For those who don’t spend the most productive hours of their life watching reality television (but these days, really who doesn’t?), there is a new entry in the category of Men At Work reality shows: Comic Book Men. The hour-long nerdfest follows the staff of Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, the Kevin Smith-owned comic book shop in Red Bank, New Jersey. Like the bastard lovechild of Pawn Stars, Mythbusters, A Night With Kevin Smith, and all those times you ended up in a screaming match with the owner of your local comic book store, Comic Book Men is presented as a televised talk radio show hosted by Kevin Smith himself, interspersed with footage of the staff at work and play. The conversations with Smith are released as a half-hour podcast to accompany each episode. I’m a fan. I’m as hooked as I was on the first season of A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, and that was coke-addict hooked (with about the same amount of self-loathing. But others haven’t been so kind to the new prime time nerdbaby.
These are nerds as you have never seen them before: fully-formed human beings, with wives and girlfriends and interests other than the arcane and the obscure. It’s a mainstream, accessible. It’s bite-sized information about comic books and comic universes, in an entertaining format that doesn’t require hours of background reading to get the jokes. At the same time, there is no pandering to an uninitiated audience. Show comics themselves in a new light in the negotiation of price. I am not a collector; I would rather read and enjoy my comics than carefully seal them away in case they’re worth something in a dozen years. But even I have to admit that many people who considered comics to be “worthless” may reconsider seeing the outrageous sums some of the rarer issues go for. It’s just darn entertaining. Sometimes painful, yes, but usually hilarious and pathetic and engaging.
It’s misogynist and alienates women. The title of the show is Comic Book Men, and there are no female employees or even regular guests (like the experts they call in to appraise memorabilia – all men). The boys talk about which female superhero they’d like to bang, and other such macho subjects. It shows nerds in a bad light, as self-centred, elitist jerks. The guys are often shown as being abrasive with the customers, which can come off as rude rather than hilarious. It can seemed staged; an Adam West-era Batmobile shows up, conveniently when there’s a camera crew present. Ridiculous challenges are made and delivered. The show doesn’t need the gags, but still stretches for them.
The Kevin Smith
Even though he owns the stash, Kevin Smith is a coast-hopping man of action; he doesn’t wander the store. His interaction with the show is more in the role of moderator and host than star, which I think was a wise choice. It could have easily become the Kevin Smith Show, with special guest star, the Secret Stash. So far they’ve avoided the trap. He brings an easy blend of his usual crass humour, and a childlike joy in the world of comic books. The show wouldn’t be the same without him, but it would still be a show I would enjoy.
Like I said, I’m a fan. I can benevolently overlook the stereotypes and occasionally strained banter because it sells to the plebeian mainstream (I think I spontaneously grew a pair of thick-rimmed glasses at that last sentence). Mostly, the show makes me miss my comic book friends. It’s a bunch of guys hanging out rambling about the Hulk, and I wish I was with them again. Make your own decision! Check out an episode. It airs Saturdays on AMC, is available for download at the iTunes Store, and might be on-demand with your local cable. Seen the show? Love it? Hate it? Leave your own review in the comments!