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, wizarduniverse.com. 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.