More on Downloading

The discussion on comic downloading is far and away the most popular thread ever on this site. Thanks, everyone, for keeping it relatively intelligent and polite.

But I have to wonder: did anyone change their mind about any part of this issue because of points made? Or have their eyes opened to a viewpoint they didn’t previously know about or understand as fully?

On his blog, Tom Spurgeon said

I’m also pretty certain that second-guessing this, deciding you know what’s better for someone else’s creation, is kind of arrogant…. There’s something that seems so disrespectful about telling people how they should provide something, and I just never got that.

I wonder at that, given at his years in comics, because the attitude he’s describing is widespread. Everyone’s seen a comic fan say something to the effect of, “They should listen to me! I could write HeroMan better than that hack!” That arrogance and disrespect permeates some groups of superhero comic fandom*, and it shouldn’t be surprising that “I know how to write their comics better than they do” becomes “I know how to advertise and distribute their comics better than they do.”

* It’s possible that it’s prevalent in other fandoms, too, but this is the one where I’m most familiar with the attitude.

Not to mention that most current superhero writers and artists are working on other people’s creations. If you’re going to describe that as arrogant, then the arrogance level goes deep into that slice of the industry, but that depends on how you define “creation” and “arrogant”. Which is what I think some commenters here were trying to get at in terms of valuing original creator work over corporate franchises.

Then there’s the issue of whether or not you’d read a whole comic issue if you didn’t like it enough to buy it. I’m reminded of recent discussions over Grey’s Anatomy. I liked this show when it started. I watched all the episodes, for free, on TV, skipping commercials as I went. I bought the Season One DVD set, because I wanted to watch them again (with additional commentary as a bonus) and it was reasonably priced.

But lately, the show’s been very disappointing. I’d stop watching it, except it’s free, it’s a habit, and there’s usually nothing better to do when I go to watch an episode. I’m not going to buy the additional DVD sets, though. I’ll sit through an episode I’m not really enjoying, but that doesn’t mean that I’d be willing to pay money for it. And as long as I can still try it for free, the show has a chance to win me back and convince me to spend more money on it later (although I’m not finding that likely).

Now, I know that the economics of TV watching aren’t the same as comics. If I’d selected an HBO series, maybe it would be closer, but I’m not interested in any of those. Still, I think there’s an interesting parallel. In cases of committee-created entertainment (multiple TV show writers and producers working under the constraints of a network and actor demands; multiple comic writers and artists working under the constraints of publisher demands), you always want to hope that a bad episode/issue is just a fluke, that the stars didn’t align and the next one will be better. A run of bad installments, though, and viewers/readers lose patience.


11 Responses to “More on Downloading”

  1. Ed Sizemore Says:

    Honestly, I didn’t change my opinion. I was amazed at the justifications for downloading. It was interesting read.

  2. David Oakes Says:

    “In cases of committee-created entertainment [...], you always want to hope that a bad episode/issue is just a fluke, that the stars didn’t align and the next one will be better.”

    How is that a concern of CCE? Or just CCE? I mean, if a single authored book has a bad issue, I hope it’s a fluke, and that they haven’t burned out. But if the next one isn’t better, I don’t go “Oh, well, one person working alone, they are bound to get it together sooner or later, unlike a committee!” If anything, I am willing to give more slack to a group, because odds are the “fluke” comes from one creator, and the rest of the group will have their shot next week (for TV) or next month (for comics). I have actually been noticing the listed writer on episodes of “Heroes”, in an attempt to see if certain themes are part of the setting (and hence unlikely to change) or if they are all linked to one (or hopefully a small number) creator that I can simply dismiss and/or endure until the next one comes along.

    If I don’t like how, say, Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” is going, well, it’s unlikely to change. But if I don’t like Neil Gaiman’s “Eternals”, I just have to wait for the inevitable reboot/passing of the torch, and see if I prefer the new take. If anything “corporate comics” are less likely to have very long runs of “bad” issues. (It’s the tradeoff for being less likely to have very long runs of “good” issues. Conservatism is nothing if not average.)

  3. James Schee Says:

    I didn’t really have my opinion changed, though I did find the conversation interesting.

    I know that if I wanted to I could download comics, the kind of sad part is that I’m just not interested enough in anything to spend the time to do so. Which might be a telling story of wha tI think of today’s pamphlet comics.

    If I want to read something, it is just easier to order a trade or something and read it when I get ready.

    Of course I tend to read late at night/early morning as I’m just getting in from work. So after starting a computer screen there, I don’t really want to do so at home long enough to read a book.

  4. Johanna Says:

    David, I’m sorry if this wasn’t clear in my earlier example, but I was talking about a situation where the run has been good but there’s a one-off bad installment. So when you talk about being willing to give more slack to a group, that’s the same kind of thing I was thinking about.

  5. Thomas Gerhardt Says:

    I think Johanna has made a big step in admitting her Grey’s Anatomy addiction. Admittance is a huge factor in breaking the habit, you know?

  6. Scott Says:

    Stop reading after something off-putting either in content or delivery (i.e. delays)?

    Yes… many times.

    Stop reading/watching in the middle even if it is free?

    Yes… many times.

    Really, I have so many things that I am interested in and so little time that I just move on to the next thing.

    So far, I haven’t run out of options.

    In fact, I have taken things a step further. When a title/series goes south in a big way, I re-evaluate what I have in my possession and more often than not have no problem parting with that.

  7. Richard Marcej Says:

    “I wonder at that, given at his years in comics, because the attitude he’s describing is widespread. Everyone’s seen a comic fan say something to the effect of, “They should listen to me! I could write HeroMan better than that hack!” That arrogance and disrespect permeates some groups of superhero comic fandom*,
    * It’s possible that it’s prevalent in other fandoms, too, but this is the one where I’m most familiar with the attitude.”

    It’s not only possible but it’s been my experience that this is a given in every other form of entertainment.

    From movies & TV (how many times have you heard others say, I could write a better script, or direct better, etc…)
    to sports (sports call in shows are filled with Monday morning QB’s and “I could coach/manage better then _____” callers)
    to music (“did you hear thst lousy band/singer? Total crap! I could sing better then….)

    And this attitude towards all forms of entertainment will only gro larger and louder thanks to the anonymity and speed of the internet. (Well, in my opinion anyway.)

  8. Thomas Gerhardt Says:

    Well, one of the things that certainly contribute to the “I can do this better than xyz” in — let’s call it cultural products — is that the craft of writing per se isn’t valued very highly in today’s times. I’m too tired to do another post on whether the corporate structures of producing said cultural products contribute to that.

    Spurgeon has a valid point, though, I believe, but in a way also misses one important factor that I’ve seen a couple times in my job: the smaller the market, the more it will be focused and led by an even smaller, but more vocal group that claim spiritual ownership of whatever product they consume.

    Like, when you do a platform-independent video games magazine (like I had the displeasure to re-design and re-launch once) and your potential market was only 60,000 people, most of whom actually did nothing but gaming in their parent’s basements (sometimes clichés are unfortunately true), they sometimes did know more than the reviewers and the editors did. Mainly because they didn’t have to deal with the whole “writing, editing and producing” bits… but they damn sure knew where a hidden gem/life packet/whatever was hidden in sub-level 13, right to the left door, where you had to swim, then fly, then do a two-step to reach it. You know what I mean.

    And they would get really angry when that wasn’t in the magazine, despite deadlines, despite late deliveries of review copies of the games etc…

    I think the comics industry suffers a bit from the same. If you have people out there who will go, well, in Adventure Comics 235 from 1960-something, Superboy did this, and how come the current writer doesn’t know this (this example is made up, obviously, before somebody tries to whup my booty here). You have people out there who know the tiniest detail, the littlest bit of dialogue and the smaller the market becomes, the more vocal they will become.

    It’s a downward spiral in a way.

    That group buys stuff religiously, bitch about it, but continue to buy (something I never understood. I have never been a fan of anything that I couldn’t look at a bit of writing and say: well, this is no longer worth my money and move onward)

    DC and Marvel already kneel in front of those groups by putting out product that is so convoluted, so filled with secret handshakes that it

    a) only caters to those fanboys, who will think they can do as good a job as the ones writing it (yes, I say it again: it can be seen then as just one step above fan fiction, sorry)

    b) makes it virtually impossible to have a casual reader come in and understand anything

    c) has to incorporate so many continuity and detail editing that the books often read like a manual on how to tie things up from 30 years ago.

    It doesn’t mean that the shift of spiritual ownership from creators to editorial to hired writers to fans is just a problem of niche products such as comic books, as Richard Marcej pointed out.

  9. markus Says:

    1) Spurgeon is simply wrong. The people grant the artifical monopoly on producing copies, the people can take it away. It speaks well of his adjustment into society that he has come to view an essentially arbitrary measure designed for a specific purpose (“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, …”) as the natural order of things, but he’s still wrong.

    2) On the “I could do better” front i think it also stems from often being partially true.
    Every writer writes weak issues and has particular weaknesses and given the overall quality I can easily imagine people often being right when they say I could have done that better. Reading some of the professional output one has to wonder how a blind monkey couldn’t have done better. This is after all an industry where people like Chuck Austen and Rob Liefeld were employed for quite some time.
    Of course, it stops being true when one consideres doing the job in the context of actually working with X, Y and Z, monthly, while writing two other books, but for a single instance, sure, why not? In e.g. journalism it’s the norm that someone familiar with a field could have done better – objectively, without doubt – than the overworked guy rewriting a press release and making one phone call. I don’t see why the same should be such a stretch for monthly superhero comics.
    So, maybe it’s just something that requires a follow-up question. Better in this instance or generally, as a regular job with everythign that entails?

  10. Blog@Newsarama » You can’t have one without the other Says:

    [...] More on Downloading Comics [...]

  11. Thomas Gerhardt Says:

    Unfortunately, I must disagree with Markus on his assumptions on a few things, for his argument does seem to be based on the notion that neither creating nor writing constitutes a craft. Surely, with the advent of plot-driven and event-driven stories, that level of craftsmanship might be seen as somewhat diminished, but at the core I feel he re-iterates the basic fanboy argument: “I could have done it better.”

    To each and everyone who feels that way, I can only say: why don’t you? If it is that easy… Why not create the next Harry Potter, why not the next Star Wars, why not the next Lord of the Rings?

    Obviously, any kind of protection of private property (in this case: copyrighted creations) is arbitrary in that sense that ALL laws are arbitrary and all of them are subject to change. However, why should any writer or artist create something of lasting value, if somebody else can steal it at a moment’s whim and make money off that? The argument of “L’art pour L’art” doesn’t work in this time and age. Without (Church)-Sponsors and private sponsors, there wouldn’t have been the Sixteenth Chapel. Without pay (or at least the hope of pay), there wouldn’t have been the works of Poe, Dickens and others.

    As for my example from the gaming magazine industry, again: A journalist’s job (in theory, we can debate as to whether the majority of those actually do their job properly these days) is not just to investigate and research and understand certain issues, it is the ability to convey that information to the audience in a well-written, easy-to-understand and thorough way.

    That in itself is a craft. It takes training. It takes talent. It takes an understanding of language.

    A theoretical physicist may be well versed in his field, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he/she has the ability to explain his work to the general public.

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