Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

March 6, 2011

Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* portrait of a young game-changing mainstream comics writer without a beard.

image* one of the elements of the new team taking over The Comics Journal that may not be worth noting for most people but hit me in a nostalgic way springs from their closure of the magazine's once-famous, long-infamous message board. The message board was one of the main features of the Journal's initial move on-line in 1996. It sprung to life alongside a first stab at a web magazine made up of every-weekday articles, most of which were written by myself and the news editor in our spare time. Unfortunately, "TCJ On-Line" read like something two 25-year-olds wrote in the margins of their workday. I remember later on getting a nice e-mail from Scott McCloud about that overall attempt, saying that according to the tools of our time we had just about gotten it right in a conceptual sense. I mostly remember the on-line magazine being blamed for delays in the print magazine, and for a pledge that it would review everything sent to it -- something that's unimaginable now.

Anyway, the Journal message board enjoyed a reasonably polite and correspondingly dull first couple of years. At the time I left the magazine in April 1999, the board was in the midst of suffering its first sustained period of practiced tomfoolery and outright headaches in the form of pranks and a general chaotic posting atmosphere purposefully aimed at disrupting its basic function. This effort was spearheaded by a few bored cartoonists and peripheral industry folk who thought that their goofing around and making fun of people was in line with the Journal's antagonistic, prank-filled history. Ripping into people, fake names and slapping the ball of conversation from other people's hands quickly became a competing mode of speaking on the site. A lot of it was funny if you weren't involved, and stomach-churning if you were.

This shift in priorities and emphasis also set off several years of vacillating by the editors whether the board was best served by a firm hand in terms of what could be talked about and how, or whether it was best left alone. I was always in the former camp, and it's my belief the board's best periods came in general proximity to someone at Fantagraphics clamping down on its excesses. It was never sustained. I suspect some of the low-level viciousness that thrived there when the editors were at their most hands off was distressing for a lot of cartoonists and industry people, an extension of the bafflement felt by creators who received a poor review in a magazine sponsored by their own publisher, only without the usual compensating virtues that accrues to thoughtful writing to which someone signs their name. It felt to some folks I've talked to over the years like the Journal was working really hard to give a platform to people that largely didn't read the magazine and that could be nasty, arbitrarily tendentious pieces of business besides. It put asses in seats, though. I once suggested they kill the message board and perhaps replace it with something along the lines of a series of blogs like The Atlantic has going now -- or, really, anything else -- but I think by that time it was far too highly valued as a minimal-effort, major source of traffic for the site.

As much I may have not liked significant aspects of its operation, I'm far from alone in being among those who had problems with it and yet still habitually hung around there, like it was a neighborhood bar about whose food you constantly griped. The primary thing one did on there is argue with people, about things the Journal was accused of doing and anything else that came to mind, woefully unpleasant and vicious tirades that used every underhanded tool possible to appeal to the room. It was an accumulation of hours and days and weeks and months I won't in any way be able to explain to St. Peter. I think boards like that, like the Journal's, and the one at, and even the old CompuServe forums and aspects of Usenet, they were all doomed by the kind of personalities that tend to be attracted to comics culture as an organizing principle -- a group that was maybe better off not communicating to one another in such direct and contentious fashion, certainly not all at once after years and years of lording it over their own basement fiefdoms. That was certainly true of me. There are of course still and always will be a lot of nasty, miserable people scattered here and there on the comics Internet, many operating anonymously, tilting against windmills the exact shape and form of which only they will ever be able to see. It's just that for a long while, years at a time, they occupied rooms at the guest home on the sprawling estate of the best magazine about comics ever. When the magazine was in its quieter times in terms of editorial forcefulness, it's those people that seemed to have the run of the place.

I'm happy to see the message board gone. I feel much more responsible for the dark side of comics culture that festered there than I do any sense of community it may have fostered, more than I do whatever exposure to little-known works it may have facilitated. It was a place that had some virtues but mostly, I think, it was a place where unhappy people went to be even less happy. Its time has more than passed, and like many of the people that once gave entire working afternoons to stringing along five or six life-and-death rage-sessions at a time, I don't think I'd been there more than a half-dozen times in the last three years. It may be the thing in life I spent the most time doing from which I keep the least amount of positive memories. I wish the board could have been a whole lot better. It always made me feel like we had done something horribly wrong in putting it up in the first place. Its departure is a load off my mind.

image* Mike Dawson presents a short comic that will go into a European collection of his Jack & Max comics.

* not comics: the commenters at Spinoff On-Line are so mean to Graeme McMillan. Anyway, I still don't know understand why Preacher is a movie and Wonder Woman is a TV Show. Explain that to me, Mr. McMillan.

* Chris Sims is right: the Thing is the Marvel equivalent of Batman, it's just that he's an equivalent in terms of being a character that blends with all of the other characters more than for some inherent genre versatility. He's like a really good character actor; you relax a bit when he shows up. He's Mark Addy.

* Stephan Pastis deserves at least a special Reuben for this.

* not comics: should there be a different name for European shelf porn? Something more arty?

* finally, this list by Chris Mautner of six great non-superhero fights struggles a bit with the "define superheroes" questions in the first part of the comments, but quickly rallies. That Roy Crane fight on the whaling ship is terrifying and awesome, mostly as I recall because Captain Easy lost the previous tussle. Superheroes don't get beat up with as much frequency as they used to get beat up, and I think that's to their detriment.
posted 11:15 pm PST | Permalink

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