Eric Lee talks about the creative process and the complexity of geek media

In this episode, we hear from Eric Lee, author and artist of ‘The Breakup Artist’ webcomic and contributor to Fantastic Universes and Dark Knight News.

He talks with us about the creative process, particularly with a long-running project with ongoing fan feedback.
We learn where his love of comics came from, despite limited accessibility, and what about the medium that grips him the most.
He has a look at the changes of both geek media and the fandom over the years. How has it changed not only his opinions as a fan but the opinions of the population as a whole, as more people have a look inside the world that has been created for us.
We also take time to reflect on the deeper side of geek media, the deeper stories and meanings within, the levels of complexity that aren’t always apparent at first glance.

Follow eric on social media https://twitter.com/meeleeart https://instagram.com/meeleeart
His website is http://meeleeart.com and you can find his comic, the breakup artist, on webtoons.com http://bit.ly/thebreakupartist
You can also find erics writing on both fantasticuniverses.com and darkknightnews.com

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Transcript

Eric:
Hi, my name is Eric Lee. I’m a staff writer for Dark Night News, a Batman fansite. I’m also a staff writer for Fantastic Universes, which is a general geek nerdy website.
Additionally, I also have written and illustrated my own comic that’s available on webtoons called The Breakup Artist, a story about a girl who gets hired to break up with other people’s boyfriends, and what that is like. I spent my time doing that. It actually just recently got completed at the end of 2021, and that’s so far my presence on the Internet. But I’m always looking forward to doing more projects or writing more stories or writing more news about anything related to geek culture.

Paul:
Have you got any projects on your mind currently that you might go into next?

Eric:
Yeah, currently. Right now, I’m in the process of writing and illustrating, contributing to an anthology comic for one of the guys from Fantasy Universes, Tony, where he’ll be publishing an anthology comic, and I’ll be having a small contribution to it. So that’s currently what I’m working on.
Other things I’ll be working on at the moment is also trying to get my own podcast up and started, also talking about geek culture. But I’m still in the process of trying to figure out exactly where I want to go or what I want the specific focus to be on. And also, after completing my webtoons comics for The Breakup Artist, I’ve enjoyed the process so much of writing and illustrating my own comic. I want to take the next step to try to get the webtoon published in the actual physical copybook so I could sell that around.
And Additionally, I’m also trying to pursue creative writing more, I’m already in the process to try and think of my next new story idea for my next webtoons comic book, which is currently in the ideas phase and probably will take a year or two to actually go from writing from written script to actual illustration to actually being seen on the Internet.

Paul:
Yeah, because you’ve obviously.. I mean, how long did you do The Breakup Artist for because that was a long time.

Eric:
It was a long time. I originally started publishing it back in 2017, and then it just finished at the end of 2021. So that was a four-year process, with some breaks between for a couple of months for me to work on this more, but even then, before that, I was working on it for at least a year or so before it actually was published. So that’s a good four or five years of focusing on writing, rewriting, illustrating, and trying to figure out all the mechanics of using webcomics. Because this is my first time uploading a webcomic. So I had to iron out a lot of bugs of how to do stuff, how to Copyright, how to properly format it to someone’s computer.
So once I got started on that, it was like a consistent machine, like the quality of scheduling, where I had to make sure okay, I had to turn in X amount of pages every day. I’ve turned in X amount of pages per week, and then hopefully I could turn out at least one chapter per month, give or take. So I had to keep on that disciplined scheduled process for three to four years.
And I’m proud to say that I managed to keep my deadlines for the entire time. I’ve never come behind late or had to take an extra week. I got close a couple of times, but I’ve always managed to pull it out and just like, work at it, with drawing and writing the whole time. It’s a process where it’s not linear, where it’s not like I write and the script is completely done and I never touch it again. And then I’d start drawing.
It’s not a linear process. It’s a back and forth process where I write. And then I rewrite. And then until I finally get my draft to where I want it to be, then I’m like, okay, I can start drawing, doing the art, but then the art. But then once I start doing the art, then I’m still continuing doing rewrites of later chapters and then going back. I draw the art. Sometimes the art inspires me to do the scenes a little bit differently or change the dialogue. So it has to be going back and tweaking it even then, or changing some of the smaller plot points from then and coming back and rewriting it and finishing it from there, and then publishing it.
Even publishing it, it sometimes takes on life. When I publish a live webcomic, you tend to get feedback from your audience, and you tend to get comments, and that feedback and those comments tend to change some of the things that you may have initially thought because you realize certain audience members are responding to this character more, or they are responding to the two characters and thinking that maybe there’s too much. So even then, even though after I publish the first couple of chapters, I’m still going back and retweaking it, retweaking it and trying to perfect it as much as possible to make it as good of a storyline as possible.

Paul:
Sounds like a full-time job. And as Tony would say, you’re giving that shit away for free.

Eric:
Yes, I probably would say I’m a good artist. I feel like I’m turning into a pretty decent creative writer, but I’m a terrible business person, so I have no concept of how to appropriately make it pay for itself. That’s why I’m trying to now get into actually publishing it as a graphic novel. That way I could publish it, have a physical copy in my hands, and physically show people or give it to people and say, this is the work I’ve done for the past couple of years.
And then on top of that, it’d be great if I could also get paid for it too.
Probably because my priorities as far as what I want out of creating webcomics or creating a graphic novel or publishing it’s not really monetary. That’s not my main priority or objective. My main priority objective is to just get my work out there just to share some of my thoughts, my viewpoints of what I think. And hopefully, some people will enjoy it. Hopefully, people will respond positively to it. Hopefully, people will resonate with it. Those are my top priorities. And then if I can make money out of it, if I could get some financial rewards, that’s even better, but not my priorities.
So, like Tony said, I’m giving away for free, mostly because I don’t know how to do it otherwise.

Paul:
I’m curious because you mentioned that obviously, you tweak it based on how you think it’s going and the comments that you get and what sort of feels right after you started the process. How far away is the end result; how far away do you think it’s come from where it initially would have ended?

Eric:
They’re pretty Dang far. I have the original draft saved onto my computer and I’ve opened it and reread it recently and it’s like, it’s not even like the ending is completely different than what I originally intended, which is totally fine because that’s the point of it. Writing shouldn’t be just a process where you just put it on a shelf and say, okay, I’m not going to touch it again. It should be a process, a live document where you are constantly changing and tweaking it, adding stuff to it. Because as time goes on, I get feedback from other people or I just straight up like, have different inspirations once it hits me. Like if I happen to be experiencing life or watching something on TV or reading it in a book and I’d be like, wow, what I just read or experienced or watched, that’s what I want in the comics. So then I’ll have to go back and try to add those inspirations into my comic as much as possible. If comparing it to my actual story versus my original first draft, I’d say it’s probably only 15% of it is probably still survived in the original fashion that was originally written in, and then beyond that, motivations have been changed. The ending has been changed, the climax has been changed, character pieces have been moved around or switched or added.
So I definitely went back and re-edited a lot. And it’s something that I feel like a lot of people, a lot of people say where it’s like arts not really ever finished. It’s just abandoned at some point because you have to get it out by the deadline. So that’s how it felt, where it’s like, if I had no deadlines, if I had no other job or no other commitments, I would just be tweaking at it, retweaking, retweaking all the time.
But then at some point, I’m like, I have to bite the bullet and say, oh, I got to get this published for the sake of the deadlines. And that’s the product it turned out.
And my hope is that it was a successful product and that it reached people and it helped touch people.
It definitely is a product of being a live serial comic, which allows it to change over the course of the series versus if it was just a book that had to be the entire thing has to be done and then have to be published by a deadline or entire movie that had to be done. This definitely felt like it evolved over the course of the series because my life has changed over the course of the series where I’ve moved around, I’ve gotten a couple of jobs, I’ve experienced different people and had different experiences. So all that probably in some fashion has been seeped into my writing at some point through general osmosis, and it comes out in certain ways.
So it’s fun, it’s interesting, and it’s definitely different from what I originally thought was the writing process before I started writing the script. It’s a very different process. It’s a lot more back and forth than I originally intended, but it’s a good thing. I enjoyed that.

Paul:
How did it all start? Where did the inspiration come from?

Eric:
The inspiration really just started is really just the strength of the concept of the idea of thinking about the breakup artist. What a great name. Very evocative, very slightly mysterious, but you kind of understand what it is immediately where it’s like a breakup artist. Oh, it sounds like someone who does breakups for a living and then thinking, that sounds like a really good concept for romantic comedy, dramatic story at the very least. But then thinking about it, you have to think like, okay, well, if we have someone who calls themselves a breakup artist, like my character June is, how does that affect her? What does that mean? How does she come to that point in her life where she’s thinking, yeah, I can do this. I can go in and do something incredibly intimate in people’s lives, such as getting in their romantic relationships and doing something incredibly invasive, like breaking them up.
How did she get there? Because that’s not a normal thing. That’s not a normal thought process that human beings would normally go through. But she does. So part of the drive for the story, for the first one-third of the story is just figuring out why does she do what she does. So that’s part of the hook of the story as well. And it kind of just goes and branches out from there, which is like, how does that affect her normal life? How does it affect her own personal romantic life? How does it affect how she sees people or how she sees the world? So just like the inspiration of the concept, just when I was thinking about it, when I went to the gym one day, and then it’s just kind of like doing a deep dive of what does that mean? Or what about this? What about this? And then you kind of start blossoming it into a more fleshed out idea and then start to have to formulate a storytelling narrative around the idea and say, okay, well, what does that mean? What are we trying to say here? What are we trying to do? So part of my goal is to also come up with a couple of ideas, a couple of themes for the breakup artist comic that hopefully is a little bit more weighty than a typical romantic comedy comic book or romantic comedy movie or TV show where I do want to kind of think about certain things.
Like, is it possible to have people change for the better, or are they kind of, like, not going to change? So it’s like there’s no point of keeping a relationship alive and you just break it off? Or are there people that would change? Are people just kind of stuck the way they are? I felt like that’s a really important idea to explore and sell, which when I hit upon that idea, that’s when it really started clicking for me as an idea as a concept, and it helped me inform a little bit more where the story needed to go.

Paul:
I’m curious as to who you are outside of this sort of side of you as well. What else do you do to relax outside of that?

Eric:
I’ve always been a huge Sci-Fi nerd. I’ve always been a huge movie video game guy. So I like consuming a lot of those products. And nowadays with all streaming services, it’s crazy the amount of content that we have available. So at this point, I am now kind of at embarrassment of riches, I don’t know what to watch because there’s so much good stuff out there that all my friends recommend to me or that so many people on the Internet have recommended and it’s like I don’t even know where to begin. It’s like, should I go here first or should I go here and then do I want to dive into this? Because if I dive into, say, a show that’s been long-running, it’s like that means do I have to commit to like, ten seasons of it or whatever at that point or what? That’s the one piece of me that I’m really into.
I’ve always been into reading and listening to videos or podcasts about the storytelling method. I always found that interesting even before I decided to start writing myself. I’ve always been really into first and foremost a huge, huge superhero comic book fan. Easily, I am embarrassingly into Marvel and DC Comics superhero stuff like crazy, which is originally why I joined the Dark Knight News staff, where I want to. I already read about Batman. I already followed news about Batman. Now it’s about writing my own stories about Batman or reporting on it. And that’s been awesome. It’s been such a blessing to meet all these, like-minded, fans who are equally fanatical about Batman, just like me. And it’s been really fun.
I honestly cannot think of a better time to be a geeky nerdy person where there’s just so much good content and there’s so many avenues to connect with people who equally share the same passion for your interests. And it’s been really awesome because I remember back in high school, middle school where it’s kind of like superheroes or people know complex and stuff, but it’s not as intensely as it is now.
It’s easy to talk about superheroes and especially Marvel superheroes and the Avengers with people because so many people have such a good working knowledge about all those crazy comic book ideas that normally are only in the comic books. But since then, especially thanks to the Marvel and DC movies, have really expanded people’s Horizons of, like, storytelling and weird, bizarre Sci-Fi concepts or strange comic book-like ideas. But people know about it and people are able to talk about it with me. And so because I feel a little bit more like, it’s easier to start to be in a community where you could get people to talk about nerdy stuff and talk about this stuff and get almost just as excited about it as you.
So I felt like that it’s really been a blessing, especially in the past, Somewhere in the past ten years or so, it’s really been a blessing to see how the world has kind of changed and accepted a lot of new geek and nerdy stuff into their popular culture or general, just popular knowledge. It’s very fun, very cool, and a lot easier to meet and talk with people and go pretty in depth about comic book superhero stuff.
I completely acknowledge that there’s a lot of not so good things that are.. that just generally just come when the community starts expanding and being more accessible to everybody because then we start bringing in all sorts of other people.
It’s actually interesting because that kind of stuff makes me sort of also not have an exponential crisis but be thinking internally about myself and my geekiness versus another person’s geekiness, thinking like, well, because I think a lot of people’s examples of mainstream geek is like, oh, someone says they’re a huge fan because they watch The Avengers movies, which is like, yeah, that’s cool, that’s great. But it’s really just scratching the surface. And it’s really like, well, yes, cool, but did you know that there’s, like, all these other areas of The Avengers that are excited that they could get into that if they want, or all these other stories that the movies barely scratch because they could only do so much? So there’s always that piece and it kind of populates to like, well, are these people considered fake geeks because they’re only really just movie fans? So they’ve only seen it once or twice or whatever, as opposed to, like, me who I’ve been doing this for all my life, pretty much. I’ve been in this world for all my life. And does that make them a fake geek? But then I also have to internally think it’s like, well, what’s my first experiences with Geek culture specifically?
Well, for me personally, I grew up with really learning about Batman from the original Batman, the animated series that used to be on Fox. It’s like, well, does that make me a fake geek, too? Because that’s how I got my start, really. There’s no one way to have an Avenue for what’s considered to be a real geek, but it does kind of have to bring up these existential questions of like, what does it mean to be a real geek? And what does it mean to be fake or a poser or whatever you want to call it? I don’t know if I necessarily have a firm idea of what that is.
My personal goal is to never not be a I don’t want to be a gatekeeper and say, well, no, you don’t really know because you don’t really know anything about comic books because you’ve never done this or you’ve never seen this or you’ve never watched this movie. I don’t really want to be a gatekeeper. I want to try to embrace people’s enthusiasm and passion for whatever as much as possible and just think of it as we are all trying to be on different levels where I’m definitely super in-depth into it, and a lot of it has just encompassed just my life and who I am as far as my passions go. But at the same time, it’s definitely not fair to just point to someone and say, well, you only seen, like, the movies, so you’re not really a fan because that’s how I started, too.
I’ve only seen for a long time. I’ve only seen the Batman cartoons or the Xmen cartoons or the Batman movies, but I’ve never read the comics until I was a little bit older. So for that time period, does that make me not a fan? So I think as far as the expanding and mainstreaming of the culture, it’s a wonderful boom. But there’s also the not as positive qualities or the fanboys that come in who claim that they’re fans, but then they, like, rouse up all sorts of arguments and start telling people online. And there’s always a lot of that. But I also think it just helps to try to maintain a perspective on things of like, what is your geek cred? Well, I don’t want to deny anybody geek cred. I want to be as open to as possible and just sort of like going from there as far as trying to think of what my place is in geek culture and what everyone else’s places are as far as being a geek as well.

Paul:
So you mentioned where you started off. So we started with the animated series. How did it progress from there? You said it took a while for you to then start buying comic books. How comes?

Eric:
it’s probably mostly because of accessibility. I never really knew where to find comic books as a kid. at most, I’ve had some scant experiences of finding Batman comics when I went to the public library, but the selection is not that big. This was also back in the day before the graphic novels boom really exploded, so graphic novels weren’t as widespread as they are today. The library that I used to go to as a child did have floppies or individual issues available, but selections were pretty small, and I would always read them all pretty ferociously. And then after that, I would be like, great, but I don’t know where to get my own. And then occasionally there would be, just, like, random promotions or sales where I was able to get free comics.
So going back to the public library, I remember there’s one promotion where the public library, actually in association, Marvel published their own Spiderman comic book, but it’s about literacy, so it’s like Spiderman and then some supervillain zapped them into the book. So he would have to have adventures with King Arthur, or he had to have adventures with Moby Dick or something like that. But that’s at least, like, great. I have this comic as mine, even if it’s a bit of a bizarre adventure where spiderman is going through, like, all these literary characters or like; McDonald’s I remember one time actually had a promotion with the Spiderman cartoon show, and then one of the promotional items was you could get three free Marvel comics, as long as you fill out your name and address.
So I filled it out. I sent in the card, and they sent me three comics from the Spiderman cartoon. It was a kid’s comic, but that was made for kids that’s easy to digest. It’s not the mainstream continuity or anything, but that got me started, Because then afterwards, they would say, hey, your three free comics are done. Would you like to continue a subscription? Which I said, yes, I would. So then I really got into the Marvel marketing ploy of getting a free sample, and then now you could pay for a whole year’s worth. So I did. So I started subscribing to comics that way. And then after the kids comic, after that series was cancelled, My subscription was still live Because I still had a couple of issues from my subscription that they owed me. So they ended up starting to send me, like, the actual mainstream Spiderman comics. I’ve
And that was a really crazy time for me to go into Spiderman comics, Because the current issues that they were giving me at the time Were right in the thick of the Spiderman clone saga, which, if people don’t know, it’s like the craziest, weirdest time in comic book history Where he’s replaced by his clone. But there’s, like, 1000 clones, and a lot of people are, like, who’s the real Peter Parker? And then iron man and Mary Jane are married, and they’re having a baby, and some other guy named Ben Riley is blonde, and he’s Spiderman, and he has a different costume. And we’re talking about all these really out there Sci-Fi concepts such as. Such as Spiderman going to virtual reality space to fight virtual reality villains, Or Spiderman having to go fight against his evil clone that’s backed by evil Corporations. It’s like, it’s so bizarre. And I had a couple of issues of the clone saga, And I read everything about that. When I say everything, I mean, the stories, the ads, and the Marvel comic book ads Where they give you a brief synopsis of, like, what’s going on in the rest of the Marvel universe and getting blurbs of other issues that are going on, and that just blew me away as far as, like, what is happening? This is a wild, crazy world that Marvel comics is doing at the moment, And I wanted to know more about it.
So eventually, at some point, I eventually found a comic book shop, And I was able to go through and get caught up on these issues and get the back issues to see what’s going on and start piecing stuff together. And that’s really where the comic book collection really just blew up and grew into a massive amount that I have nowadays.

Paul:
Is it a large collection that you’ve got?

Eric:
It used to be a lot larger a couple of years ago. It got too unwieldy When I was living in an apartment, And I sold off parts of my collection Because it’s just too much, too much physical space to store, And I needed it for a living. But I still love collecting comics. I still do it to this day. I still follow Spiderman, and I still follow a lot of other comics either online with my Marvel Unlimited app, which has a whole library of Marvel Comics, or just going to my local comic book store and buying whatever I hear is really good. Currently, outside of Spiderman, the other comic book from Marvel that I’m just extremely excited and jazzed about is the Immortal Hulk, which is like taking the Hulk and making him into a straight-up horror comic with the horror vibes and gross-out art and body horror, where the transformations are disgusting and the characters are much more sinister. And the Hulk himself has a sinister devil personality that does ironic punishments to the villains, and it’s intense and it’s crazy and so wild. And the best part is it fits completely into the established continuity of the previous whole comics. And that is so exciting for me as a reader.
So that’s probably the other comic that I’ve been extremely hyped about as of lately from Marvel Comics. The Immortal Hulk is great.

Paul:
Those are quite different. It’s interesting, very friendly Spiderman. And then, as you described it, the Immortal Hulk. I’m curious where the two connections are for you.

Eric:
Probably not much connection in the sense of like, thematically wise. It just happens to be my different moods where I think we all go through different moods of like, you know, sometimes I need a comedy, something lighthearted, or sometimes I need something a little more serious to watch, or I want to watch a documentary or something. And then sometimes, like, sometimes I want something a little more meaningful and thoughtful. It’s really just different moods. I’ve also actually been a huge horror fan as well as far as movies go, so I enjoy watching old school like, horror slasher movies. Every Halloween, I have to rewatch the entire Halloween series starring Michael Myers as a slasher killer. I love those movies, even if they’re like, really terrible sometimes. Huge fan of that.
I’m a huge fan of John Carpenter’s The Thing, where the alien possesses people, but we don’t know who the alien is among humans. But then when the alien reveals itself, it’s always this gross-out moment where, like, he rips open the person’s mouth or their face or their stomach and start killing people with tentacles. The Thing is the movie that I feel is probably the biggest inspiration visual inspiration of the Immortal Hulk, because I could definitely see the connection between watching John Carpenters The Thing and seeing the gross-out moments in The Immortal Hulk, where they have, like, his transformation from being a hulk to Bruce Banner, or vice versa, completely different from his previous combat incarnations.
And it’s much more in line with, like, when the Thing transforms from a human into a more alien-like creature. It’s so bizarre, it’s so grotesque, but it works, and it’s really exciting to see.
As far as the Immortal Hulk, the other thing that really hooked me. I’ve gone back, and I’ve reread, like, huge chunks of the hulks back issues. I’ve read the run by Peter David, which spans, like, over ten years of Hulk comics. So that really informed me a lot about the Hulk psychology and mental state. And you kind of realize that the Hulk has one has a lot of different personalities over the years. Even, like, when he was originally written by Stan Lee, he had a lot of different personalities where sometimes he has that traditional, dumb Hulk, where he talks in; He doesn’t even talk in first person. And then there’s sometimes where he’s, like, smart, but just a little bit more cunning and a little bit more like a mobster. And then you have sometimes he’s just, like, straight up, like, cruel and horrible. Peter Davids run. And then later, the mortal Hulk picked up on it and expanded more. Their conceit was the Hulk, Or Bruce Banner, has multiple personality disorder, or they call it dissociative identity disorder nowadays. And that was so exciting to see where the mortal Hulk really clarified that Bruce banner is not a transformation between Bruce Banner and the Hulk. The Hulk is a physical manifestation of one of Bruce Banner’s personalities, which sometimes is childlike, and that’s where we get the dumb Savage hulk. And sometimes he’s more cunning, which is where we get the more mobster like Gray hulk. And then sometimes he’s just straight-up evil, which is where we get what they other also call in the comic the devil Hulk.
So there’s so many different personalities. And then part of the immortal Hulk’s run is having the personalities understand each other and work together and to become a stronger Hulk figure. That was extremely exciting for me to read, and even better because of the fact that they actually took those ideas from Peter Davids run from other hulk runs, and they combined together in such a way where it’s like, wow, all this makes sense where you feel like that you could go back and reread the past 20 years of Hulk comics and realize, yeah, it feels like that they planned it from the beginning. They didn’t, which makes it even more impressive that it feels like they did. So very exciting.

Paul:
It’s interesting that you picked up on the immortal Hulk. You picked up on Spiderman clone wars. It’s very much thought of. And then leading back into the breakup artist, it very much seems you’re very much interested in personality and the deeper meanings behind what people are doing. Am I correct there, or am I going off in the wrong direction?

Eric:
Yes. I guess the other part of me that I should talk about Is that all the stuff that I’ve done as far as illustrating, writing, contributing to new sites, that’s just my side gig, my hobby, whatever. My main job is, actually, I’m a psychologist.

Paul:
It all makes sense now.

Eric:
So I work at schools, I work with students I really have to go through. And my main job, my day job, is actually going through that. The emotions, the personalities, trying to figure out what’s the underlying motivation for people and stuff. So all that does come into play when I’m interested in my writing, when I’m interested in what I like to read and consume, as far as TV or comics or whatever. And the fact that something like going back to Mortal Hulk, like something like that, it’s so interesting, exciting because it’s tied to me as a comic book reader, as a hulk fan, as a horror fan, but also as an actual psychologist where it’s like, wow, the way they show his multiple personalities or dissociative identity disorder. That’s extremely accurate. And it’s pretty like on point as far as this is exactly how it is. This is how it’s usually formed. It’s usually the origins of it. This is a more dramatic version, but it’s more or less this is how personalities would talk to each other or interact with each other in some fashion. So all those things really coalesce. And there’s probably like a Venn diagram. There’s like five or six different areas of interest for me, and then it just all intersects into this one piece. And that’s where the Mortal Hulk lies.
Yeah. You were very perceptive in saying you’re picking up on what I’m most interested in or what resonates with me the most as far as comics or as far as what I’m interested in hearing about or talking about.

Paul:
That’s interesting. Do you think that’s the strength of the comics’ view is that why they’ve stuck, because they’re so good at exploring people’s beings. It’s not just how they act, but it’s sort of their internal struggle as well.

Eric:
I always really appreciate and this is probably one of the benefits of long form comics, which is long form superhero comic books that lasted for 50, 60 years, where you really get to know the characters and it really at some point gets into people’s backstory and personality because they’ve been around for 50, 60 years. At some point, you just start going towards that storytelling well. And it really makes it interesting because then you could really map on a pretty good complex story arc going from there and seeing the characters progress from how they were even as a child to their motivations and how that informs their beings to become superheroes and to become adults and how sometimes they could succeed in it and sometimes they fail at it and they’re a terrible hot mess. But you know why, The backstory is there and you can kind of just put the pieces together. So like, superhero comics are always fun, always entertaining, always engaging.
Overall as a general, like when you take a step back and look at the general characters history or their backstory and background, then just like that’s even more cool that all this happened and it feels like it’s really been something that’s been planned out for in the beginning, when the truth is, most of the time superhero comics are written at the seats of pants where they don’t really know what they’re doing. They just want to try to get the next issue out. Certainly how Stan Lee used to write comic books where he just was like, Whatever, let’s just throw some ideas to the wall and see what sticks. And then if it works cool. If it doesn’t, let’s just ignore it then and move on. Sometimes it’s really cool.
Like, It really does feel like that a lot of this was planned from the very beginning, which is impossible because the beginning for the Hulk would have been exactly 50 years ago, because he was created in 1962, which is no way that could happen in real life, but it just makes it all that more exciting for me as a reader, because then it becomes a matter of, wow, I wonder how the newer, more modern writers are going to adjust to this idea, or how are they going to add to this character’s history that doesn’t contradict what’s already been said in the past. Or sometimes they do just ignore what’s happened in the past, and it’s like, okay, that’s fun. That’s interesting, too. And that might get me mad. Or it might get me, like, whatever, depending on what the past idea was and if it was really a big deal or not.

I’ve read comic books for a really long time. I kind of know, like, sometimes they kind of go through cycles or routines or certain tropes that they have to go do because they’re superhero comics, and sometimes they’re not that great, and sometimes they’re really good. But one thing that I did notice is that if there’s a bad idea, it might stick around for a little while, a couple of years, but then if it’s not that great, then it kind of just goes away. Or people just kind of naturally ignore it. But then if there’s a really good idea, then it’ll stick around forever.
Going back to superhero comics, like to try to think of a different superhero instead of just the Hulk or Spiderman, because I feel like I’ve been gushing about them so much. Probably a good example is, Captain America. There’s been a lot of really good ideas with Captain America, and there’s been some really bad ideas that have been done with Captain America, including one time where Captain America gets high off of cocaine and he starts going crazy and starts picking fights with, like, Ducks. That’s a terrible storyline. Even though it was supposed to be at the time, it was supposed to be an anti drug storyline, but it kind of went horribly awry. But, like, that’s a terrible idea. But then there’s some really good ideas that really stuck around like his partner Bucky turning to the Winter Soldier. Like, that’s such a cool idea. And it worked.
One piece I’m really appreciative about the movies that we have nowadays, especially the Marvel movies, is that they really cherry pick some of the best ideas of the characters and they really get rid of the not so good ideas for the characters. And they distill it into a pretty good, comprehensive narrative of where they have a movie that only keeps the good stuff around and then ignores the bad stuff, where it doesn’t really talk about the bad stuff. I personally think that this is also going to be tge age for superhero film entertainment, where a lot of our blockbuster movies are superhero movies now. And a lot of people really respond to those for good reason because superhero movies are like, they are an avenue to different things, to talk about different things while still being super entertaining. Because they’re dressed up in costumes and they fight, especially like Marvel movies, they make a really comprehensive narrative, just cherry picking concepts and ideas from comic books. So that’s something that I really appreciate, but because it really shows new modern audiences who don’t know, who aren’t familiar with the comics or aren’t familiar with the character. Like, man, this is this, this is why this character is so cool now.
Because I feel like 15\20 years ago, people either didn’t know who Iron Man was or didn’t know who Captain America was or if they did, they’re like, I don’t care. That’s a dumb idea. Or like, oh, Captain America, a guy who dresses up in a US flag. That’s extremely backward sounding. But then, like, the movies really took the time and they really, like, distilled down the essence of the character and be like, no, guys, this is why Captain America is really cool. Not because he was dressed in a flag. That’s part of it, but not necessarily, but because he could do this, or this is what he stands for, or this is what his values are, or this is who he has to fight. And that makes people in a wide mainstream audience excited for those characters, for Captain America, for Iron Man, for The Avengers, and I’m forever, like, grateful for the Marvel movies doing that.
And the coolest thing about Marvel movies now is that now that they’re done with the initial run of The Avengers after Endgame, now we’re doing in the really deep stuff of, like, characters that personally I don’t even have any personal affiliation with because they’re so obscure. I’ve never read them or I barely read about them, such as the latest Shang Chi movie. He’s a Chinese guy who’s the master of martial arts, which on the surface sounds kind of like a racist trope for Chinese Asian people. But man, they took what’s best about the character, which is him having family conflict and family drama, and they distilled it into the movie.
And now they make it that I’m excited for more Shang Chi movies. I personally love the Shang Chi movie that came out a couple of months ago. And this is based on a character that before then I had zero emotional attachment to because I’ve never read any Shang chi comics and I’ve only read him in a handful, like guest star appearances in other people’s comic books. But now I’m a huge fan. I am going back and reading through the Shang Chi comics on Marvel comics.
That’s something that I think is super cool about the superhero movies, good superhero movies nowadays. And not to make it sound so Marvel centric, I could say same thing about DC superhero movies. Same thing with the original Superman movie that came out in the 70s. Like, they really took what was really cool about Superman, where he really just stands for something and they distilled it down into a two hour, two and a half hour movie and said, hey, general public, this is what’s cool about Superman. And people like that. Same thing about like the Tim Burton Batman movies or the Dark Knight movies. They take what’s really cool about Batman or what’s really cool about the Joker. They distill it down and like, hey, guys, this is why Batman is really cool, or wonder woman is really cool or Aquaman is really cool. And because now I could have a conversation with people about Aquaman or about Shang Chi.
I’m forever grateful that that’s the environment that we live in nowadays because most of the movies have done a really good job about distilling what is cool, what is good, what is exciting and engaging about the character and then giving it to the audience in a way that makes them excited for the character too.

Paul:
I know some of the criticism that people had, particularly with the Avengers movies, is that they were focusing too much on a certain group of characters and it wasn’t helping the wider comic book universe as it were. Do you think we’re now over that peak into the real golden area? As you said, they’re starting to focus on the lesser known characters, and this is where people are going to start picking up comic books more.

Eric:
I definitely think that well, I think that’s a two-part question.
First part is about whether the Marvel movies have gotten over that peak of focusing too much on certain characters. I think the Marvel movies have done in general have always done a pretty good job about focusing on most characters that are not just like the main characters. It’s not always perfect. It was definitely probably because Robert Downey Jr. Is such a big personality. Like, you know, you want to put him in. He’s so expensive as an actor. You want to put him in as much as possible to get your money’s worth as an actor. But you get a good sense of all the different characters, even if it’s very small, like, you get a good sense enough where you’re like, oh, they’re kind of fun or they’re kind of interesting. And it’s at least, at the very least a good enough tease where it’s like, yeah, I kind of do want to learn more.
For me, a good example is in Captain America: Civil War. It’s mostly about Captain America and Iron Man, sure. But they also introduced the Black Panther in that movie, and they gave him an okay sizable role, enough where people are like, oh, that’s a weird, interesting character. I want to know more about him. And then so when his own solo movie came out, it’s like, boom, it blew up and into this huge extravaganza thing in America where everyone was praising and going crazy over it. And now everyone wants to know more about the entire world of Black Panther, not just him as a character, but, like, the entire word of Wakanda or his sister Shiri or his Royal Guard or the villain Killmonger. Like, everyone wants to know more about that stuff. So I feel like that’s an example of, like, Marvel taking a character with a small piece and giving them a small role, and then just, like, later on giving them a much bigger role and letting people just get you more excited.
Another example is, like, the characters the Scarlet Witch and Vision, who always kind of been in the background of Avengers movies or the Captain America movie. Like a little bit of a role where it’s like, you kind of get a taste of, oh, she’s a weird magician character and he’s an Android character. And they’re like, they seem to be flirting and falling in love with each other. That’s really odd and interesting. But then they slowly ramp up their exposure to the point now where this past year, they gave them their own TV series where they focused all on them and people loved it and ate it up. So Marvel definitely does focus on certain characters, like Iron Man, Tony Stark, Captain America, Thor, whatever. But I think that they give their ancillary characters and their more minor characters enough meat and teases to get to see people’s enthusiasm, excitement for the characters, and then later on, they’ll spin them off into a bigger role for their own benefit. And I think it worked out well, really wonderfully for a lot of the Marvel characters.
The other piece is whether that really necessarily translates into comic books, like, more comic books being sold, which is the answer is no, probably not.
That’s probably a separate problem in itself, because the American superhero comic book industry is probably a very niche marketplace where they are really kind of stuck in doing certain things or ideas that probably really limit their accessibility to modern audiences or to mainstream audiences. Probably the biggest thing I don’t know why there’s not more of a push is American superhero comic books. They just don’t really make them that available to most people. Like, back in the day, they used to be all over the place in grocery stores or news stands or the bookstores. But nowadays, if you want to pick up individual issues of a comic book, you have to almost exclusively get them out of the comic book store, which is like that’s a really rare thing in itself. How many comic book stores are there in North America? Probably not that many. They’ve got to bring out their stuff more. And I can see that they’re trying in certain places, they’re trying to make it more accessible in certain areas. But like, that’s a huge part where they really don’t have… they don’t really have the reach that they used to. And they need to really, honestly, the comic book publishers nowadays need to do better in reaching out to the casual audience more, because they’re really just going off of people who are already like fans and they know how to access, like where to go for comic books stores.

But the future is trying to get kids to read comic books. And if you wanted kids to read comic books, you need to make them available to kids and make them cheaper. Probably like really cheap. Like cheaper than, say, a box of Pokemon cards or something. In my opinion, it needs to be cheaper because parents are the ones who control a child’s allowance. And if they see a comic book costs $5, it’s like, is it really worth it? Or would you prefer to put that $5 towards saving it to buy a video game? It’s like, well, that’s not a choice there, at least fiscally, in my opinion.
Unfortunately, the American comic book industry is probably a little insular for lack of a better term, and they got to do better in trying to do outreach and get more kids to actually buy their products, because otherwise it’s just going to be like old middle age guys buying comic books, which is fine, but it’s kind of like a small audience in a grand scheme of things.

Paul:
Say there are kids listening, there are parents listening who are looking at these comics. what would you say to kids, to adults who are looking who, as you say, are holding the money? What would you say to them to say that comic books are worth the investment, that it’s worth giving them a go?

Eric:
Comic books are a relatively cheap Avenue of entertainment. They’re definitely a lot cheaper than buying a $65 PS5 game. And you don’t have to worry about kids getting as addicted to them as PS5 Game, where you don’t have to worry about the potential screen time problem that they have.
But also, comics are surprisingly, even super old comics. They’re surprisingly educational. You could learn a lot from superhero comics itself, including you give the kids opportunities to read because a lot of times kids really do struggle with reading Because they don’t know. They think reading. Oh, it’s either like those really long literary books or textbooks from school. I don’t want to do that. So they don’t read. But you need to give kids cool, fun stuff to read that’s short, that’s brief, that’s fun. And it could be complex ideas with words, with words and pictures. And if it’s about Spiderman, that’s even better. So you got to give kids something to read and if it’s something fun and light and airy, like comics, like superhero comics, totally do it.
Because then the kids will graduate to reading more serious books, more graphic novels, then actual novels. That’s what happened with me. That’s how I graduated and learned my reading skills. That’s how I learned a lot of vocabulary skills. If you read the old 60s comics with Stan Lee, Stan Lee loves using the dictionary to, like, look up really obscure random new vocabulary words to hype up his comics. But because of that, I’ve learned a pretty good amount of vocabulary words from reading old comic books. Also beyond that, like the actual content of the comic of a superhero comic is moral, is always good, which is there’s good guys, there’s bad guys. What the superheroes do is they always try to stand up and fight for what’s good and right, however that is however that looks to you personally, I’m sure it could be different, but in general, it’s a good moral to have to be like. You want to stand up and fight for what’s good and right and be responsible, which is pretty much the theme for every Spiderman comic book, being responsible, so they have really good morals. It’s a cheap avenue of entertainment. It’s a great source for teaching kids how to read better and it’s just fun and engaging and probably a really good bridge between getting kids excited from watching the cartoons or movies to actual reading.

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