The Panel gathers movers and shakers from across the industry together to answer your questions!
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Most of the Panellists should be known to you but if not, don’t panic I’ve got a few details on them at the end of the column.
This week’s question is inspired by the reply a top comic book pro gave when he/she was asked to join the Panel. The question is:
” The Internet has brought an incredible amount of interaction between fans, comic book companies, creators and retailers. How do you feel this has helped or hindered the industry? And do you feel comic book pros are too participatory on websites, or do you think such participation helps the industry?”
Craig Lemon: “The Internet…friend or foe? Both… Message boards tend to be populated by morons. People who hide behind pseudonyms for the most part, to shout out their ill-informed abuse just because they can. People who think they have a right to decide the future of a book because they can shout the loudest. People who think what they say has any importance at all. Message boards stink. Websites. Useful. Informative where Previews is just hype. Interior pages are there for the checking, there’s unprecedented access to information to help you decide what to spend your hard-earned cash on. Comics are expensive, you need the information to make a wise choice. Reviews. Useful. Why, oh why, do people mistake reviews on the Internet for criticism? If you want informed criticism then buy The Comics Journal, for goodness sake. Reviews are opinions… no more, no less. Find a reviewer who talks sense, whose tastes match yours, and then you’ve found someone who’s recommendations you can rely on for picking up goodies you may have missed.
No-one can make an informed decision about what to buy from Previews – it’s all hype. Similarly everything Marvel and DC put out is designed to hype their books.
Editorially independent websites give you the information and opinions you need to sift through to find the gems. As a resource for retailers – excellent. Maybe less than 50% of comic readers are online, but 90% of retailers are, and these are the guys that order the books, that control the sales of the industry. Influence them via a well-written review or column, and you influence the market. Creators online – nestbeds of sycophants, for the most part. Fan websites devoted to characters/books – generally blinded to the faults of a book by devotion to it, but interesting historically. Runs the risk of being so tied up with continuity that their opinion on books is far too skewed. But, unparalleled for facts.”
Gary Spencer Millidge: “Like most things, it’s a double-edged sword. The Internet as a reference tool has been a tremendous benefit to small and independent publishers – setting up websites and distributing information via e-mail is incredibly cost-efficient. Remember that the Internet community has already more or less saved companies like Top Shelf and Fantagraphics from going to the wall. The technical ability to send and receive data files for the printing of entire comics and books over the Internet has also been a real boon. Cartoonists who can’t afford to finance a printed work, or can’t find a willing publisher can now display their comics on the web (although I doubt whether anyone would be able to make a living from this method of self-publishing alone). The incredibly fast way in which information is disseminated can cause an overload of hype – and the combination of e-bay and “slabbed” comics has caused back-issues to skyrocket.
On the other hand, it’s now possible to find just about anything you’ve ever wanted on the ‘net. Message boards do appear to be a massive distraction for some comic creators – there’s always a curiosity to know what readers think of your latest work, and it’s hard to resist responding to some online criticism. You can waste a lot of time responding to e-mail requests – it’s made creators much more accessible compared to yesteryear. And perhaps that’s made us less mysterious. Certainly, computer technology, and to a lesser extent, the Internet has been invaluable to an independent/self-publisher. It can be hugely distracting and frustrating, but I would be reluctant to wish it all away and turn the clock back 10 years”.
Mark Chapman: “Quite frankly, the Internet has been one of the best things to happen to the comics industry. In the pre-internet dark ages, if you happened to live in a small village out in the sticks, then chances are you’d be pursuing your interest in comics in a solitary way. These days, however, the same solitary comics fan can go online and yak with likeminded people in the US, Australia, Hong Kong, wherever, and build a sense of community. And yeah, okay, some of these sites can be elitist, or bitchy, and quite a few ain’t exactly easy on the eye, but the fact that they’re there at all is the important thing, and each one is a demonstration of someone’s mad love for the medium, whether they be fans, publishers, creators, or whatever.
From a comic publicist’s point of view, the net is absolutely invaluable. This is especially true in the UK, where comics’ coverage in the traditional media is sparse at best (with a few hard-working exceptions such as CI, Dreamwatch, SFX, Metal Hammer and some enlightened writers in the mainstream media). For me, obtaining news coverage, reviews, and so on for new 2000 AD material on sites such as SBC, Pulse and Newsarama is easily as important as getting the same coverage in print, because I know the information will reach easily as many potential punters that way. That’s not even to mention official websites and the many dedicated fan sites that most publishers have, which are a very cheap and effective way of letting readers know what is going on.
And are comics’ pros too participatory? Hell no! One of the truly great things about the comics industry is that the creators and other industry professionals don’t hold themselves above the fans, and are very accessible. If you go to any comics convention you will see creators mingling with fans in the bar, and there is really no difference between that and creators turning up on publishers’ message boards or hosting their own forums. The industry would be a much poorer place without this participation.”
Axel Alonso: “The net can be hilarious but bottom line: It is not an accurate reflection of the comic-reading public. It’s a small slice of the pie: those individuals who choose to spend their free time on the net discussing comics. To take your cues from internet chat boards is career suicide. There are people tapping away into the wee hours of the morning about how much they hate the Bruce Jones HULK, or RAWHIDE KID, and it’s had no adverse effect on sales or the decisions I make about those titles. The first thing I tell someone who’s about to debut: If you’re going to be upset about people riffing on your work, don’t pay attention to the ‘net — find a few people you can trust, whose tastes and instincts you respect, and who’ll tell it to you straight, and you’ll do just fine.”
Fiona Avery: “Statistically speaking, a few research sources agree that only fifty percent of people in the U.S. and less than that in other countries are online. So no matter what one decides about the effectiveness of the Internet, it’s still only reaching half the people it could be. I don’t read online reviews, although I am often forwarded excellent, well-written reviews in email and for those I make exceptions. I find too many reviews online that are written by people who cannot spell or use proper grammar. I have to wonder how many people put stock in a review that, for example, uses “their” for “there” and cannot properly punctuate. Those are just the fundamentals, but going one step further, when you sit down and really analyse some of these online reviews, their authors have no training in how to present subject matter. Still it’s hard to get too angry about it since even the top critics in the country today no longer get formal training in the art of criticism.
Once upon a time, critics learned how to produce an article that wouldn’t get personal, would stick to the work in question, but still pointed out both its strengths and flaws in a beneficial way. Critics have slowly mutated from Elders in the field (usually spotting new talent) to mostly blocked artists bitching about doing something better from the sidelines instead of doing it themselves.
On the plus side, I cannot say enough for the internet’s ability to draw fans together through search engines, chat rooms, blogs and web-rings. Fan pages, shrines, and interactive groups all begin and develop in a good atmosphere as long as there is a strong moderator allowing full voice among the members and weeding out the usual anarchists.
My first experiences online were in hunting out fan groups for my favorite books, TV shows and artists. These group hubs are invaluable in spreading the word about a product. The Internet shops have also been invaluable to me. Online shopping for comics I can’t find locally (although in LA that’s rare) is possible now. I can direct fans that can’t find my comics in rural areas to online sites like www.comicsunlimited.com and other resources that sell comics. That’s been very helpful for the product in question and readers who can’t find it. I would be lost without such sites.”
Bill Rosemann: “On one hand, it’s amazing to see so much informative interaction between those who make, sell and read comic books.
On the other hand, I miss the days when all I knew about an upcoming issue was what was printed in the “Next Issue” box.”
Vince Moore: “This is probably one of those six of one, half dozen of the other situations. It all depends on how you look at it. Fans have pretty much had a high level of interaction with creators, retailers, and companies since the 60s. The Internet has simply joined the local comics shop and the convention as means by which the interaction can take place. If anything, the Internet has superseded the letters pages in terms of direct vocal interaction, and that’s all.
But it can hinder the comic’s biz as well in what’s termed the comics blogosphere, the debate about manga rages on, without providing real answers, only opinions, for example. No company or creator can make an announcement without the nay Sayers and negativists showing up to add in their sour two cents. New books can get negative reviews, even though they aren’t published yet. Those things aren’t good for comics at all. As for creators participating too much or not, again that depends. The Internet is a great tool for creators of any stripe to build audience. As long as no creator feels that his or her way is the only way for comics to be, I’ve no beef. Of course that doesn’t prevent any fans for taking a creator’s word as gospel. But, hey, what can you do? Fan is short for fanatic, after all.”
Devin Grayson: “I think a little bit of communication and contact can be a good thing, and I can’t even imagine life without the Internet anymore (what a fantastic research tool, among other things!), but I do think our industry has gone a little overboard with access. I mentioned once in a similar interview question that there was one pro in particular who I thought was a remarkably talented writer, but who was habitually late on scripts, keeping artists and other projects waiting, while never missing a day on the message boards. The next morning I had emails from five professionals who all assumed I was talking about them! I didn’t even know half of them were on message boards, but I’m glad that they were at least aware of the amount of energy they put into them.
There’s no question that the Internet can be great for creating “buzz,” and that a certain amount of buzz-creating is necessary, but like anything else, in excess it’s just sad. The initial idea, I thought, was for fans of comics to be able to chat with each other, but more and more you’ll see either a group of people bashing an absent pro, or a group of people fawning over a present pro — both of which are useless activities for everyone involved.
That said there are some phenomenal fan websites out there, which I think the main publishing companies could do more to encourage. DC, for example, has no character database beyond “Secret Files,” or hundred-year-old Who’s Who — do a quick Internet search, though, and you’ll find a handful of fan-maintained websites, a few of which are incredibly well done and informative. I understand why DC feels it can’t hire someone to do that for them officially (sort of) but I don’t understand why they don’t run contests or something to recognize some of the better websites — prizes could be a year of comps, for example, which would help everybody. I’m not talking about reviews, I’m talking about dedicated chronicling of character facts, appearances, major arcs and interactions. That’s a GREAT use of the Internet, and something I’d love to see become.”
Alan Grant: “The jury’s still out on this one. The Internet has done much to demystify the comics business, amongst other things forcing the publishers to be more receptive to their readers. However, there’s a danger of the tail wagging the dog: not so many years ago, it sometimes seemed like DC’s Batman policy was driven by the demands of 40 or 50 dedicated fans who hung out in the chat rooms. But the Internet has at the same time provided opportunities for further mystification, helping promote freelance as celebrity, and publisher as “reader’s friend”. Like everybody else, I tend to forget about reality when I immerse myself in a favourite comic or book; I sometimes feel that the Net has allowed unreality to seep out of the comics into the real world. I don’t frequent many websites, so I don’t know if pros are too participatory. I’m sure it helps the industry, in that it helps sell more comics.”
Alonzo Washington: “The Internet has helped the comic book industry for sure! Anything that puts out alternative images of comic books is good. Independent publishers & creators started putting comic books on the web and the mainstream followed the trend. As a creator my website helps me all the time. I move products that way. I get immediate feed back from fans. I receive countless request to make appearances. In fact I got on the PANEL because of my site. That’s how they contacted me anyway. Anything that is produced beyond the big two (DC & Marvel) is a plus for the comic book industry. Furthermore, even the mainstream companies have benefited from the web. The Internet sells ideas and images. It is the new TV. Everyone, who is a real player has a web page or website. Think about all the comic book related websites (SBC, Comics2Film, BlackSuperhero etc. They have become every day stops for some comic book fans. The fact that they all promote some aspect of the comic book industry is only a plus. Everyone in the business has prospered from the Internet.”
Dawn Donald: I think the internet and the world wide web are some of the best things that have happened to the industry in the last few years. They have helped to reach a more diverse audience. Smaller publishers have been able to publicize their wares to a larger audience and little John from Lower Village in Little Nowhereshire can get hold of any comics he wants.
When I was a lass so many years ago if I wanted a comic I used to have to scour the second-hand shops and markets, and it was very rare that I ever found out the outcome of a story – now, no-one should have that problem. The message boards are good fun too, though you have to watch out for some of the bitchiness and backbiting that can go on. It’s good for the creators to be able to interact with the fans and gauge their reactions to their work. There are, of course, downsides to it as there is with everything, like fans who bad-mouth a creators work just because they can and do some creators spend too long on the message boards and not get their work out on time?”
Summary: It looks like The Panel is divided on this week’s question with some thinking it is the best thing since sliced bread, and a few are a little more wary about the ‘net. But this has provoked an interesting response and I must admit to being a bit surprised at some people’s replies. What do you think out there in cyberland?
This Week’s Panel: Mark Chapman is the man who makes sure you know all about those excellent Rebellion comic books. Axel Alonso is one of Marvel’s top editors. Bill Rosemann, publicity guru at CrossGen. Alonzo Washington is the creator of Omega Man and black campaigner. Fiona Avery who plays in the Marvel Universe, and with Wildstorm at DC and is also the creator of No Honor. Gary Spencer Millidge has been self-publishing his acclaimed Strangehaven series for eight years. Alan Grant has had his hands in many pies including Batman and Judge Anderson. Vince Moore’s work for Platinum Studios can be checked out via the link on his name above. Craig Lemon is our lovely editor and is trying for a football team… and Devin Grayson is currently scribing Nightwing and has just had a prestige format Batman book called Switch released.
Next Week’s Question: “Can superheroes really help at times of great need e.g. superheroes in print during WW2, the Vietnam war and more recently 9/11?”