World of comic books continues to expand

Our culture seems to be built around barriers.

For the past few decades, these barriers have divided entertainment media. Television was television; film was film. The barriers divided people, too. There were geeks, there were jocks, there were rebels and there wasn’t any crossover.

Things are changing. These barriers are breaking down and different media are crossing over now.

Additionally, niche interests are not just for geeks; now, everyone obsesses over something.

Different areas of the entertainment world are branching out and not only affecting other media, but also offering commentary on the changing world.

In no medium is this more evident than in comics.

“We live in what has essentially become a hyper-evolved, rapidly changing market,” said comic book writer Jonathan Hickman. “It’s not even just the market, it’s the environment. If you’re not writing stuff that feels ahead of the curve, you’re missing out. And the curve is just ripping away from you as a creator.”

Hickman is one of many writers looking at current culture to influence his work, focusing on how technology, urban life and the convergence of trends affect daily life.

Each writer offers his own commentary on today’s changing culture, whether it’s the mad futurism and development in Hickman’s Fantastic Four, the breakdown of cliques and the use of technology in life in Nick Spencer’s Morning Glories and The Infinite Vacation, or the psychological overtones in Scott Snyder’s Detective Comics and American Vampire.

Part of this comes from the crossover between comic books and the rest of the entertainment world, as more and more comic book properties are being licensed to television, cinema and video games.

“This is the kind of weird period of history,” Hickman said. “I don’t know any comic book guys that aren’t meddling in TV and movies.”

It’s not just the media changing the comic world, but people, too. Thanks to the rise of social media, people are sharing more information about themselves with others and finding out they are not alone in their interests.

“What happens in an information society when you do that is that you can suddenly connect easily with people who like similar things,” Spencer said. ”If you were the one kid on the street who liked comics or video games, now everyone who likes that is just a click away.”

This has helped to erode the long-held social archetypes, especially with comics, as geeks are finally shaking off fears of being loners and proudly admitting their interests.

“We don’t feel like outcasts for liking them or enjoying them anymore,” Spencer said. “Now we sort of have community in these things. I don’t know if geek culture even exists anymore, there’s no real sense of isolation with readers, no fear of rejection.”

This is most true in the way the comic book audience is being perceived. The stereotype of readers as The SimpsonsComic Book Guy, once quite popular at the end of the last century, is now dead and shows no sign of reemerging in modern culture.

“When I was a kid, comics were barely coed,” Snyder said. “Now you go to Comic-Con and you’ll see people of all backgrounds, genders, races, everything. It feels much more diverse and much less stereotyped than it used to be.”

And as the culture continues to change, writers are continuing to explore that shift. With the barriers that once separated parts of society now broken, it leaves both the present and the future without any framework to evolve in.

“For me I’m telling more and more stories about what’s good, what’s bad, what’s working for people individually about that change and what’s missing,” Spencer said. “What are people’s personal destinies, their calling and their purpose? That’s the stuff I’m interested in.”

Nicholas Slayton is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. His column, “Age of the Geek,” runs Fridays.

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