This is a process story. You’ll have to forgive me, but I like process stories… CNN specials about the electoral system, or episodes of West Wing that address non-issues and focus on how the political world works. The mechanics. I like stuff like that. I’m kinda geeky that way. The process here is that I’m pre-empting All the Rage this week to send you an open letter about Marvel Comics policies and procedures. Anyone who thinks this may be a snore fest is free to leave now. I won’t be offended.
Let me modify what I just said in the first paragraph. I like process stories so long as I’m not part of them. On the whole I try to keep quiet and let everyone else at SBC do their thing – making one big cacophonous assemblage of competing voices, opinions, attitudes and interpretations. I like that noise, and I just sit back and try to keep it flowing as best as possible. I don’t like to bitch and moan (except to my pals, of course), especially in public forums. So, given the following nostalgic anecdote, you may be a little surprised to see where this open letter leads.
The very first time we had any communication was back in 2000 when SBC had only been going a few months. You wrote me to address a review of Iron Man #26, an issue which you had written. Due to a technical hitch – a browser incompatibility problem to be more accurate – you couldn’t see who had written the review, and you were pretty furious about it. A critical and negative review that didn’t have a name attached to it?! You said something along the lines of the reviewer having “no balls.” I remember that bit well, because I made a joke of it, and I always remember when I think I’ve made a funny. I wish I still had that email, but I lost it in a hard drive crash some time ago. We still have the review archived though. I still agree it’s pretty harsh!
The upshot was that together we figured out what had happened (I sent a screen capture showing the reviewer?s name), we agreed that for the most part SBC had been giving positive reviews to your writing on Iron Man, and that we could all live with a hiccup now and again. Back in 2000, when this happened, SBC was much smaller, no more than a few thousand regular readers each day, and you were not yet Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics. Getting your email, it impressed me with how much you cared about what fans thought of your work and how important it was to you to keep in touch with them. I was thrilled that an honest-to-god Marvel Comics creator had written to me, even if it was to tear me a new one! Ahhh… those were the days.
Now, four years later, we’ve both got the eyes of tens of thousands looking at us on a daily basis. And most days I’m still pretty thrilled to be doing what I do, and I?m sure you feel the same. You get to play with bigger toys, though!
The point of this letter, however, isn?t to reminisce about our ?good old days,? but to address new comments you made about web journalists and their relationships with comic book publishers, fans and creators. Here?s the meat and potatoes: In an interview with Brandon Thomas for his latest Ambidexterous column you said, “Perhaps what’s… turning me off so much about the net these days, is that almost everyone has a rumor site, it’s yellow journalism all over the place. I’ve seen actual front page web news that was based on nothing but conjecture. What these reporters don’t see is how this affects the creative community in comics. We now have to be careful whom we talk to and what we say, and it’s crazy. Also a wedge has been driven through the community and sometimes into friendships because of this.”
I think it’s unfortunate that a top-level creator believes this to be the case, or is at least willing to make a public statement to this effect. I have lots of friends in this business now, and I would hate to hear that any of them were upset or alienated by something that appeared on SBC. More than that, I’d be a poor human being if that creator felt that writing to me and discussing an issue would do no good.
I don’t want SBC (or any other comics website) to be the National Enquirer. I don’t want to drive creators away from websites… trust me, if I did, I’d be shooting myself in the foot twice over. I like comics and I enjoy talking to the people who make them. To make a rough analogy, the comics press is similar to E! – we’re driven by public demands to show the shocking true story of Brian Michael Bendis from time to time. That brings us traffic, keeps our readers clicking on ads, and keeps the sites alive. The rest of the time we can do the laudable, clever, and worthwhile stuff. That part of the job makes us feel all warm and fuzzy. But columns like All the Rage and interviews with big name creators are what bring in the Nielsen numbers we need. Like it or not, this is a business just like Marvel Comics. It?s just on a much smaller scale.
Where your position towards rumor columns and fan websites as a whole becomes problematic is that Marvel Comics does not currently have anyone actively functioning in a public relations role. While that may not mean a lot to most fans, for folks like Markisan, me, and the rest of the SBC crew, it makes it all the more difficult getting accurate and timely information that would either verify or negate any information that we’d like to run on our site. We’re told repeatedly not to run anything unless we get corporate comment on it, or some sort of verification, but that’s pretty hard to do when there’s nobody to respond to our email.
Moreover, when we are seeking to contact creators directly, there is no single person we can go to for this data. Often we have to go to other creators and third parties whose time is better spent making comics than providing filo-fax services for journalists. We appreciate their help, but we?d rather they concentrate on making the comics we love. What we really need is Marvel Comics to play ball.
Lastly, though I don’t want to sound like a jilted lover, we can’t even get Marvel Comics to respond when we let you know what terrific coverage we’ve provided for your comics and creators. Another senior SBCer and I have been writing to the gentleman we believed was the interim marketing guy for Marvel. For the last few weeks we have been emailing him with a listing of all the Marvel Comics content produced at SBC in the preceding seven days. With a team of 30-plus volunteers, you can imagine that it is not an inconsiderable list. We do interviews, news, reviews, and all sorts of cool and exciting features. Some might even say we’re providing Marvel with free publicity, but we all know there’s a symbiotic relationship between fans and creators… we can’t do without you guys. I’d like to think we need each other.
I wrote to you to find out who was taking care of marketing for Marvel. You sent a quick and efficient reply, which I appreciated. No discussion of balls this time around, but it did the job! However, when I wrote to that Marvel Comics employee, I was ignored. No reply. Not a bounce. Not even a wet thump. I went to a journo pal of mine, working for another site, and was told to talk to a different guy entirely. It may have been naive, but I though if this other spiffy site could get a response out of the second Marvel Comics employee, then so could SBC. But again, as I said, for the last few weeks… No reply. Not a bounce. Not even a wet thump.
I know you have a tough job, and make decisions that affect people’s livelihoods and careers. I respect that. I respect that a great deal. I’m not sure I’d do well with that much pressure, expectation, and responsibility. But I have a tough job too. I run a website with dozens of volunteer staff who need motivation and encouragement. They may be fans, but they’re also people with outside jobs and family responsibilities that take time out of their busy days to help nurture the medium that we all love. They’re terrific people! All I need is for your people to talk to my people.
It’s saddening that you’ve let some negative experiences with the online press color your opinion of us. It’s great when you do interviews with Brandon and the other SBC staffers, as you’ve done over the last few years. Despite your stated disappointment in us, the corporate culture at Marvel Comics has made it tough for us to celebrate you and your colleagues’ creativity. Please address the concerns I have raised and keep us informed of your decisions and policies.
This may have been a process story, but what it comes down to is an acknowledgement that we need each other. I’m not angry, I’m hopeful. Let’s talk.
Next Week: Markisan returns.