I Was a Comics Fan When Comics Weren’t Cool

You know that line, “I was country when country wasn’t cool”? This week, while the media goes gaga over the San Diego Comicon, that’s how I feel. I was a serious comic book fan* back when serious comic book fans were the nerdiest of the nerds. Star Trek fans didn’t even exist then, because Star Trek didn’t exist yet. Forget Star Wars; that was late in the next decade. I also worked in the business for a substantial, important chunk of my life at both Marvel and DC Comics.

How does it feel to have been at the center of a movement that has been taken over by younger generations and heavily publicized in mainstream media by johnny-come-lately fan boys? Strange. I read about people I met when they were boys who didn’t shave yet, like Lance Tooks, a sweet kid then who has since published his own graphic novels (he still might not be shaving). Or I read about people who are fans of what my coworkers Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum produced, the revitalized and egalitized X-Men. Chris and Dave are jointly responsible for giving X-Men strong female characters and male characters with multiethnic backgrounds, so important in making this a comic with a genuinely modern sensibility. I also hear sound bites of Stan Lee, peddling his usual jovial line of crowd-pleasing, vague bs. Stan likes to keep things light, which is one reason he’s such an enduring character in this media festival. Light didn’t quite cut it decades ago when peoples’ entire livelihoods were on the line, and I don’t forget how Jack Kirby got a raw deal in comics.

I also read the too-late-to-matter praise of my super-talented coworker, Marie Severin, the Funniest Woman in Comics. Marie reminds me that at the time, various people were mean to her. At Marvel Comics, she was discriminated against because she was a female, which was not how she was treated at EC Comics years before.  I saw it happen. Now, it’s all “Oh, how wonderful she is/was!” Right. But where were the high-profile assignments and the job promotions she merited? Not that she gives a hoot. She shrugged it off then as their loss. She’s laughing now, in happy retirement. A well-lived life is the best revenge, although we all know that comic books as a medium is the poorer for the systematic exclusion of genuine female voices.

Now, don’t go telling me that all the photos from the San Diego Comicon of half-naked girls in costume (or to be strictly accurate, mostly hanging out of costume) are proof that comic books appeal to females as much as they to males. It isn’t true. Asian manga I’ll give you. The other stuff, marginal. We few fan girls are starved for product. Dang, I wish I could draw.

Anyway, as the crazy week in San Diego makes one of my favorite cities unbearable, I’m keeping far from the madness and the crowds. My bookcase full of classic Superman DC Comics, especially my run of Lois Lane comics, is a few feet away from me, the air conditioning is on, and I am happy.

*Editorial note: No hyphen needed; the term “comic books” is what’s called an open compound.


  1. Very well said, Irene. I always have conflicting feels about the San Diego show. I wasn’t able to go this year, and I have been somewhat lamenting it, but really it is probably for the best. It truly is a media show, and I don’t think it will ever return to its roots but rather, stray farther from them. My time is better spent reading romance comics! Thanks for letting me know I am not alone!

  2. If you want to see what IS representative of the fans in attendance, check out this clip I made walking from one end of the exhibit hall to the other. It took me 14 minutes do do it. And while there’s flesh on display, non-costumed fans win.


    Someone who has more time than I do could go through and actually do a census of the people seen, calculating the crowd ratios by costuming, race, age, gender, etc.

  3. There are many, many great female cartoonists working (a couple have turned to other art forms) whose work I adore; Debbie Dreschler, Julie Doucet, Leslie Stein, Mary Fleener, Carol Tyler, Eleanor Davis, Vanessa Davis (no relation), Julia Gforer, Genevieve Castree, Gabrielle Bell, Phoebe Gloeckner, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Diane Noomin, Kristine Kryttrye, Dori Seda (R.I.P)…..I could go on and on…..check ’em out if you haven’t!

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