Episode Four: Athos in America and Comic Book Men

Episode Four cometh!

Here’s a link to the first episode of Kevin Smith’s Comic Book Men. I’m not sure if we can in good conscience invite you to watch it, but it will provide some context to what we’re talking about.

Here’s Jason’s Fantagraphics Page if you want to check out more of his work. You should because it is awesome.

This is the review Jeff talks about that provides a quick overview of the stories in Athos in America.

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13 Responses to Episode Four: Athos in America and Comic Book Men

  1. Simon Lee says:

    Holy smokes I’ve got a lot of feedback on this one!
    The topic of Comic Book Men is an excellent one as I’ve now seen three and a half episodes (strangely I’ve only seen half of the first episode). I agree with the sentiment that I want the show to succeed but also that I found it lacking.

    Things I like about the show:
    1) Kevin Smith — If you’ve ever watched An Evening With Kevin Smith etc then you know that this is someone that you would gladly pay to see speak for three hours. As you mention in the podcast, the man himself is involved in the comic book industry directly so there’s no doubt as to the validity of him having a show.

  2. Simon Lee says:

    2) Customer interactions — This is something that you guys slam but I definitely think that this is an entertaining aspect of the show. I can’t agree with comparing these interactions with Pawn Stars in a negative way. I think Pawn Stars is a good show and I certainly don’t think it caters to “the lowest common denominator”. After working at Phoenix for 8 years, I can tell you that these interactions are integral to understanding the life of people that work at a comic book store. I have countless stories about people coming in to sell shit and what I love about Pawn Stars is that they constantly remind people about the fact that the store is a business that needs to make a profit. The customers of all shapes and sizes (and levels of zaniness) should help dispel some of the stereotypes that you so quickly judge the show for. I do think that they tend to spend too much time on these segments when two quick hits would be enough, say one person that successfully sells something to the store and one that is unsuccessful. The theme of the show should be the focus (as I would also suggest for your podcast).

    • jeffreydick says:

      I don’t think we said Pawn Stars, in particular, catered to the lowest common denominator, but that mass produced television in general did. What I believe what was said about Pawn Stars in particular was that the level of appeal was much broader as the topic itself is also broader. If that is not true then I apologize and consider this a revision. I agree that there is a perverse pleasure in watching the odd behavior or general ridiculousness of some of the fringe aspects of a subculture, but I believe that their are interesting aspects beyond the fact that a grown woman was collecting lifelike dolls and had to sell some of them off. The appropriation of that fact felt scuzzy to me though, and have, since reading your comments, continued to watch the show and do agree that the focus has shifted in this regard somewhat to be more constructive. The interesting thing about these interactions comes from the reason someone would want to sell something so personally, if not monetarily, valuable. We saw that in an episode where the indie writer sold some original artwork to fund his continuing work, the filmmaker, or the stand-up comedian whose motivations were all explored not exploited. I also think “slam” does not accurately explain how we explored this aspect of the show, but that we showed a disappointment in how we thought they could actually been done. Again, I think this is an aspect of the show that is actually improving.

      • Simon Lee says:

        As a long time Phoenix Comics employee, I guess I just really enjoy this aspect of the show. I’m enjoying this mostly because of the laughs rather than learning something about the human condition. I don’t really care all that much why people want to sell their shit (though the story about the terrible wannabe stand-up comic was useful to include). Where you feel “scuzzy”, I simply feel entertained and nostalgic about my days behind the counter.

  3. Simon Lee says:

    3) “Immature” comic book humor — I can’t say I don’t appreciate the crass jokes about comic book material. The issue isn’t that this is included (you do know who Kevin Smith is right?) but rather that it’s not balanced with the intellectual side of the discussion.

    • jeffreydick says:

      I did mention that this is not far from the experience of watching Clerks or Mallrats, but those are characters in a movie not real people. I guess maybe my objection comes from the idea that this show is meant to portray some sense of reality and maybe I am just more committed to that than the makers. I would not want to be portrayed as an archetype if the character I was portraying was supposed to be myself.

  4. Simon Lee says:

    Things I dislike about the show:
    1) Too much buying — I don’t know if this is really something I dislike or something I’m more confused about. The store seems to purchase a lot of stuff and doesn’t seem to sell a lot. Now there were some pretty terrible days at Phoenix when I worked there but in two episodes they seem to spend a lot of time, effort, and presumably money on advertising and in one instance the store’s sales for the day end up being something like $37. At the same time, the store has three employees and seems to buy comics and toys every day! Now I understand that they’re going to flip a lot of the stuff they purchase but the sampling just makes it seem like this place is just a waste of money rather than a legit business.

  5. Simon Lee says:

    On a related note, how does this store have some of the shit it does? How do they have a set of 10-year old giant Tortured Souls figures in the space that they have? Now obviously, it isn’t a random guy walking in off the street looking for this, but what, do they have a gateway to Narnia or something where they keep this stuff? If you’ve been to Phoenix, you know that there are hidden storage areas (after several waves of renovations) to keep stuff and the store is always in need of more space. Considering that the Secret Stash does back issues (who on Earth does this anymore?), as opposed to having a card tournament area like Phoenix, the layout of the store doesn’t seem to fit with a place that can sell a lot of stuff. Just from what I can see in the background, I know I wouldn’t want to shop there. I could go on and on about use of store space, but that’s like an entirely different podcast right there.
    2) Unfocused themes — If the show had a major topic that was discussed each episode, I could really get behind it. Ironically, I have a similar criticism of this very podcast as I think there’s so much potential in just speaking about topics like the existence of Comic Book Men for a greater length of time.

  6. Simon Lee says:

    To add to the irony, you guys criticize the show for pandering to the masses and not to comic fans like you, yet your podcast spends hours talking about indy books that most comic book fans have never heard of. A television show has to cater to a much wider audience than a podcast like this one and I can’t really blame them for making a show that is more accessible. In contrast, this podcast comes across sometimes as being too good for superhero comics, which make up the vast bulk of comic book sales and customers so I encourage you to speak about traditional comic books as well. Personally, I tune out shortly after you start your “deconstruction”/review of the book of the week, though I am super excited about the segments you have preceding your review (and clearly want to share my thoughts).

    One of the topics from the latest episode of CBM is the idea of the San Diego Comic-Con or more importantly the (for me at least) the hijacking of Comic-Con (and the Calgary Comic Expo) in recent years by Hollywood. I’d love to hear a discussion about the role of conventions and participate in an examination of the current convention/comic book audience. You bring up Big Bang Theory in your podcast and that is a show I that I personally can’t stand since it is totally the “nerd blackface” that you speak about but the general public has made it the number one sitcom on TV. How does the exposure of events like Comic-Con affect the nature of the comic book audience?

    • jeffreydick says:

      … here we go Simon.
      In regards to your personal criticism of our treatment of superhero comics and our topic selections:
      1. Next week we discuss Uncanny X-Force. The following week we will discuss MW which is my first ever exposure to manga.
      2. Mazzuchelli won 4 Eisner and 3 Harvey awards for Asterios Polyp. The partnership of Azzarello and Chiang are working on one of the better selling current DC titles. The Watchmen prequels are an almost constant topic amongst all levels of the comic community right now. Jason’s Athos in America is a recent publication and widely available. None of these things are either pretentious or inaccessible in my opinion. Jason potentially being the only exception as the exposure within the comic community would be the smallest due to its independent status, the strip comic style, and the more European bend it has.
      3. We have never claimed moral or intellectual superiority over anyone for our exposure to the comics we read, except Garth Ennis–because he is awful. We instead hope to expose each other–Russell and I–to new things and our audience to expose us to their personal favorites. I would like to take this oppurtunity now to ask you personally to suggest our next comic to read. I have not cleared Russell on this idea and don’t particularly care because I am confident this is the type of debate and communication we hoped to foster.
      4. We have repeatedly talked about our respect for “cape” comics. I myself have repeatedly talked about my love for X-comics, both legitimately and for purely nostalgic reasons. Wonder Woman, Batwoman, Batgirl, Daredevil, Moon Knight, Punisher, Animal Man, Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Swamp Thing, and I, Vampire are just a few examples of the either direct or very close to direct superhero comics we frequently mention as being things we appreciate. I, like most comic readers, had my first exposure to comics through superhero comics and apologize if we conveyed anything other than respect for that genre of comic. That being said it is the genre in which most of the negative stereotypes and exploitation that the comic book community has associated with it comes from. While I personally don’t believe that Catwoman is more egregious than Ennis’ Adventures in the Rifle Brigade, but in order to partake in a larger conversation we need to address Catowman first as it has a broader exposure.
      We will be discussing this more at length in an upcoming episode–that has already been recorded–where I will respond to Sean Witzke’s boycott of Marvel and DC for the very same attitude you have (erroneously) ascribed to us.

      In regards to your assessment of the television audience and market:
      I appreciate the thought that a television show must have a broader appeal in order to obtain success (which in the episode Russell also mentioned), but I feel that also conveys a naivete and pessimism about that medium. Some of the most successful and widely lauded series in television history have garnered that success by defying that thinking completely. Seinfeld, while not a personal favorite, is one of the most successful comedies ever produced, and also fought for its quality despite network appeals to broaden appeal. Mad Men and Breaking Bad in particular have achieved a similar level of success in completely different genres by striving for the same goal. My hesitance and possibly unfair judgement of this show comes primarily from this very dynamic as they share a network. AMC has come to be associated with quality programming that defies the big networks by appealing to the changing means of consuming television. Netflix, direct streaming, and DVD season sales are forcing the the mindless consumption of television audience to decline.

      In regards to the suggestions and comments about the format of the show:
      Thanks. We are not unaware of the tonal differences in the two segments. Russell and I have always and will maintain the attitude that the show continues to happen because it is fun for the two of us personally. This does not mean that we are ignoring the audience or that we want to ignore suggestions towards how listenable the show is. Our intention towards the book of the week segment is to recreate the comic store style gushing, or raging, about our opinions about specific comics. I agree with you that we have slipped slightly into the more deconstructionist style of criticism as a methodology for corralling our thoughts. We are still growing and learning at this point. Again, thank you for listening and responding to us.

      I will leave the response to your comments about cons to Russell as my exposure to cons can be defined entirely by one visit to the Houston Convention Center when I was 7. It was awesome and I have no aversion to them, but I have simply never done it again.

      PS. It would only be “iron[ic]” if we were accusing them of pandering to the masses as a negative and we ourselves were pandering. If we accuse them of pandering, and we are elitist then that is expected. I hope my consistent use of contractions lessens the arrogance of that statement my English professors would have been so proud of.

      I don’t want to end on a shot, so I hope you continue to listen and respond to my responses. Keep the conversation going.

  7. Simon Lee says:

    1.) Uncanny X-Force was exactly the book I was going to suggest for your point 4. I haven’t read it, but it strikes me as the type of book I’d pick up back in the day. I realize that you’ve pre-recorded some podcasts so I look forward to hearing what you have to say.
    2.) To me, citing awards as justification for looking at a piece of literature is pretentious.
    I really liked the discussion of the Watchmen prequels, I just thought it could have broadened out a bit more.
    If you asked the average Phoenix Comics customer to name 50 comic books, I’m willing to bet very few would name Asterios Polyp. Not to say that it’s not good, just that it’s far from mainstream or “accessible”. Just my two cents.
    FYI, Mike and Russell always groan when I mention that I haven’t bothered to read Sandman.
    3.) I had a good laugh at the Garth Ennis dig. I enjoyed Preacher and his run on Punisher. I’m glad that you have a sense of humor though :)
    4.) I don’t doubt your sincerity when you say you have a respect for superhero comics. But considering your conscious decision to review Asterios Polyp, Doctor 13, and Athos in America in your first four episodes, you are not exactly signalling to me that you put yourselves in the “average comic book reader” category. When you walk into Phoenix Comics, I think it’d be pretty rare to see “Russell’s staff pick” be a superhero book.

    I think I would end up writing another giant rant about how terrible Walking Dead is on AMC but I’ll leave that one alone for now.

    Why avoid the discussion about cons? What made the one you went to “awesome”? What has kept you from going to another one? Do you think the Hollywood factor is good or bad for comic books?

    Anyways, hopefully you can find something constructive from my feedback, since I’m the only one who’s publicly made any on your public podcast (which I know you’re doing for fun). I’ve told Russell in person that I really applaud your efforts in producing this and I do have high hopes for it (I think your podcast is probably better than Comic Book Men). As part of team Phoenix Comics, I want this to be as good as it possibly can be.

    • jeffreydick says:

      Thanks again Simon. We really appreciate all the feedback–positive and negative. I agree that we might not be considered average comic book readers. I also don’t think we want to be considered average comic book readers right now, but that the entire community would start embracing things once considered indie or fringe. In our back catalog we talked about both Scud and Anna Mercury, so we both have an appreciation for somewhat lighter fare. I am sorry if I come across as serious about comedy in particular, but in reality, it may be hard to tell, I am a standup comedian and some of my seriousness about what constitutes good comedy comes from that. Sadly, also because of that, I am rarely outright funny myself when it comes to the topic of entertainment. If you let me talk about genitalia or awkward social situations I could have you smirking like a wild-man (I never said I was good at comedy). I think we are going to continue to keep clashing over our definitions of “accessible”, but you can simply be confident that I am correct if you would rather end it here. If not, then I will simply say that my definition of accessible does not mean easy to read, but rather that it does not require in depth analysis in order for the reading of it to be an enjoyable experience. Hopefully such a reading would inspire you to care more. I remember the first time I paid attention to a specific writer of my beloved Uncanny X-men in the 90’s. Scott Lobdell tried to start up a romance between Rogue and a Magneto clone (I think… the exact details are hazy), but young Jeff believed in true love, and Gambit didn’t deserve that. I will admit I have wondered as to the status of Rogue’s virginity from time to time. This kind of steroetypical comic book store nerd conversation isn’t useless, but when it becomes all encompassing to the point where the zaniness you portray yourself with makes you decidedly one-dimensional I take umbrage (in no way related to Umbro (even though I was just talking about the 90’s)).

      My feelings towards cons are that I am claustrophobic and have an aversion to disgusting smells, while my childhood experience was great because I got to see artists plying their trade live, I don’t feel the need to recreate it on any regular basis. I am considering going to Emerald City Comic-Con, because the panel lineups look ridiculously awesome.

      Hollywood interaction in the comic industry is a tricky subject that I am not sure how I even feel about it yet. In my mind I am still weighing if the Nolan Batman films were worth Green Lantern (and other such examples: does the idea of a Locke and Key tv show excite me?, how closely should I be tracking the zombie kill count in Walking Dead on AMC?, why can’t I get the theme song to the 90’s Spider-man cartoon out of my head (you know the one…spider blood, spider blood, radioactive spider blood, *90’s power chord solo!*)? etc…
      I wasn’t trying to avoid it, but we will be entertaining more of that type of discussion in the future when we talk some more about Alan Moore and his reaction to the Watchmen prequels.
      Let us know what you think. You obviously have some opinions on it and are probably more educated than I. We are working to make the podcast better. Russell and I communicate almost daily in an effort to get this whole thing working right.

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