Master Of The Obvious: Issue #57

Thu, September 2nd, 2004 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Steven Grant, Columnist

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B.L.O.G.

Back in March, I didn.t really "get" comics blogs. As I told Sean Collins at the time, "I just think the comics blogs I have seen are pretty self-indulgent affairs, is all. Someone will send me a link with a note pointing out something they think I'll be interested in, and I have to wade through laments about the cancellation of 'Angel' and political screeds about terrorism and lamb stew recipes and whatnot to find a two-line mention of 'Demo' #3."

But I've always been a light-a-candle-instead-of-curse-the-darkness sort of guy, so instead of shrugging my shoulders and dismissing comics blogs as merely vents into the ether by too-cranky people, I decided to do a little outreach. I'd been sending AiT/Planet Lar books to traditional media and a few online sources for review for years, so why not, I figured, treat comics bloggers as a nascent, viable media outlet as well? If the outreach didn't work, we were only out promo copies, but if it did, we could work together so comics bloggers could get some free comics they'd enjoy, and we'd get more publicity for our books.

This has worked so well for us I'm surprised other publishers haven't jumped into this review stream with both feet. I mean, you have to figure something's up when the entire comics blogosphereiverse goes from talking about Marvel and DC one week and then AiT/Planet Lar books the next, right? That one's a straight line between two dots, yes it is.

Any half-awake community manager will tell you that bloggers and discussion boards are the early-adopters and opinion leaders in any industry; they write and cajole and instruct and review not because they're paid to but because they care. And since I've always found people with passion to be the most interesting cats at the party, I decided to introduce you to the people behind the comics blogs I check out every day and ask 'em a few questions about why they do what they do. Today's question is:

Comics blogs seem to be a "what have you done for me lately" sort of thing in terms of attention, readership, and import. Cranking out content for eyeballs seems to weigh more one side than the other when it comes to telling both sides of a complex issue. How do you see your blog in relation to who you perceive as its audience?

Ken Lowery, of the oh-so-naughty Ringwood Ragefuck: "I don't see my blog really serving any of the 'important' needs that blogs can or should service -- I don't dig up links, interview creators that often, keep on top of the Latest Hot Thing, or even follow important writers and artists and books beyond those that I personally dig all that closely. I just vent. I vent loud and long and use way too many expletives to get my point across, and sometimes it does the trick. People seem to like it. I cut loose and act like the asshole so the next guy doesn't have to.

"Sure, maybe I only speak one point of view, but isn't that the point of blogs? They are first and foremost opinion clearing houses.

"As for the audience I might lose because of the blog title... well, yeah, I know quite specifically that it limits my audience. And I don't really care. If the title puts you off, then you're sure as shit not going to like anything written beneath it."

Next, Kevin Melrose, of Thought Balloons: "Most comics blogs aren't 'news' sites; they're platforms for commentary. So I'm not sure there's a mandate for them to tell both sides. That said, the sheer number of comics blogs allows countless 'sides' to be considered, through cross-blog discussions/arguments and comments sections."

John Jakala, of Grotesque Anatomy checks in: "I did worry that having 'grotesque' in my blog's name would limit my audience, mainly because it's not the easiest word to spell. Plus, any site with the combination of 'grotesque' and 'anatomy' in its title runs the risk of being blocked by workplace filters. (Although, conversely, those terms probably lead to a lot of unintentional visits from people with more...unconventional predilections, at least if my referrer logs are any indication.)

"I'm not sure who my audience is, other than comic book fans of some sort. My audience does seem to be relatively stable. Even when I don't update for days at a time, I seem to get about the same amount of traffic. Of course, most of that traffic is just looking for the cover to 'Superman/Batman' #5, but at least people are visiting, even if it's only to look at or link to images I'm hosting on my webspace.

"As for trying to cover both sides of a complex topic, I'm not really sure that's much of a concern. For one thing, I've largely given up trying to weigh in on complex topics, instead deciding to focus on quick and easy snark. And even if I did cover a complex topic in a lopsided fashion, there's still the rest of the comics blogosphere to call me on it and point out the deficiencies in my position."

Mike Sterling is a respected comic book retailer, and writes Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin. "I'm not entirely sure what sort of audience my weblog has...hopefully it's people who like to be reminded that 1) it's okay for comics to be goofy, and 2) you don't need to blow a gasket over stupid things that don't matter. Essentially, I believe my audience is comprised of people who realize comics are fun, and that discussing comics should be fun as well.

"As for the name, I don't see it as that much of an impediment...maybe the name 'Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin' isn't really serious enough for journalistic purposes, but I don't see anyone being turned off by it. Anyone seeing the full name of the site would realize it's just me having a joke at my own expense. And when you get right down to it, it's really no sillier than 'Newsarama.'"

David Allen Jones writes the Johnny Bacardi Show. "I agree that most comics blogs are a bit biased towards the likes and dislikes of their respective authors, but that's just the nature of the beast. Rare indeed is a completely objective blog of any kind. Regarding how I see the JBS insofar as its audience, I kinda tried to establish from the beginning that I was gonna write about stuff I liked and wanted to comment on, and I've tried to remain true to that...and keep my fingers crossed that someone will find it interesting."

Tim O'Neil checks in from When Will The Hurting Stop? "I don't really have an answer for that. When I discuess serious matters, I try to attack the questions with the same regard that I would if I were writing a piece for the Journal. If I'm just having fun, I think we can safely say I throq journalistic objectivity out the window. I hope the audience can see the difference between the legitimate criticism/commentary, and satire."

Pop Culture Gadabout's Bill Sherman says: "I should probably start out by noting that Pop Culture Gadabout, by its very title, was never meant to be a pure Comics Blog, but rather an opinion log that flits around various corners of pop culture (comics, TV, movies, pop music, et al). Consequently, I don't typically get listed in the rolls of Pure Comics Blogs, which suits me since I can go days without writing anything about comics.

"My sense is that my core 'audience' is primarily other fannish readers and writers like myself: pop nerds who like to chat about whatever they.ve seen or heard or read that week. At times, I suspect hard-core comics fans get impatient with my forays into other topic areas, but since I'm primarily writing this for myself, I try not to let those concerns influence me."

Shane Bailey, of Near Mint Heroes answers, "My main audience right now seems to be long term comic fans and fellow bloggers, but I'm noticing more of a variety lately. Some creators are popping up in the comments section from time to time as well as just people that happen to come to the site by word of mouth. In fact word of mouth (friendly links) has been the only source of new readers I've had. I'm not actively promoting the site, yet, as I'm still trying to get a feel for what I want the site to be."

Laura "Tegan" Gjovaag, possibly the world's biggest Aquaman fan, writes the well-named Bloggity-Blog Blog Blog. She says, "Very few bloggers pretend to be journalists. We are all opinion columnists writing for whoever agrees with us or is willing to read us. When I'm writing my blog, however, I'm just thinking about what I would read. I figure my audience is small. My family, a few friends, and a few comic book bloggers. Not a lot. I write what appeals to me with only a bit of a nod to my perceived audience.

"Where blogs become powerful is when a lot of them link to one another and the same story. Once we get that 'many voices' thing going, people start to pay attention. As an individual blogger, the best I can hope for is that other folks will find something I say interesting enough to comment on and link to."

You may be familiar with Graeme McMillan, who writes the Fanboy Rampage blog. When asked about his audience, he replied: "Something that happened a lot in the earlier days was that people would be very offended at the very idea of the blog when they were quoted, but then celebrate it wildly and email with suggestions of other people to link to when I was talking about someone that they didn't like. I'd like to think that Fanboy Rampage's audience are cranky snarky bastards who secretly admit to themselves (if no-one else) that they're fanboys about something themselves. I might spend the majority of my time pointing out things to ridicule, but I genuinely do most of it out of love."

Our last respondent is a newcomer on the scene, Matt Maxwell. Matt not only writes the excellent Full Bleed but also hits us daily with his blog, Highway 62. Let's give the newbie the last word:

"It's obviously critical for bloggers to keep the content coming. Does that mean it's good to just dump a bunch of recycled headlines from Newsarama? Of course not. What I mean is a relatively consistent stream of solid content, with the occasional dash of snark for zest. Don't throw out a regurgitated press release just to get something up for the day. Give folks a reason to come back to your blog. If you're not adding something to those news bits, then why shouldn't I just hit The Pulse instead?

"The readership is sharp enough to know that some bloggers are always putting up fresh stuff constantly and some do an essay a week. How do you prefer your 'news': in headline-sized bites, or in a meatier and more in-depth format? Readers figure out who's doing what and click to accordingly.

"As for telling both sides of a complex issue, people who get paid to do that have a hard enough time of it. I'm not going to make excuses for bloggers being one-sided. It's a simple fact. Blogging as a whole may be a democratic process (more accurately anarchic), but every individual blog is a tiny little fiefdom where the blogger pretty much has absolute power. There're creators who I really like and I'm likely to blog every single bit I can about them. Likewise, there're creators who I'm going to blog about only after they put their foot in their mouth. And then there's most everyone else who I figure gets enough coverage elsewhere and you'll never ever read about on Highway 62.

"It's like nobody goes to the scandal sheets for fair and balanced analysis of a story. They go to see the freakshow. There are plenty of folks who cover that side of things and make it damn entertaining, but I don't think they're working under any illusions of being unbiased or doing anything other than getting a chuckle (at someone else's expense or not). And man, does that ever happen a lot in comics.

"I not sure what to think of the audience for Highway 62. I mean, it's only been around for a couple of weeks now. If I tried to second-guess my readers in terms of content, then I'd never get anything done."

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