Quote of the day | Bendis on comics journalism, again

--Brian Michael Bendis on his message board today (echoing comments he made on Twitter earlier on), elaborating on his call yesterday for more in-depth comics criticism and journalism.

This isn't quite what he's talking about, but I did want to say a few words about this aspect of Bendis's critique specifically. True, many artists in every art form toil primarily for love of the game, out of an innate need to create rather than out of hope for monetary reward. But journalism about and criticism of comics of the sort Bendis is calling for makes making comics, never the world's most lucrative profession for the vast majority of people who participate in it, look like the California Gold Rush of 1848 by comparison. In a way, it stands to reason: Given the comparatively small number of paying gigs in comics, and the comparatively small audience for the product of those gigs, the number of paying gigs for comics criticism and journalism of any kind -- including copy-and-paste and pseudo-hip snark, let alone in-depth investigative reporting and pages-long close reading of creators' work -- is going to be vanishingly low.

Certainly this work, at least the opinion-based criticism apart of it, can be done for free. I do the vast majority of my writing-about-comics for free on my personal blog, for example, and the majority of that is indeed criticism rather than just linkblogging. (And I'm proud of what I do there, and here for that matter; for whatever it's worth, this post doesn't stem from any perceived need to defend myself or Robot 6.) Indeed, because I'm doing it for free and don't expect or require advertising revenue, I'm free to go negative when warranted. However, as many commenters have pointed out, the bigger news outlets are not as lucky -- they have complex, intimate relationships with the companies they cover, who provide them with a combination of advertising revenue and access that can be next to impossible to do without. And yes, big-name companies and creators absolutely retaliate against perceived negative reviews or commentary by those sites. Not all of them, and not all the time, but they do. That's something they think about.

And that's a big reason why, contrary to what Bendis is arguing, money is much more important to the journalism equation. If you're going to dig into the industry, you're going to require financial stability as a buffer against potential repercussions for what you dig up; if you're going to critique it, you need to be able to stand by that critique when the people you're critiquing are demanding you be punished for it. And on an even more basic level, true investigative journalism requires time and resources that you can't generate simply because you really love writing about comics. The reason why the Huffington Post is now duking it out with the venerable New York Times for news supremacy isn't because Ariana Huffington assembled a crack squad of volunteers, it's because she's rich and she threw a ton of money at it, to the point where she's now wooing columnists and reporters away from Newsweek and such. (The bikini candids help too, admittedly.) For that matter, that's the same reason why the Times can do the job it does: It pays talented people well, so they can afford to use those talents at length. Even in my case, last year I wrote an oral history of Marvel Comics for Maxim magazine that involved a 15,000-word first draft and interviews with everyone from Joe Simon and Stan Lee to Joe Quesada and Grant Morrison. The reason I could do that was because I could afford to since I was being well paid -- the months I spent working on that, the hours I spent on the phone with sources or doing transcripts or editing, was not at the expense of other, paying work I'd need to do to stay afloat.

It's a very tough row to hoe. In the end, good work requires investment. And in general, this isn't an investment this industry -- its practitioners and its observers alike -- seem willing or able to make, many exceptions, and Bendis's wishes, notwithstanding.

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