BookRiot launched a companion site dedicated to comics called Panels. I cursed. I vowed revenge. More competition? Fucking great. But while I was annoyed on a personal (financial) level to see another big, general interest, comics site sprout up, I was also pleased as punch on a professional level. More competition? Fucking great!
Panels is not a niche site. It’s not comics-for-book-readers. It’s not comics-for-women-and-also-some-guys-who-are-cool. It’s a logical act of brand extension by a site that’s already killing it with solid content and those damn quarterly boxes. Would that I had come up with the idea — Panels has them too.
It comes out of the box (ha ha!) with a podcast, columns, a full slate of articles, and most importantly, a funding formula. BookRiot pays, and now, so does Panels.
Riot New Media, owner of BookRiot, FoodRiot, and Panels is “eager to scale.” The sites are described by Riot as “niche content + app ecosystems that draw passionate readers.” While “original content” married to a “sticky” app environment, managed by a tech startup might not sound appealing or good for creativity, it is — broadly speaking. I mean, not everyone can be WWAC, amirite? But a comics site with this kind of backing and with a plan to pay writers, albeit through revenue sharing, which I’ve never liked, can only be good for the rest of us. Let me break it down:
A) Panels is not beholden to the Big Two. It’s not looking for big scoops or exclusives, and it’s not financially dependent on publishing press releases or previews. Rather, it’s interested in the long game (and the long tail) as well as attention grabbing opinion pieces. Here’s their mission statement:
Panels is a celebration of comics, the people who make them, and the people who love them.
We’re less interested in breaking news than in taking the time and consideration to understand what that news means. We’d rather play show-and-tell with our favorite books: past, present, and future. We think there’s a comic — or two, or seventy-bajillion — out there for everybody, and we hope to offer writing that’s relevant to both seasoned comics readers and those just dipping their toes in the medium. We thrill to great stories, personal insights, and experimentation. We get weak in the knees over process and discovery and adaptation.
We’re unashamed of wonder, and we hope to cultivate it.
B) Panels’ editorial team is not made up of comics insiders. It’s staffed by BookRiot alums and founders. They’re not mired in decades-long debates (comics versus comix versus graphic novels versus versus versus) and they aren’t coming in with any grudges. As book people and business people, their perspective on comics is a little different — and it’s a perspective I suspect they’ll have a lot of success selling, with so many new readers coming in from MCU, Tumblr, and even school, who aren’t invested in comics culture.
C) They’re going to pay. And this is wonderful. Because we would like to be paid. Comics journalism and comics criticism is enjoying a renaissance (says who? me, mainly, but also some other cool people), but what it’s lacking is a robust community of patrons (on saaaaay Patreon) and paid opportunities. You can get paid to write about comics on any number of sites and in quite a few magazines, but comics-only sites that are fully funded, and committed to paying every writer, all the time? Those are few and far between. The existence of people who are taking this shit seriously legitimates our desire for patrons.
D) Panels is a general interest site “for everyone.” No gate-keeping. No gender exclusion. No geek credentials necessary. Panels treats comics as a neutral subject matter, as a cultural product to be loved and critiqued, and not as a product in need of protection — whether that be from fake geek girls, sneering literary critics, or crusading politicians (though really, we North American comics readers should be over that by now). Panels is not steeped in the tradition of critique that tried to balance critical work with protectionism — there’s no whiff of Team Comics here, just enthusiasm — and its ancestry can’t be traced to Comics Journal or to Wizard. Its founders aren’t focused on closing doors or opening them. They’d see the doors disappear.
Whether the work Panels produces is good or not, its existence as a general interest, “for everybody,” comics site makes two statements that are useful to all of us: 1) under the almighty dollar, comics have the same advertising revenue potential as any other cultural project; 2) comics aren’t for this person or that person, they’re for any person who might have an interest.