Blogging About Comics: Online Coverage of Our Favorite Medium
Online, there are almost no entry barriers to the reporting and punditry market. With the advent of free blogging software, practically anyone can set up a site to report on any subject. Granted, no one has to read what you write, but hopefully you've got something worthwhile to say, right?
In 2003, a mass of people decided they wanted to write about comics, and they choose to do it online. As it turns out, a lot of them are proving to be highly compelling reads. An interesting side-effect: many of them now read each other's words and respond to it with equally interesting writing. One might refer to this expanding collective of blogs and news sites as the Comics Blogosphere, a virtual habitat where comics are always the primary topic of the day.
Sites in the Comics Blogosphere range from "content aggregators" that provide long lists of links to interesting stories with little commentary to sites that post long commentaries on anything including (but far from limited to) John Bryne's run on Superman, the most recent direct market sales figures , or even wide-ranging discussion on the artistic legacy of The Watchmen comic book series. Sites in the Comics Blogosphere are also marked by exhibiting a kind of online "awareness" of other sites in the blogosphere, to varying degrees. Not only do many of these news and comics-focused blogs link to each other, but by posting in response to other sites' posts, a reader can eavesdrop on and potentially participate in some fascinating conversations on the medium of comics.
Blogs tend to present material that is unedited – or at best, less-edited than traditional journalism. Because of that, blogs also often present an unfiltered personal point of view that might not appear anywhere else. Bloggers in the Comics Blogosphere appear to have all kinds of reasons for why they publish their blogs, but for most of them there is a clear and unmistakable love of the comics medium.
"[M]y weblog focuses on – comics that strike me as created with passion by writers and artists who love their work and respect their audience and themselves," says blogger Alan David Doane. "When I write about a comic, I try to find what it says to me and express that to my readers as truthfully as possible. And I feel I owe it to myself and my readers to seek out as wide a variety of material as possible in order not to become stuck in a rut."
The Vital Center
Holding the Comics Blogosphere together are those sites that spend a lot of time posting links to other sites. These blogs filter through the vastness of the Internet to provide a short list to any worthwhile reading for the day. Up until its recent hiatus this month, the most popular blog in the Comics Blogosphere was likely Journalista!, which appeared on The Comics Journal website. The author of the Journalista! blog, Dirk Deppey, recently announced that he was suspending work on the blog because he had accepted a position as the managing editor of The Comics Journal itself. There are two things to note about this recent development that pertain to the Comics Blogosphere. One is that Deppey has never gotten paid by The Comics Journal to blog per se (prior to assuming managing editor duties, he was employed by TCJ's sister company Fantagraphics as the catalog editor), and two is that the former king of online comics blogging will now be the editor of the premiere American publication covering the comics medium.
Journalista! was a comprehensive "content aggregator", and Deppey confirms that he spent "roughly five hours a night combing through an increasingly long set of links to round up as much hard news, press coverage and commentary as [he could], then assemble and post it to the site." Already, at least one other blogger has taken a shot at filling Journalista!'s large shoes. Tim O'Neil 's The Hurting has managed to link to a huge range of topics this past week. However, the key question remains: will he be able to match Journalista!'s year long-plus run of consistency?
Other blogs that approach Journalista!'s level of influence probably include NeilAlien, a blog self-described as "A Doctor Strange Fansite, A Comic Book Weblog, A Mysterious Palindrome", and Egon, a blog edited by Bill Kartalopoulos. NeilAlien posts its fair share of links to interesting posts, but also posts its own reviews, and (of course) pictures of Doctor Strange. Egon is the site to visit to find out about upcoming events and exhibits. Kartapolous is also the editor of Indy Magazine, an online magazine focused on "alternative comics" which recently relaunched.
Other sites filling the vital center of the Comics Blogosphere include news sites such as Pulse, Newsarama and Comic Book Resources, as well as sites that mix news with commentary, like Sequential Tart or Ninth Art.
The Opinionated Edge
Beyond the vital center of the Comics Blogosphere are a growing number of sites providing opinionated commentary on all aspects of comics, from business to art, from people to theory. While it's impossible to list even a small fraction of these, some good, all-purpose blogs to start with could include Franklin's Findings (recent post: "Is Superman Boring?"), Doane's blog (recent post: "Five Questions with Jim Crocker, Comics Retailer"), Big Sunny D (recent post: "Keep It Snappy: Wanted #2"), Attention Deficit Disorderly Too Flat (recent post: "One of Those Days: Superheroes Are Too A Genre"), Flat Earth (recent post: "Crisis on Earth Français") and The Johnny Bacardi Show (recent post: "Comics Reviews").
While some of these blogs spread their attention across the wide gamut of the comics-related spectrum, most bloggers have a particular interest or expertise they focus on:
"Like many comics bloggers, I discuss the industry a great deal – the Direct Market vs. bookstores, the rise of manga, who's in and who's out at the various companies, and so forth," says Sean Collins.
"Usually, I blog about the comic-book industry itself, the business side of selling comics," Franklin Harris responds. "However, I also post a weekly list of my comics purchases, and I have, on occasion, written critiques of various mainstream, superhero comics."
"I feel any comics subject is fair game, though I think more about comics theory when I write," says Todd Murry of the group blog, Four Color Hell. Other subjects Murry has covered include, "a defense of Dave Sim", "Bit Torrent, the Napster dilemma, and downloading comics", and "First Act Problems - an increasing difficulty in comic movies (see the Hulk and Matrix Reloaded)."
For many blogs, there is also one post or series of posts that essentially established them as a Name in the Comics Blogosphere:
"[The post] that still generates the most traffic to my blog is a long discussion of Freudian sexual imagery in the 1980s Thundercats cartoon, which I discussed within the context of the recent comic book "Thundercats: The Return", says Harris.
"I suppose the most popular post I've written was this long and, how shall I put
this, heated examination of the Batman storyline 'HUSH'," says Collins. "I gave it the business in a fairly creative fashion, and people got a real kick out of it, because apparently it said a lot of things other people were thinking."
It can be really hard to nail down the exact edge of the Comics Blogosphere. Not only are there new blogs focused on comics starting up all of the time, there are countless other blogs that only dip their toes in the Comics Blogosphere waters every now and again. One such blog with an eclectic personality is Frank Smith's The Grand Hour, a blog that only touches on comics occasionally.
"The Grand Hour focuses on whatever is happening in the comics sphere that strikes my fancy," says Smith. "If anything, what I like to do is provide a mixture of comics, current events, music criticism, political ramblings and photos of the New York City landscape. Essentially, a map of my world. So I don't really focus on any one thing. My ultimate goal (if I have one) is to show that comics are as relevant as film or politics in one person's thoughts and life. Sometimes I also post pictures of my cats."
Smith achieved a moment of Internet "Fame" last year with one post in particular. "Probably the most linked post on my blog was a picture of a 12" Wolverine figure being hugged by an artists' dummy titled 'Sometimes Even Wolverine Feels Sad'. That was picked up by Journalista! and then spread all over the place. It's constantly linked from Livejournal people talking about whatever it is Livejournal people talk about. People think it's a really funny picture and I'm glad they think so."
Creators Count Too
The last section of the Comics Blogosphere map is populated with blogs from comics creators. These blogs may or may not touch on comics beyond the creator's own work, but they provide a direct connection to working comic creators not otherwise available.
Just to point out a few of the blogs maintained by creators, there are blogs by more "famous" creators such as Neil Gaiman, Harvey Pekar, Evan Dorkin, Scott McCloud, Tom Tomorrow and Warren Ellis, but there are also many blogs by lesser-known, but just as intriguing creators such as Jen Wang, Dylan Meconis, Ampersand, August Pollack and Christopher Baldwin, to name but a few.
There is a wealth of writing and sketches from some of the best working creators in comics today posted daily in the Comics Blogosphere. For anyone interested in the comics medium, the growing number of creator blogs is a positive development and provides even the most obscure creator with an opportunity to get his or her message to a larger audience.
What's On the Comics Blogosphere's Mind?
Looking ahead in 2004, what does the Comics Blogosphere think will be the big stories of 2004? Many bloggers are watching the evolution of the direct market business model for the comic book industry with interest.
"I think the most important issue right now is the transformation of the industry from a business based on the sale of floppy, monthly comics to more enduring and permanent hardcovers and paperbacks. Comics shops that are able to see over the horizon and serve both audiences during the transition and plan for the future will survive and thrive and be the future of the industry, while those that insist on having a copy of every Marvel title on the rack and refuse to stock Manga or expand their trade paperback selection will be left behind," thinks Doane.
"Then there's the industry, which is a whole other messy can of worms," adds Collins. "There's only one story here, as far as I'm concerned, which is the same story that's dominated the past two years: The huge and unexpected success of manga. An enormous new audience of comics readers has been created out of whole cloth, and the Direct Market and publishers ignore this at their own peril."
The growing dominance of manga also promises to dominate much of the Comics Blogosphere.
"Right now the biggest potential stories are the continuing growth of manga in the greater American retail world, and the continued fumbling of major American publishers to capture some of this growth," says Deppey.
"I know I'll be continuing the manga reviews, as well as doing occasional pieces looking back at Silver Age superheroes through their archival reprints," says Pop Culture Gadabout's Bill Sherman. "I'm happily anticipating the upcoming Peanuts reprint series and also see myself continuing to do reviews on individual genre works that strike my fancy."
Inevitably, discussion of individual creators will be a continuing topic.
"I really want to write about [John] Byrne because of the conflict between the part of me that loves most of his work (I own 4 longboxes and 1 magazine box of just Byrne material) and the part of me that wishes he would shut the hell up," says Murry.
Last but not least, Comixpedia's own focus on online comics doesn't seem likely to escape the larger Comics Blogosphere's attention.
"In terms of online comics, I'd say [the story is] the continuing efforts by webcartoonists to live off the fruits of their labor," says Deppey, "whether it be through micropayments, subscription sites like Modern Tales, or the sale of ancillary products like books and t-shirts. The fact that a number of cartoonists have succeeded at just this, like Chris Onstad, Scott Kurtz, and Gabe & Tycho, is by and of itself pretty revolutionary, especially for a medium which in its print incarnation has generally flourished through the heartless exploitation of creators. It's nice to see cartoonists upending that equation online, and I'm eager to see more examples of this occur."
It's a vast virtual world out there in the Comics Blogosphere where anyone can strike up a conversation about comics and find out everything there is to know about comics each and everyday. You'd better get started... there already isn't enough time in the day for you to read it all.