I recently left a 9 to 5 (meaning office-bound and “professional”, rather than a strict and punctual 8 hour day) to work in my local comic store, running back issues, working on the website and podcast, and being part of an enthusiastic and fun team!
You’re wondering why you should care? I’m getting there…
Part of my job is to try to read as much as possible in the store, so that week to week and cumulatively over the months of my employ, I have a clue. If I’m reading almost everything I can help customers stay informed, and I can nudge them towards things they might really enjoy. But this affects my enjoyment of comics, as I’m cramming and skimming most of them, often including the ones I actually look forward to. Given the homogeneity of much of the superhero, genre, and “mainstream” fare that pays my wages with its’ sales
(bless those corporate crap-factories and all those who sail under them!)
this means reading becomes something dutiful and slightly distanced. I don’t engage in the same way that on a day off I might previously have made a cup of coffee, settled into the sofa, and luxuriantly flipped through my floppies.
And through this I’m looking at the bigger picture, that of what we want from our leisure time, our recreational interests, that’s where I’m going.
There’s a scene in a Frank Miller Sin City comic (That Yellow Bastard, if you’re interested, and if you’re not, quit reading and go have fun, life’s too short and I promise not to be upset!) where as Hartigan is having a confession beaten out of him, his interrogator is complaining about how pounding on Hartigan has hurt his back, how he won’t be able to sleep comfortably for weeks now, and he comes out with a line something like “You’re really messing with my quality of life, here!”. Thud. Krack. etc.
If you’re like me (welcome!) then you may not think about concepts like quality of life through the prism of that term. I find it clunky, and dangerously quantitative. But less broadly, it’s a term that has become a buzzphrase,a way of parsing itemised description, forsaking burdensome clarity for “y’know what I mean?” brevity, the easy relate. If you’re really like me (paraphrasing Sally Field for a moment there) then you’ll mistrust buzzphrases and commonly used concepts. But this mistrust is a gut reaction to something that needs your head’s attention.
Sites and publications like Fast Company, Mashable, Harvard Business Review, The Economist, and a hundred others that make me sound less smart are all preoccupied with the concept of how we claw back time for ourselves in a world so distraction-packed. I feel this clawback urge myself, and spend a lot of time looking forward to time off work, so I can do the “real” work (my writing, non-obligatory
[though the aforementioned store reading isn’t obligatory, I’m obliged to no-one save my own compulsion to feel like I KNOW]
comics reading, working out, researching creators for podcasts, etc).
But what about the things I do for pure pleasure?
What are they, these mysterious “pure pleasures”?
Is a pure pleasure something utterly untainted by a connection to work and wages?
If I’m working in an industry I’m passionate about, and my interests are a multiplicity of Venn pies intersecting with that industry Alpha-pie, where is the non-work fun stuff?
Or more concisely: What do I want from fun stuff?
What is fun?
Defined (by a favourite site of mine, wordnik) as “A source of enjoyment, amusement, or pleasure.”, what I actually see embedded in the definition and yet strangely absent from it, is the word “inconsequential”. I have somewhere separated “fun” from “meaning”. I have also separated it from those things I “love” doing, those which “feed” or “challenge” me.
And therein, approaching many of the tasks that writing reviews or researching a podcast demand, I find “fun” harder to… find.
What I’m getting at here is not an “I can’t enjoy my life” sob-story, because I love my life and I’m happy being me, thanks. What I’m getting at is, what do I want from my free time, and in particular the comics I read? What is Fun for me in them?
Well, I’m starting to think that Fun is inextricably linked with appreciation. For something to be truly fun for me I need to enjoy it on two levels, the first being the place where I actually smile, laugh, ooh, aah, and am engaged; the second being that place where I can appreciate the craft and intention that has gone into the Fun thing.
I need to enjoy it, and appreciate how it’s been made enjoyable for me.
Which is really rare in any field. And in a medium so dominated by the serialised, the bite-size sensational, and the slick? What’s rarer than rare?
This is bullshit though, and here’s the epiphany payload of this post, that the minute you get to a point where you say the word “fun” with a lowered tone and the corners of your mouth horizontal, you’ve lost sight of something, lost something. Fun is freedom from assessment, fun is the smile you become aware of only after its been there for a while, it’s the counterpoint to everything you take too seriously. And if creating Fun is someone’s intention, a creator’s intention, then approach their work that way, because the law of averages, the intent of the work, and your own too serious disposition will likely prevent you from finding anything else in it.
That last part got very “you”, and I’m not trying to disown the under-valuation of fun I’ve committed. But to look to all recreation to reward on multiple levels, enlighten, provoke, and entertain is to look for disappointment.
So I’m going to go read some comics now.
Because they’re fun.
“Matters of great concern should be treated lightly. Matters of small concern should be treated seriously.” Hagakure