I’ve been reading some articles from viewers who think Comic Book Men missed the mark or just plain sucked. While I believe that these people are all entitled to their opinions, many of the articles I have read seem to fall into one of three camps: A disgruntled critic who Kevin burned bridges with long ago, a comics fan not acquainted with Kevin Smith and the history of the stores cast, or a woman who thinks the whole show is sexist.
Here’s some of the complaints and my rebuttals/explanations…
"Kevin Smith is a big fat piece of shit and his movies suck." — I think most of us can agree that in a practical review of Comic Book Men comments like these are purely based more on a vitriolic hatred of all things Kevin Smith than the actual show. I will never understand the need for people to make these comments. If you don’t care about Kevin Smith then why take the time to write them? Just don’t watch, you won’t be missed.
"There’s no women on the show." — This is true. The reality, that’s right this is a reality show, is that there aren’t any women who work at the Secret Stash. AMC did consider casting a woman but then decided against using her in the show when they that realized all they were doing was trying to shove an outsider into a very small group of close friends. I will admit that the title choice by AMC (not Kevin Smith) of “Comic Book Men” did not help with the backlash. My best guess is that this was meant to be a clever play on a superhero title such as “X-Men” but has been perceived as exclusionary by many outspoken women. Women will be featured as customers.
"These guys are just perpetuating Comic nerd stereotypes." — This claim is highly subjective to your perception of what a comic book nerd is like. New comers to the world of Kevin Smith, and those unacquainted with the podcasts this show is based on — “Tell ‘Em Steve Dave” and “I Sell Comics” — are understandably at a loss here. As a frequent listener of the podcasts I am well aware of how normal these guys are. Walt, Michael, and Ming are all married with two kids and lead very normal domestic lives when not being visited upon by Kevin Smith. Ironically, the closest fitting to the comic book nerd stereotype — an out of shape middle aged man who literally lives in his parents’ basement — is taken by Bryan Johnson, a long time friend of Kevin’s who could really care less about comics, and is there only because he enjoys hanging out with his friends. Bryan is more than aware of this, and often makes fun of himself for it. Though he may seem to fit the part, if there is ever an instance of when things get too nerdy, Bryan will always be the first one to call others on it.
"These guys are just mean to each other" — Again, this is another instance in which those who are well versed with the podcasts will differ. In this case I believe viewers new to the Secret Stash world will have to watch another episode or two to fully grasp the true relationships between the crew. Walt and Bryan met each other in 1978 in 5th grade. Kevin has known them both since he started working with them at the Highlands Recreation Center in 1987. Ming started working for Kevin as a web designer after Kevin was shown a fan site he created shortly after the release of Clerks. And Michael was a professional chef and loyal patron to the store since its opening in 1997, before his vast comics knowledge gained him a position as Walt’s right hand man. The point being is what you see is a genuine relationship between a group of long time friends. While Ming seems like the scapegoat, he is well loved and versed with Bryan’s hazing and is very capable of dishing it back as well. Something I hope to see in upcoming episodes. It would be impossible for AMC to clearly convey the casts’ entire past and odd camaraderie in one episode. My hope is that viewers will come to understand this, and warm to these relationships as the episodes progress.
"Where’s all the real customers? It’s so staged." — The show is in part staged out of necessity. Just like Pawn Stars, a casting call was sent out to comics fans with interesting things they may want to sell. A rare Bob Kane sketch or Six Million Dollar Man does not just walk in everyday. While the store does see a number of cool things come in over the course of a year, it would be unrealistic to try to depend on such rare objects just stumbling in the door over the couple months of filming. Those wishing to try to sell their comics and memorabilia were given an appointment to come in when the store was closed for shooting, from there on out nothing is scripted. Whether or not they will show more actual sales from everyday customers is to be seen. But shots people buying the latest issues of the Walking Dead and DC’s new 52 aren’t going to keep peoples’ interest for long. I agree it would be nice to have a few short normal scenes like this interspersed to give the show a better air of reality, but realistically we are watching a show geared as much as possible to keep the viewers attention. Very few people would want to watch an hour of nerds just bantering behind a counter and ringing up an occasional common customer. This is same reason we don’t see anyone searching for good deals on Rolex’s on Pawn Stars.
“These guys are just stuck up geeks that want to look better and more knowledgeable than everyone.” — I can easily see the two places where these comments have come from. First, most nerds (including me) are socially awkward and are used to being ostracized by someone stronger than them. Second, Walter’s shrewd business skills and Michael’s encyclopedic knowledge are pretty intimidating. I think that fellow comics fans are relating to, and possibly feeling sorry for the customers in this regard. AMC most likely did not consider the nature of nerds to be more introspective, and empathetic to fellow nerds. While it seems that Walt is beating up customers on their asking price, or belittling them as to what they have, this is not the case. Walt, as Kevin has always said, treats the store as if he owns it. The shear reason it is still running in this economy is a testament to Walt’s business acumen. He treats every dollar spent as if it is directly coming out of Kevin’s pocket and thus wants to make sure none it is wasted; not even for the sake of appeasing a reality show audience. Again, as on Pawn Stars, these items are being purchased by a secondary market, not to be kept personally. Thus, a negotiation of price on any comic or toy will always be made with the consideration of its retail profitability. Walt loves the items coming in. He’s even shown hugging the Steve Austin doll, but he doesn’t let his emotions come into his business dealings. It may seem harsh, but that’s his personality.
“What’s with the guys just sitting around podcasting?” — To those acquainted to the world of Kevin Smith and S.I.R. (Smodcast Internet Radio) this element of the show will be no surprise. To others, it will probably seem odd. This was purposeful choice by AMC in structuring the show for a few reasons. First, the show owes its existence to the podcast “Tell ‘Em Steve Dave” which is recorded weekly in the store. While the podcast segments have been shot on a studio set, the reality of the store is that any customer walking in would be just as likely to see the crew podcasting for one of many shows on the SIR network, as they would be to see them selling comics. Secondly, the segments work to replace the common single person, often poorly scripted, confessionals seen on the majority of reality programs to offer commentary on the passing events. The podcast format instead offers a true to life conversation of the events as you would hear any group of comics nerds gushing over a comic or toy together. Lastly it provides a way to fit the busy Kevin Smith into each show. Kevin may own the store but it’s not his day job. Due the fact that he lives in, and works out of Los Angeles, the only times the crew sees Kevin is when he’s back for an event in New York or New Jersey. And when he’s back, his favorite thing to do is converse and catch up with his friends over a podcast. Conveniently, these segments serve to give us a small taste of that as well.
"The show would have been a lot better if they kept it to 30 minutes." — This is a very pompous argument to make for just one episode that serves as an prologue of sorts. I can see where people who have no initial vested interest the stores cast would just want to see the comics and cut any extra footage out. This would literally make the show Pawn Stars with Comic Books. While I can see where people think the first episode is slow, AMC is just establishing it. You can’t expect the first episode in which all the cast needs to be introduced, and their origins explained, to be reminiscent of how rest of the show will be. AMC is trying to create a show where people will not only be invested in the comics and toys, but the people buying and selling them as well. The cast is what makes this store unique. AMC had thousands of stores to choose from and they picked this one because they saw a unique personality in its crew that stood out. This is reason why we see the cast outside of the store, and why like any show it’s important to give it more than one try before singling it out. If AMC seems like to think it’s dragging, and the extra scenes are just padding, then the format will probably change. For now though, I suggest those making this criticism widen their sample size of episodes before putting themselves in the directors chair. After all AMC’s record of green lighting shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and the Walking Dead more than shows that they like to make bold moves in their programming, and know what they are doing.
Ultimately the first perceptions of Comic Book Men are going to be widely varied. Any Kevin Smith or Tell ‘Em Steve Dave fan will most likely immediately take to the show. However, I can see how it will be a harder sell for those unacquainted to Smith or the world of comics, but I urge those omnipresent naysayers to suspend their bias and give the show an honest second chance. This is not only a show about a comic book store, it is a show about the antics of a close knit group of eccentric men who will take more than just an hour to get to know.