I’ve been on a bit of a kick recently writing about superhero comics — and especially Canadian superhero comics. Traditionally this blog was mostly concerned with talking about Canadian film & TV. But my interests have always been broader, and Canadian superheroes is an off-shoot of my traditional theme of Canadian pop culture.
And, more specifically, I’ve just written a book — a short story collection — telling a bunch of Canadian superhero stories peppered through the last eighty or ninety years. A book called M*sques and C*pes: An Imaginary History (I’ve spelled it with the asterix because I don’t want to glut the search engines — I’m hoping, in time, other reviews might pop up).
But today I wanted to step to the side and draw attention to another blog — They Stand On Guard! It’s a blog I came upon a couple of years ago (admittedly because it posted a piece talking about a prose anthology in which I had a story — Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories — and in which my story, “The Secret History of the Intrepids,” was mentioned as a favourite in the collection!)
They Stand on Guard! basically tries to draw attention to various contemporary Canadian comic book/superhero endeavours — ranging from kickstarter campaigns, releases of volumes reprinting vintage comics, or simply noting appearances of Canadian characters in popular American comics. It’s a personal, privately run blog (I assume) the creator basically just taking this on as a hobby.
And as someone who has been that route myself (with everything from my Great Canadian Guide to the Movies & TV to my comic book focused, The Ultimate Captain Canuck Tribute Page) I tip my hat to the creator of They Stand on Guard!
Part of the importance of a site like that (and the reason I did my Canadian film site) is because so much of Canadian popular entertainment is basically “indie.” That is, while American popular culture is dominated by corporate engines like Hollywood Studios and comic book companies like Marvel and DC, with entire infrastructures built around them that exist simply to write and talk about what’s going on (from the IMDB to ComicBookResources) in Canada, much of what’s going on can feel like isolated oases where it’s often hard to even know what’s in the works unless you stumble upon it by accident.
It wasn’t until I saw They Stand on Guard! that I was even aware there were various comic book enterprises going on in Canadian. I knew about ChapterHouse Comics — a company that has arisen in the last couple of years and seems to be the first Canadian comic book company since WW II that is genuinely trying to be a “company,” with multiple titles and creators in its stable. But in general these efforts seem isolated — “indie.” So a site that draws them together, collecting them under a single umbrella, is important, just to create an illusion of community — and mayhap, in time, foster an actual community.
Admittedly, the problem with an endless parade of kickstarter and crowdfunding endeavours is you’re not sure how stable these things will prove (a number of times I’ll come upon a reference to a new title — only to discover it only published one issue). And like with the Canadian film biz, I suspect a lot of what fuels the creators is their own desire to be mavericks — the lack of community is precisely what inspires them.
They Stand on Guard! may write about these different projects — but I’m not sure how much the different projects themselves acknowledge each other. If you go to their Facebook pages and websites, do they mention (let alone link to) the others? (And, yes, one could level the same charge against me — but, as I say, I’ve already tried to do my part with my own websites).
I do think community is important. As I mentioned, part of America’s pop cultural success is the sense that film, TV, comics, music, etc. are communities and, yes, an industry.
Certainly years of writing about Canadian film & TV led me to the cynical conclusion that even a lot of people in the Canadian film & TV biz (actors, writers, directors, etc.) didn’t actually care out the “biz” — they just cared about their own individual projects (and the projects of their friends) and everyone else could go jump. OK, that may be a bit harsh — but it was an impression I developed.
But remember that old expression: if people don’t hang together — they’ll hang separately?
Of course part of this includes criticism, reviews, and opining.
To me that’s a necessary aspect of the artistic process — and a sign of a healthy industry. That it’s a big boy (or girl) and can withstand scrutiny. When I write about Canadian film & TV I’ve done so with (I hope) passion, commitment, enthusiasm — but that doesn’t mean my role is that of a sycophant or cheerleader. I’ve written critically about things I don’t like, and I opine (sometimes controversially) about issues (such as race, gender, etc.)
I’ve sometimes wondered if that’s why a lot of my writing over the years seems to have gone unremarked upon — even ignored — by people in the biz despite the fact that the common lament in Canadian film & TV is that no one writes about Canadian film & TV. But maybe they only want people to write nice things.
But my philosophy is that there are no “good” or “bad” reviews — only honest and dishonest ones. If a reviewer/critic has genuinely considered a work, and offers a thoughtful critique of it, largely untempered by malice or bias, then that’s a good review — even if they didn’t like the work. It at least shows they respected the work enough to think about it. As well, a thoughtful — constructive — critique can be helpful to the artist, either by pointing out flaws in their work or, at the least, pointing out where they failed to communicate their ideas to the audience (if the reviewer didn’t “get “it).
That doesn’t mean an artist should blindly accept the first negative opinion they see. Not at all. Maybe the reviewer just wasn’t the target audience. But sometimes a reviewer can articulate what the artist kind of knew all along but didn’t want to admit to themselves. And if seven out of ten reviewers say, for instance, the pacing is too slow — the creator should think seriously about tightening the pacing for their next work. (One of the things that depressed me most about Canadian film was seeing a filmmaker’s first film, and noting how reviewers might all point to the same flaws in the work — and then ten years later, seeing a later work by the same filmmaker…with all the same flaws, with no indication they had even tried to learn from those initial reviews).
At the writing of this I’ve only sold a handful of copies of my book (it’s a slow process, trying to even get people aware of the book — honestly, I’m amazed it’s sold any copies). With luck, a few reviews will start popping up about the book (either on Amazon, or the internet in general). And, yeah, doubtless some reviews will be negative — and I’ll storm, and sneer, and think those reviewers are idiots! But that’s just human nature. The reality is, as I say, even a bad review is good, if the reviewer is fair and honest. And maybe some won’t “get” what I was trying to do, or will object to my perspective, or philosophy — while others might offer some sage observations I was too willful to acknowledge.
And hey, maybe some will even say they loved every page of it!
But it’s part of a process. Any movie, book, comic — or collection of prose superhero tales — is a building block upon which the next one can be laid. And this gets back to my point about They Stand on Guard!
Part of the impetus for my writing this book was because of my long standing frustration with the lack of this kind of Canadian popular entertainment (and Canada’s history of well-intentioned, but generally ill-fated and short-lived superhero comics).
My book spans close to a decade and almost every province and territory, and it tries to imagine what it might have been like if there had been a major Canadian comic book publisher — if I had grown up with such a thing populating the comic racks at my local corner store, marrying the escapist adventure of superheroes with Canadian culture and themes. And even if my attempt is flawed, or fails to be the book I hope it is (honest — I think it’s pretty neat!) maybe it will inspire the next generation.
Because blogs like They Stand on Guard! help to show that there are more possibilities out there…
(Just as an aside, I also came upon a reference to my book on another blog: Superhero Novels — this one devoted to specifically writing about prose superhero fiction. So that’s pretty cool, too.)