The Trouble with News Watch

One thing the Corner Comics fiasco has thrown into stark relief is how good a writer and journalist is Dirk Deppey. His reporting may be tempered with editorial content, sure, but so was Upton Sinclair’s, and in terms of online comics journalism Deppey simply can’t be touched. The sad thing is that the same can be said of print comics journalism.

My comments about the lackluster performance of Comics Journal’s print news division have been seconded by Jim Henley and (strongly) Alan David Doane. Meanwhile, Bill Sherman has done the legwork on comparing today’s News Watch to previous incarnations of the section. In other words, now is a good time to explore what’s wrong with this ostensibly vital part of the preeminent English-language comics magazine. In broad strokes:

1) It doesn’t cover the most important stories, the stories really worth covering–stories that are, in fact, ripe for the covering, as Journalista, Rich Johnston’s Lying in the Gutters (yes, that’s right–some of it may be gossip, but some if it is as close to investigative reporting as the comics industry gets), and other blogs and sites prove week in and week out. The neglect of the bookstore manga explosion–easily the biggest comics-related story of 2003–is indictment enough, but add to that the failure of News Watch to cover (as I listed yesterday) the failure of the Direct Market to capitalize on the huge manga audience, the New Marvel Renaissance, the subsequent ouster of Bill Jemas, the coincident disintegration of the company’s (presumably) final attempt at creator ownership with Epic Comics, the moves made by new Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley, the degree to which those moves are a response to negative consequences of the high public profile previously maintained by Jemas & Joe Quesada (eg. the removal of Princess Diana from Milligan & Allred’s X-Statix), editorial cartoonists regularly being prosecuted/persecuted in Muslim countries, the Michigan adult-publication censorship legislation, the increasing presence of anti-Semitic imagery in Western editorial cartoons (or increasing amount of accusations of same, if you prefer), CrossGen’s restructuring and layoffs, the falling out between Bulldog Comics and DC, the role that Bulldog may have played in DC’s large number of sold-out comics, the rise of Dan DiDio at DC, altcomix graphic novels (like Blankets) being pushed out of the DM, superhero graphic novels being pushed out of the bookstores… and the list goes on, I’m sure. The fact that the Journal has in its employ a writer who chronicles these stories in-depth on a daily basis actually makes News Watch’s deficiencies look worse, not better.

2) “Fine,” you say. “So the Journal isn’t CNN. It’s not supposed to be! It’s a rabble-rousing, muckraking, (dare I say it?) activist publication, designed to promote intelligent aesthetics and moral business practices in the comics industry. They can’t cover everything, nor should they; they should report on stories that help illustrate and promote this noble agenda.” Okay, let’s pretend for a moment that I’ll cede you the point that advocates needn’t be reasonably comprehensive in terms of the stories they cover. As it stands now, News Watch doesn’t cover everything, or even most things, but the point is that it doesn’t compensate for this (let alone complement it) with a coherent position of advocacy, beyond uncontroversial common-sense stuff like “people should get paid on time for the work they do.” Which is not to say that the industry isn’t deficient in the uncontroversial common-sense stuff department–one need look no further than the financial records of most major creators to confirm that–just that the news wing of the only comics publication that matters should be setting the bar for coverage a little bit higher.

Not to keep using Dirk Deppey against his mother publication, but Dirk has been a passionate, tireless advocate on a variety of issues–from the need for intelligent retailership to the need for discerning consumers to defending small businesses against the depredations of overweening government agencies to calling the PR flacks of mainstream companies on their bullshit to raising awareness of the egregious abuse of cartoonists’ civil liberties in countries across the globe. That he’s been able to do so while covering nearly all the comics news that’s fit to print should come as a surprise to no one; indeed, how could he be such a comprehensive, consistent, and convincing advocate without doing so?

3) Even when it does advance its ersatz “agenda,” it’s usually done in the context of thinly-veiled schadenfreude over the legal misfortunes of people that the writers and editors of the magazine didn’t like to begin with–Jim Warren, Stan Lee, and so forth. Even if you feel that, say, Stan Lee