Monday, September 26, 2005

All The Dos and The Don'ts and The Will and The Won'ts.

As my brain and body get older and reach that difficult age where atrophy sets in in earnest, I find myself with very few ambitions left to realize. Yes, there are few people alive who have led lives as full and worthy as mine – Youngest graduate of MIT, People’s Best Dressed Man three years running and, perhaps most impressive of all, hottest comic blogger 2004 – but even I know that a man with no unachieved ambitions is barely a man at all. Look at Mark Millar for proof of that. Therefore, it’s with great joy and only a little humility that I announce my latest and, indeed, greatest aim: To become comics’ very own Bill O’Reilly.

I keep reading about people complaining about “comics journalism” and talking about what a poor state that it’s in (Well, if you ignore Tom Spurgeon and The Comics Journal, at least), and my reaction always ends up in a cynical “Well, the industry has the journalism that it deserves” train of thought before inevitably derailing itself and thinking about something like why Grant Morrison’s version of Mister Miracle somehow managed to be incredible and disappointing simultaneously. But the more I think about it, the less I genuinely think that the case, because the journalism that the fanbase, at least, deserves should be as divisive and biased and full of bile as the fans themselves. In other words, the comics version of Fox News.

Not that I’m the first person to cotton onto this idea, of course; Alan David Doane, a man once referred to as my cosmic twin (The exact phrase being “It’s like Dirk Deppey got split in half like Kirk on Star Trek, and you two are Good Kirk and Bad Kirk.” I’ll leave it up to you which one’s which), seems to have been working the biased pundit angle for awhile now, popping up when you most expect it to bemoan “capes” and how superhero books are killing the industry which, by the way, he’s counting the days until it dies. It’s all an act, of course – No man who gets that upset about Identity Crisis really doesn’t care about superheroes – but it’s a successful act. Even though he has become a parody of himself, he’s still someone that people talk about and expect to see pop up whenever Geoff Johns, James Kochalka or the direct market’s reliance on The Big Two are mentioned. He is, if you follow the tenuous “Conservatives = Mainstream publishers. Liberals = Indie creators” analogy I appear to have accidentally created in my head, the Michael Moore of comic punditry.

Or at least the Al Franken.

As the comic fanbase becomes more fragmented – Something that I actually see as a good thing, as it dissolves slightly the generic identity of a comics fan as someone who is apparently duty-bound to support both A History of Violence and Ultimate Fantastic Four purely because they happen to share a medium – I’m surprised that more people haven’t followed Doane’s lead and tried to become standard bearers for whatever their personal pet cause is. I know that Newsarama’s Matt Brady has often been called Marvel’s bitch – and, admittedly, things like the weekly Joe Fridays interview with Joe Quesada don’t help that – but it’s also a site that runs a regular column from Brian Hibbs, who stood up to the House that Stan Built and won, and regularly runs anti-Marvel comments and reviews. It’s a shame, in a way: Comics fandom, after all, is a laughably divided beast; it only takes a couple of pages of comments following any Newsarama story to see that. The majority of people who post there, or at The Pulse or the Bendis Board or Fanboy Rampage!!! or almost any comic-related board, have axes to grind and agendas to further, and they’re not afraid to let you know about it.

So why isn’t anyone playing up to this?

I’ve slowly become convinced that there’s a massive gap in the pundit market for this kind of thing. A Marvelcentric version of Newsarama that reports on August’s Diamond sales figures by emphasizing Marvel’s strong grip on the top 20, instead of the six DC books in the top ten. A DC-directed version of The Pulse that reports on the buzz surrounding Infinite Crisis and the upcoming Wonder Woman and Superman movies, before pausing to laugh derisively in the direction of Marvel and Fox’s seemingly stalled X3 project. Add in a Manga site and a generic Indie site (Am I the only one who feels sad that Manga and Indie, which both are made up of multiple genres and approaches, still seem to only qualify as generic catch-all categories? Probably not) and you’re good to go.

The fans don’t want balanced journalism, because whenever it’s given to them, the conversation still dissolves into He Said She Said arguments over who’s the biggest, best and strongest of all. Stories that seem to have no discernable downside, such as DC announcing a well thought-out relief package for retailers affected by Hurricane Katrina, find themselves spun into part of surreal twisted conspiracy theories (“Good for DC, but where is Marvel’s response? Doesn’t the House of Ideas think of the New Orleans-based fans and retailers? Joe Quesada doesn’t care about black people!”) spun by people who always seem to want “their side” to come out smelling of roses and everyone else to look as if they’re killing the industry.

Someone should take advantage of this phenomenon. All my previous intentions along the lines of putting things in context and not picking sides dictated by others? I see them now as the failed crushed dreams of the child I once was. I see now that the future comes in playing to smaller audiences that will agree with you entirely, reassuring all their preconceptions, and knowing that they love you for it.

Divide and conquer.