Tuesday, June 19, 2012

You Only Get One Shot at This...

Doug:  I've had my mind on a philosophical problem for the past several months, and I think it applies to the comics world as well; probably to television, novel series, etc., too.  So today we'll see what kind of conversation it spawns.

Doug:  Those of you in education should be able to relate to my quandary.  The longer I'm in this business of teaching, the more I'm aware of how we often fail to provide the optimal services we have been contracted to provide.  For example, (and this has really, really been on my mind over the past several years) every time some new piece of legislative interference, like No Child Left Behind, comes down the pike it disrupts the normal rhythms of educational operations.  Is that bad, though, to shake people out of their complacency and hold them accountable every now and then?  Certainly not.  However, when the changes required are sweeping and the implementations of improvements/upgrades/new standards/more frequent measures -- you name it -- require an almost constant reshuffling of "what I do", it perhaps does more harm than good to our clients (the students) in the immediate sense.  Here's the crux of today's discussion:  when change takes place, what is lost is the sense of responsibility that a child's sophomore year, or to drill down further October or March of their sophomore year (shoot -- if I as a teacher just mail it in one class period, I've cost a kid an hour of a day in a month in a year that he'll/she'll never get back) is forever disrupted.  That student is never going to be a sophomore again, never going to go through school in the month of February in 2012 again...

Doug:  And this spills over to the coaching arena as well.  Hey, you say you're going to change your offense because you didn't care for the one you used last season?  Better be certain that the new stuff matches your current team's skill set -- because while the tweaking is going on, some senior will never play football, soccer, basketball, or volleyball again.  It's over -- opportunity for a fondly remembered experience lost.

Doug:  So how does this apply to our four-color world?  I decided to pen this after we ran the discussion on Don't Go Changing, to Try and Please Me..., which actually enjoyed a commenting life over a few days.  Some of our readers set down fabulous changes that are forever endearing in our memory banks; others offered up some real stinkers.  Looking at life through an experiential lens, what if you chose a particular month to try out a new comic?  You could land at the feet of Fantastic Four #48, or you could land at Avengers #203.  Dropped into the midst of greatness, or into that one-off filler that most of us, barring completism, maybe wish we'd never bought.  I wonder if the audience is at times taken lightly -- there sure were a lot of "Oops -- the Dreaded Deadline Doom got us again" reprints in the Bronze Age... "But come back next month for..."  The comics-producing community has a responsibility to make the reader feel welcome, entertained, and with a sense of "I'm coming back!"  Hey, you only get one shot at this...

18 comments:

Rip Jagger said...

I get what you mean about the teaching. New-fangled methods mean essentially field-testing and even experience in the classroom which can mitigate the negative impact of change, can be limited. New ain't better by any means all the time. The field has altered so much so many times in my area that I don't even describe it as change, but use the word "flux" which implies never-ending change. We rarely spend enough time with a reform to truly measure its impact.

Now as to comics that's a valid point. Readers imprint on the first books they get hold of and that shapes their tastes. Those tastes can alter and even improve, but my appreciation for the work of Sal Buscema, Dick Dillin, and other reliable "hacks" is not something which I'd imagine new readers can appreciate. Likewise I find many new artists unimpressive, but know that new readers will mightily impressed.

We can't be so inflexible that we don't appreciate what is good, but by the same token I'm sure my notions of what is good are specific to my experience, or very nearly so. It's difficult to overcome that.

Rip Off

Anonymous said...

Teacher unions making it nigh impossible to fire bad/evil teachers is a far larger problem, my friend. There are students such as myself who had teachers with seniority who literally sat with feet on desk reading Sports Illustrated the entire class period, another showed VHS tapes of movies as his method of teaching history. Rambo: First Blood was our lesson on civil rights. I kid you not.

Xrayman

Doug said...

Xrayman --

You'll get no argument out of me in regard to tenure of teachers. Some of the venom, however, needs to be directed at administrators (as well as the overall system), as there is a window of opportunity for getting rid of bad teachers early in their careers; even for a tenured teacher, continued poor reviews is cause for dismissal or reassignment. I fully agree that in some districts, among some teachers, this is a problem.

In those cases of which you speak, and those sorts of people unfortunately give us all a bad name (I'd like to have you in my class, so I could show you what my attempts at doing it right look like), students have definitely lost that experiential portion of their education, and it sounds like it's left a very bad taste in your mouth.

Doug

Doug said...

By the way, if you've not seen it, the final list for Bracketology is posted a few spots below today's post. Additionally, a play-in poll is currently running on the left sidebar, so check that out as well. Please continue to make comments in Sunday's Bracketology post.

Thanks,

Doug

Anonymous said...

I think you do bond to whichever version of something you experience first, regardless of quality. I guess we’re designed to do that right from the first sight/smell/touch of our parents. In terms of icons & heroes, in the UK you tend to think of whichever Dr. Who or Bond you started with, so Jon Pertwee and Roger Moore will always be ‘my’ Dr. Who and James Bond, even though Connery was better and Dr. Who now annihilates Dr. Who in the 70’s.
Similarly, Iron Man will only ever be Tony Stark, Thor Don Blake, Cap Steve Rogers, etc.

I do notice that the same does not apply to teams. If you ask me for my favourite team of Avengers, I will invent one from my favourite characters rather than pick a specific one from a specific era. Likewise the Xmen. I don’t regard the all new, all different as upstarts for some reason. I prefer the FF with Crystal or other associate members.

It’s hard to pin down what you’re asking us, Doug, but this occurs to me: if someone were to randomly pick up one ish of a great comic which might either entice them back forever or not, it might be logical if it were a brilliant done-in-one, rather than an instalment of a long running saga.....but it doesn’t work out that way, does it? The brilliant stuff is almost always in runs. This kind of supports what you’re saying: that sudden change favours disruption, where continuity favours achievement through improvement. And this goes for education as well as artistic endeavour.

Maybe it’s about the difference between sudden change and incremental development.

Richard

humanbelly said...

Doug, I imagine your referencing teaching/education could very well result in its own firestorm of responses! As both a dad & a teacher yourself, you are of course painfully aware of several sides of the issues involved. Our school system- Prince Georges County, in Maryland- periodically makes national headlines with its scandals and disfunctions (and should probably make several more with incidents that don't seem to quite see the light of day). While there always seems to be a desire to improve, there's almost never the necessary sense of urgency (institutionally) that parents are naturally afire with when they see entire chunks of their children's lives being tossed aside w/ a shrug of regret (the first month of my son's freshman year; my daughter's ENTIRE fifth grade year). "Be patient; these things take time" is the verbatim mantra-- but as you point out, the kids don't stop growing and needing to continue learning while grand schemes grind slowly into place. . .

Possibly more relatable to the comicbook arena would be the way this responsibility applies in the performing arts. I spent years & years as an actor happily ensconced in a thriving dinner theater region. 6 to 8 shows a week, with a show running 8 to 20 (!) weeks. Invariably, some performers get bored and start phoning it in (or worse), especially if they feel a particular audience of middle school tourists or matinee senior-citizens isn't "worth" making the effort for. This can happen with unhappy touring companies, as well.
This always made me completely nutso. Because, as you pointed out, there will ALWAYS be an individual out there for whom that performance (or book) has either been a highly-anticipated event, or even their first (and most-important) impression. Is "probably good enough" a fair and justifiable level of professional effort to give them? Good lord, no.

And the comic book world was horrendously guilty of this from, oh, the early 80's-onward, I'd say. The first example I always give in this kind of discussion is the inexcusable- absolutely inexcusable- art in much of the Secret Wars II maxi-series. There were pages that looked like they'd been dashed off in 20 minutes, and then never sent to an inker. Or the demise of Quasar's book brought on LARGELY because of hopelessly inadequate pencillers. Or having all of the annuals turn into crossover events that Marvel didn't have the artistic personnel to support- thus giving us poorly-thought-out "events" in books filled largely w/ 3rd-rate back-up stories that were obviously try-outs for new talent. . . or bones for folks past their artistic prime.

Oh goodness-- I'm inviting combative response, aren't I? Sorry, sorry. . .

HB

david_b said...

Interesting, and potentially volatile topic, Doug. I've had several 'strong discussions' which melted into vehement arguments concerning teachers and 'No Child', regarding implementation of standardized testing. And I'm typically not the arguin' type.

Most teachers were dead-set against standardized testing, but when I dug deeper, I typically found both partisan issues and disdain of their teaching sytles being questioned for effectiveness being at the core, and yes the regard of government becoming more involved with education, where the rubber meets road.

Yet, test scores are test scores. Determining measurement criteria for learning advancements (not creativity) apparently wasn't up to snuff. I don't know, and I learned quickly it wasn't a good subject to engage in with the teaching community. Quite surprised at the reaction.

What was forgotten by the folks I encountered, was that EVERY industry goes through that at some point. Just recently, the national VAs were all being scrutinized/overhauled for security measures not being up to snuff. A lot of what I normally did has been turned upside-down and it's extremely frustrating. It's just part of public sector, and in fact, I applaud all the efforts, and welcome them. Anything to improve how we conduct business is fine by me. It reminds me just how important our work is.

As for comics, I was blessed (perhaps not..) at coming in just when Romita left Spiderman, John Buscema was still doing FF, Marvel reprints of classic Kirby FF and Spidey, Steve E. was making CA&F one of the top sellers, Reed and Sue were having domestic issues, Steranko edited FOOM, and Avengers had that little summer-long scuffle with that other team (you may have read about it..). Definitely a highpoint.

I comment above that I was perhaps not blessed because it was SUCH a high watermark to uphold, leading me to be disappointed and move on just a few years later.

Doug said...

You all are great -- keep these very introspective thoughts coming!

To satisfy more than one of you with perhaps the "nutshell" of my original post -- while we tinker with improvments/innovations that may or may not take, what's the experience of that consumer experientially? In the midst of the fog, do some consumers pay a price? The end result may indeed be an improvement, but there is collateral damage along the way.

And yes, this sort of thing is true in comics as well as just about any industry we could name. I am saying that the guy who is in the wrong place at the wrong time can be a victim of any change (regardless of the overall outcome).

Doug

Unknown said...

If Im reading this topic correctly...

My first Justice Leagues were the JLA/JSA/Freedom Fighters teamup by Wein/Dillin/Giordano. That certainly set a high bar for me. My first Teen Titans was (as most of them were) a suitably goofy Haney story illustrated by Nick Cardy at his peak. Both made me fans for life. Now, a few years later, and I could have been in the Don Heck periods. If that had happened, I doubt I would have even flipped beyond the splash pages, let alone bought any of them.

My first Marvels were the same as David B's, and that's my peak Marvel period. Interestingly, I'd already been indoctrinated by the Fantastic Four cartoons before I ever saw a book. My first actual issue of the FF had Medusa subbing for Sue, and Johnny in his red uniform. I think it took me a few read-throughs to compute the changes, but then I just excepted them. I still like this period in FF history.

James Chatterton

Unknown said...

Additionally...

I'm actually in community college right now, having never bothered to even graduate high school when I was a teen. I've been impressed with the teachers so far. Most of them are not tenured, and the horrific budget cuts on education here in California aren't doing them any favors. But the majority of them are able to radiate a real passion and energy for their respective subjects.

I'm sure part of the equation involves student participation. I myself was the most apathetic student possible when I was a kid, and I got the grades to show for it. Now that I'm voluntarily paying for it, my attitude is completely the opposite. So is my experience.

James Chatterton

humanbelly said...

I think your last point there, Doug, is a particularly important one, as the level of acceptable victimization should be inversely proportionate to how dire the consequences to those victims are (think medicine, education, capital punishment, law enforcement, etc). And when those victims are identified, one would prefer to see each of their needs directly addressed and an attempt made to make them whole, rather than view them as acceptable losses. That's perhaps hopelessly idealistic on my part-- but I don't seem to be able to back away from it.

Hey, there's a PERFECT Bronze Age/Modern Age example of the whole "tinker with the process whilst we inflict it on our readers" scenario: Remember that NEW AND IMPROVED bright color saturation process in the mid/late 80's that they kept trying to master, month after month, in NEW MUTANTS and PETER PARKER, in particular?? Sometimes it obliterated all attempt at shading. Sometimes it didn't stay lined up w/ the drawings. It was ALWAYS glaringly bright. I distinctly remember a printed letter where an aggravated reader said, look, either figure this thing out or just stop using it. We can't take it anymore. (To paraphrase a bit. . .)

I do give ol' Marvel some credit, though, for still having the gumption then to give voice to negative feedback like that. Obvioiusly, there's no way to know anymore if they hear anyone at all. . .

HB

Doug said...

That's a great testimony, James. You would be a good role model for today's kids who might feel as you felt those years ago.

Thanks,

Doug

William Preston said...

I teach, currently 11th-grade English (Am. lit.), AP Literature, and a film class (and I've taught creative writing for upper schoolers, too). I also appreciate James's comment about the investment of the student. That's everything. As I tell my students, most of their learning must take place away from me, on their own; that's their responsibility. On top of that, of course, is what they bring to the class every day. Bring nothing, get nothing. It's always sad to think of the people who fought to be educated, the millions of black Americans deprived of basic literacy for hundreds of years, and then to see some middle-class kid (obviously, it's not just middle-class kids, but that's mostly who I teach) treating education as if it had no essential value.

I don't have to worry about "No Child," by the way. I teach at an independent school. I often tell kids (to your initial point) that they're my guinea pigs (especially on a new course, but also on a book that's new to me), and kids seem to appreciate that we're constructing the course together, that I'm learning too, that some assignments don't quite work. But to look at every event as if the coin were simply labeled "success" on one side and "tragedy" on the other is to overload the value of any given event in school.

Edo Bosnar said...

First, a sort of response to Xrayman's comment about impossible-to-fire teachers and Doug's point about administrators: at my high school, a top-notch math and computer sci teacher was basically harassed into resigning by a new superintendent - there was a lot of behind-the-scenes politics involved, but the basic reason was the guy kind of looked like hold-over hippie with longish hair, a beard and a pretty scruffy wardrobe. He got a (better) job at a bigger high school, while the we students got his rather lackluster and uninspired replacement...

Anyway, back to comics: one switch that I recall having an impact on me (and I'm sure I wasn't the only one) was when Marvel moved Ka-zar, Micronauts and Moon Knight to direct sales. This was before I had my driver license, and the nearest comic shop was about a half-drive away, and since I was an avid Ka-zar reader at the time I bought a subscription to that, and pretty much never read Micronauts or Moon Knight again. In fact, I think we're all seeing today the long-term repercussions of those beginnings of that move to direct sales and comic books as specialty shop items...

david_b said...

James:

Ditto's on the FF changes.. I had their 60s cartoon firmly resident in my imagination, when I picked up FF ish 138 at some dusty gas station while parents were traveling through Arizona. It ignited my childhood FF enjoyment again, and I actually enjoyed the "Red-suited Torch and Medusa" phase of the FF best of all. A lot of subtle drama used as a story 'watermark', making it seem much more layered than the simpler, action-packed Kirby days.

Fred W. Hill said...

In my case, it wasn't really a "one shot" that made or broke a deal in my comics reading habit; as a pre-adolescent I read comics from Marvel, DC, and other companies so I got a bit of a flavor of each of them in the transition period between the Silver & Bronze ages and ultimately it was Marvel that hooked me. As a young adult in the early '80s, however, growing increasingly disenchanted with much of Marvel's product of the time, I checked out a few DC and indie titles I'd read or heard good things about, including Swampt Thing under Alan Moore and Cerebus (early in the High Society issues), and enjoyed them enough to keep buying more. Of course, if I'd tried to start with Cerebus at about its half-way point when Dave Sim's senses of humor and reason began a downward slide, I may not have ever purchased another issue.
As to various legislative efforts to improve teaching, to my perception too much of it is based on rote learning -- memorizing data -- and not enough on critical thinking, learning to reason and recognize fallacies. It seems a certain segment of our government wants to transform much of the populace into unthinking drones who blindly accept whatever their wealthy and/or excessively religious "betters" tell them. Just my two cents towards the end of a very long and busy day.

vancouver mark said...

I also started reading the FF at that time, my first issues were the Inhumans/Omega story that introduced Medusa as a member and Johnny's red suit.

It was interesting (at first a little disorienting)to buy the new issues each month, alongside the old Kirby issues that were reprinting in Marvel's Greatest Comics, and the TV cartoon that still bounced around after-school syndication.
The new issues always seemed so "modern," in the level of drama that David mentioned, the tone, the cultural references and the feel of the art.
At that time, comics were like other popular media such as music, television, film - the current post-60's product always felt so much more sophisticated that the stuff that had come ten years before, which often seemed pretty simplistic and primitive.

Garett said...

I too read the Freedom Fighters teamup in Justice League early on, James. Great one! Loved and still love Giordano on Dillin.

Fred, I enjoyed the early Cerebus, and was baffled when I picked up a later issue.

Edo, Kazar was a fun comic, with decent art and those wraparound covers. Didn't Kazar "die" at one point and Shanna took over for an issue?

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