Yeah, you're not living that down.

But I ask you: Is there anything in all this world that more perfectly encapsulates true, unmitigated, overweening, hopeless geekery than the box score? I say thee nay.

And can you honestly sit there and avow that Fantasy Football is different, in any meaningful way, than rolling a d20 to make one's saving throw vs. petrification when one faces down a basilisk? Especially after reading/hearing this?

No. In the end, geeks love a thing — any thing — enough to immerse themselves in its most minute detail, to discuss it and dissect it and construct charmingly elaborate theories/tiresomely belligerent opinions about it. What that thing happens to be? That matters much less, if at all.

Speakin' of Geekin'....
Reisen concludes her article by soliciting recommendations from commenters, and they're doing a bang-up job.

For over a year now, I've tried to recommend comics that non-genre types like Reisen - and non-comics readers, for that matter - might well enjoy. (Wanna see? Happy scrolling.)

But Reisen's thrown down a gauntlet. So I'll leave it to others recommend comics memoirs and indie books about flawed, rounded, realistic women making their way in the world (Psst! LOCAL! Seriously!).

Instead, I'll provide a list of smart, serious and thoughtful books written in those very genres toward which she has expressed indifference. These books don't so much subvert genre (which is frankly not all that impressive, anymore) as much as they use the tropes and constraints of genre to find a way into the stories they want to tell - stories that explore the terrain of the human and universal.

Books, in other words, that I'm reasonably certain even the most hardened non-genre-types will enjoy.

Explicating why I think each one is a good pick for genre-shunners would be a whole nother post, but trust me: You're on solid ground with any of these.

Superheroes
Ex Machina, by Brian K Vaughn (writing) and Tony Harris (art).

Power Girl, by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray(writing) and Amanda Conner (art).

Welcome to Tranquility, by Gail Simone (writing) and Neil Googe (art).

Powers, by Brian Michael Bendis (writing) and Michael Avon Oeming (art).

Fantasy
Air, by G. Willow Wilson (writing) and M. K. Perker (art).

Bone, by Jeff Smith.

Phonogram, by Kieron Gillen (writing) and Jamie McKelvie (art)

Fables, by Bill Willingham (writing) and various artists.

Castle Waiting, by Linda Medley.

Books of Magic (various writers and artists).

Lucifer, by Mike Carey and various artists.

Proof, by Alex Grecian (writing) and Riley Rossmo (art).

Horror
Locke and Key, by Joe Hill (writing) and Gabriel Rodriguez (art).

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, by Eiji Ohtsuka (writing) and Housui Yamazaki (art).

The Walking Dead, by Robert Kirkman and various artists.

Sci-Fi
FEAR Agent, by Rick Remender and various artists.

Five Fists of Science, by Matt Fraction (writing) and Steven Sanders (art).

WE3, by Grant Morrisson and Frank Quitely.

Crime/Espionage
Queen and Country, by Greg Rucka and various artists.

Fell, by Warren Ellis (writing) and Ben Templesmith (art).

War
DMZ, by Brian Wood (writing) and Ricardo Burchielli (art).

Pride of Baghdad, by Brian K. Vaughn and Niko Henrichon

Age of Bronze, by Eric Shanower

Commenters — If you've got suggestions for indie/memoir/non-genre books for Reisen, go ahead and post them under her article.

If, on the other hand, you've read a genre comic so good you've shown it to non-genrists like Reisen — or non-comics readers, for that matter - let's hear about 'em here. (I'm sure I'm overlooking lots and lots of crime and sci-fi picks, above.)

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