NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour Brings Comics to "Normals" - and Comics Can Learn from It

Monday, November 29, 2010

As an enthusiastic fan of National Public Radio and its "Monkey See" blog, I am, of course, devoted to its "Pop Culture Happy Hour" (for references to which, you can filter Twitter for #PCHH). Begun during the summer, the weekly podcast has become a treat to end the work week for many - and I should say before I go further that (full disclosure) two of the four participants are well known to me. Linda Holmes is a friend, and Stephen Thompson is a son. My son. So. In any case, it was of particular interest when I finally had a chance (following the delights of Black Friday) to settle down to listen to the November 26 event. While, as ever, there were a variety of pop-culture topics under discussion, a longer than usual chunk of the podcast was devoted to comic books. Comics commentator Glen Weldon, addressing the "non-comics folks" in the group, announced his plan to "dunk you into the turbid waters ... of the comics mainstream." (He also called them "three normals," which took them aback - with reason.) His initial plan had been to present each with a copy of Marvel's Spider-Girl #1 and Osborne #1, but both had been sold out at his local comics shop. (Collectors, take note.) Still in search of current iconic characters for the experiment, he purchased DC's one-shot Batman: The Return #1 and Batgirl #15 (each dated January 2011).

The discussion was revealing. The three "normals" are intelligent folks, deeply into popular culture and eager to find things to like in these issues. (In fact, there were gripes amid the ensuing posted comments from listeners that the participants had been too polite and eager to find things to like.) But the remarks included comments that it'd be handy for pros, as well as fans, to consider. The "normals" found, for example, that Batgirl was "easier to follow" than the "Done in One" one-shot. Stephen remarked that it would have been helpful to have had, say, a "60-second introduction" to what was going on. Among the barriers to entry was confusion over who was talking. (Weldon commented that thought balloons were a thing of the past - which, for some reason, I'd not internalized.) "These comics need to do more work," was another remark. Commenting on the difference from Silver Age comics, it was noted that these were "not as welcoming." "You need things to be clear."

Linda noted the distraction of ads for the newcomer, pointing out how confusing it would be, if - when reading a novel - a page of text advertising were occasionally inserted between story pages.

There's more - and it'd be great, if people (including pros) who are trying to increase the audience for mainstream comics would listen to what these adult "normals" have to say. "These comics need to do more work."


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