Thursday, December 01, 2005

"Hurm," To Coin a Phrase -- Maybe this wasn't the best weeK to get back to work here. The spirit is most definitely willing, but I'll tell you, the holidays have slammed me at the radio station (putting together dozens of Christmas commercials every day, among other things), I have been working extra on my second job, and yesterday I got asked to do not one but two presentations on comics before a group of about 150 librarians from all over upstate New York. And like a lunatic, an honoured lunatic, I said yes.

So, I'll be popping in here when I can, but it might be quiet for a few days as I try to keep all these insane plates spinning in the air.

Also: Look for a review from me on the main site tomorrow -- a review readers of Warren Ellis's The Engine got a sneak peek at today.

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Monday, November 28, 2005

Does No One Care About Claypool? -- That seems to be the general scuttlebutt, as typified by Warren Ellis's comments:

"We've established the level at which no-one gives a shit about a comics company going under..."

Ellis himself admits that might be a bit harsh, and certainly I think most sane humans sympathize with the people who will be economically impacted if Claypool has to close up shop due to Diamond's policies.

That said, my only experience with their comics was a photocopied review copy of an issue of Elvira they sent me a few years back. Having no interest in the character at all (at all, I must stress), I did manage to read through it because it was inked by Terry Austin, and I am always interested in seeing his inkwork in just about any context.

The comic itself was awful, and the covers I've seen posted since Claypool issued their cry for help a few days ago make it look like the line is one of the ugliest in the history of the industry. Further, not one of their titles engages my curiousity as a comics reader -- a point driven home by Christopher Butcher's comments on the situation.

No, when Fantagraphics and Top Shelf asked for help, it was after years of high-profile, quality comics and graphic novels that are beautifully designed and visually attractive to new readers. Claypool, from all available evidence, has absolutely no marketing plan beyond making some pretty mediocre-looking comics that have failed to gain traction with even a bare minimum of readers.

So again, all my condolences to those affected by the likely end of this company -- but it's hard to see any compelling reason why they should continue if they aren't able to make a go of it using the strategies they've stumbled along with up until now, or even better, are willing to concede that those strategies have failed and try to find new ways to keep their company alive.


The Monday Briefing -- Hey, how you doing? Time to get back to work after the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend here in the U.S., and also the hiatus this blog has been on since National Scary Terror Day a few months back (see post just previous). So, what's been happening?

I've been spending a lot of time watching the discussion on Warren Ellis's The Engine, a moderated message board that combines ease of use with a strictly-enforced anti-bullshit policy. Ellis has run and/or been a part of enough self-destructing web communities to know how to maximize the benefits and minimize the flamewars, and so far the discussions have been good, whether it's creators rights, cover design, or the green bean recipe I grabbed from the food thread (man, were they good!). There hasn't been a landmark thread yet that announced THE ENGINE HAS WELL AND TRULY ARRIVED AS THE PLACE TO TALK ABOUT COMICS, but it has very quietly become, well, the place to talk about comics. There's no other alternative that doesn't allow sock puppets, flamewars and general dip-shittery, and as a bonus, quite a lot of my favourite comics people visit The Engine regularly, from Comics Journal Managing Editor Dirk Deppey to Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O'Malley. So if you haven't visited yet, you should stop in and give The Engine a look.

Speaking of The Comics Journal, I have a review in the new issue, #272. There's also a pair of interesting, in-depth chats with editorial cartoonists, a discussion with key Batman contributor Jerry Robinson that covers his previously (by me, anyway) unknown career as an editorial cartoonist (part one in #271 covered his Batman days and other comics stuff), a must-read essay on the state of comics news websites, and a whole lot more news, reviews and commentary.

The Michael Dean examination of comics news websites really brings me back to the earliest days of Comic Book Galaxy, when we tried, by default, to make a go of having a news section. Despite the fact that I have written and read news for broadcast outlets almost non-stop since 1985, the news section of The Galaxy has never come together. I see two big reasons for that -- #1 is time. Even when I was only working one job (I now have two, believe it or not), it was hard to devote the time needed to doing comics news in a manner that satisfied both my standards as a journalist and the needs of the audience, and certainly there was no financial incentive there to mitigate that important factor. Secondly, there simply isn't one whole hell of a lot of comics news on the average day, which goes back to what I said about journalistic standards. One reason most people readers think of as journalists who cover comics refuse quite vocally to call themselves journalists is that there is just too much need to fill out space and attract readers with rumours, opinion, press releases and commentary. Those four elements, in fact, make up probably 95 percent of what is passed off as comics "news" on the popular sites. And a lot of it is related to TV and movies, adding the further insult of genuine irrelevance to the mix.

Real comics news is not Creator A moving from Title Y to Title Z, or Character M causing a line-eide event that will change the (Company) Universe FOREVER!!! Real news in the comics industry is pretty goddamned rare, really. It's when a Golden Age creator sues for ownership of a character from a big corporate publisher. It's when publishers are screwing their creators out of their page rates and shafting their creditors while blaming creators for not being loyal team players. While the industry is full of perfidy and misery past and present, genuine news stories that effect the entire industry, the people within and without it and the product you're likely to buy as a reader, happen pretty infrequently. A company like Crossgen comes around, makes headlines and mostly bad comics and flares out spectacularly maybe once a decade (although Mike S. Miller is clearly trying mightily to make it a twofer with Alias). On a daily basis, the industry pretty much hums along, and the news sites therefore are forced to cover this small nation of comics by relying on press releases, feature articles and interviews, and (very much worst of all) message board postings associated with their stories that drain the stories themselves of any semblance of revelance, journalistic worth, or even entertainment value.

And it's not that they're not trying -- I worked directly with Matt Brady at Newsarama for a good stretch of time, and I can tell you he's a decent guy who tries hard to make his site relevant and entertaining. If I say that I personally have litle use for the site in general -- or its nearest competitor, The Pulse -- it's not at all to disparage the people running the sites. It's the flashing banner ads, overreliance on feel-good corporate comics features, and those damnable message boards that keep me away from these sites as a reader. I honestly shudder at the thought of what type of person makes those sites a daily part of his internet experience.

The closest thing to perfection in online comics news coverage in the history of the internet was Dirk Deppey's Journalista. Luckily the journalistic credibility and big-tent modus operandi of that late, lamented blog has been transplanted mostly intact to Deppey's stewardship of the only magazine about comics worth your attention, The Comics Journal. But for those of us who crave a daily online reading experience about comics, you can't do better right now than Tom Spurgeon's The Comics Reporter, a wide-ranging blog of news and commentary that is a must-read every day, even on weekends (a true rarity on the comics internet). Spurgeon's 2005 Holiday Guide is worth its weight in gold as both a set of guidelines for gift-buying this holiday season, and as a defacto Best Of column from one of the sharpest critical minds ever to engage itself in writing about the artform of comics.

The other Most Valuable Player in critical writing about comics right now is Christopher Butcher, and if I could have one wish this holiday season, it would be that he writes even more about comics in 2006 than he did in 2005. His insights into the industry are sharp and occasionally merciless, but they are also without peer. I recently referred to him as The Future of Comics Retailing, and I want to reiterate that point here. His blog and Spurgeon's are the two best ways I have to stay informed about what is going on in comics on a daily basis, and I treasure them both.

When it comes to reviewing comics, the only guy who approaches these two in both diversity of interests and quality of writing is Comic Book Galaxy's own Christopher Allen, and I continue to thank whatever Gods there be that he graces this site with Breakdowns on a weekly basis.

So, yeah, in just a few weeks, Comic Book Galaxy will have been active during seven distinct years, from 2000 to 2006, and that's pretty goddamned cool, I think. We'll be celebrating our sixth anniversary in September of 2006, and as the year ahead speeds rapidly toward us, I am thinking long and hard about what is good here, and what needs a little tweaking. I think this post, and the return of this blog, are the first of many changes to come. I hope you'll stick around to see what else develops.

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