OPINION: Comics Journalism Isn’t Dying, It’s Changing… And That Has Some People Scared.

Maybe the day that saw alleged comics news site, Bleeding Cool, report that Arsenal Comics in Newbury Park, Los Angeles was having a signing with a host of comic creators in order to raise money to keep their business afloat wasn’t the best day for us to hear the woes of the “comics journalism” community.

Perhaps just days after Megabrain Comics of Rhinebeck, New York posted a Gofundme to prevent them having to close their doors wasn’t the best time to cry about not getting to wear your “Eisner Awards dress.” 

In fact, I might go as far to say that maybe, just maybe, the last eight years, as western comic book sales continued to decline, equating the fans and customers who began to call out why as “Nazis” wasn’t a winning sales strategy.

It is, as comics journalists often like to say to indicate a target to be cancelled… “a bad look.”

And yet, here we are. In a week that sees two more comic book retailers fighting for their very existence (an all-too common phenomena these days) Heidi MacDonald, alleged comics journalist, wants to remind you who is really suffering… our heroic reporters that walk the comics beat. 

On 1/18/2024, Heidi, in an article titled “I guess I’ll never get to wear my Eisner Awards dress again,” laments the elimination of the “Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism” category from the 2024 Eisner Awards, and quotes numerous other comics journalists caterwauling that they won’t have a chance to win that “tattly little” trophy.

Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say.

The “comics journalism” sphere hasn’t been about journalism in a long time. It’s been about currying favor with the right people, pushing politically aligned cronies regardless of ability or talent, and whisper networks where so-called journalists plot and scheme against wrong-thinkers who dare not embrace the status quo and parrot the “current thing.” For as long as I’ve been in the comics industry, comic book news sites have been widely recognized as places that simply regurgitate comic book press releases so that they can maintain their access, run cover for cronies who get accused of being sex pe– I’m sorry, “obnoxious flirt”—or outright accused of theft before running to Canada to (allegedly) avoid charges.

Not sure what I’m referring to? Don’t bother searching the stories on Bleeding Cool or The Beat… they won’t be there. They’ve long since been purged to protect the perhaps not-so-innocent.

Don’t think this policy of silence pertains only to the people they want to protect, however… it can also be used quite effectively to punish those who dare cross the Grand Inquisitors of comics. For example, when publisher Dynamite Comics had the temerity to step out of political line with the industry at large by daring to partner with Comicsgate creator Cecil, the retaliation was swift… hit piece after hit piece was written until Nick Barrucci, Dynamite’s owner, was bullied into canceling the partnership.

Sadly, capitulation was not enough… the jackals that Mark Millar would late last year rebrand as “Cancel Pigs” demanded penance for Nick’s hubris.

For well over a year, Rich Johnston of Bleeding Cool would make sure to hyperlink the articles of Nick Barrucci’s crimes against “the right side of history” in every article published about Dynamite… a not-so-subtle reminder for other publishers that might see an opportunity to make some money that their social credit score would suffer. For Heidi’s part, she would simply refuse to report on anything Dynamite announced, at a time when comics news sites were beginning to need every story they could get to maintain any sort of regular traffic.

Another silence campaign would be waged against an entire crowdfunding platform. Despite having a regular column that was presented as a “round-up” of the independent, customer-sourced comics, MacDonald would consistently ignore any crowdfunding campaigns on the IndieGoGo site.

IndieGoGo, an alternative crowdfunding site to Kickstarter, was regarded as a more favorable and less politically hostile option for many creators, including the creators of the loose consortium that calls themselves ComicsGate. By allowing these creators to dare earn a living after being excommunicated by the Holy Church of The Comics Community, IndieGoGo was hosting heretics and could not be given any oxygen.

Never mind that many other non-Comicsgate creators were also using IndieGoGo… guilt by association is crime enough in itself. Using the Nazi-because-we-say-it-is platform was enough for you to be labeled “ComicsGate adjacent,” and even if you weren’t, well… there’s always an acceptable level of civilian casualties… after all, this was war.

In the article, MacDonald says “Comics are a community as well as an art form.” While I maintain that comics should be an industry, not a community, it is hard to deny that people like Heidi have made it one… one of rigid conformity coerced by fear of cancellation, with swift and brutal retribution for wrong-think. Mainstream comics is Animal Farm by design… and some animals, of course, are more equal than others.

MacDonald goes on to state that one of the reasons to keep the award is “it’s all we got,” stating that “The entire profession of journalism” is “under attack.” She goes on to blame “content creators” that monetize platforms “that originated to support some form of journalism,” further lamenting that these same platforms “are making it nearly impossible to earn a living wage” by “prioritizing AI and SEO tricks.” 

Algorithmic histrionics aside, I am friends with many “content creators” in the YouTube space… and they’re not having any problem monetizing reporting on said content into a living wage. The problem with old-school comics journalism is that it is rotten to the core, yes; but it’s also that the traditional news website with the easily culled and controlled comments section is the horse and buggy, and the customers are driving shiny new Model T’s. Sites like Bleeding Cool and The Beat, propaganda at worst and yellow journalism at best, are dinosaurs thrashing around in the tar, refusing to admit that they’re already dead.

YouTube has eaten the lunch of the traditional comic news site, offering straightforward reporting as well as far more editorialized content, delivered in a more digestible manner by orators with far more charm and personality.

The rise of pop culture commentators like The Critical Drinker, Nerdrotic, Film Threat, Clownfish TV, Disparu, RK Outpost, and Thinking Critical (shameless plug) offer fans a space to return to the comic book shop arguments of old, from topics like “The reasons ‘The Marvels’ sucked” to “What’s your favorite Spider-Man run?” 

Gone are days of a coven of cackling hens like those at The Mary Sue having any influence over the discussion at large. No more can run afoul of the comics community intelligentsia hold any sway over any creator with the talent and brass balls to bet on themselves, break their tether like a circus elephant gone rogue, and maul a coolie on the way to freedom.

As Princess Leia once said in Star Wars (before Disney ruined the franchise) “The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” One positive side effect to these ideologues shrinking the comic industry is not only that it forced trailblazing creators to seek their fortunes elsewhere, thus building a parallel industry.

Comics “journalists” can choose not to report on those campaigns… but in their zeal they have not only exposed themselves as the propagandist hacks that they are… but they’ve truncated their own reach to the point that coverage from them won’t reach anyone anyway. 

It’s not the loss of the award they fear as much as a further loss of clout. While I have no doubt some bloggers report on comics for the love of the medium, for far too many it was a means to an end… a chance to curry favor by reporting favorably on the right people; shunning those deemed “bad…” all in a sad attempt to toady enough until the vampires sucking the lifeblood out of a once healthy and robust industry might deign to transform these familiars into fellow creatures of the night.

Unfortunately for these ill-intentioned nosferatu, these shameless bloodsuckers… the long night is ending; the breaking of dawn is almost here.

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Aaron Sparrow
Aaron Sparrow
Aaron Sparrow broke into the comics industry as a copy editor for Tokyopop, eventually moving on to write English adaptations of manga titles such as Devil May Cry 3, Hyper Police, the critically acclaimed Dragon Head, as well as the story “Family Values” for Blizzard Entertainment’s Warcraft: Legends anthology. In 2009, Aaron became the Lead Editor on Disney/Pixar/Muppets titles, developing their all-ages line and masterminding the triumphant return of Disney’s Darkwing Duck with artist James Silvani. Aaron has also worked on comic books with DreamWorks Animation and Sesame Workshop, and is currently developing his first creator-owned comic book with artist Renzo Rodriguez, titled KNEEL BEFORE DOOMFACE.

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