The Basement Tapes: Issue #24

Tue, January 25th, 2005 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Joe Casey & Matt Fraction, Columnist

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Sometimes, this is what happens when two writers e-mail each other:

An ongoing conversation behind closed doors, equal parts experience, opinion, critique, and outright rambling, THE BASEMENT TAPES are an attempt to present somewhat serious discussion about the somewhat serious business of comicbooks between two writers waist-deep in the perplexing and ever-evolving morass of their own careers.

Oh, God, it's the blogs one.

CASEY: So looking back on 2004, one of the minor tremors of general comicbook culture has been the rise and perceived prominence of the so-called "comics blogosphere." The community of folks who decided to start sharing their thoughts, their insights, their opinions to anyone who cared to read them, pretty much on a daily -- or, at least, semi-daily -- basis. When I first noticed that there was some honest-to-God momentum occurring here, I was really interested. And genuinely inspired, mainly because these guys (and they know who they are... or, in certain cases, they know who they were) had the balls and the commitment to get out there just about every day and attempt to talk about, in some instances, fairly significant issues relating to our industry and the art form. Or, if not significant issues, some substantial essays -- that were sometimes comparable to anything that I might read in THE COMICS JOURNAL -- were being written (and, in fact, some of those bloggers ended up writing pieces for the JOURNAL). Lots of good stuff was happening.

Now, it's been a year since that initial burst of activity, and it seems like the dust has settled a bit. Six months ago, I wondered aloud how long a lot of these guys would be able to keep it up, day-in, day-out. They're certainly not getting paid for their efforts. They seemed to be doing it out of sheer passion. That's what was so great about it. But I suppose passion doesn't last forever, because I see less and less in-depth comics-related writing on these blogs with each passing week.

So, I've actually seen you posting on some of the blog comment sections on occasion. What's your take on what's happened in the past year, and where it's arrived at...?

FRACTION: Well, first off, that Dirk Deppey, Sean Collins, and John Jakala aren't regularly gracing blogburg with their voices anymore means we're all the worse off for it-- while I'd agree or disagree with those three in equal doses and with equal measure, they offered thoughts and opinions that went beyond the normal hype and PR shit. So, that's kinda lousy.

That said-- and we should do a TAPES about this soon-- Dirk has had Sean doing a few pieces in the new TCJ-- and several others whose names I recognize from the universal blogroll-- and he's really made his editorial presence felt over there.

So, uh, I dunno. Blogs. Blogs are awesome when someone, somewhere, for whatever reason, decides to soapbox it and throw their two cents out there just to see what happens. Unconventional perspectives and ideas, unencumbered by the need for hits, ad dollars, approval, endorsement, or anything other than pure communication. And it seems to me that there are a lot more women in Blogopolis than in the pages of Wizard or The Journal, which is good.

Blogs are thoroughly un-awesome when they talk about blogs, talk about people talking about blogs, talk about each others blogs, or mimic each others blogs because that's what all the other blogs are doing. Blogs blogs blogs blogs blogs blogs blogs blogs blogs blogs blogs blogs blogs blogs. Blogs.

I think it's great when someone writes a killer piece on NEW FRONTIER or SCOTT PILGRIM because they absolutely loved (or hated) it. I think it's okay when some people write pieces responding to that. I think it sucks when the blogatorium become choked by a sense of duty to review or comment on NEW FRONTIER or SCOTT PILGRIM because 19 other blogs have done it. I hate the enforced blogcycle-by-obligation. We're dealing with two mediums already prone to becoming a little club-housey-- comics and the 'net-- so anything that reinforces that sort of thing bums me out a little.

CASEY: I think you hit on something extremely pertinent. I look at Dirk's abandonment of the blog for the EiC post on the JOURNAL as the real turning point when things went from "promising" to "less than promising." I think the JOURNAL may be better for it, but to me it was really a blow for print media over electronic media. But Dirk's was the first blog I really paid attention to.

I also agree that when the whole thing actually became the "comics blogosphere," that sense of community was, in fact, the worst thing to happen to the form itself. Once you build the clubhouse, the clubhouse becomes the news as opposed to talking about more "real" concerns. I don't want the blogosphere to eat itself, but is it simply an inevitability?

Did they just begin playing to their audience? In other words, are they simply writing for each other now? And, if so, is there a way out of that cycle...?

FRACTION: It's tough not to feel the heat of the spotlight, no matter how small or focused that light is, you know? When you see hit counts tripling because Graeme or Kevin link to you, it's gonna occur that you're not writing for yourself anymore and, I don't care who you are, that changes stuff.

And I looked at the blog-to-print transfer as some kind of trickledown shitonomics version of the Indy All-Star to Big Two under-card paradigm.

Lots of folks pointed out that 2004 was the year that blogs started to suck, but I don't know that anyone pointed out there was a huge turnover. Not just in comics, I mean, but in other, bigger, blogodromes-- lots of must-hit blogs hung up their hats this year. Shit, Nick Denton alone should be getting a kickback from the NY Print Media for staffing them up this year. So, if blogsuck really started, it's worth noting that there seems to be a freshness date that predates it.

A year, maybe two, and it's a good bet any given personal soapbox-type blog'll stop.

A big part of that has to come from how incestuous it gets. Echo-chamber burnout. And it's a fuckload of work, you know? And fairly thankless work at that. I think the trick to keeping the blogominium complex fresh is in that turnover-- new voices, each wave thinking and being better than the last.

What about you?

And, too, a lot of naysayers in the, ah, Old Media world like to dismiss blogs/the net as a whole-- as unprofessional and unnecessary and, most importantly, ineffectual. I tend to think anyone looking and listening mainly to the internet community-- be it blogs or boards or whatever-- tend to get a wee bit of the tunnel vision no matter what-- but I very much think that blogs, at their best, are early adopters. Or they can be, you know? Should be, even. Who cares what you have to say if you're just towing the expected line?

CASEY: I think there probably is something to the "finite-ness" of blogs. The realities of life almost guarantee that you can't keep it up for very long. I guess what's slightly discouraging in the comics blogosphere is the lack of fresh, new voices to supplant the old. At least, I'm not seeing any... and it ain't for lack of looking.

And I'm still undecided on the whole "blogs-as-early-adopters" thing. There's a bravery to being an early adopter that I don't see much of in the comics blogosphere as a whole. These days, fandom in general is such a game of Chasing The Shiny Object that it doesn't even seem to be part of anyone's hard wiring to discover and commit to something that -- at first -- no one else knows about. Again, it gets back to bloggers talking about what other bloggers are talking about, just to achieve that sense of psuedo-human connection. The comics blogosphere as a concept thrives when everyone is commenting on each other's views on Grant's run on X-MEN. Not so much when one blog decides to champion the merits of a run on OBSCURA-MAN written and drawn by creators who ain't on the WIZARD Top Ten list.

Unfortunately, that's the blog that I want to read, because the commitment to said subject matter is genuine and often thought provoking. Something like The Comic Treadmill is a good example. A few anonymous posters writing fairly extensively about all kinds of comics-related stuff, from discussion of the latest releases to in-depth overviews of the 1980's series, BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS. I dig that shit, man.

Comics Should Be Good is another good one with real potential to go somewhere. Again, it's a group blog, which might just be the wave of the blog future.

FRACTION: You know the thing about the Blogring Circle-jerk Syndrome? It's message board shit writ large. It turns a handful of blogs into a laterally diversified message board. The same shit happens, the same shit applies. Same star system, same caste system, same insider-ness and hostility to new people. Samo fucking samo.

I disagree, tho-- take one of last years' best examples of OBSCURA-MAN, which would be Rugg and Maruca's STREET ANGEL, was a book I picked up solely through word-of-blog. Now, this might be different for someone in LA/NYC/SF, but out where I am the stores are good but simply can't afford to dip its toes into too many unproven Indie waters-an economic bitch of a reality, but it is what it is-- and for whatever reason I didn't check the book out until I started reading about it in Blogachusetts.

CASEY: Shit, that's a good point, and certainly a case where a blogger did right on all sorts of levels. But those are starting to seem fewer and farther between to me.

But let's get deeper into this thing... regarding STREET ANGEL, were you compelled to check it out because of what you read on one specific blog? Or was it several blogs all talking about it at once? Because I think there's a big difference there...

FRACTION: It's a little bit of both-- yeah, it was on nine blogs all at once, but there was one in particular whom I tend to find myself agreeing with that made me check it out, you know? So it was a little bit of there being some fire in all that smoke. On the other hand, I'm convinced I'm the only guy that wasn't head over heels for NEW FRONTIER or SCOTT PILGRIM, no offense intended to either of the obviously talented cartoonists behind those books.

As an aside, though, I feel more like I should apologize to the bloggers that have so championed those books rather than the creators themselves…

CASEY: Hey, you like what you like. And I guess there is something to the fact that even one blogger influenced a purchase. For anyone to have the ability to influence how another person spends their money is a feat in and of itself, no doubt about it. And, who knows, maybe that same specific blog was the one that kicked off the discussion on the other blogs. Viral information and all that…

So, at the very least, the blog format has been at least fundamentally established. We know how they work. But the question for me still remains... what function within our culture will they ultimately perform? Will they just end up being glorified message boards that peak and fall like Delphi seemed to?

Can they contribute more than simply random opinions...?

FRACTION: There's probably a paradox at work-the less a blogger cares about audience reception, the more audience it deserves. The same foibles and fuckups that turn forum-based communities into trips to the cult of personality Kool Aid bowl can wreck a blog, or blog culture, all the same.

Everyone talks about how great and democratizing the internet is, that there's no difference between the volume on my website than on yours, and on yours than on Sony's or whatever-which is true, but that doesn't account for quality and sanctity of content. And a sell-out writ large is just as much a sell-out writ small.

The randomness of the opinions don't matter but rather their integrity.

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