They bitch about character changes. They make fun of other fans for not knowing as much as they do. They hate on cosplay. Look in the mirror and pray that you are nothing like the babymen of the Eltingville Comic Book, Science Fiction, Fantasy Horror & Role-Playing Club.
I first encountered the four guys of Eltingville back in the 1990s, as part of a black-and-white anthology called Instant Piano. I was a fan of cartoonist Evan Dorkin’s Milk & Cheese one-page gag comics—”Dairy Products Gone Bad!”—and Instant Piano also featured work by the now-legendary Kyle Baker, another personal favorite of mine. Most of the stuff in Instant Piano was energetic, goofy fun but I still distinctly remember how darkly familiar that first Eltingville story felt. Bill, Josh, Pete and Jerry loved some of the same stuff I did but, even as I laughed at it, I could see that their affection had curdled into something bitter and acidic. Back before the internet changed fan culture forever, you could laugh at their hopefully exaggerated antics from a safe remove.
You can’t really do that anymore, because social media and technological advances have reduced the proximity buffer to zero. So it’s probably a good thing that the last-ever Eltingville Club comic has just come out.
In The Eltingville Club #2, Dorkin gets right at the fucked-up thinking that seems to fuel awful geek behavior—nerds are an oppressed subclass that needs to revolt against ‘outsiders’ to protect their culture— and the climactic explosion is hypnotically wretched to behold. The book opens with a choked panorama of people trying to get into Comic-Con. (It’s not specified which one it is, exactly. But it could be any big fan gathering and that’s sort of the point.)
Part of the thrill of Eltingville’s long, intermittent publishing history has been the fact that reading these stories has been like watching somebody yank out all the unsaid crankiness that wriggles around in the subconscious of collective fandoms. That line up there about having comics at comic-con? I know the feeling that spawned it. As nerd culture has grown in size, the change in scale can be hard to deal with. And while they’ve stumbled into ways to turn their hobbies into careers, it’s clear that the Eltingville guys haven’t grown up.
In a world where people made fun of folks who liked genre fantasy, the Eltingville guys still make fun of each other and everyone else. Dorkin’s always worked with a big broad palette of satire for Eltingville. Here’s what he said in a Comics Alliance interview years ago:
The humor is supposed to hit close to home, Eltingville’s a joke but it’s supposed to be an uncomfortable one, it’s not about cuddly, cute, awkward fans, it’s always been about the unsocial, self-absorbed, arrogant little tyrants that make fandom a less fun place, the idiots who make death threats to creators and rape threats against women writing about sexism in the video game industry, who flip out about the casting of an actor playing a fictional character, who argue the most ridiculous points of trivia as if they honestly matter in the scheme of things, who put fantasy above reality and don’t know how to behave like credible human beings and go bonkers if they’re called on that behavior. Most fan aren’t like that, but in all aspects of life the trolls are the loudest and the proudest and they really junk the joint up.
The things I’ve always liked about Dorkin’s style have only gotten better. His ability to turn naturalistic dialogue into first-class screeds, the rock-solid composition and framing skills, the aptitude for both manic and placid facial expressions all make the reader believe he’s lived inside this shit. Still, It’s hard to laugh at scenes like this:
The Eltingville Club is made up of four guys who don’t know how to make room for each other’s joy. Or anybody else’s, for that matter. If you don’t like the exact same things they do and in the exact same way, then you’re a blight in their eyes. And, as funny as their implosion at the end of this issue is, it’s also chilling how cathartic it feels to watch a crew of maladjusted trolls deflate simultaneously. (Ok, Jerry’s not that bad.) But this is just a comic book. Real life jerks don’t go away so easily.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.