I had a really nice breakfast with a dude from Marvel Comics, and some other people. They were all great.. It was in the newspaper.
If you are my family or don’t care about comics, stop reading here.
I don’t have the best things to say about Marvel Comics a lot of the time–like most corporations they make every move for their own benefit, but unlike most corporations they end up controlling better than 50% of the industry in which they participate, and those moves tend to dramatically alter people’s livelihoods for the negative, other than Marvel’s. It’s a truly awful situation.
The problem is that many (though not ‘all’) of these decisions are made above the heads of the people who actually create the comic books. There are folks who are in essence good people, who do right by others, who have a passion for creativity and art. Some corporate fuck will come in and lay off a bunch of editors and staff, reduce the number of washrooms, admit that they’re consciously trying to wring as much possible money out of customers as possible through lower page counts, lower quality, and higher prices… but you (meaning you the reader, you the ‘comics journalist’, you the muck-raker desperate for hits on your site) can’t touch those people. You can’t. You’re not shouting at Isaac Perlemuter or whichever VP of TheBottomLine decided books didn’t need cover-stock any more–there’s a reason those people either aren’t on Twitter or simply know how not to respond to you at all. So ‘you’ lash out at the folks who are the public face, paid to put a spin on whatever the next shitty cost-cutting measure to come down the pipe is, because their job is to make a tenth the salary but eat all of the shit. Because they love comics.
I feel for someone like David Brothers, who is a smart guy who writes smart things, who bothered to engage someone like Steve Wacker on the subject of rotating in sub-par artists on a top title with Daredevil. The artist switch-ups on Daredevil are a shitty situation, I think we all agree, but Wacker proved himself completely damaged in his inability to engage a legitimate complaint in a direct way… I don’t know him but I’m going to assume eating other people’s shit (metaphorically) on the internet all goddamned day is why he responds to a legitimate question from a fan like a total nutbar stalker, maybe he was different before he started working for Marvel, but I can’t really say. But yeah, so much shit is flung at the public faces of companies that even when they’re greeted with real questions, real journalism, sometimes they’re too down it to do much but fling shit themselves. Being famous, or representing something famous, in public, it sucks. The public sucks. It’s an awful situation all around.
Occasionally, you can get someone in one of those positions, and you can take them out of the echo-chamber of insanity that Twitter/Facebook/Comics Blogs have turned into, and you can talk to them at least like they’re a real human being, and if you’re lucky you can even talk to them like you’re a journalist and they’re an interesting subject, and they respond in kind. So a month back or so, I was invited to brunch with journalist Corey Mintz, Jen Agg (owner of The Black Hoof), fine-artist Roland Jean, and C.B. Cebulski, talent scout for Marvel Comics. We sat down, we had a great brunch, had maybe two or three drinks over 4-5 hours, and we talked comics. We talked about the comics industry. Here’s a taste:
If you perceive what you do, whether it’s cooking or comic books, if you perceive it as an artistic discipline, not as a straight matter of business, is it ok that the majority of people, your clientele, don’t see it as an art form? Is there anything wrong with them seeing it as a product?BUTCHER
Yeah. Because that’s where piracy comes from.MINTZ
Ok. Food and comic books just separated themselves completely in that example.BUTCHER
well, I know a lot of people who didn’t purchase the Momofuku cookbook but have it on their iPad. And I wag my finger at them.MINTZNames!AGG
What? What do you mean?BUTCHER
People have scanned the Momofuku cookbook.AGG
Scanned the whole book.AGG
Who would bother to do that? Spend the $35 dollars you cheap fuck.BUTCHER
Welcome to comics.CEBULSKI
(By the way, Comics Internet, that’s how an “excerpt” works. If you’re reposting 75% of the content on the original site, you’re just being an asshole.)
We sat around and talked about the comics industry. As Corey said in his column, “Cebulski is extremely polite and candid in a way that has nothing to do with our drinking cider and rum at 1 p.m. A pleasure to talk to, he never once dodges a question.” Mintz treated Cebulski as he would any subject of his column, with respect, and removed from “the comics internet” Cebulski was able to discuss things like a grown-up would. He talked about the economic realities of superhero comics, of producing art, of working for Marvel. I disagreed with some of the finer points, but I never thought for a second that he was equivocating, or even speaking out of turn. It was a lovely brunch, a very fun time, and a great conversation with someone I respect, even while I don’t agree with all of his views. It was a pretty rare thing, for Marvel and DC Comics, and the internet went all kinds of crazy for a few days, with my favourite bit being that the words of this interview were so twisted as to somehow make it sound like a representative of Marvel says that Jack Kirby didn’t make art. Ugh. Uggggggggh. So stupid. I wouldn’t talk to people either. It got so bad Corey actually wrote a response to the public response:
“On the record, with the red light of a recorder going, C.B. Cebulski shared his views. I speak to a lot of people in my work, most often chefs and politicians. Most of them do not say what is on their mind. And who can blame them? I poke fun at the Toronto restaurant scene for the level of public insincerity and back-slapping, but I’m a hypocrite. It’s pretty rare that I’ll criticize a local news organization in public.
“So when someone does us the courtesy of speaking plainly, whether we agree with them or not, we ought to applaud them. True believers, take it from someone who has been paid to criticize others, the truth is a rare and valuable thing.”
Unsurprisingly I haven’t seen anyone excerpting that bit of writing anywhere.
Here’s the thing though–does the comics internet respond so fucking poorly to people talking to them like grown-ups because it never actually happens (from Marvel or DC), or did Marvel and DC’s incessant, never-ending stream of hype and refusal to talk to people like grown-ups lower the discourse so far that the internet can no longer respond with anything other than cheers, outrage, or the standard comments-section-passive-aggressive-mixture-of-both? Was it always doomed to be a cesspool out here or are we now doomed to be in this cesspool? Discuss.
Actually, don’t bother, either way we’re still standing around in a cesspool. Recrimination is, in this instance, pretty pointless.
My pleas tend to fall on deaf ears so I get that this is all a bit pointless. But I wanted to point out that it is possible for people in this industry who disagree to respect one another, to sit down and have a meal and talk openly and honestly about situations that exist, and hopefully try to find some common ground. It’s possible to initiate these talks and cover them as a journalist and not be a jerk, and not have your subject be a jerk. I personally believe it’s even possible to not be that lazy reader and choose to interpret every single statement in the worst possible light because you’ve got an axe that needs grinding at every opportunity. This interview is by no means a rare thing-there are tons of great, professional and honest interviews out there. It’s just rare to see one from someone who works at Marvel or DC, sadly. I certainly hope that, given the reaction to this one, it hasn’t become rarer still.