2017 marked the first year that I properly dedicated myself to comics journalism. I’ve been writing things for sites for a number of years now, as well as joining people on podcasts and even dabbling in one myself with a friend, but from the start of this year, I began writing reviews regularly for Multiversity. It’s been a humbling experience, with a real learning curve (for which I can only apologize to the editors) but I’ve loved every minute, and I intend to make my 2018 even bigger and better. What I’ve found the most fascinating, however, as I’ve dived into writing for a site I’ve read and loved for years, is that the comics journalism landscape has changed and evolved around me over the last 12 months in an entirely unpredictable way. Who would have guessed that Comics Alliance, one of the biggest sites around, would effectively close its doors, or that the way we consume our comics news and criticism would include subscription-only digital periodicals? Just how and why these changes have occurred not only give us a clearer picture of comics journalism in 2017 but could potentially provide an indication of where we’re heading in 2018 and beyond.
I don’t think I’m betraying my home here at Multiversity to say that Comics Alliance was one of my favorite sites. Nor do I think I’m in any way alone in that sentiment, as it was in the top 3 most visited comics journalism sites at its height, along with Bleeding Cool and ComicBook.com. What stood it apart from those others, however, and what kept me and thousands of fans returning to it was its commitment to diversity and the wealth of talented writers found there. Take that site away, and you leave a real void in the landscape that is still waiting to be truly filled. I’m proud of the voice that Multiversity has, as well as the diversification of books, creators, and news that we cover, but there’s always more that can be done, a sentiment echoed by how the demise of Comics Alliance has affected everything around it.
You wouldn’t think that a website closing would really change things; after all, websites start up and shut down all the time. What’s happened since Comics Alliance closed, however, is that all of that talent, all of those voices wanting to be heard have gone into the wind, and have started producing a diverse range of content that is, much like their former home, changing and influencing the landscape. Some writers have taken what they do to other sites and found their home there, others have leaned into their own blogs and podcasts, and others still have started, or contribute towards, new projects that I personally find the most exciting.
Part of what I’ve enjoyed about consistently producing reviews and engaging with the content of Multiversity is that I’ve been far more aware of what’s going on around me in the comics world. It’s not just the wealth of weekly releases that I’m reading (more than I think I ever have in fact) but the people and websites I regularly check, the many (too many) notifications I get on my phone that keep me up to date, and more importantly the emails I get in my inbox which, thanks to a new approach to comics journalism, are more exciting than ever before.
Comics MNT first started producing monthly newsletters through Patreon in February of this year (a full month before Comics Alliance closed its doors, muddying the cause-and-effect waters I was paddling in a paragraph or so ago), and since then have altered the way I consume the news coming from the comics world. Rather than rely on reading short, reactionary pieces the moment news hits, I’ve found it refreshing and a different experience entirely to find time every month to sit down and read through in-depth opinion pieces and articles that examine the industry in a way that most of the bigger websites have shied away from of late. Joining Comics MNT in the this relatively new, monthly periodical sphere is PanelxPanel, a digital publication that I also eagerly await every month when the notification lands in my inbox.Continued below
Hassan Otsmane-Elhau (former Comics Alliance alum and creator of Strip Panel Naked, a comics analysis series on YouTube) began PanelxPanel in July this year, and once a month the oversized digital magazine chooses a comic series and deep dives into the concepts, creative processes and themes presented, oftentimes focusing on a single issue from that series as a launchpad to wider discussion. Taking the spiritual concept of Comics MNT, PanelxPanel utilises the standalone periodical format, combined with the freedom of the digital platform to produce content that explores the comics in question to a depth that is frankly unrivalled in journalism at the moment, with an almost daunting series of articles that approach any given comic from every conceivable angle. It’s safe to say that Hass reads comics on a completely different level to the rest of us, but he continues to gather a choir of voices that fill PanelxPanel and provide fascinating and altogether humbling articles.
It’s encouraging to see that kind of analysis still existing, if in a different fashion, and it’s also inspiring for a writer such as myself. Again (and forgive me if this is getting boring), I’m happy to be part of a site like Multiversity that is committed to producing long-form content that’s also analytical of comics and the industry and which are also extremely inspiring for my own writing. Combined with Comics MNT and PanelxPanel, I’m encouraged to push my writing in that direction in the New Year and start pitching long-form pieces that challenge me as a writer, as well as dive into the world of comics around me.
What does this all mean for comics journalism? Well, if we look at the big sites like CBR, Newsarama and ComicBook.com, there’s a greater dependence on list based articles (no shade, I write some myself), as well as a responsibility to accommodate a more mainstream audience that isn’t perhaps looking for deeper analysis of the medium. There’s a greater mainstream demand for comics-related content thanks to the success of the movies, which is why we’re seeing sites like Looper, Polygon, and Vulture playing a larger role in comics journalism. Then there are sites that focus primarily on news, with their own voices and opinion pieces which, as antagonistic as some may be seen to be, serve a necessary function in the journalistic ecosystem. I’d also be remiss in a conversation about comics journalism in 2017 if I didn’t mention the spectacular work done by Jessica Testa, Tyler KingKade and Jay Edidin, as well as the women they worked with who came forward to produce a sadly much-needed piece for Buzzfeed that solidified something alleged for years: the sexual harassment claims made against the now-former DC editor Eddie Berganza. It’s obviously disappointing that something so harrowing was, and continues to be, a necessary part of comics journalism, but it’s nevertheless important to continue the work of these individuals in pressuring creators and publishers to do the right thing.
Regardless of the mainstream demand for lighter content, or the news focused sites that explore the wider landscape, the success of Comics MNT and PanelxPanel prove that readers and fans are still eager to consume the kind of deeper analysis that an artistic medium like comics demands, as well as showing that they are willing to explore new ways to find such work. Much like comics themselves, the content and format of comics journalism is diversifying in new ways, and rightly so. We should always be embracing change in what we cover and how we cover it, be that a new style of analysis, or a stronger emphasis on diversity. For me personally, I’m excited to play my small part in the months and years to come.