August 1, 2013
GroupThink Results: Comics Industry Coverage
Yesterday I asked CR
readers to sound off on their ideas about the future of the coverage of the comics industry, what they'd like to see and why. Accompanying that request was this attempt at a response from me.
I'm usually pretty kind to industry journalism. I think comics is fairly well covered in a lot of ways, particularly relative to writing about other art forms and their businesses. There is at least one thing I admire about all of the major groups and efforts devoted to comics in a journalistic way, and there is a lot that I feel is genuinely laudable about most of the brand-name locations.
That in mind, and with the obvious caveat that I'm in this specific line of business, I'd like to see a few things happen:
* more rational discourse about and coverage of the newspaper strip business. I think that may be one area where were better served 10 years ago with some of the coverage we had then, although that may be a completely unfair generalization.
* more site-sponsored, long-form journalism, particularly from the sites that are sites (TCJ, CBR) and that have some resources to devote someone to generating material on their own rather than in reaction to the news.
* more formal obituaries as opposed to personal reminiscences. I love personal reminiscences, particularly when they have something to say about the person that passed more than the person that's do the reminiscing. Still, I think the first draft of history is in those obits.
* fewer people working for free or for fiendishly reduced rates. I think this has an impact on everything, from the expectations we have for the quality of work that we do to crowding the marketplace in a way that makes it hard for specific folks to get over enough that what little money there is might be used to support their work.
* ownership of articles by article-writers as the industry standard, except perhaps when salaried work is involved or unless a specific deal for a specific run of columns or articles is worked out, for instance a run of news briefs for which there is likely no secondary market.
* a vast reduction in use of the word "exclusive" and of search engine optimization tactics more generally. The term "exclusive" shouldn't be used for gift-wrapped content; that word implies an achievement in securing a story greater than being the recipient of one. I also believe that all news organizations should offer original, unique content on a regular basis. An in-text "exclusive" quote from anyone other than Steve Ditko should probably be skipped.
* more writing to a general audience from our knowledgeable insiders.
* no coverage of any story that could be a story at the Daily Bugle or Daily Planet.
* I wish more writers who wrote for group sites were more careful to build up an identity of their own that the work for other sites fed into. We shouldn't have to cast around when someone quits a group blogging gig for wherever they landed; we should have a primary destination to find that out that's with us because the column had been sending us there all along.
* greater up-front participation in news stories by the major industry players and a generally more respectful attitude towards those that risk participating. At the very least, I and I'm sure others could take a pass on most of the angry e-mails from folks hoping to direct coverage by strongly asserting you should have known to better present their point of view by some sort of magic osmosis. If you object to something but aren't willing to go on the record, barring some pretty extraordinary circumstances it's difficult to take your objections as seriously as you likely hope we will.
* a better understanding of what "off the record" means. It's something you work out in advance with someone, not a morning-after pill or something you trumpet as a kind of magic spell while saying whatever. You also can't declare other people's information off the record, even if that information is about you. There's also a difference between off the record, background-only and use for non-attribution.
* a greater attention to comics works. Certain cartoonists putting out certain works should be the backbone of coverage.
* wider attention to the issue of creators-in-need. I love charities, but there is a lot more to so many people needing to ask for money than any charity can or should be expected to handle.
* to please stop using the word "comics journalism" for journalism about comics as opposed to its less weird use as meaning "journalism in the form of comics." That's just odd.
I can do better at all of these things, too.
Here are some of the responses. I really appreciated those that sent stuff in; I probably wasn't thinking really clearly that hosting a discussion of an issue in which I'm a daily participant was going to end up with more writing about CR
in a non-critical way than I intended to be in here, but I know those are sincere expressions and hopefully there's enough of value to offset that. Certainly as many of the points made apply to this site as to any other magazine. If you'd like to join your voice to this discussion, including (especially) slamming this site right to the floor,
I would be willing to pay a reasonable subscription fee to support a website to pay for journalists reporting, covering, or investigating substantive news involving comics creators, comics businesses and their owners & practices, the interaction of comics with the wider world of culture, business, legal system, politics, and so on. Not stories about creators migrating across titles or companies, and not stories about character developments. But without some kind of payment model for such a website, I can't imagine any website or person regularly providing that sort of writing for such low pay.
It would also be an interesting component of such a site if some of the comics news coverage could utilize the comics form itself. Some of TCJ
s Cartoonist Diaries have tilted in that direction.
One current story that comes to mind is the immediate, short-term, and long-term impact that can be known and reported when a sudden void in a key position in comics occurs, usually from a death. What can we know will happen when a Jay Kennedy
, Rory Root
, Dylan Williams
, or Kim Thompson
is suddenly no longer filling a vital role in their own business or the wider comics art-industry culture? The tragic nature of death, especially an unanticipated one, and the general chumminess between people in the comics industry and people who write about it tends to minimize the occurrence of "what happens next?" questioning in the coverage that follows. Granted, that sort of news should be separated from reporting the death itself, but for instance there was no delay in attempts to report on the impact to business at Apple in the wake of Steve Jobs' death.
Thanks for including me in your mailing. I don't have strong opinions about comics journalism. The day to day stuff is not particularly interesting to me.
I guess if I have an ideal writer-about-comics, it's Bob Levin
. I'm not sure whether to call his work journalism or history; it contains elements of both. But I like long-form, personally involved non-fiction articles. You wrote one of the classics: "Witness at the Marvelution." (I just wrote one -- not about comics -- that I'm kind of proud of
.) Comics could use a Grantland
. So I guess if comics journalism could attract a bunch of Susan Orleans to the field and manage to pay them to do their stuff, I'd be an eager reader of the results.
I've been putting a significant amount of thought into the broader picture of comics industry journalism, especially now that its shrugged off most of the last vestiges of the print medium with the end of Wizard and the change in format for The Comics Journal now firmly in place.
As I've described to other journalistic colleagues working in other areas, comics industry journalism primarily sits in the nexus of Entertainment Weekly
for comics as an entertainment form, but nuanced to target the core audience of full-time comics fans and not to a more general audience. This, as Tom points, leaves other non-"comic book" comics formats like newspaper strips, political cartoons and even some general audience graphic novels even out in the cold in terms of coverage -- but also in terms of audience these comic industry journalism news outlets have garnered. Sometimes you write for the audience you want, but oftentimes the safer bet to keep the lights on is to right for the audience you have.
With that out of the way, here's some white whales I'd love to see comics journalism incorporate in some shape or manner:
Working on more "evergreen" comic stories to compliment the "breaking news" and time-sensitive coverage of releases coming down the pipeline. Right now the money is in getting the big story out there first, and the way the current system is set up it, by-and-large, doesn't foster the focus on evergreen features that could be featured covering broader industry issues, as well as more in-depth coverage of storylines, creators' careers, etc. For all sites, it's the newest stories on top and then older as you get down: imagine if your local newspaper did that. If a book's not a #1, a new creative team or a game-changing story-arc, it's hard to get traction on getting a story in print -- digitally, that is.
Get inside the industry: right now comics industry journalism straddles the line between its niche fan audience and being a more insider-y focus like Deadline
; with some exception though, it's people on the outside wanting to know what's on the inside. I think there's a market for actual industry insider-type approach to comics as a workplace, talking hiring patterns, what the current market is like for works on the book market for creators, and the real realities of working inside comics. I understand that is a niche of an already niche market, but I think there's a highly underserved audience that would pay for a comics equivalent of The Wall Street Journal
More upfront disclosure of conflicts of interest. I've written for comic publishers in the past, both doing actual comics and doing journalism for comic companies like Marvel
. In those times I was careful not to cover those publishers' works, and if I needed to I would include a disclosure about my affiliation with them. But right now there's several staffers at comics industry journalism sites, on both an editorial and freelance writer level, who actively do work for comic publishers and also cover those same companies with nary a disclosure to be found.
Comics coverage for the common man: what do comics fan who aren't Wednesday shoppers do when they want to read about comics? They wade into the deep waters of comics news websites by-and-large devoted to fans that live and breathe comics on a daily basis. It's easy because that audience is already build up over time, changing hands from Newsarama
and the Pulse
in the early days over to CBR
and others in the present day. The best coverage for the casual comics fan is instead found in more geek-centric blogs like Boing Boing
or one of Wired
's blogs, but there exists room for something in between. The problem is building that audience.
You make great points. Here's some of my thoughts on what changes I'd like to see from comics journalism:
- I'm not a huge fan of articles that merely rehash the latest DC
and Marvel press releases without adding any insights from the writer.
- I'd much rather see coverage of a forgotten-but-fun comic like Ocean's weirdo Popeye Special origin story
from 1987 than endless news of the latest company-wide event.
- More pieces about industry veterans in need of help. This LifeHealthPro piece on Bill Mantlo
springs to mind, as it ultimately eclipses the industry to become a rumination on the complexities of family and healthcare.
- Some writers are more about building up their own personality and "brand" than actually doing a decent job covering news stories. This is unacceptable to me.
- A greater amount of articles covering the lives of under-the-radar writers and artists. I'd be happier reading about a Bob Bolling
, Bertram Fitzgerald
or Bud Sagendorf
than another piece on Steve Ditko's ideology.
- More coverage of indie books. By and large sites are doing a great job of this, but there still are so many exciting artists and books (Ed Luce's Wuvable Oaf
springs to mind) that deserve more attention.
- Any writer whose insights consist of "this rocks" or "this sucks"-style mentality should be fired. There are too many hungry and talented writers out there waiting in the wings to share their intelligent commentary for this sort of "analysis" to acceptable for readers or editors.
- For the love of God, enough with the endless Kickstarters already.
Thanks for letting me be a part of the conversation!
I would love to see more journalism in all the aspects that you discussed, which basically started laying out the tenets of journalism as opposed to commentary. I read commentary because that's what is available, while I continue to long for journalism.
Your site is the first comics site I read, and the only site I read daily. I offer that as a preface so that you know that this next bit is not intended to be derisive. I can only remember one piece of journalism from your site in the last 90 days (not that my memory is something to brag about). That's the Kim Thompson obituary
. The commentary and the interviews are very well done and feature quite a bit of journalism ethos, but feel different for the back and forth.
I just assumed that there was no financial benefit from any site doing journalism. I read Bleeding Cool
frequently, and ComicsAlliance
and others when linked to, but generally for news and reviews, not for journalism. I remember fondly the days of The Comics Journal
featuring one or two major journalism efforts per month, of which I read nearly 100%.
In my non-comics reading, I have read only one periodical consistently for the last 15 years (countless others have come and gone), and that's Esquire
. I have no trouble enjoying the light celebrity interviews, and commentary, such as columns and PR dressed up as "information about interesting things," but I relish a journalistic approach to a topic that I might not have any interest in before the opening paragraphs. When it comes to comics, I would read a journalistic approach to any related topic. For example, my interest in Manga is close to zero, but a journalistic effort about the way the assembly line shops work would be fascinating to me.
One really interesting bullet in your list was "more writing to a general audience from our knowledgeable insiders." Because I know comics and the industry so well, I forget that a journalistic approach would enhance the readability of an article by "outsiders," so I agree with this wholeheartedly.
What i would like to see more of is in depth articles detailing the history of comics, strips or companies that shines a light on unseen corners.
I feel that a lot of hobbyists put up interesting works but have little in terms on context to place them other than as oddities. I was struck when visiting the Musee d'Orsay
in Paris by how they contextualised the revolution that was Impression by showing work that were well regarded or prize winning at the same time -- I'd love to see an article deconstructing why something was so different that really drew out the comparisons to work available at the time.
The opposite of that is historical importance -- how something influenced people, the building almost of canons of influence and schools of approach, like the line that runs from Jack Kirby
through to Fort Thunder
I think career spanning interviews with those few remaining first generation comics fans turned artists and their experiences is vital. All that information will be lost soon and some should capture it and mine it.
Sort of not journalism, but I'd love to see it anyway. Pieces arguing for the worth of works that need reviving or revisiting.
On a personal note -- more interviews, thought pieces and reviews by you or by other but of a similar quality would be deeply appreciated.
Odd -- i happened to be reading, and enjoying, your pre-and-post-Before Watchmen
articles when i got this e-mail. this coincidence motivates me to attempt a response at your request even if i have very little of substance to say.
The sites i follow somewhat regularly are yours and a handful of the ones that are more pr & news vehicles for the mainstream comics market, rather than forums for discussion/analysis/exploration of the medium.
I follow CBR
and Bleeding Cool
partly out of curiosity as a comics fan, mostly because they cover my professional field and serve admirably the purpose of any professional trade publication. It's likely i would not have had a career as an inker over the last ten years, if not for an interview with Michael Lark
that was published by one of those sites back in '03.
As an elder fan i love the medium, but not most of the genre titles that are produced monthly and suck up most of the oxygen on CBR
; so i often find myself wishing there were more substantial pieces to read when i have time to do more than just skim for general industry updates. i like your notion of focusing more on creators than characters, and would be interested in more explorations of general topics along the lines of Steven Grant's occasional contributions (If not for Steven i might not have become a reader of whatever site published him in the early naughts, which would mean i would not have read the interview with Lark that prompted me to reach out and apply for the inking job on Gotham Central
, which could mean that now i might be working for Microsoft, or be homeless, or even both! instead of going strong as an inker.)
Used to like a site called The Ninth Art
, and a reviews-centered site by two guys whose names i forget (was one of them Don MacPherson?) TCJ
looks good, but i crave more substantial work specifically on the more commercial end of the artform's spectrum -- like your articles on Before Watchmen
, for example. I have no interest in reading those books, but i am interested in reading about them -- would love to read a talk with John Higgins on what motivated him in his approach to the pirate-back-up assignment that fizzled out when he and Len Wein ceased to function as a team. What an amazing connection of themes right there -- the old project exhumed and desecrated, much like the character in the original Pirate-Comic-Within-Watchmen
desecrated the corpses of his own townspeople. Wein and Higgins were the only two creators carried over to BW
from the original work, collaborating on the only fragment of the original story that might conceivably Not have been tainted by further exploration. and then, classic creative differences put an end to the work; something that ironically is normally not seen in corporate-owned comics. Creative differences would have killed Watchmen as dead as Big Numbers. Before Watchmen might have been immune by its nature, instead we got that aborted story somehow ennobling and deflating DC's questionable venture in equal measure.
Honestly it seems a miracle that that sort of failure-to-create-together is not more common. anyway -- that's the sort of thing that fascinates me -- a general exploration of the way things work.
I'm not sure why i don't visit Heidi's Beat more frequently than i do. I should add it to my tabs list, at the risk of distracting myself further at times when i really should not be doing more than skimming the surface for news of the world, and moving on.
Tom, interesting topic. I second all of your notes about fair pay, transparency and the need for real journalism, but find it increasingly hard to get worked up about any aspect of superhero comics production, especially from Marvel and DC. I do think that more hard news about comics retail, sales, and stock reporting would be helpful. I don't think we will have a professional class of comics reporters until there are more than a half-dozen paid comics reporters in North America, preferably with journalism backgrounds. Not likely in a time of shrinking journalistic opportunities. The money and interest is not there and doesn't show any signs of materializing. If only a rich comics collector would endow an investigative journalism organization. Kickstarter?
In the absence of a comics trade journal or any form of guild, union, or professional association, I 'd love to see "the comics industry" such as it is covered more regularly by mainstream trade journals as well as major outlets (from Hollywood Reporter
), especially from the creator/labour/rights angle. It's hard for non-actor film professionals to get any kind of coverage so I'm not holding my breath. I'd also like to see more English-language coverage of the Quebec and Franco-Belgian comics worlds and I'm very curious about current Japan comics culture outside of popular children's comics exports. I'd also like to see more reviews of and interviews with graphic novel and minicomics creators.
Let's all get off the effing internet for a moment: I can't be alone in missing great printed journalism (think O.G. Comics Journal
, Destroy All Comics
, the all too short run of Comics Comics
zine). While I think sites like CR
get it mostly right (format and content-wise)and almost everyday deliver the goods in great writing about topical and off the beaten path comics related news, I want something I can hold and spending more than a cursor browsing minute over. I want a physical object that reflects the ideas and passions of its creators. It's interesting to think that a medium that is still largely concerned with a printed medium is by and large mostly discussed and criticized on a non-printed platform. The internet lacks permanence. It's like daily television, broadcast once and then vapor trails. A virus is coming soon to wipe our facebook smiles away and then what?
More voices brought into the fold: We often forget that some internet sites, like CR
, are one inhumanly active human being trying to take it all in and put it all out there. TCJ
has a nice pool of talent to lean on (Clough on minis, JOG on weeklies, Santoro on whatever Santoro finds interesting, i.e. what we need to pay attention to). I guess this would fall under editiorialship of running a site. You can't be everywhere at once, so reach out and find someone to cover that story, exhibit or convention you can't get to.
I'd like to see more coverage (has there been any) on the state of comics education and like minded resources (i.e. the soon to be opened Billy Ireland Library slash museum). It seems like this is a big story that isn't being talked about. Fer chrissakes, the current roster of professors includes the likes of Ivan Brunetti, Gary Panter, Lynda Barry, Tom Hart, etc.
Let's talk money: I have no ideas how these sites support themselves. I would pay for a subscription to CR
if you had one. I'm a comics fan, so it's a proven fact that I, and I imagine others, would like to support things we like by voting with our wallets and buying a physical object. This whole the internet is free is bullshit and must come to an end.
If you want to enjoy someone's labor then put up the cash to do so. I like how Gabrielle Bell funded her recent run of July Diary
. The price point she was asking for an original page of art was so ridiculously cheap, so you get the art and you get to support a creator you cherish. Isn't that a system that should be standard by now? I would buy at least 2 CR
t-shirts with the Sam Henderson logo or any zines you might throw together (hand written rough notes scrawled on the floor of you Comic Con motel room). The point is I want to support artist I like and the "philosophy" of the internet concerning money to creators seems to be "fuck you make it free". Every time I see a commercial before a youtube clip I know the only ones making money off the internet are globcorporations.
First, the obligatory disclaimer: I can only speak for myself, not for my colleagues at Robot 6
, and certainly not for anyone in the larger CBR
Second, a more personal disclaimer: I don't consider myself a "comics journalist." I say that out of respect for my friends who are working journalists. I'm just a lawyer who writes about comics on the side. That probably gives me a certain detachment from the industry, but it also means I'm not as familiar with as many aspects of it as I'd prefer to be.
Along those lines, when we talk about comics-industry-related journalism, I think we have to treat it as a pretty wide range of contributors, writing on a fairly broad spectrum of topics. I'm not quite sure what you mean by "greater up-front participation ... by the major industry players and a generally more respectful attitude towards those who risk participating," but sometimes I don't see a lot of respect from the corporate-comics representatives when someone from CBR or Newsarama actually does challenge one of them. Probably the biggest hurdle those sites have to overcome is the perception -- by both readers and industry folks -- that they exist as a sort of organized sycophancy for DC and Marvel. No doubt a big part of this is the focus on story elements and (perhaps secondarily, insofar as they actually produce the stories) creative-team moves, because those help drive sales -- but to go much further would get into yet another critique of the Direct Market, and we've got enough of those already.
Still, it reminds me that I would like to see more emphasis on the production of comics. Because he was one of the special guests at this spring's MidSouthCon (a Memphis tradition for 31 years and counting!) I got to interview Terry Beatty for his spotlight panel. He's drawing the Sunday continuity for The Phantom
(speaking of newspaper strips) and he does it all digitally, except that he prints out "pencilled" pages and inks them by hand so he'll have original art to sell. I think we all know generally how comics are made, but more insight into styles and processes would help bring home the personalities behind them. One of the things that frustrates me about DC these days is that I know a lot less about who's editing what. I mean, I know generally who the big editors are -- Matt Idelson, Brian Cunningham, Mike Marts, etc. -- but they all tend to run together. You'd think for all the heat it takes over "editorial control," DC would be very interested in showing that yes, its editors don't just pass along the latest directives from Dan DiDio, Jim Lee, and Geoff Johns. However, I don't see any great impetus to take on such a project (I'd take a stab at it, but it'd take me away from the weekly column for a while) and I don't know how receptive DC would be.
By the way, that Amazing Heroes
cover you used is one of my all-time favorite issues, and I still refer to it when I need some Crisis On Infinite Earths
research. I also wanted to mention the AH Preview Specials
, because I always got a charge out of reading even the smallest tidbits about what might be coming in the next six months. I enjoyed all those pinholes of information because it gave me the sense that there was actually a collaborative process going on behind the scenes, and I didn't mind that the information was both several weeks old and subject to change over the coming months. There seemed to be more openness and transparency back then, and I welcome any journalistic shift which facilitates such an environment.
Before I forget, I want to second your call for more newspaper-strip coverage. I haven't subscribed to a newspaper since 2005, but I pay for both the United Feature Syndicate and King Features comics services, and before that I read newspaper strips online through the Houston Chronicle
's website. I would love to know more about how those economic factors have changed, particularly since a number of ex-Marvel and DC artists are now working on serials like Rex Morgan
, Judge Parker
, and Dick Tracy
I suppose the kinds of stories I'd like to see five years from now tend to involve actual investigation, and not just talking to whomever will talk to you. Naturally, that sort of work doesn't come cheap, whether you're talking about time or money. I really enjoyed Padraig O Mealoid's exhaustive Marvelman history over at The Beat, but I shudder to think how long it must have taken to put together. It is easier to be reactive, particularly since "breaking news" might take precedence over, say, an examination of internal DC politics during the run-up to the New 52 relaunch. That kind of shift requires a firm commitment to engage readers over a shared appreciation of craft, not necessarily plot; and before you can do that, you may have to establish a standard framework for discussing craft. We don't all have to be art history majors or literature experts, but we should know the basics, and be able to understand them as more than the means by which plot twists are delivered. Comics-journalism sites can help with that.
Ultimately, though, you have to convince people that what you present as journalism matters. I know how that sounds, but I think it's fundamental. The more we talk about the things we think are important, like creators' rights or the intricacies of the works, the more we encourage readers to at least acknowledge those things. The Internet can make anyone's experience with comics journalism as broad or as narrow as he or she wants. The challenge is to expand a reader's perceptions sufficiently, so that he or she can grasp all that comics have to offer.
Thanks for listening. I'll try to be more coherent next time.
In contrast to your comment about "comics journalism," I'd actually like to see more of the journalism done in the actual media form. I don't think that'd be weird at all. I'm a big fan of interviews that are presented as a cartoon, for instance. At the core of it, I think cartooning is applicable to any kind of narrative and I don't see journalism about comics being any exception.
(In that regards, have you met Julian Dassai on any of your trips to Columbus? He does a full page interview comic strip
in every issue of a local monthly entertainment mag, 614 magazine. I keep telling Julian and his editor Travis that it's a pretty big deal that they're giving a local cartoonists a full page in every issue... I suppose to their credit, they don't see it as such.)
I'd like to see more profile pieces on artists, writers, publishers and retailers. Particularly those who are taking steps "outside the box" when it comes to the problems faced by anyone in the comics industry. Admittedly that's a whiny and little self serving, but not totally. For instance, I'd be interested in knowing what kind of ups and downs Oily Comics has experienced with their subscription service. I was also fascinated by the article you linked to about the curated pull lists.
Other than that, it's not so much what is being covered as how. I'd like to see the craft of journalism in comics tighten up in general. Articles that reference multiple sources. Actual conversational interviews instead of sloppy email survey-style interviews. Whatever the piece, less snark and sarcasm embedded into "news items."
I think we should spend less time complaining "why aren't there any...?" and more time proving that question wrong. The distinction between a reporter and a reader is that the reader gets to demand what they want to see, and the reporter then has to ensure that they get it. When people say "there are no women writers in comics", they mean to say "there's no women writers at DC or Marvel."
A fairly valid complaint in and of itself -- but at the same time wouldn't a better use of time be to say to our readers "hey look, you can buy comics by women over at Boom or IDW, maybe you could skip Marvel this month and try those comics instead?"
Every type of person is making comics. Every type of comic is being made. It's the job of comic reporters to go out and find them and share them. Every time we write a big article saying "nobody writes westerns anymore" we're acting at though Oni Press don't count! Well, stop pining for your old Rawhide Kid
comics and try The Sixth Gun
Complaining gets traffic, I get that. But if we stop being so short-sighted and point people towards the women or LGBT or western-loving or African-American writers who are
in comics, perhaps we can persuade our readers to try new things and explore different companies as well?
I have a few comments that fall under the general rubric of your point that cartoonists and the comics they make deserve a greater share of coverage. First, I wanted to point out the particular lack of coverage of the younger set of prominent alternative cartoonists. People like, to pick a few of many possible names out of the hat, Ryan Cecil Smith or Maré Odomo or Lala Albert or Angie Wang, are doing really exciting and unique and I would say well-received work but aren't being written about or interviewed to any great extent. I believe Sean T. Collins has raised this issue a couple of times.
Another subset of cartoonists who aren't receiving as much critical engagement as they deserve is webcartoonists. Maybe this coverage exists and I'm not aware of it, but it's certainly not prominent in the places where I look for quality critical analysis of comics -- like your site or The Comics Journal
. This is particularly surprising when it comes to people like Evan Dahm or John Campbell whose work is much more within the alternative comics vein than, say, Homestuck
, and who I very much suspect would be more widely covered in alt-comics circles if they were published by a Secret Acres or a Koyama Press.
It's of course a challenge when there are perhaps a dozen people who write about these kinds of comics with any regularly, which I'd imagine is the only real explanation for this. However, I still think it's worth making note of it.
The one thing that I don't particularly find appealing about a lot of comic coverage and writing is how much inherent cynicism there often is very quickly when it comes to reporting news -- at least with Big Two Comics, if not creator-owned announcements. It seems the sort of de facto reaction to many announcements and revelations and whatnot is to weigh the negatives of it against every potential ounce of positive immediately (unless it is, as you say, a gift-wrapped "exclusive"), and readers certainly feed into it by responding more to take-down pieces than they do ones that perhaps spotlight something new and great they might not know about X or Y. From my interaction, anyway.
For an industry that we all claim to love enough to want to write about it daily or weekly or whatever in varying circumstance, we certainly spend too much time talking about what we hate about it. I don't think knee-jerk reactions help the discussion of what we want from comics as a whole.
That's just my two cents, though. I recognize there are hits in negativity, and that it wouldn't be any more helpful for everything to be sunny all the time always. But I know for at least me, for example, if there's a news piece I'm considering covering that I know I can't cover in a fair and balanced manner, I'll pass the reporting on to someone else who I know can do that and I'll save my thoughts for an opinionated editorial somewhere down the road. I've been guilty of the "here's the news and here is why I hate it!" post in the past, and it's something I actively try and work on to keep myself from doing too much.
Around the same time that a previous CR note mentioned a David Simon quote referenced by Jonathan Korman on the fall of journalism, I ran into a Robert Jenson essay of similar sensibility, The Collapse of Journalism, and the Journalism of Collapse
. Of special interest in the latter is how Jenson deconstructs the evolution of journalism into three primary prototypes; Royal, Prophetic and Apocalyptic, which might bear further consideration when considering to which of the three any given comics journalist intimates. I've been intending to jot down a few thoughts on the subject since bookmarking these, but life's curves insisted on tugging me away until now. So it's good and timely to have this group think as an impetus to spend a few moments on it, especially relative to what we'd like to see specifically in comics reportage in the future.
I generally like to think of most constructs as parts of a greater one that's more responsible for defining its parts than the parts themselves. and is often far from the eye, or at least distant enough from our innate desire to focus on an issue throughout any discourse about it. It's almost as strange as being told to remain on topic in some forum discussion when it seems necessary to go off on a tangent or two in order to help clarify an intent. I know this is often to my detriment because it seems most tendencies want to home in with a sharper look at detail. I can wholly appreciate that on the one hand, but I also can't help feeling that we sometimes miss out on a critical overall context by overfeeding this tendency for focus. So at the risk of blurring the picture a little before homing in on this important topic, a thought or two on my perception of current socio-cultural trends that I think should be of wider concern to the overall subject of journalism.
I've always sensed an inter-cultural clash brewing below the surface of our lives, but I can't remember ever feeling it as acute as it seems to me today. The growing feeling I'm getting of late, especially through the filter of the comics press, is that most news or editorial items are not as simple as a candid personal take trying to elucidate on any given issue -- or a simple disagreement over support or opposition to another. It seems to be more about how each of us makes a choice in referencing the reality we thrive in; (1) supporting the general state of affairs by applying actions and deeds toward preventing any rocking of the boat, or its essential structure, that threatens its homogeneity, which doesn't necessarily mean not being critical of less essential aspects of it; or (2) feeling enough of an overall discomfort about the same essential state of affairs, in order to voice some concern about the threat that our snowballing wider trends pose to our individual ability to cope with tomorrow's world, as it seems to be taking shape, based on our memories and perception of the line, or curve, that's led up to where we're at today -- and portends of where we seem to be going.
I also tend to think that these two primal choices are inherent components of two primal personality prototypes that more or less define the type of people we are -- and that the cultural clash resulting from a conflict between them mainly serves to strengthen the position and dedication of each type within its own prototype -- as opposed to possibly influencing one side toward changing their world view and hopefully tipping a balance toward a more desired result. I know this all seems awfully vague and detached but I think I need to say it in order to move on with more specificity, as I hope to.
Given what seems like an exponentially accelerating growth of the comics medium into nearly every imaginable area within the wide plethora of social, cultural, economic and political constructs, I find it encouraging that along with the seemingly shallow dialogue that dominates a lot of the more institutional industry press and fan exchanges, there's also what seems like a skyrocketing propensity of a lot of writers to try to rise above the commonality, or dig far deeper under the surface of news and issues in an effort to put forth a fresher perspective. One recent indication of this was the choice for Eisner Journalism Award recipient this year which was a big surprise to me because CR
had also won it last year and I didn't expect it again when I voted for the site this time also. Along with this being a good opportunity to congratulate Tom on the well earned award, I think it's telling us that there's an upswell thirst among industry professionals for more depth, sensitivity and focus on the humanity behind the stories saturating the art form, as CR
is known for doing. And I tend to believe this is also indicative of a desire within the wider reading audience, even though we might get a different impression by glancing any given random news-feed from major industry press circles. So it seems doubly appropriate that this group think was prompted at this site and that it will have the attentive ear of many professionals, journalists and bloggers across the medium.
One of the things I try to keep in mind when traversing the comics web community or writing something about it, is that we're in a different age than before and access is so open today that we're probably well served by taking into consideration the idea that a sizable outside readership of non-community interest is likely keeping an eye on things, or at least checking up on us from time to time. I think this type of awareness can and should affect the approach to industry press and discourse, though I know how easy it is to slip out of such cognizance sometimes, especially when focusing on specific issues geared for a pinpoint need. It might generally not be unlike the difference between an informal chat among friends relative to a panel discussion with a hefty audience at a convention. The setting usually affects the content of the same discussion, yielding entirely different results in two such scenarios, even when conducted by the same people. And although I tend to want to be a lot less formal in my life and wish that the whole world could live as if it's having an informal chat among friends, the reality is that a wider and less familiar audience seems to usually elicit more depth, sensitivity and humanity in expression, than a smaller and more cozy gathering. I'm not sure that's an applicable rule in every situation but I think it's a more common outcome than not. Extending this idea into how a wider audience affects the industry press, I sometimes wonder what the medium might look like if most of us felt the eyes of the entire world upon us, and conducted our professional industry presence accordingly.
While I tend to be somewhat in awe of Tom's ability to break down the primary issues of comics journalism and formulate a list of points he'd like to see change for the better, which I'm in major agreement with him on, I also tend to get stuck on a few that seem to me like a litmus test for the state of the medium. These have more to do with how people are paid or rewarded for their work as contributors to any of the business entities, and how the issue of creators-in-need is filtered through the comics press, as examples. I think it's understandably uncomfortable for any writer to overly indulge in the stage available to them, by using it as a crusading platform from which to raise an awareness and dialogue of a need for something to change on these basic humanitarian issues. And it seems doubly uncomfortable when realizing that socio-economic norms have become so entrenched in our culture that waging such campaigns more than often means ruffling a lot of feathers most writers are not always willing to disturb. But going back to the first posts referenced here by Simon, Korman and Jensen on the role of journalism as an agent for improving our collective state, I can't help the feeling that the comics press is generally operating under an unspoken rule that journalism cannot be expected to fulfill such a role for the comics community. This is not to say that a lot of writers aren't trying to chip away at these barriers, but I wonder if it's always being done full-heartedly enough, and with a clear enough awareness of what it'll take to influence wider policies and entrenched norms that seem to have taken root on such issues.
In a medium overflowing with visual and contextual grandeur and awe, with countless and continuous creations to cover and pontificate on, these other more immediate humane issues tend to be moved over to slower burners, perhaps giving a little satisfaction that they have some presence at all on the collective cooking fire. And though this can lend a current and temporary comfort from such disturbances to an overwhelmingly aesthetically oriented art form, I'm generally more concerned with the heavier price the comics community could eventually pay for not utilizing its clout at an earlier stage in order to stress these ethical and humanitarian needs, and the critical importance of how we collectively conduct our business -- including the sometimes injurious deviations from preferred outcomes that we often allow ourselves to tolerate.
So, if there's any one point that I'd like to see remain etched in the aftertaste of this collective think, it might be that regardless of how convinced we may be that we're all doing our very best in order make our journey as fine an experience as possible for ourselves and for everyone with us along for the ride, we can and should take note of some of the issues discussed by the three wider-journalism writers referenced at the beginning of this response, as an example of what journalistic courage, creativity and purpose can, or should, entail. Heaven knows I find myself failing miserably, time after time, to put forth a thought or idea that succeeds in being embraced to a degree that seems to have a visible effect on any proceeding or how others might think about it. But I like to think that I learn from the failures, even though I'll likely fail again, time after time, hopefully for new reasons that'll become a lesson for future efforts. What I won't do, at least I think that I won't, is give up the fight. And regardless of whatever terms we might choose to express it in, the presence and work of many comics journalists should be seen as a nothing less than a righteous crusade, because there is clearly a wide and growing apathy in place that many powers-that-be seem to be happy is there -- and journalism remains the primary tool through which to inform and incite an opposing discontent to an existing apathy. I certainly don't want to, nor like to, upset anyone too much, but I also have a difficult time remaining indifferent when certain constructs are clearly insistent on injuring our collective well-being, and that seem to be enjoying our reluctance to rock the collective boat, or even to talk about it openly among ourselves.
When all is said and done, I'd hope this will be one of the viable directions that an evolving imperative on comics journalism would pursue.
Off the top of my head, I think the some of the problems you enumerate aren't specific solely to the comics industry but are endemic to journalism (and especially feature journalism) in general. Goodness knows I'm familiar with angry emails asking why I didn't get so-and-so's opinion and/or people that are more than happy to talk plug their latest venture but unwilling to answer tougher questions.
I would certainly like to see everyone paid better, or at least, if working for free or a menial fee, retain some ownership of their work. Everything I write for PennLive
is owned by them, but I get a weekly paycheck and health benefits.
I would also love to see more multi-part stories. A series of in-depth stories on, for instance, sexism in the industry, or the financial challenges that small press publishers face, would be great. But, as you know, doing that takes a lot of work and time. And few people are willing to make that sort of commitment without any sort of sufficient financial recompense.
In general I think we still need to do a better job of highlighting the richness of medium itself and trumpeting its best examples, both within and outside of the industry. I still come across a lot of people who, when I say I read comics, ask me how much my collection is worth or who is my favorite superhero. And I know a lot of people would say who cares, like what you like and stop trying to draw other people to your cause/hobbies and they're right to an extent. But I feel like the constant infantilization of the medium not only prevents worthy creators from being seen by the audience they deserve but also holds us back financially, aesthetically and in our ability to create a shared history. I dunno. I'm not a "team comics" guy but I feel like there needs to be some sort of thoughtful outreach that goes beyond the "this is kewl" attitude but I'm probably just talking out of my hat at this point.
I'm just arrived in Kalamazoo after about a 15-hour day of packing shit into a 16-foot "Budget" rent-a-truck and then driving it across Chicago in close enough proximity to rush hour to make me want to become a possessionless hermit, so my jello-like brain can hardly give this a coherent response, but what the hey. Here are my things for comics journalism:
* A more diverse group of writers on comics -- This is actually something we've gotten a lot
better at over the past five years, but since the overall ratio of white dudes with too much disposable income/access to Doritos to literally every other group of human beings ever is still so out of balance, I can't not mention it out the gate. A wider range of people writing about comics through the specific lens of their experience makes writing about comics better and makes comics better in general. We should all be seeking out, recruiting and promoting different writers than we are to the journalism fold, full stop.
In particular, it blows my mind that I can't name one writer about comics off the top of my head who has a specific LGBT focus. In a time when there so many comics (both of the small and personal and big and promotional variety) being made about human sexuality, gender identity, gay rights, etc, it's crazy how much of the coverage on that material is generated by straight bros. And maybe this is just me, but going to cons the past few years, I get the sense that there's a strong Latino fan contingent growing in mainstream circles. Would love to hear more about what those guys dig.
Of course, immediately after writing that paragraph, I thought of Brett White and Elliott Serrano and felt embarrassed it took me three minutes to call them to mind. Still: more more more more, please.
* More outlets in general -- Tom, I totally feel you on the idea of better pay and more content ownership being the baseline we set for our peers. But more so than arguing for those big ideas on ethical grounds, I feel like the way forward in that respect is a big marketplace where the best outlets will give the best writers the best deals. When I started working in this business, there were arguably three big blogs on comics and two big news sites. And now there's like, what, a third more than that after a general shuffling of the deck?
With the general growth in the comics market and the pop culture buzz around what we do and make, I wish we'd see a similar growth in publications about comics. As it is, I feel like some publishers and fans are content to hand out high-fives every time some mainstream media outlet creates a "Geek" blog to run He-Man previews on. I know that it is tough
financially to build a paying journalism market about anything let alone comics, but places like CBR
started as passion projects for their creators, so I don't think growth on this front is impossible. If we support new all-comics outlets that make no money today, they may make some money tomorrow.
* More variety in the outlets we've got -- Similarly, I'm soooooo
with you on your desire for more long-form writing about comics. When I worked at Wizard
, having that long lead time of weeks or even months to develop personality profiles or multi-sourced trend pieces and the like over was my favorite part of the gig (it also produced a few things I still think of as my best writing in eight years on the job, but I don't think most folks ever read any of those articles, so whatever). But despite my love of doing that stuff, most outlets that exist today don't have the metrics to make that kind of writing worthwhile for their bottom line.
One of the most disheartening things for me over my years at CBR
has been to see how little traction the rare long piece I get to do has with our readership. There are some great things day-to-day online comics reporting supports, but meaty features is rarely one of them. And I know there are people out there who say guys like me should be doing these kinds of stories for the love of it or with a "if you build it" attitude. But as a freelancer, if I'm given the option to get paid five times for five smaller articles that have the same readership as one bigger article that pays once (even if the pay scale is upped as an incentive), I'm going with five smaller pieces any day. I have Doritos to buy, after all.
But! Things like magazines and Kindle Singles and anthology books are built to showcase longer form work and pay out to the contributors for their effort, and we are dying for more of a concentrated effort on that front. I was super bummed that Mike Cotton's Champion
iPad magazine never really got off the ground because I'm sure that could have been a place for some meaty features if it established an audience first. And does anyone know if that Bleeding Cool
magazine does long form, in depth features? I only looked at it once and passed it over because it looked like it was laid out using circa 1998 Print Shop (sorry, nameless designer who I'm sure works very hard), but if someone told me they had a bad ass profile of Gerry Conway in their next issue, I'd pick it up for sure.
And it'd also be amazing to see any kind of comics-focused TV project happening, whether it be one of those syndicated dealies, through a streaming TV service or as an honest-to-goodness cable series. Does anyone else remember The Anti-Gravity Room
? That was on in like 1996. There are about 45 shows on cable right now dedicated to subcultures like garbage picking and swamp trash socialites, and the best we've got is Comic Book Men
Holy shit that ran way too long. I even had a fourth bullet point going about a more open and civil debate style, but then I remembered that I turn into a total jagweed in comment threads whenever anyone criticizes me or CBR
, so I just deleted it.
Great topic. I think it's important we take stock collectively and individually, and always look for opportunities to learn and improve. My thoughts on some of the specific opportunities for improvement you cited, plus my own wish list of what I'd like to see in the next five years:
Yes to more comic strip coverage, plus webcomics coverage. I tried to do my part with the latter at The Comics Observer
but never got a good handle on it before my own schedule squeezed it out. It also didn't help that I don't have the journalist and newspaper background like a number of my skilled Robot 6
colleagues. I don't consider myself a journalist, and usually refer to myself as a pundit, despite the negative connotations that word has for some people. It seems the most accurate, though. I provide commentary on the comics industry. I don't think commentarian is a real world.
More long-form investigative journalism would be fantastic to see. It's risky for the sites that have the resources to finance it, though. DC Comics discontinued CBR
's weekly Q&A column with Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras and Editorial Director Bobbie Chase because they weren't comfortable discussing controversies. I don't have any insider info on that incident; I had the same view on it as everyone else. Attempts are made to ask the harder questions, and when the people being asked don't like it, access is cut off. Most comics coverage sites are essentially entertainment news sites targeting comic books and the geek culture surrounding them. Entertainment news has value, but in the end it's about promoting the consumption of entertainment instead of promoting the health and longevity of an art form and its creators. I would like to see the day we have the ability to go deeper. Sean Howe's work on Marvel Comics: The Untold Story
gives me hope, but even he admitted that as he got closer to the present, the less willing his interviewees became in participating.
I would like to see our industry's journalists follow the traditional Principles of Journalism as codified by the Pew Research Center here
I'm very much in favor of more writing to a general audience. This can be an intimidating art form and industry. The more points of entry, the better.
A better understanding of "off the record" would be great. I'd love to hear it, actually. (See above re: not being a journalist.) Maybe what we need is some journalist workshops or training or schooling targeted to our industry. There are more schools of how to make comics than ever before. Maybe the next step is schooling for those that write about comics, whether that be reviewers, journalists, interviewers, pundits, etc.
One thing I've written about previously, and something I'd still very much like to see, is comics about comics. Why don't we use the very language we are most proficient at absorbing information to present information? Whether it be reviews, articles, interviews, exposes, whatever. Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey's The Comic Book History of Comics
might be the longer form template and there have been others in the past. There are a couple of webcomics that provide some good (or only sometimes good) satire on comics. I'd love to see a strip or page by Jim Lee addressing how DC's editorial works with upper management, just as an example. The obvious answer is that it's time consuming and takes artists away from producing pages attached to a cover price. But if The Gutters
can get guest writers and artists to contribute some of that webcomics' best material, why can't news sites do something similar? An op-ed column from professionals would be an excellent start. I realize this may confuse the "comics journalism" terminology even more, but I'm willing to take that bullet.
Great questions regarding news spinning out the comic art universe. Relevancy would be my response. The greatest experience in my 60+ years of comic bookery was this past Comic Con
with the blending of inclusive politics and art, i.e. the focus on the Lewis related memoir The March
. The CBR link today
says it was well as it could be said. Journalism either small or large J is what needs coverage and you do this better then anyone out there. Good for you. As more corporate control is being exercised more coverage of what it means is important. What points of view are washed away under that corporate tide is what I need to know about. Where are the editorial cartoon panels at cons these days ? How can the tunes be best used to keep the public informed ?
Thanks for asking. Ypou seem to be the only one who does.
I'd like to get a couple of thoughts on your site out of the way before I comment on your other points. The Comics Reporter is great. It is the standard of online "comics industry journalism". And since there currently exists no print "comics industry journalism" any more, I guess it's just the standard period. I'm guessing that part of the reason you posted this particular "group think" is that you yourself want your site to do a better job. I have a few thoughts. You could have more reviews. I would enjoy that. I would enjoy if you had someone like Rob Clough on your site that could plow through all those comics most of us never see and fewer of us make the time to review. I really like when you, Tom Spurgeon, review new and old mainstream comics. But I don't necessarily need either of those things. The one thing I don't have that I do need from The Comics Reporter is for it to work on my cell phone. That would allow me to move my Sunday morning reading of The Comics Reporter to the living room where the kids and the TV cartoons are. This would just mean adding to your site code what Rich Barrett reminded me is called "responsive design".
If I just took a casual survey of the state of "comics industry journalism" I could make a case that things are going very well. I could point at The Comics Reporter. I could point to writers like Joe McCulloch that are both informative and entertaining and writing at a very high level. I could point at someone like Rob Clough that is consistently, relentlessly doing the work of leaving no stone unturned in the world of small press and self publishing.
But in general, I feel like comics journalism is in a state of regression. We have a few good writers. We have a handful of very good writers. We have maybe less than a half dozen good editors. We have maybe less than a half dozen good sites that are not one man shows or solo blogs. We've lost good writers. We've lost good editors. We've lost a lot of good websites. And most of that void has been filled by people way to willing to shill for the publishers. It's just PR and talking points that have been spoon fed to the websites. That alone is not a surprise. Maybe that is how it has always been. What is surprising to me about it is that the websites still think there is an audience for that kind of material. By the time they post this stuff it's already old news. If I could speak directly to the powers that be at the big comics news sites what I would say (and they should already know this of course) is that your readership already has facebook and twitter. They don't need an individual post for every press release. It's time to grow up and cut that crap out. It's time to start being writers and not shills. Stop it with the press releases. Stop it with the top ten lists. Grow up and start writing. Because, again, your readership has facebook, twitter etc. and you are not going to compete with social media by just posting the same talking points. And posting the press release with a question mark added at the end does not really count as driving discussion on an issue. You are going to have to do a little work and actually write about the topic. And also, realize that is it totally okay to not write about the topics that don't matter to anyone.
But I'll stop ranting and get to your points;
More long form site sponsored journalism? Yes please. It's probably the main thing that separates the link bait sites from the destination sites which I will check on each week or daily. I'm not going to visit The Beat to read something I already got the gist of in their twitter feed but I will make it a point to pour myself a cup of coffee, go to the site and read one of those long history of Marvelman things. There are guys out there doing good work like that but most of it is on solo blogs and stays under the radar. The bigger sites need to do a better job of getting those guys into the fold.
But that takes some work and real writing and points to the problem you mentioned when you talked about money and the need for fewer people working for free. I don't have a solution for that. But it's a major problem. It's the main problem really. It's the reason we lose our best writers/bloggers/journalists/sites. They just can't afford to put in the time. And this is the same problem we are seeing in comics publishing. A lot of the best cartoonists on this planet right now are not making comics because they just can't afford to. They work in animation, storyboarding, illustration, design etc. and all comics can be to them is an occasional hobby. That is super depressing. And I don't know anything about making money. And I'm not sure there are any models to point to as examples of how to do it right. The only thought I really have is what if instead of 30 really good solo bloggers working for nothing, we had four or five Comics Alliances where guys are working for something? And that might not even improve the state of "comics industry journalism" but I'd feel a lot better about it. But for sure, people need to own their work. And I'd be interested in seeing the best of a lot of that work collected and printed. Some sort of annual journal of online comics writing. I'd buy it.
Something else I think we could do better is name names. Stop giving companies a pass by blaming things on "editors" or "executives". Call 'em out. There is no way they are going to participate in the discussion if you don't even call them by their names.
I'd also like to see more comic shop level reporting. We get monthly sales analysis but we don't hear much from the shops outside of the retailers that are bloggers. We don't hear much factual information about how these event comics are actually working in the shops. How many shops are there anyway? 1,500? 3000? They have phone numbers. They have websites. They have email addresses. We could ask them questions. It's not that crazy.
First, off, Tom, let me say I appreciate you offering up this forum. This is the kind of stuff we ought to be talking about in the comics community. We should be demanding better from the medium and everything that orbits it.
As others have pointed out, many of the issues you point out aren't specific to reporting on the comics industry. They're endemic to the state of reporting in general. I have a master's degree from a pretty good journalism grad school, and I'm pretty sure that's the only reason I know what all the distinctions between on/off the record, on background and not-for-attribution are. I'm genuinely not trying saying that to brag -- I can show you all the nothing I have as a result of that degree if you want proof -- but simply to point out that the distinctions lots of people in the reporting business hold very dear are very unclear to everyone else.
I worked at a newspaper for about four years and now my day job is as an editor/reporter at a trade publication that has nothing to do with comics. Many times have I been told something was off-the-record after it was already said, which, by the rules, isn't actually how it works. I've had people say stuff was supposed to be off the record after publication when no mention of that was ever made during the interview -- and if a person identifies his or herself as a reporter, everything is de facto
on the record. That's in journalism ethics books universally. Lots of people don't know that. They likewise don't know that "off the record" means you can't publish that thing, in any form. Not in a rumor column, not as a cheeky blind item. Not at all.
It's exacerbated a bit in the realm of comics reporting because a good many of the people doing it -- and this isn't meant as a dig, it's just the truth -- are fans first, reporters second. Or third or fourth or fifth. A lot of folks are in it because they want a platform to talk about the stuff they like or rub elbows with people they want to rub elbows with. They haven't taken journalism ethics or law classes and don't know they're supposed to. Or don't care. Call it the democratizing influence of the Internet.
That said, I do think that's getting better, incrementally. Sites have conflict-of-interest and disclosure policies now, and I think the more and more of people doing reporting at a lot of sites do have a sense of professionalism.
That could be the result of more comics-reporting sites being housed under big-media umbrellas, where things are more regimented. Of course, there are huge downsides to that. One of them is long-form journalism simply isn't a part of the equation in an internet populated with churnalism, as it's derisively called.
I love that ComicsAlliance
and MTV Geek give me a platform to write longish columns about things or do long interviews, but make no mistake: It's a luxury they afford me and themselves because they earn clicks, and therefore advertising money, from the latest post about the next Marvel movie or Batman video game. We can all sit around here and talk about how much we'd love to see deeper, more involved pieces about independent comics and fewer links to movie trailers, but "TL;DR" isn't just something people cracking jokes say. Lots of people just plain don't read long pieces. And as frustrating as it is, writing about comics on the internet is a business.
Does that mean the battle for real-deal comics journalism is a losing one? It doesn't have to be. But we can't just talk about how we hope for things to get better and them assume they will. Publishers, readers and writers all have to do their part.
Readers, those of us who want long-form reporting about real issues like gender equality and race, need to trumpet the good stuff we see out there, because the way we're going to get more of it is if those articles draw tons of eyeballs. Earlier this year, I did a series of interviews with retailers about Orson Scott Card, fan demands
, how the political views of creators might affect retail, etc. I was proud of them. I feel like I covered the issues pretty well, and that's something I rarely have the opportunity or time to do. They weren't the most popular articles on the site, though, because they didn't make Reddit's front page or get linked a million times on Twitter. That's got to happen if the people with the money are going to support stuff like it.
And for writers, we need to make long-form content compelling. A 2,000 word article about gender that reads like a senior thesis is not going to get anybody fired up enough to read the whole thing, let alone tell a friend to. Articles, especially on the Web, need voice. If there's one thing I've learned writing stuff on the internet for a decade or so, it's that people want personality in what they read. A lot of comics stuff is either dry or fawning.
There's lots more to say about exclusives and access (which comes back to that fans-first thing), but I think I'd better cut it here. Hope this was useful.
First, I'd like to echo your call for a distinction between writing about comics and journalism in the form of comics. I'm prepared to yield the term "comics journalism" to folks like Joe Sacco, mostly because "journalism" is too flattering a word for most writing about comics, including my own. I kind of like the straightforward descriptiveness of "writing about comics." It encompasses everything from reviews to thought pieces to actual journalism, and allows people at all levels of talent and expertise to share the space.
That said, I don't want using a less impressive term to excuse poor writing. As a community, comics people should be more demanding of those who write about comics. Whenever this topic comes up, I always hear jokes about the need for reviewing the reviewers, but that's not a bad idea and the scope could expand to other kinds of writing besides reviews. Maybe we don't need a whole site dedicated to it (though Dick Hates Your Blog
was extremely useful), but writers about comics need to be held accountable more than they are. We need to praise the good ones more often and point out what the others are doing wrong.
In that spirit, we need more discussion to define what constitutes bad writing about comics. You make a great point about the overuse of "exclusive," for example, and the use of news sites as free advertising. And while I'm not totally against the scope of "comics news" creeping into "comics-related news," I'd love to see sites separate stories about other media and culture into their own sections, if only so we can see how much of those sites' writing is actually about comics.
There's another conversation to be had about how practical this is from an economic standpoint. Conventional wisdom says that sites are rewarded for getting stories first and using provocative headlines to bait readers into clicking. I don't doubt that's true, but I'd love a model where I could pay a reasonable subscription rate for access to some kind of boutique site with complete, thoughtful, and well-written coverage, even if it lagged a day or two behind the other sites. Somebody should be able to create something like that in the next five years.
Darryl Ayo Braithwaite
The number one thing that I miss about comics journalism is the web site The Daily Crosshatch
. It breaks my heart regularly that it just lays there dormant. It provided bite-sized chunks of information about a bite-sized, micro-scale corner of the field. Occasionally, Comic Book Resources
will talk to a mini-comics cartoonist. But on The Daily Crosshatch, said cartoonist was the main event. I don't feel like any entity has stepped in to fill that gap and it's ironic since mini-comics and micropress have become more interesting than ever with the rise of Retrofit, Oily, Space Face and Koyama. It bums me out that the one space that felt like "our" comics information outlet no longer operates.
I liked that their interviews were multipart and staggered so as to retain ongoing interest. I felt that their reviews skewed too positive -- but other than that, it was a fine project and one that the indie comics scene is suffering for lack of. Most people don't seem to realize how much they're missing out on in terms of functionality, content design and (sounds crass) marketing.
And their "guest comics" feature where readers and cartoonists would send in one-page strips was a fantastic idea.
Comics journalism needs another small site, is what I'm getting at.
Anyway, that's what I think.
posted 5:30 am PST
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