What Stories Should Comic Journalists Be Covering?

Steven Grant talks about the topic of the hour, whether comics journalism actually exists. It’s an interesting read, as his columns usually are, although I don’t have anything to say about this particular topic. However, I do find this worth pointing out:

there are plenty of stories out there that should be covered in depth, publishers who should be interrogated about their business practices, etc., and for the most part those get weakly alluded to at best, and quite often written off with a glib quote from the culprit that second-graders could easily rip apart.

So what are they? List those stories, or at least starting points. If someone’s not covering them, maybe they don’t have the lead. Get them started. (I’m not picking just on Grant, because other commentators do the same thing.)

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22 Responses to “What Stories Should Comic Journalists Be Covering?”

  1. Ray Cornwall Says:

    I still think there’s more to IDT buying IDW. A phone card company buying a comics company? Fishy.

  2. Lyle Says:

    The one thing that comes to mind for me is I’d like to see comics news sites ask people challenging questions when it is merited. When fandom controversies arise, if the comic news sites bring it to the offending party the response is frequently one that barely answers anything. For me, the example that comes to mind is Quesada’s statement that any title starring a gay character would have to have a Mature rating. When he responded to the hubub by pointing to Freedom Ring, that raised two obvious questions — the series was already canceled and Freedom Ring’s arc (IIRC) started before he first made the first statement. Stuff like that doesn’t require tough Murphy Brown interviewing (except that it probably feels that way compared to the status quo) just follow-ups that avoid the usual feeling of a story left incomplete that seems so common nowadays.

  3. Johanna Says:

    Lyle, I wonder if that’s a side effect of so many of these interviews being done over email. Some people just sent over their regular list and do little if any followup… and even if they do follow up, there’s no effective way to push someone to say more about something they’re ignoring. But phone and in-person coverage requires cost, so people take the “free” way out.

  4. Laura Hudson Says:

    It’s not just that phone and in-person coverage require cost, it’s also that some people avoid them in favor of e-mail interviews, which offer significantly more control and self-censorship to the subject (or their company). Usually at the expense of a more human interview, and certainly one where a person could be pushed on a subject, or even asked follow up questions at all. It’s easier to say the “right” things all the time when you can carefully read and reread your every word before issuing them, and a great way to produce the sound bites of your choice. It’s also really boring.

  5. Joshua Says:

    FIJAGDH* There’s no audience for hard-hitting in-depth stories about the business practices in scrapbooking, either. Heck, there’s barely an audience for such stories in hobby industries ten times the size of comics. Meanwhile there’s nothing stopping Grant, or anyone else who cares, from covering stories in depth except their own conviction that it’s not worth the effort.

    * Fandom Is Just A Goddamned Hobby.

  6. Ray Cornwall Says:

    Fandom might just be a hobby, but comics are an art medium and a business, and deserve journalists that understand the importance of this developing medium in our culture.

  7. Joshua Says:

    I have trouble with the notion that comics themselves deserve anything, but the people who are interested in comics only deserve what they’re willing to pay for (or otherwise put effort and resources into). And I think that journalists do understand the importance of comics in our culture, which is why they don’t cover it beyond the occasional review, obituary, or tie-in to other media. I love comics, but that doesn’t give me an exaggerated sense of their importance in the scheme of things, or what other folks owe me in terms of where they should spend their time and energy.

  8. Ray Cornwall Says:

    Joshua, the economics of the web ensure that if people are interested and read it, revenue is available for the content creator. (All hail Google.) So, by reading it (and clicking banner ads or Amazon links), people DO pay for it.

    The idea that comics has any sort of exaggerated importance in our culture is, IMHO, pure folly. The influence of comics in world culture has been criminally underreported, and it, and we, deserve better.

  9. Joshua Says:

    I’d say calling comics criminally underreported is a pretty good example of exaggeration.

    Demanding something is easy, providing it is hard. If you’re a reporter making a living through Google ads, I’m prepared to listen to you about the effectiveness of that economic model. Otherwise…not so much.

  10. Lyle Says:

    Laura, one other appeal of the e-mail interview is that it’s much easier for the writer. You just have to copy, paste and format, unlike a phone interview which requires hours of transcribing.

  11. Laura Hudson Says:

    Well, by all means the most important thing is that this job be easy.

  12. Chris G. Says:

    Some ideas I’m brainstorming right now, and which therefore might suck:

    What do comics creators to about health care? Can you support a family (or even yourself) if you’re not a superstar with an exclusive?

    What are writers and artists from the 70s and 80s and 90s up to? What’s the lifespan of a typical comics career, and how do the rare cases who are still working and doing so as prominently as they did once upon a time differ from those who’ve moved on?

    How does creating comics compare to creating TV shows or movies or novels?

    How did the scheduling clusterfrak at DC these last few years happen?

    What are the economics of archival collections? How much else is out there that could be similarly collected? Do these books stay in print?

    Not all of these require burning bridges or becoming an investigative reporter, but they would require thinking beyond the “Who’s inking Countdown in January?” type of stories.

  13. Johanna Says:

    Chris: Regarding your first question, the dirty little secret of comics is how many men can pursue it as a career because of a wife/spouse with a “real” job and benefits.

    Ray: based on traffic, I think most people don’t want to read well-reported in-depth pieces as much as they do lighter weight entertainment.

  14. Tim O'Shea Says:

    As a person who likes to think he does email interviews effectively, I’m bemused at the trends. I started out doing email interviews in the late 1990s, where creators quite typically declined my requests, preferring the convenience of phone interviews. Now I actually have creators seeking me out because I do email interviews. I’ve had creators positively comment on the quality of my questions, despite the fact it was an email format.

    I’m not an investigative journalist. I’m a guy interested in the mechanics and the thought process behind storytelling. I’m in the midst of interviewing Gregg Hurwitz, the fellow writing the new Foolkiller. Did I ask him if he hesitated taking on a character once seemingly defined by Steve Gerber, particularly after Gerber shared the fact he was irked he was not the one set to do the relaunch?
    http://www.stevegerber.com/sgblog/2006/10/05/marvels-new-foolkiller-book/

    Nope. I much preferred to discuss other topics that were of interest to me.

    I once entered Butcher’s radar around the time you hosted that comics journalism forum on Delphi, Johanna. And I’m more than happy to be off his radar. Nothing against him, he’s done a great deal of good for the industry in fact. We want different things from comics journalism. And fortunately the Internet’s big enough to support every kind of comics journalism one could imagine: from Tom Spurgeon to Paul Dale Roberts.

  15. Alan Coil Says:

    It’s my understanding that many artists who work for the big 2 can make upwards of $60,000 a year if they can do 12 issues a year. That’s a pretty good living in most parts of this country. That’s a subject that I think many people would like to know more about—the economics of working in the business for the big 2 as opposed to a smaller company.

  16. Tim O'Shea Says:

    As long as people bite at Rob Liefeld junk like this, Alan, my belief there’s an interest in serious journalism is not strong.

    As to your suggestion that a creator divulge his or her earnings in a blogosphere where people are fairly eager to judge creators and their personal business (see both sides of that Liefeld/Moore item above), what incentive is there for candor of that kind?

  17. Alan Coil Says:

    Tim, I’m merely suggesting that someone write about the financial aspect of working for one of the big 2. What are the standard rates per page? Does the company provide insurance to all, or just those with exclusive contracts?

    I guess what I am asking is if a person, male or female, can support a family by working for Marvel or DC. Here in the middle of the country, $50,000 a year will support a family of 4 fairly well. I know that is not the same as $50,000 on either coast. In northwest Ohio, one can buy a decent home for $150,000. (There just aren’t very many jobs available there.)

  18. Tim O'Shea Says:

    I think maybe a TwoMorrows periodical like Write Now might be able to tackle an issue like that. But if a creator even thought that it could be turned into a “Bob _________ gets paid that? He doesn’t deserve it.” kind of juvenile direction he or she would be wise to run in the other direction.

    As to your larger question (“support a family”?), I think the question can be answered by the number of creators that also take freelance or teaching gigs on the side.
    I think if you’re a sequential art storyteller, you’re in it for the love of the craft, not necessarily for the love of full medical and dental.

  19. Tommy Raiko Says:

    On the health insurance question: comics artists might also be members of organizations like the Graphic Artsits Guild that offer insurance options. These might be more expensive than having insurance supplied by a spouse/partner’s employer, but almost surely more affordable than buying insurance individually.

    On the more general question of what, financially, does it take to be a working comics artist, Colleen Doran has done many blog entries on the subject that anyone interested might want to look up. Not that she has the time, but if anyone ever writes a “financial planning for comics artists”-type book, I can’t think of anyone better than Colleen to write it…

  20. James Schee Says:

    I don’t really know if there is a market, much less much of anyone to do real hard hitting journalism when it comes to comics.

    I mean this is a medium where fans attack and bemoan creators or creators families for trying to get a share of the money big corporation made off their work.

    Where a huge section of the audience, including those covering comic news, believe and hope they will soon be doing the jobs of those they are covering.

    Those who are finding their own niche and do it well have my hat is off to you though.(hey Tim!)

  21. Johanna Says:

    It’s very true, fan response can be vicious. This is the only field I’m aware of where working for a company you’re discussing makes you LESS qualified in some observers’ minds to talk about them.

  22. Tim O'Shea Says:

    I should have replied to this sooner! Tommy thanks for your great insight. Colleen Doran should be required reading on a regular basis, on general principal.

    And more importantly, Hi James!

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