Joe Quesada has made some recent statements about the Internet fan community that seem a bit contradictory. Both Full Bleed and Grim Tidings in fact have analyzed this issue in the past two weeks, each with its own distinctive take on the subject. My point of view on Joe Qís comments, however, is altogether different and in some ways just a springboard into discussion of a completely different issue.
Joeís comments, I think, make such excellent fodder for online discussion because they are about online discussion itself. In the past, Joe has made comments that what critics say online means very little in the ďreal world.Ē In March 2002, when Peter David wrote his rant about Captain Marvelís price hike (you know, the rant that began the whole U-Decide stunt), Joe Q publicly replied by deriding one of Davidís claims that the book was critically acclaimed. ďWhat does critically acclaimed in comics mean anyway?Ē he asked rhetorically. ďA couple of dozen people on the net under six dozen assumed names?Ē And as recently as this past July, in regards to fan responses to the firing of Mark Waid off of Fantastic Four, Joe said at the Slushfactory, ďThe events aren't cloudy at all, it's the messageboard fanatics who have decided that there is a conspiracy afoot. Mark and I have been very clear as to what happened. This is only an issue because the same six guys on messageboards miss The X-Files.Ē
So it would seem on the one hand that Joe Q places no stock in the thoughts of the online community. However, this is clearly not the case. You want proof? Look at how many Marvel comics and trade paperbacks carry on their covers blurbs from glowing reviews that were posted online. Also, as far back as July of 2002, Joe could be heard to say at his panel in Chicago that he knows online buzz is important. He said then, ďI'd rather have people talking about me than not talking about me. Pros or cons, let's talk about comics one way or the other, because ultimately, silence is death.Ē More recently, at Wizard World in Philadelphia this year, he elaborated on this position, stating that Marvel can often judge based on the buzz a book has online how well it will sell. ďIf you see an article, with ten posts, it's not going to do well. If you see an article with five or six windows worth of posts, you can be much more sure you've got a commercial success, or that at least you're going in the right direction,Ē he was quoted as saying at MoviePoopShoot.
So which is it? Do our comments mean nothing, or is our buzz truly representative of high sales? Well, before you start to answer, letís look at one final comment Quesada has been bandying about. At the Chicago convention this year, just a few short weeks ago at the beginning of August, Joe Queseda could be heard to say that the negative vibes present amongst the online community were doing comics an injustice. In both the McLauchlin panel (as the Pulse reported) and in his own Cup of Joe panel (which I myself attended) he could be heard to claim that Internet flame wars were doing harm to the industry, preventing people from trying comics due to their perception of fandom.
So now where do we rate? Are we inconsequential, are we meaningful, or are we so negative and so numerous that we hold back the industry? But I guess in the end it really doesnít matter what Joe Q thinks of us; what DOES matter is what those outsiders he mentioned think, how they perceive us. So letís look at things from a newcomerís point of view. First of all, we have to ask ourselves if people new to comics have any perception of the fan community online. Maybe most of them donít, but I have to assume that at least a few of them are aware of comic book devotees on the Web.
So if they are aware of us, is their perception of us negative? Iíve tried to convey in a few past columns that the perception of fandom can be harmful to comics advocacy, talking about how the fanboy persona deters newcomers from reading comics. So I can definitely see Joeís point about negativity. It does happen all the time. Look at the recent flame war to spark up over Crossgen. It ended up bringing various websites and their message boards down for a while due to heavy traffic. The same thing happened during the Waid shenanigans just a few short weeks ago.
Itís also nothing new. The arrogance present at times on the Warren Ellis Forums was legendary. Iíve heard countless bad stories about ďtrollsĒ over on X-Fan, and the Green Lantern boards at DC have been a flame war for as far back as I can remember. So I suppose if you do judge us solely on random comments made by a few mean-spirited people, then you might end up with a pretty negative view of comic fans and comics in general.
The fan community seemed a much nicer, friendlier group of people when our public face was the lettercolumns of the books themselves. Iíve lamented the loss of the lettercolumns in a previous column, but itís worth mentioning again here that, when lettercolumns were prominent, the comics community seemed kinder and gentler. Maybe thatís because the editors could weed out a few of the crazies, whereas on the Internet everybody has equal say to make whatever positive or negative comments theyíd like without much fear of reprisal. So my question then is, if the negativity bugs you so much, Joe, why not bring lettercolumns back full swing and take control of the public image of fandom yourself? (I say that knowing full well that Marvel HAS already decided to phase them back in, albeit not in every issue.)
That last comment probably sounds like Iím proposing the lettercolumns return to the height of self-promotion, in which nothing but the most sycophantic letters were published. Thatís not it at all; in fact, I think contributing to criticism of comics is a vital part of our promotion of the medium. Iím talking about weeding out the loud, angry rhetoric so all thatís left are the calm and rational responses, which are out there right now if you cared to look. I think for the most part people focus on the negativity online because those bad seeds are the most vocal. There are plenty of online fans who seem to simply enjoy themselves and like simply talking about comics (or pop culture, or nothing at all). Iíve run into them on every board Iíve ever been to: Jinxworld, Millarworld, Geoff Johnsí boards, DC, Image, Newsarama, the Pulse, even here at Broken Frontier.
Still itís a valid point that thereís a lot of negativity out there that could potentially turn someone off, even if it never has been a problem in the past. So we need to make a concentrated effort to clean up our acts. We should try our best to remain constructive at all times, using evidence to back up any complaints and never out-and-out bashing some book or some creator. We must focus on the good we find online and ignore the bad, and where we can, when we can, we have to try to mend fences, to avoid any in-fighting that can occur and suck the life out of an online fan group.
Maybe Joe is off-base with his claim that weíre harming the industry, but it still couldnít hurt for us to be a bit nicer to one another. After all, we do all have one thing in common: our love for the medium of comics.