If you're reading this now, it means you're roughly in the 5%. Most people who go online to read about comics will end up reading previews and "top 10" lists--subjects we all, or course, enjoy. But the articles/blogs that critically analyze our industry are usually only read by two types: people in the biz whom are affected by this stuff, and the few readers who are interested in reading more than word balloons when it comes to comics.
And I'm not knocking people who don't care to read these articles. All readers are contributing to the industry with their buying power, and I'm thankful for them, even if they're not in the 5%. I admit, if I had a normal 9-5 job and a boss that was kicking my ass 5 days a week, I might not have the tolerance for these sorts of articles either.
That being said, I think we need more of these articles/blogs written from different points of view--more from creators especially. The 2010s will likely be remembered as the decade when comics largely went digital--it will be a decade defined by technology more than by content. And I fear we're currently making this transition without having enough of a discussion. Which is silly because we comic people are a small group of "plugged in," sci-fi loving, future thinkers--there's no reason why everyone (from readers to creators to publishers) can't help steer this ship through a digital decade. If there's one thing we learned from the Bank of America/Netflix/Arab Spring fiasco, it's that peasants can now rule kings. And having more participants in this discussion helps steer us away from business-as-usual publishing.
But, "With great power comes with great responsibility."
In search of finding more contributions to this intellectual conversation, I'm glad to have found examples like the Ron Marz piece for CBR and posts by futurists like Warren Ellis, Augie De Blieck and Christian Sager. The reason I think that creators need to partake in this discussion more is that the average reader will more likely get involved in the discussion if it's presented by their favorite creator. If creators don't chime in, then no one will, because CBR and Newsarama don't usually promote this stuff. And here's why:
Articles dealing with the health and future of comics don't get the same traffic as previews and "top 10" lists (maybe only 5% according to my source). With less traffic, intellectual articles make less money when it comes to advertising. Thus, comic websites pay their reporters less to write them, or they decide not to publish anything at all. Better to pay twice as much for a "top 10" opinion piece or run a Marvel preview article for free. Better yet, just re-post an intellectual piece written by some creator for free (my "5 Year Plan" was re-posted a few times by these website, only one with permission by my friend Ron Marz). And I'm not complaining about this--spreading ideas for free is what this intellectual conversation requires. I'm just pointing out that we can't rely on the news and on reporters to have this discussion for us. Unless those reporters are willing to work for free on their own blog sites (which some thankfully do).
The other reason why I'd like creators to blog about this discussion more is because their blogs aren't as edited as their interviews might be. I've been involved with a number of promotional interviews for comic websites, and I was disturbed by how much interference my publishers had in what the article could contain--and it was more than just trying to stop spoilers from being revealed. Most companies have a PR department of some kind whose job is to control information--that's no surprise to anyone. If it was up to them, it would always be happy-positive-happy-positive-everyone-is-clapping-at-once advertising. Frank, intellectual discussions tend to rub these people the wrong way because such a discussion implies something wrong with the status quo. Which, for them, is negative PR. I don't blame PR people for doing their jobs, but having the press pressured into some form of conformity is NOT a healthy way for our industry to operate.
I'm aware that my contributions aren't always popular with other creators. Or publishers. Or readers. I imagine the phrase, "I like Murphy's art better than I like Murphy," is a growing meme. And I accept that. But just realize that my attempt with these blogs isn't to upset people, but to lend my ideas to the larger discussion I'd like us all to be having. So if you're a creator and you disagree with something I've said, I beg you to write your own response. A healthy discussion is all about different points of view sharpening their blades against one another. Many times when I see, or even am involved in disagreements about these topics, it tends to border on the side of, "you should just shut-up." That's the worst attitude to have because you're trying to stop the conversation. If you don't have the stomach for futurist dialog, then opt out and let the conversation continue without you.
Here are small things I think we can all do in order to promote a healthier decade:
READERS: If you have the energy, get involved with the discussion. At least click on those intellectual articles to give the impression of higher traffic. And if you can, go to shows because those conventions often become the hub of these discussions (with beer). It's also a place where comics encounter new technology and media. The comic biz will not falter because our conventions are too popular. Only good can come from them.
CREATORS: Speak up with your blogs. But do your research. I have these blogs proof read and trouble-shot by other creators before I post them because I want to keep the conversation honest. Sometimes I'll step over the line, and when I screw up, I try to admit it. If you're not into writing these things, then maybe you have a reporter friend who's writing an article you support--offer him a quote so he can sell it better to his editor.
PRESS: Websites should continue with previews and "top 10" lists, of course. If those bring traffic, so be it. But if it's fair, balanced, and helpful reporting you're after, then you need to get away from Entertainment Weekly-style journalism and start funding research pieces. If you do this well, you'll have more to brag about than italicizing the word EXCLUSIVE when a publisher throws you a nugget.
PUBLISHERS: Continue to embrace digital technology and work with sites like Comixology. We're a small industry and we're technically savvy--my hope is that comic community will invent a healthy digital-marketing model before anyone else. Our goal is a stable industry where both creators and publishers can make a consistent living; one that welcomes new ideas, recognizes talent and is on the cutting edge of technological trends.
And by the way, good job on the reboot--I had my doubts but clearly I was wrong. I think TV spots help. And I hope you have a plan B for the day when the SS Diamond ends up with the Costa Concordia.
As always, thanks for taking the time to read.
Listening to: Charlie Rose
Watching: Top Gear UK