We Won’t Get Good Comic Journalism Unless Someone Is Willing to Pay for It

I’m two months late talking about the departure and return of Comics Alliance — which indicates why I’m no longer a significant part of online comic coverage, if I ever was — but the changes resulted in some good writing about writing, and so I have the impulse to ramble on about writing about comics online, since I’ve been doing it now for over two decades.

(And maybe that’s part of why I’ve been cutting back, too. How long can you do anything and still have it feel fun? Particularly when there are so many others out there doing so many similar things. It’s hard to both be unique and get readers (which aren’t necessarily related).)

My most productive time was when I had a day job — so no worries about funds — that wasn’t very demanding — so plenty of time to stay current. And that’s what matters if you want to read good comic journalism: people with money and time to write about the field. But who’s going to provide the income? Ad sales online are down, and no one wants to pay to read writing about comics. Heck, half the fans don’t pay to read the comics themselves, particularly at those prices.

That requires sponsorship, of some kind, which was CA’s temporary downfall. Reporting to someone means someone else is making the decisions, including the one of whether to continue. It often also means that you don’t own your words. After all, the guy writing the checks probably wants ownership, too.

There’s also the problem of too many people willing to work for free, for exposure or just for attention. It’s much like writing actual comics. You might be able to make a living as a writer who makes comics, but you’re going to be writing other things as well to do so. The people who keep at it do so mostly because they’re notably stubborn. Most all could make more money elsewhere, and after a while, you grow up and want a family or to buy a house and make other choices.

After all, who’s going to pay for comic coverage? The publishers don’t want journalists, they want mouthpieces, to the extent of trying to punish those who don’t line up. And frankly, if writers can’t move the needle, drawing attention to good, underselling books, or killing bad ones, then why should they care? Writers don’t have much effect. Fans will be fans, and too many of them keep buying regardless of quality or enjoyment.

So that leaves readers, I guess. If you like a writer, make it possible for them to keep doing what they’re doing. Donate some bucks or buy from their links or ads. It won’t let them make a living, but every little bit counts. In the meantime, here are two versions of the same prediction, one from the negative, the other a more positive perspective.

From Sean Kleefeld:

Frankly, there’s just not a lot of money in comics. You can ask almost anyone in any level of the business — creators, publishers, distributors, retailers, journalists… — very few people are making a mint off this. Many (most?) have other sources of income to make ends meet. … Almost everyone is in comics, first and foremost, for the love of the medium. So it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that CA just wasn’t making very much money for AOL.

I’m left wondering if any big corporation like that can maintain a comic/geek themed news/commentary site for very long. Or will they all be a series of blogs written by one or two people?

From V.R. Gallaher (link no longer available):

I’d say that if you are a person who loves comic books — or horror movies, or video games, or whatever — go write about your passion if you are so inclined. Just go and write. Start a blog, start a small website. Being an independent agent, you have a bit more freedom — and you should take advantage of it (within the bounds of human decency; though I know that “human decency” is a concept that is considered “subjective”).

If they’re right, with a few exceptions, we’re bound to have good writers for a few years, until they get busy with paying work or graduate from school or simply lose interest. Then again, if you want to make a name for yourself, just outlast the others. Sheer dogged determination counts for a lot.

(I’m sorry this piece is so disjointed, but that reflects my thinking on the field these days. And my take on whether to continue.)


  • James Schee

    I’ve always liked CWR, not because you are as friend but because you highlight things I just don’t see anywhere else. You have a passion for what you write about, and for the most part seem to write about things you love or that hit a certain spot.

    I look around and there seems a sameness to most coverage out there be it the pr reports of some siites. Or the same passion for/against something that might be worthy of coverage, but I wonder how long such passion can last. Especially if what you are against never changes or what you are passionate for does.

    I get an itch every now and again to write something up. When a book or movie hits me in a certain way. Finding time to do it constantly though while holding down jobs, and family commitments is hard though. I respect those like yourself who have been able to do it for so long. (I’ll to remember about the links again next time I order).

  • Jaylat

    I certainly hope you keep at it. You’re one of the few mature, sensible voices out there.

    Count me on the optimistic side, BTW. There still a lot of upside in comics.

  • I hope I didn’t come off as pessimistic. I was aiming for confused realism. :) It’s hard to be optimistic, but so long as there are people out there who want to keep doing this kind of thing, that’s something to support.

    And thank you both for the compliments.

  • I have many reasons why I’m pretty much stopped writing about comics (did I hear someone gasp “You wrote about comics? When?”), but lack of time, interest in much of what’s being published these days, and lack of incentive to do so are foremost among them.

    You’re one of the best there is, Johanna, no disputing it, and I’m happy to read you when you choose to write…but I certainly can understand why you’d want to scale it back.

  • Experience is hard-won, and it’s tough to have an industry where there’s no way to monetize that. In comics, memory isn’t always wanted.

    Then again, if they’re aiming certain subsets of the industry only at the young, maybe the young are the best ones to react?

  • “Outlast the others.”

    Working on it! ;-)

    Seriously, though, yeah, I think comics is a game for the young(er). That’s where the money is aimed, anyway. That’s where Marvel/DC aim, it’s where the advertisers go.

    Ironically, it’s where the most people willing to work for free come from. And then, when they get a little older and need the money/realize their own worth/put value on their time, they’re not seen as worth anything and they go silent.

    I just talked myself into a circle, didn’t I?

    It’s just funny that the other industry I follow, photography, has many of these same issues. Everyone has a camera these days, right? And far too many people think they know how to use one…

  • hapax

    I would hate to see CWR go away. It’s always a highlight on my weekly blogtroll: a well-written, thoughtful site for news and reviews that has an obvious love for the media but never stoops to fansquee, is equally partial to a variety of genres from superheros to manga to indy memoirs, and — not incidentally — is written by a woman without being all *about* being written by a woman.

    Honestly, these days I am much more interested in reading good comics journalism than I am in reading the comics themselves.

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