I haven’t written a lot about comics journalism as of late, and that’s primarily because I haven’t been reading much of it. That’s not a veiled slam or anything (although I do love my veiled slams), between San Diego and… say… late this week, I just didn’t have the time to devote to keeping up with the myriad of interviews, profiles, and other articles that make up the majority of online comics coverage. But last night I was able to get caught up on my feed-reader and I actually feel pretty good the level of discourse right now. When I was last following along in a meaningful way, it was all about the AFRAID OF COCK thing and the discussion surrounding that was a little disappointing. While it seems like any comment about a mainstream comics company (or Fantagraphics, now that I think about it) is met with this wierd binary love/hate thing, in general there are a lot of smart people in the middle ground talking up the good work and being appropriately critical of the bad. Yay, for comics.

My previous bugaboo about ‘online comics journalism’ was… well, I can be more general about it, but quite honestly, it was Matt Brady and Mike Doran at Newsarama defending a lack of teeth in their reporting as not wanting to lose access and get “blacklisted” at Marvel and DC–especially as they defended their actions by stating that it was all ‘entertainment reporting’ anyway and it didn’t have to be serious. Doran went on to work for Marvel, so, yeah… but I will give props to Brady’s recent Newsarama output, particularly his ongoing investigations into the Shuster/Siegel Superboy copyright case. It’s been good reading. I also like the seeming hands-off distance between what’s going on at Blog@Newsarama and the main site… I feel that, quite honestly, the Blog@ staff provide a nice counterpoint in their occasional commentary to the uncritical creator- and project-profiles that the main site is famous for. So despite my history of picking on (and at) the Newsarama guys, I just wanted to point out that the following isn’t about them (I’m actually reading two articles by them over in another window).

Over at The Comics Reporter, Spurgeon had a quote in his weekly round-up the piqued my interest:

Quote Of The Week
“…The threat of a caricature by Drew Friedman, the Thomas Nast of our time, should be enough to bring these vain creatures to heel.” — Ron Rosenbaum, on how to wean magazines away from the celebrity profile and their attendant demands.

That links to an article at Slate magazine about celebrity journalism that’s… really good. Because I eat, sleep, and breathe comics, I couldn’t help but think about comics journalism when reading this excellent article about magazine’s obsessions with “access” to famous people. Like I said above, it’s not just about one website, but there’s this utter and total fear of pissing off the PR guys by calling a Judd Winnick on their brutal treatment of women in an actual interview because you might not get in on the conference call for Richard Donner and Geoff Johns (as a completely made-up example). The idea of ‘approved’ outlets, ‘approved’ journalists, ‘approved’ questions, an ‘approved’ tone. It’s all in comics, it’s everywhere, and it’s really disheartening.

“For one thing, it won’t be just an isolated incident. It will send a signal to politicians that magazine editors are whores for access who can be rolled at will. And then there’s the intangible cost: the cost of such behavior to whatever respect is left for the magazine industry from a public that increasingly thinks the mainstream media are in the pocket of the powerful.

“It’s time for magazine editors to fight this censorship-by-access. Because it’s really self-censorship: the false belief that one can’t run a probing story just because one is denied the anodyne “exclusive” quotes and the super-special “exclusive” photo of the powerful subject reclining on his or her patio. “

- Ron Rosenbaum, Slate Magazine.

I feel complicit a lot of the time too. I’d been meaning to point out that The Darwyn Cooke interview in The Comics Journal this month is one of the worst I’ve ever read in the magazine. I’m friends with Darwyn though and I didn’t (and don’t…) want to start a thing, but the length of time spent talking about animated adaptations of Darwyn’s work (and Bruce Timm…) is totally out of whack, given the career Cooke has had, for starters. I mean when the subject of the interview calls the interviewer a fanboy because he won’t stop asking about Batman? In The Comics Journal!? Yikes. But I like Darwyn Cooke and I know several people at The Journal, and despite the failure of the interview and how much it annoyed me, it’s easier not to rock the boat. Particularly if I don’t wanna have a conversation about it next time I see Darwyn, or maybe want to write for The Comics Journal at some point in the future (note: I don’t, really). And it’s easier to keep your mouth shut about things like this if you just don’t have time to post (eight posts in three weeks! only 3 of substance!).

(I’m not talking about ‘bias’ either, although that skirts around the edges. You’re not going to catch me talking shit about Scott Pilgrim, primarily because I love it, but also because Mal’s a friend of mine. But I’m also buddies with I’d say 2-300 people in the comics industry, and I can assure you not all of their relative projects are off limits.)

Moreover, it’s about this understanding that when you engage a work or a body of work, whether the ‘work’ is the contracts of DC Comics’s big new initiative or the utter despair of just being Angelina Jolie, that the way in which you engage it can have serious consequences on your relationships and your paycheck. Is it worth being persistant, accurate, and uncompromising about reversion rights to Captain America if you don’t get invited to the Marvel ‘party’ at Wizard World? Is it worth being persistant, accurate, and uncompromising about the fate of a fictional character’s marital status when it means you won’t be able to ask questions about those reversion rights down the road?

Darwyn Cooke’s got a thick enough skin that I didn’t ever really need to worry about pissing him off, but the same can’t be said for many creators, editors, and espescially PR folk who treat legitimate criticism or scrutiny as though the critic or journalist is coming at them with a crowbar. While I don’t feel things are as bad as they have been, I do feel like the article at Slate is a good reminder of a Journalistic Ideal, as well as being a call-to-arms for how to approach the ‘celebrity profiles’ the litter comics journalism, particularly when the ‘celebrities’ in question have real power over the industry in which I have chosen to make my fortune. Such as it is.

If you’ve got another 15 minutes to spare after reading all of this, I strongly reccommend heading over to Slate and checking the article out: http://www.slate.com/id/2175248.

- Chris
P.s.: The accompanying article about The Celebrity Profile, linked at the end, is quite good too.

6 Comments on “The (Comics) Journalistic Ideal”

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  1. Nate says:

    I’m glad you mentioned the Cooke interview. I agree, it was a missed opportunity. The interviewer asked a lot of questions answered in Cooke’s work, “what’s your take on Character X,” for example, and didn’t probe any of the answers he received. A bummer, since whatever you think of Cooke as a creator (and I’m not a big fan), he has a unique vision and take on the industry that he hasn’t been afraid to share.

  2. markus says:

    I keep meaning to congratulate you and agree and leave it at that. But really, what I’d be agreeing to is that journalists (in the broadest possible sense) should try harder, but that’s awfully general and trivially true. Beyond that, I think the piece ultimately fails to address the problem of how to get people to pay for that and more “proximately” merely touches on the many _structural_ reasons why comics discourse is as. And as many of these have been chewed over at length already (IMO) a next step would have to be a systematic overview or an attempt at solving these problems which matches e.g. the attempt to make superbooks more female friendly in scope and dedication.
    So, yay for the link and the reminder, but oddly enough it feels a bit like a step behind where we already are.

  3. It’s called biting the hand that feeds you… « Blurred Productions says:

    [...] It’s called biting the hand that feeds you… October 9th, 2007 — Smith Michaels This big announcement from Newsarama this week (really, last week) and this postat Blog@Newsarama (and the post it links to) got me thinking. [...]

  4. odessa steps magazine says:

    First, let me thank you for saving me the trouble of buying TCJ for the first time in over five or six years.

    Second, I think the best comics reporter possible is someone who understands the business but doesn’t want to be part of it and isn’t a fanboy/girl. It would be a beat that they cover and that’s it.

  5. Rickey says:

    I’ve been thinking about the same issues, man. I found your link through the Beat and I absolutely agree with about how writerly hands can often be tied when it comes to coverage thanks to the dependence of PR and/or talent for a story and how a story’s tone can have an effect on any future story.

    It’s a tough situation and a black hole when it comes to trying to find a working way around it.

  6. The Gigcast » Blog Archive » webcomic Wire - 10/10/07 says:

    [...] Christopher Butcher posts about the state of comics journalism. [...]

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