The post-credits scene has become synonymous with superhero blockbusters and the conversations that bring fandoms together. But in a world of clickbait and instant-gratification, how many of us are willing to read the comics that spawn those films, let alone explore the pages beyond the main story?
I’m not going to lie to you, there really isn’t a single post-credits scene that changed the way I read comics. But, realizing why I was willing to spend (what seemed like) an eternity to see Thanos’ smile did change how I read comics.
When the credits role at the end of your typical comic book film, it’s always an interesting game to look at the audience and see who’s likely wearing Avengers gitch and who just came to see a movie. If you come from a lifetime of geek-inspired love affairs, chances are you won’t be standing up to leave until you’ve seen the post-credits scene.
Sometimes better than the movie you just watched, the post-credits scene gives viewers something to look forward to, a little teaser to test your comic knowledge and debate about with your friends. So, when the superhero blockbuster is over, most of us are willing to sit through a lot of names that we don’t recognize in order to see even the tiniest hint of something new. But is waiting in a sticky theatre to see Howard the Duck really about being in the know or is it about something more?
The truth is, there isn’t much geeks won’t do in order to connect with others about what they love. This includes, but isn’t limited to, sitting in a theatre while awkward teenagers wait to pick up your garbage. For me, this begged the question: if waiting for a post-credits scene with a bunch of strangers makes me feel connected, why don’t I feel the same excitement and connection after reading an issue of my favourite comic? The answer, it turns out, was after the credits.
As an English major, it may be surprising to some to learn that I am not a reader – at least not in the conventional sense. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading. But I only tend to read what I’ve signed up for. I will gleefully read through a comic, taking in every punch and grimace, when I get to the letter column page, I stop. Issue over, good stuff, NEXT! It’s not that I don’t care what fans have to say or how the creators came up with their latest ideas, but when I see the long-form text of the letter column page my brain instantly shuts down. It’s the same feeling that I get when a “Stupidest Celebrities” link leads to an article about poor financial decisions, instead of a slideshow about morons.
But everything changed this past year when I started reading horror comics again. I like horror as much as the next person, but what I really enjoy is reading about what scares individual people. I love listening to the experiences that haunt someone, stories that give the speaker chills with each re-telling. Late last year, I realized it had been a long time since I read a decent horror comic. So, I decided to pick up the first issues of Wytches written by Scott Snyder with art by Jock, as well as Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook’s Harrow County. Both issues were great, but what really intrigued me were the post-credit tales of terror. The spine-tingling stories that inspired both series were just as good as the comics themselves. In follow-up issues, fans flooded the letter columns with similar stories of creep-tastic escapades. I quickly found myself just as excited to read the letter columns as I was to read the issues themselves. But the quality of the letter columns couldn’t be this good for every comic? I mean, had I really been missing out on post-credit gold for years? In short, yes.
When I went back and read the letter column in IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I found that it was full of nostalgia-inducing stories of the 80s and memories of growing up with four pizza-loving brothers. I also discovered Jason Aaron’s love-filled rants on the people and politics of the Deep South in the back pages of his series Southern Bastards. What’s more, most series I revisited had other delicacies hidden beyond the credits, such as character designs (often with artist commentary), fan art, and the general hilarity of geekdom that oozes out of passionate fans.
For years, I skipped over letter columns and avoided author commentaries, all under the false pre-tense that the actual comic panels were the most important part of a comic book. What I forgot, in the addled age of instant gratification, is that every single page of a comic, from cover to cover, is part of what makes up that issue. Every word, every letter, every ad and every sketch, is a piece of what makes reading a comic great – and, unlike a movie, you can actually be part of that creative experience. You can send in a nostalgic letter or share a pulse-pounding story and become, immortalized in ink and paper, part of your favourite comic-reading experience. The connection to my geeky passions, and the camaraderie that comes from sharing that passion, had been at my literal fingertips for years. I rarely skip a letter column now, and I feel that I am a happier comics fan for it. Because, unlike a scene of Deadpool’s decapitated head, I rarely find myself disappointed that I’ve spent a little more time in the worlds that I love. And, to be totally honest, letter columns are the original post-credits scene… and the original is always better.