INTERVIEW: "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey" Hunt Rebirth's Oracle
Vaneta Rogers and I have been longtime colleagues as comics journalists, specifically at Newsarama. We were both brought in under longtime site editor Matt Brady, and have each covered comics far and wide — and stepped on each other’s toes more than once. Like me, Vaneta juggles both a career writing about comics and doing design and marketing for local clients through her own company. As someone working beside her, I’ve been amazed by her ability to get a story and get interview subjects to be more candid than they might normally be. Several times a month I see a piece she did and say, “Damn, I wish I would have done that first.”
Through her work, she has a unique perspective on the superhero-centric world of America comics and the genre-based comics in and around it. She knows all the players, she’s seen the game being played for years, and has a healthy love for comics and a pull list any comics fan would die for.
Chris Arrant: When people ask about your work, what do you tell people you do for a living? And is it different for a comics person as opposed to someone not familiar with comics?
Vaneta Rogers: I tell them the truth — that I’m a freelance writer for the Internet, and that I write about comic books and comic-related media. My kids sometimes make my job sound more exciting by bragging to their friends about people I’ve gotten to interview, and that’s nice, ’cause my kids rarely think I’m cool. But for me, it’s just a job description, so there’s no reason to change it.
Arrant: How do you see your role in the scheme of things for the comics industry?
Rogers: My role is to inform people about comics and media related to comics. It really is that simple. That includes new readers, old readers, and people who are just thinking about reading. And I also inform non-readers, particularly when my Newsarama articles are syndicated. For example, if I write a story about “fans” that is syndicated on a mainstream news site, then I talk about ALL KINDS of fans, and that includes comic book fans. So the mainstream audience reading that story will read about comics without ever having visited a comic book website.
Plus I’m always surprised how many people in the entertainment industry read Newsarama, and they aren’t all comic book readers. I can’t even tell you how many people in Hollywood have told me they read that site. Librarians too. So when I say non-comics readers, I mean all kinds, because there are people who want to know about comics who don’t necessarily read them.
Arrant: What’s your background leading up to working as a reporter about comics?
Rogers: I got my college degree in journalism, with minors in cinema and literature. I worked as a newspaper reporter and copy editor for awhile, then a columnist and editor. More recently, my career switched from journalism to doing public relations, then to corporate marketing and sales. But Matt Brady noticed me posting on the message boards at Newsarama and apparently liked what he saw. So now I get to write about something I love while still maintaining my outside career.
Arrant: How do you perceive the state of comics journalism right now?
Rogers: I’m still amazed the term “comics journalism” even exists. I mean, can you believe how much news we get about comics? Outside sports, which has a much, much, MUCH larger audience, I can think of no other hobby that has so much constant news for its fandom. And such a demanding audience! Reviews, interviews, columns, opinions, blogs, instant convention news … and a lot of it is really high-quality stuff.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad we are so demanding. It’s why I have a job. And I am constantly trying to do better, because I’m demanding of myself. But if you step back and think about it, the fact that a few hundred-thousand fans of comics get this much attention is astounding. As an audience, we obviously have a lot of power and know how to wield it.
As for the overall “state” of comics journalism, of course I wish we did a better job. Probably the most annoying thing is that our industry has gossipy blogs that run unconfirmed rumors. Sometimes I feel like I have to correct them in my reporting, which is absolutely maddening. It shouldn’t be MY job to correct the mistakes of others.
But I think comics journalism has gotten better over the years. I hope I’ve gotten better at my job, too.
Arrant: As a journalist you have a unique vantage point on the industry – what do comics need more of, and alternatively less of?
Rogers: More? There needs to be more genres represented. I think everyone knows that. I’m an avid book reader, and I like tons of different types of stories. But in comic books, my genre choices are limited. Yes, there are spy comics. But there could be more. More thrillers. More detective stories. More romance. More comedy. More sci-fi.
The perfect illustration of the genre problem is that hundreds of thousands of bookstore visitors recently bought the Twilight graphic novel, but not one comic book publisher could market another paranormal romance comic in a display right next to it. Yet that’s one of the fastest-growing genres in publishing today.
As for what we need “less of”? Repetition. This is a creative industry, right? Everyone working in comics should strive for originality, whether it’s in publishing schedules, sales goals, event planning, story approach, or distribution. I know people react negatively to change, but we have to reject the fear and try it anyway. Try. Something. New. Please. Not. What. You. Did. Before.
Arrant: If you’re like me, you read a lot of comics for your work. What’s your pull list like?
Rogers: Yeah, the research thing upsets me, actually. I often get behind on the comics I love because I spend a lot of my time cramming before the next interview. I spend more time reading and preparing for interviews than I actually spend conducting and writing them.
My pull list is pretty varied, and I usually end up buying a dozen or so things every month that aren’t on my pull list. I try to stay on top of everything that’s happening in the shared universes: the major events, the weeklies, the big books. I also read a lot of non-superhero stuff. I can’t go a month without reading The Walking Dead, Fables, Echo and Scalped.
Arrant: Besides comics, you also do marketing and design for businesses in your area. Seeing as how you see both sides of it – albeit in different industries – what’s one piece of advice you’d give anyone working in comics?
Rogers: Just to remember what got you started, why you love comics. Working concurrently in the comic industry and outside it, I’ve noticed that creators, fans, journalists and other comic professionals tend to become very immersed in the day-to-day events of comics. And people start thinking it’s the end-all, be-all. It’s not. But that kind of thinking can make people really jaded. But if you remember the reason you’re doing it — if you hang onto the joy you felt after first experiencing a great comic book story — being involved in this industry is a lot more fun. And it can be hugely rewarding.