Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #116

Tue, August 24th, 1999 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

SAN DIEGO PANELS:

ON JOURNALISM

The first panel I attended was Thursday afternoon at 2 p.m.

This was an interesting decision since there were at least 3 different panels I wanted to attend in the previous couple of hours. I suffered from burnout really quickly and decided to skip them all. But the "Does Comics Journalism Still Matter?" panel was one I had to attend. Besides being something of a personal interest given my position here, this was the place to meet CBR's Executive Producer Jonah Weiland and news guy Beau Yarbrough, whose name is misspelled in the program book.

I got there early enough and immediately saw two guys wearing CBR shirts. Wasn't tough to figure out who they were. A couple smiles and handshakes later, and we were old friends. Jonah handed over my box of business cards, which was thick enough to cover me for the next ten conventions, and we settled in for the discussion.

Also seated there was Brian Saner-Lamken, who you might remember from THE COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE and the now infamous Kingdom Come edition of COMICOLOGY. I'm very happy to see that Brian is restarting COMICOLOGY in something closer to a standard comics magazine format. First issue is set for the spring. I was doubly-pleased to read his comments in last Thursday's Comics Wire that his model for the magazine is pretty close to what I wrote about in my column which appeared on the Friday of the convention. How's that for serendipity? Good luck to Brian! Congratulations to TwoMorrows Publishing for picking up this fine book, too.

The panel started with a reporter from THE COMICS JOURNAL filling in for Gary Groth, Jim McLaughlin from WIZARD Magazine, Gary St. Laurence of CBG fame, Michael "CBI Newsarama" Doran and our very own Beau Yarbrough. Steve Darnall was completely absent.

Once the panel was introduced, it was quickly noticed that there was no moderator. I don't think it's too much to ask that a panel such as this have a moderator. When the Internet side of the equation sitting on one side of the podium can't see the print side sitting next to them, it makes communication very difficult. Heck, I would've volunteered to moderate it, if it wouldn't have looked like a conflict of interest.

Nor was this, by the way, the only panel without a moderator. Unless it was company-sponsored, most panels didn't have moderators. This seems like an incredible waste to me. Surely there are people willing to volunteer to moderate these things, if need be. It would help things to stay focused and move along a little bit better.

Jim McLaughlin took things over pretty quickly and got things jump-started, but it was still a little slow there at the beginning. It wasn't until Gary Groth was nice enough to honor us with his presence that things got lively. Mr. Arrogance himself managed to unify the panel into a single solitary force -- united against him. His stand that only TCJ reporters could be considered true "journalists" didn't win him much sympathy. Everyone else on the panel, his contention was, was a "so-called journalist."

I don't think that's true. Of course, three of the other four reporters are freelancers, of sorts. They write their own news and post or pitch it to someone else. Yarbrough and Doran are their own editors, for the most part. St. Laurence pitches an idea; if he sells it, he gets paid. Otherwise, he moves on. So their breadth and depth of coverage, admittedly, is stuff that they find interesting. There isn't anything wrong with this. They serve their audiences this way. Even Wizard does. Wizard just does so in a way that three-quarters of con attendees, if asked, would probably find juvenile, immature, and not worth the paper it's printed on, unless used to aid in the wiping of one's posterior.

What I find more interesting in the discussion is not what journalism is, but rather what it should be in light of the dichotomy between print and Internet. It seems self-evident to me that print publications haven't a chance in breaking news anymore. The hot news and breaking news is done on the Internet. By the time Wizard reports on some hot rumor, it's already happened, been announced, and thoroughly debated on-line. Same thing with the CBG. It seems to me that the best way for print publications to maintain their audience and do something worthy of our time, is to broaden out and write more in-depth pieces. I can find out who the next straw man Bob Harras is setting up to write X-MEN on-line. What is his writing history? What does he have planned for the X-Men? Why would he take on this job? Why does Harras continue to lose great writers at such an alarming pace? Get that interview in print!

People tend not to read long essays on-line. They will, however, be more than happy to read long interviews or investigative journalism pieces in a magazine while sitting on the can. (What is it with this bathroom motif I've got going in all my San Diego reports?!?)

After the panel, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and had a short discussion with some of the ladies from Sequential Tart, a pretty terrific web site. I've mentioned it before here, but go ahead and visit again. There's a lot of good reading to be had there.

(At the same time, I grabbed lunch. I paid $6 for a soda and a slice of pizza. And you wonder why it is I lost 5 pounds on this vacation?)

That ended up being the only panel I went to on Thursday.

ON SCHEDULING

I quickly learned that schedules at the con were an impossibility. By getting a slightly late start Friday morning, I missed the panel on lettering and breaking into comics scriptwriting. (If anyone went to the lettering panel, please write in and let me know what I missed. I really regret that one. Who was there?) On Thursday, as I mentioned already, I blew off a couple of panels just because I couldn't go to both.

When I looked at the schedule on Thursday night, I also realized that I could spend the rest of the weekend happily in panels, but that would leave me no time to hit the con floor. I hadn't touched the dealers' area yet with any sort of mission in mind. I hadn't talked to dozens of exhibitors I wanted to talk to on the floor. There just wasn't enough time. Next year I'll know to be more productive with my first day. It's important to hit as many of the artists and writers you want to see early so you can clear time out for panels when the floor gets choked with weekend traffic.

ON HEROES

And so on Friday I didn't hit a panel until noon. It was "Heroes vs. Anti-Heroes." Quite honestly, it's not a topic which fascinates me a whole lot, but the panel lineup was pretty terrific: Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, Jeff Marriotte, Darick Robertson, and Garth Ennis highlighted it for me.

It was a pretty semantical argument, and by the end I had come to the conclusion that there is no single dividing line between hero and anti-hero. Most every line you drew, Batman would end up on the wrong side of it. Very confusing. Thankfully, it didn't get to USENET levels and devolve into too much pettiness. It's interesting to listen to comics writers talk psychology, though.

The pictures I took of that panel got lost. Honestly, when I arrived back home, one of my three rolls of film was missing. I have no idea what happened to it. I must have dropped it somewhere.

ON BABYLON 5

JMS - Joe Michael Straczynski - gave his annual BABYLON 5 presentation without B5 this year for the first time. There were some CRUSADE highlights and a terrific music video montage of the five year arc with music from THE PHANTOM MENACE which was worth the price of admission alone.

Some kid wearing a VOYAGER costume asked JMS a question. Bad move. It was very entertaining, though.

JMS talked a little about RISING STARS from Top Cow, but most discussion was TV-related.

Afterwards, he headed downstairs for an autograph session. I did not follow. I'm not wasting an hour and a half of my time at the San Diego convention to get one person's autograph. I even upheld that position when Claudia Black (from the underappreciated FARSCAPE) was signing at the Sci Fi booth. There's too much you could do in an hour and a half to waste time on-line for anything.

I finally watched the CRUSADE episode "Racing the Night" on tape this afternoon. This was originally supposed to be the first episode. Aside from a couple of incredibly cheesy special effects, it was a great show. Too bad TNT had to interfere later on. ::sigh:: You really can see the magic in this episode.

ON SUPERMAN

I ended the day at the Superman panel at 4:30, with Stuart Immonen, Joe Kelly, Jeph Loeb, Eddie Berganza, J.H. Williams III, and Andy Helfer.

But here's my fear: What do we really want? The classic Superman character and situations? Or just the change back to that concept? No doubt sales will start to dip after the first year of the classic Superman, and DC will want to start making changes again. That's why they do that. Let's hope their memory is long and their fans are numerous enough to head this off at the pass.

Loeb and Kelly really seem to have a handle on what the fans want and are anxious to give it to them. It's about time. No blue costumes. No long hair. The Daily Planet is back and Jimmy Olsen is their photographer. Loeb is doing something really interesting and having Lois Lane narrating his book. Kelly's sense of humor shows in his Superman title, but not at the price of the characters. It's much more subdued than DEADPOOL, but it's still a whole lot of fun. And isn't that what we want with Superman?

"It's gotten to the point where John Byrne is about as well-respected in this industry as Rob Liefeld."

There was also the obligatory shot across the bow of SPIDER-MAN: CHAPTER ONE in this panel. I think it's terribly hard to think of a con panel in which John Byrne wasn't mocked this year. My, how times have changed. It's gotten to the point where John Byrne is about as well-respected in this industry as Rob Liefeld.

It seems that Back to Basics is the theme of the convention, if not the industry at the moment. Even the Batman titles are doing it, concentrating on different aspects of the character in different books once this No Man's Land nonsense is over.

Williams and Helfer didn't get many questions, since they were there to talk about various Supes Elseworlds specials. So they had fun playing with a digital camera, taking pictures of the crowd and admiring their handiwork on the built-in screen on the back of the camera. I have to admit to being jealous. I saw quite a few of these digital cameras out there, and very much wish I had one. (For one, it would have made it much more difficult to lose a roll of film. ;-) I'll just wait a couple of years until the prices drop more and then I'll go for it.

The Elseworlds specials sounded interesting, though. They're not doing anything as asinine as the forthcoming FLASH Elseworlds special in which -- yawn -- Flash saves JFK from getting shot. Ooh, can anyone else think of a more cliched and hackneyed alternate future plot point? Heck, Gene Roddenberry wanted to do it in every STAR TREK film, completely forgetting his own Prime Directive. I'm sick of it.

ON FANDOM

Sadie O. McFarlane of CompuServe fame didn't make it, but Tom Galloway of USENET and Kim McFarland of AOL did. I sat quietly in the back row. In all honesty, I could listen to Tom speak all day. He has a controlled intelligent manner to his speech that echoes his posts quite nicely. Plus, I had done a report on the creation and evolution of the USENET from a technical standpoint for school last year, so I found his USENET background bits very interesting.

Others, quite frankly, thought the panel was a bore. But to each his own.

(Galloway could very well be Tom Breevort's twin brother. I'm still trying to figure out which of the two asked JMS a question at the panel on Friday. I know it was a "Tom." )

What did we learn from this panel? If you feel an attraction to someone on the 'net, meet them quickly.

Oh, and intelligence apparently doesn't matter in the written form of communication that we use on-line. That's kind of scary, but (once again) to each his own. It helps to explain the plummeting standards in this country, if nothing else.

Here's my point: If I go to rec.arts.comics.* I want to talk comics. I expect that to be what the conversation is about. If someone is too dumb to be able to contribute to that discussion, I want nothing to do with him or her. If I'm looking for nice people who aren't necessarily well-versed in the comics discussions, then I'll go to a group like the Community message board at CBR or the Chatter board at CompuServe. Now, this doesn't mean intelligent people don't go there. I'm just saying those are the places I go to "socialize" as opposed to discussing certain topics. That's where I go to meet people on a more personal level, such as the 'net allows. On a rec.arts.comics.*, I'm judging people on their contributions to the on-topic discussions at hand.

The topic of APAs and their future in an on-line world came up. I think that's a tricky topic. It works both ways. Some APAs have formed because of on-line groups, yet others have died because of them. I've only ever been in a couple of APAs, but I think the draw of the web is a big part of what kept me away. It's easier to sit in my bedroom and type out messages than it is to format a 'zine and photocopy it and mail it out and wait to see what everyone else has to say. It's all about the immediacy these days. It's great to get the mail and to consider yourself a self-publisher, but the lag time is tremendous, and in a fast-moving industry such as this one, can be murderous.

ON PAUL DINI

I have to admit that I'm really far behind on my animated series viewing. Remember the APAs I said I belonged to? One was devoted to cartoons. I dropped out because I found my interest in them waning. Still is. The animated series for Superman and Batman have just lost a lot of their urgency for me these days. Part of it is that the new style for Batman doesn't do it for me. It's a cartoon now instead of an animated series, no matter how well-designed or well-written it might be. "Superman" I like, but it's not something that I'm instinctively drawn to. "Batman Beyond" I watched for the first three weeks and never since. I just don't feel the need to. I'm trying to catch up on "Batman Beyond" now, based on some of the excitement that's generating around it, though. So we'll see how that goes.

Dini is a busy man, writing comics and movies and animated series. What more need be said? I can't really say that any big news broke out here, although his reaction to the forthcoming Spider-Man series was priceless. When someone outlined the premise to him, he almost did a spit-take. Instead, he calmly poured himself another drink and paused, then said, "Marvel: House of Ideas."

I asked Dini about the complete episode guide that had to be removed from the BATMAN ANIMATED book. It was pulled for space considerations and was slated for a possible companion volume. Dini said it didn't look likely. The book publisher originally gave him an impossible deadline to meet on the book, and it didn't happen.

COMING UP. . .

Friday's PIPELINE2 should be dealing with the various people and publishers I got to meet during the convention. Next Monday should be back to "normal" with current reviews mixed in with some looks at preview books I picked up at the convention. And then come back on Friday, September 3 for my Open Letter to Rob Liefeld.

In the meantime, please discuss any of the stuff you read in this column over at the Pipeline Message board. There's a link to it conveniently located at the top of this page. It's a friendly group over there with a pretty good signal to noise ratio.

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