6:00-7:00 The Comics Blogosphere— The blog explosion has opened up a new frontier for comics criticism. This lively (and inevitably bloggable) discussion features David Brothers (4thletter!), Jeff Lester ( The Savage Critic(s)), Laura Hudson (Myriad Issues), Tim Robins (Mindless Ones) and moderator Douglas Wolk (Reading Comics).
Wow. That’s my name up there. Let me go ahead and say thanks to my fellow FBB4l! gangster David Uzumeri of Funnybook Babylon, who recommended me to Douglas Wolk after being unable to make it to the panel, and to Douglas Wolk, who didn’t look at 4l and go “Ha ha ha… no.”
I’ve been comics blogging in specific for a little over three years now. I went to my first convention in 2007. It was New York City Comic-con. A few months later, I moved to San Francisco. My second convention was Wondercon here in SF in 08, then NYCC again, and then I went to my very first San Diego Comic-con and had the honor of being on a panel at the biggest comics show in the country.
The panel was a lot of fun. We didn’t exactly pack the room, but there was a respectable crowd. I was slightly nervous before the panel, as Andrew Bayer can attest, but that disappeared once I got close to the stage. I introduced myself to Douglas and the rest of the panel and took my seat. I already knew, or knew of, most of the people on the panel. I’d seen and spoken to at least one guy from Mindless Ones, though I didn’t know Tim personally. Laura I met at NYCC08 courtesy of Jon from PopCultureShock, though I was reading her blog before then. Jeff Lester I knew from Savage Critic(s) and had been reading for a while. We lived in the same town for a full year before meeting, since I kind of danced around the outside of his social circle. Do I even have to explain why Douglas Wolk is important? I kind of felt like the odd man out a little– I respected everyone on the panel. What was I doing there?
(jeff’s a luke cage fan, so he’s automatically cool.)
Pardon any errors in here– I’m going from memory and I may have a few things out of order. I’m sure I got all the facts right, though. This is also all very me-centric, because a) the world revolves around you know who, b) I feel like I learned a lot, and c) I didn’t take any notes, so there’s no way to do a proper report.
We went over a lot of the usual stuff you’d expect on this kind of panel. Where we got started, why we do it, and so on. I got to tell the secret origin of 4thletter! and everything. It was a lot like #34 on this list, only with more fanfiction. I mentioned how Fanboy Rampage, The Beat, and the old Journalista were kind of the trinity of blogging back then, and it turns out that Heidi Mac was in the audience. That was a nice surprise!
(At some point during all of this, I called Gavin a genius and possibly my rival.)
We talked about being part of a group blog is kind of an involved game of one-upmanship, as well. Having a partner, or partners, forces you to try and keep up. You can get complacent when you’re the only one on a blog, but a group blog is a community unto itself.
All of us got on really well. There were a lot of laughs and jokes and everything was very friendly. Laura described herself as a “stats stalker,” meaning that she keeps a close eye on her referrals and stats for her blog. I won’t lie– I do the same thing. I particularly like finding creators who’re googling for themselves. It’s fun and interesting.
That ended up spinning off into a sidebar about how stats and feedback affect your blogging. Almost everyone agreed that you should respect the feedback, but not follow it slavishly or allow it to completely alter your style. Use the feedback to grow as a writer, but you have to be careful not to let it give you a swelled head or wreck your self esteem. Trying to pay attention to the criticism, constructive or otherwise, is important, but learn what’s useful and what’s useless.
Jeff Lester made a good point that I can’t quote from memory, but it was in reference to growing as a writer and looking back on things you’d written years ago and having something like an “ache in your soul.” Growing as a writer is vital, and sometimes that feeling is bad, but necessary, one. It shows that you’re getting better. Or have low self-esteem, I’m not sure which.
I mentioned that, in my experience, the only way to become a better writer is to write regularly. I’ve been press of some sort or another (games or comics) since 2003, and that’s led to me writing almost every day ever since, be it for work or play, fact or fiction. In high school, a steady stream of (fan)fiction and school essays kept me busy, too. It helped a lot, since I tend to immediately hate whatever I write thirty seconds after I finish it and am always pushing myself to do and be better. Pushing through those thousand terrible pages you write before you get to your first good one is a necessary evil.
There was also a brief tangent about trolls and negative commentary online. Learning to recognize a troll when you see it, and learning not to engage them no matter how tempting it gets, is basically a life skill.
On the flip side, both Laura and I mentioned that we have been guilty of causing trouble, due in part to our blogs being vanity blogs, for lack of a better term. Jeff and Tim are part of group blogs with specific aims, while 4l is me and Gavin and Myriad Issues is just Laura. We blog because we can, so a lot of personality and real life issues start coming in. If you’re in a bad mood when you write, that’s going to come through in the post and then you might have some ‘splaining to do, Lucy. We both tend to shoot emails to trusted friends before the post to check and see if we were going over the line, and sometimes that gets posted anyway.
On the flip-flip side, sometimes you just have to eat a blogger alive. Don’t pretend like some don’t have it coming.
Laura made a really interesting point mid-way through that piggybacked off something Tim said. Tim mentioned that he’d gotten his start in fanzines, which just aren’t a viable from an economic or attention standpoint these days. Laura, and myself, grew up on the internet. It’s helped mold her style of writing, introduced her to people, and opened up new doors. It’s a brand new age for criticism, and there’s kind of a generation gap (I’m not calling anyone old!) between the people who grew up online and who got on the net after they grew up.
I mean, looking at my life from day job to fun gigs– in the past five days, I’ve written something like ten blog posts for a certain game website, kicked off a new strategy guide project, edited five manuals for two different game franchises, troubleshot a few hilarious hardware/software failures (they weren’t hilarious at all, that was sarcasm), played a bunch of currently unreleased games, shot about half an hour of video and edited it into something interesting (and sad), tricked Gavin into doing a great PCS piece on Batman, and wrote an emergency (short) script for a game company.
This is my life. I love my life. It’s always interesting, always fascinating, and sometimes frustrating, but it’s mine. It’s different, it’s weird, and I don’t know that I would have been able to do this in anything but the Internet Age. I’d like to do more freelance writing, since 90% of what I do these days is a weird mishmash of technical writing and educational, but that’s my fault for not pursuing it actively.
At some point during the panel, probably before all of this stuff I’ve already talked about, someone asked about the role of comics blogging in regards to affecting companies and letters pages. All of us agreed that the blogs are a replacement for letters page, but without the filter that a keen-eyed editor employs in comics.
Any idiot, including myself, can have a blog and talk about comics all day long. There are an enormous amount of bloggers out there, and not all of them are worthwhile. Again, discernment is the key skill to have when speaking online. I don’t think that any of us said that they’d affected someone’s publishing operations in their day-to-day, but there had definitely been a fan reaction.
I came away from the panel kind of re-energized, honestly, and not for the first time that weekend. The blogging panel and the Black panel reminded me what I love about the quagmire that is comics and why I even bother with it. The answer is the community– there are a lot of smart people out there that I don’t know, but will one day meet via the internet, and then eventually in real life.
Case in point: Cheryl Lynn (who needs to check her email >:|), Pedro, Chris, Joe, Jamaal, Jon, and David from the FBB4l! gang, Carla Hoffman from Snap Judgments, and Graeme McMillan, who writes for every website ever, but is currently on io9. Add the entire cast of the blogging panel to this, as well. That’s why I do it.
This wasn’t on the panel, but on Friday night, after the Eisners, a lot of people came to the Hyatt to get their drink on. I was going to sneak in and go straight to bed after seeing Tropic Thunder (hilarious, and there is a post coming on that soon, as well), but I got there and at least three people I knew spotted me on the way in, so I kind of had to come back downstairs. I caught up with Darwyn Cooke after seeing him at the con earlier, talked to my San Francisco buddies, and spotted Laura in the lobby. The bar had just closed, and while Laura and I were talking, she said “What would you say if I could get you a drink?” I said she’d be my brand new favorite person. So, we go back into the bar, to a table, and she gives me a drink.
Laura Hudson is my BFF and my favorite blogger. Sorry, Graeme!
Black Panel & BET post(s) coming soon. I’ve got a lot to talk about and a lot to turn into coherent sentences instead of my chopped and screwed notes.