ETEWAF by Jordan Ferguson
In 2010, the comedian Patton Oswalt wrote a think piece for Wired magazine on the state of geek culture, specifically the sharp and dramatic increase in supply. The ascendancy of the Internet eroded the specialized nature of the geekery: finding that rare anime or b-horror movie is no longer the result of random discovery along the dusty shelves of your local strip mall video mart, now you can find them online in under ten keystrokes. According to Oswalt, the culture as a whole is heading towards what he dubs ETEWAF (Everything That Ever Was, Available Forever), a sort of nerd singularity that will transmute the culture into the proverbial ouroboros, a snake eating its own tail, incapable of creating original works, only endless rebooting and remixing. With the immediacy of ETEWAF, one no longer has to wait for the next cultural artifact to fall in one's lap, and the private, considered obsession while you waited that defined so much of any given fandom vanishes, replacing it with instant expertise.
So... wait, what? Oh right, comics.
I've spilled liters of digital ink in this space discussing how integral a part "the hunt" played in my fandom. The roadtrips. The Longbox digging. A visit to a convention had nothing to do with catching a glimpse of Lou Ferrigno or Cylon Number Five, it was your best chance to get that first printing #1 you had to have. Trades were an insult, a slap in the face of my dedication. Plainly put, if you wanted to read it, you got off your ass, put in the work, dropped the coin and copped the OG. You need look no further than my previous article to see the fruits of that philosophy at work.
But something unexpected happened last Christmas: my folks bought me an iPad. And suddenly, a couple of app downloads later, I was faced with my own personal ETEWAF, challenging everything I previously believed in. And what did I do? To quote young Bartholomew Simpson: I folded faster than Superman on laundry day.
Friends! It's been glorious! I've become one of the tribe again, waiting for Wednesday with bated breath, reading new comics when they come out. I have a favourite X-book [Wolverine and The X-Men] for the first time in a decade! I'm caught up on Saga! I'm reading Thor!
Let me say that one again. I'm reading Thor. I've never read Thor in my life, aside from a brief dalliance in the 80's when Walt Simonson turned him into a frog, because what eight-year-old isn't going to read that? But this is what the emergence of digital into my life has wrought. Freed from the confines of storage space or budget, I'll read anything put in front of me, voraciously.
And it's wonderful, and life changing, and has brought me a sort of happiness I'd thought I'd closed the door on, but... For an old fart like me, for a pre-ETEWAF fan, this sort of thing breeds worry. In my previous fandom, I was a collector, as so many of us were and are. My comics were always read, usually more than once, but then they were bagged, boarded and filed, they were kept, they were valued, even if we're talking a polybagged-with-card copy of X-Force #1. Because I had to work for every single one; I paid the cost, with my wallet and my legwork.
But without that tactile element, that sense of value degrades. At least it does for me. Should hard drive space on my iPad starts to run out, I'll clear those books out wholesale without a second thought for whether or not I have a backup copy on my laptop. And that's an entirely new way of viewing comics for me. A friend once told me he never keeps the books he buys, he reads them and gives them away. This was horrifying to me. This was just not done. Yet now I'm doing the exact same thing.
With the barriers to access removed ['access' being relative to those with smartphones or tablets, I realize], more people can read more comics than ever before. This is wholly good for the culture and the artform. But if that access comes at the cost of the thing we're supposed to be fans of... what is comic book fandom without comic books?
I have no answers to these questions, friends. And my twinge of anxiety isn't enough to stop the course I'm already on. The old order will always be replaced by the new, and I'm usually a futurist. But for the first time, it feels to me like the kids who grow up in an ETEWAF world will be missing out on something vital. Time will tell if that's a good or a bad thing.