Comics Blogging & Journalism

By | Thursday, April 22, 2010 Leave a Comment
One of the best-sounding panels at C2E2, for me, was "Old Media, New Media, Comics Media" featuring a bunch of people I like and respect: Lucas Siegel, Brigid Alverson, Johanna Draper Carlson, Noah Berlatsky, Ron Richards, Caleb Goellner, Rick Marshall and Heidi MacDonald. It was one of the first things I highlighted on the panel lists when I thought I might be able to make it to the show, and the two summaries I've read made it sound just as good as I thought it might. But because I missed it and this is MY blog, I'm going to add my two cents.

First, I have no idea who you are and, as such, I have no idea what you expect from me or this blog. The vast majority of what I post on this blog goes up exclusively because it interests me somehow. I figure that, if it interests me, it might interest someone else. But I am constantly surprised by which of my posts gets picked up/referenced/linked to/whatever and by whom. There are things that I am absolutely certain will interest a wide breadth of people, and they get zero traffic; there are other things I just throw out online with little-to-no thought and they get widely circulated. And of course there are some things people react to in exactly the manner I would've expected. I gave up some time back trying to write for anyone but myself. I know a number of individuals who read my blog at least semi-regularly (Hi, Mom!) but I don't write it FOR them/you. Because I don't know what my audience (however that might be defined) wants.

Which is a position I hold with all my writing. My "Incidental Iconography" column was an idea that I presented to Jack Kirby Collector editor John Morrow, and he's remained very hands-off as an editor. Aside from the occasional typo, he's only edited one column slightly for space reasons (and what he took out was pretty inconsequential anyway) and made one suggestion for a particular column's theme. Other than that, it's all me. Same again with my book. I wrote it because it's something I'm interested in. When my father asked who was my intended audience, I cited a list of traits that people who might be interested in it would have. He responded, "So, basically, people just like you?"

With that in mind, that means that whatever 'journalistic ethics' I follow here track precisely with my own personal ethics. If I betray any sort of journalistic integrity here, I'm really just betraying myself, since I am my own audience. I write articles that I would like to read with the conviction and honesty I would like to see in others. Sure, I'll be happy to accept review copies of books and I have no concerns whatsoever about providing a fair and honest review. I'm going to try to look for positive things to say because I'm generally a nice guy and wouldn't want to hurt somebody's feelings, but I'm good to point out what I see as flaws in a work as well.

Of course, I can say that pretty easily because I don't make any money off my blog. I don't run ads. I don't sell buttons or post cards or anything like that. I get a handful of review copies of books, but that's pretty much it as far as compensation goes. Which is fine. That's why I have a day job. So the reason I can stay genuinely honest is because it really doesn't serve me not to be. Hopefully, that's at least somewhat evident by reading my work here.

So here's how I figure it. There are a bunch of folks out there, like me, who are blogging away. (Or Twittering. Or YouTubing. Or whatever mode of expression they're using.) They're presenting news and previews and reviews and opinions and knee-jerk reactions and whatever else. Some of them have access to more insider information. Some of them make money from their work. Some of them are upfront about their biases. Some of them care more about the attention than their integrity. There's a full gamut of folks out there.


Given the general demographic of comic readers, I suspect the vast majority of those of us who are shouting in the wilderness here bear some high degree of resemblance to adults. As in, having grown up at least as early as the 1970s and 1980s. As in, pre-Internet. We grew up in a time when there were a decidedly finite number of news sources, which were primarily large organizations run by older white men. If the handful of them got together (either explicitly or implicitly) and decided they were all going to spin a news story a certain way, then that's the story the public heard. People generally think of newspapers and broadcast media in those terms, but it applies within sub-categories like comic news as well.

The line of dialogue within comicdom was, for good or ill, largely defined by the handful of people who had their own media outlet. The comic publishers, obviously, and the larger fanzine publishers like Gary Groth and Alan Light. What this all meant was that ANY information about what was happening within comicdom was scarce and the number of counter-stories were minimal. The reading audience didn't have much choice but to take the news as it was presented.

That paradigm no longer exists.

People have noted in plenty of places -- including in that very panel that spurred this post -- that the Internet has democratized publication possibilities. You don't need to have loads of start-up capital to throw your thoughts and opinions all over the place. Everyone can have their say online. We all know that, right?

But the corollary to that, which doesn't get discussed nearly as much, is that everyone out there reading and absorbing all of this media has, by necessity, become more discerning in what they take as viable and/or valuable information. In the past decade or two, people have gotten used to being online and have gotten used to establishing an author's credibility as it pertains to them. By sifting through a handful of articles or features or whathaveyou, you can pretty readily discern whether or not someone is being straight with their audience or if they're just acting as a mouthpiece for some large corporation. After a short while, you almost subconsciously understand, if not appreciate, the standards an author holds him/herself to.

Let me ask you this: what do you expect when you come to my blog? What do you think about my style of writing or the overall tone and demeanor I take on things? Do you trust my opinions when I do book reviews? Now, compare that with your thoughts about all of those folks I listed at the top of this post. Now compare that to any other comic-related blogger you know. How about the manager at your local comic shop? Not exactly the same answers, are they? Maybe some overlap in some areas, maybe some substantial disconnects in others. We're different people, and you're obviously going to think of us differently. But you've made judgments on us -- and here's the clever bit -- based on each other!

You're comparing what I say here against what everyone else on the Internet is saying. Am I one more voice saying Atomic Robo is a great book, or am I some loner demanding the head of Brian Clevinger? Does what I'm saying jibe with what everyone else is saying? Not that you're expecting us all to be sheep, of course! We all have our individual preferences, but if I say a story is good because of Reason X and Alverson, Berlatsky and MacDonald all say Reason X doesn't actually appear in the story, that's going to undermine my credibility, isn't it? If I say a story is good because of Reason A and those same people say that Reason A is precisely why they didn't like the story, then we're all acting as each other's fact-checkers. Still differing opinions, but none of us are coming out of left-field somewhere.

And it's not just them. Since so many creators themselves are online, whether it's their own blog or Twitter or Facebook or whatever, they're backing this stuff up too. My journalistic integrity is being judged against everything else you've seen/read each and every time I hit the "Post" button. THAT is the other half of the democratizing effect the Internet has, and it's also an aspect that a lot of folks who grew up in the pre-Internet days tend to overlook.

I think Wowio is a prime example of this. By traditional measures, Wowio does a lousy job of getting word out about itself. They really haven't seemed to go out of their way to attract attention at all -- "big" announcements didn't seem to be sent out to news organizations and even their own news feed is kind of sparse. But Wowio still shows up periodically in the news rounds. Because news about them gets filtered out through Facebook announcements from creators who aren't paid, a blogger interested in digital comics who happens to get a scoop when he interviews the owner, the putz like me who happened to catch a few Tweets that spoke to a larger story. Comics journalism -- and, indeed, journalism in general -- is the product of everyone in comicdom with an internet connection.

Right here, right now, there are any number of comics reporters and commentators that you pay attention to on a regular basis. Some have been doing comics reporting in some form or another for years, and have earned your trust. Others might be newcomers you just stumbled on this past week, and don't know what to make of yet. If any of us make a mistake -- veterans or newbies -- we will undoubtedly be corrected. But there's the beauty of this whole new journalism: it's largely self-correcting. The people who aren't playing by those great rules we learned in kindergarten are going to get thrown by the wayside in some form. The people who act merely as mouthpieces for larger corporate interests are going to be recognized as such.


it's an ongoing discussion. I might be considered trust-worthy now, but if I start betraying that sometime down the road -- if I start becoming some kind of corporate shill or otherwise abuse whatever credibility I've built up -- then I. Am. Toast. I will have lost your attention, and will have lost any credence I have as a member of the comics blogosphere. This is meritocracy at work. Is what I'm doing worthy? If that gets answered in the negative too often, doors start closing on you.

Now, all that said (and I apologize for rambling on for so long) I'm not dismissing the benefit of journalistic ideals. I'm not dismissing the benefit of the craft of writing. What I am saying, though, is whether you arrive at that through formal training, guesswork, emulation, or any other manner is irrelevant. It boils down to how well you deliver. Do you -- as someone reading these very words -- think what I have to say is worthwhile? I happen to think what I have to say is worthwhile, but I can recognize that I'm decidedly biased on this point. But I also know that I'm writing largely for myself here. An audience of one. That any of you come along with me for this ride is utterly fantastic and often quite mind-boggling for me. I deeply appreciate the company and hope you think well enough of me to hang around for the long haul.

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