Nina Stone started off this year with a different last name, a cursory understanding of comics and a non-existent history with blogs, and now that the year is days from ending, The Factual Opinion is proud to present her thoughts on a year in trying to get a better sense of a hobby only slightly less popular than model train sets. The questions have been provided by some of the Internet's most intelligent and valued comics critics, journalists and bloggers. Please enjoy, and thank you to all those who participated.
Zom, from Mindless Ones:
Do you ever wonder just why it is that your intended likes reading about men in capes hitting each other with laser-heads? I know you're trying to understand, I know you're giving comics a go, but don't you worry that deep, deep down he might be a baby-man?
The Virgin Read: A baby-man? ...No, I don't worry. There was a moment where I was getting to know my husband and he...he didn't "open up to me about comics" by saying "I have to tell you something. I...like comic books." But he did start talking about them, and he seemed to find in them bigger questions about life, or relationships or..I don't know. I found that stuff intriguing. The whole capes and punching thing I just end up ignoring.
J. Caleb Mozzocco, from Every Day Is Like Wednesday and Blog@Newsarama:
Do you ever wish you married a blogger who covered luxury hotels and was all like, "Hey, would you mind spending the weekend here and writing up your thoughts on it?" instead of, "What would you like to review this week, Nightwing or Secret Invasion?"
Virgin: I haven't really sat and thought "What blogger would I rather be married to?" I suppose if my choice was hired to write about music festivals, that wouldn't hurt.
David Brothers, from 4th Letter:
Is Tucker making you do this against your will? Is there a number we can call to get you help?
Virgin: No, I'm not doing it against my will. Actually, when it started and I was asked to do it--I made sure to tell him that, at any point, if he wanted to say "That was really fun, but...we're going to stop now." He could say that and my feelings wouldn't be hurt. I'm surprised it's still going on. I thought it would last a month or two, and then he was going to say "Okay. That was a good exercise for you. What's something else we could do? Puzzles?"
David Brothers: Do you want to do anything other than the Virgin Read? Regular comics reviews? Rants about whatever?
Virgin: There's been moments lately where things have happened in my day where I've felt like "I want to write about this, right now!" I start thinking that I kind of have a forum to do that, that I could do "The Virgin Rant" or something. You have those feelings about people in New York City--like "I'm the one person who needs to write about this! Let it be known!" But...I'm fine with the Virgin Read right now. I can barely do it on time anyway.
Joe McCulloch, from Jog The Blog:
Do you think writing about comics has changed the way you read comics? Do you find yourself processing a comic differently, now that you've reviewed over 50 of them? If so, is that purely a side-effect of having to come up with things to write about, or do you think the act of composing these posts has changed something fundamental in your reading, something that you'd keep with you if you weren't reading a comic to review it?
Virgin: Just now, I was going through looking at all the posts to refresh myself and my first thought was that the last several of my posts have been really the same, "I don't know what's going on." I'm not sure if that's because what has come out lately hasn't been very interesting or different or new--Chris Ware aside, that was pretty recent--or if it's that the process has changed me a bit, in that I can already tell in two pages what kind of comic it is that I'm reading. When I look at the first posts, there was something new and different to explore every time--Powers versus Nightwing versus Criminal--they were all so different from each other. There was so much to explore. I don't know if it's that I'm just reading stuff in the last few weeks stuff that's all very similar. I guess I've changed a little bit, now that I've read so many comic books. I really was the "Virgin Read." I hadn't read any. Like, really, really, really. Now I'm a little bit on the inside of this world of "picking up a comic"--because I'm connected to Tucker, connected to these people who read the posts--there's all these experiences, all these "insights" that I didn't have before. That might play a small part in how I would take a comic book if I was reading it and not reviewing it. Nevertheless, I'm still a story girl. I'm a sucker for a good story. Even in movies, where it can have bad acting, if I like the story--i'm a sucker for it. I think I'll always fall for a good story, whether it's well told or well illustrated.
Sharif Youssef, from A Magnificent Bastard:
Nina, on the anniversary of your big deflowering, how much do you like 'it?' Do you still see comics sociologically, as an example of a certain kind of consumer content, or do you feel at all implicated in the hobby? At the other extreme from pure sociology, could you see yourself ever cheating on Tucker by going to the comic book store by yourself to choose your own comics? If so, would that be a feminist breakthrough or not?
Virgin: Okay, let's back up. "How much do I like it." It varies, just like anything else. Sometimes it's great, sometimes it's just...what it is. I'm kidding. The one thing I don't like is that I haven't found "how to carve out my time"--it's the same thing with reading in general. I never carved out the time as a kid just to read. Carving out the time to sit down and read a comic book, enjoy it--that's still hard, I'm always reading and reviewing it at the last minute. In that case, I feel like "I like it," but I wish I could get a bit more excited about it, like "Oh, it's my comic!"
On the sociological thing--hmmm. Again, in the last few weeks, that was the most I've seen that something was made for such a specific audience. Even the people who have come on to tell me "what's really going on" in the comic...I can't explain it. I totally appreciate it--I just don't care enough to really get on board, to keep up with those things. In those ways--is it sociological? Men versus women? A certain age demographic? In the last few weeks, it's seemed more like that. Do I feel implicated? Implicated is such a weird word. Feels like a crime. I've been "implicated."
I guess I'm a little implicated, like I have an identity in it. I'm starting to feel the "whoa, I better step it up! People are expecting something, I've got to be fresh-er, new-er, funnier-er, clever-er!"
On going to the store myself--it did just recently occur to me that I only select stuff by choosing from what Tucker brings home. I'm not choosing from the entire array of comic books. I just take for granted that he knows what's "worth getting." Maybe it would be interesting for me to walk into the store, weekly--not just once, but like a ritual--and pick from everything. Of course, I wouldn't know what I was doing, I'd probably just pick something that's two years old and not know the difference. There's that side. On the other--well, I'm ready to go pick up my own Nana. Well, I have, but not at a comic book store. That was at a Barnes & Noble.
TFO: Would you consider that a feminist breakthrough?
Virgin: No, because I don't buy the whole feminist thing with comic books. What is it?
Chris Mautner, from Panels & Pixels:
To what extent did the comics you read over the past year confound and also conform to your preconceived prejudices about the medium?
Virgin: Well, first I'd have to examine what my preconceived prejudices against or for the medium were. Which--they were barely formed before. I just considered comics "a boy thing." I guess there's some sexism there. That was formed--probably by stereotypes from movies, things like that. What's interesting is that there really are as many varied types of comics as there are types of people. Somebody could say "oh, he's a comic book nerd" and that could mean...that guy! I shouldn't even say this, but...that "friend of a friend" who likes to write poetry about Green Lantern. That is one specific kind of person! And Tucker might consider himself a comic book nerd, because he loves Chris Ware. That's a difference--and I didn't know, but those are entirely two different things. Same with all non-comics. There's Achewood, there's people who are just really into art, that's why they love comic books, there's people just into story...I'd guess my mind has been broadened in one sense, in that there's not just one type of comic book, it's not all-super-heroes.
Conform--the super-hero thing is exactly like you think it is. I was re-reading one of my reviews, something about how Captain America suddenly pulls a shield out of his trench coat that you didn't know was there before. All the silly stuff, just these silly circumstances, the sudden ability to do things--things that don't really make sense. The suspension of disbelief required to enjoy it is pretty large. And that's exactly how I thought it was.
David Brothers: Who do you think you are?
Virgin: [Laughs] Why? What does he mean? Who do I think I am? Is there a part two, and what do I think I'm doing? I'm Nina Stone.
David Brothers: When reading comics, what is the Virgin Read's alcoholic drink of choice?
Virgin: When reading comics, I stick to coffee or Coke Zero.
TFO: You've gotta stay sharp.
Virgin: I've gotta stay awake.
Virgin: [Laughs] I feel like there does have to be some sort of..something. I don't know what the next step is, or the next name. I do think it isn't a "Virgin Read" anymore, especially since I read Powers three times, Hellboy three times, now I sort of know what I like or don't like. I'm starting to feel like I have less stuff to choose from.
TFO: You've got to stop ignoring the art guys.
Virgin: "Art guys?" Like who?
TFO: Like Travel. Yokoyama.
Virgin: I didn't ignore him. I just didn't pick him.
David Brothers: How did the Virgin Read begin?
Virgin: Did it start as a Stunt Casting?
TFO: It actually didn't. Tucker was wrong about that.
Virgin: Did he just come to me and decide it? I can't remember. How about this: I'll tell you why I said yes to it. I'm not sure how it started, obviously, he approached me about it, but I don't really remember. He was--as anybody could probably tell--it came from his thoughts and ideas about the industry, about how it isn't...how Tucker loves comics and doesn't want them to go away. How it doesn't help them to keep marketing themselves to this specific group of people, and then that specific group of people gets old and dies, how they don't have a new audience. I guess he wanted to try and prove a point over and over again, could "this girl in her 30's" find something in this comic book. Stunt Casting, Virgin Read, they're all variations on that question, that thing. So I said yes--but why did I say yes?
Well, there I was, and we were on our way to being married. Like a typical--I don't want to say "typical woman" but like a typical Nina, which is all I can be--I tend to want to look ahead and say "How can we keep things as awesome as they are." Forever! I'm always trying to find something for us to do together. Throughout this year, there's been many, many different things--Tucker may not be aware when I'm trying to do these things--but I'll say "lets....do this diet together! Or this exercise program!" I can't remember all of them. "Let's buy puzzles!" Most of the things, they fall through. He'll be game to try things, because he wants me to be happy, try new stuff. But stuff like yoga..."I'll go with you once, but I'm not doing yoga on the regular." I keep trying new things, because I don't want to turn into those people who have these two entirely separate lives, and the only thing they have in common is that they share an apartment. The cool side of the relationship is that we like talking, discussing ideas--but in the daily hubbub of work, life and stuff, you don't sit down and discuss "ideas" every day. You don't get to connect that way all the time. This was a way to share that, that feeling of "doing a project" together. I feel like I'm in on something, and he wants me to be a part of it. And there's all of the great things that come out of doing something together. That's one of the reasons I said yes to it.
David Uzumeri, from Funnybook Babylon:
What's the difference between a book you think is good and a book you're actually intrigued enough to come back to? There's obviously a difference between a comic that makes you go "Oh, well, yeah, that was well done but not for me" and something like Powers where you actually want to seek out more and take it seriously and look at the bigger picture. What, if you can identify it, is the x-factor that causes this? Are there certain things, like heavy sci-fi or a focus on plot or whatever, that just completely turn you off and make you unable to take it seriously? Or do you ever pick up a comic you're pretty sure you're going to be utterly unable to connect with and then come away surprised?
Virgin: Let's split that up.
TFO: What's the difference between a book you think is good and a book you're actually intrigued enough to come back to?
Virgin: I wish I knew! I do think--obviously, Powers is my favorite. I haven't actually finished the first trade, but that's because I'm me, I do other things. I like story. I love it when a story can get pretty outside of the box in a way that takes me down a road that's totally new, different then anything I've ever thought of, something that makes me say "I couldn't have written that." But that it still happens in a semi-believable way. I think about--obviously, I've grown up in theater and acting--so I like movies a lot, and...I'm going to name some movies, I don't know if only I like them, but I loved Being John Malkovich. I loved Big Fish. Stories that go off to into imagination, taking it outside the realm of reality, but not totally. That's where Powers does for me. It feels like it's based in this kind of realism, with a police force, relationships, and they happen to have these powers. It's not like somebody just walked outside and starts leaping buildings in a single bound. Nothing against Superman, but you know what I mean? That's what I like. That might be why I like Powers. As far as one that's "good" but I don't want to go back to it--I guess I can get by just liking story and plot. I thought B.P.R.D. was interesting, but I don't care to read it again. Something about it--it must lack relationships? I don't know. I hate to be sexist, but I am a woman who likes movies about relationships, I like talking about relationships, that's what I like in my books. That doesn't mean "love stories." Just relationships. Maybe B.P.R.D. had a creative element, a good story, not too far out of my realm, but maybe it lacked in emphasis on relationship. I'm not really for sure, somebody can probably contest me on that.
TFO: Hellboy was one that you read for all three issues, but I would argue there wasn't much of a focus on relationship. There's a male friendship, but it's brief, just two people who don't know each other and only stick together for the three issues. There's no love story, anything like that. What got you about that one? That's the only thing you've read that was "full." Even with Powers, you didn't even read that entire storyline.
Virgin: Well, it was one of those things, one of those settings--it was in the Appalachian mountains. It captured something that I know about, something real. That backwoods kind of place where people do have superstitions, and it took that--it played with it--it took it to a heightened realm, with the devil, magic, superstitions. It was almost mythological, and that, yes, I enjoyed. My favorite was the first issue though--the other two I didn't find as satisfying. They felt different.
TFO: It also might be notable that the Hellboy was drawn by an artist you had disliked when he did the Lovecraft collection.
Virgin: Well, I just hated those stories.
TFO: Do you ever pick up a comic you're pretty sure you're going to be utterly unable to connect with and then come away surprised?
Virgin: Yes, like the Secret Invasion Black Panther! I don't know what it was I read first, but there was that thing that I said it was like Elmo Live. That Secret Invasion or Final Crisis--I knew that I wouldn't dig those. I knew I couldn't keep up, I wouldn't know who those people were and then...I loved that Black Panther one. I read two issues of that, and yes, I was surprised. I thought that, since I liked the first, that there was no way I was going to like the second. But I did! I really liked both.
Joe McCulloch: Speaking as someone with experience in theater and other arts, what do you think are the particular virtues of comics as an art form? Like, what can comics do especially well compared to other art forms, from your experience? Anything? Is it all a lie and a fraud? If so, should perpetrators do jail time, or would house arrest or another form of intermediate punishment be sufficient?
Virgin: What? Perpetrators? What's the last part again?
TFO: Is it a lie and a fraud...
Virgin: Oh, and should they be punished. Okay. First part.
TFO: What are the merits and virtures of comics, what can they do well compared to other art forms?
Virgin: I feel like everything I say is going to say sounds sexist. But there is really a difference between men and women. There really is. Newsflash! I feel like you have to honor it or you can't engage with each other. I can't assume that you are like me, or I'm really frustrated. Maybe just because of who "you" are, but I think a part of it is that you're a man, and I'm a woman. I'm going to use that Playboy thing--"men are visually stimulated". Not sexually, just visually. Video games, certain kinds of television, men seem to be good with facts, etc. Look, I'm going to get to the point, but it's going to be a round-about way. I teach children. There's a part of my class where it's time to do art--now it's supposed to be sensory, exploratory, you have to keep telling the parents or care-givers to not force the kids to do it a specific way. Let them stick things where they want to stick them, let them do it anyway they want to, if they want to rip the paper, let 'em. It's pretty common knowledge that boys don't sit for art, yet. Eventually, yes, they will--but at this age, they won't. They can't, they don't want to, they have to move. The only time they are going to is when it's messy. Not even messy, but it has to be less like science--a kid will come to the table, say the project is painting. He won't let go of a toy train. If he brings it to the table, then I let him run the train wheels through the paint, run it onto the paper, and guess what? Wah-lah. He does art. Mom's so happy now. But when it's "now use a paintbrush?" Not a chance.
Why am I saying all this, okay, let me make sense here: in my class, we talk a lot about multiple intelligences, all the different ways in which a child can learn. We talk about how drama is a great way for kids to learn, that sort of thing. Here with comic books, you aren't just reading--there's art too. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. It's also "story", which can be cathartic--sometimes it's fantasy, but I think more than anything, the experience can be an outlet. I think for boys--and for men, but especially for boys--comics are an art form that I think they can get something out of that you can't get anywhere else. Maybe video games, but not even quite. Not even movies, because those are still human beings. But in some comics, you have these super-heroes, or a really angry person, like Punisher or something, "doing justice", "doling out anger." I think you can get the reader stimulated, they can experience immediate catharsis. It can help the reader to grow, to understand things better. I think that's a merit. Theater should do the same thing, but it doesn't have an audience anymore.
Should people be punished? I don't know that I answered that question.
TFO: You said it wasn't a lie and a fraud.
Virgin: Oh, okay.
TFO: The standard answer that people give to that question, the one they think is so clever, is "It's like an action movie with an amazing budget." That's a line everybody uses all the time.
Sean Witzke, from Supervillain:
Does it feel weird that you're walking into these serial narratives all the time? Except for Powers, I can't remember a book you read month to month.
Virgin: Yeah, it does, actually. [Laughs] I have a parallel situation going on where I'm a "guest client" for life-coaching right now.
TFO: You won that?
Virgin: Yes, I "won" it. I was nominated, got selected. Two of us did, out of a hundred people. It's cool, I like it.
TFO: Does that mean that "you were the two people's whose lives were most messed up?"
Virgin: The people who need it the most! I choose to look at it as "these were the people who were the most exciting", but maybe it's because they thought I needed the most work. I have a different coach every month. I'm in month four, on my fourth coach, and every month--I get the ball rolling with this person, they know me, I know them, they know what my "issues" are, what projects I'm working on, I've figured out how they work, and then: new person. And the new person doesn't get briefed on me or anything. So I have to catch them up on where I am and I have to figure out who they are, we get to know each other, start grooving, and then: new person. That's how I feel with the comic books.
Sean Witzke: Addendum to that: on recaps - Grant Morrison said something when Seven Soldiers came out that I kind of agree with - that if the story is sufficiently good enough you really don't need to know who any of these people are. Do you agree with that, based on your experiences reading this stuff?
Virgin: Yes and no. Yes, in that when you sit down to watch a movie, you don't know who the people are. It can start in a situation where you don't know what's going on, random stuff is happening....
TFO: The Shield.
Virgin: Yes, like The Shield, where the first episode was made to be as if it was episode seven. I started watching that show in season five. I didn't need to know what came before--the stakes were so high, the action was so clear--I just got hooked in. So yes, that's true when it's a good story and has good writing. However, if it's not a good story, and it's not good writing, and it's on issue 71? And I'm reading it? That's where I'm like "get better." Or give me a recap. I want to enjoy it.
I was actually looking at something I wrote, and it was about that exact thing. The recap can be written into the story too, like when Harry Potter books do it, where it's all "remember last time...", but it can be in there, just one sentence. For the new reader it's a recap, for the old it's just a refresher. I don't necessarily prefer the recap, but if it's going to be 26 characters meeting 72 characters at the top of a building? Recap! I have had that frustrating experience reading these things where, apparently, it's a really good comic to somebody who has kept up with it, but I can't keep up with it.
David Brothers: What are your three favorite books that you reviewed this year?
Virgin: Powers. Achewood was really fun to read, and my review...I felt like I had to step up my review of that. I was really proud of that review. That was a really good comic. I'd put that in there. I'm tempted to say Hellboy, but I wonder if that's because we were just talking about. I can't remember what the comic is, but one of the first ones I did? In the review I started talking about the Angelina Jolie looking chick, and my personal feelings about women. DMZ? DMZ. I didn't like that comic, but it has been a while since one of these connected me to bigger thoughts the way that did. I wouldn't say American Splendor was my favorite book, but the experience of getting a bunch of feedback, watching the movie--that was a really cool experience for me. I guess he wants favorite books. I don't know what the third one is. It could be Hellboy, it could be Black Panther, it could be Acme Novelty Library.
Tom Spurgeon, from the Comics Reporter:
What was your absolute lowest moment reading this material and exactly what was it about the material that brought you down?
Virgin: I guess it was falling asleep reading. That could be considered low.
TFO: What was that?
Virgin: Final Crisis, I think. Legion of Three Worlds? One of those. I fell asleep reading it! I had to lay down, I was so bored. But was that my lowest?
TFO: You were pretty upset by Acme Novelty.
Virgin: Emotionally low. But lowest like...
TFO: The implication does seem to be "when did you feel most degraded." "Why the hell am I doing this."
Virgin: The word degraded made me think of Jenna what's-her-face. Her comic. The porn star, Jenna Jameson. That was an awful comic. So bad. Shadow Hunter. There was something about that one...it wasn't just that it was bad. Maybe it was because I'd just seen her E True Hollywood Story. There's something about her that makes me just want too...I know all the guys think she's hot. But as a woman, you see what a fucked-up girl she was. That she didn't have a chance. I know she thinks she's happy, but she is not. You can see a little of that in the comic, with her "trying to figure something out, find herself." It talks about sex, but in this titillating way that's just so adolescent in the discovery. The whole thing just made me feel sick--put it away! Stop it!
Sharif Youssef: To me your most poignant piece was the trip to the comic convention. You mentioned how you expected these people to be listening to music instead of shuffling from one line to another. Did that change the way you started to read the comics? Did you get why some people would pathologize the superhero genre or the niche identity of the comic book guy/ comic book chick? Did you feel sorry for these folks? Or did you just wish that the convention organizer would get his head out of his ass? What kind of lesson did you take from that experience?
Virgin: My lesson was a little more personal. It was about me, it wasn't so much about comics. I did feel bad for people. I don't have it as much anymore, but I grew up with a passion. I grew up dancing. I loved--I'm going to cry about it--I loved to dance. I loved doing it. I loved performing. I loved all different styles of music. I love it. I love it. I don't even have to think about it! I didn't ever think "how am I going to pursue dancing." I just did it. Maybe it's because I had parents who could afford to send me to the classes I wanted to go to, and then I was on dance scholarship to college. But that was what I did, that was what I loved to do.
I had this really good friend in high school, and she was always really depressed. She was mad at me, depressed one time, and she said to me "You have something that you like. I don't know what I like, I don't know what I want to do." She was always trying to figure out who she was, and what she came up with is that she was a stoner. I didn't think anything of it at the time. But there I was, at this comic book convention and I started thinking that it would be as joyful to comic book people to be here as a dance convention was for me. Dance conventions aren't that way for me now, but I remember when I felt like "Oh my god, I'm going to the Tremaine Dance Convention!" It was so...cool! I felt like, at Baltimore, that..this is terrible to say. This is just my feeling. I felt like these people were really trying to have a "thing." But it's not really their "thing." Now, I don't have any right to say that, I don't know what people are feeling. It could be the difference between a dancer and a comic book person, that I'm all physical and outward and they are more introverted, but that thing wasn't there. There wasn't a frenzy of excitement. There weren't people running from table to table, or excited to be sitting down with their comics, it was all drudgery. People wandering around aimlessly. It made me feel a sort of overall sadness for anybody who doesn't have a "thing." They were exploring, trying to find something, and they still weren't getting it.
It also reminds me of when I was in 7th grade and it seemed like everybody had something they liked. People were into Duran Duran, they all had something, and I felt like I didn't have anything. You're going to love this. So I decided, "I'm going to like Garfield!" I didn't read the comic strip, nothing like that. I just decided that I was going to like Garfield. I got all this Garfield stuff, folders, Garfield note paper...I had Garfield everything. And I didn't fucking like Garfield. I just decided "Garfield is going to be my thing."
Virgin: [Laughs] Nana! I haven't read that much. I read Death Note. I haven't read Drifting Classroom. I read the beginning of...I don't know which one. It had kids swimming. Part of me wants to explore manga a little bit, but it seems like everything suffers compared to Nana.
David Brothers: What is the one question you don't want to be asked? Now, pretend I asked it and answer it.
Virgin: Should I really try and come up with that?
TFO: You don't have to say the question. Just come up with it and then answer it. No one will know what you're responding to.
David Brothers: I just looked Nana up on Wikipedia, and it sounds similar to David Lapham's Young Liars, only without the murder, mutilation, and spiders. Are you SURE it's that good? What's it got going for it?
Virgin: I hated Young Liars. Totally hated it. Are you kidding? Who wrote that? Is he pulling my leg?
TFO: David Brothers.
David Brothers: Boring stories about the existential angst and depression of hipsters and suburban kids are the fuel that makes the comics industry go. If you had to make up a story, or lie about an autobiography, what would your depressing memoir be called?
Virgin: It would have to be catchy. "Somebody Listen?"
TFO: How about "Taint Buy Me Love?"
Virgin: Eww. That reminds me of something I need to tell you later. How about "Undercooked or Undertall."
David Brothers: Why would it not be boring like all the others?
Virgin: Because of the sex. No, I think it would be. It wouldn't be boring because the protagonist has curly hair. Because it's about me and I am pretty cool.
David Brothers: Name your favorite Wu-Tang Clan.
Virgin: I don't have one. I don't know them well enough.
Noah Berlatsky, from the Hooded Utilitarian:
What is the deal exactly with Peter Parker's Mom and Dad? Where are they, anyway? How'd he end up with Aunt May and Uncle Ben? What's with that?
Virgin: I'm just assuming they are dead. Or in jail.
Noah Berlatsky: The Beast -- first he used lots of big words and had big feet; then he turned blue and started talking all slangy, saying things like "Oh my stars and garters!" How come?
Virgin: Beats the hell out of me.
Noah Berlatsky: Do you think Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew will ever come back?
Virgin: They better!
J. Caleb Moccozzo: Who is stronger, The Hulk or Doomsday?
Virgin: The Hulk.
Virgin: Because I don't know who Doomsday is.
TFO: He killed Superman.
Virgin: So what? The Hulk.
J. Caleb Moccozzo: Whose bi-curiosity is stronger for his teammate--Iron Man's for Captain America, or Batman's for Superman?
Virgin: [Laughs] Robert Downey Jr is kind of gay, so Iron Man.
TFO: You're just thinking of Less Than Zero.
Virgin: I totally am.
Tom Spurgeon: What do you think Charlie Kaufman was getting at by having Hazel's house always be on fire in Synecdoche, New York?
Virgin: She's a fiery gal.
Tom Spurgeon: At the end of John Carpenter's The Thing, Kurt Russell and another character are sharing a bottle and wondering if the other guy is The Thing. Is Kurt Russell laughing because it's been a long day and the situation is funny, or because the other guy just drank gasoline from the molotov cocktails they prepared and is The Thing pretending it's alcohol?
Virgin: Gosh, I don't recall that happening at the end. I think he's laughing because I'm trying to turn off the television.
Tom Spurgeon: Were you ever worried that your future husband had two last names?
Virgin: No. I thought "I gotta get with that guy, the guy with the cute name."
Tom Spurgeon: After you open your presents, do you keep holiday wrapping paper for re-use?
Tom Spurgeon: Would you rather live right now with half the money you currently have or in 1973 with twice the money you currently have?
Virgin: 1973 with twice the money.
Tom Spurgeon: What state do you know the least about: Arkansas, South Carolina or New Hampshire?
Virgin: New Hampshire.
Tom Spurgeon: A man in a hat is A) probably bald, B) stuck in a time warp from the 1940's, C) stuck in a time warp from a 1984 Ralph Macchio movie, D) Ralph Macchio.
Virgin: Ralph Macchio.
Tom Spurgeon: What is your favorite temperature?
Virgin: 78 degrees.
Tom Spurgeon: Gin and A) tonic, B) juice, C) rummy, D) bea it.
Tim O'Neill, from The Hurting:
I've been around comics long enough to know that people who don't read comics on a regular basis, for the most part, are not doing so simply because they haven't been exposed to the joy and majesty of the World's Greatest Comics, but for the much more prosaic reason that they simply don't like reading comics enough to make it a regular part of their lives. The "best" one can hope for is that the same people who dig books by folks like Jonathan Safron-Foer and Philip Roth will occasionally be inclined to slip books by Adrian Tomine and Chris Ware onto their bedside table. By putting scare-quotes around the word "best", I hope I'm getting at the meat of the problem: so many otherwise intelligent people feel the need to be evangelists for the cause of comics, Team Comics, whatever. It's not just people who think that, for whatever reason, a person who digs The Dark Knight in theatres will suddenly be willing to commit to making a separate trip to the comic store every week from now to the day they die to buy whatever Batman spin-off is being released on any given week. It's the idea that people will become so enamored with whatever comic they encounter that it will "change their life" and force them to become instantly obsessed with the medium - whichever genre, be it dudes in tights or Japanese martial artists or dudes in white button-down shirts sitting in their apartment and talking about their ex-girlfriends.
Most people who really like comics can point to some kind of "Paul on the
Road to Damascus" moment that solidifies a lifelong affection for the medium (or genre of their
choice, as it may be). People who love comics can never again experience that
kind of virgin high - sort of like using Class-A narcotics, most of them only
work so well the first time before they latch on to dopamine inhibitors or
whatever and become simply addictive. But we want to instill that kind of high
into other people, even if other people just aren't hard-wired about anything
to care that much about it. It could be comics, punk rock, Chaucer or Hummel -
some people are predisposed to obsession, some aren't, and the inability of
those on the outside to understand / care about the obsession of the initiate
are a constant source of frustration.
SO - the very name, "The Virgin Read", brings with it the expectation of someone being initiated into . . . something, be it the world of sexual experience or the world of four-color funnies. I long ago gave up on trying to "initiate" anyone into anything, because I've found that usually when you try to communicate your extreme enthusiasm about something to someone who Just Doesn't Get It, the only possible result can be hurt feelings and arguments. Anyone committing a "Virgin Read" is by definition not an enthusiast - everyone who reads about comics on the internet must by definition be an enthusiast of the highest caliber - why put yourself in that position? If you aren't "in" the comics world, why the fuck would you want to be "in" it, especially when the gatekeepers to the World of Comics are some of the most pedantic asshole missionaries that ever stepped off the boat to forcefully baptize California Indians and make them work on grueling plantations until they day. That is the glint in the eye of most comics fans when they want to baptize a non-believer - they believe they will be saving a soul for Christ, and if they cannot save that soul, it will be best to break the soul. Why in God's name would you ever want to participate in such a foul system?
Virgin: ....wow. Well, I hear the passion in that! I do have to make a correction--being a virgin, and then being deflowered? That's not about initiation. My first sexual experience wasn't my "initiation" into anything. Just something that happened for the first time. That's all I see it as.
Nevertheless--why would I want to be a part of this world? A world that he doesn't seem to like very much? It's not so much that I want to be a part of the world.
TFO: There's a concept in there--that being a comics reader turns one into a missionary for comics. I don't know that's something you do at all.
Virgin: Well, it was done to me. Nobody knows I write this column thing. I'm not saying to people "Oh my god, read my column. Read comics!"
TFO: Because who cares?
Virgin: Frankly, why would I want to be a part of this? Because somebody I love and care about gets something about them. They interest him. He interests me. That's why. That really is the only basis. No, I wouldn't be reading these if it wasn't for my husband. I do find it to be an interesting world. It's weird. Not that it's weird because of "geeky/nerdy/weird" type of thing. But because ya'll get seriously into this stuff. There's a degree that is pretty intense. Like when people get amped up about the specificity. Who was it--in those comments, somebody said they were "about to make fun of me" about something? Even if you make fun of me,...I don't care, you know? I don't want or need to know what goes on there.
I find it cool the dialog I see you all have--I've only seen dialog like this in politics. I don't see message boards where people go on and on about a book. People going on about "NO! This is my opinion about this writer!" You know what I mean? Only in politics do I see people get this heated. These people saying all these hateful things to each other, really getting into it over comics. That's kind of funny. Because--you know, this isn't real.
Virgin: I wish he would. I feel horrible that I work with kids and write something featured alongside Bert eating a baby. For two years!
TFO: Good old Bert. Good old screaming baby. Anything else?
Virgin: Thanks for reading! Maybe we'll take votes on what to call me in the coming year.
-Nina Stone, 2008