Comics

The Twittery Confluence of Comics, Comics, And (Of Course) Spider-Man

Donald Glover arrives at the 2010 VH1 Hip Hop Honors

hide captionDonald Glover , subject of an enthusiastic Twitter campaign, attends the 2010 VH1 Hip Hop Honors on June 3.

Jemal Countess/Getty Images North America

As it happens, two sets of individuals largely comprise my Twitter feed: People who MAKE comics, and people who ARE comics.

I started following comics creators like Iron Man's Matt Fraction, Comic Book Comics' Fred Van Lente, Secret Six's Gail Simone, and Tales Designed to Thrizzle's Michael Kupperman, because I know and love their comics work, sure.  But the reason I KEEP following these and several other comic book types is because they understand something very important about our current age, something far too few have grasped:

Twitter is for jokes.

This is, to some, a controversial assertion. I will say it again. Louder.

TWITTER IS FOR JOKES, PEOPLE.

Yes, it can be used to convey nuggets of information, or raise awareness of the dire social injustice of the moment via the distribution of links, but I maintain that something about the inherent brevity of the format itself chafes against such usage. What is meant as urgent comes across as merely wheedling; sincere emotion reads as self-serious sentiment; the smallest, most poignant observation bloats with cringeworthy preciousness.

"Social network?" Pfah. Form follows function, and I put it to you that Twitter is, at its heart, a sleekly ergonomic gag-delivery system. Smart, funny writers like Fraction and Simone — who must, remember, cram lots of information into very small spaces for a living, and thus know how to choose language for its signal-to-noise ratio — these people have a leg up.

(For the purposes of this discussion, we'll leave aside Justice League writer James Robinson, who habitually cheats the system by stringing three or four chatty tweets together.)

(A fact which will surprise no one who's read his first few issues of Starman.)

(Ba-ZING.)

Comedians excel at Twitter, too, and it's easy to see why. After all, comedians don't just write jokes, they REwrite them, over and over again. This is because a really good gag is more than its premise, it's a discrete parcel of language, a carefully cadenced string of sound honed to its essence. Comics like Paul F. Tompkins (still officially unverified, but it's him — hop ON that, Twitter), Eugene Mirman, Patton Oswalt, Morgan Murphy, Michael Ian Black, Julie Klausner, Peter Serafinowicz — with such individuals in your Twitter stream, you are assured a steady diet of solid, well-crafted jokes off of which quarters could be dependably bounced. Even their lunch tweets are funny. Well. Funni-ER.

So I had my Comic Book list, and my Standup Comics list, and the jokes started burbling in at a decent clip. But almost immediately it began: List miscegenation. The people who make the funnies started talking to people who bring the funny, and vice-versa.

Now this should not have come as a surprise. Many individuals have bestrode the worlds of comic book nerdery and comedy nerdery like so many asthmatic Colossi.

Patton Oswalt has written several comics — a Justice League one-shot called Welcome to the Working Week, a Batman riff in DC's 2005 Bizarro World anthology and, just last week, a new addition to the Joss Whedon Firefly canon, a one-shot called "Float Out."

Standup Brian Posehn has co-written a darkly comic Christmas story, British talk show host Jonathan Ross recently began a crime/vampire series called Turf, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me's Adam Felber wrote a mini-series for Marvel about bovine shapeshifting aliens (long story) and Scott Aukerman, host of the Internet radio program/podcast/live comedy show called Comedy Death Ray has an anthology comics project in the works that will feature contributions from Sarah Silverman, Zach Galifianakas, Janeane Garofalo, and many others.

Nevertheless, whenever I see comics writer Simone swap 140-character-or-less bon mots with comic actor Aukerman, or Fraction riffing with Tom Scharpling of The Best Show on WFMU, it feels ...

... Well, it feels like eavesdropping, is how it feels.  How could it not?  A Twitter conversation has often been likened to two people shouting at one another across the room at a crowded party. Inevitably, then, witnessing such interactions makes you feel like the creepy dude looming conspicuously over by the appetizer table, listening to the tanned, fit couple cracking wise about the seven-layer dip.

And yet it's strangely gratifying to know that all of these smart and funny people get along, that crossovers between universes DO happen, and do not inevitably lead, as they do in the comics, to extended and wildly improbable fight scenes that demolish entire city blocks.

(Remind me to tell you, sometime, about how unaccountably nervous I became when I learned, via their respective posts, that the comics-adjacent John Hodgman was about to meet another gold-standard Twitterer, the actor James Urbaniak, for the first time over lunch. I actually worried.  Because I REALLY WANTED IT TO GO WELL.  (It did.))

Over the last few weeks, the co-mingling of comics and comics has birthed its own mini-movement.  As Linda mentioned last week, the news that casting had begun on the upcoming Spider-Man film reboot was greeted with the appearance of the Twitter hashtag #donald4spiderman — the Donald in question being standup/sketch comedian/Community star Donald Glover.

It's a great idea, if a terrible hashtag. (We are not tweens, and this is neither a Hot Topic nor 2003. Surely we can afford to spend the two extra spaces to spell out "for".)

(And for the last time, it's Spider-Man. With. A. Hyphen. Yeah, hashtags don't take kindly to punctuation, I get that. This is about principle.)

Alas, although the pro-Glover movement continues to gather speed, and may ultimately have managed to attain Put-Betty-White-on-SNL escape velocity, there are (unconfirmed, at this writing) reports that Marvel has already made a choice to go in another direction.

If so, it'll be a shame, because Glover's got great comic timing, something the superhero genre desperately needs.  Far too many mainstream comic books — and the properties they inspire — still cling to an '80s action movie approach to humor.  Which is to say, they believe they need only punctuate a particularly wet act of violence by having the hero mouth a cheesy catchphrase, and their work is done.

This is still another symptom of the ugly, desperate thirst for validation that seizes many in the comics community — the conviction that to be taken seriously, comic books must themselves be gravely serious. Or worse: "bad-ass," a word I despise, as its willful embrace by comics fans simply serves to take every lazy, unfair generalization ever made about comics as fodder for mouth-breathing adolescents — and validate them.

"Bad-ass" is the antithesis of fun: it coarsens, negates, deadens and darkens for the sake of darkening. Humor — by which I mean jokes, yes, but also the enthusiastic embrace of the more whimsical elements, the central goofiness, of comics in general and superheroes in particular — accomplishes the opposite.

Which is why I find the lively cross-talk between comics creators and creative comics in my Twitter stream so heartening.  It's a daily (sometimes hourly) reminder that comic books can be both fun and funny, and that many of the people who make them know funny when they see it.

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