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Gutter Talk: Introduction
posted September 29, 1997
 

Sept. 28, 1997 — The first time the Internet made an indentation on my thick skull was late 1993. I was buying my first computer, and in the midst of looking through various issues of Computer Shopper trying to decide which pre-packaged slicky-ad special was going to get my two grand (it ended up being a New Jersey outfit called Quantex), I came across an article that said something to the effect of "If you don't get on-line access, you may as well not get a computer." As I couldn't conceive of a reason I'd want to do anything with my computer except run any number of applications I'd heard about, I ignored the article's advice and bypassed the modem feature on my new machine.

A year later, I came to work for the Journal. Our Internet presence in 1994 consisted of a free CompuServe account which we accessed through Kirsten Olsen's computer, one of those Macs about the size of a lunchbox. What we did on CompuServe -- what we do best, according to some people -- is argue with everybody. In fact, when I arrived, the Journal had just been booted out of the professional forum for either being a magazine (the pros wanted the privacy that speaking around journalists didn't allow) or for being a naughty magazine (an article by contributor Mark Barnette used a number of CompuServe posts in its body). Or both. I honestly don't remember.

CompuServe -- a service, incidentally, we still use -- became my Internet home for that entire winter. Arguing incessantly with the magazine's critics sharpened my own philosophies regarding the magazine's mission. It was fun and funny, too, at least to me: over the next nine months I was insulted often, physically threatened once, and heard every single metaphor possible in the English language for being Publisher Gary Groth's mindless servant. Some of the cleaner arguments were fun, too, that season and since; I particularly remember a long discussion with comics writer Kurt Busik about the nature of superhero comics. (For the record, I believe I lost that one on points.)

Intern Jordan Raphael brought us kicking and screaming onto Usenet and the World Wide Web in 1995 and 1996. The highlight was putting together a promotional site (the site that www.tcj.com replaces) which was crude, rudimentary and never really satisifed anyone. At the same time, it was a great learning experience on our end, and introduced several new readers to the Journal who had never heard of the magazine before finding the site via a comics-related Internet search.

The next step, it was obvious to Jordan and myself, was a full-service site including a companion on-line magazine. We realized this almost from the moment we launched the Journal's promotional site. The print magazine could really benefit from the promotional windfall of a fuller site, there were things we could do on-line that we couldn't do on the printed page, and it was important for the future of the magazine to get some baby-voiced presence on the Web in anticipation of the changes in publishing which may result from this new medium. Our problem? Finding time in our schedule. That's why it's taken almost 18 months since committing to it to launch this site.

But, in retrospect, I think it was time well-spent. Because Jordan and I have had so much time to think about it, the web site we've designed is more functional, more adaptable (we never came up with that much spare time; therefore, the site is designed to grow as more material from the magazine's past is catalogued), and more streamlined than what we might have done in the past. Whether or not it'll all work is still to be seen, but I think we have a good shot at it.

The key was adhering to a few simple principles.

1. Humility: Limit the web site, particularly TCJ On-Line, to what can be updated on a regular basis without drastically impacting the magazine. That's why we've decided to go with five columns, two of which are shared, and two of which are generated completely in-house.

2. Adaptability: Design what you can now, and add to it later.

3. Uniqueness: Two of the five columns found on TCJ On-Line do things the print magazine can't: "You Send It/We'll Read It" will present timely short reviews of whatever new comics we receive and read in the hopes that alternative comics fans can check out the site to see one critic's initial reaction to what's out there; while News Editor Greg Stump's "Stump Speech" adds short newsbrief and newscommentary functions to the print magazine's long-standing tradition of thorough, investigative journalism.

4. Synergy: Beyond hoping that checking out the TCJ site or TCJ On-Line could get you interested in sampling or subscribing to the award-winning print magazine, we hope to try out new writers and new approaches on the site, either in "Raging Bullpen," "YSI/WRI" or even in discussions on our message board. And some articles may have dual functions. At this time, we plan on a re-written "YSI/WRI" to appear in the print magazine starting with issue #201 as the column "Bullets," expanding the magazine's already formidable review coverage to include short, Publisher's Weekly-style reviews.

As for this column, I hope to discuss just about everything in comics in "Gutter Talk." As managing editor, and now executive editor of the print magazine, I think my perspective on comics is unique. On one hand, I'm focused on the cutting edge of the art form, arranging interviews and soliciting reviews; while on the other, I operate in and pay attention to an industry dominated by the mainstream publishers and their output. In my position, I also have to pay attention to illustrators like Ralph Steadman, painters who use words and pictures like Tony Fitzpatrick, editorial cartoonists like Tom Toles, animators like Ralph Bakshi, and work on foreign shores from around the world. In other words, the entire world of comics and comics-related art.

I like that wide net. I'm equally a fan of Jack Cole and Saul Steinberg, and am as familiar with the work of John Byrne as I am with that of Lorenzo Mattotti. Comics is an exciting and vital medium that shouldn't ever apologize for the quality of art it has produced, and I like works in just about every aspect of the art form. I hope to share my enthusiasm with you: expect reviews, points of view, and the occasional on-line interview here in Gutter Talk.

Thank you for checking out this new column, and this new site. I hope to see you back and to hear from you on the message board. Suggestions aren't only appreciated; they're vitally important to making this site work for you.

See you in two weeks.

Originally published in Gutter Talk, TCJ On-Line #1, September 1997