Once in a while, a comic comes along that makes you really think about the world. Don’t laugh, it’s true. As a matter of fact, some of the best questions and lessons in my life have come from comic books. Quite a few issues of Spawn and Ghost Rider make me wonder about things like “Am I truly a good person, in spite of the mistakes I’ve made?” or “Just because something is made by evil or made for evil mean it can never be used for good?”. The trials of the X-Men make me reflect on the persecutions and prejudices I’ve seen in my own life.
Heck, one of the reasons I like the “At The Shore” series so much is for its characters and the subtle lessons they teach: Gabi’s story shows that people shouldn’t dismiss others as “weird” just because they’re uncomfortable or uninterested, Bernard shows the virtues of a true friend come from their humility, and Dean shows (at least for me) not to mistake bravado for bravery and aloofness for level-headedness. Though all of these comics have their flaws, they still have excellent value for the relevant lessons they teach.
Sadly,” The Eltingville Club 1″ is not one of those comics, though I think it tries to be. According to the author, Evan Dorkin, the work is supposed to be a sort of satire, based off exaggerations of people he’s seen in his time working at a comic store. As such, most of the characters come across as avatars of every negative stereotype surrounding the comic fandom…and they are. As Dorkin stated,
It is very negative, it is, of course, exaggerated… The book is for fans that get it, and retailers that get it, and professionals that get it and live it. I’m a fan. People don’t like the book because they think that I shouldn’t be so negative or that I portray stereotypes or pile on fandom, because even with the acceptance now, people still make fun of fandom. There’s different levels of fans fighting each other now, it’s just not going to change.
But this could’ve been about sports. This could’ve been about guys who paint themselves blue, get drunk and scream at everybody, who love a team but call for the death of the manager and hate all the players. They hate the team but they love the team, they think they could do a better job, f**k each other over for collectibles. It could be about card nuts, but I know this. I know comics, I know science fiction, I know this pop culture and junk culture.
This particular comic illustrates the beginning of the end for the titular group. (No pun intended.) That ending begins at the start of the issue, when teenage foul-mouth (though to be fair, everyone in the story spouts profanity at some point or another) and fiction aficionado Bill finally achieves his dream of working in the local comic store, Joe’s Fantasy World. But it turns out Joe is a foul-mouthed, self-centered, miserly, lazy, and sexist excuse for a human being, constantly mistreating and insulting both Bill and his customers and revealing that he took advantage of a woman he considered to be like his mother when her husband died, buying up all her comics for next to nothing. Yet, as Bill is too busy fantasizing about being king of the comic store, he doesn’t really react to Joe’s unpleasant attitude.
Pretty much the entire issue goes on with Bill being made to do bagging work whilst Joe mistreats the customers and engages in questionable business practices, until finally Joe has to run out to the local Toys R’ Us to grab some action figures to sell at his own shop at an exorbitant price. He instructs Bill not to sell anything, touch anything, or even go behind the counter of the shop until he returns. He tells everyone in the shop that if anyone messes (yes, this is a substitution) with Bill, they will be automatically banned from the store.
So, who should show up but the rest of the titular Eltingville Club? Josh, Pete, and Jerry. Three characters who, besides their individual interests, demonstrate zero personality traits besides being just as foul-mouthed and rude as Bill and incredibly disdainful of him. Although in Jerry’s case, we do see that he’s a bit meek compared to the others. As Bill begins to mock his “friends” over his newfound status in the comic book store, a fight begins to ensue with expensive replicas of (among other things) Mjolnir (Thor’s hammer), gloves resembling the fists of The Thing, and Captain America’s mighty shield, all while a magnificent stream of referential puns surrounding everything from Dragonball Z and Gundam to Spider-Man and Star Wars. I’ll be honest, the referential humor is one of the comic’s very few strengths, as when it’s funny, it’s very funny. At any rate, it’s clear that the club is disbanded at this point, mostly when Bill says the club is disbanded.
However, Joe returns and banishes the group. Bill, after a desperate attempt to pin blame on the others, sets fire to the store. Everyone gets out alive, and the four teens are berated by their families. However, Jerry, called “Gerald” by his family begins to remember the origins of the “Eltingville Comic Book, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, And Role-Playing Club”, lamenting its end.
But is it truly over?
Unfortunately, we’ll have to find out next time.
So, yeah. This comic is…unique. I’ll give it that. The artwork resembles, to me, a mix between Chick Tracts and some Shonen Jump manga. Bizarre, yes, but not necessarily bad. The humor is dark and uncomfortable, the characters are nearly all embodiments or parodies of the various stereotypes surrounding members of certain pop culture fandoms, and the entire story is extremely cruel and mean-spirited. But does that make it a bad comic?
Well, no. As Dorkin himself said,
It’s about the worst aspects of fandom. Four people who hate themselves, hate each other and live through their hobby. And it’s a comedy.
Eltingivlle was a comic shop, Jim Hanley’s Universe in Eltingville. I’d been fired from the fantastic store, and he rehired me, and all this came out of my experiences as a retailer, a manager, a fan, a cartoonist, a kid going to conventions when I was 13 by myself. I mean, I love this stuff, but that doesn’t mean you can’t criticize the worst aspects of it.
That is entirely true. No, the problem comes from the fact that the book doesn’t come across as a criticism of the worst aspects of fandom, but rather a criticism of the fandom itself. No effort is made to distinguish the worst aspects from the rest of the fandom. The closest we get is when a female comic enthusiast enters the store and is immediately chased out, being called a “fake geek girl” by Joe. The other is at the end, when various other patrons of the store are lamenting the fact that the store is gone, but the main characters are still alive.
I repeat, the chance to counterbalance this with a “good” aspect of the fandom is thrown away just to lament that the main characters are still alive. This isn’t a good parody nor a good satire. This book tries to be a criticism of the problems that affect every fandom, and that’s not a bad thing in of itself. The problem comes from the fact that there is no distinguishing between the worst and the rest. There is no effort to fight the stereotype. It would be one thing if it was simply unsuccessful, but when there’s no effort whatsoever, it’s just rude and mean-spirited.
Maybe it’s just my own tastes, I don’t know. The original story, called This Fan, This Monster,was the tenth in a series that won several Eisener Awards. Maybe it’s simply a poor place to start. If so, then perhaps it shouldn’t have been reprinted as “The Eltingville Club 1”.
The Eltingville Club 1 is available online and is published by Dark Horse Comics.