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 theInternet 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 feelslike a big club. You see it on message boards, news sites, etc. These arepeople that are really into comics. That's what this industry is made up ofright now -- people who really love comic books." Jimenez echoes thesesentiments, adding that, "As with most industries and groups and communities,the Internet has both expanded our world and shrunk it completely. With theInternet, fans and creators now have more access to each other -- both goodand bad -- and access that can transform the product creators work on, inboth positive and negative ways. I think the most obvious way is theimmediate feedback that creators get from fans -- the dialogues in which theyinteract -- which can have immediate effects on the product itself." Loebagrees with the comments so far, but also sees the Internet as benefitinghim as a creator. "on a practical level, everything is sped up inproduction," explains the Super-scribe. "Where once it was mail, then fax,then fed-ex, now almost everything is electronic. You can put an entire comicbook 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, allthe aspects that once, for very practical reasons, only available at theeditor's office and I don't live in New York."
Another important aspect of the Internet's impact is the ability for bothcompanies and creators to quickly get a sense of what a certain segment ofthe population thinks about a comic book or industry issue. "I think thatit'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 ofjust speaking, I believe that it's at times just a club mentality and most ofwhat is being said isn't being thought out thoroughly. We've found at Marvelthat naturally the ideas that get the most vile reaction are the biggestselling ones. It harkens back to the age old Marvel formula of, "Don't givethe fans what they ask for, give them what they want." That's how you end upwith controversial ideas that sell through the roof and are later criticallyacclaimed. I can give you many examples of ideas that message boards loathedbut turned out to be the biggest initiatives for us in 2001 and 2002. Thecode, the Ultimate Universe, Wolverine Origin, no overprint policy, BillJemas, and the list goes on and on! The Internet is an interesting place togauge reaction, because you have to be careful about how and what you gauge.I know publishers and creators who base their game plans on Internetdiscussions and opinions. They sometimes forget that it's just people typingnot buying." Agreeing with the venerable E-I-C, Loeb is ecstatic about beingable to get immediate feedback, as a fan and as a creator. "The mostimmediate affect is the ability to communicate directly with the reader.Growing up reading comics, the best anybody could do was send a letter to thecompany. Now, via the net and boards, the fans can actually talk to the guysand gals who make the comics. How cool is that?" Johns also adds, "You canhear what readers are thinking the day the book comes out -- and often weeven get reviews a week before. I also think the business rumors that arespread are much more personal and, often, closer on target."
Quesada also adds that from his position, he sees the Internet as a new wayof promoting comic books and the comic book medium itself. "I think it givesus a new way of promoting comic books. It certainly helps me to communicatewith 'my' fan base -- I try to respond to every e-mail I get, it's a practiceI've followed since I've been on cyberspace. Marvel is a company that worksbest when it has a public face but unfortunately, there is only one Stan Leeon this planet. Stan has a brilliant knack for being able to make you feellike part of a club at Marvel in 50 words or less. I use to look so forwardto "Stan's Soapbox" when I was a kid! I don't have that talent or mutantpower, but I have the Internet! So while I can't what Stan can do in 50words, 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 messageboard when you're the public 'face' for a company like Marvel. He's faced averitable deluge of criticism for the way he and Bill Jemas run the company,with some people opting for vile and repugnant statements that insinuatethat some Quesada is disrespecting Marvel's past. "It's one thing to tip yourhat to people who came before you, but there comes a time when you have tosay, 'thank you very much dad but I don't need your permission to have thekeys to the car anymore.' Our forefathers had a way of doing business thatwas good for their time, but if you're running a business today, you have toadapt the way you run and produce a comic book. And if we continually honorour predecessors by basing our practice solely on what came before, we'd beout of business and have no one to honor anymore. Let's face it, if comicreaders 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, anincreasing trend for both companies and creators. "I think it's absolutelyvital for comic companies to have strong, competitive, aesthetically powerfulweb pages," contends Jimenez. "These pages should represent the company, thetalent, and advertise the product to the outside world. I'm working ongetting an Internet site of mine own, for that very reason -- to talk withfans and advertise my work, as well as the work of people whom influence meor whom I admire." Geoff Johns, who recently launched http://www.geoffjohns.com, also weighs in on this subject by taking Jimenez'sthoughts 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 listedon the first page of each monthly book (FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE JSA CHECKOUT WEBSITE "X"). I'd do this for every title -- and I would have UP-TO-DATEcharacter bios, issue summaries, etc. Not overwhelmingly detailed material,but general stuff for the new reader if they want to learn more. Yes, this iscostly and time-consuming -- but the writer/editor of the book could createmost of the text (if it was new) and I'd hire a kid right out of college todo 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, contentand enthusiasm. I know what my friends, and the fans, are capable of -- andbuilding a better website is it. My personal presence on the web has changeda 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 tointeract with fans, but the number is growing and it's near impossible to getany 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 likewww.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 worldof comic publishing in last 10 years. Every comic book series suffers fromattrition, and we've been trying to lessen the attrition for quite some timenow. How does this relate to Dot-Comics? Well, one thing we've found is thatthe books that hold steady and lose significantly less readers are the oneswe put out as Dot-Comics and are the Dot-Comics that get the most hits. We'velearned that free samples of comics, on line or physical comics lead to thecausal customer going to comic shops or bookstores to look for and purchaseour product."
As mentioned, Internet message boards - essentially places where people canstart topics for discussion (like on CBR) and respond at their leisure asopposed to real-time chat rooms - are an extremely popular part of comic bookfandom 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 canseem like comic book fans and creators can become 'too' close, with fanssometimes going overboard in their criticisms and going down the path ofbeing disrespectful. "Sure," says Loeb of fans perhaps assuming that they"know" creators and have some influence over them. "But, it's not anydifferent from the folks at home who think they know 'Magnum, P. I.' or thecast of 'Friends.' Whenever access is granted to another person -- even tothat pretty girl who works at the gym -- there are boundary issues. I don'tlike being anyone's personal whipping boy -- but then again, who does?Quesada, don't answer that!" But Loeb's cries for silence go unheard andQuesada chimes in with his own point of view. "I'm sure there are pros & consto both sides," explains Quesada, "but I've built a good portion of my goodwill with fandom based on Internet interaction. It's tough for me to saybecause each fan is different and each creator interacts with fansdifferently. I personally go out and I try to be playful and have fun withthe fans on the net. I'll often even tease a bit or bait certain factions offandom at times because they help get the message of what I was trying topromote 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 knowwill enrage a certain segment of fandom. Word flies about this thing I saidand it brings people to the interview and while they're sitting there gettingangry or laughing, they're reading the rest of the interview and gettingexposed to what I was really looking to promote. Why do you think people runto read interviews or online nonsense with Bill Jemas? They can't wait tosee what retarded thing comes out of his mouth next and Bill knows that! Butsee, we love doing stuff like that because it isn't malicious it's just meantto be fun. Sometimes we want to get fandom talking, sometimes we just wantto have fun and sometimes we want to create red herrings to steer the pressaway from discovering too much, and a playful attitude is the best way toaccomplishing all those goals. I think the downside to all of this closenessof the net is when professional dirty laundry gets aired. I'll admit, attimes I've gotten drug into this trap but for the most part I try to avoidresponding to that stuff.
Jimenez also says that as a creator, prolonged communication with some fanscan lead to misconceptions about that fan's "role" in the creation of futureissues of the comic book and their "ownership" of the character. "Becausefans and creators can interact more freely and personally, fans often feel aneven 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 evencruel, using the mask of their Internet names to contact me directly andinsult me outright. It's an odd bag, as mixed and varied as the users of theInternet themselves. An interesting note: a common complaint of the WonderWoman 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 theymirrored the posters. What this suggests, I believe, is that true fans of thematerial or the character can see untapped potential in the work -- and thatmany people can have similar ideas on the same subject. I certainly tried toanswer questions I encountered on the message boards, and maybe sometimes toovigorously or to the detriment of the book -- but often there were plansafoot for many of those suggestions, anyway." Johns' perspective is more ofcollaborator Tim Sale
an amalgamation of the his peers' views and he believes that there ispotential for both good and bad on message boards: it really just depends onthe person using the boards. "Sometimes there are flame wars -- meaningpeople get very personal and volatile in their attacks. It's easy to hidebehind a name like DStar2 and work off your frustrations for the day. Thisisn't cool. But on a more positive note, I know a lot of people who've madegood friends after meeting on-line. Our enjoyment and passion for comicsconnects a lot of us."
One might hope that the conditions on message boards have improved for bothcreators and open-minded fans over the last few years, but the generalconsensus seems to be that things don't change all that much. "I thinkthey're always the same," admits Quesada. "Again, the interesting thing aboutfandom is that fans would love to have our jobs and so you get some uniquelybiased opinions because they're always colored with this perspective. You getto eventually understand the world of message boards and I can read a postand tell whether its a real honest to goodness gripe or someone who's justbitter but still reading the comicbooks they're bitching about. There'ssomething to way some posts are phrased or written. Heck, sometimes I caneven tell who wrote it! I take plenty of lumps on the message boards as dowe 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 succinctlyanswers by saying that, "Depends. Some days they've improved, others saysthey've declined" but both Jimenez and Loeb has opposing views. "I used tolove going to the DC Comics message boards, but I have found the negativeenergy a little overwhelming," laments Jimenez. Not the criticisms -- many ofwhich are on the money -- but the very negative way in which they'redisseminated. I found that they stopped being fun or useful, and pulled backfrom them several months ago." However, Loeb does see an upward trendemerging on the message boards and explains, "I think everything has improvedin the last year and I give most of the credit to Marvel. But, I've alwaysargued that 4 icons make all the difference. Spider-Man, X-Men, Batman andSuperman. When all four are charging on all 4 cylinders, we have a healthybusiness, because the majority of comic book fans, and thus, the majority ofretail outlets depend on these four titles. They are known commodities to thecivilian market (non-fans) and to parents, thus opening doors to new youngerreaders. When Marvel went to work on the Spider-Man group, there was aprofound change. People felt GOOD about their hobby. But, it may have takengetting to a bottom to build back up again."
Despite all the negative energy that is so prevalent in Internet MessageBoards discussion, Johns believes that the good truly does outweigh the bad."Sure, they can be. As I said before, you get immediate feedback -- you hearwhat people want, what they like and don't like. They're a learning tool forme on a lot of days. Power Girl would've never rejoined the JSA if it wasn'tfor the message boards." From a somewhat different perspective, Loeb says iteasy to ignore the negativity if you put it in perspective and relate it towhat you encounter in real life. "Negativity is just that. It stems from afrustration on the part of certain individuals who want a forum to expressthemselves. It is MUCH harder to write in a long, profound way about how youLIKE something and it takes a lot of guts. You then open yourself toargument. But, post "this sucks" and you get your own personal cheeringsection. I know a lot of kids who WON'T post because they don't want to getflamed. And I know guys and gals who see themselves as human targets and goonto a board with the sole intention of getting flamed. It gives them a senseof importance. But, the boards don't represent anything other than theboards. 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 fora review of movie and then deciding to see it based on that. My advice isalways listen to your retailer. And if you don't like what you hear, findsomeone else at that store or at another store. Why be part of something thatyou 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 suggestthings like certain TPB collections or dormant characters. That stuff isalways helpful!" Jimenez also warns that while there is unlimited potentialfor genuine fun and enjoyment when using message boards, one must watch outfor the negativity that can destroy the atmosphere. "Message boards can be awonderful forum for discussion -- like I said, I've really enjoyed them inthe past and I've made some wonderful friends and contacts through them. Butwhen the negative presence takes over, I think it hurts everyone involved inthe industry -- from creators to fans (rumors started on the Internet, and inmessage boards, have done real damage to many behind the scenes -- and that'sno fun at all)."
Despite the fact that many members of the online comic book fan communityseem to believe that they represent the majority of fans, the truth is than'online' fans represent a small fraction of the actually comic book buyingpublic."I've never had an editorial discussion that began 'we found on theboards...' - 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 everyoneseems to like something, the companies seem to be more open to seeing more ofthat. But, if there is a slam fest -- particularly on a person -- thatdoesn't fly with editorial. A good editor and by and large, there are goodeditors (and publishers), trusts the team they hired to make it work. If itdoesn't, it doesn't, but that isn't because firstname.lastname@example.org says so. It'sbecause 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-handedand diplomatic response. "The on-line community, as I said before, are thepeople that are REALLY into this. It's one thing to read comics, another tospend time on message boards discussing it. I've heard creators complain thatit is skewed -- and that may well be the case." Jimenez agrees and Quesadasays that you shouldn't take comments on the Internet at face value. "Itseasier for people to overestimate certain 'facts' because they see things onmessage boards and think that these opinions are consistent throughoutfandom. For example a book like 'Black Panther' which everyone at Marvelloves and everyone on the 'net considers to be one of the best produced yetoften ignored. I mean everyone on the net seems to agree that everyone onthe net needs to be exposed and needs to but this book. Well, it seems to methat they all are yet it's consistently one of my toughest sells. So whatdoes this tell me about the poser of the net and actually how much of our fanbase is on the net expressing their opinion. Using BP as a water mark Iwould say only a sixth of our readership floats in cyberspace. Anotherexample deals with a book I won't name, but was selling 100,000 copies threeyears ago and then a new writer came on, only to see sales on those drop to40,000 so it was decided to fire the writer. But the vocal Internet-usingsegment of fandom went nuts and said, 'only this one guy can write theseries, don't cancel it, blah blah,' So what you really have is 40,000 peoplewho read the series no matter how bad it gets because you aren't hearing fromthe 60,000 you lost. Its a very skewed perception on the Internet because aswith all things in life, the squeaky wheels are loudest and so much of theInternet ranting is a lot of noise you learn to fade out."
But all this debate regarding the behaviour of online fans raises a bigquestion: are "offline" fans any different from the Internet-savvy fans? Asone would expect, there is no one clear answer to this question and that isno 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 fansare different offline," states Joe Quesada. "We're talking about the land ofanonymity, the home of cowardly." However, Phil Jimenez says that he's haddifferent experiences and this is reflected in his views. "I've startedspeaking to a lot of 'off-line' fans at conventions and stores and in othervenues, and I'm amazed at how different they are -- mostly in their habits ofseeking out "spoiler" information or hints and clues to what will happen intheir comics in months to come." Jeph Loeb's views are very similar to thoseof Jimenez, with both men seeing a marked difference in the people they meetface 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 toget Superman books signed and every person on line has 5, 10, 20 issues inyour run, how can that person be "a negative poster"? Or if they are, clearlytheir personal issues are well hidden. I've rarely met anyone at a conventionwho hasn't been polite, positive and has a great love of comics. But, goonline and you see what I refer to as 'the dirty dozen' since I'm convinced it's the same 12 guys andgals who have just different names going on raiding parties. I'll neverunderstand why someone will post a big long attack on a book or anartist/writer and then hide behind some name like "GreenMoth". I mean, if youhave the stones to throw stones, come out from behind your little "secretname" and leave an e-mail address. Let the world communicate with you in thesame way you communicate with them. Who knows? You might actually learnsomething!"
"I think that message boards are a good way for fans to communicate, but interms of cultivating new fans, I don't know," admits Quesada. "It's a goodway for me to keep in touch with people and listen to them, but it becomeseasy to separate the gripes into the categories of being from those with realsincere problems about Marvel, those who want my job and those who are fromother companies masquerading as fans. I really think that we're using theInternet best to bring in new fans with our Dot-Comcs: the best way to bringin people is with free samples. We've discovered that nothing works betterthan free samples." Johns believes that the Internet can be used to bring innew fans, but remains aware of the downsides of online interaction. "Itdepends on the person. I've seen people come on the DC boards and asking forinformation -- a lot of the time someone will respond very nicely, but thereare 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 ofmessage boards before their full potential is truly realized. "I only post onwww.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 atMarvel 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 canexpress themselves without having an entire thread based on their grammar. Ihad a nearly year long conversation with a poster who was really well versedin comic book history, and finally someone else asked how old he was. The guyturns out to be 12. How great is that?"
One of the biggest problems for "online" creators is that they often findrude, unfair and sometimes incoherent criticisms of not only their work, buttheir own personality as well. It isn't always easy to dismiss thesecriticisms, as their "permanent" nature makes them all the more annoying, butit is something that can be accomplished with the right perspective,according to Loeb, Johns, Jimenez and Quesada. "The half-assed slams I cantake, 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 Womanmessage board. "What frustrates me more are the more smug posters -- the'know it alls,' who project through their postings a really unpleasantcondescension and, ultimately, a real lack of understanding of how theindustry works. I'm amazed at that sort of smugness -- although it's an issuefor 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 realname to the criticism, they probably are too afraid of the outcome. "I takecritical comments much more seriously when they're written with respect tothose involved -- and when there's a real name signed at the bottom. If yousee a post that says 'JSA sucks and so does everyone who reads DC' signed bydarkdevil23 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 beless than honest (less than honest, what the hell does that mean?) if Ididn'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 andI personally think he does it better. I can learn from that. Geoff Johns hasa brand new voice that folks are responding to, so I can learn from that. Ilike e-mailing other pros and talking about their work. The rest is theoutfield. It's part of the game, but I like hanging around the clubhouse."With his position as a prominent Marvel figurehead, Quesada says that whilethere's been a lot of unfair and unkind words thrown his way, he's quicklylearned to adapt. "It's definitely an acquired skill to be able to dismisscriticism, but as much as I used to take the things that people said toheart, I 'got it' pretty quickly. One example, where I won't cite the name ofperson, is when a fan took exception to a tongue in cheek comment I madeabout the physical appearance of 'fanboys,' which this person took greatexception to because he felt that he was being unfairly stereotyped. Thefunny thing is that I did have this person introduce themselves to me at aconvention 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 messageboards: the Internet is infested with Web sites that review comic books andunfortunately, not all of them hold themselves to the highest journalisticstandards. The sheer disrespect by some self-proclaimed "experts" leaves oneaghast at the site of such rudeness and causes one to question if onlinereviewers are truly "qualified" to be reviewing comics. "Anyone who reads abook is "qualified" to review them -- they paid their money and their reviewsare valid," contends Jimenez. "But reviewers need to explain their'credentials' to those reading their reviews, because they can affect saleson a book." Johns, however, isn't too sure about "qualifications" and insteadchooses to simply stick with the reviewers whom he respects. "Who knows. Idon't think I've ever seen a resume on-line. There are several I feel AREqualified, resume or not." Then there is Loeb, who doesn't find most onlinereviews to be particularly endearing and would rather those resources be usedto truly inform readers. "Reviews are just that: folks looking through andseeing what they like. Personally, I prefer sites that tell you what the bookis about and why it's cool. I can decide for myself if that's something I want to experience." Onthe other hand, Quesada dismisses the effects of online reviews on fandom andbelieves that it isn't the fan who truly care about what is said. "I reallydon't believe that fans are influenced by reviews - they are strictly for thecreators and I don't understand why fans feel that they need to see reviewsof comic books they like or have decided they don't like. I think that it isreally the creators and publishers who go to read the reviews most often, notthe fans. I don't think that reviews sell an extra comic either: if thesereviews 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 thepower of message boards and reviews, it must not be forgotten that theInternet has become a widely used marketing tool for comic book companiestoo. "The Internet is PART of a way to raise the profile of comics," explainsLoeb. "When television came out, folks said it was the death of featurefilms. Now, part of the ongoing revenue that makes movies possible IStelevision. And between video and DVD, often films have sequels and remakesand so forth. The Internet has just begun to spread the magic that are comicsand as the companies get more and more into that, we'll see significantresults. How cool would it be to have the Superman or Batman logo on everytime you signed on AOL? You could click that and it would take you todccomics.com. Now, I'm sure every AOL outlet wishes they could have that, butit'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 somesynergy. I'm not sure if the Sony pictures site for 'Spider-Man' has a linkback to Marvel, but it should (ditto on the Smallville board to DC). It takestime." Jimenez shares Loeb's enthusiasm for Internet promotion, but is waryof people disregarding other avenues of promotion. "The Internet can be asmart way to advertise for comics, but I think, in this ailing industry,everything needs to be considered -- Internet, print, skywriting..." Thenthere is Quesada, who believes that the Internet hasn't replaced the printmedium as the best way for comic books to be advertised though he isoptimistic about the future. "I dont think the 'net is there yet, in terms ofbeing our main or only way of advertising, simply because there aren't enoughpeople with T1 lines or cable modems, as well as the technology being a waysaway. It could become the primary outlet for our advertising, but it isn'tthere 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 releaseto every major comic book news website." Like Loeb, Johns believes that onemajor problem is actually getting people to the Web sites and says, "Theproblem 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 comicbook fans is by offerring "teasers," glimpses at the future of a particularcomic book or character that are released in order to excite the fans andspread the word about upcoming storylines. But a major problem has resultedfrom these "spoilers" being released so frequently: fans want to know moreand know it quicker, which has resulted in a lot of series plans being leakedbefore the creators or companies wanted the public to know what was going tohappen. "Our 'new' JSA line-up was revealed a month before the comic bookeven came out," laments Johns, who co-writes "JSA" with David Goyer. "So thelast splash page is really...it feels old to me. Everyone on-line alreadyknows what's coming. On the positive end, the hype is good -- word of mouthon Flash for us has been great on the Internet. It's saved 'Spider-Girl' andspread the good word about 'Black Panther' (a great book as well)." Jimenezagrees 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 hedoesn't worry too much about leaked story ideas. "Absolutely," says Loeb whenasked if it is hard to really surprise readers these days. "But, then it isup to the individual companies to control that spin or just ignore italtogether. Again, we're talking about a very small percentage of the coreaudience that actually uses the 'Net as a way to decide if they're going tobuy a comic or not. You could easily learn as much from talking to your localretailer. And again, the vast majority of online posters are positive folkswho put up things like SPOILER WARNING and that's cool." Always one who likesto enjoy himself, Quesada turns the discussion around and asks his ownquestion, "Do the positives of creating online hype outweigh the negatives ofthe aforementioned 'leaks?' Sometimes. At Marvel we learned to control theleaks 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 friendlyneighborhood Spider-Man, being abused by his Uncle Ben as a child. Now weknow that child abuse it not funny, but people were sniffing too closely tothe story behind 'Origin,' our Wolverine origin story, so we needed to putout some disinformation to throw readers off track. So we created somethingcontroversial that would misdirect the sniffing Internet hounds. The wholeproblem of keeping secrets arose when the industry switched to the directmarket - shipping mainly to comic book stores - with catalogue information foradvance orders and the Internet really exacerbates that problem."
At this point, some readers may be wondering if there is any upside tocreators using the Internet and how much the Internet really hurts the comicbook industry. But all four men agree that despite the downsides, theInternet 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 storesigning. He's hands down one of the smartest, well-spoken voices in thecomics community in my eyes. Jim always is honest with me when he doesn'tlike something -- and his respect for his fellow readers on-line is simplyamazing. He has a lot of patience and tolerance -- for that, he's my on-lineidol. The negatives, sure some -- but nothing overwhelming. I respect whenpeople 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 ignorethat. 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 someplaces on the Internet that are too negative for his tastes. "Well, I've metsome wonderful people through the Internet -- and continue to do so. I loveit for that. But the negativity on the DC Wonder Woman message board -- notthe criticism, but harsh, smug, or needlessly derogatory posts -- caused meto leave them back in September. I've been back once, I think -- and just tolook at the topic headings. I have enough friends who tell me what's going onto know that it won't do me any good to go back -- the criticism isn'tconstructive and many of the posts continue to be nasty, so...It'sfrustrating, because I used to have a lot of fun there. " Likewise, Quesadahas faced some harsh personal attacks and though he's had these badexperiences, he embraces the Internet as a force for good. "Fans have a rightto bitch because they pay for the product and therefore my salary, so bitchyour heart out, God bless! But, I do hate it when the negative comments getreally personal and I had such an incident last year, with a person who Iwon't dignify by mentioning their name. The attack was personal even thoughthe person never met me and that kind of stuff that is so racist, libelousand plain rude makes one say, 'I just don't get it.' But the positives arebig: as a creator, as an artist, inker, writer, etc, there is a lot of leadtime before your work hits the stands and you get fan mail. After you finishworking on a page, you want someone to just stand up and applaud you! TheInternet gives that sort of instant gratification. Getting to hear frompeople all over the world and absorb their perspectives is a wonderfulthing! I'm most affected by the people who talk to me about how my work hasaffected them."
Another positive impact of the Internet on Comics, as mentioned previously inthis article, is the expanded use of free online comics, called Dot-Comics byMarvel, from all the major companies (Oni, Dark Horse, DC, Marvel, ETC). Nowfans can sample the hottest comics without any financial risk - all they needis the patience to load the pages onto their computer screens and faster thanyou can say "pow," a new comic book fan may be born. "More outlets foranything commercial can't be a bad thing," says Loeb succinctly, while notinghis enthusiasm for the online comic book trend. "I think it's terrific -- tooffer 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 ofon-line comics -- I really don't, but I'm excited." Naturally, Quesada isvery enthusiastic about the opportunities of online comic books - Marvel hascemented itself as one of the premier online comic book providers - and isn'ttoo worried that people may opt to read the comic online instead of payingfor 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," revealsQuesada regarding Marvel's feeling surrounding Dot-Comics. "When our comicbooks 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 hotseries without paying large prices, whether it be for JMS' 'AmazingSpider-Man' or Morrison's 'X-Men' for example."
But besides online reprints, promotion and message boards, is there moreuntapped potential for the Internet to help the comic book industry? "I don'tsee it," contends Loeb. "If it's untapped, it's not like a gamma bomb. Thereis no Hulk out there. We just learn to use it in a positive way and it comesback that way." Johns believes there is potential but also is unsure of howmany electronic opportunities are available, saying, "It can definitely helpartist get new work -- do they have electronic submissions yet at any of thebig publishers?" Meanwhile Quesada, the man who seems to have all theanswers, admits to not really knowing where things will go. "Its really anunknown factor right now. We need to see where this whole thing goes. Asidefrom 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 howthey'd like to see the Internet benefit them as creators and the industry asa whole. "Just spread the word about how cool comics can be!" says anenthusiastic and grinning Geoff Johns. When asked the aforementionedquestion, Jeph Loeb decides to take the initiative and promote a worthwhilecause. "Mostly to help promote comics in general. I think what I said aboutthe movie companies and AOL is the biggest area that would help. Those areplaces with millions of hits a day, an hour. If they could help others tofind 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 atwww.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 EVERseen. If by reading this, you then go to Richard's site and SEE this work andthen 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 bebigger than a hippo?" Quesada approaches the question from a management andmarketing standpoint, looking at how the Internet could help the industryspread it's wings. "It would be a very useful tool if you could really use itfor demographics. One thing about industry is that we've never had any realpositive or scientific demographic research done, so it's be interestingthough admittedly probably impossible, to find out who the real readers arein this land of anonymity so down the road we could better target ourdemographic."
In the end, all four men want to remind readers that they really do believein the Internet and offer their final thoughts on the Internet and ComicBooks as bedmates.
Loeb: "I think we've just begun. It's bold new frontier and some are moreversed in it than others. But, by and large, it's a very exciting way to getinformation across directly to your market. And hopefully, that expands yourmarket. See ya round the spinner rack"
Johns: "It's created a great community for comic readers to gather togetherand 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 theInternet and overall enjoyed my time on there. As a creator I've found itrewarding and I've no doubt that the Internet will continue to help the comicbook industry."
Quesada: "It certainly has drawn the fans and people making the books muchcloser together, even if it has taken away a bit of the mystique. As a kid, Ialways wondered what Kirby or Steranko would be like, they were my heroes -kind of like magicians with their mysterious and entertaining magic bag oftricks - and now that the creators interact with fans, I fear that themystique is gone."