Thank you for the many hours of joy that you and your creations have brought me, and not just in beer format. I hope there are many more years of your creations to come.
I spent upwards of $600 on different flavours of Kit Kat over the course of my two trips to Japan this year. That is more than I’ve earned from this blog in 13 years. For perspective.
P.S.: Above is one of every flavour I had extra of, which I sent to Deb Aoki, because she’s a lovely human being who does a lot of work for little reward. It is not the totality of my Kit Kat purchasing ;)
I have strong feelings on Comics Journalism.
Those strong feelings are part of the reason why I rarely participate in comics journalism or the discussion thereof anymore. The other part is that I have moved, with the creation of TCAF and my general… being-around-ness… from a commentator to a content producer. Tearing into a comics journalist or journalism site, while often necessary and frankly personally rewarding now has the added bonus of blowing back onto creators, stores, and organizations I work with. Big picture, there’s not much to be gained. So it was probably ill-advised that today, when creator Jess Fink started complaining about the superhero-centric focus of most comics websites (at the expense of every other kind of comic being created), I offered my 2 cents.
My thesis? The reason “comic” sites write more about superheroes is that those stories get more views. Most of the bigger comic websites are advertising driven, and there’s just not a ton of money out there in mid-sized ad-driven websites. Every unique visitor counts. Every pageview counts. And, flat-out, there are more people interested in superheroes, on average, than there are literary comics, or even non-superhero genre work. I personally believe that there is a possibility for a greater segment of the population to enjoy literary and general fiction than genre fiction, but the numbers right now say otherwise. Simple economics, most literary comics are stand-alone graphic novels that print what, 4k-10k for the midlist to moderate hits? That’s respectable, that’ll make the publisher and the creator money. But an average superhero book from DC or Marvel is doing 20k-30k, which is already 2x to 6x more, and it’s doing that every month. To say nothing of the filthy pirates who don’t pay for comics. It’s just more eyeballs.
And when you add superhero movies to the mix, or the possibility of superhero movies, that draws in an even bigger section of the general public–”people who see movies.” It’s a bit like what Patton Oswald was talking about, the mainstreaming of nerd culture. It’s the steady mainstreaming of nerd websites to make them palatable and interesting to general audiences–for the huge pageviews, and the advertising dollar that goes with them.
How much hype did Scott Pilgrim get for that last book? How much did it get for the first 2 or 3 books? Did the media attention for volumes 5 and 6, the attendant interviews with O’Malley, profiles, background articles, all of that, did it numerically outweigh all of the press that every other Oni book combined got in the year 2008? Or 2007 and 2008 combined maybe? That’s the game. Sure it sucks to be Cory Casoni at Oni Press fielding 450 press requests in 8 months for one book when you’ve got 65 other releases to promote and media cannot even hear you when you pitch them unless “that guy, you know, Scott Pilgrim, unless we can get him to talk about the other books that you publish and he says which ones would also make good movies.” Sucks but that’s the game.
Smart PR people at literary comics publishers, or independent genre publishers (Cory Casoni of Oni Press included) can and do place stories all the time though. When you’ve got a book with a good angle, or you’ve got a movie deal, or you’ve got the prospect of a movie deal, or you’re just really f’ing persistant, you can get the corporate comics sites to pay attention. It particularly helps if it’s a genre fiction book–zombies, crime, sci-fi, military, whatever happens to be most popular at the time. Those stories are great, but they generally get considerably less commentary, less attention, and fewer page views than say… speculating on the cast of the possible Ant-Man movie. That’s why (generally) you’re not going to see much at those sites that isn’t specifically designed for the big audience. It’s gotta be the favourite of an individual writer working there or something similar. Ultimately the people working at these sites get paid by ad revenue, and the articles that get the most views are the ones that generate that revenue, and those are generally superheroes, or superhero movies, or according to Bleeding Cool, superhero porn movies (Batporn #1 article 18 weeks running).
And I Mean This: Not that there’s anything wrong with that. At least, not specific to comics, the comics industry, or comics journalism.
Because lets face it: Corporate journalism on the whole is kind of sliding into the abyss, isn’t it? As above so below; ratings equal ad dollars equals a capitalist society, and so CNN runs stories on celebrity pets or whatever nonsense will keep them from sliding into total obscurity, while Fox News just out and out lies to people, every day, demonstrably filling them full of fear making them terrified to turn off the TV, and man, that’s how you score the big ad dollars! Make people afraid to turn the channel.
So who gives a fuck if corporate comic news site ‘a’ is mostly concerned with the recent developments of the green lantern or the wolverine? I don’t buy the argument that they’re ‘supposed’ to be concerned with anything in particular besides making sure the lights stay on. And really, there are so many much larger, much more pervasive, and more damaging problems facing comics as an industry than books I personally like getting less media attention than books I do not care for. Sure, it’s all tied together, distribution, fair contracts, and the attention a book or creator receives, but one of those things is the weak link in the importance chain.
No, corporate sites have a corporate responsibility to sell, and the masses seem to be most engaged by things I’m not that into, and so those sites pretty-much disappear off my radar. I actually feel good for not knowing how much people hated JMS’ Superman “grounded” stories until it popped up in the year-end-reviews on sites I do read. I feel like a good person for not having known that. I am glad that the few comics news sites in my feed reader–ComicsReporter.com, Robot 6, The Beat, PW Comics Week–do not generally bother me with the 3-5 press releases that Marvel send daily (seriously) that I get in my inbox anyway, informing me that NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME (got that one twice last year) and that THE ONLY PLACE TO GO FOR MARVEL COMICS IS MARVEL.COM TO DOWNLOAD THEM (that one was my favourite). Thanks, guys and gals.
And if you’re like, a douche, who wants to pull one sentence out of context in order to hammer me with some imaginary straw-man argument, let me save you the trouble: I know I’m biased, I know I’m not being particularly fair to people who want to earn a paycheck and/or parlay their interview with a creator into working at the same company as that creator. I’m not cut out for producing regular content day in and day out, I totally couldn’t hack the comics journalism game and pay my rent. BY ALL MEANS feel free to write me off. But I’ve been watching internet comics journalism since Newsarama was just a dude on Usenet, and I didn’t much like him, so I feel like I’ve got enough time and experience invested despite my biases (and failings). Hell, because of them.
Ultimately what it comes down to is, the content I find disappointing and weak and shallow is the stuff that attracts the biggest audience of crazy people in the comments section arguing about how shallow it is, and every comment is worth actual money to those sites. I’d like to do something about it, contribute more blogging, more reviews, more journalism, but I did 3 dozen interviews, thousands of blog posts, and wrote a book over the last 10 years, and I think for the time being I’d rather curate comic shows and sell good books and help out individual creators and publishers I like. Only so many hours in the day.
So, yeah, Comics Journalism isn’t what I want it to be, but luckily that is someone else’s problem. If that’s you: Good luck!
P.S.: The solution is for writers to find a balance not only between “what sells” and “what they love”, but in representing the entire medium in new ways. If everyone is covering every Marvel and DC press release, then no one is building a loyal audience. If you’re covering those press releases and sneaking an article about Moto Hagio’s revolutionary speculative fiction in shoujo comics of the 1960s or Jim Ottavianni’s new Richard Feynman biography from First Second onto IO9.com, then you’re going to hook someone at your site who’s going to stay for the long haul because you’ve offered content that no one else has. My 2 cents.
If you scroll back through my Japan Travelogues, I think you might remember me saying my favourite store to buy manga, and mostly new/in-print manga in Japan, is the Tsutaya across from the Hachiko crossing in Shibuya. Unfortunately that changed with my trip there in 2010. They’d moved their manga floor from a very spacious basement to a smaller top-floor. It’s still a solid setup, but it’s less big, less hand-curated… Just lesser, unfortunately. Things change, even in the manga industry, even in Japan.
That said, I do still really dig what Tsutaya did with their manga selection, and upon leaving the country during my 2009 trip, I was shocked to come across the best-stocked airport bookstore Of All Time. Seriously, it was amazing, with a great selection of books and magazines, but also a surprisingly big and diverse selection of manga tankoubon, manga periodical magazines, and even a few artbooks too.
This selection of light novels and volumes of the REBORN! manga (waaaaay more popular in Japan than it is here) was just the tip of the iceberg, and it was heartening to know that even if I had (somehow) completely missed manga on my entire trip to Japan, all I needed to do was hit the airport an hour early and I could do a pretty decent shopping trip at the Narita Airport Tsutaya….!
As I mentioned, their wall of manga was nothing to sneeze at, and while it catered heavily to the very popular series it did evidence some of the curation of other Tsutaya manga sections I’d been in. And of course it still had people reading at the racks, looking to kill some time.
Bleach, One Piece, Takehiko Inoue, Naoki Urasawa, and more. Plus the then just-release oversized final volume of PLUTO.
Shown dead centre here are some of the English-instruction and English-language manga, including bilingual editions of Nodame Cantabile, Tale of Genji, Division Chief Kosaku Shima, and English volumes of Bleach, Death Note, Naruto, and The Davinci Code (novel of course, not a comic). Incidentally, if you’re in Japan and looking for a great gift to bring back, the bilingual manga editions including Doraemon (bottom left) are great souvenirs, as that manga isn’t available in English!
A close-up on the Doraemon bilingual editions and a few other titles.
Feature display for the Neon Genesis Evangelion manga.
And a great selection of manga magazines (top) and kids books, mooks, and activity books (bottom).
So yeah, if you can spare it, the shopping area at Narita airport is surprisingly amazing, and a great place to pick up last minute gifts for others… and just a few more manga for yourself too. Build the extra time into your trip back, if you can…!
Now this, finally, is my last blog post from my Fall 2009 trip to the great nation of Japan.
I’m gonna be honest, there’s a whole lot of photos from this trip that I couldn’t quite work into a blogpost, but one of the things I wanted to do was get all those photos up online in some form. I think I’ve decided on Twitter, after all, so look forward to that on my Flickr page imminently–maybe even as soon as this blog post goes up! :) Thanks for reading, and sorry it took a year and a half (and I jumped ahead and did some 2010 travelogues in the interim).