It’s not the responsibility of a manifesto to make sense. It’s the job of a manifesto to make it appear that the things which it claims to oppose don’t make sense.
That the vast majority of today’s super-hero books are seriously lacking in Pop is surely beyond doubt.
To bemoan the lack of Pop today isn’t to demand the return of the past.
The Pop of the past, and indeed the present, is there to inspire us, not constrain us, to disgrace us and not stifle us.
Pop is of the now. Pop which attempts to replicate the Pop of the past, and nothing more, isn’t Pop, it’s photocopying.
Pop isn’t a method. Pop can’t be attained by a formula. Pop is a sensibility. Pop is a longing for the moment, this minute, this very second, to matter. Pop is entirely unconcerned with one minute past 12 when midday arrives. Pop speaks so specifically to a single point in time that it must be deliberately designed for obsolesence, and being obsolescent is what all Pop aspires to be.
Pop wants to matter so much now that it will always matter, to always carry value because it never attempted to do so.
Pop is never concerned with delayed gratification. If Pop must build to a grand climax, then each shudder on the way upwards has to be a shudder that’s deeply satisfying in itself.
Super-hero Pop is the individual issue and and not the trade compilation or the line-wide crossover. If not always entirely complete in itself, each eye-blink of super-hero Pop should feel so fantastic in itself that the reader is as satisfied as they are eager to recapture the experience next month.
The comic book created for the trade, created for the chapter, created for the crossover, created according to the tyranny of existing denuded markets and the commonsense assumptions of bean-counters, is not and rarely ever can be Pop. Instead, such a comic book is nothing but a road-sign, a departure lounge’s destination board, a brochure. It is Anti-Pop, no matter how it wears the colours of Pop.
One unpretentiously incandescent issue of Pop is worth all the omnibus editions in the world. Seventeen pages a month of fizz and smartness is as Pop as super-hero Pop can get.
Pop is not a stage in the production of a more substantial, more profitable product. Pop is the product. In being transient, in creating a numinous present, Pop cares not a whit for future market share, but rather for the flashbulb memories of today. If Pop is sufficiently Pop, then Pop will prosper.
Pop is deeply serious and utterly nonchalant. Where Pop is entirely committed, it must be so very Pop that worthiness can’t contaminate its wit and glamour.
Pop can often be tawdry, but it must never aspire to be “Art”. “Art” is the enemy of Pop, “Art” is Anti-Pop.
Pop at its best knows the difference between craft and art, ambition and compliance, meaning and meaningfulness, sexy and sexist.
Only the most irredeemably degenerate of Pop insults others by cruely and unthinkingly excluding them from its pleasures. Pop does not describe a world of porn-model super-heroines and predominantly white-bread culture. Pop is socially aware, loathes jingoism, despises the small-minded and despairs for the unimaginative and the entirely self-obsessed. Pop, being for everyone, stands in opposition to those who aren’t.
Pop is concerned only with the powerless against the powerful.
Pop distrusts power even as it revels in its own.
Super-hero Pop may well be a comic book which can be read in five minutes, but Pop is never a thinly-plotted, unambitiously constructed, emotionally-disconnected book which can be finished in five minutes because it really doesn’t matter. Pop always matters, just as it should never be seen to strive to be so.
Pop satisfies even as it inspires craving. That which inspires craving without ever satisfying is never Pop.
Pop isn’t defined by the shock of the new, but by the absence of the unimaginative and the complacent. Pop isn’t a single attention-focusing money shot placed gratuitously into 20 pages of mediocrity. Pop is a comic book that’s saturated with Pop.
Pop doesn’t seek to deliver value for money. Pop is ashamed to deliver value for money. Pop longs and strives to deliver far more than value for money.
Pop expects a great deal from its audience, in that thinking and feeling are not regularly encouraged phenomena, but Pop simply adores them.
Pop is always ashamed of falling short and forever proud that it tried so exceptionally hard not to do so.
Pop always returns to fail harder.
Pop is smart. It can rarely if ever be consistently well-crafted by apparatchiks, idealogues, dullards, and careerists. Yet Pop loves formulae, loves expectations and conservatism, because Pop loves nothing more to subvert and inform the zuvembie hand of how it should be done.
Pop doesn’t stand still. The practises of today’s publishers, editors and creators are mostly as hidebound and rigid as those they by necessity replaced. Pop longs for a revolution in consciousness, and then, for another revolution in its train.
Pop isn’t the province by necessity of the highly educated, but it is the land of the quick-witted, the ferociously curious, the conscientious and driven crafts person, the imaginative, the hard-to-satisfy, the autodidact, the hard-working idle dreamer.
Super-hero Pop cannot, cannot, be inspiringly created by those who’ve known little else but the past few years of super-hero comics.
What do those of Pop know who only know Pop itself?
Those whose work lacks Pop are not to blame. Those whose companies churn out Anti-Pop are not culpable. Those who might be criticized for lacking Pop are never to be demonised as individuals, but as representatives of a corrosively dead-hearted worldview.
Anti-Pop is an inevitable cultural malaise, a recurrent institutional affliction, a common and commonsense taken-for-granted set of delusions and practises which hardens over time until Anti-Pop appears to be all there is. Anti-Pop is the unavoidable byproduct of the creation of Pop.
Few if any produce Anti-Pop because they’ve thought the issue through and decided that thin stories, a lack of meaning, stupidity, insensitivity and sloppiness are the way to go. Few if any chuckle with joy at the thought of charging a relative fortune for the least substantial, most grimly uninvolving comic book.
Those whose work lacks Pop haven’t rejected Pop. They can’t see Pop.
Pop is always the opposition. Pop is always against what is, because what is will always start to believe that it’s all that there ever can be.
My Pop isn’t your Pop, but Pop is an excellent principle to frame our disagreements with.
Any definition of Pop is the enemy of Pop, but Pop cherishes, Pop thrives upon, debate.
There is no such thing as too much Pop.
The monthly super-hero marketplace of 2011 is astonishingly Pop-deficient.
And it just shouldn’t be.
Join the Campaign For Real Pop Comic-Books! Save the Super-hero Sub-Genre!
This piece first appeared on Colin Smith’s blog Too Busy Thinking About Comics.