Webslingers: Johns, Quesada, Loeb and Jimenez Discuss Comics & the Net

Mon, March 11th, 2002 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

[Comics And The Net]If you're reading this article right now, chances are that you have or will check another half a dozen Web sites - including the rest of CBR of course-before the day is over. The truth is that the Internet has become an indispensable part of many comic book fan's lives and has become an important tool in the comic book industry, as evidenced by the Marvel Dot-Comics (online reprints of certain popular Marvel comics) and the amount of web pages created by devoted fans. With creators, companies and fans more involved in the Internet, CBR thought it was time to talk to four popular - and lightning rods for debate- creators who've had their fair share of good and bad times on the Internet. Geoff Johns ("Flash"), Joe Quesada (Marvel Editor In Chief), Jeph Loeb ("Superman") and Phil Jimenez ("Wonder Woman") all recently took some time out of their day to discuss the state of Comic Book industry's relationship with the Internet.

Right off the bat, almost all four men agree that the major impact of the

Internet on the comic book industry and fans has been a "shrinking effect,"

wherein everyone has been brought together in a closer way than ever before.

"Right now fandom seems to be a very close-knit group of people in society,"

says Geoff Johns. "It's a small business, a small market and, to me, it feels

like a big club. You see it on message boards, news sites, etc. These are

people that are really into comics. That's what this industry is made up of

right now -- people who really love comic books." Jimenez echoes these

sentiments, adding that, "As with most industries and groups and communities,

the Internet has both expanded our world and shrunk it completely. With the

Internet, fans and creators now have more access to each other -- both good

and bad -- and access that can transform the product creators work on, in

both positive and negative ways. I think the most obvious way is the

immediate feedback that creators get from fans -- the dialogues in which they

interact -- which can have immediate effects on the product itself." Loeb

agrees with the comments so far, but also sees the Internet as benefiting

him as a creator. "on a practical level, everything is sped up in

production," explains the Super-scribe. "Where once it was mail, then fax,

then fed-ex, now almost everything is electronic. You can put an entire comic

book together and with several teams all working on the same project at once.

As a creator, I feel like I have more input on color, lettering, covers, all

the aspects that once, for very practical reasons, only available at the

editor's office and I don't live in New York."

Another important aspect of the Internet's impact is the ability for both

companies and creators to quickly get a sense of what a certain segment of

the population thinks about a comic book or industry issue. "I think that

it's given fandom an immediate way to respond to issues," explains Quesada. "

But because of the immediacy, I don't think that it is always accurate. Since fans are speaking in the heat of the moment or speaking for the sake of

just speaking, I believe that it's at times just a club mentality and most of

what is being said isn't being thought out thoroughly. We've found at Marvel

that naturally the ideas that get the most vile reaction are the biggest

selling ones. It harkens back to the age old Marvel formula of, "Don't give

the fans what they ask for, give them what they want." That's how you end up

with controversial ideas that sell through the roof and are later critically

acclaimed. I can give you many examples of ideas that message boards loathed

but turned out to be the biggest initiatives for us in 2001 and 2002. The

code, the Ultimate Universe, Wolverine Origin, no overprint policy, Bill

Jemas, and the list goes on and on! The Internet is an interesting place to

gauge reaction, because you have to be careful about how and what you gauge.

I know publishers and creators who base their game plans on Internet

discussions and opinions. They sometimes forget that it's just people typing

not buying." Agreeing with the venerable E-I-C, Loeb is ecstatic about being

able to get immediate feedback, as a fan and as a creator. "The most

immediate affect is the ability to communicate directly with the reader.

Growing up reading comics, the best anybody could do was send a letter to the

company. Now, via the net and boards, the fans can actually talk to the guys

and gals who make the comics. How cool is that?" Johns also adds, "You can

hear what readers are thinking the day the book comes out -- and often we

even get reviews a week before. I also think the business rumors that are

spread are much more personal and, often, closer on target."

[Joe Quesada]
Joe Quesada
Quesada also adds that from his position, he sees the Internet as a new way

of promoting comic books and the comic book medium itself. "I think it gives

us a new way of promoting comic books. It certainly helps me to communicate

with 'my' fan base -- I try to respond to every e-mail I get, it's a practice

I've followed since I've been on cyberspace. Marvel is a company that works

best when it has a public face but unfortunately, there is only one Stan Lee

on this planet. Stan has a brilliant knack for being able to make you feel

like part of a club at Marvel in 50 words or less. I use to look so forward

to "Stan's Soapbox" when I was a kid! I don't have that talent or mutant

power, but I have the Internet! So while I can't what Stan can do in 50

words, I can try to do it with 100 e-mail's." However, as Quesada explains,

it isn't always a positive experience to converse with "fan" on a message

board when you're the public 'face' for a company like Marvel. He's faced a

veritable deluge of criticism for the way he and Bill Jemas run the company,

with some people opting for vile and repugnant statements that insinuate

that some Quesada is disrespecting Marvel's past. "It's one thing to tip your

hat to people who came before you, but there comes a time when you have to

say, 'thank you very much dad but I don't need your permission to have the

keys to the car anymore.' Our forefathers had a way of doing business that

was good for their time, but if you're running a business today, you have to

adapt the way you run and produce a comic book. And if we continually honor

our predecessors by basing our practice solely on what came before, we'd be

out of business and have no one to honor anymore. Let's face it, if comic

readers listened to their parents, they wouldn't be reading comics anymore."

One of these new business practice is to maintain an up-to-date Web page, an

increasing trend for both companies and creators. "I think it's absolutely

vital for comic companies to have strong, competitive, aesthetically powerful

web pages," contends Jimenez. "These pages should represent the company, the

talent, and advertise the product to the outside world. I'm working on

getting an Internet site of mine own, for that very reason -- to talk with

fans and advertise my work, as well as the work of people whom influence me

or whom I admire." Geoff Johns, who recently launched http://www.geoffjohns.com, also weighs in on this subject by taking Jimenez's

thoughts one step further. "This is something I have a strong opinion about.

As far as company pages, if it were up to me I would have the website listed

on the first page of each monthly book (FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE JSA CHECK

OUT WEBSITE "X"). I'd do this for every title -- and I would have UP-TO-DATE

character bios, issue summaries, etc. Not overwhelmingly detailed material,

but general stuff for the new reader if they want to learn more. Yes, this is

costly and time-consuming -- but the writer/editor of the book could create

most of the text (if it was new) and I'd hire a kid right out of college to

do the scanning, programming, etc. Have you seen some of these fan Web sites?

They blow a lot of the big company ones away -- in terms of design, content

and enthusiasm. I know what my friends, and the fans, are capable of -- and

building a better website is it. My personal presence on the web has changed

a bit. Recently, I got my own site to better keep in touch with readers,

answer questions, etc. It's hard because there are so many great places to

interact with fans, but the number is growing and it's near impossible to get

any work done and hit every JSA or Avengers message board on the web."

But for Loeb, having his own Dot-Com isn't a major concern and says,

"Personally, it's not important. I choose to go on places like

www.dccomics.com in my free time to check in with the reader. The rest, the 'Newsarama' of it all is just fun stuff. C'mon. We're making comic books. It's a hobby. We can't start to think of 'comic book news' as news. It's hype. Good hype. Gentle hype. But, it's hype all the same." Quesada's position is somewhat inbetween his peers' stances, with his opinion relating more to what exactly the Web page is being used to promote. "It depends on what you focus on. We've found out that originally Marvel thought that a focus on message boards and letting fans talk about our projects was optimum, but we realized that other sites do message boards and fan interaction better. For Marvel keeping up a site is an expensive endeavor and monitoring message boards to make sure that they stay kid friendly is a daunting and expensive task. We quickly realized that if we were going to spend time and money on the site it would be to increase revenue and traffic to retail outlets. Message boards don't do that, they're just the choir preaching to the choir. As a matter of fact, there's a good argument that if you have a neophyte, prospective comic fan jump on a comic message board before ever buying a comic, they may turn tail and run for the hills! That's why Dot-Comics are the most important thing that's happened in the Marvel world

of comic publishing in last 10 years. Every comic book series suffers from

attrition, and we've been trying to lessen the attrition for quite some time

now. How does this relate to Dot-Comics? Well, one thing we've found is that

the books that hold steady and lose significantly less readers are the ones

we put out as Dot-Comics and are the Dot-Comics that get the most hits. We've

learned that free samples of comics, on line or physical comics lead to the

causal customer going to comic shops or bookstores to look for and purchase

our product."

As mentioned, Internet message boards - essentially places where people can

start topics for discussion (like on CBR) and respond at their leisure as

opposed to real-time chat rooms - are an extremely popular part of comic book

fandom and even used by a lot of comic book creators to talk to their fans.

But within all this positive promotion and communication, sometimes it can

seem like comic book fans and creators can become 'too' close, with fans

sometimes going overboard in their criticisms and going down the path of

being disrespectful. "Sure," says Loeb of fans perhaps assuming that they

"know" creators and have some influence over them. "But, it's not any

different from the folks at home who think they know 'Magnum, P. I.' or the

cast of 'Friends.' Whenever access is granted to another person -- even to

that pretty girl who works at the gym -- there are boundary issues. I don't

like being anyone's personal whipping boy -- but then again, who does?

Quesada, don't answer that!" But Loeb's cries for silence go unheard and

Quesada chimes in with his own point of view. "I'm sure there are pros & cons

to both sides," explains Quesada, "but I've built a good portion of my good

will with fandom based on Internet interaction. It's tough for me to say

because each fan is different and each creator interacts with fans

differently. I personally go out and I try to be playful and have fun with

the fans on the net. I'll often even tease a bit or bait certain factions of

fandom at times because they help get the message of what I was trying to

promote out there. Basically I use the squeaky wheels to their squeakiest!

Here's an example; I'll say something ridiculous for an interview that I know

will enrage a certain segment of fandom. Word flies about this thing I said

and it brings people to the interview and while they're sitting there getting

angry or laughing, they're reading the rest of the interview and getting

exposed to what I was really looking to promote. Why do you think people run

to read interviews or online nonsense with Bill Jemas? They can't wait to

see what retarded thing comes out of his mouth next and Bill knows that! But

see, we love doing stuff like that because it isn't malicious it's just meant

to be fun. Sometimes we want to get fandom talking, sometimes we just want

to have fun and sometimes we want to create red herrings to steer the press

away from discovering too much, and a playful attitude is the best way to

accomplishing all those goals. I think the downside to all of this closeness

of the net is when professional dirty laundry gets aired. I'll admit, at

times I've gotten drug into this trap but for the most part I try to avoid

responding to that stuff.

Jimenez also says that as a creator, prolonged communication with some fans

can lead to misconceptions about that fan's "role" in the creation of future

issues of the comic book and their "ownership" of the character. "Because

fans and creators can interact more freely and personally, fans often feel an

even greater sense of propriety over their characters, their books, and the actions of the creators themselves. I've had both kinds of experiences with the Internet -- meeting fans who have since become wonderful friends, people I adore and would never would have met without the Internet

-- and then there are others, who have been unbelievably uncivilized and even

cruel, using the mask of their Internet names to contact me directly and

insult me outright. It's an odd bag, as mixed and varied as the users of the

Internet themselves. An interesting note: a common complaint of the Wonder

Woman message boards is that I 'stole' story line ideas from posters online;

ironically, many of the ideas I had I came up with on my own and they

mirrored the posters. What this suggests, I believe, is that true fans of the

material or the character can see untapped potential in the work -- and that

many people can have similar ideas on the same subject. I certainly tried to

answer questions I encountered on the message boards, and maybe sometimes too

vigorously or to the detriment of the book -- but often there were plans

afoot for many of those suggestions, anyway." Johns' perspective is more of

[Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale]
Jeph Loeb (L) with frequent
collaborator Tim Sale
an amalgamation of the his peers' views and he believes that there is

potential for both good and bad on message boards: it really just depends on

the person using the boards. "Sometimes there are flame wars -- meaning

people get very personal and volatile in their attacks. It's easy to hide

behind a name like DStar2 and work off your frustrations for the day. This

isn't cool. But on a more positive note, I know a lot of people who've made

good friends after meeting on-line. Our enjoyment and passion for comics

connects a lot of us."

One might hope that the conditions on message boards have improved for both

creators and open-minded fans over the last few years, but the general

consensus seems to be that things don't change all that much. "I think

they're always the same," admits Quesada. "Again, the interesting thing about

fandom is that fans would love to have our jobs and so you get some uniquely

biased opinions because they're always colored with this perspective. You get

to eventually understand the world of message boards and I can read a post

and tell whether its a real honest to goodness gripe or someone who's just

bitter but still reading the comicbooks they're bitching about. There's

something to way some posts are phrased or written. Heck, sometimes I can

even tell who wrote it! I take plenty of lumps on the message boards as do

we all but I have found one this to be true; if you answer the questions,

even from the nastiest of posters, you can win them over." Johns succinctly

answers by saying that, "Depends. Some days they've improved, others says

they've declined" but both Jimenez and Loeb has opposing views. "I used to

love going to the DC Comics message boards, but I have found the negative

energy a little overwhelming," laments Jimenez. Not the criticisms -- many of

which are on the money -- but the very negative way in which they're

disseminated. I found that they stopped being fun or useful, and pulled back

from them several months ago." However, Loeb does see an upward trend

emerging on the message boards and explains, "I think everything has improved

in the last year and I give most of the credit to Marvel. But, I've always

argued that 4 icons make all the difference. Spider-Man, X-Men, Batman and

Superman. When all four are charging on all 4 cylinders, we have a healthy

business, because the majority of comic book fans, and thus, the majority of

retail outlets depend on these four titles. They are known commodities to the

civilian market (non-fans) and to parents, thus opening doors to new younger

readers. When Marvel went to work on the Spider-Man group, there was a

profound change. People felt GOOD about their hobby. But, it may have taken

getting to a bottom to build back up again."

Despite all the negative energy that is so prevalent in Internet Message

Boards discussion, Johns believes that the good truly does outweigh the bad.

"Sure, they can be. As I said before, you get immediate feedback -- you hear

what people want, what they like and don't like. They're a learning tool for

me on a lot of days. Power Girl would've never rejoined the JSA if it wasn't

for the message boards." From a somewhat different perspective, Loeb says it

easy to ignore the negativity if you put it in perspective and relate it to

what you encounter in real life. "Negativity is just that. It stems from a

frustration on the part of certain individuals who want a forum to express

themselves. It is MUCH harder to write in a long, profound way about how you

LIKE something and it takes a lot of guts. You then open yourself to

argument. But, post "this sucks" and you get your own personal cheering

section. I know a lot of kids who WON'T post because they don't want to get

flamed. And I know guys and gals who see themselves as human targets and go

onto a board with the sole intention of getting flamed. It gives them a sense

of importance. But, the boards don't represent anything other than the

boards. One a practical level, most conversations are with 5 to 100 people.

Books are selling at 100,000 plus units. It's like reading one newspaper for

a review of movie and then deciding to see it based on that. My advice is

always listen to your retailer. And if you don't like what you hear, find

someone else at that store or at another store. Why be part of something that

you don't like? Quesada, quiet!"

Once again ignoring his friend's cry for silence, the outspoken artist and E-I-C Joe Quesada takes this opportunity to offer his perspective on the overall effect of message boards. "Realistically, I've seen message boards have a negative effect because I've seen people change storylines based on message board discussions or go into emotional and creative funks based on the boards. I've seen publishers change their plans based on this stuff! You need to sit back and say, 'this is just a bunch of people talking and typing.' This to me is just insane, I've never let a message board or e-mail change the direction of anything I've ever done. Let's say you were sitting in a car with one of your best friends and you're on your way to visit your other mutual best friend. You get into a casual conversation about your absent mutual friend and you mention something that he or she did to make you angry. Then the two of you start a bit of a bitch fest about you're pal. So now you arrive at his or her place and you're nothing but hugs and kisses because realistically speaking, what you were bitching about was basically something to eat up the dead space during a long car ride and fun conversation. But at the end of the day it's trivial garbage and you're all best friends. Now imagine that you're pal had a tape recorder in the car and heard only the bitching portion of your car ride. Chances are he or she would change the way they behave towards you as a friend. This is the danger of the net and posts and also the danger of changing course because of what's being posted. It's just a casual bitch session amongst people who when they're face to face with you are nothing but hugs and kisses and, "Can I have your autograph!"

What I will say is helpful about the net and e-mail's is when fans suggest

things like certain TPB collections or dormant characters. That stuff is

always helpful!" Jimenez also warns that while there is unlimited potential

for genuine fun and enjoyment when using message boards, one must watch out

for the negativity that can destroy the atmosphere. "Message boards can be a

wonderful forum for discussion -- like I said, I've really enjoyed them in

the past and I've made some wonderful friends and contacts through them. But

when the negative presence takes over, I think it hurts everyone involved in

the industry -- from creators to fans (rumors started on the Internet, and in

message boards, have done real damage to many behind the scenes -- and that's

no fun at all)."

Despite the fact that many members of the online comic book fan community

seem to believe that they represent the majority of fans, the truth is than

'online' fans represent a small fraction of the actually comic book buying

public."I've never had an editorial discussion that began 'we found on the

boards...' - there are much more practical things to look at," explains Loeb.

"Sales and retail reaction. It's not to say that fandom isn't important --

but it actually works in a positive way, not a negative way. If everyone

seems to like something, the companies seem to be more open to seeing more of

that. But, if there is a slam fest -- particularly on a person -- that

doesn't fly with editorial. A good editor and by and large, there are good

editors (and publishers), trusts the team they hired to make it work. If it

doesn't, it doesn't, but that isn't because kibosh@yahoo.com says so. It's

because folks like Quesada say so. And Mike Carlin. And, and, and, and..."

Johns, not totally sure where he stands on the subject, offers an even-handed

and diplomatic response. "The on-line community, as I said before, are the

people that are REALLY into this. It's one thing to read comics, another to

spend time on message boards discussing it. I've heard creators complain that

it is skewed -- and that may well be the case." Jimenez agrees and Quesada

says that you shouldn't take comments on the Internet at face value. "Its

easier for people to overestimate certain 'facts' because they see things on

message boards and think that these opinions are consistent throughout

fandom. For example a book like 'Black Panther' which everyone at Marvel

loves and everyone on the 'net considers to be one of the best produced yet

often ignored. I mean everyone on the net seems to agree that everyone on

the net needs to be exposed and needs to but this book. Well, it seems to me

that they all are yet it's consistently one of my toughest sells. So what

does this tell me about the poser of the net and actually how much of our fan

base is on the net expressing their opinion. Using BP as a water mark I

would say only a sixth of our readership floats in cyberspace. Another

example deals with a book I won't name, but was selling 100,000 copies three

years ago and then a new writer came on, only to see sales on those drop to

40,000 so it was decided to fire the writer. But the vocal Internet-using

segment of fandom went nuts and said, 'only this one guy can write the

series, don't cancel it, blah blah,' So what you really have is 40,000 people

who read the series no matter how bad it gets because you aren't hearing from

the 60,000 you lost. Its a very skewed perception on the Internet because as

with all things in life, the squeaky wheels are loudest and so much of the

Internet ranting is a lot of noise you learn to fade out."

But all this debate regarding the behaviour of online fans raises a big

question: are "offline" fans any different from the Internet-savvy fans? As

one would expect, there is no one clear answer to this question and that is

no more clear than when talking to this diverse group of comic book creators.

When asked about this subject, Geoff Johns replies with his own challenge:

"Introduce me to an off-line fan and I'll let you know." "I think online fans

are different offline," states Joe Quesada. "We're talking about the land of

anonymity, the home of cowardly." However, Phil Jimenez says that he's had

different experiences and this is reflected in his views. "I've started

speaking to a lot of 'off-line' fans at conventions and stores and in other

venues, and I'm amazed at how different they are -- mostly in their habits of

seeking out "spoiler" information or hints and clues to what will happen in

their comics in months to come." Jeph Loeb's views are very similar to those

of Jimenez, with both men seeing a marked difference in the people they meet

face to face as opposed to "online" persons. "Absolutely. Go to a convention.

If there is a line for two hours that doesn't stop and has to be cut off to

get Superman books signed and every person on line has 5, 10, 20 issues in

your run, how can that person be "a negative poster"? Or if they are, clearly

their personal issues are well hidden. I've rarely met anyone at a convention

who hasn't been polite, positive and has a great love of comics. But, go

online and you see what I refer to as 'the dirty dozen' since I'm convinced it's the same 12 guys and

gals who have just different names going on raiding parties. I'll never

understand why someone will post a big long attack on a book or an

artist/writer and then hide behind some name like "GreenMoth". I mean, if you

have the stones to throw stones, come out from behind your little "secret

name" and leave an e-mail address. Let the world communicate with you in the

same way you communicate with them. Who knows? You might actually learn

something!"

[Phil Jimenez]
Phil Jimenez
"I think that message boards are a good way for fans to communicate, but in

terms of cultivating new fans, I don't know," admits Quesada. "It's a good

way for me to keep in touch with people and listen to them, but it becomes

easy to separate the gripes into the categories of being from those with real

sincere problems about Marvel, those who want my job and those who are from

other companies masquerading as fans. I really think that we're using the

Internet best to bring in new fans with our Dot-Comcs: the best way to bring

in people is with free samples. We've discovered that nothing works better

than free samples." Johns believes that the Internet can be used to bring in

new fans, but remains aware of the downsides of online interaction. "It

depends on the person. I've seen people come on the DC boards and asking for

information -- a lot of the time someone will respond very nicely, but there

are times when some idiot mouths-off or scares the potential reader away."

Meanwhile, Loeb feels that there needs to be a change in the atmosphere of

message boards before their full potential is truly realized. "I only post on

www.dccomics.com because they are patrolled. Some may call that censorship, I think it of it more like a clubhouse. It demands a certain respect for others, for language and for actual subject matter. I would do the same at

Marvel if I felt the same level of security. Not for me. I'm a big boy. But,

I want the readers and in particular, I want KIDS to feel like they can

express themselves without having an entire thread based on their grammar. I

had a nearly year long conversation with a poster who was really well versed

in comic book history, and finally someone else asked how old he was. The guy

turns out to be 12. How great is that?"

One of the biggest problems for "online" creators is that they often find

rude, unfair and sometimes incoherent criticisms of not only their work, but

their own personality as well. It isn't always easy to dismiss these

criticisms, as their "permanent" nature makes them all the more annoying, but

it is something that can be accomplished with the right perspective,

according to Loeb, Johns, Jimenez and Quesada. "The half-assed slams I can

take, because that's exactly what they are -- half ass slams by rude people,"

explains Jimenez, who has faced some harsh words on the DC Wonder Woman

message board. "What frustrates me more are the more smug posters -- the

'know it alls,' who project through their postings a really unpleasant

condescension and, ultimately, a real lack of understanding of how the

industry works. I'm amazed at that sort of smugness -- although it's an issue

for me in the real world, anyway!" Dealing with the problem differently,

Johns just tries to remember that if someone isn't willing to sign their real

name to the criticism, they probably are too afraid of the outcome. "I take

critical comments much more seriously when they're written with respect to

those involved -- and when there's a real name signed at the bottom. If you

see a post that says 'JSA sucks and so does everyone who reads DC' signed by

darkdevil23 you ignore it." The truth is, Jeph Loeb doesn't care what a "fan"

has to say unless they're willing to do is maturely and respectfully. "I'd be

less than honest (less than honest, what the hell does that mean?) if I

didn't say that ALL negative criticism doesn't sting. But, the truth be told,

I care much more about what Greg Rucka thinks, because he does what I do and

I personally think he does it better. I can learn from that. Geoff Johns has

a brand new voice that folks are responding to, so I can learn from that. I

like e-mailing other pros and talking about their work. The rest is the

outfield. It's part of the game, but I like hanging around the clubhouse."

With his position as a prominent Marvel figurehead, Quesada says that while

there's been a lot of unfair and unkind words thrown his way, he's quickly

learned to adapt. "It's definitely an acquired skill to be able to dismiss

criticism, but as much as I used to take the things that people said to

heart, I 'got it' pretty quickly. One example, where I won't cite the name of

person, is when a fan took exception to a tongue in cheek comment I made

about the physical appearance of 'fanboys,' which this person took great

exception to because he felt that he was being unfairly stereotyped. The

funny thing is that I did have this person introduce themselves to me at a

convention and they were, to the 'T,' the kind of person I described. Really,

the people who bitch the loudest are the one whose nerves are struck."

But this unfair criticism and downright rudeness isn't limited to message

boards: the Internet is infested with Web sites that review comic books and

unfortunately, not all of them hold themselves to the highest journalistic

standards. The sheer disrespect by some self-proclaimed "experts" leaves one

aghast at the site of such rudeness and causes one to question if online

reviewers are truly "qualified" to be reviewing comics. "Anyone who reads a

book is "qualified" to review them -- they paid their money and their reviews

are valid," contends Jimenez. "But reviewers need to explain their

'credentials' to those reading their reviews, because they can affect sales

on a book." Johns, however, isn't too sure about "qualifications" and instead

chooses to simply stick with the reviewers whom he respects. "Who knows. I

don't think I've ever seen a resume on-line. There are several I feel ARE

qualified, resume or not." Then there is Loeb, who doesn't find most online

reviews to be particularly endearing and would rather those resources be used

to truly inform readers. "Reviews are just that: folks looking through and

seeing what they like. Personally, I prefer sites that tell you what the book

is about and why it's cool. I can decide for myself if that's something I want to experience." On

the other hand, Quesada dismisses the effects of online reviews on fandom and

believes that it isn't the fan who truly care about what is said. "I really

don't believe that fans are influenced by reviews - they are strictly for the

creators and I don't understand why fans feel that they need to see reviews

of comic books they like or have decided they don't like. I think that it is

really the creators and publishers who go to read the reviews most often, not

the fans. I don't think that reviews sell an extra comic either: if these

reviews effected sales, then 'Transmetropolitan' would actually outsell

'Spidergirl,' wouldn't it?"

As the debate over the influence of the Internet rages on, in regards to the

power of message boards and reviews, it must not be forgotten that the

Internet has become a widely used marketing tool for comic book companies

too. "The Internet is PART of a way to raise the profile of comics," explains

Loeb. "When television came out, folks said it was the death of feature

films. Now, part of the ongoing revenue that makes movies possible IS

television. And between video and DVD, often films have sequels and remakes

and so forth. The Internet has just begun to spread the magic that are comics

and as the companies get more and more into that, we'll see significant

results. How cool would it be to have the Superman or Batman logo on every

time you signed on AOL? You could click that and it would take you to

dccomics.com. Now, I'm sure every AOL outlet wishes they could have that, but

it's a start. 'Smallville' gets hits that way. The Toonami event that had

'Batman vs. Superman' had a link to their website. It just takes some

synergy. I'm not sure if the Sony pictures site for 'Spider-Man' has a link

back to Marvel, but it should (ditto on the Smallville board to DC). It takes

time." Jimenez shares Loeb's enthusiasm for Internet promotion, but is wary

of people disregarding other avenues of promotion. "The Internet can be a

smart way to advertise for comics, but I think, in this ailing industry,

everything needs to be considered -- Internet, print, skywriting..." Then

there is Quesada, who believes that the Internet hasn't replaced the print

medium as the best way for comic books to be advertised though he is

optimistic about the future. "I dont think the 'net is there yet, in terms of

being our main or only way of advertising, simply because there aren't enough

people with T1 lines or cable modems, as well as the technology being a ways

away. It could become the primary outlet for our advertising, but it isn't

there yet: we still get more action out of a full page article in 'Wizard'

[the comic book industry's top selling trade magazine] than a press release

to every major comic book news website." Like Loeb, Johns believes that one

major problem is actually getting people to the Web sites and says, "The

problem with the Internet is getting people to, say, www.dccomics.com in the first place. Ask anyone, comic reader or not, if they'd rather have a DC COMIC add pop-up on AOL than another electronic dictionary offer and I can guarantee they'll go for the comic thing. That MIGHT even lead to new readers."

One way that the Internet is already used to excite the base of online comic

book fans is by offerring "teasers," glimpses at the future of a particular

comic book or character that are released in order to excite the fans and

spread the word about upcoming storylines. But a major problem has resulted

from these "spoilers" being released so frequently: fans want to know more

and know it quicker, which has resulted in a lot of series plans being leaked

before the creators or companies wanted the public to know what was going to

happen. "Our 'new' JSA line-up was revealed a month before the comic book

even came out," laments Johns, who co-writes "JSA" with David Goyer. "So the

last splash page is really...it feels old to me. Everyone on-line already

knows what's coming. On the positive end, the hype is good -- word of mouth

on Flash for us has been great on the Internet. It's saved 'Spider-Girl' and

spread the good word about 'Black Panther' (a great book as well)." Jimenez

agrees that is has been hard to keep some of the surprises on "Wonder Woman"

a secret from fans till the comic books shipped while Loeb says that he

doesn't worry too much about leaked story ideas. "Absolutely," says Loeb when

asked if it is hard to really surprise readers these days. "But, then it is

up to the individual companies to control that spin or just ignore it

altogether. Again, we're talking about a very small percentage of the core

audience that actually uses the 'Net as a way to decide if they're going to

buy a comic or not. You could easily learn as much from talking to your local

retailer. And again, the vast majority of online posters are positive folks

who put up things like SPOILER WARNING and that's cool." Always one who likes

to enjoy himself, Quesada turns the discussion around and asks his own

question, "Do the positives of creating online hype outweigh the negatives of

the aforementioned 'leaks?' Sometimes. At Marvel we learned to control the

leaks by once again, having fun with the net. A while ago, one website

'revealed' that we'd be doing a story about Peter Parker, our friendly

neighborhood Spider-Man, being abused by his Uncle Ben as a child. Now we

know that child abuse it not funny, but people were sniffing too closely to

the story behind 'Origin,' our Wolverine origin story, so we needed to put

out some disinformation to throw readers off track. So we created something

controversial that would misdirect the sniffing Internet hounds. The whole

problem of keeping secrets arose when the industry switched to the direct

market - shipping mainly to comic book stores - with catalogue information for

advance orders and the Internet really exacerbates that problem."

At this point, some readers may be wondering if there is any upside to

creators using the Internet and how much the Internet really hurts the comic

book industry. But all four men agree that despite the downsides, the

Internet has provided a lot of great experiences and opportunities for them.

"I met one of my best "comic" friends on-line -- Jim Beard," reveals Johns.

"I met him a few years ago and was flown to Bowling Green, Ohio for a store

signing. He's hands down one of the smartest, well-spoken voices in the

comics community in my eyes. Jim always is honest with me when he doesn't

like something -- and his respect for his fellow readers on-line is simply

amazing. He has a lot of patience and tolerance -- for that, he's my on-line

idol. The negatives, sure some -- but nothing overwhelming. I respect when

people explain why they don't like something, whether it's my book or not,

but to just say 'BLANKMAN' sucks or get personal about a creator -- I ignore

that. Some of the most volatile boards can get scary over at the DC halls."

Jimenez agrees with Johns' sentiments but also notes that there are just some

places on the Internet that are too negative for his tastes. "Well, I've met

some wonderful people through the Internet -- and continue to do so. I love

it for that. But the negativity on the DC Wonder Woman message board -- not

the criticism, but harsh, smug, or needlessly derogatory posts -- caused me

to leave them back in September. I've been back once, I think -- and just to

look at the topic headings. I have enough friends who tell me what's going on

to know that it won't do me any good to go back -- the criticism isn't

constructive and many of the posts continue to be nasty, so...It's

frustrating, because I used to have a lot of fun there. " Likewise, Quesada

has faced some harsh personal attacks and though he's had these bad

experiences, he embraces the Internet as a force for good. "Fans have a right

to bitch because they pay for the product and therefore my salary, so bitch

your heart out, God bless! But, I do hate it when the negative comments get

really personal and I had such an incident last year, with a person who I

won't dignify by mentioning their name. The attack was personal even though

the person never met me and that kind of stuff that is so racist, libelous

and plain rude makes one say, 'I just don't get it.' But the positives are

big: as a creator, as an artist, inker, writer, etc, there is a lot of lead

time before your work hits the stands and you get fan mail. After you finish

working on a page, you want someone to just stand up and applaud you! The

Internet gives that sort of instant gratification. Getting to hear from

people all over the world and absorb their perspectives is a wonderful

thing! I'm most affected by the people who talk to me about how my work has

affected them."

Another positive impact of the Internet on Comics, as mentioned previously in

this article, is the expanded use of free online comics, called Dot-Comics by

Marvel, from all the major companies (Oni, Dark Horse, DC, Marvel, ETC). Now

fans can sample the hottest comics without any financial risk - all they need

is the patience to load the pages onto their computer screens and faster than

you can say "pow," a new comic book fan may be born. "More outlets for

anything commercial can't be a bad thing," says Loeb succinctly, while noting

his enthusiasm for the online comic book trend. "I think it's terrific -- to

offer comics already out like DC did with 'Flash #170' and Marvel's done with

'Ultimate Spider-Man,'" explains Johns. "I don't know what the future is of

on-line comics -- I really don't, but I'm excited." Naturally, Quesada is

very enthusiastic about the opportunities of online comic books - Marvel has

cemented itself as one of the premier online comic book providers - and isn't

too worried that people may opt to read the comic online instead of paying

for the print version. "We're not worried about people not paying right now,

though we may test out a subscription model that we're working on," reveals

Quesada regarding Marvel's feeling surrounding Dot-Comics. "When our comic

books get sold out and start selling in secondary markets for large amounts,

we want to keep the readers satisfied and allow them to catch up on the hot

series without paying large prices, whether it be for JMS' 'Amazing

Spider-Man' or Morrison's 'X-Men' for example."

But besides online reprints, promotion and message boards, is there more

untapped potential for the Internet to help the comic book industry? "I don't

see it," contends Loeb. "If it's untapped, it's not like a gamma bomb. There

is no Hulk out there. We just learn to use it in a positive way and it comes

back that way." Johns believes there is potential but also is unsure of how

many electronic opportunities are available, saying, "It can definitely help

artist get new work -- do they have electronic submissions yet at any of the

big publishers?" Meanwhile Quesada, the man who seems to have all the

answers, admits to not really knowing where things will go. "Its really an

unknown factor right now. We need to see where this whole thing goes. Aside

from some little annoyances, I see it nothing but the impact being positive."

Of course, one would think that these men all have their own ideas about how

they'd like to see the Internet benefit them as creators and the industry as

a whole. "Just spread the word about how cool comics can be!" says an

enthusiastic and grinning Geoff Johns. When asked the aforementioned

question, Jeph Loeb decides to take the initiative and promote a worthwhile

cause. "Mostly to help promote comics in general. I think what I said about

the movie companies and AOL is the biggest area that would help. Those are

places with millions of hits a day, an hour. If they could help others to

find US and in particular, find the independent market -- how great is that?

And y'know, I'll start here. Richard Starkings, who you can find at

www.comicbookfonts.com who is mainly known for his "fonts" and extraordinary lettering skills, is launching his comic book creation 'Hip Flask' with Joe Casey scripting and Jose Ladronn doing the most amazing painting I've EVER

seen. If by reading this, you then go to Richard's site and SEE this work and

then remind your retailer to order it come June, (that's in the next month's

'Previews') you won't be missing out on the next big thing. And what could be

bigger than a hippo?" Quesada approaches the question from a management and

marketing standpoint, looking at how the Internet could help the industry

spread it's wings. "It would be a very useful tool if you could really use it

for demographics. One thing about industry is that we've never had any real

positive or scientific demographic research done, so it's be interesting

though admittedly probably impossible, to find out who the real readers are

in this land of anonymity so down the road we could better target our

demographic."

In the end, all four men want to remind readers that they really do believe

in the Internet and offer their final thoughts on the Internet and Comic

Books as bedmates.

Loeb: "I think we've just begun. It's bold new frontier and some are more

versed in it than others. But, by and large, it's a very exciting way to get

information across directly to your market. And hopefully, that expands your

market. See ya round the spinner rack"

Johns: "It's created a great community for comic readers to gather together

and talk -- often with creators. On the downside, almost nothing is secret.

Creator changes, storylines, even personal lives."

Jimenez: "Despite some bad experiences, I've made a lot of friends via the

Internet and overall enjoyed my time on there. As a creator I've found it

rewarding and I've no doubt that the Internet will continue to help the comic

book industry."

Quesada: "It certainly has drawn the fans and people making the books much

closer together, even if it has taken away a bit of the mystique. As a kid, I

always wondered what Kirby or Steranko would be like, they were my heroes -

kind of like magicians with their mysterious and entertaining magic bag of

tricks - and now that the creators interact with fans, I fear that the

mystique is gone."

 
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