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The Thin Line Between Editorial Content and Ads

November 2nd, 2012 Posted by david brothers

One of the weird things about writing about comics (or comics journalism or entertainment journalism or whatever this quagmire is called) is that you have to walk the fine line between advertising or marketing someone else’s work and actually creating meaningful content outside the restraints of an economic exchange. I’m fine with “Buy this book!” benefitting someone else, as long as the route I take to tell you to buy it agrees with me. For me, that’s long dumb essays about how cool Carrie Kelly is. For others, it’s something else.

These are advertisements for advertisements of upcoming series that Marvel sent out to all or most of the comics sites. They’re teasers for upcoming advertisements and announcements.

They’re also information-light. You get two names and a buzz word. They’re intended to hype up the fanbase… which makes me realize that comics marketing and advertisement (toward a certain segment of the fanbase) is largely accomplished by way of the press. You don’t see ads for Captain America comic books on TV — you check CBR or ComicsAlliance, where you’ll find stuff like this. Comics sites even post solicitations, which are essentially the thing that retailers use to order their comics. It’s catalog content.

This is the part of comics journo that I don’t want any part of, mainly because they’re such a blatant advertisement. There’s no content here to discuss, only the barest slip of info that makes you think about a series you weren’t previously thinking about.

I’m not really down with unlettered previews, either. They don’t feel like “look at this great art from _____” so much as “this series still exists and is coming soon!” But even with unlettered previews, if you know what you’re doing, you can spin those into something worth checking out. You can provide content outside of “this exists.” You can talk about the technique, the past history of art on a book, the artist’s prior work and how that will influence her work on this new comic, or even just dig into the storytelling and see what material you can squeeze out.

You can provide context is what I’m saying, and as writers-about-comics, that’s something we should be good at and do whenever possible. We need to be able to explain what something means beyond just “this exists and you can buy it.”

But if you look at one of those teasers up there, “this exists and you will be able to buy it” is as far as you can go, or at least as far as most people went. “Daniel Way and Steve Dillon are working on something to do with the word lightning. What could it be? Could it be Thunderbolts-related, since their slogan is ‘Justice, like lightning!’?” is… worthless, as a news piece? What does it mean, other than being a lead-in for a post a week later that says “Yup, it’s T-bolts! Here’s a cover!”

It’s advertising.

I’m blessed enough to be in a position where I can be a prima donna and pick and choose what I write about. I don’t think this stuff, these advertisements masquerading as editorial material, is very conducive to a healthy press or audience. It’s kind of emblematic of how eager the press is for access (we’ll post whatever you send us, even if there’s no real info attached!) and how willing the publishers are to game the system. We should be better, on both sides, because there is absolutely nothing that will be lost by being better, outside of blind obedience. An informed audience is never a bad thing, and treating them like they want to be informed is also never, ever a bad thing. Kick down some information or hidden context. Ignore series that are announced with the artist to be determined. Change the game. You can still tease with info that people can talk about, instead of blindly speculate about, without blowing the reveal.

When you’re covering this stuff, don’t stop at “this exists.” Take it a step further. Look at what you can say about it, rather than just reporting on it. What does it say, what does it mean, what does it do? If the answer’s nothing, is it worth posting?

My problem isn’t even with the teasers in and of themselves. They’re pretty effective, in terms of generating conversation. It’s that the press released them like they were actual news, instead of advertisements. Comics journo doesn’t have an ombudsman, so the lines between editorial and advertisement can get muddy. We need to be better at discernment, rather than posting everything that passes through our inbox. “No, thanks,” isn’t an insult.

Don’t let anyone take advantage of your enthusiasm. I’m willing to help you move a few units and get the word out if your work speaks to me on some level, and if not me, someone else will. That’s how comics journalism works, basically, and that’s okay. But there are better ways to do that than these teasers.

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How do you avoid interview aikido?

September 26th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

When “Avengers” came out there was a vocal fanbase of “Avengers” co-creator Jack Kirby that thought his role in this big pop culture event was being underplayed. With “Guardians of the Galaxy” coming up, there’s already hype around those characters — especially Rocket Raccoon, who was created by Bill Mantlo. What kinds of safeguards and policies do you want to be in place for Marvel to protect the comic creators who are in their older years now, but whose work is entertaining millions of people around the world?

Well it’s a complex question, but I will say that Joe Quesada and Dan Buckley will take the lead on a lot of that and they are actually quite, quite good in acknowledging and letting us know as we share the scripts and character lists with them [by saying]: Here are the creators of this. Here is where they are. Here is who they are, and figuring out what we can do in terms of recognition. If you look at the special credits sections of all the Marvel Studios movies, you’ll see lots and lots of names, probably half a dozen or so, that apply to even the small characters, much smaller than Rocket, that are included in the movie. In terms of Kirby, I always thought of the “Thor” movie as one of the biggest testaments to what Kirby did because at every turn with the production design, we wanted to embrace it. The helmet design, those horns on Loki. “Do you really want those to be that big?” “It’s gotta be that big.” I love that stuff, it’s tremendous.

Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios Head, On Marvel’s Next Risks, Tom Hiddleston’s Bad Boy Appeal And Jack Kirby, 9/24/2012

Question: What are you doing to safeguard or enrich the lives of the creators of the properties that are making you a billion dollars a year?

Answer: We really like to pay homage in the form of Special Thanks and emulating the things those people did in the comics.

Frustrating, isn’t it? It’s a complete dodge, which is whatever. But it prompted some thoughts in addition to the frowns and rolled eyes:

-These questions matter and absolutely should be asked of Marvel, DC, Robert Kirkman, Dreamwave, and whoever else is involved in labor disputes/benefitting off past sins. It’s not negative, or muck-raking, or anything like that — it’s important. These people should be held accountable.

-But the subjects do not, and will not, answer the questions directly, either thanks to ongoing lawsuits or just complete disinterest in publicly addressing the story. Feige here dodges the controversy and uses it to position Marvel as someone who greatly values their creators. It’s spin. Which is useless as anything but marketing.

-So, what’s the answer? How do you address this in the face of silence or spin? How do you keep yourself from being co-opted?

Hostile interviews aren’t the answer. The subjects clam up and the interview ends. Fawny love-me-please interviews don’t work, either, because you’re too busy trying to make a new BFF to honestly address or apply criticism.

Agitation is necessary. That’s how you get people to change. You make the point of contention public, you explain it so that people can understand it, and then you get up in their face. They bend or they don’t — that’s out of your hands. But you can convince people and try to show the upsides of a change. There are ways to go about it that work better than others, I’m sure, but I’m not sure what they are.

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watch who you beef with

February 28th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I screwed up with the Stephen Wacker thing. I take this stuff seriously, and I shoulda been better than I was.

I took his insults personally. I think he was being a jerk, but that him being a jerk gave me a chance to choose to either be a jerk in kind or bail out. I chose to engage, then I bailed out, then I engaged again. He got me, and he got me good. I helped turn my site into the exact type of comics site I hate. That’s on me, no question.

I shouldn’t have engaged him. I think that I was correct in what I said to him, but I should’ve picked my battles better, rather than stepping in with both feet. My comments should’ve been a expanded into a fully-reasoned post, or something. I don’t know. But I screwed up, and I failed myself and my readers. So I’m sorry for that. I’ll do better in the future.

I’d be lying if I said I was happy with how anything or everything went down, but it is what it is. Wacker’s actions were definitely reason to stop holding out and take a break from Marvel for a while. The company’s a bit sour now, so other than two posts I’ve got in progress, I’m done for a bit. No boycott, no big statement, none of that. I just can’t do it. I’ll reassess later.

Tomorrow, look for a brief post on Marjorie Liu & Phil Noto. It was going to be the third and final part of my look at creative teams, but it feels limp now. Thursday or Friday, look for a 4 Elements on Kaare Andrews Spider-Man: Reign. Whichever day doesn’t have Reign should have an exploration of clothes & colors and why I’ve been consciously branching out past black and dark blue.

Don’t let the comments be a Wacker hate-fest or whatever, please. I’m over it! I would much rather do drugs and play NBA 2k12 than deal with more of that.

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this is what they think about you

February 27th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I grew up on Marvel comics. I liked them as a kid, but our relationship is more complex now. It’s honest. I like a lot of things Marvel does. I dislike or ignore several other things. But overall, I think of Marvel fondly. They’re where all my favorite heroes came from, and their artistic bench is deep. I write about comics online, including Marvel comics. Sometimes I love them and slobber over them for weeks. Sometimes I hate them and write about why. I try to do it without breaking down into ad hominems and all the garbage that litters comics internet. I’m a smart dude, too smart to fall into those traps. I think my posts reflect that. I even have this unspoken rule about cursing on 4l!. Excepting times when I’ve quoted other people, I’ve probably cursed less than ten times over the however many years I’ve been writing for 4l!. I don’t not-curse. I just like the challenge of expressing displeasure without going for the easiest routes. (I think it’s sharpened my sword, personally, but that’s neither here nor there.)

I say this to point out that I’m far from a Marvel hater. I did some freelance work for Marvel.com last year, and I’m not the type of guy who can work for someone he hates, no matter how many cool drawings of Spider-Man are on the checks. Just last week, me and David Uzumeri found an obvious error on Marvel’s website that let people grab jpgs of comics published in the past and, from what I saw, as far as two weeks into the future. Rather than updating the investigative/conjecture post we came up with, I emailed someone at Marvel directly. I’m not a hater, and I was surprised when Marvel editor Stephen Wacker came to my site and treated me like a hater after I expressed my opinion on the creative team changes over at Marvel.

You can see him in this post, which was about why double-shipping as Marvel has implemented it devalues the artist and hurts the comic, and this one, where I talk about instances (including a Marvel example) when art changes have been done, or will be done, in cool ways. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. I’m expressing opinions, obviously. David Uzumeri, a good buddy of mine, disagrees with me. He understands why I think the way I do, and I understand the way he thinks, too. I’m not giving the sermon on the mount, here. I’m talking about something I like, and how something else interferes with that thing I like. I skirt up against the edge of insulting someone, but it’s still framed as my opinion of his work, rather than his person.

And when Stephen Wacker finds the post, rather than ignoring it (which is cool) or engaging in discussion with me on the issue (which is rare, but totally awesome), he came out firing shots at commenters and generic pundits before finally condescending to me. He implied that I’m just looking for something to be mad about (a stupid and incredibly ignorant argument to make), that I hate Marvel because I love Image (he did this in the comments of a post where I praise a Marvel comic, and shortly after commenting on a post where I praise other Marvel comics), and then he betrays the fact that he didn’t even read my post before commenting. Instead of addressing my points, he talks about things I don’t even mention, he calls me defensive, he calls me angry, and he generally turns the passive-aggressiveness all the way up in every single interaction he has with me and other commenters. He tells me that I’ve bought into Marvel vs Image before asking me why I think the time I complained about will be different. I tell him this:

I’m not buying into any shtick, and I can’t believe you’d even say something as stupid as that. Especially this idiotic rivalry you’re trying to pitch–did you miss the part where I praise Immortal Iron Fist to the high heavens and point to it as an exemplar of what can be done with multiple artists? I could’ve talked about T-bolts, another Marvel book that does well with this sort of thing, or like Chris Arrant says, DC’s Animal Man. In the post itself I explain exactly what you’re asking me to explain.

But yeah, since you want to come at me with condescension and disingenuous arguments, but sure, let’s get into it.

Other than the “Image-GOOD!/Marvel-BAD!” schtick you’re buying into (congrats to Image marketing for that coup!), what makes you think this isn’t the case here?

I don’t think that’s the case here because you went for the pass-agg condescension instead of explaining what Kano or Samnee bring to the book and how well they work with Waid. We all know they’re good artists, obviously, but how do they fit into the structure of DD? What do they add to the recipe? It would take you two entire sentences to do that. “Chris Samnee’s clean style brings to mind the swashbuckling Daredevil we haven’t seen in a while, and Kano has an incredible aptitude for fight scenes. Pham’s blockier style is somewhat reminiscent of JRjr’s run on Daredevil with Ann Nocenti, and I thought he’d be good for this story because it’s a big classic cape comics action story.”

That’s why I don’t believe you. Instead of talking to me like a grown man or pointing me toward some interview on Marvel.com, you treat me like an idiot. I’m not one of those douchebags who constantly harass you online. I hate Kbox. Why do I get treated like him for saying “Yo, I don’t like this, and here are several reasons why?”

and he says this:

You are very angry. I can see why what with it being a discussion of comics and entertainment.

I don’t believe i’m at your beck and call to explain my creative choices at your bidding, but I do interviews regularly, so my advice would be to look there and or ask our PR people for an interview. (though given your needlessly hostile tone, I’m not sure that’d be such a great way to spend my time.)

Essentially though anyone on DD or any books I oversee is there because I like them (except for Paolo who’s here because he’s dating Waid).

Who’s KBox? Is he an enemy of some sort? I don’t think you’re an enemy for what it’s worth. I don’t even know you. You’re just wrong about some stuff as are some of your posters here.

And setting aside my surprise at getting u madded (it is the penance stare of the internet, and for a brief moment, I saw the shape and color of my soul), “You’re not the boss of me” is an incredible response to an intentionally provocative request. Either way, I admitted defeat and bailed out. I knew that it was going to go nowhere but south, and frankly, I had paying work to do that was only slightly less frustrating than arguing with this guy.

I could point out more and more of his garbage. He left 18 comments between 1130 and 1430. They’re all generally the same–wondering where we get off telling him what to do (we aren’t, we’re talking about what we think is a problem on a site that isn’t his [it's mine]) and what, should he just stop publishing Daredevil because some, snerk, “pundits,” heh heh, don’t like Chris Samnee? And when someone says no, we all like Samnee, and you’re not talking about the discussion at hand, he switches tactics again to something else.

I put an end to things by banning him. He said this in a comment: “Again I’m under no orders to deliver whatever information you or David might command at a given moment. The books speak for themselves.” and you know, I’d had enough. No one’s commanding anything. I’m one voice on the internet. My commenters, all fifteen of ‘em, don’t have enough buying power to sway anything. Except for a couple bad apples I have to keep on track, my comment section is pretty good. It was all rational conversation. More of it agreed with me than I expected, but whatever, there were still good discussions down there. We’re not commanding anything. We’re doing the exact same thing people do in comic shops.

But let’s recap. I state an opinion on a website in a pretty respectful and civil manner, other than saying that I don’t like one guy’s artwork. Commenters pop up and agree or share stories about books they liked. Wacker shows up and poisons the entire well with his passive-aggressive behavior and constant disses. When called on it, he doubles down, because we are so mad that we just gotta get our Marvel five minutes hate in. When called on that, he doubles down again, because this time we just don’t like the artists. And on and on down the toilet. Later, after a couple hours of nonsense, he @s me on Twitter. I tell him:

I’m frustrated at this point, and trying to decide whether or not to ban him or let him have it out with the commenters. He makes it a point to @ several people I spoke to on Twitter about the argument. I lose my temper and tell him off. Pow.

I called it quits on the argument in the morning, and then he kept on with it and I stopped that, too. I wasn’t going to post about it because the whole situation was embarrassing. I haven’t gotten into many public fights with creators or other writers, but it always looks stupid in hindsight. I’m not that guy. I thought I learned this time because I stepped away. I was gonna stick to my resolve until I see this on my way home from work:

So, okay. Maybe it’s an innocent favorite. Maybe he really liked how I said what I said. But considering how unbelievably childish and passive-aggressive this guy has been all day, I’m going to take this as a shot. I hate being condescended to, and he got under my skin. An hour or so ago, he follows me on Twitter. So fine. Here. Listen.

Stephen Wacker: I’m not your enemy. I’m not those guys that follow you around and ask who would win in a fight, Spider-Man or the Hulk. I’m not that guy that commissions explicit Spider-Man porn while typing missives about how Marvel doesn’t know anything about the real Spider-Man with his withered claw of a jerking hand. I didn’t particularly care about the spider-marriage going away. I don’t spend all my time talking about comics I hate. I’m not even a The Comics Journal guy, not even close. I’m not that dude.

I’m that dude that’s been very fond of your books. I praised Brand New Day to the high heavens, and it still has some of my favorite Spider-Man stories ever. I read and enjoyed 52. Daredevil? Punisher? Avenging Spider-Man? Osborn? Shadowland Elektra? I’m that dude who buys your comics and talks them up to his friends. I buy the floppies and then the trade because I’m too stupid to realize how small my apartment is. I’m your customer, homey, specifically yours over the past few years, and, in a way that I’m growing increasingly uncomfortable with, I’m also your free PR. But that’s a neurotic meltdown for another day (or a day in November 2011, I think, but tomato, tomato.) I buy your books, I read your books, I enjoy your books, and I like the creative teams you tend to pick out.

I’m not that other guy. I’m me, and I’m over here talking about something I like and my concern about something I see as being a problem with that thing I like. I’m not ranting or screeching out unintelligible complaints. “I like this, but this new thing? I dunno, I’m worried.” And somehow, that gets me treated like the scumbaggiest of your target audience? I get accused of demanding things to you when I wasn’t even talking to you in the first place? I ask in the post for consistency in the comics I spend three and four dollars on a couple times a month, I guess that was the demand? Is that where we are now? You either get blind, unquestioning fealty or I’m an enemy?

I don’t make big proclamations about boycotts or quitting series or whatever whatever. It’s easier to just do it and not tell anybody. Not everything is a statement. I’m not going to do that here, either. But, Stephen Wacker. I want you to do one thing. Look at yourself, look at how you treated somebody who committed the cardinal sin of expressing concern about something he likes and wants to continue liking, and then think about whether or not being talked down to, insulted, and harassed is something that would make me want to keep buying Marvel comics. That’s not a threat, either. I’m one drop in a bucket that’s several hundred thousand people deep, I know, but take a step back and look at yourself and maybe conduct yourself with some class instead of immediately pulling the knives out.

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Fourcast! 82: Fourcast! Uncut

March 28th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

-We’re freestyling a show this time.
-No set subject, just talking and seeing where it takes us.
-It is surprisingly coherent, but impossible to describe.
-6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental for the theme music.
-See you, space cowboy!

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-Podcast Alley feed!
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