One of the panels at C2E2 last month was entitled “Comic Fandom Year One: What You Wish You Knew Then.” It was basically a discussion of things that veteran fans knew and wanted to relay on to newer fans who might be unsure on who to ask questions. Or even what questions to ask. Having been in comics fandom myself for several decades, I attended more out of curiosity than anything else. It sounded like any insights that I might get from them would be how some of my early fan experiences might translate into a more contemporary digital environment.
One comment that struck me, though, was one panelist who noted that when she first started reading comics, she was aghast that anyone might have a “to read” pile that went back further than their last trip to a comic shop. She thought comics were awesome and why wouldn’t you read them all at your first available opportunity? But now, five years into being a comics fan, she had a short box set aside that was half-filled with comics she hadn’t read yet. (A half-filled short box, for those who don’t know, would be around 100-150 comics.) She had begun to understand that life sometimes just gets in the way, and you have to set aside the books you want to read until later.
I was telling someone this recently, and how my initial reaction was, “Half a short box?!? I’ve got 20-30 long boxes of comics I haven’t read!” (That’s a little shy of 10,000 comics.) “And that’s not even counting the stuff piled up in my digital accounts!” But as I was saying that, it occurred to me that I also know people who have had to rent storage units to house their collections, much of which haven’t been read. As much as I’m proud of my comics collection, it is by no means so impressive to be that boastful about it.
One of the aspects of fandom that people try to engage in is scoring their level of fandom. They try to evaluate how big and important a fan they are by comparing themselves against other fans. And because it’s difficult to do that from intangible aspects (how deep their interest goes, for example, or how much trivia they know) fans sometimes use their collections as a scorecard. “I have X number of items in my collection, so I’m a bigger fan than the next guy.” That was almost exactly my thought when I heard the speaker—”I’m a bigger fan than her because I have more unread comics than she has in her entire collection!”
It’s a bogus argument, of course, but it’s nonetheless compelling to think along those lines. It’s an easy method of “keeping score” and an equally easy way to provide an ego-boost to yourself. It’s a way to validate one’s own sense of self by ranking oneself quantifiably higher in that fandom, even if that quantifiable ranking is superficial and, ultimately, not a good measurement.
Even knowing this, it was difficult for me to check myself and realize that her experience and enjoyment of fandom is every bit as valid as mine, regardless of how many comics either of us have or how long either of us have been reading them. Fandom should be about the enjoyment you get out of it, not a superficial validation of your sense of ego. It’s the joy that brought you in initially; make sure it’s the joy that keeps you in!