Friday, March 9, 2012

In Defense of Comic Book Men (TV)

Comic Book Men is a new reality show that airs on AMC, Sundays at 10:00 p.m. The cameras follow the employees and customers at Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash. The store is located in New Jersey, the home state of film director and sometime comic book writer, Kevin Smith, who owns the store.

The show has been generally reviled and derided in the comic book community. Comments range from — not worth your time to it's trash. I've watched the show for a month now and I very much disagree with the negativity. The main hook of the show is showing people coming into the store to try to sell their geek memorabilia. This is one of major points of emphasis for people who dislike Comic Book Men. I must say, when I started reading reviews and heard the show described as a nerdy Pawn Stars knockoff, I was very disappointed.

But, let's look at this from the point of view of a producer. What are they going to show to fill an hour of TV that will catch an audience's attention? I have frequented my share of comic book stores and by far the coolest thing about them is their unique merchandise and the general atmosphere of geek; whether it be in the form of conversations about super villains or arguments about which Star Wars prequel is the worst (it's Episode I by the way).

There really is nothing exciting about turning the cameras on every Wednesday (comic book day in the U.S.) and watching regular customers come in and buy a stack of weekly comics. The cameras may catch a quick exchange or two that is vaguely interesting but for the most part, regular customers are either going to be too intimated to talk or overly enthusiastic.

I have no problem with the format of the show. There has been some really cool and amazing stuff come through the door to be sold and the guys behind the counter have been genuine in their excitement or disdain. Perhaps there's something going on behind the scenes where the producers put it out there that if you have unique or pricey items that you are willing to part with, you could get your fifteen minutes of TV fame. I'm cool with that. All reality TV is manufactured in some way and it has put some incredible geekness on the screen.

The other part, as I mentioned above, that makes the comic book store experience pretty fun is the conversation. With an amazing storyteller and public speaker such as Kevin Smith as one of your producers, why not use him to drive the conversation? The show films Smith and his four store workers as they record a podcast about the latest happenings at the store. Not only does this allow some narration and set-up to scenes we are witnessing but it gives a venue for the nerdy conversations.

Yes, they've discussed the hottest female super-hero, what super power they would want, and which batmobile is the coolest. However, they also sprinkle in the history of comic books and discuss creators and books that people should know more about.

I believe that people that hate the show do so because it shows off, in bright shiny colors, all the things that people see as stereotypical of comic readers and of comic book stores. Yes, it is a shame that they aren't focusing more on the great graphic novels and high-end, literary quality art and stories that are being produced today. Of course, I wish they would give equal time to books and creators that have nothing to do with people wearing capes or spandex.

Reality check time here, pun intended. I have seen nothing on this show that I haven't seen fifty times on my own in a store. You want reality TV? This is the reality of a comic book store. There are introverts and socially awkward people. There are people who are not politically correct and don't care. Comic Book Men doesn't shy away from the facts. They discuss this openly. They are saddened that they can't get women into the store and they know that their market is mainly an aging market of overweight and balding men. I applaud them for giving it to us straight.

I will keep watching as long as AMC keeps it on the air. The podcast talks are just the mixture of intellect and nerd that I love. I could do without some of the manufactured for TV events like dressing up like zombies to boost sales. It's funny though, that zombie stunt actually lost the store money and in the world of the ever struggling comic book store, that is indeed a harsh reality.

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