Sorry if this column seems a tad more frantic and scattered than usual. I just spent the better part of the day prodding my computer into an utter and complete nervous breakdown. Luckily the only thing I really lost was time, and I’m trying to make it up by writing this at an hour which approaches god-awfulness.
You may have noticed that I don’t talk a lot about industry politics here. Sure, I did in that “Clear Cut” article awhile back, but that wasn’t very pointed or direct, really. I would prefer leaving commentary on various publishing houses/figures to various message boards (where I do comment, though very rarely do I rant.) This week will be a (hopefully rare) exception to that, as I saw a quote from Mr. Joe Quesada which demanded a reply.
You can read the whole piece on Comicon Pulse [http://www.comicon.com/cgi-bin/pulse.cgi?http%3A//www.comicon.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi%3Fubb%3Dget_topic%26f%3D36%26t%3D001306] but I’ll quote the most relevant passage here:
Quesada reflected that this negativity on the message boards play a part in why comics aren’t doing well. He says that people read how everyone treats each other on the message boards, and they balk at wanting to have any part of it.
My head nearly exploded when I read this, but not out of anger or righteous indignation or suppressed rage. If anything, I was more likely to endanger myself by choking on my coffee as I laughed myself silly. Please, don’t take it personally Mr. Quesada (yeah, like he’s actually ever gonna read this, but I’ll flatter myself by thinking it aloud). I laugh at a lot of pronouncements. I also get a good chuckle out of the way most projects are hyped and the whole WWF (or is that WWE) attitude that surrounds the way comics are promoted in the online world. There seemed to be a whole lot more of that around Wizard World Chicago this year, though I’m still wondering why. Most of the big stories seemed to hover around SDCC this year, so why there was this hush and expectation around Chicago, who knows?
So anyways, laughter. Incredulous laughter. Which is probably unfair, as this quote could be taken out of context entirely (and to be a little more fair, Mr. Quesada did own up to some degree of responsibility for Marvel’s online PR problems) but I somehow don’t think so. Firstly, this is nearly 180 degrees from Mr. Quesada’s previous stance as to the online community and its relationship to Marvel, which if I’m recalling correctly boiled down to something like “It’s just ten guys and a bunch of assumed identities talking trash about Marvel’s books.” Apologies if this is not the case, but I sure got that feeling from Mr. Quesada’s comments.
Online fandom just wasn’t seen as worth engaging with, in any form other than the occasional spitball. And just so I’m clear on this, there’s a lot of facets of online fandom that I really hate. Anonymous creator-baiting/bashing has been a favorite pastime of the online community for some time. I myself engaged in a bit of it, long ago on this thing called USEnet, when I railed against the “silliness of Elektra’s resurrection” and her subsequent reappearance in the pages of Daredevil. I also got an email from the then-current writer of the book (written in a most politic manner, I might add.) That turned into a brief and informative (and polite) dialogue, but I guarantee that sort of thing is the exception and not the rule.
So yeah, I can see Marvel Editorial’s position as to online discussion not being worth engaging in. Most of the time, it’s relatively pointless, but dismissing it as ten geeks chatting with their buddies does it a grave disservice. Of course, every time Mr. Quesada spends a moment replying to address anything online, he makes his old position that much more ridiculous. It’s like feeding trolls. Any time you respond to a troll, even if it’s to cut ‘em down, you only end up feeding their ego and give them strength to carry on. That’s how it works.
If you say that online discussions are a waste of time but continue to waste your time in discussions online, you undercut your own argument. I think we call that ‘irony’ but I’d have to look it up to be sure. Oh, wait. There it is. Right in the dictionary.
So, internet fandom is a nest of trolls who don’t represent real comic book readers and can therefore be ignored or shown contempt. Besides, there’s only a handful of real posters, right? They can’t speak for everyone. That’s half-true. There’s plenty of people who will argue about ANYTHING on the net, and most of them won’t be polite about it. Comics fans are the same. They’ll whine for the sake of whining (even if those whines are based on perfectly valid opinions based on observation.) I don’t think that means it’s necessarily safe to ignore them, though.
I’ve run mailinglists and been involved in online discussions for some time, as I’ve said before. And I can tell you that for every single person who posts, there’s anywhere from 100 to 1000 people who feel the same way, but just won’t talk about it. This isn’t to say that the Internet is an utterly accurate barometer of how everyone in the world thinks about The Fantastic Four at any given moment. But you can bet that if people are talking about it online, they’re talking about it in the real world.
And that’s not safe to ignore (and really unsafe to provoke). Particularly when you’re talking about the people who are reading the books that your company publishes. You lay the smackdown on online fans, and you may as well do it in your letter columns and editorial pages (oh, wait, those largely don’t exist any more, so online comics fandom is even more relevant).
The good thing is that Mr. Quesada (and again, not to pick on him personally, but he’s recently spoken on this very subject, so he’s gotten my attention) seems to have realized the mistake of his stated position. For good or for ill, comics have always generated a community around them, particularly Marvel comics with a perceived emphasis on the reader and the steps they took to make everything seem special and connected. I know, this led to massive inbreeding, but don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.
So, as of a couple days ago, Mr Quesada says that internet fandom was not only anything but powerless, but it was responsible for some of the troubles that the industry was in. For the record, my amusement at this was double-pronged. 1) The sudden turnaround from online fans being trolls that should be ignored to wielding sufficient power to level entire companies and 2) that message boards are part of the problem and not the solution. I don’t subscribe to either of those beliefs.
Message boards are nothing more than people getting together and talking about subjects that share a common interest. Nobody’s orchestrating any particular sentiments, though there are certainly places that you’re not going to say things like “Superheroes are the best thing that happened to the industry” and “It’s only a real comic if it’s in black and white.” People tend to gravitate towards like thinkers. Well, yeah, okay, the trolls will go wherever they’re guaranteed food and won’t be hunted down like dogs, sadly.
If people are griping about particular artists and writers and editorial staff, it’s not because there’s a vast conspiracy being orchestrated through a series of sock puppets. It’s probably because some people genuinely don’t like the work of those creators and don’t like the decisions being made by editorial (or won’t give those a chance, but this has more to do with the inbreeding of comics fans rather than any inherent evilness of the Internet). You can write some of them off as trolls and sheep and dittoheads, but not all of them. I think it was Len Wein who once said that no matter which book he cancelled it was always someone’s favorite book and and he’d get letters asking “how could you cancel Superfluousman? He was my favorite!” There’s always a vocal minority opposing any change, but it’s not a safe assumption to declare that a wave of any particular sentiment is being driven by a handful of naysayers.
People talk about this stuff because they’re passionate about it. That and the internet gives them a forum that they didn’t have before. If they’re talking about comics, then it might behoove the publishers to lend them an ear, but certainly don’t let them dictate policy. However, if people don’t like a particular direction or policy, then you’ll be sure to hear about it. This is not a bad thing.
In the interest of fairness, I’ll note that comics fans are sometimes ultra-conservative in their views regarding how characters should be handled. There are a few in particular who will loudly decry any changes made to their beloved. You have to take them for what they are, and ask them if perhaps they’d prefer to read archive editions instead of the current monthly. However, choosing not to listen to the entire chorus because a few of them won’t like *anything* you do, well, that’s a little foolish. Don’t give them power that they don’t have by assessing blame where it doesn’t belong.