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

by  in Comic News Comment
Webslingers: Johns, Quesada, Loeb and Jimenez Discuss Comics & 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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