If, for some reason, you haven't read any of the site today, this week, or indeed, any time in the recent past, you might be unaware of the first anniversary of Comic Book Galaxy going online. Well, it is. Right now.
Anyway, I thought we'd do something special for this week, and since I'd already tried just keeping my mouth shut last week, it had to be something different. Something loud. Something jarring.
So you know Alan David Doane had to be involved.
Alan, the Editor in Chief of CBG, has a reputation for speaking his mind with the kind of self-certainty and uninhibited talk that comes from being a powerful demagogue, a lone prophet, a dangerous psychotic, or a little from every column. Supposing that I'm not the only one who wonders which sometimes, I tried to get into his head for the anniversary column. Here's what he had to say.
Russ: ComicBookGalaxy.com: Why?
Alan: I'm not sure what you mean. Why did I create the site, or why that particular name? So, I'll answer both.
I began writing about comics online in 1999, after being inspired generally by the two decades of great work by Gary Groth and his colleagues at The Comics Journal, and more recently by Randy Lander's week-in and week-out reviews that at the time he was posting to Usenet, which is now a forgotten wasteland for about 150 or so hardcore nitpickers and hate-filled lunatics. But, at the time, Usenet was pretty much the online comics community.
Anyway, after a few months, I was contacted by Jason Brice at Silver Bullet Comics, and eventually became Reviews Editor there, developing a review team and really working with Jason to make the site the best we could.
Eventually, as these things happen, we had a disagreement over the direction of the site, and my role in its business side, and I began to think about what my own site might look like and be called.
It sounds silly, [expletive], it is silly; I had an image pop into my head of a comics longbox against a field of stars, and pretty much everything the Galaxy has become since then was there, holographically embedded in that initial vision.
When I left SBC, I laid out my plans to some of the reviewers I had brought on board, and told them I was leaving, and if they wanted to come with me to the new site, they were welcome to. I never twisted anyone's arm, and I was really flattered when just about everyone I mentioned it to happily joined the new site.
Since it started, I've really tried to encourage the Galaxy to be a group effort. The fact of the matter is, in an endeavour like this, one person has to be ultimately responsible for a lot of things, like maintaining the domain and, I guess, hiring and firing, but for the most part, we're pretty much communists here. Everyone gets a say, and usually a vote, too.
You mentioned The Comics Journal and your appreciation of Gary Groth is legendary. Elaborate on it?
At the risk of being ostracized, marginalized and outright damned by his critics, Groth has never once backed down from what he sees as the truth. He weathers the [expletive]storm and comes out clean every time. That, and his long-ass interviews offer a verbal history of the medium unlike any other. I can't say enough to praise Fantagraphics for talking the talk and walking the walk with visionary work from the best cartoonists who ever lived. Anyone who dismisses Fantagraphics as a publisher or The Comics Journal as THE crucial journal of record for the comics medium over the past two decades is a [expletive] fool who probably has a lifetime subscription to Wizard.
Okay, let's go there, too. What's wrong with "journalism" like Wizard?
Wizard is not journalism in any sense. Vacuous hucksterism disguised as "reportage," combined with dubious marketing schemes like their relationship with CGC. It's extremely suspect, in my opinion, and altogether laughable. Wizard is produced by cynical hacks for gullible fools. Gullible fools too stupid to realize every bit of information in the magazine is available online for free months in advance, and usually with more accuracy.
You've been in radio a long time. How'd you get started?
I have been interested in radio since I was a very small child, probably 6 or 7. At night when I was growing up, I used to listen to the all-night talk shows beaming in from across the country, and even around the world with shortwave. I was utterly fascinated by the power of radio, and as I've gotten older, that really has developed into a love of and fascination with the ways in which humans communicate with each other. That's why I love comics; there's no purer, direct link from creator to audience member than comics when they're at their best.
I took broadcasting in college, and started working professionally in radio in the summer of 1986. I wanted to be a disk jockey early on, and in fact did that for about ten years, but always in there, there was news. Part time, weekends, when someone was sick, I was always getting drafted into doing news, and eventually, it became my main career. Right now I am the morning news anchor/producer at a station in Albany, New York, and I try to work in as many comics-related news stories as I can on a regular basis.
About that link from creator to audience member. Is that true in the work-for-hire arrangement we're all too familiar with? Is it possible?
It can happen, but when it's in the superhero genre its impact is greatly diluted. Walt Simonson's Thor and Frank Miller's Daredevil were unique, visionary comics, but -- but. Just, almost always, with work-for-hire...there's a but.
Remembering your favorite signature line (and indeed, the name of your review column), how did you annoy Ed Douglas so badly?
Ed and I are pals, now. It was rocky there for a bit, but he just called me the other night and we chatted for half an hour. The fact is, I piss people off. It used to bother me, but you can't stick yourself out in public like this for more than a week without annoying someone, and I've been doing it three years now. Bring it on.
It's probably apparent to most that you're a magnet for some amazing free-for-alls. Tell us a good story about a negative reaction to something you've said.
Well, the Galaxy has had some amazing controversy explode from time to time over the past year, but these things tend to fade away in a few days, and then it's quiet again for a while. The interesting thing is, oftentimes people react negatively to something they THINK I said, rather than something I actually said.
The fact is, I am a writer, and I believe strongly in the power of a well-turned phrase. There's not much I write that I don't rework and think over and consider the consequences of before it goes public. When I wrote that the site is dedicated to "Passion, truth and diversity," I meant it, but I guess people thought I was kidding.
Something else I said on the main page on our first day was "There are over a dozen contributors to this site. While I am the editor-in-chief, and I love them as if they were my own, I cannot watch them all at all times, and I can't promise they won't break your stuff if you don't keep an eye on them yourself. I will not invest in those plastic things to make the table edges soft and squishy. There will be bruises before we are through." And Christ knows, there have been.
There are consequences to the controversies that have happened that I regret. I regret that Johanna Draper Carlson and Tom Brevoort are no longer with us, for example. But I don't regret for a second standing firm when the [expletive]storm is at full gale. I apologize when it's needed, but the truth is not something that requires an apology.
What's on your mind when you use the phrase "passion, truth, and diversity"?
That the people I entrust to share bandwidth believe the same thing I do. Our primary responsibility -- maybe our only responsibility -- is to tell the truth. Within the context of a review, that means having an opinion and expressing it. If you have something worth saying, say it with passion. If you're not passionate, why are you wasting my time? Why are you wasting YOURS? As for diversity -- I'm perfectly content to let other comics sites review every issue of Cable, or Witchblade, or fill-in-your-own favourite mediocre waste of trees. I encourage my writers to seek out what's new, what's different. It's not always obvious, because the "Big Three" SEEM dominant by sheer volume alone.
But I'll tell you what, between 50 books from a mainstream publisher and five from a company dedicated to quality like Top Shelf or Fantagraphics, the ratio of quality-to-crap is going to be higher with the smaller publisher. I wish that weren't so, but when you hinge your bottom line on bucks and not quality, the good stuff is almost accidental. "Oops! We did a good title!" Then, of course, if it's something like X-Man or Deadenders, despite the fact that they can wallow in the acclaim and subsidize it with [expletive] X-Men Sketchbooks and overpriced hardcovers, they just cancel it and kiss off the great talent they had in the palm of their hand.
Where do you see CBG on its second anniversary?
More, more, more. We've done nothing this past year but refine the concept, add new talent, and get even more passionate than we were at the beginning. I'd like to see us really concentrate on worthy indy and alternative books in Year Two. Marvel, DC and Image are great fun for those who are really dedicated to their product, and I love a lot of what they do, like Powers, Orion, the ABC line. But at the end of the day, the real worthwhile material comes from surprising places, and I'd like to see us investigate that a bit more in the next 12 months.
You couldn't enter the CBG contest, so what's your favorite comic of all time?
I'll be damned if I'll let you limit me to one; as a kid, I adored Avengers #161, and have written about it at length. It still holds up as a great mainstream sooperhero comic. As an adult, I could re-read Warren Ellis's Stormwatch and Authority runs forever and be very happy. He did some great, fresh, exciting things with an otherwise pretty bankrupt genre there, and as he says about Authority, for 12 issues, he and Laura and Bryan and Paul WERE the [expletive] Beatles.
But speaking as a grownup looking for enduring work, if I could only take one comic with me to that desert island, it would have to be James Kochalka's Sketchbook Diaries. The man is just brilliant. Funny, cute, touching, deep, occasionally goddamned cosmic, and yet it's never smarmy or pompous or annoying. I think he's the perfect cartoonist.
Any aspirations to creating comics?
Lord, no. It's possible I will be involved with a project with one of my favourite creators in the next few months, but it will be using my journalist muscles, not my "I wish I could write or draw comics," muscles.
Are comics doomed?
I don't see them doing anything to NOT be doomed, at least the mainstream. Companies like Top Shelf and Fantagraphics astound and impress me with the variety of their packaging and the quality of their content. If they can continue to grow into new marketplaces, that's the place where you'll see comics thrive. Sooperhero comics may always have an ever-shrinking audience, but look at them -- they deserve it, for the most part. The good stuff like Orion, X-Man or even something like Deadenders gets so little support from the publishers that they're doomed to die eventually, and most of them already have. I don't know how Walt's hung on so long with Orion, but God bless him for it, he's creating one of the top 5 or 6 superhero comics ever, and nobody's reading it, and DC, it seems to me, does nothing to support it. Go figure.
You've got two young children. Do you feel the comic industry has anything for them?
Yes. Overpriced Scooby Doo and Batman Adventures comics. Comics for kids should be a better value if they expect adults with jobs to spend money on them. They should also be available in places where kids go, like video stores and supermarkets and malls. If the companies aren't selling enough comics to kids, it's only because they don't want to or are too stupid to find a way out of the limited tunnel they've dug for themselves.
I know what you mean. I'm not sure yet how old my daughter will have to get before I let her in a direct sales store alone. (As you know, I'm not sure I want to be in a direct sales store alone, sometimes.) Is the answer to overhaul the direct market or to try to break free of it?
The answer is to find a way to get your product to a new audience. Kids are naturally drawn to comics. If they see them, they will read them. I see it every day. The companies ignore this obvious fact and continue to despair that Powerpuff Girls doesn't sell half a million copies when its primary sales outlet is a store whose average customer is a 33 year old man, and one without children for that matter.
Get the comics to kids. How do you do that? Sell the comics where kids are. Don't know how to do that? Then give the [expletive] up and sell used cars.
I remember Warren Ellis saying that his daughter nearly rips his arm off to get to his comp copy of Powerpuff Girls.
Which he gets for free in his comp package every month. Another sale not made. Next question.
Anyway. Any thoughts on the trend of direct sales outlets being combined with gaming stores and the like?
Yes, fabulous! Scare off female and mature adult male customers even more with your 19 sided dice and grotesque pewter unicorn and gargoyle figurines. Jesus, God, we're all [expletive] doomed.
Give us a last look at your madness before we wrap this up. Say whatever. Go wild.
If anyone is still reading this, thanks for your interest in the site, and for your dedication to what we're trying to do. If we do something you like, let us know. If we do something you hate, PLEASE let us know. We're not doing this to get rich. We LOSE money every month. If you're reading these words, my friend, we're doing this for you, and for ourselves, and for the comics we love. Thanks for coming along, and feel free to jump in and take part whenever you want!
Thanks to Alan for coming and playing along, even after I said those things about him. Join us again next week when I'll tell you all what you should be reading.
Reviews This Week: Avengers: the Ultron Imperative, Banner #1, Mighty Eyeball #6, Monkeysuit v3, Uncle Slam and Fire Dog, Origin #1, Orion #17, Stormwatch: Final Orbit, Top Ten #12, Hellblazer #165, and Private Beach #3, courtesy of Coyle, Doane, Mathews and Weissburg.
Forum Topic: Like I said, are comics doomed? What can be done to avoid it?
-- R. Francis Smith