A while back Michael Dean wrote a now semi-infamous essay in The Comics Journal where he declared that there was no comics journalism on the web — just link farms, commentary, and event coverage. I thought the essay was quite entertaining — a fine example of Comics Journal snark and industry bashing.
I couldn’t help wondering though — presume Michael was correct, and there was no comics journalism on the web. Why should anyone care? Do we really need investigative journalism aimed at comics? Investigative journalism can be great when it exposes injustice, or provides the public with vital information: Seymour Hersch’s reporting at the New Yorker, or Andrew Sullivan’s twitter-aggregating from the Iranian protests seem like cases in point. But…you know, comics is a relatively minor entertainment subculture. In a world of limited resources and limited time, wouldn’t it be better for someone with a real talent for investigative journalism to do something — almost anything — else?
I was thinking about this again in light of a panel I was on last night at C2E2, organized by Heidi McDonald of the Beat. Other participants were Brigid Alverson of Robot 6 and mangablog, Johanna Draper Carlson of Comics Worth Reading, Ron Richards of iFanboy
Lucas Siegel of Newsarama, Rick Marshall of MTV, and a very funny and sweet young guy named Caleb, whose affiliation I sadly missed. [Update: It's Caleb Goellner from Comics Alliance.]
Anyway, I’m not going to give an extensive recap because — well, I’m not a journalist, and I didn’t take notes. But I can report that, perhaps inevitably, there was a fair amount of talk about what boiled down to professionalism. Brigid talked about the importance of “not being an asshole”. (Brigid is to be fair, coming from a background as a political reporter.) Rick worried some about the implications of making deals to get exclusive info; several people expressed frustration that some folks think they can just start up a blog and get online and expect to be taken seriously.
So, what the hell, let’s look at the top stories at the moment on some of these sites.
IFanboy currently has an exclusive Fear PC Game Download.
Newsarama has a reported interview with Brian Bendis from C2E2 puffing some new series which I refuse to remember the title of for even a second.
Heidi’s reports on news stories from C2E2, said news stories mostly involving new comics series and Diamond speculating about changing its release day from Wed to Thursday.
Robot 6 has a news roundup that’s largely the same as Heidi’s, almost as if they were attending the same convention.
At Comics Worth Reading Ed Sizemore has a brief review of Yotsuba book 8.
And at mangablog there’s a review by Melinda Beasi of You’re So Cool.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of that. Personally, the only things I have any interest at all in reading are the reviews by Ed Sizemore and Melinda Beasi, but that’s me. Lots of people want what these sites have to offer, and that’s cool. Download that video game, speculate about diamond, anticipate some new series…it’s all good, if that’s your poison.
But while there’s nothing to be ashamed of in providing such services, I would submit that there’s nothing to be especially proud of either. Being a stenographer for Brian Bendis? Showing up at a panel and duly providing marketing services afterwards? Offering free samples? Even, you know, providing a short well-written review of a popular title…this is not rocket science. It’s not curing cancer. It’s not even a vital, unpleasant task like picking up the garbage or digging coal. It takes time and enthusiasm and maybe some level of professionalism, but lots of jobs that are really quite important require those things as well, big whoop. These stories, in short, define “trivial.”
I tried to make this argument on the panel more or less (I am less eloquent in person than in print, as Johanna kindly noted afterwards), and lots of folks disagreed with me. Johanna said that when people talk about how it’s all “just comics” (my phrase) it’s generally an excuse for their own low standards. Rick said that people make their living at comics, so it can’t just be dismissed. Lucas talked about how important comics are to people.
To which I can only reply, whatever. Sure, people care about comics. Sure, it’s better to do a good job than a bad one in some sense, even if your job is inconsequential. And yes, people make their living at comics. None of this changes the fact that what we’re doing as comics bloggers and journalists and news aggregators is really pretty meaningless in even the not-so-grand scheme of things. It’s for fun.
People care about fun a lot. They make their living off fun. And they draw lines in the sand delineating their little bit of fun and, not coincidentally, their little bit of lucre. Somebody on the panel I think actually talked about how some blogs undermine everyone’s reputation. I mean, come on. You’re basically providing a stream of marketing copy for a long list of crappy products based around nostalgia and indifferently-executed sex and violence. What sort of reputation are you defending?
I don’t exempt myself here; HU is a labor of love, and I’m very pleased that there’s an audience for it. Hell, I’ve worked hard for virtually no money to build an audience for it. I’ve been able to do that in large part because blogging has almost no barriers to entry. That same fact — the there are no barriers to entry — means that there are lots and lots of blogs out there that I don’t care about, that don’t seem to me very good, or that irritate me for one reason or another. And, you know, my solution to that in general is that I don’t read them.
But neither do I wag my finger at them and accuse them of failing to rise to professional standards or whatever (unless I have some vested interest in having them improve, of course.) Because to accuse random little blogs x, y, and z of failing to rise to professional standards would be (a) condescending and (b) kind of embarrassing for me. Even the biggest Poobah in comicsdom is a pretty penny-ante Poobah. To rear up on your back legs and start hectoring and/or kicking at those two steps below you on the child-size step ladder of success — you might as well just podcast your insecurities to the world.
For me the most fascinating exchange of the evening actually occurred after the panel, when Johanna explained how she makes money from her site. It’s too bad the question of how to make money off blogging wasn’t thrown open to everyone; I at least would have been curious to hear some of the nuts and bolts of how people are managing to make a living (or not make a living, in my case.)
In any event, many thanks to Heidi for inviting me. It was nice to be a real-live pundit briefly, to meet some folks for the first time, and to see Brigid and Johanna and lovely and talented Matthew Brady, who came out to watch. We’ll see if I’ve managed to convince everyone involved never to invite me again!