Robot 6

Quote of the day | Bendis on comics journalism, again

Brian Michael Bendis

and quite a few writers complained to me today that they would write better but they aren’t getting paid to do it.

having lived the first 10 years of my career making no money and having lived with artists and writers who have done the same… I don’t care about that.

you either work really hard and really try to make something worthwhile or you don’t. money has nothing to do with it. if you find a way to make money doing it fantastic. that I lived for many years under the impression that I was never ever ever going to make a dime. and so did a great many of my peers. money and the quality of your work should have nothing to do with each other. it just an excuse to fail.

Brian Michael Bendis on his message board today (echoing comments he made on Twitter earlier on), elaborating on his call yesterday for more in-depth comics criticism and journalism.

This isn’t quite what he’s talking about, but I did want to say a few words about this aspect of Bendis’s critique specifically. True, many artists in every art form toil primarily for love of the game, out of an innate need to create rather than out of hope for monetary reward. But journalism about and criticism of comics of the sort Bendis is calling for makes making comics, never the world’s most lucrative profession for the vast majority of people who participate in it, look like the California Gold Rush of 1848 by comparison. In a way, it stands to reason: Given the comparatively small number of paying gigs in comics, and the comparatively small audience for the product of those gigs, the number of paying gigs for comics criticism and journalism of any kind — including copy-and-paste and pseudo-hip snark, let alone in-depth investigative reporting and pages-long close reading of creators’ work — is going to be vanishingly low.

Certainly this work, at least the opinion-based criticism apart of it, can be done for free. I do the vast majority of my writing-about-comics for free on my personal blog, for example, and the majority of that is indeed criticism rather than just linkblogging. (And I’m proud of what I do there, and here for that matter; for whatever it’s worth, this post doesn’t stem from any perceived need to defend myself or Robot 6.) Indeed, because I’m doing it for free and don’t expect or require advertising revenue, I’m free to go negative when warranted. However, as many commenters have pointed out, the bigger news outlets are not as lucky — they have complex, intimate relationships with the companies they cover, who provide them with a combination of advertising revenue and access that can be next to impossible to do without. And yes, big-name companies and creators absolutely retaliate against perceived negative reviews or commentary by those sites. Not all of them, and not all the time, but they do. That’s something they think about.

And that’s a big reason why, contrary to what Bendis is arguing, money is much more important to the journalism equation. If you’re going to dig into the industry, you’re going to require financial stability as a buffer against potential repercussions for what you dig up; if you’re going to critique it, you need to be able to stand by that critique when the people you’re critiquing are demanding you be punished for it. And on an even more basic level, true investigative journalism requires time and resources that you can’t generate simply because you really love writing about comics. The reason why the Huffington Post is now duking it out with the venerable New York Times for news supremacy isn’t because Ariana Huffington assembled a crack squad of volunteers, it’s because she’s rich and she threw a ton of money at it, to the point where she’s now wooing columnists and reporters away from Newsweek and such. (The bikini candids help too, admittedly.) For that matter, that’s the same reason why the Times can do the job it does: It pays talented people well, so they can afford to use those talents at length. Even in my case, last year I wrote an oral history of Marvel Comics for Maxim magazine that involved a 15,000-word first draft and interviews with everyone from Joe Simon and Stan Lee to Joe Quesada and Grant Morrison. The reason I could do that was because I could afford to since I was being well paid — the months I spent working on that, the hours I spent on the phone with sources or doing transcripts or editing, was not at the expense of other, paying work I’d need to do to stay afloat.

It’s a very tough row to hoe. In the end, good work requires investment. And in general, this isn’t an investment this industry — its practitioners and its observers alike — seem willing or able to make, many exceptions, and Bendis’s wishes, notwithstanding.

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As someone who has done actual investigative journalism as a reporter for a community paper, I totally agree. Real journalism is hard. It demands not just time but energy of a type that is not always easy to summon up. Picking up the phone to call the mother of a teenager who had died of a heroin overdose is one of the hardest things I ever did. Even calling an alderman who had been caught breaking into a car was tough, not to mention getting the story (complete with anonymous sources) vetted by the lawyers at the newspaper—and living with the fallout after it ran.

Real journalism isn’t a hobby, it’s a profession. My salary at the newspaper was pretty small potatoes, but the fact that I was being paid to do it at all lent me a certain credibility with sources, and it also meant that I was invested in my own career. As a blogger, it’s easy not to pick up the phone—no editor is hovering over me, no deadlines are on the line. Following the paper trail, developing trusted sources, asking difficult questions, getting yelled at and threatened, these things are work, not play. Anyone doing them should be paid, and anyone who is not being paid should not be expected to do them.

As anyone who’s ever worked for The Comics Journal will tell you, practicing real journalism will get you blackballed in no time. Specifically: It will get you blackballed by Brian Michael Bendis’ employer in no time.

Amen, Dirk.

Bendis should just STFU and be happy Marvel’s letting him destroy their universe with his worthless characterization, eye-rolling dialog, and kindergarten “ground-breaking” ideas.

How far his craft has fallen since his “Daredevil” days. Yet his smarmy ego continues to rise.

Apparently Bendis is channeling Horatio Alger, now?

(Or else Alan Moore in a self-parodying mood, i.e. “we was so poor rickets was a luxury,” etc.)

I have no delusions that what I engage in is, by any stretch of the imagination, journalism. I read and review comics. That’s it. It isn’t my job. If it was, I wouldn’t be able to afford even the basic url hosting fees associated with having a site. I’m now coming up on the end of year two of comic reviewing (and previewing and creator interviewing). I have yet to get any money.

But I don’t care.

I do it for a love of the medium. I do it because I can.

But, I have to agree that I do not do it as well as I could. Why? Because I have a paying job. If I have to choose between the job that pays and the job that does not the one the puts a roof over my head wins out every time. So comics get read at night. Reviews get written while my daughter is at Taekwondo practice. Podcasts get squeezed in on weekends.

And I love every minute of it.

I sometimes worry that, one day, I will get a paycheck for this. All of a sudden it will go from being a passion to being a job. And then what? I know that money isn’t nearly as great a motivator as desire. But boy, review copies of books, or comped admission to shows to meet with creators for interviews sure go a long way to soften the financial strains.

having lived the first 10 years of my career making no money and having lived with artists and writers who have done the same… I don’t care about that.

you either work really hard and really try to make something worthwhile or you don’t. money has nothing to do with it. if you find a way to make money doing it fantastic. that I lived for many years under the impression that I was never ever ever going to make a dime. and so did a great many of my peers. money and the quality of your work should have nothing to do with each other. it just an excuse to fail.

And that’s why I’m sure Brian Michael Bendis will soon announce he’s quitting all of his comic book writing soon to devote himself to the field of investigative comics journalism. He’s a good writer, he knows comics really well and he’s got great contacts in the comics industry…he would make a great comics journalist!

Sean, this was well-said. I don’t think Bendis is wrong, exactly–he makes some good points, just with a big brush. But I definitely think you’re right–your point about non-paying work supplanting paying work in terms of time and resources is a good one, and I think can apply to most of the comics industry. Which, let’s face it, is filled with people doing their thing for financially less-than-sound reasons.

I definitely don’t want to come across like I’m disagreeing with everything BMB’s saying, Dharbin. I can’t stand copypasta-plus-one-line-of-comment stuff or too-cool-for-school snark any more than he can.

I also wanna make clear that I agree with him that making art DOES require doing it for love not money. I will in fact be losing a lot of money in the coming year over the art I’ll be making. But writing comics for free or less-than-free is one thing; getting access to Joe Simon’s apartment to interview him for two hours is something else entirely.

And ANOTHER thing I wanna make clear–which I would have added to the post had I not been on the train while it went up, in fact–is that I do think there is plenty of excellent journalism and criticism being done about comics today. Re: criticism, Comics Comics alone has Dan Nadel, Tim Hodler, Jeet Heer, Joe McCulloch, and Frank Santoro. As for journalism, in the past 24 hours alone, Alex Dueben posted a great Al Williamson retrospective for CBR, and Tom Spurgeon absolutely killed it on the DC story in a massive piece that combined analysis, commentary, history, interviews, and original sourced reporting. But Alex got paid, and Tom makes money from his site and doesn’t care who he pisses off.

hell, do I want to respond to this… okay, okay, yeah, let’s respond:

I’ve made significantly less than $100 (I would guess mid-2-figures) after however many years of writing about comics online (about 5 in some kind of “official capacity,” I think…?). I never asked for a cent of whatever amount I did make; those were all tendered to me, without me personally ever having gone hat-in-hand and asking. That amount was basically tips; gifts.

Also: in that time, I’ve released somewhere around 300 pages of comics completely for free online, plus however many pages of bonus features, and I have plans for hopefully many more pages next year or maybe the year after, depending upon my schedule.

I’ve turned down paying non-fiction work on at least 2-to-3 occasions. In one case, I didn’t want to be associated with the people running the project; other times, it’s been for forums where I didn’t think I could add value or I didn’t think I fit their core mission/tone. I have the great fortune that there is a blog that is willing to accept my occasional bit of work, and that’s enough for me– beyond that, I’m entirely happy just being a random guy in a comment section…

There are certain things I probably don’t get to write. I can’t do interviews because people who I get to agree and who I send questions to blow me off. That’s happened about 3-4 times now, and I’m probably going to stop even trying. And I’ve never written a tweet, in so far as I have a shred of human dignity. Besides that, I’ve gotten to write essays, reviews, capsules, multi-part pieces, historical pieces, performance-y pieces, etc. I’ve gotten to go wherever whim has taken me, and I’ve tried to do as good a job as I can, regardless of who it’s pissed off or how much I liked certain people on a personal level. And I’ve only written when I feel like I’d have a good time doing so, and people reading me would have a good time– I’ve gotten to choose quality over quantity, though granted… usually whiffing on the quality part, but… You know: am I any good at any of it? You know, maybe not, oh well, so sad, not for me to say, but it’s at least been fun at least, mostly, give or take one or two times…

In all that time, I have never once asked how many “hits” anything I’ve ever written has generated, or had that factor into my motivation at all (though I’ve on one or two occasions felt, maybe unfairly, like I’ve had the meaning of things I’ve written twisted to generate hits for others, but oh well). I have never in any way been motivated by any financial concern, or adjusted what I was doing based upon any financial consideration. And let me emphasize the following: *I’m not alone, or special.* The internet is AWASH with people better than me, more productive than me, more generous than me, and I’m constantly humbled by their contributions to my happiness. (That Matt Seneca-Jog team-up the other day…? D-U-D-E!)

But I am enormously fortunate to have the luxury to operate in the way that I operate, thanks to having a day job in a horrifying economy, thanks to having a lot of free time, thanks to typing quickly, thanks to having emotional issues that make me want to sit around complain about comics incessantly, thanks to having enough self-knowledge as to what’s a good fit for me, etc. And I am never not grateful about some/most of those facts either. Other people don’t have the luxuries I do, and they have to curtail their ambitions as a result and have to tailor their work to a marketplace that would in no way reward writing the way I do. And it sucks, but that is the world and that is comics. That is something I have no choice but to accept.

Just the same as when I’m asked to accept the fact that people go to work for mainstream comics and stop making comics that are any damn good at all because they want money, instead– I grit my teeth, and I’m forced to accept that fact, too, however much that sucks. And that’s most of the people working at Marvel today, whose non-mainstream output became pitiful as soon as that Marvel money rolled in. If I’m supposed to care one bit how hard it supposedly is to make Casanova, or how difficult it is to supposedly make Phonogram (both of which have been topics discussed in rather lengthy interviews at Comics Alliance), or whatever excuse Bendis has for not putting out more creator-owned in the time he’s been at Marvel… then why that road can’t go the other way, well shit, I just can not even begin to guess.

Do I care about any of those things incidentally? Do I care how VERY HARD it is to draw on paper and staple the paper together? I don’t. Sorry, I don’t. If I have to read some Iron Man comic with those boring photo-drawings, and the horizontal panels, and the creepy skin (how creepy is the skin in that book!), instead of Casanova– I could give a crap what real-life reasons there are for that. And I feel a guilt that’s how my mind works, but I want what I want. I want Comics to be what I want it to be, instead of what it actually is.

And so I very much understand where Bendis is coming from here, however misguided, as it’s the same thing I’ve felt for the last 10 years, every time I’ve had to see one of his Avengers comics and go “Why is he trying to be Michael Bay instead of writing anything I would ever conceivably want to ever read? Also: why can’t I track Loki’s character motivation, at all?? Did I miss an issue? And why did Green Goblin get beat by the good guys using a remote control on him? Why didn’t they use that remote control to a year ago so I wouldn’t have had to read any of this crap? I went to college! I WENT TO COLLEGE!” And so in a way that I’m not sure I should be especially proud of, this is the most I’ve related to anything he’s written in many years…

But I have a lot of questions for comic creators, who’ve invested their entire lives into this art-form, and then not write a lick of non-fiction, not write a lick of anything they don’t get paid for. I’ve written more non-fiction, by HUNDREDS of pages, than people who’ve invested their LIVES into this game…? And all they can do is complain that I’m SNARKY– and I’m supposed to take that seriously…? No. NO. Comic creators who have outsourced the APPRECIATION of the medium onto its fans, and then dare question that those fans aren’t doing it to their satisfaction…? What the what…??? Martin Scorcese didn’t leave the job of film appreciation up to the people who bought tickets to Bringing Out the Dead… And at a really historic high-point for comics, that so few comic creators are interested in celebrating that– for me, it makes it seem like their investment in this medium is no deeper than what they can plunder from it, and… I find that sad. I really, truly want there to be a Comics with a capital c to be a fan of more than being a fan of a handful of unaffiliated artists working in a vacuum, and so I consider the disinterest that comic creators exhibit in the rest of the medium and the lack of leadership that inherently shows to be something that prevents that from happening.

And I don’t say any of this as a personal attack on Bendis, who is someone who I personally think of as having effected my life for the better, for a variety of reasons that are personal to me and not for me to sit here and write in a comment section, or anywhere else frankly. I will read that guy’s work for years and years to come– not ALL of it because I don’t really understand why there needs to be 13 Avengers comics– but I look forward to wallowing in my filth joyously complaining about and nit-picking his work to death for a long, long time to come. And we are both the damned, in that relationship, but so be it! SO BE IT!

But that being said … I think what he’s saying would carry a little more authority it if he embraced his position in comics to do more than write crossovers or write little shout-outs to Joss Whedon into his books. He’s teaching a class? Put the class into a podcast online– share whatever he wants to teach to more than a roomful of dirty Portland hippies! He has opinions about how great mainstream comics are…? Write more than a f***ing tweet about them! Think people don’t appreciate comic history enough? Warren Ellis wrote that great set of essays, Do Anything– really terrific piece of work– Avatar sold it in pamphlet format– what’s stopping anyone else? The Comics Comics guys put out all sorts of great critical newspaper-y things– what’s stopping anyone else in comics?? Think there’s something people don’t appreciate about the job? People might even respond to his interview questions– they don’t respond to mine, but he carries a little more weight than I do, or so I’d hope! Think he can do a better job than I do? I would f****** hope so!!! Trust me– it wouldn’t be hard. I work around my day job– why can’t he? Too busy making comics…? I’ve juggled making comics, a day job, and writing stuff, and so I’m sorry, but I think I’m the last person you can say that it’s not doable to…

If he wants to be a leader, as all these tweets would suggest… Great! Please! The world will always want for leaders. That might be the secret origin of every nasty comment on this and every other comment section that ever was. Otherwise, I’m a little confused how what he’s engaged in here is any better than what he’s complaining about…

Is it a chicken and egg argument? Pay better and get a better product… or craft a better product and people will pay for it? Obviously Bendis leans toward the latter. And I think the history of most grass-roots entertainment in the internet age leans toward the latter. Furthermore, if you’re looking for something positive in what Bendis is saying, at least he’s waving the flag to let you know he’ll be a paying customer for good stuff.

Can an audience for comics criticism be created?

It’s a fair point that he makes regarding Amazing Heroes (in the previous quote)… 30ish years ago, you got far more quality articles and interviews in a month’s worth of fanzines (Comics Journal, Amazing Heroes, CBG, Comics Interview, Ark, &c.–so much in those old mags really holds up well) than you do in a month’s worth of today’s internet. And today you have far more voices and incredible advances in communication technology.

I wish I had a fabulous reason for not doing better journalism on a regular basis, but really I’ve just failed to do so. I don’t give a shit about being blackballed and while I could always use more money from my work on CR — and more money would enable me to spend more time on the site — I probably make enough money to carve out the time to write an article a week, which would be one more article than I write right now. My one big goal this year at CR was to start writing a proactive sourced journalism article that would go up on Fridays, and we’re almost nine months in and I’m not exactly close to getting this done. I could and should work harder, and hopefully I can develop the discipline to provide better work. I’m certainly not working up to my potential.

He has hit several good points with these last couple of statements. BMB is right when he say that most of the ‘journalism’ we see on internet sites is just cut and paste from company press releases or a bunch of links or even folks who make article out of collecting tweets. It is kind of sad. But I do understand the reality that these sites are afraid of losing access to the big publishers by putting up anything that can be construed as ‘negative’.

I remember Amazing Heroes back in the day. Always had great interviews and a balanced view of the reality of comics as a whole. It would be great to see that on the ‘net somehow. Instead we get these placed ‘stories’ or ‘interviews’ hyping the latest new title. It’s great when you see CBR and Newsarama post one of these at the same time introducing some new title. Makes it completely obvious its run for the publisher.

So true it hurts. When my site does the sort of work that Bendis would consider Serious Journalism, as a rule it takes the most amount of time and produces the least amount of traffic. We create this type of content anyway, when we can — which can often mean a 12 or 14 hour day instead of a 10 hour day for me — because we think it’s important, and for absolutely no other reason since there is absolutely no other reward from a business standpoint.

Unless you’re talking about moving to mainstream media — where I too once had the opportunity to write longer, research-based features for magazines that could compensate me for that type of work — there is no larger publisher of comics journalism who will reward time-intensive pieces with big bags of money that have dollar signs on the side. It does not exist.

None of us are in this for the money, but this is a job. And at the end of the day everybody has to get paid if they want to keep giving their lives to the industry, particularly if there’s absolutely no chance of some big breakthrough payday. Asking people to create content that ultimately has no demand and no hope for significant financial reward just because you’d like it to exist isn’t particularly realistic, and also isn’t the sort of thing you’d ask from anyone whose work and time you respect. Personally, I wish that Marvel had never canceled Captain Britain and that DC had published Gotham Central forever, but ultimately readers make decisions about the type of content they support, and readers do not support in-depth comics journalism.

Granted, not that many of us make our living off covering comics, and I’m one, but my ability to do that — and my ability to pay other people to do that — is directly dependent on creating the type of content people want to read. I value our entertainment content, and it’s something I would want on the site regardless, but it’s also essential to my ability to fund any Serious Journalism at all. Unless you have the type of articles that bring readers (the Avengers of comics coverage, if you will) you can’t subsidize the more niche interest work (say, the critically-acclaimed or creator-owned titles that don’t pull in those kind of numbers). That’s the reality of comics on both sides of the creator/press line; and it doesn’t mean we aren’t all passionate and working our hearts out for the medium we love — sometimes in ways we both think other people don’t understand or appreciate — it’s just the industry as it stands today.

I posted this over at the Bendis board but let’s double post, since I’m not getting paid for any of it:

>>>>Fair enough except…you need to prove that there actually exists an economy whereby someone can make a comfortable living writing about comics.

Has anyone ever made a comfortable living writing JUST comics reviews? To the point where they could buy say…a townhouse? I’ll tell you right now…that person, that lifestyle does not exist.

As for comics journalism in a wider sense..very similar. Maybe Gareb Shamus got rich running Wizard magazine. So the road to financial success must be to start your own line of magazines. Or Gary Groth and Kim Thompson? They started a much larger publsihing company. The Comics Journal, whatever you think of it, is such a minuscule part of their business plan that it went online only.

Speaking for myself, I have been able to make a living in comics related journalism for almost nine years, but mostly because I have a lot of clients and a steady source of income at a physical magazine. And, believe me, it is not a Dom Perignon lifestyle. And I didn’t make a living from writing for Amazing Heroes either! But like you I keep doing it because I enjoy it and it’s what I do.

Brian, in the case of comics writing, you already had a proven economy where people made a living, bought houses, supported families and once in a while even were able to live very comfortably just off their writing.

So I don’t feel these are parallel situations — the economies are not the same, for better or worse. <<<<<

So yeah, I agree with all of you guys.

I should clarify my comment in the third graf of my comment above: The problem is not so much asking people to create content that has no demand — most sites, like mine, can subsidize it some of the time — it’s demanding that they make it a particular focus, professionally, when there is no realistic financial support for it, and also requiring that they do a very complex job very well for nothing. Journalism is a job, and a hard one, as Sean and Brigid discuss. And like any other job — including comics scripting and illustrating — you have to pay skilled people to do things that have serious value, not hope that volunteers with other full-time jobs can handle it in their spare time.

Jeez; and here I am thinking we know too much about the behind the scenes stuff as it is.

The worst part of all this is how far we’ve fallen short of the example provided by the original comics journalist, Jack McGee.

While we’re all singing karaoke in some NYC bar, McGee is twenty blocks away interviewing special guest star Esther Rolle about that nice new cab driver with the big vocabulary that asked to be paid in cash.

Sir Manley Johnson

September 24, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Nobody pays me to read reviews. I do it because I enjoy it.

Matt Seneca is the most underrated non-paid writer in comics journalism today. His blog, deathtotheuniverse.blogspot.com, should be in everyone’s bookmarks. The most recent piece on Manhunter 2070 is astounding in its obsession. Brian Chippendale should be comened as well for his love of Marvel, but he’s a cartoonist that’s an odd pill to swallow.

Methinks Bendis just doesn’t pay attention enough. The work is out there, just not at the big sites.

I’m with Abhay — the way to do comics journalism today is to have a high-paying, low-responsibility day job to provide independent funding and a buffer from comic companies that will ignore you when you don’t respond to their pressure.

And Bendis’ “help” would be much more useful if he would praise what he thinks is doing well instead of broad-brushing everything as crap. But I guess the latter is easier, to look down on an entire craft field instead of drawing useful distinctions. Didn’t Warren Ellis go on this same kick about “no good comic magazines” last decade? Turned out he just didn’t know about the lower-circulation works that were doing exactly what he asked for.

Seems to me that Bendis is just saying that the quality of your work does not depend on what you are paid for it. This is a statement of such banal truth there is no arguing with it. Without trying too hard, I can think of at least one highly rewarded comics creator whose quality of work is not reflected by the extent of his financial rewards.

Bendis also missed the third path to success: you stll work really hard but concentrate on devising a formula to fill as many pages with as little substance as possible. Maybe take TV scripting as your template. Don’t bother about comics as a unique artistic medium in itself. In short be a commercial writer rather than a creative writer. But then, I guess, a commercial writer would equate reward with success, so maybe that’s why he missed it out.

There’s plenty of quality comics journalism out there. Comics writers should concentrate on producing quality comics for the journalism to focus on.

These are all stunningly cogent and reasonable replies to Mr. Bendis’s little hissy fit.

Abhay, I forgive you for mocking Jaime Reyes. That was simply magnificent.

I’m just thankful the Miami Herald still pays me to do my little capsule GN reviews each month. It’s a week’s worth of groceries and maybe a little gas in the car that takes me to my “real” job every day.

Serious comics journalism would be wonderful. Is wonderful. I read it when I find it if the subject interests me. I appreciate the volunteer efforts of those who do it and the pros that convinced their editors to allow them to do it, too. Would love to do more myself but pro bono isn’t an option right now and the Herald just laid off another 50 people. Hope the freelance budget isn’t next.

You don’t need to have a good day job in order to do good journalism. You just need to be obsessed. That is why I admire Matt Seneca so much. The guy is broke, but he is obsessed enough to write thoughtful and enganging. articles. It just has to come out. To say you can’t do that because you have paying gigs to do is just lazy. Make those mean something to you when the subjuect doesn’t. Eventually, that will be the reason you’re getting hired.

Brian Michael Bendis wishing for better criticism is like a small nocturnal rodent complaining about the quality of the local owls.

I like that this has turned into a total comics journalist pity party.

The solution given here — becoming something of a “gentleman muckraker,” moonlighting from a well paying job in an unrelated field — speaks volumes.

But then, no one EVER really got into any level of comics for the money.

Many serious pieces have been written in the last several years on sexist content in comics and sexism in the industry. However, the industry’s defenders typically resort to canned talking points and tired arguments (the heroines want to wear their skimpy costumes; the heroes are drawn as sexual ideals too), working pros who have experienced discrimination are reluctant to talk about it, and the result is that the sides never engage in an actual debate.

The “One More Day” controversy was an occasion where Marvel Editorial should have been taken to task more harshly than they were. The storyline had no redeeming features; reviewers panned and condemned it. Yet, in interviews, Quesada argued that Spider-Man was a corporate asset, an icon, who had to be preserved so that future generations of readers could enjoy his adventures. The crippling flaws in the actual storyline weren’t dealt with, the ramifications of Quesada’s stance — if Spider-Man is a corporate asset and merchandising tool, how are the other Marvel characters different? — weren’t dealt with, and the comics press let the matter go away.

Profiles and interviews are serious journalism only when a subject’s views on controversial subjects are highlighted and/or his views are challenged. If there have been contentious interviews of comics creators or editors, I haven’t seen them.

One can’t expect serious (meaty) reviews of unserious work.

SRS

My favorite “dealing with publishers” story: When assembling the shojo-manga issue of the Journal, I wanted to include a short interview with Tania Del Rio, then writing and drawing a manga-style Sabrina the Teenage Witch for Archie Comics, as an example of American fans absorbing Japanese-comics values and going pro. Not being able to find her contact information anywhere on the Web at the time, I turned to Archie’s then publicist and asked if he could hook me up and, you know, give a little publicity to one of their artists (and one of their books). The publicist responded very cordially, and told me that he would check with his superiors.

And then: nothing. I e-mailed back once a week asking about my request, and the publicist would give me an apologetic reply, stating that his bosses were “still thinking about it.” Finally, with my dealine approaching, I sent a final e-mail stating that I needed an answer now. The publicist responded with a very apologetic (almost embarrassed) e-mail, informing me that his superiors had decided not to give me the contact information because The Comics Journal “hadn’t properly offered Archie Comics’ side of the story” in our news coverage of Dan DeCarlo’s lawsuit against Archie over ownership of Josie and the Pussycats.

The irony of it was, we had asked for Archie’s side of the story at6 the time, and they had refused to comment. In short, we were being punished for not providing a viewpoint that they had refused to offer to us to begin with. Welcome to the funnybook industry!

(Please excuse the spelling errors; I just woke up.)

I wanted to write something with depth in response to this here in the comments, rather than on my own blog, because being snarky in response to Bendis on the blog would get more hits. ;) But Abhay typed up something so thoroughly wonderful that I wanted to stand up at my computer and clap, so I’m not that inspired to put my own lengthy spin on it.

At the risk of upsetting folks, I’d like to add a few nuggets about access and pay here.

The article that I’m most proud of writing up (about how Wizard milked inside information on the Death of Captain America to great profit)? I didn’t get paid a dime from Newsarama for that. I got some praise from Matt Brady (which I greatly value to this day & love the guy), but got a heaping helping of unneeded advice and condescension from someone not named Matt Brady. I tend to think some of what I didn’t appreciate in the communications I received was from fear about how Marvel might react.

What did I get paid for? Writing up panel coverage. You know…where many fans generally pay to attend a press conference and sites covering them all rush to be the first to have it up so they get the lionshare of hits from the fans that didn’t pay and are, instead, drooling at their keyboards waiting to find out what this year’s plans for Super Duper Man are. And I didn’t even get paid for ALL of that coverage.

I got paid for nothing else, by the way. Part of a regular review column? $0.00. Review columns where I had 50% or more of the reviews on the page (rare as that might be)? $0.00. A stand alone review that was its own front page article on the site? $0.00. I’m not the only one. At least 90% of what is reviewed is bought and paid for by the reviewers, so we’re paying for the privilege of providing hit-generating content.

Even with that, I dearly love the crew that I reviewed with. That’s why I kept reviewing through a period where there weren’t many books that I felt so inspired to review. When that period of relatively mediocre reading dragged on to where I started questioning why I was forcing myself to write reviews about middling or bad books, I took a hiatus from contributing rather than possibly pump out (more?) work that I couldn’t be proud of. Rest assured, if I get around to contributing there again, it won’t likely be due to compensation plans changing. It’ll be my desire to work with some of the passionate, similarly-unpaid folks that I enjoyed working with so much in the past. I mean, assuming talking about the lack of compensation doesn’t impact things.

Man, this is turning out to be longer than I intended. So much for not lengthy, but at least I can ramble knowing that Abhay already made the important points clearly.

When I reviewed a high profile book negatively in a vlog for Newsarama, it led to some problems. I was approached by the writer, which was flattering…until I was warned by someone I trust not to communicate with them because they & the publisher were trying to make trouble behind the scenes. The fear was that I’d wind up saying something that would get twisted into being more ammunition against the site. Judging by how early on in my Marvel reviewing I found out who Arune Singh was, I wouldn’t say such fears were paranoid. Based on the writer’s future behavior (complaining to a site every time they saw my name in the comments section of their blogs, amongst other things), I’d say they were spot-on.

If that were the only example of a major publisher bitching behind the scenes to try to insure the most positive and least negative coverage, I’d not bring it up. It just happens to be one that I feel free to speak on because I’m intimately involved. There are tons more. The behavior I’ve seen from publishers and professionals sometimes makes me wish I never accepted the invite to review books with the Best Shots crew. Then I remember the great friends I’ve made and realize that no longer finding the comic book sausage as appetizing as it once was is a small price to pay.

And to those who think just plugging away with all of your heart and soul will get you hired? That’s not always true in any line of work. Getting access to professionals can be difficult. If you’re not already interested in real independent stuff, it is nearly impossible. And you know what interviews with smaller publisher talent will draw as a paycheck nine times out of ten? $0.00 + the benefits of having to apologize to the creator when the article isn’t published in a timely fashion. I did an interview with a great guy at a smaller company, who had interviews to support his projects run several times before. It wound up sat on by a site editor for a month, while I was the one stuck having to explain it a few times a week. I resent the lack of compensation more for that uncomfortable position I was put in than the time and effort to create the article.

With how many sites already have writers they tap to conduct interviews, the path to pay is through writing that shows your personality or intellect in ways that the mainstream audience might appreciate. Annotating a popular project (like 52 or Grant’s Batman) or blogging with humor that is both invincible and super? That might get you noticed and some paying gigs. But it’ll still be a crapshoot.

I’m gonna cut it off right there, as I’ve already rambled more than enough.

I have a great job, one for which I’m grateful, and I could definitely try harder and work more effectively.

If Bendis was discussing comics journalists working for no compensation why did he use HIS experience, which could be considered inspirational to a writer of fiction, as an example of how to make “passion instead of payment” work? Writing fiction and journalism are two different fields with different parameters and rules of play. I’m still confused about which issue is on the table… if he’s talking about comics commentary, he shouldn’t use himself as an example.

I put in a long comment that disappeared into the ether. Don’t know if spam filters snagged it. I don’t want to resubmit it in case it was purposely blocked from posting, as I’m not going to try to force my words through on someone else’s site.

Lack of money isn’t an excuse for mediocrity. And Huffington Post has strayed in recent years…getting caught up in all the celebrity crap like Blake Lively’s fashion choices and what not.

The great reporters did not die rich and usually didn’t make money until after they had prove themselves. Norman Mailer didn’t make a fortune and then decide to be a real writer, he was a real writer first. Sorry, but you pay your dues and you earn the right to make your money by what you do. Sitting around waiting for your living wage before you decide to change the way the game is played is a self fulfilling cycle. You do crap, you get paid crap.

Bendis isn’t saying you should VOLUNTEER. He’s saying you get your ass out there and do your freaking job better than everyone else b/c it’s your passion. Then, as you build a true blue name for yourself, you’ll see more and more rewards come in. I highly doubt the people commenting on this post are great journalists b/c A) They’re waiting for money and B) What future iconic journalist is going to comment on someone else’s blog post instead of shaping their opinion into a developed argument and publishing it someplace where they can get at least get a clipping out of it.

It’s fine to mope about not being paid enough, we all do it, it keeps us going…but it’s not an excuse to do less than stellar work and drag our culture even further down the tubes.

I don’t understand why otherwise smart people feel the need to go into a huff and defend themselves here.

This is the guy who’s been churning out between four and six largely soulless, company-owned comic books for the last few years, to the obvious and almost total detriment of the kind of original and inspired work that put him on the map as someone worth paying attention to.

“money has nothing to do with it.”

If you are not one of the people in the subset Bendis is referring to (comics critics who are underpaid who complain that they could do better work if paid better), I don’t see why anyone need rush to take offense here.

Everyone else who is doing work for free or for less than optimal wages but is happy to continue doing so, please continue to do so and take your tantrums elsewhere. He is not addressing anyone else, no matter how desperately you may wish to take umbrage, or no matter how dim your view of how he earns his crust.

Getting advice on what great reporters do from an anonymous comment-thread poster named Boooooo has made this entire conversation worthwhile. At any rate, if covering Blake Lively’s fashion choices is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.

That said, I think Cormac’s right: There are things about Bendis’s comments I disagree with–criticism is one thing, but I don’t think it’s feasible for long-form journalism to be done for free as a rule; I suspect he just isn’t aware of a lot of the great comics critics currently out there; I think some of the bigger publishers and creators make life difficult for people who are trying to do precisely the sort of work he’s calling for–but I agree with some of it and I’m not offended or outraged by any of it.

I would definitely take my tantrums elsewhere, but I don’t get paid enough to.

I think it’s great that non-comic critics have opinions and care about the form. And an anonymous commenter with an opinion beats wise cracks from a professional.

As someone who thinks of himself as a “comics journalist” for at least part of each day, and wrote a lengthy article about the life and career of Al Williamson that was published on Friday (http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=28503) I thought I would throw in my two cents for whatever it’s worth.

1. Most comics criticism and journalism sucks. So do most comics. It’s Sturgeon’s Law.

2. Serious, in-depth, long form journalism is hard to do and it’s hard to find outlets that are willing to pay for it. Harder than it was 10-20 years ago according to people I’ve talked with over the years.

3. When I think about the critics and arts writers who I respect the hell out of – Joan Acocella and Daniel Mendelsohn come to mind – they’re great writers to be sure, but they also have had access to publications which have granted them the time and the space and paid them to allow them to spend a lot of time on individual pieces. They didn’t get to that place overnight, but there are places like the New Yorker and the NY Review of Books and a few other places where there are such positions and opportunities. There is nothing similar for people writing about comics. It’s possible to have a writing career where a major specialty and field of interest is comics (that’s what I do, though I make no claims to be successful or a role model in this regard) but it’s not the only thing I do.

4. I don’t think everything deserves a long form, thoughtful reasoned journalistic response (see Sturgeon’s Law).

The Al Williamson article I cited took a lot of time to write. Now a lot of that is my fault and being neurotic and rewriting it from scratch a few times. A lot of that is projects with deadlines that came up between now and when i started and it was those projects that paid my bills.

I conducted six original interviews for the article. (This doesn’t include George Lucas, whom I solicited an interview from and he instead gave me a statement via e-mail while he was traveling). Three were done over email and three were done over the phone. All those done over the phone had to be transcribed. Plus there’s the time I spent researching Williamson and his work, the books and websites I read and re-read and consulted. Preparing for those interviews. Notes I took.

Essentially, before ever actually writing a word of the article, I had put in, let’s say, a full time week’s worth of work. That’s a major investment of time and energy. Now CBR, like every other outlet I’ve worked for – The LA Times, the Hartford Courant, The Comics Journal, Suicidegirls, et al. – does not pay me by the hour or based on effort. I negotiate a fee per article. I respect the hell out of Jonah, but he’s not going to pay me a lot just because he likes me or because he likes the idea. He’s a practical businessman. He liked my lengthy interview with Megan Kelso and the thoughtful questions I asked of Dylan Horrocks or the other pieces I’ve written, but he also knows that these are not the most popular articles on the site. Whether that’s sad, whether that’s to be expected, whatever, that’s the way it is. I’ve written about comics for various publications, but the truth is that there isn’t much call for it.

The question remains, is there a small audience for such work because there’s a small audience? Could we create a bigger audience? How would we go about creating a bigger audience for such work? Is there a potential audience that we’re not connecting with?

I have no idea. Of course I also love Goldfish-Jinx-Torso Bendis much more than Avengers-House of M-Siege Bendis, so what do I know?

“If you are not one of the people in the subset Bendis is referring to (comics critics who are underpaid who complain that they could do better work if paid better), I don’t see why anyone need rush to take offense here”

Maybe it’s a question of how you perceive arguments are constructed generally, and this one specifically.

To me, arguments are constructed to provoke emotional responses. So, he start with the premise that everything in mainstream comics is hunky dory, which I disagree with, but that the “only thing missing” is the fault of this convenient group of scapegoats, comic critics and journalists. What emotional reaction does that provoke in the reader towards comic critics/journalists? I wouldn’t imagine the reader has favorable reactions to “Critics/journalists” to begin with, but that being said– I’d imagine it’d provoke unfavorable ones– oh noes, they’re the ones keeping mainstream comics from being awesome! (Here I was thinking it was a glut of $4 books in a series of overinflated franchises, participating in a scheme of never-ending crossovers, engineered by comic creators whose ambitions in creating their own original material has been underwhelming. But– nope: it’s the comic critics and comics journalists, you guys.)

From that premise, he then proceeds to a series of complaints that there isn’t enough good comic criticism or journalism, which I think is the point we all agree with. We ALL want there to be more, great comic criticism or journalism in the world. What kind of sociopath DOESN’T think they could be doing a better job at life? Based upon the things he’s said, I suspect there’s good work he may have overlooked. But oh well. (Obviously, I don’t personally agree that there’s something wrong with “psuedo-hip snark”, but I know others perhaps do. I mean, there’s a question whether you believe him or any other comic creator who claims to want better criticism or journalism. Me, personally, I don’t, but… Spend 5 minutes at a comic convention hotel bar– you’ll hear oodles of things no one is in any hurry to make public. Plus: the world has lawyers in it, and gee, I can think of at least one occasion DC’s lawyers have made their existence known… But that’s all perhaps a separate argument…)

And then finally, his argument concludes with the chunk quoted above– a response to statements being paraphrased by nameless, faceless strawmen. The only, ONLY explanation for why we don’t get good criticism is that comic critics would “write better” but oooooh, they want money, unlike him and his peers who are much more noble than that. Yep– comic critics are just worse human beings than him and his friends. That’s all there is to it.

So, that hagiography ignores the work him and his peers have done for the last 10 years, which… if I had an adjective to describe an endless seies of multi-title crossovers, or Halo tie-in comics, or whatever, it certainly wouldn’t be f***ing “selfless.” He and his peers have absolutely tailored their output to market concerns– which is 100% the same, exact thing that I imagine that these nameless critics/journalists made to him. But nope: them saying that is the equivalent of them refusing to “write better.”

So: what emotional response does the argument provoke? And to me, the way he’s constructed his argument, the emotional response it engineers in the reader is “we need better mainstream comic criticism/journalism; the lack of it is holding the ENTIRE MEDIUM back; the reason we don’t have better mainstream comic criticism/journalists (and that mainstream comics are thus wounded) that he’s aware of is because these guys are greedy. Oh and also by the way, anonymous comic creators agree with him, so nyah…? ”

Greedy snarky psuedo-hips, and how dare they be the people who ruin mainstream comics???

Maybe that’s unfair. But… I don’t see his argument as simple as “you shouldn’t let lack of money be an excuse for mediocrity”. I don’t disagree with that one little fragment. But: who would? WHO WOULD? Was there really anyone legitimate who wrote him “I would be really great but no one is paying me to?” Maybe there was– there are a lot of stupid people out there in the world; plus, sure, there are some terrible writers out there. But to me, there’s a million miles between that and “the economics means I have to write more, shorter pieces than in-depth long analysis.”

But you know, to be fair– he’s on twitter. Twitter was not built for nuance. Twitter was built for Ashton Kutcher.

Bendis tweeted — http://twitter.com/BRIANMBENDIS/status/25617266186 — today:

big thanks to everyone who sent me links to really good graphic novel related journalism pieces. THAT is what I was looking for!!

So — he’s not looking for journalistic reviews of his or other writers’ Marvel work, or of serialized comics generally. He wants journalism related to GNs — but how does that relate to his earlier tweets? Professional journalists, whether they’re freelancers or salaried employees, are paid for their work.

SRS

CORMAC said: “If you are not one of the people in the subset Bendis is referring to (comics critics who are underpaid who complain that they could do better work if paid better), I don’t see why anyone need rush to take offense here.”

I don’t know what you’re talking about. Bendis isn’t responding to “underpaid” critics who complain that they could do a better job with more money. He’s responding to people who do it for free, on the side, in what little time they have, while also trying to make a living with an actual paying job.

Those are two completely different situations. I don’t think anyone seriously complained to him that the reason they couldn’t write thoughtful criticism was that they weren’t getting paid for it. Maybe that’s how he interpreted it, but more likely what they meant was simply that this kind of writing takes time, and when you’re busy working to make a living, free time to write about comics is not something you have very much of.

Nobody’s actually suggesting that getting paid equals better writing. Getting paid to write simply means you get to actually do it as work.

It’s not rocket science. Bendis’ comparison to his own career path is extremely dishonest, in my opinion.

Basque:

“I don’t think anyone seriously complained to him that the reason they couldn’t write thoughtful criticism was that they weren’t getting paid for it. Maybe that’s how he interpreted it, but more likely what they meant was simply that this kind of writing takes time, and when you’re busy working to make a living, free time to write about comics is not something you have very much of.”

That sounds about right to me.

“Bendis’ comparison to his own career path is extremely dishonest, in my opinion.”

That doesn’t. Surely we can disagree with that comparison without accusing Bendis of dishonesty–or of losing touch with reality or any number of the things I’ve seen said about him over the past few days. I think it’s a faulty comparison for all the reasons I’ve cited, but I don’t think he’s deliberately being a liar or a jerk, he’s just wrong about that aspect of it is all.

Respectfully, Sean, when he says people claiming that practicing hard journalism would get you blackballed by his employer are paranoid, he’s lying or, if he actually believes it, has lost touch with reality. He knows full well how Marvel has acted in the past and present about unflattering coverage, yet he casts aspersions on people speaking the truth about it. It’s an action on his part that makes those I’ve seen tip-toeing on egg shells to discuss this with him or refusing to call him out on it rather disappointing.

I hadn’t seen the quote about paranoia when I wrote that comment. You’re right, that one’s a stretch.

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