Friday, May 19, 2006

All the News that's fit to print. And then some.

With people talking about the upcoming relaunch of Wizard Magazine’s website, and what that means to the comics internet, I find myself free-associating about comics news online. It’s something that I couldn’t help myself from doing, unfortunately.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, Wizard Magazine and all of its sister publications like ToyFare and FrankChoBoobHeaven all have one promotional website, Currently, that site isn’t used for much more than advertising the current issue of each magazine by previewing articles, images, and then having a similar sentence to “For the full story, pick up the latest issue of Wizard!” somewhere towards the end of the text. All that is due to change at the end of the month, apparently, as WizardUniverse gets a revamp that is rumored to turn the site into a more content-heavy portal, including a lot of web-exclusive content. Another of the rumors about this upgrade is that a lot of the contracted exclusivity that Wizard has with the big companies - where they get to break the big stories for Marvel and DC or else – will crossover onto the site, which will make it the official “place to go” for anyone looking to hear the latest superhero mainstream news first.

I’m in multiple minds about all of this. On the one hand, this feels as if it’s something that Wizard should have done years ago, literally; with Comic Book Resources celebrating its ten year anniversary this year, surely the people in charge of Wizard must’ve been aware of the audience that was online looking for this kind of thing, and it’s not as if they didn’t already have a website… Why did it take them so long to come up with a more coherent web strategy, and why did it come a few years after everyone was so obsessed with content being the holy grail of the internet?

(I’m sure there are a million and one sarcastic responses to that question, but I’m going to stay away from that for now…)

What I’m becoming more and more focused on, however, is what any of this actually means. If Wizard does do what they’re expected to do, is it really going to have the effect that certain people seem to be thinking it will? Is Gareb Shamus Superboy Prime, pulling Newsarama’s Oa away from the center of the comics internet universe to cause some kind of Infinite Crisis where Wizard will rule supreme? Is that the most geeky sentence I have ever written, even with my tongue in my cheek? And if Newsarama is Oa, does that mean that Matt Brady is a blue midget with unthinkable powers, or a super-sexy Hal Jordan-type who looks good in tights?

Okay, I’ll stop now.

But my point, such as I have one, is that the received wisdom on the Wizard upgrade is that, purely because of the deal it has with DC and Marvel that allows it to break certain news stories about new titles and creative teams and “events”, any website that they run such content on before it’s released in print form will eclipse the existing news sites like Newsarama, The Pulse, or CBR… I’m just not so convinced that that will be the case.

The idea of online comics journalism is, to be honest, not the strongest one in the world. The Comics Journal ran a multiple-part story in their print magazine about this last year, before somewhat snootily concluding that there was no such thing, because no-one matched up to their (admittedly, fairly random-seeming) standards. One of the complaints seemed to be that online news sources were less concerned with breaking news stories themselves than they were with linking to already broken stories or running interviews or press releases. And, while there’s a certain truth to that, I always felt that something that TCJ ignored was that… Well, there just aren’t that many genuine news stories in the world of comics, if you ignore things like new creative teams and/or new titles (Things that generally get released in press releases, and nonetheless, are not even really news, as such. Does anyone really see something like “Ethan Van Sciver to be artist on Superman/Batman” and think that it’s a massive news story?).

If I were to think back over the last few months and try to remember real, honest-to-goodness news stories from the world of comics, I can only think of a handful: The Danish cartoons controversy, the Gordon Lee case, Speakeasy crashing in spectacular fashion, the perilous success of the New York Comic-Con, distributor Red Route closing, and the Taki Soma / Charles Brownstein incident and fall-out. Accepting that my memory isn’t the finest thing in the world, that’s still probably all of the major stories, and that takes in, what, the last four or five months or so?

(Of course, mentioning the Soma/Brownstein thing reminds me of the Newsarama poster who commented, grumpily, that that wasn’t comic news and shouldn’t be reported, because it didn’t have anything to do with a specific comic book. You can’t please all of the people all of the time, and yadda yadda yadda.)

Two things about the above news stories seem obvious to me. Firstly, there are so few that it shows why the existing news sites run all of the press releases and interviews and other things that TCJ criticized them for; because, otherwise, there would be nothing new on the site for incredibly long periods of time (Constantly updating content being something that a periodical print magazine like the Journal doesn’t have to concern itself with, allowing them to have the high ground, of a sort, in that regard). And secondly, none of those stories had anything to do with anything that Wizard magazine has under an embargo.

If/When Wizard relaunches its website, things will probably change for a lot of online fans – They’ll have an additional site to go to for certain news stories (That one particular Newsarama fan will probably be very happy). But when some genuine news story happens, however rare that may be, the Wizard site will be on exactly the same level as everyone else, if not a lower one due to the lack of experience and faith from readers that they’ll be able to cover real stories appropriately.

In other words, this is probably just another example of the only truism in comics being Stan Lee’s; that it’s not about change, just the illusion of change.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Which Side are you... Oh, never mind.

This whole Taki Soma/Charles Brownstein thing almost has me wishing that I was doing Fanboy Rampage again, I have to admit. Not because I want to comment on the actual allegations themselves, because those are something that I want to stay far away from because, you know, it’s none of my business and it’s already so much of a mess, but all of the online activity surrounding it has been fascinating to watch, from the purposefully irresponsible tone of the original column by Ronee Garcia Bourgeois (Never mind the inflammatory coyness about the accused that led to Jim McLaughlin having to make a public declaration of innocence, it’s things like this that stand out for me: “I understand that this is quite the sensitive topic and that this all has to be handled with kid gloves and we need to be careful and blah blah blah… I am personally going to make sure this stays in the public eye. I just want this organization and the man behind all of this to be warned. This WILL come out and I am gunning for him.”) to the reactions to reporting on Newsarama, to the reactions to those reactions… It’s like the comics internet’s very own Civil War, and Nitro’s just blown up a bus full of kids!

This latest batch of self-righteousness wars is the result, as everyone knows, of the naming of Charles Brownstein and the emergence of various points where Bourgeois and Soma’s version of events seem to be contradicted. Matt Brady’s coverage and analysis of the story at Newsarama offered the chance for both sides to sort through the contradictory information calmly and rationally:

“This man needs to be immediatly FIRED and possibly castrated. Theres no way in hell I believe him at all. If it takes TWO PEOPLE to remove a man (Ken and Soma) then theres no way it was a bad prank or a feignt. I hope she sues this putz and bankrupts him.”

“All of the new information either supports Brownstein's version, cuts down Ms. Bourgeois, or questions whether the FOL should be involved in these sorts of matters. It just didn't feel balanced.”

“[A disclaimer at the end of the article admitting Brady’s friendship with Brownstein] doesn't change the slant of the article, in the way that it really does paint Taki as a ‘lying whore.’"

Of course, with Brownstein’s identity made public, Matt Brady wasn’t the only one with a connection to Brownstein offering commentary. Image’s Jim Valentino and Marvel’s Joe Quesada were amongst creators offering something resembling solidarity to Brownstein and pointing to the larger issue. Valentino:

“I have known Charles Brownstein since he was sixteen years old. In over a decade’s worth of conversation on nearly every subject imaginable (including women), I know that he is neither mauler nor rapist, nor sexual predator. While the incident in Ohio was unfortunate and unacceptable (and, yes, I royally reamed my friend for it) it was, upon close scrutiny, a drunken indiscretion. Does this excuse it? No. Should this have happened? Absolutely not. But, did it warrant the furor created in its wake by an irresponsible, unethical and inconsequential blogger? Again, no. Many innocent individuals and both involved parties had their reputations hurt as a result of its poorly written, poorly researched over-emotional tone.”


“What we have here is a situation in which two people are being directly hurt and going through more stress than any humans need to go though, all due to a modern day witch-hunt that would have the good ol’ folks from Salem Mass. gleefully admiring us today. Seems nothing has changed… However, what is truly shameful is how this went from being an incident that was strictly between two people and now has been tried in the court of public opinion by ill informed bloggers and posters way to eager to burn someone at the stake! Sometimes I wonder if we should have to apply for licenses to be able to type on the Internet.”

That larger point, however, was somewhat lost on Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, the editor of the original columns at Buzzscope that brought the issue to light:

“I'll be addressing the situation on Buzzscope (PopCultureShock) later this week, as soon as my own investigation is completed […] As some have alleged, Buzzscope (PopCultureShock) bears no ill will towards Brownstein or any of his well-intentioned, level-headed supporters. While Ronée has definitely been extremely passionate in her coverage of this story, to the point of inadvertently causing a few innocent bystanders to have fingers pointed in their direction (for which I, on behalf of PCS, apologized directly to the one party I'm aware of who contacted us about it), she has been no more or less irresponsible than the average TV or newspaper pundit with an op-ed platform. Debate the quality of her writing until you're blue in the face, but don't let the message get lost because you don't like the messenger or how they delivered it. Unlike the TCJ article and, presumably, this one, her coverage was never represented as news and those who say there's no difference are either being naive or disingenuous. Mostly the latter, in my opinion.”

Heidi MacDonald picked up on the interesting first sentence from the above quote:

“Well, it's nice that five months after Buzzscope has perhaps irrevocably harmed three people's careers, jeopardized a marriage, and shaken all three of comics' biggest non-profit organizations, they are finally investigating. Thoughtful, even. They really cross those T's and dot those I's… Folks, I think it's time to cut Buzzscope loose. I really do. They're in the cornfield. If Gonzalez had an insight into actual journalistic ethics, he wouldn't be going around making these jaw dropping statements that are digging him deeper and deeper into the hole he seemingly can't see through his smug-colored glasses of sophisticated higher purpose. And the saddest thing of all? The person most hurt by all of this is the person they were purportedly trying to help.”

Again, Guy misses the point and jumps to a fascinating conclusion:

“When the wagons start circling, they don't waste any time in firing up the Howitzer, do they? Heidi MacDonald, a highly respected blogger who's known Charles Brownstein since he was 15 years old, has now set her sights on Buzzscope and me… Good thing I've never really been interested in breaking into the industry because it certainly sounds to me like the beginning of a blackballing, yes?”

Follow the above link for Mark Waid’s response to Guy’s last line, which is well worth reading. It should be pointed out that Guy’s been playing the “This was never a news story, so it doesn’t matter about Ronee’s wild accusations” card for awhile, now (“…While Ronée was definitely sloppy with her original column -- and I think that distinction needs to be made repeatedly, that she is a columnist, not a journalist and has at no point filed a "news" article about this story…”), along with the “We alone are brave and standing up alone against a tide of apathy and evil” card every now (“You think the guy who did this isn't sweating out his precarious situation a little more with each blogger he sees talking about this, especially influential ones with influential audiences, like Spurgeon, MacDonald and Riggs? You think he's not relieved a bit by posts like Riggs' that shakes its head in shame while effectively saying she won't be doing anything about it? Or Spurgeon, who didn't even deign it worthy of a specific mention? Or several other bloggers who jumped on the story in the beginning but have so far remained silent since Taki stepped forward.”) and again (“I also want to see the spineless men in the industry who stood on the sidelines when this story first came out -- the ones who knew about this guy and his reputation, and stayed silent because, for them, it wasn't that big a deal, or there was more to lose than gain -- I want to see them stand up now and publicly declare their support for Taki and for the Fund, and to let HIM know that he dodged a bullet this time, but that from here on out he's being watched, and the next time he disrespects a woman in any manner, he can kiss his career goodbye.”).

What comes from all of this for me is, I think, something close to Joe Quesada’s comment about needing a license to post on the internet. It’s not just that various fans aren’t able to process events outside of “Civil War rocks Infinite Crisis sucks oh my God”, it’s that the simplistic fan binary mentality of “Which side are you on” being a valid question instead of just an advertising slogan feeds into almost every part of internet conversation, from sites reporting serious events on down. It feels like a turning point, something that might even force the comics internet to grow up a little. Who knows?