Dec 7, 2016

Work Ethic

Work Ethic
Travis Hedge Coke

This doesn’t really pay.

And, sometimes it isn’t fun.

Those two factors you need to understand before you start many of the kinds of questions, or pose the sorts of suggestions that people do, to someone who writes critically about comics.

Everything I write for publication has drafts. The successful first-draft writer is a myth perpetuated by professionals to make amateurs feel incompetent and not become competition, and to promote their brand of superior competence. And, I have no faith in my competence being anything like exceptional, so I double-check often. I fact-check and, also, I run things by trusted friends, family, and colleagues to see if my angle is appropriate, if my tone or conclusions are reasonable. Most of my articles start as lists, details, examples, and agendas combined and recombined into more elegant and relevant formations, added to and subtracted from with sporadic bursts of furor, glee, and necessity.

I have turned down better-paying gigs with wider readership built in, because they don’t want the kind of work that I want to do, occasionally because their general ethos is ugly to me, and once, flatly because I knew I would let them and their readership down. This isn’t just a job, or a vocation, but a game, and if you don’t play games mostly within the rules, you’re not playing the game, you’re just scamming the punters.

The Comics Cube isn’t a news organ. It isn’t a clickbait farm of misinformation and deliberate ignorance. Ben, Tanya, Duy and I, none of us write the same sort of articles, and we probably don’t have hugely similar methodology, either. It kills me that Kimberly doesn’t write more for the Cube; her title, alone, for her column, has allure. Before I ever wrote for the Cube, I thought Duy’s short capsule explanations of techniques were fantastic. His piece on Alan Moore in Grant Morrison’s Supergods bugged me, because it’s ill-researched, but why shouldn’t it be? There’s no pretense of being the final word or authoritative. Plus, it’s still a better record than anyone at Newsarama or io9 has.

I want to be a guy who can do Back Issue Ben, but it will never happen. Approximating it for just one article has felt like trying to not die. I have to get up and screw my head on tight, every day, to make sure I don’t forget where it is. Ben Smith is Captain America, and no one can convince me otherwise. Back Issue Ben’s ability to let everyone in, to walk us all through, is probably what Steve Rogers’ art was like, when he was a comics artist. I’m not that welcoming.

I like to let things flow like funk, like good music, good jazz. I like losing people, and making them play catchup. Or, losing them, and just waving goodbye as we speed on ahead into fun, new territory.

So, I make my lists. I have my agenda, my framework, my allies and avenues of research, and I start writing. If facts change, the article is appropriately altered. Not just the simple fact, itself, but the consequences.

Good comics criticism involves research. And, comics is not just words, or pictures, but also a medium and a market and a historical and cultural

Comics criticism can’t stop with a couple google searches. It can’t be about looking at one page out of all context or one speech balloon. I have seen good people do that. I’ve done some, myself, though hopefully not without couching it as such or correcting it later. Some laxness is unavoidable, particularly since, again, there is no money in this and very little aid.

I have to take my lists and look at the actual comics, and other comics, and outside sources, to see if not only the words line up, but the visual representations mirror or fall into a pattern. To see where a story has been, and were it’s going. The work history or lives of artists, writers, editors. The politics of the moment it was originally released. The technological limitations at play. I have to be fair.

I don’t want to cheat and fix one figure or function but say everything still adds up the same. There are places that will do that, even if they have checked the work and know it is not true. I don’t want to disgrace the Cube like that, and I don’t want to screw you, either. For what? Clicks? Attention?

This is comic book criticism, comedy, and journalism. The only clicks in that are ones that inspire rage and hate, fear and anxiety. Look at the hot button headlines in comics “journalism” and it’s all race-baiting and manipulation of facts, to help geeks feel persecuted and everyone else feel persecuted by geeks. Hydra Cap. Nobody at a major website was naive enough not to know they were whipping that up, or how ugly what they were stirring was. Any moral panic at a new black character or there’s a woman temporarily as main character in a comic that used to have a male lead, the people putting together that panic, at a professional level, know what it is they do. They know Thor has been a white construction worker, an alien with the head of a skinned horse, a frog before that scare piece about Jane Foster as Thor is even off the front page of the site.

And, those places? They run the correction but don’t change their piece, or at least, they never change the conclusions. Bad math. Ugly math.

I may screw up, but I don’t want my screw ups or exaggerations to result in someone hating or fearing other human beings for their skin color, their gender, and the existence of that being represented in a comic book. When I see articles asking why comics fandom or comics geekdom can get so brutal and hateful, “Why is this, this way?”, I find myself saying back, that it is because we let it. Because the comics critics and news organs, by and large, have followed a long, fannish tradition of inciting anger and panic, and then looking the other way at the larger consequences, every single time. I’m trying to not be that.

I’m not demanding that you come along with me. I’m just enjoying the drive and want to point out some nice sights to those who are along, how good the air smells, how nice the trees look and the buildings in the distance, as we go somewhere interesting. And, then go somewhere else a week or two later. Trying not to toss beer cans and empty bags out the window to mess up somebody’s lawn as we pass. Trying not to exhaust myself, doing your work for you, instead of our work, for us, and taking my fun where I can find it.

So, before you ask why I don’t cover this piece of news or why I don’t follow this trend, why don’t I write this intensely-researched, book-length examination of a bestselling comic or one that nobody bought… just read this, instead. And, you’ll either know why, or you’re one of the people we happily left behind, hoping that some day, you’ll catch up again, and we’ll have a good time together when you do.

1 comment:

Marc said...

Really well said! The way clickbaity comics sites (and it's not just the biggest ones) pander to the grossest aspects of typical fanboy mentality are frequently disgusting.

And even when they're not stirring the alt-right pot, I find they're constantly perpetuating the same uncritical opinions that have been circulating on message boards for decades as if they were gospel. ("Every early-2000's X-Men comic not written by Grant Morrison is dumb!" "OMG can you even believe 'Sins Past' and 'One More Day'? Trash!" "Mark Millar and Frank Miller are brilliant creators who totally aren't misogynists!" etc.)

We see this in academic criticism of comics, too, where lazy academics try to pass off their childhood/teenage/otherwise-precritical fan knowledge as "research" rather than actually digging into their subject matter to say something new.

I don't always like or agree or condone (or whatever the verb) the conclusions posted on The Comics Cube, and it sounds like you don't either, but you guys are constantly making an effort to say new things about comics and that's exactly how it should be. As long as the Cube keeps making an effort to reevaluate what we think we know and generate new knowledge about this medium, I'll keep reading (and I'll try to comment more in the future, too!). --Marc

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