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The Indisputable Matt Maxwell Presents:


“Who can cover this world?”

Go ahead and find the origin of that quote. I double dog dare you.

Let’s get back to the matter at hand from last week. Comics Journalism. Now let’s understand that there’s two schools of journalism in the first place. One, the covering of hard facts and observations of the situations that those facts lead us into. Of course, this is but a step away from the construction of Master Narratives for what is being observed, but I can hope that we’ll avoid the temptation to come up with the One Universal Theory of Everything That Explains It All, because those always fall woefully short (and reveal more about the human making the observation rather than any of the “facts” at hand.) In comics, this would be covering sales numbers, the realities of the actual construction of the comics we’re all reading, and who’s making said comics. This can also be fairly dry stuff unless you’re a wackjob like me who actually wants to know what’s going on in this business.

The second school would be the covering of various aesthetic aspects of the comics, criticism and commentary. I’d argue that this isn’t really journalism, though the two are often presented both cheek by jowl, so that they’re conflated into a single thing, when this isn’t the case. Not that this isn’t a worthy endeavor. And some folks do this really well (Joe Mac comes to mind for the meaty side of things, while Graeme and a whole host of others take things a bit more lightly – both have their place so far as I’m concerned.) However entertaining or provocative this might be, though, it’s not journalism since it’s not dealing with “fact.”

Oh, and let’s get one more thing out of the way. The whole idea of impartial journalism? Bunk. Hokum. Banana oil. Horsefeathers. Once you get an individual journalist involved, with all of their individual experiences and prejudices and predilections, you can talk about impartiality all you like, but it’s just not there. And please don’t insinuate that I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, because my father was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times for about fifteen years. He’d tell stories about City Editors who said such plainly idiotic things as “There is no such thing as organized crime; we don’t do organized crime stories,” when my father was personally receiving phoned threats from La Nuestra Familia members in stir upstate.

Impartiality is nonexistent. It can be tried for. Prejudices can be pushed aside and facts can be presented, but still, like photographers, reporters can crop elements out of the frame (consciously or unconsciously) just like editors can prune stories to make them more palatable or publishers can blatantly eighty-six column inches that could make them vulnerable (even if one-hundred percent ironclad true.) Again, this is a reality that must be apprehended and understood. Yeah, it makes for a little more work on a daily basis, but them’s the breaks.

Now, comics journalism and why there isn’t much comics journalism to be found.

1) It’s a small world. Sure, comics are an expanding market and getting more credibility and readership every day, yadda yadda yadda. But the fact remains that comics is a small world compared to say, movies. And there isn’t a lot of broad-base appeal in your average comics news story. Which leads us to the next item.

2) There’s just no money in it. Though the guys at Newsarama might argue the point now that they’ve been picked up by a larger aggregate. But, given the small base of people interested in comics news, there’s precious little way to monetize it and drive the sort of research that is the foundation of actual news stories. Those sorts of stories tend to get written by outsiders, like at real newspapers/magazines.

3) It’s a small world (2). Comics are a relatively insular little subculture. Yeah, we can pack a couple hundred thousand folks into SDCC every year, but the fact is that if you badmouth say, Ed Brubaker, it’s likely to get around to him in about twenty milliseconds and then you’ve made a friend for life. Not that I would badmouth Ed, he’s a hell of a writer and gave me my first interview back in the day. I mean, it’s great that you can generally get a chance to talk to the folks who make the comics you love to read, but that also sometimes chills the room, because…

4) Does everyone want to make comics or just me? Seems like a lot of journalists out there want to make comics at the professional level. I know I do. Granted, I started working on STRANGEWAYS long before I knew what a weblog was or when I started writing a column. But I’ll also admit that one of the reasons I took up writing FULL BLEED in the first place was to help get my name out there. However, this means I watch what I say when I’m on the record. And I probably wouldn’t say anything on these pages that I wouldn’t say to Dan DiDio’s face if I was cornered, and drunk, and had nothing to lose. However, in the real world, this would be like the Press Pool all secretly wanting to be President. It doesn’t make for incisive journalism. And the hope of being a paid comics journalist goes right back to item 2) above. There’s not the resources to feed an army of reporters all digging up the truth.

5) Fact is, there’s not that much news for the layman. What passes for entertainment news in the movies? You know what I’m getting to: THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER, et al. That’s not news. Lindsay Lohan in rehab isn’t news. Britney melting down isn’t news. It gets eyeballs and moves hands to tabloid racks in the supermarkets, but it’s not news. Press releases don’t really count, neither. Yes, there’s legitimate news in some of them, but there’s a lot of dross that folks think will get posted just because THEY TYPE A TITLE LINE IN ALL CAPS AND END IT WITH FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE. You want real Hollywood news? Read VARIETY. You want the real, real news? Hang out with producers and buy them drinks. Man, the stuff I’ve heard that’ll never get printed. Granted, a lot of that stuff should never be printed because it’s mostly about indiscretions that have nothing to do with the work.

6) But that’s what audiences go for! Welp, yeah. ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT probably gets more readers than THE ECONOMIST, but that doesn’t make the former more critical than the latter. But this is a tightrope that every journalistic organization has to walk. What’s more important, Mary Marvel’s new costume or the urgent need for publishers to find a middle ground between the requirements of pamphlet production versus book production? Now, which of those is going to get more clicks on the front page?

Can these structural limitations be overcome? Sure. But someone would have to pony up a wad of cash to get it started. And then figure out how to keep it off the ground. And keep it self-sustained. And figure out how to ride out the cold shoulder from the biggest two publishers in the game. Does this mean that you can’t get real news from folks like Tom Spurgeon or Heidi MacDonald or Dirk Deppey or a host of others? Sure you can, but you’re going to have to dig around a bit and understand where they’re all coming from. You’ll have to construct a mosaic, and even then, you’re the one doing the constructing and you’ll end up building something that reflects your own loves and hates and concerns.

Matt Maxwell

Check out the trailer for Matt's STRANGEWAYS: MURDER MOON!:

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