Issue #253

NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS?: a long day's journey into newszine night

NOTES FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARDS: San Diego, San Diego, San Diego, San Diego, Comics Cover Challenge, Filipino artists, San Diego, San Diego, Israel's new war, San Diego

Most of those still linger on, though with far less visibility than in their heyday. Most are struggling. It's a complex situation, but, basically, the Internet is killing them. It's hard to stay relevant when your raison d'etre is niche news but much of your potential audience isn't interested in most of the news and those who are can get their fix infinitely faster on the Internet. And, let's face it, most of the "news" barely qualifies as news anyway, and the rest is just hype. It's interesting, for example, that Howard Chaykin jumps from a stint drawing HAWKGIRL at DC to a gig drawing BLADE at Marvel; that's news. In terms of comics, any information beyond that is essentially irrelevant, unless it impacts on a wider class of people. Meaning that if Howard's jump is due to DC abruptly slashing page rates across the board (it isn't, and I'm simply fantasizing it as an example) that in itself would be news because it has implications for everyone who might do work for DC. If Howard's jump is (as Howard has stated) is because he felt like a change and the project sounded interesting, that's not news. That's color commentary.

Comics news is something the Internet handles very well, to the extent comics news consists of who's working on what property and what character is guest-starring in what book. A quick check of CBR's front page unveils these nuggets today: Dwayne McDuffie's writing a JUSTICE LEAGUE game. Image is publishing a vampire comic called IMPALER. Two screenwriters have created a horror comic called SALEM. Oni Press will publish a MY NAME IS EARL comic.

This is as much information as most people need to know about most comics. This is the news part. The rest is publishers, editors, talent and marketing people trying to sell you on buying the stuff. The Internet doesn't do a particularly good job on hype because after awhile (and, for most readers, that "while" was passed a long, long time ago) it all starts to sound the same, and cancels itself out.

What the Internet does even worse is news analysis, there's considerable doubt as to whether most of the customer base has even the vaguest interest in news analysis. (Properly done, talent interviews are a type of news analysis. Most of the time, which is to say improperly done, they're a type of hype.)

But this is what print newszines are up against, and to that extent they're in the same position as their "legitimate" brethren of the "real press." Newspapers are in trouble all over because more and more people are going to the Internet for their news, which has its pluses and minuses, and newspapers aren't doing all that good a job of coping either. Like newspapers, most print newszines have seen their revenues dwindling over the last few years and aren't quite sure what to do about it. Even CBG, which has always made its money selling ad space to people who want to sell comics and greased it with a thin layer of comics news to justify it, underwent a pretty severe format change not too long ago. Then again, eBay has largely absorbed the back issue market; I don't know if that has cut into CBG's ad revenues but I know it has made life hellish for many back issue-centric comics shops.

Anyway, it seems to me, and to my friend, who brought it up, that a certain amount of reinvention may be necessary if print newszines expect to survive. If they can survive. First step will have to be not imitating the Internet - why pay for the milk from one cow when another cow's giving you the exact same milk for free? - but figuring out what the Internet does and then figuring out what they can give readers that the Internet doesn't. WIZARD pretty much nailed the hype part of it (though the bloom's pretty much off that rose as well these days; what are WIZARD's current sales figures, anyway?) so that leaves news analyses in some form or another.

Which, really, is what magazines have always been best at anyway. Seems to me what's really necessary for newszines these days is true focus, something found in news blurbs but totally ephemeral there, and rarely found in hype, news analysis or even interviews. Limiting scope may seem counter-intuitive if the objective is to increase sales, but the days of being all things to all people are dead. Then again, the day of the print comics newszine might be dead as well.

Short column this week; off to San Diego. I'll be there from Thursday through at least part of Sunday, and you'll mainly be able to find me at the Boom! Studios booth (1531) doing what I can to pimp my new WHISPER series, which is coming along really nicely. Don't forget I'll also be on the podium for Danny Fingeroth's COMICS WRITERS TALK ABOUT WRITING panel, 3PM Saturday in Room 8, with Tom DeFalco, Kurt Busiek, Robert Kirkman and others. There are tons of other things to do at the convention this year - they're really cramming it in these days - but like many professionals I most likely won't have the chance to see most of it. Meetings and all that.

Speaking of WHISPER, the latest edition of the newsletter went out a couple days ago with the latest poop and special offers only for subscribers. For those who came in late, a subscription is free for the price of an e-mail. If you want to subscribe, click here.

Thanks very much to the person who sent me a pass for SUPERMAN RETURNS. Once I'm back from San Diego, I'll put it to good use. Thanks again.

Website of the week: check out comics artist Gerry Alanguilan's tribute to Filipino comics artists. It's pretty impressive.

Congratulations to Mickey Coalwell, who correctly deciphered the connecting theme of the covers in last week's Comics Cover Challenge as "atom." Mickey would like to promote the blog Seduction Of The Indifferent, by Lone Ranger, which comments on "comics, movies, travel and life in Toronto." (The Lone Ranger and Toronto?)

Scattered throughout the column are the covers for this week's Comics Cover Challenge. Seven comics, one secret theme connecting them. Be the first one to tell me what it is in an email, and you can promote any website of your choice here. (We reserve right of approval, but that hasn't been an issue so far.) Every week there's a clue to that week's theme hidden somewhere in the column, and this week's is no exception, if you're sharp enough to cut through the misdirection.

By the way, I've touched up and expanded the Paper Movies Bookstore on my Paper Movies website, so those who find my work difficult to come by can have an easier time of getting it. More expansion to come after San Diego, as well as a lot more content on the site. Check it out.

Available in pdf e-book form at Paper Movies and The Paper Movies Store:

TOTALLY OBVIOUS. Collecting all my "Master Of The Obvious" columns from 1998-2000, with still relevant commentary on comics, culture, creativity and the freelance life, revealing many previously unvoiced secrets behind all those things.

IMPOLITIC: A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEARS VOL 1. Collecting my political commentary of the early terror years, from Sept. 2001 through April 2005, revealing the terror behind the War On Terror.

HEAD CASES. A collection of comics scripts from work done c. 1992-1995 for various companies, including an unused script. Annotated.

I've got a ton of books piled up here again, so expect a lot of reviews next week, if I don't recover quickly enough for a convention report. (And the web'll be crawling with those anyway, which, if recent years are an indicator, will be mostly boastful drinking stories.) And what a week to not have time for political commentary. This Israel-Lebanon thing is off the wall; for thirty some-odd years the Lebanese government has been virtually neutered by both the Israelis and the Syrians, but now they're supposed to be responsible for not reining in Hezbollah? To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart in Howard Hawks' THE BIG SLEEP, that's like knocking a man's teeth out and then kicking him in the stomach for mumbling. More to come...

Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it's not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They're no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don't really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read.

IMPORTANT PUBLIC NOTICE OF COLUMN POLICY: any email received in response to a piece run in this column is considered a letter of comment available for printing in the column unless the author specifically indicates it is not intended for public consumption. Unless I check with you or the contents of your e-mail make your identity unavoidably obvious, all letters are run anonymously.

Please don't ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.

I'm reviewing comics sent to me - I may not like them but certainly I'll mention them - at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send 'em if you want 'em mentioned, since I can't review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can't do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.

Crisis: Why Did The Flash Have to Die to Save Infinite Earths?

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