Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Conflict Of Interest In Comics Media

I really don't know if I'm part of "comics media" per se -- or, really, part of "comics journalism" proper. I sort of see the blog as more of a personal opinion thing. But yeah, it is some sort of "media."

As time goes on -- and as my (re)involvement in the comic book book industry grows -- I find it harder and harder to be as bold in my opinions as I used to be. Some of it is because, "well, you're the president of Friends of Lulu, you can't say THAT, you have to be non-divisive." Some of it will be cases where I might hate aspects of a comic, but am friends with a person connected with the comic in some fashion. Some of it may be, "well, they never pissed in my iced tea, I'm giving them a break." And so on and so on, some reasons perhaps not as unselfish as the acts of Gandhi, but none so cynical as those pro-penis enlargement blog posts with the words "sponsored by Acme Penis Enlargement Company" below it.

This situation, in my view, affects large swathes of the comics media -- but really affects a great deal of people in the world in general who rely on social networks. Sure, John the Baptist was the lone voice howling in the wilderness -- but he lived in the wilderness and wore animal skins. Of course, the Olsen Twins wear animal skins as well, but it's not quite the same thing.

Also, John the Baptist got his head cut off, which sucks.

The paradox is that I think today's society -- especially those who are glued to the Internet -- are so tired of spin that they actually crave ANYONE and ANYTHING that sounds authentic and real.

And the irony is that the more successful one is at being "real," and getting an audience, and getting attention -- the more likely things will get watered down, because that social network grows, and the conflicts of interest start.

For instance, I really idolized Dennis Miller in my teens. I liked the way he thumbed his nose at society. I thought he was a radical (of course, I was 17, so maybe my education as to radicals in modern society was rather limited). Then he sort of became a conservative. Then he co-hosted Monday Night Football. Now he's a game show host. What. The. F**k?

Now, the problem with the comic book community in regards to this topic is that it is damned tiny. So sometimes it feels that trying to write something halfway controversial about anything without stepping on anyone's toes is like attempting to breakdance in a small antique shop filled with old china.

Of course, don't pity me. Pity Newsarama, Wizard, et al. Pity the reviewers at Entertainment Weekly faced with doing a write-up on some horrendous bomb for Warner Bros.

On second thought, do pity me -- that donut I got at the Farmer's Market this morning just gave me the runs.

Where I suggest you can *really* find that raw, cutting style of reviews and commentary is in one of the many of the excellent blogs out there untainted with personal involvement with the industry. Go to Journalista and Dirk will point 'em out to ya.

And, just for the record, though I mentioned the comics media, and particularly Newsarama & Wizard, in this post, I mean no ill-will or criticism to any. I mean, Newsarama is the comics industry's #1 source for daily comic book news, previews, reviews and commentary, and is home to the largest comic book reader message board community on the Internet, with discussions ranging from Marvel Comics' X-Men and DC Comics' Superman to manga and the smallest indy publishers. And Wizard Magazine is the #1 men’s pop-culture magazine, providing comics and entertainment fans with everything they need to know about comic books, movies, TV, video games, DVDs and more. Full-color graphics, in-depth interviews, behind-the-scenes features and a fun, light-hearted tone combine to provide the ultimate experience for Wizard's passionate community of fans.

Ok, I'm going to tempt fate and eat that other Farmer's Market donut now. Wish me luck.


  1. I've actually thought about this a lot lately myself. Not from your conflict on interest standpoint but more as an evaluation of my onw time spent reading these things which kind of evolved into a blogging vs. journalism thing. Anyway, as a reader, I can narrow it down to this. I read Journalista and The Comics Reporter for news. If I'm totally bored and just need to see the latest con report or Iron Man movie still (God help me.) I go to
    The Beat or Newsarama. But I check out your site everyday for your opinion and take on things simply because you are a good writer/blogger and your experience provides a different insight than most blogs. So, in short, don't go changin'.

  2. Sorry to hear about the donut, Val. Doubly sorry because I'm eating lunch. Good luck with the second one.

    No real comment on the potential compromise of journalistic ethics. As a longtime consumer of news, I’m used to making my own judgments about the sources. But I’ve never been on the other side, so I can’t offer any useful advice on how to juggle things. Not that I think you’re likely to ever go so far to the dark side that I’d have to drop you as a commenter on comic news. Anyway, good luck with that. :)

  3. Comics has always struck me as very much like a small town, so it doesn't surprise me to read this, since what you describe is very much like my experience writing reviews of art and film in a small town . . .

  4. I can't say I have much sympathy for Wizard anymore -- at least, since it declared it was more focused on being "positive" about the industry, rather than providing critiques where they were probably needed.

    P.S: As a fellow former D. Miller fan, I share some sadness in his becoming ... well, seemingly everything he was railing against on Weekend Update all those years ago. What I wanna know is, whatever happened to A. Whitney Brown?

  5. The way I see it, this is your blog and it reflects your views. You don't get any commission for endorsing any specific book, and I understand that in your position many don't want you to slam down all the bad books either.
    The bottom line is: this is your personal outlet. If you want to encourage people to read a great book, go right ahead and tell them. They might not always agree but what the hey, you are helping the industry.
    Secondly, bad comic books do happen and when they are so awful that they start to insult your intelligence, then you have every right to criticize the thing.
    People like Simon Cowell and Jeremy Clarkson are very outspoken critiques and despite their harshness at times they are respected and at times admired for their honesty, sometimes brushing off debates on their views with a simple "in the end, you know I'm right." They don't sell out and say good things about bad stuff - they'll lose credibility.
    It's entirely up to you in the end, but in my opinion you've been doing just fine all along. Cheers

  6. I was wondering when this was going to happen. The essential question, can you still retain an authentic voice and comment on an industry that you're intimately involved in?

    I think so. I think industry experts have unique views and see things that those not involved would never be privy to. Who better equipped to comment on the industry? The problem, of course, is that you may end up burning bridges. It's an interesting conundrum, one that doesn't have an easy solution.

    I think you'll manage beautifully. Even if you end up holding back some of your stronger opinions, your voice is still authentic. Your insights into the industry from a professional perspective are always entertaining.

    Good luck with the donuts. Maybe you guys need more pharmaceuticals in your water like we got here in D.C.!

  7. (insert "longtime reader, firsttime commenter" here)

    I've found that (being in indie music/blogging journalism) and having musician friends who are in bands that I don't really care for, constructive criticism, mutual respect, and truth actually does work. Yeah, I don't necessarily like the exact outlet of your creative talent but that doesn't create any sort of conflict of interest, unless you purposely act like a dick to me I'll still respect you.

    Does this influence me if I end up writing about my friends' bands? In a way, yeah. But I don't see it as a conflict of interest because of the general honesty I try to practice with friends and other musicians/contacts. I can still respect someone for attempting honest creative output and be close with them for it, even if I'm not particularly crazy about it.

    So short version...don't sweat it, keep givin' us readers the good stuff and know that a generally positive attitude and lack of pettiness will usually work out.

    Also, people were fans of Dennis Miller? Wow...

  8. I think you're fine as long as you direct your criticism towards the work, not the person. If you take shots/aim snark at a creator, you're naturally running the risk of alienating players in what is still a relatively small and incestuous industry. But then again, if you're doing that, it's probably not a journalism issue so much as a personal one.

  9. Newsarama and Wizard are fine for who what when where and why, but when I need someone to tell me that Scalped is an awesome read I look to blogs like yours.

    Really it's your blog, and you're entitled to give as much or as little honest opinion as you want. For instance, it was obvious when the posts on Brand New Day came down that you were willing to give Dan Slott a break because you liked his work (and I'm assuming from the interview have a friendly relationship with him). That doesn't mean your opinion is any less valid than any other "blogger" or "journalist", all it does is provide context for your opinion and your posts/articles. Quite frankly if you were raised in a box removed from everyone involved in the comics industry your blog wouldn't be half as interesting as it is.

  10. I was under the impression that your high visibility and honesty was what made you a desirable asset to Friends Of Lulu in the first place. Moderating a few jerks (like me) on your comments section is one thing, but moderating yourself by holding back from making an honest appraisal of someone's work for fear of offending them seems like a bad idea - especially so for someone whose employment background is in comics editorial. Any comics professional worth their salt has been edited and critiqued out the ass already - they know how to take an honest evaluation of their work because they wouldn't have got published otherwise.

    Hmmm. The above sounds a bit too rational for the internet. I shall try again:
    Who cares if a few divas can't take a bit of constructive criticism? They get paid, don't they? Gotta take the good with the bad - goes with the territory, and they need to man the hell up, take it on the chin and improve their game if it bugs them that much!
    (note to self: insert flimsy pretext to blame Joe Quesada or Dan Didio for this problem here)

  11. "What I wanna know is, whatever happened to A. Whitney Brown?"

    I like to think that somehow, somewhere, he's finally become The Witney Brown.

  12. "What I wanna know is, whatever happened to A. Whitney Brown?"

    He got a blog.

  13. I've just found your blog. Neat!
    Marco M.

  14. As izwan mentioned, you can still be honest with one's self and not be 'benched' by the powers that be. Honesty from a fellow human being, I feel, is one of the most important and an admirable traits one can have. That a comment may sting, so what? Those that think about the comment and why it stung in the first place will realize the why and helpfulness of any comment. (Of course there are exceptions.)

    I for one would be very disappointed if I was to show you a project I drew and you were nothing but brutally honest with me about it. Then again I know you would never do that. :)

    Keep it up Val!

  15. Dirk won't point 'em ALL out for ya.

    Just sayin'.

  16. First, I don't know if you went to the farmer's market at Union Square, but it's never a good idea to buy dessert from there.

    Second, I've thought a lot about this problem, and don't think it can really be solved. It's the same problem that both sports and entertainment journalism have. Even if they are trained journalists, the only reason that they go into the field is b/c of a prior interest in the subject matter. Which means that on some level, they are a fan. Because of that, you have an industry covered by journalists who are responding to a company's marketing in a personal way.

    On the other side, you have people who are former (or current) professionals in the industry, whose perspective is shaped by their individual experience in the industry, and have their own agendas.

    Now, that's not to say that all of these people, from The Comics Journal to Wizard, to Keith Giffen, etc. aren't operating in good faith. Far from that. But it means that as a reader, I always have to take their analysis with a grain of salt.

    The only way that ever gets avoided is when mainstream reporters (who can actually be dispassionate) report on the industry. But there's no way that can ever happen on a regular basis.

    I think the only solution for you, as a blogger who is involved in a variety of different enterprises, is to fully disclose your 'conflicts', such as they may be. The only problem with that is that its easier to see it in others than it is to see it in oneself.

    It's nice to see that you're grappling with these issues, and sorry to babble on for so long.

  17. I think there is no real journalism when it comes to mainstream comics.

    The 'news' sites are slavishly devoted to the advertisers and are reluctant to throw a rock at them for any reason. A load of the 'journalists' want to work for the big companies. The 'freelancers' do not want to chap future employers. And the 'fans' don't seem to care so no one has a vested interest in digging up stories.

    So we get puff pieces and interviews. That is why the only things of interest we get are the rare moments when one creator will play bridge troll and ambush another on a message board somewhere.



  18. All this is based on the idea that there is actually such a thing as non-biased journalism in any field. God knows there hasn't been any in the Washington press corps in years.

    Humans are biased. That bias comes out in their writing. There is not such thing as an objective viewpoint -- that's a logical fallacy.