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Thursday, February 9, 2012

(UPDATED) Are You Ready for Comic Book Men? Hell, is Anyone?

Posted by Bobby Roberts on Thu, Feb 9, 2012 at 12:59 PM

(Story now UPDATED with details that move anticipation levels down from "shrug" to "maaaaaaan, c'mon.")

Last year, AMC followed up Mopey Whiners Look For a Little Girl for Six Fucking Episodes (aka The Walking Dead) with a show called The Talking Dead, hosted by Chris Hardwick, in which Chris and a parade of his celebri-nerd friends discussed the preceding show. Often, more stuff actually happened on Talking than Walking, such as Jonah Ray coughing up a one-liner, and Patton Oswalt making a fart noise with his mouth.

This year, AMC follows up Maybe It Won't Be That Bad Now That Darabont's Gone with something called Comic Book Men. What the hell is that? A new one-hour drama about the early days of the comics industry? Ooh! That'd be slick: A sepia-toned dystopia, set in the 40s/50s, where gangsters provided the funds, publishers were less moral than the gangsters, and the few artists/writers who managed to eke out a basic success were blamed by the government for poisoning the minds of children?

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After the jump for the explanation as to how Comic Book Men is supposed to be like Antiques Roadshow for nerds.

Comic Book Men is a reality show set in Kevin Smith's comic book store Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash starring Store Manager Walt Flanagan, Bryan (Steve-Dave) Johnson, Michael Zapcic, and Ming Chen. According to AMC's Blog, the show "...documents the daily banter of the Stash staff and customers as they geek out over mind-blowing pop culture artifacts and the legends behind them."

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So basically, it's going to be an episode of the Tell 'Em Steve-Dave podcast, but with video, and every now and again, someone will wander into frame holding a Turboman doll or something, and then we'll learn all about the history of Turboman.

And maybe that could be interesting, in the sort of horribly-staged way that the best episodes of Pawn Stars are interesting, but it doesn't seem like either AMC, or Smith himself, has much faith in the concept really sticking with viewers who just sat through an hour of (hopefully) intense zombie drama - via AMC's interview with Kevin Smith on the show's own site:

Q: In the past, some of your on-screen creations have themselves become comics (Bluntman and Chronic, for example). Could you ever imagine writing a Comic Book Men comic book?

A: Oh in a heartbeat, but it would be so uninteresting. They kind of all function as a four-way married couple that don't have sex, so just imagine that comic: Four men griping at each other, and every once in a while they have a transaction.

Luckily for you, AMC has provided a blog outlining the seven ways to get ready for this particular piece of nerdbait.

Maybe this doesn't appeal so much to me because I'm spoiled, living in Portland, wherein if I want to have interesting conversations with people at comic book stores, I can talk with Michael Ring at Bridge City Comics, or Andy Johnson over at Cosmic Monkey Comics, or Heather Tomlin at Things From Another World. Hell, chances are I'll have my conversation interrupted by comics creators like Jeff Parker and Erika Moen.

In fact, how much better would this show be if it was Comic Book Women? I mean, yeah, I bet it'll be fun to watch Walt Flanagan lose his mind when some gap-toothed Jersey-ite stumbles into the Secret Stash holding a box full of old Batman shit, but it'd be a lot more compelling if we were following around artists/writers like Gail Simone, or Carla Speed McNeil, or Kate Beaton, and seeing what it's like to try and create something worthwhile, and make a living, in an industry that isn't so well known for appreciating women.


After posting this blog yesterday, I was tweeted a couple of links by Jill Pantozzi, writer for sites such as MTV's Splash Page and Newsarama, confirming a question from reader TheOneTrueB!x as to whether Smith and AMC had auditioned a woman to be on the show. And they had. In fact, they cast a woman, Zoe A. Gulliksen (@Bookishbelle on Twitter.)

Gulliksen was to have been "hired" on as an employee at The Secret Stash, so as to somewhat explore the notion that girls can be geeky, too. Of course, it was to be explored in the most obvious (and pandering) way possible. From Gulliksen's blog:

During my "in store interview" Walt and Bryan asked me to come in the following day dressed up in costume. I did as I was told, and came in my Black Canary suit...When I showed up at the comic shop on my "second day", Walt berated me, saying what I was wearing was inappropriate and sluttish. On camera I was nearly in tears because I did not understand what was happening. I was only doing what the producers had me do, and yet I was being yelled at. The producers stopped filming and told me to yell back at Walt fiercely on camera.

Some time afterwards, the show was retooled to become the hybrid Steve-Dave/Pawn Stars filmed-podcast it seems to be, and Gulliksen was informed they wouldn't be needing her.

Now, I'm not upset that this reality show is just as staged as any other. They're all staged to varying degree. The curtain being pulled back does, however, provide insight into what the creative types steering this ship thought the show should be - and they thought the sole female role on a show about comic book readers should be a girl dressed as Black Canary getting yelled at by a self-righteous store manager for looking "sluttish."

So Gulliksen, after being notified she was out, emailed to ask whether the footage of her near tears in a Black Canary costume was going to be used in a manner that would make her look bad - specifically, she didn't want see Walt Flanagan calling her a slut on television.

The response, according to Gulliksen?

Instead of a cordial explanation, I was made a topic of ridicule on their podcast. Walt, in what I now realize is his true to form sexist manner, falsely stated on the Tell 'Em Steve Dave podcast that I chose to show up to their shop wearing almost nothing in my Black Canary suit. This has only confirmed that, yes, I was right to speak out because these three grown men already saw me in a poor light and now claim I was acting upset because I was not on the show; they even stated that I "felt like I deserved to be on it"....I did not in any way, shape or form express ANY ill feeling over not being on the show, I was merely thrilled to have the experience and curious to the new direction they chose to take it. Only now, after the fact — and expressly because of the way they are acting — do I regret being involved.

I feel very sad that this show will validate to people, those not in tune with the comic/geek lifestyle, the belief that comic-centric fans are misogynist, uppity anti-socialites.

Me too, Zoe.

Comic Book Men airs Sunday, February 12th, 10pm, on AMC.

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