A legacy of its status as a poor man’s industry, the North American comic book industry has developed weak traditions when it comes to news reporting, marketing management and customer care. Specifically, what passes for news in the North American industry often passes for fluff and hype in established industries such as film, games and sports.
The Comic Book Bin receives a lot of news from existing publishers and newcomers. It is normal for us to educate and tell new creators pushing their books forward how to go about communicating with their potential customers through, us. However, the art of public relations is virtually indistinguishable from that of sales management in the majority of the larger North American publishers.
In most industries, there are trade publications, whether printed or online where information is passed from vendors to reporters, rewritten and double checked, until it is released to the public. In the comic book industry, few publicists even attempt to answer the five basic questions required of good journalism, when, what, where, why, how. Fewer reporters even attempt to look for those answers independently.
A decade ago, readers of Fantagraphics’ Amazing Heroes and The Comic Journal criticized the low value contents contained in magazines such as The Comics’ Buyer Guide and Wizard. Today, the journalistic flavour popularized by Wizard in the 1990s has become the norm even in online reporting. Strangely enough, even The Comic Book Bin’s virtual press room can be perceived as a junior Wizard outlet.
In fact, there is a daily race to obtain the latest news byte and gossip from the vendors and publishers so they can be posted online to feed hungry Internet fans who religiously spend their time on comic book message boards instead of working or studying.
Such a race was seen during the late 19th century and called Yellow Journalism. This Yellow Journalism is at the origin of the Yellow Kid, the character credited as the first comic strip character in North America. As comic books descend from comic strips, one begins to see why in North America, they are tied with Yellow Journalism.
It is no surprise that comic book vendors, publishers and creators have risen to the demand and now routinely feed this behemoth of news bytes. Although no clear rules or guides exist, all potential publicists know the game. Round up a few “sites.“ Get a few of them on your side and feed them “exclusive” information. When you have a big release, send it to Wizard, where subscribers will get the juicy parts two weeks before Web readers.
Blending the Borders
In a sense, the comic book industry is following a trend started in the entertainment industries. The major difference is that the entertainment industry is bigger, has more news outlets to contend with and therefore must use smarter tricks to get its packaged news across. In the comic book world, threatening to cut off the news channel of a news Web site or a print magazine is usually enough to get your news in the front pages.
Another problem of the North American news industry is that it mainly serves as a training ground for the next generation of creators and business executives. It is a remarkable recruiting ground. So much is the desire of many would-be publishers to join the “majors,” that they will push anything.
Here are some examples of what passes for news in the comic book industry. Exclusivity contracts, books that sell out, project updates, release dates for new publications, feuds between creators and other “professionals.” The information is so similar and dated that if they don’t include the old "I’m excited and thrilled to work with XYZ on ABC," it will not be considered news.
All in all the basics of a properly formatted news release are unknown to the majority of publicists. They forget to include codes, letting reporters know where their news end and where their bios start (-30-). They include Diamond Comics’ ordering codes within their copy, instead of putting it within the bio piece. Moreover, they add their companies’ tag lines such as “Publisher XYZ, America’s best known house of comics” within their introductory sentences, hoping gullible reporters and readers will believe them.
Reversing The Trend
From its inception, The Comic Book Bin has always wanted to reverse this trend, although the quality of our news reporting is at Wizard’s standard. Once in a while we do dig our information independently of vendors. In those few cases, vendors unvariably turn against us. In the past, publishers have told us they would cut our news feed, they have counted the quantity of “free” plugs given to their competitors and asked that we matched their’s, we have been ignored or put on black lists.
To turn the Comic Book Bin into a first class reporting units would demand more investment and a larger budget than currently allowed. It would also demand that we reject 90% of all news items and plugs we receive. As the publisher and founder of the Bin, I often ask myself if that would really be worth it. It’s not that I’m afraid of the black lists. I really don’t care. What I do care is doing the work right, but I find that doing so ask much more than I am prepared give, considering the returns on the investment. It’s a story worth following though.