Fans vs. Fanboys

Lemme get this out of the way first – in this post, I’m reacting to this opinion piece on Lauren shared the link with me, saying someone brought the annoying “real geek vs. fake geek” discussion back, as though it were important enough to merit a second run. Sure enough, the article didn’t even have to formally start before I raised an eyebrow. It starts with a few panels from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, followed by this caption:

Fake geek is fake: If you hear someone talk about comics and all they know is Sandman, you have every right to punch them.

And right there, ladies and gentlemen, is what you should recognize as a bad geek.

The author goes at length to explain why true comics fans absolutely despise the term “graphic novel”, as it’s nothing but a marketing ploy to overcome the stigma of immaturity that comes with reading comic books – a perspective he (they?) shares with noted scribe Alan Moore. He also accuses people who read Moore’s or Gaiman’s or Grant Morrison’s work exclusively have no right to call themselves fans, as they refuse to explore the rest of what the industry has to offer – a lot of spandex and light shows, yes, but also incredibly deep introspections and long-reaching social commentary. Fake geeks who cling to the term “graphic novel”, he attests, may just be doing it for vanity. “I read the hoity-toity intelligent books,” the fake geek will say, “Not that immature drivel about rainbow-colored space police.”

“I read novels, not comics.”

Despite all his qualms about the use of the term, he goes back and forth with himself over its accuracy. He recounts a time when he instinctively called a comic a “graphic novel” and immediately felt guilt afterwards, and yet poses arguments that the terms are interchangeable. He rails on the fake geeks who are absolutely in love with the term “graphic novel”, yet ends his article saying that the terminology shouldn’t even matter. What matters in the end, he says, is your love for the medium. It just so happens that if you’re not reading everything the medium has offer, then your love isn’t real (though this point could’ve been a lot clearer without all the self-contradiction).

...But only because you're so deliciously indie.

…But only because you’re so deliciously indie.

Although he’s got some valid arguments to make (let’s face it, every niche has its posers), he’s not helping his own cause. He’s right in saying that comics fans really love ranting, but his entire piece also proves that he isn’t a fan himself.

He’s a fanboy.

The “boy” part in the label says everything – fanboys are the immature type of fan. The immaturity is expressed in a number of ways: literary Puritanism, excessive and uncalled-for ranting (hate for the love of hating), and in the author’s case, exclusionary behavior. Fanboys are more likely to say you don’t belong to their niche group because you aren’t exactly like them, which means you don’t love the material as much as they do, which also means you aren’t worthy to call yourself a fan.

I see no difference.

I see no difference.

True fans – and good geeks – are all about sharing their love for the medium, even though at times it’s expressed through a rant. A fan can hate a movie like The Avengers for a number of reasons, but most of those reasons stem from how he thinks it could’ve been better. Green Lantern was generally panned by GL fans because there were so many wasted opportunities in the film. These fans rant because they want people to see what they love about their obsession.

To go on a tirade against readers who are exposed only to “graphic novels” by the 80s’ British Invasion (or whatever subset) is contrary to this ideal. Fanboys like the author are showing them the kind of jerks they don’t want to become. Just because a fan reads from a select number of writers, that doesn’t make him any less of a fan – he’s just particular about his tastes.

A graphic novel is a valid subtype of the comics medium, like editorials, three-panel strips, pantomimes, and in Sergio Aragones’ case, marginals. This isn’t any different from poetry, with its sonnets, epics, limericks, and haikus. A fan of poetry is by all means entitled to prefer a specific type, and to spend most of his time reading that particular kind of poem. In the same vein, a fan of comics can prefer graphic novels over serials; maybe he just doesn’t have the time to follow a long, ongoing epic. Maybe Spider-Man isn’t for one reader, but Bone can be the single most amazing piece of modern literature he’s read. Ostracizing people who choose their comics based on their tastes is complete and utter immaturity. “Love it all or nothing at all” simply doesn’t make sense, especially in a medium with countless flavors.

It’s ironic that the author ended his article by saying that being snobby about graphic novels hurts the industry by alienating rather than accepting, by discouraging potential new readers from joining the community and insulting current fans. The article itself is insulting, and far more alienating than the graphic novel reader. At least those people aren’t making others feel bad about what they read.

End of discussion.

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