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A link to something nice.

I haven't had a lot to say about Graphic Novel Review since it came out. I posted an opinion on its guidelines before it came out (I felt that taking a hard, though not absolute, editorial bias against mainstream super hero graphic novels was a mistake, ensuring that the very people who most needed exposure to creator owned and independent graphic novels would have no reason to read it. It's an opinion I continue to hold, though I don't know if it's been borne out or not.) I think it's well written, and some people I respect highly are associated with it, editing it, writing for it, or all of the above.

But... well, I'm not steeped in graphic novels anyway, right now. I haven't been to the comic store in months, and while I trek through the graphic novel section of Barnes and Noble whenever I go in there, I don't usually buy anything.

(The same is sadly true of Science Fiction these days, but that's because I'm a lot more likely to buy and download E-books from Fictionwise or Baen to read at my leisure than I am to buy physical books. I carry my Treo 600 with me wherever I go because it's also my cell phone, and I bought a monumentally large SD card so I can carry a library with me. There's nothing quite as satisfying as discovering that you're caught behind a car accident on an interstate, that you've probably got a half hour before any traffic's going to move at all, so you pull out your PDA/phone and start rereading Soothsayer. I just wish Sean Stewart novels came electronically right now.)

But, I do like the articles they write. And right now, I'm going to go suggest you look at this month's cover. Jenn Manley Lee has produced a striking and evocative piece that's just plain pretty.

Once you've seen it, feel free to head inside and see if anything catches your eye. "M." Campos and Kelly J. Cooper have reviews, and that's worth it all by itself. But it's the cover art that really yanked at my eyes this month, and that's worth a mention, don't you think?

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For me it's not that they ignore superhero books - that's a perfectly valid decision. It's why they ignore it that pisses me off, and on a number of levels. First of all, I'm just kind of annoyed at the declaration that creators do worse work in a given situation. That's fine, and maybe they don't, but in that case why not just declare a bias against reviewing bad stuff, and shrug your shoulders when the corporate-owned stuff keeps being bad instead of making an absurd generalization.

Also aggravating to me, though, is the slight against creators who are trying to do good and meaningful work with corporate-owned characters. Superheroes are iconic, and I think one of the reasons people like to write them is that there's a real pleasure in writing for a cultural icon. Which would explain why Scott McCloud, Harvey Pekar, and a bunch of the other stars of indy comics occasionally wander over and do Superman projects, whether it's McColoud's upcoming miniseries or the second volume of Bizzaro Comics. They're not doing it for the paycheck. They're doing it because even if Superman is corporate owned, he's fucking Superman. And to suggest that the writers of Superman, Batman, or anything else are in it for the paycheck and don't really care about the property is, frankly, an insult to them.

And, frankly, it's also kinda absurd to suggest that Dark Knight Returns, Sandman, or Watchmen all sucked and that Miller, Gaiman, and Moore weren't really trying.

So I read it with even more hostility than you, I think. I don't think it's just failing to expose people who need the exposure to independent and creator owned graphic novels. I think it's, frankly, a fuck you to anyone who likes superhero books and a declaration that they don't want us in their clubhouse. Which, to be honest, is an attitude I tend to get from indy comics a lot - that they'd just as soon superheroes would go away and let their highbrow art dominate the industry.

Whereas I take the opposite view. I think superhero comics are the heart of comics, and that they're the one genre that was developed almost exclusively and purely by comics. That and funny animals, really. And so I see no shame in celebrating superheroes. Comics are a big tent and other stuff can fit in just fine, but in the end, superheroes are comics biggest cultural contribution - the invention of a major and popular genre. And I think anyone who's shunning superhero comics is, frankly, shunning comics as a whole.

Oh, for heaven's sake. What Joey actually writes about the site's attitude to corporate-owned comics is this:

"We hope to review books featuring corporate-owned properties (e.g. non-creator-owned books) almost as rarely as the NYT Book Review covers Harlequin Romances, or any other prose books put together on an assembly line by creative workers with no long-term stake in the economic life of the work they have done. Which is to say: hardly ever. Our assumption is that such economic conditions will almost always lead to sub par work, even when the creative workers themselves are capable of great things. Since the vast majority of superhero graphic novels coming out are corporate properties, the genre may get fairly scant coverage on GNR. This is not a slight against the genre, so much as against the method of production. Creator-owned superhero books will have a much better shot at garnering a review. "

That's not exactly a "fuck you" to superhero books, much less to their readers. It's a reasonable editorial decision, and Joey makes it clear from the first line that he's willing to bend the rules if something worthy of critical examination comes down the corporate pike.

On this matter, I'm somewhere between Snowspinner and Shaenon. I think that yes, they've made a reasonable editorial decision. At the same time, I think it's a critically flawed one.

"Our assumption is that such economic conditions will almost always lead to sub par work, even when the creative workers themselves are capable of great things."

I think this assumption is, quite honestly, wholly wrong. Snowspinner's example brought up one area highlighting its problems. I'll give you another example -- me.

I have spent my entire life in love with the Legion of Super Heroes. Seriously. My entire life. The earliest comic I can remember reading was a Legion comic. (Evidence suggests I was a Shazam fan before that, but I have no memory of those comics. I do remember the Legion issue.) I adore them. I adore their interactions. I adore their theory.

If I were given the option, tomorrow, to get $200,000 to do a creator owned book that would be mine for all eternity, or $80,000 a year to do three years of the Legion of Super Heroes... I would take the Legion in a heartbeat.

Yes, I wouldn't own them.

Yes, the practices and contracts are backwards.

But it's the Legion.

And you're damn right I would give it my absolute best efforts. You're damn right it would matter a tremendous amount to me. You're damn right I would try to make it a critical success.

I think there's more people like me working at the big two than people phoning it in, to be honest. That doesn't mean there aren't people phoning it in. But then, there are people phoning it in on independent comics, too.

I have no problem with Graphic Novel Review deciding their mandate and editorial direction will be to evangelize and extol and provide critical dissection independent comics. That's their decision and it's perfectly legitimate. However, by doing it this way, it leads inexorably to a world where only the people already reading independent graphic novels reads GNR. Given that part of the point they're doing this is a belief -- possibly a very legitimate one -- that independent comics are much closer to what a mainstream American reader would actually want to read, it becomes important to draw those eyes to the magazine in the first place. Otherwise, it's preaching to the choir, while even casual comic book fans give it a bye because they don't recognize any of the names when they glance through the table of contents.

So while I don't think Manley's trying to out and out shaft Superhero fans or books, I do think there's a real problem with the strategy.

On the gripping hand, I do think that GNR is well written, informative and interesting now. With cool cover art to boot. And so, when I snark about it, I might allude to what I think their biggest flaw is, but I'm also going to recommend the art and the articles.

Or am I just being incoherent?

Trivium: there's a " stuck to your URL for the cover.

Shaenon - That quote was actually exactly what enraged me - the suggestion that even good creators slack and do crap when they do superheroes, and that creator-ownership and long-term economic stake are necessary components of quality art.

I'm not saying that people have to like superheroes. Hell, if GNR wanted to just say, "Look, as editors we don't care about superheroes, and as editors we think that there are lots of great review sites for superhero comics. So we're going to focus on indy and non-superhero stuff because, honestly, it's our magazine and we focus on things we're interested in." And that would be a fine editorial decision.

But to say that superheroes are corporate and that no good art can be produced under those conditions is a renunciation of the superhero genre. And, worse, it's a renunciation of the possibility of successful or popular comics being good.

Look, I'm not against independent comics. They're often not my cup of tea, but then, my stack of JLAs isn't everybody's cup of tea either. Some of them are doing some great stuff. People I really respect really enjoy it. I often don't. These things happen. I don't like Star Wars or Final Fantasy either. That's fine. There's shelf space for everybody. It's just when the indy people start suggesting that the superhero comics aren't worth keeping on the shelf that I get irritable.

It is a pretty cover though.

Before I respond to any particular points about GNR's editorial policy there's one thing I need to make clear: Joey Manley is NOT the editor of The Graphic Novel Review. I am.

Yes, GNR was Joeyís brainchild, and Joey did edit the early issues, back before we spun off to a standalone site. He still puts in a tremendous amount of work in getting the new issue up every month. He did write the original guidelines, and some of his language is preserved in the current version. But every editorial decision made since the relaunch has been mine. I had every opportunity to rewrite the guidelines as I saw fit, and I did rewrite large portions of them ñ where Joeyís language remains, itís because I made the decision to keep it. Even when Joey contributes his own writing to the magazine, it has to get my approval before it gets published. So. Whatever criticism folks have about GNRís editorial policy would rightly be directed toward me, not Joey.

Apologies for the rant.

That said, there are a number of assumptions being made here about why Iíve set the policies Iíve set, most of which are pretty far off base, particularly in Snowspinnerís case.

First off, I donít hate superhero comics, I donít hate fans of superhero comics, and I have no desire at all to see superheroes disappear from the comics landscape. In point of fact, Iíve been reading superhero comics for fourteen years, Iím embarrassingly enthusiastic about most of the books in Marvelís ìUltimatesî line, and I even did a four-month stint as an editorial intern at Marvel back in ë96. There are even still a handful of corporate characters I would love to get my hands on as a writer.

Second, I have never made any assumption that creators working in corporate comics will necessarily ìphone it in.î My assumptions about why corporate books are typically sub-par have nothing to do with the creatorsí attitudes, and everything to do with the rules and limits that are necessarily imposed by the corporate structure. Yes, some creators do manage to rise above those limitations, but itís the exception, not the rule. Dark Knight Returns, Sandman, and Watchmen are notable precisely because their creators were given considerably more creative freedom than is the norm. Any of these books would merit a review in GNR, were they published today. And yes, there are still books being produced under these more liberal conditions. You can certainly expect to see some of them covered in GNR, just as soon as I find good writers interested in reviewing them.

Itís also worth noting that the current guidelines were posted well in advance of the magazineís launch ñ which is to say, they were written specifically for writers who had no sample issues they could look at to get a sense of what we really wanted. For this reason, it was necessary to overstate my disinclination to run reviews of corporate books, in order to stave off the unmanageable flood of corporate comics reviews that would certainly have resulted from a less strict set of guidelines. Now that the magazine is up and running, I do plan to revise the guidelines to focus more on what we do want and less on what we donít, though I wonít be getting to that for another month or so.

Penultimate comment: as of this moment, our mission statement is not on the website. This is an oversight that will be remedied, but in the interest of better articulating who weíre writing for and why, here it is:

Many literary readers, having been exposed to one or two or three "crossover" graphic novels every few years, are already interested in exploring the larger context of the form. They want to gain a better understanding of the "scene" from which these outstanding works emerged, and they want to find new graphic novels to read. We provide that context and that understanding. Although we welcome readers from both the artcomix scene and mainstream fandom, we do not expect our audience to have comics at the center of their lives: We are writing for the average reader of contemporary literature who wants to explore the field of graphic novels.

Ultimate comment: Eric ñ thanks for taking the time to give us a mention. I appreciate your criticism and your compliments in equal measure (which is to say, ìhighlyî). And yeah, I was really thrilled when Jenn agreed to do a cover for us!

There are a couple of misconceptions here, mostly on Snowspinner's part.

First off, we are not biased against the superhero genre -- the guidelines specifically state that creator-owned superheroes are not affected by our bias against corporate work. Madman, Hellboy, The Spirit, etc., don't fall under our zone of bias.

Secondly, our guidelines don't state that corporate-owned work is "always" sub-par. Our guidelines state that corporate-owned work is "almost always" sub-par. "Almost always sub-par" means "sometimes not sub-par." Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, and Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing are all about 20 years old. If these are the examples that spring readily to mind -- when the corporations have been flooding the shelves with books every single month in the meantime -- then that tends to prove, rather than disprove, our assumption.

Finally, and this is the main place where I disagree with Eric, our target audience is decidedly *not* the current corporate comics fan, nor is it the current independent comics fan.

Converting corporate comics fans to independent comics is a losing game. Corporate comics fans, by and large, already know that independent comics exist: they either read them, or they don't. That's fine, and of no moment.

Independent comics fans are annoying.

Our target audience is represented, instead, by the millions and millions of people who have, over the past twenty years, *stopped* reading comics, for whatever reason, but who still carry around a bit of an interest in the form.

I was one of those people from about 1981 until about 2001 -- when I happened to moderate a panel at the Streaming Media Europe conference which had Warren Ellis sitting on it. My interest was piqued, and I stumbled back into the field -- not by picking up the latest Teen Titans (an example I choose for a very specific reason -- the *last* comic I had bought, in 1981, was an issue of Teen Titans), but by picking up books that looked more like the other, non-comics items, that I habitually read.

We're working hard to find that audience. Unlike a print publication, we have all the time we need, without any seriously urgent need to make money: GNR costs me $200/month to produce, which is money that I can continue to lose indefinitely, if necessary.

So far, we've done pretty well. Our first issue was read by around 8,000 individuals, our second issue was read by around 12,000 individuals -- most of whom found us via BoingBoing (Mark Frauenfelder has been very kind, blogging at least one article in every issue as it goes online). That's not the kind of audience size that we ultimately want, but we're fairly happy with it, at least as a base to build from.

Thanks!

Joey
www.moderntales.com
www.graphicnovelreview.com

My apologies, Alexander. I thought that Joey, not you, had written the editorial guidelines from which I quoted. I was mistaken.

I do disagree with the assertion that work-for-hire inspires subpar effort. Most of the people who work on corporate comics properties seem very enthusiastic, and many have the very attitude expressed by Eric -- given the choice, they'd rather work with a character they loved when they were eight years old than with something of their own creation. There's clearly no lack of enthusiasm.

However, I do think that work-for-hire often -- not always, but often -- produces subpar work. Corporate properties inspire too little originality, too much genflecting to history. There are exceptions, of course. I'd love to see GNR cover Kyle Baker's lively and irreverent "Plastic Man," for instance. But for the most part, I'd rather see reviews of fully original work -- like, say, Kyle Baker's "Birth of a Nation."

I have mixed feelings about the need to "recruit" mainstream comics fans to non-mainstream comics. On one hand, I agree with Alexander's emphasis on attracting people who aren't already comic-book fans. Most mainstream fans know that the types of comics covered in GNR exist; they just don't care. There are countless people who don't know that these comics exist at all, and a lot of them might be interested to learn about them. Webcomics have succeeded, for the most part, by attracting readers who aren't traditional comic-book fans.

On the other hand, I remember being a teenager and reading, with fascination, the old "Palmer's Picks" column in Wizard magazine, two scant pages begrudged each month to indie comics. It was through that column I discovered Tom Hart's "The Sands," Jeff Smith's "Bone," and many other comics that became favorites of mine. So, once in a while, the outreach thing works.

Frankly, I don't think "outreach" should be a major concern for GNR anyway. They should just review whatever looks interesting. Which is probably not Legion of Superheroes anyway.

One more thing, as if I haven't already talked enough: I'm impressed by the variety of graphic novels covered in GNR so far. This month's subjects, for example, include artsy alt-comix darling "Clyde Fans," manga-style New Mainstream fantasy "Neotopia," cartoony children's comic "Owly," goth-y shojo manga "XXXHolic," the recent reprint of Eric Drooker's classic experimental silent comic "Flood," and Peter David's creator-owned DC series "Fallen Angel." It's a very nicely balanced selection.

On looking back at my previous post, I have to say, I sound like an ass, at least in the opening. Please know that my crankiness is due to my being overextended and tired, not really anything that was said here. I'm projecting, and I apologize. Honestly, I've come away feeling like a jerk just about anytime I open my mouth lately. I think maybe I ought to withdraw from the boards until this semester is over.

Shaenon -- thanks for noticing the balance in the editorial mix! That's something I give a lot of thought to -- it's good to know it's appreciated.

Alexander--

Trust me. I know how you feel.

De nada.

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