Tuesday, October 25, 2005

This is my scolding face. 

You people disappoint me.

Right, okay, so maybe it was a tactical error to expect a bit more even-handedness out of Fanboy Rampage's comments section.

(I love you to pieces, Graeme, but someone needs to tell those guys they can state an opinion without injecting every single word with Extract of Self Importance. I half-think that K-Box guy actually secretes Self Importance, like that toad boy whose mother kept licking him for a high in District X.

...that was hot.)

There's such a fundamental misunderstanding of what journalism is or does (or, more accurately, should be and should do) going on there that I'm not sure where to begin. Suffice to say that, given the option of People Magazine or a weekly newspaper, the portion of comics internet people with enough motivation to write an e-mail voted for the one that spends more time talking about J. Lo's ass. I guess because the pictures are shinier.

TCJ made the mistake of expressing disappointment in Johnston's ploy. The full Rampage reaction starts here.

I'm going to hit you with something revolutionary: We need The Comics Journal. We need an institution in good standing that recognizes, bizarrely, that comics has a long and storied past, populated by artists the equal of those found in any other medium. I know this isn't a very popular idea -- even the best online comics writers fall back on "that's not to say I take any of this seriously" as some kind of shame reflex for bothering to get passionate about their beloved artform -- but you're just gonna have to trust me.

We need this magazine.

That isn't to say the magazine does not have many flaws. I, like most of you, have spent a hell of a lot of time and effort bashing TCJ's ivory tower image and, lord knows, a lot of TCJ's hangers-on have done everything they can to egg this all on. But we need them. They have the people, the image, the staying power, and (in some circles, anyway) the respectability.

Yet most casual comics fans have never heard of them. TCJ is partially responsible for this, too.

(That would be the part where I link to the back-and-forth between me and Dirk Deppey in my own comments section at the bottom of this post, but HaloScan done gone and archived it in a clever ploy to steal $12 from me. Suffice to say that I asked Deppey what TCJ was doing to grow its audience, and his response amounted to "nothing.")

So. Where's that leave us? A magazine with all the right tools but no particular drive to be anything more than it is now, and an audience that cannot understand why having a stellar TCJ benefits everyone. No one's willing to give.

Whatever. TCJ, I'm calling you out onto the floor re: #271, to tell you what I think you did right and what you did wrong. I'm not going to give lengthy takes on every article; some are basically okay on their own and don't need much comment.


BLOOD AND THUNDER: Fiore vs. Smith, Round Two

Flame wars are the #1 bloodsport of the internet, but I confess I've never understood the appeal for the spectator. This particular excerpt only strengthens my disregard: we are now witnessing that final, fatal stage of an internet debate, Arguing about the Argument. No new points, revelations, theses, or points of argument are raised; Fiore simply restates and clarifies his argument, and Smith spends way too much time insulting Fiore in such a way as to make sure we all know he has a college degree. I suppose Smith tries to make an argument of some kind, but he undermines himself when every other written sentence is an exercise in thesaurus-contorting name-calling. Really, man, just call Fiore a retard and be done with it.

What the fuck is this doing in here? Has any "column" ever been in more desperate need of an editor to put the fucking clamps on, already?

COMICS AND CORPORATIONS Part 1: Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman on How to Deal with Psychopaths, by Michael Dean

With a title like that, you might think you can figure out the tone of the article already. Well, you're wrong. Here's the surprising thing: this is a rampantly decent bit of solid journalism. Certainly it has an angle and a belief about corporations stated right at the outset, but I don't find that brand of journalism as repellant as most outsider "experts" do. As with anything in TCJ, it's part of a series (in this case, the first installment.)

ONLINE COMICS JOURNALISM: DOES IT EXIST? Part 8: Rich Johnston, Investigative Journalist, by Michael Dean

(Short answer from Yours Truly: no, not really, but we're a far sight better than most of what you see in print.)

The gist I gather is that Johnston attempted a format change, and found the benefits lacking for the effort expended. I might be so outrageous as to suggest to Johnston that six weeks (of one column a week) isn't really sufficient time to weigh the cost-benefit spectrum, and that while he certainly had a head of steam worked up the first few weeks, he seems to have crapped out before he could start really annoying Marvel and DC in an entertaining fashion. Too bad. I'm sure after six weeks his audience hadn't shifted much, and comics fans being comics fans, of course they'll vote for a return to same-old-same-old. If only he'd had the stamina to stick it out, maybe he'd have found a new audience...

...which is to say, maybe I would've started reading LitG regularly.

As for the article itself: another of those dry, oddly... er... journalistic (that is, "to journal") approaches of reporting a series of events, punctuated by comments from Johnston on the how's and why's. The flavorless tone of the piece tells me that Michael Dean may have done a bit of crapping-out of his own.

(Hey, I know of whence I speak; I can smell my own.)

THE 2005 COMIC-CON INTERNATIONAL SAN DIEGO, by Ian Brill, Michael Dean, Shaenon Garrity, and Kristy Valenti, with photographs by Sophia Quach

A sterling example of what TCJ gives us that no one else does. Yeah, I know, every fucking site under the sun gave us up-to-the-minute reports about what was going on at SDCC, but the Journal wisely realizes the strengths of print over frenetic online updating: In-depth reporting, finding the stories and quotes and topics of substance so easily lost amongst the "ZOMG MARVEL DECIMATION!!!11" noisemakers. SDCC is, despite the Usual Grumblings, an important event for all aspects of the industry. I'm glad someone's approaching it as such, even if that approach has a healthy dose of Smarm.


I'd geared myself up for this article to be pages and pages of attack on a guy I, admittedly, don't have much love for. (It's not that I dislike Bendis; it's that I think he's doggedly mediocre and static.) And certainly the article starts off that way: it's not hard to pick on Jinx, or on Bendis's many and acknowledged stylistic choices (some would call them "crutches.") It is also not particularly new and original to comment that Bendis's characters know only two languages: Exposition and Nonsense (the relevant bullet is #6).

The article's author, Rich Kreiner, thankfully finds himself a bit of balance and begins approaching the myriad works of Bendis from the position of someone who is admittedly not a fan but willing to give the phenomenon an objective eye. These are precisely the kinds of articles we need more of: thorough, interested-but-not-captivated studies of important artists' bodies of work. (Remember: "Important" has many meanings.) The article does end on a bit of a sour note, but for the most part, this is the kind of artistic analysis so lacking in any other comics coverage.


...are the star selling point of any issue of TCJ, and the reason we need the magazine so badly. Spurgeon is, I'm convinced, a gift directly from God to Comics, and the Jerry Robinson interview is conducted with the usual level of professionalism with nary a trace of the usual Grothisms. (Yes, Gary, working in the superhero field is artistically stunting -- we get it already.) I'd almost forgotten that interviews with artists don't have to be about pushing the latest product, and are not in fact just press releases in long form.

Pick up TCJ for the interviews if nothing else. God help you, you might learn something. Seriously, this shit is important. These people are living history, and someone is doing their best to preserve that history and experience for your edification. Do them and yourself the favor of sitting up straight and paying attention.


I have no idea what this is doing in here.

So, what have we learned? That TCJ uses more black ink than the Bible. That Michael Dean must own some seriously exhausted keyboards. That taking comics seriously and approaching the artform with soberness is not a source of shame. We've also learned that comics fans are, on the whole, intellectually lazy and stalwart in their passion for a static existence.

We have learned that smarm helps no one. (Yes, calling J.G. Jones "Some Artist" is hilarious. You guys must have been patting your backs for awhile on that one.) That a club of, by looking at your by-lines, includes five or six people tops will inevitably become an insular environment that prides itself on being insular.

That these attitudes on both sides help no one.

But hey, there's hope. They're actually trying, which is a lot more than you can say for most other publications. Many of you have your gripes about the publication and make your statement known by avoiding it (loudly, publically, and often).

But it's what we've got. So, the next time you have a bit of Smarm up your sleeve about TCJ, do something nuts: Turn it into something constructive and address the writers directly. You wouldn't believe where a single, honest e-mail might get you.

Monday, October 24, 2005

To my fellow bloggers. 

If you guys are having problems with your HaloScan comments -- blank page shows up after you publish, and comment doesn't show up upon refresh -- then log into your HaloScan, go to Settings, and disable Redirecting under "spam."

That is all.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

This week in comics. 

(I live again.)

Got a few things percolating in my head, but two of them aren't quite ready yet... and so I warm up with the third thing. I know the blogosphere has been missing it.

She-Hulk #1 (Dan Slott, Juan Bobilo) - The surprisingly vibrant, surprisingly funny, surprisingly playful Marvel title returns, and I find myself a little alarmingly lukewarm on it. There's not as much bounce here as before; perhaps there's been enough backstory now for Dread Continuity to take over, and I admit I balk at any recognition of Lame Publisher-Decreed Crossover Events in titles I felt were doing just fine on their fucking own, thank you very much. Dread Continuity demands Dread Plot, the kind of draconian master to which characterization and organic storytelling are constant enemies. Say it ain't so, Slott.

The Intimates #12 (Joe Casey, Alé Garza) - In the "ticker" of pages two and three are the following question and answer: "What do you do when you want to buck trends and sell books...?" "You create a teen superhero book where nothing much is meant to happen." To which I can only say: so it wasn't just me, then. Though I'm generally fond of Casey's work, I think he gravely miscalculates what got this book its initial critical boost (of which I was an enthusiastic part.) People came for the style and energy, not to watch a title slowly collapse in on itself. I'm not about to suggest that what The Intimates needed to stay vital was the aforementioned Dread Plot, but any sense of direction at all would have been a welcome change from basic aimlessness. Also: the ticker, while an interesting and refreshing idea, really slowed the reading of this book down to a crawl. Fatal for a book that already has problems with momentum.

303 #6 (Garth Ennis, Jacen Burrows) - Ahh, the fetishization of weaponry as the wheels of turning history. This is Ennis-porn, plain and simple, so I suppose it's fitting that it appears on Avatar. While Ennis manages to pull off a shocker of a conclusion that wouldn't have gotten a green light at the Big Two publishers, the book's lackadaisical release schedule and suffocatingly reverent tone bogged down any true sense of momentum. Perhaps this one'll read better collected.

Supreme Power: Hyperion #2 (J. Michael Stracyzskzninzsinszki, Dan Jurgens) - Klaus Janson really is an overwhelming inker, isn't he? Entertaining enough, I guess, if nakedly paint-by-numbers. This one's getting dumped in favor of the far superior Nighthawk mini by Daniel Way and Steve Dillon.

Runaways #8 (Brian K. Vaughan, Adrian Alphona) - I'm actually a little embarassed to admit I still buy this, but the title these days inspires such lethargy I can't even muster the energy to get it off my pull list. "Treading water" would be a kind assessment, and crossovers and guest appearances of old characters always strikes me as, editor mandate or not, the sign of tired ideas.

Manhunter #15 (Various) - Filler issue, relating the sordid tale of how Kate Spencer assembled her Manhunter costume. I could not possibly care less. This title, originally so promising, is beginning to get mired down in characters and convoluted situations rather fast: its original leanness and rather refreshing sly savagery is getting dumped out the side, and that's too damn bad. Here's hoping for a turnaround... and it's always nice to see Sean Phillips art.

Birds of Prey #87 (Gail Simone, Ed Bennett) - DC titles are no less susceptible to Lame Publisher-Decreed Crossover Events, and said Events do have an annoying tendency to creep into titles that don't need the intrusion. It's odd, really, watching Simone step out from what she's known for into what is turning out to be a very conventional superhero team comic. Doubtless, she has strengths in the field: her team dynamics are solid, though I'd like a little less characterization-by-proxy. (Canary, please stop telling us about this or that trait possessed by Oracle or Huntress; let's just fucking see it in action already.) In a bit of a lull, but every issue is a uniformly strong showing.

The Walking Dead #22 (Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard) - Right. They're trapped in a prison, see, both of a physical and social making. We get it already. It's a cute metaphor, really, but this title was much more interesting when the characters were on the road. Societal Microcosm Breaking Down Under Zombie Siege is, shall we say, a little played out.

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