As one of the leading forums for serious discussions about serious comics since it was first published, The Comics Journal made a reasonably early leap into the digital world, with a well-established message board that is now more than a decade old.
I posted there three times in the late nineties, always talking about Love and Rockets.
The odd effort to spruce up its online presence since then has been a little half-arsed, with the only real success seen under the ruthless dedication of Dirk Deppey, whose tireless trawl through the weird world of comics remains the best source of good linkage in the entire medium.
But all that changed with its latest evolutionary leap, with the magazine’s publishers confirming that its print edition would be published only a few times a year and placing more of its content online for the greater world to read.
Taking such a big step inevitably results in teething problems, and the all-new, all-different TCJ site had its fair share – a clunky design and links that went nowhere were always expected, but Gary Groth managed to annoy a whole lot of people with a faintly condescending spiel about great writing on the internet, along with a blatantly condescending apology.
The Tearoom of Despair has made its brain-crush on the Journal abundantly clear in the past, and that love for meaty writing about meaty comics remains…. well… meaty. I hardly ever actually fully agree with Gary, but isn’t that the point?
For decades now, Groth has been one of the great raconteurs in comics culture – he doesn’t necessarily need you to share his view. He always seems to be up for an argument, and can manage an incredibly heated level of discourse without resorting to personal attacks. He is undeniably often right and just as wrong the rest of the time.
After years of this, it was no surprise that the tone of his welcome hit the wrong note with readers and writers, who had managed to find good writing and analysis of comics on the net without his help.
It wasn’t helped by the abrupt about-face over its content – slapping the entirety of the latest issue up on line, only to meekly pull it all back within a day. It was a classic mistake to forget about the impact on retailers who had made orders, but once this was explained, it was a lot easier to stomach.
Still, that didn’t stop some of the jeers and arguments, some of which pleasingly even came from within the orbit of the website itself. The Comics Journal had tripped up in its first real step into the online world and there were plenty of people – many of whom had been turned off by the Journal’s elitism long before - who found that really, really funny.
But who cares when the content of the new site is this good?
I can forgive any amount of teething problems if you’re going to offer up a massive five-part Kevin O’Neill interview. O’Neill is one of the greats of the modern comic world – a style so perverse it’s fundamentally offensive to some tastes, stapled on to a magnificent sense of design and comicbook pacing.
That interview is one of the reasons I will always have a soft spot in my heart for The Comics Journal, and why I can only welcome their increased online presence. Most comic book interviews on the web – including those with some highly idiosyncratic creators – seem to be based around a new project coming out. Reliably entertaining interview subjects like Evan Dorkin and Alan Moore only ever seem to get interviewed in conjunction with something new coming out.
And those online interviews that aren’t just fixated on the near future tend to be ridiculously ingratiating to the subject, to the point where they are barely worth reading. A recent round of interviews with Brian Bendis that looked back at his ten years at Marvel were so busy telling the reader how awesome the last decade has been, they forgot to say anything interesting.
The Comic Journal’s interviews – both in print and online – remain the best comic interviews around. O’Neill’s chat with Douglas Wolk touches on all the usual subjects such as his early run-ins with the Comics Code Authority, but also managed to cast new light on O’Neill’s work over the decades – both in the behind the scenes machinations, and in the craft behind every line on the page.
And they’re entertaining too – creators who no longer feel the obligation to do anything for the main publishers can be wonderfully candid about the sordid aspects of the business. O’Neill remains a proper gentlemen in his discussion, but is not above dishing the odd bit of dirt on those who have wronged him. (One particular aside got right up movie producer Don Murphy’s goat, but judging by Murphy’s history, that’s not hard to do.)
And while new interviews with weird and wonderful are still relatively few and far between, there is still the Journal’s 30-year history to check out online. Recent essays to show up on the website were written in the eighties and nineties, and take a surprisingly timeless look at on the artistic and commercial booms and busts of their times. This kind of thing is always fascinating.
Its audio history is also a bonus, and downloading conversations held years ago between giants of the medium is a real pleasure. Some sites go for the flash, with audio and video content showing up all over the place, but the Journal’s more restrained releasing pattern is a whole lot easier to follow.
I don’t want to sound like a total apologist for the Journal and its recent endeavours – there are still big things about the site that are irritating, and huge sections that have no interest for me.
But the good stuff is the best stuff. It’s still a thrill when Dirk links to this blog on Journalista, because it’s been the first place I go to for comic news every day for the past five years. Although, weirdly, I hope he doesn’t link to this one, because that just makes me look like a total kissarse.
Not that I really have a problem with that. I love the Journal so hard, I never mind when it doesn’t love me back as much. The sour times still pass and the sweeter moments taste better because of it.