Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Bendis Reaction

I've seen some criticism of my reaction to Bendis calling Dirk Deppey's claims about blackballing "paranoia".

The most common complaint isn't that I said he was lying (which, I guess, is tacit approval of calling it such). No, it is the complaint that I said he needs to put "more of an effort into his work than it appears he currently is" if his true issue is that he wants more in-depth/long-form reviewing of his work. This has been labeled a personal attack and that I have an ax to grind.

I don't know Bendis. I don't have any web cams set up in his residence to see how much he is applying himself or a chip in his head to feed me data about the effort he is making.

What I do know is that the type of reviewing he was suggesting didn't exist is out there already and much easier to find than he's suggesting, if you're not just looking via Google alerts set for your name and the projects you're working on. He couldn't have spent as much time ever looking for such work as he spends discussing and dissecting a Howard Stern show. But he wanted to state to the world that the comic book industry is nigh perfect but for the lacking of deeper reviews and real journalism.

What I do know is that the current output coming from Bendis gives the appearance that he's not challenging himself. He looks like he has fallen into formula and into pushing out mediocre work to satisfy demand. The work gives the appearance that he's not challenging himself, not even with Scarlet. Maybe I have a higher opinion of his talents, but even with trying to write a book where he's breaking the fourth wall (admittedly not in his comfort zone), he doesn't seem to be applying himself to the best of his abilities. His work isn't reflecting the talent he has proven himself to have in the past, so I'd chalk that up to a lack of effort.

Whether you consider me to be a legitimate critic or not (I don't really care to argue for or against the label), you're kidding yourself if you think that critics don't point out a perceived lack of effort from an artist. An Ebert or Travers will certainly point out if they feel like an actor sleepwalked through their role or a director didn't bring their "A" game. If you want to take exception with the phrasing, that's fine...but with the type of observation tucked away in that phrasing? You're wrong.

As far as a personal ax to grind? I don't have one. There are several ways Bendis conducts himself that I don't like or admire. I think the way he handles his forum stunts his growth, because it surrounds him with far too many people who will blindly praise him and stroke his ego (and, as it appears to be part of an attempt to model himself after Stern, this may be intentional). Knowing what I've heard through back channels about his reaction to criticism of his work from outlets (be it their writers or just reader comments), I get the impression that he can be petty, which doesn't endear him to me.

But when he comes out with broad generalizations about coverage of his industry? When there are a ton of people I respect and/or am friendly with that he painted with that broad brush? When I know he's aware of the ways his employer stunts the growth of the legitimate journalism side of things? I get livid.

I have no personal experience with Bendis to have an ax to grind because of. If there were reason for anyone to have an ax, it would be from Bendis towards me for the Secret Invasion spoilers, which probably played some role in my rarely-used BenBo account being banned and his eventually blocking me from following his Twitter account. Which, for the record, don't generate an ax for me to grind: both steps just make it slightly more difficult to grab news generated from either.

For the record, I've had some sincere regret for the SI spoilers. As marvel_b0y faded from faded from memory, I lamented that sharing that information may have significantly reduced the impact of the first issue of the event for many readers. As wrong as I felt Marvel's viral marketing attempt was (whether they started or merely co-opted marvel_b0y), I didn't feel good about the possibility that some readers didn't enjoy the issue as intended and that Bendis might not have gotten the exact credit he deserved from the readership for it. That's why it was relatively easy for a third party to convince me to not directly run the next batch of SI spoilers and why I didn't run the Secret Avengers lineup months before the first issue hit, much to the chagrin of some spoiler-starved readers.

But I have no regrets due to any burning or blackballing. Not that it didn't have either of those effects on me; I just couldn't care less if it did. My problem with the way publishers lord access over the sites covering them is how they punish large groups rather than individuals. There was a time where people would watch 60 MINUTES on CBS and wonder, "damn, why'd they even agree to interview with Morley Safer/Mike Wallace/Ed Bradley? Haven't they watched the show before?" The guilty sat down to interviews they probably shouldn't have agreed to do. But no one expected that should mean the company would drop CBS from their press release list, ban them from their press conference or never advertise with them again. Or cut off all media completely.

But that's what Marvel did with review PDF access when someone leaked ads for Secret Avengers and OMIT on to the internet. They shut down the review PDF system for everyone. They didn't just limit it to more trusted sources (though there was no way of knowing whether the leak came from a retailer or a reviewer). They didn't decide to make PDFs without ads available (which, personally speaking, should have been the norm to begin with). An advertisement from a book was shared publicly a day or two early, so they pulled all access to reviewable product from all outlets.

It was fear of Newsarama receiving unjust punishment from Marvel for my disagreement with two of their writers that led me to quit working for the site for a long period of time. I was an unpaid contributor who had a personal disagreement, but Matt Brady or Troy Brownfield were going to suffer for my free expression? Someone's actual livelihood might be impacted because Marvel might be less friendly with access as long as I was there? Fuck that.

Bendis knows that is the reality and he should damn well know that the industry isn't so big that you'll always be able to find a publisher for your news article if it is good enough. Hell, the comic book industry isn't even big enough that insiders feel they can feed much information without it tracking back to them and hurting their career. Then again, he made such vague statements (that he says detractors misread, while supporters are adding all kinds of non-existent detail to) that one wonders if his point wasn't just to create a shitstorm that his name was at the center of. Scour his Twitter and message boards as I have, there doesn't seem to be an indication of what type of journalism he's looking for. A retrospective on an artist's career? That's the hard/long-form journalism we're missing? C'mon, that can't be it.

I'm interested to hear what some of you readers/lurkers think. Was pointing out a perceived lack of effort and desire to see more praise on Bendis' part truly a "personal attack" that "you wouldn't see a real critic make"? I don't care if you have to reply on a borrowed computer using your worst enemy's severed hand, I'd like to hear what you think. Hell, it doesn't even have to be in this comments section. Just work my name or the site name into the discussion so I have a hope of pulling it up through a Google alert to get the feedback.


  1. Pretty sure you can find the ol' Bendis/ Johnson squabble on CBR where Bendis tells Rich he should quit giving him and Marvel a hard time during his interviews. The reason: he knows Rich wants to write for comics. According to Bendis, this type of behavior is enough to get him black-balled by Marvel.

    Kind of funny that he thinks such a critique is paranoia when he said the same damn thing himself in an internet forum not so long ago.

  2. Historically, I would hear the anguished cry for "more journalism" from certain folks when there was stuff going on at the other company that was still on the down low that would be harmful to the other company if it was revealed. When I would ask if the person tipping me off about it wanted to go on the record, or be a source, the answer was always "no." And then, like clockwork, if a story about the horrible things going on at company x,y,z didn't show up (which they rarely did, like you said, it's a small industry), the cry would show up somewhere from the original tipper or someone close to them, bemoaning that there was no "journalism" in comics anymore.

    It always got weird when the person bemoaning the lack of said journalism had directly, or tacitly approved to pull coverage or threaten to pull coverage for some reason or another.

  3. Ugh. Matt, I can only imagine how frustrating those experiences had to be. If someone isn't even willing to be a source, they really have no leg to stand on when expressing outrage or disappointment at the state of reporting on the industry. If they approve of pulling access in the face of some unflattering coverage, even less so.

    Sources aren't easy or even cheap to cultivate. I'm not even 100% that I'll be making it up to NYCC, despite being able to get in free as press. Why? Because of travel expenses. Getting a source that feels secure enough to share the kind of info that creates the kind of journalism Bendis laments a lack of requires face-to-face interaction. Of course, that's not even accomplished during convention hours, but through bellying up to the bar later. If I buy one pro a Red Bull & Vodka, I might be coasting back to Virginia on fumes.

    Thanks for posting your thoughts, sir. I really appreciate it.

  4. And then there's me.

    Thirteen Pieces Of DC Gossip is yesterday's biggest post by far.

    I've been blackballed by publishers all the time. So what? Pressure from above to suppress information tends to let it leak out the sides.

  5. Rich, that's great. But how many publishers are going to finance a site to report on the industry? For a site to be viable covering the comic book industry, it generally has to have access to the major publishers.

    You do some great work, but I think you'd have to agree that you're the exception that proves the rule, no?


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