Through September and October, I did a small survey of comics bloggers and journalists. I had 74 responses from a wide variety of writers. Some are popular, independent bloggers on WordPress and Tumblr. Some work for sites like the Mary Sue or IGN. And some are new bloggers, just finding their feet in the world of comics criticism. (I found this out not through the survey itself, which was anonymous, but through their telling me they’d taken the survey.)
- I’m not a data scientist.
- 58% of my respondents live in North America and 13% Europe.
- 67% of respondents skipped my question on race and ethnicity. I allowed multiple, write-in responses. Of those who did, 80% identify as white, 8% as black, 4% as NDN, 4% mixed race, and 4% as Asian American. 12% identify as Jewish.
I was interested in answering several questions:
- How many people are getting paid to write about comics?, and how much are they getting paid?
- How do comics journalists and bloggers feel about their work? Are they happy? Proud? Disgruntled?
- Are we, as a group, excited about the future of our field?
In the first part of my survey writeup, I covered demographics: age, gender, employment, and money. In this part, I’ll cover the values and beliefs of my respondents.
Valuing Our Work
While my survey respondents see problems in the comics industry and in comics journalism/blogging, they feel good about their work and that of their colleagues. Hey guys, comics journalists and bloggers overwhelmingly feel pretty good about their writing!
Where a disjuncture crops up, is in how much they feel valued by their employers. While 76% of respondents believe their colleagues value their work, only 58% believe their employers feel the same way.
Ultimately I write for myself.
That dramatic drop in satisfaction is something my fellow editors should all think about.
Four other pieces of data may be of interest here: 96% of respondents believe that comics journalists should be paid, while only 34% are being paid; 43% of respondents are worried about the future of comics journalism; only 12% of respondents felt the problem was that too many people were writing about comics.
Does Our Work Have Any Impact?
Respondents believe that while their work has some impact on comics sales, its real influence is on readers. Do comics reviews influence sales? Not when it comes to already popular titles or the majority of comics published by DC and Marvel. Do reviews impact the industry as a whole? Sort of! While 46% believe their work has an impact on the industry, these respondents correlate highly with those who believe they have provide a valuable service to individual creators, and to those who believe supporting indie creators is an important part of their job.
My work has an impact on the success or failure of individual comics.
I perform a valuable service for readers.
One respondent said that,
My work in all likelihood has a bigger effect on indie comics than big name comics. Reviewing comics from big companies is like throwing pebbles at a battle tank, but a good review of an indie comic can raise its profile. That’s not to say that reviewing big name comics isn’t important or unenjoyable, but raising awareness of small press comics can change a lot.
I perform a valuable service for creators.
Ethics In Comics Journalism
99% of respondents agreed with the statement “comics journalists have a responsibility to the truth,” and only 20% believe that most comics journalists are shills. 88% believe that comics journalism is a real thing that we, as a group, take seriously, and a whopping 99% believe that bloggers should be considered journalists.
I believe that comics journalism is “real journalism.”
Where comics journalism and promotion intersect, respondents saw potential ethical conflicts. While 68% saw no problem in publishing press releases, many raised the issue of press releases in disguise.
I believe in promoting diversity and discussing diversity in comics and in the comics industry. I just don’t believe promoting anything is my job. I don’t like the incursion of publicity into writing about comics, especially among fans who frequently see their job as promoting comics but are unpaid for this work. I believe my job is to honestly engage with the work I write about and often that requires talking about the context around them, including diversity or lack of diversity and issues in the comics industry and among comics readers and creators.
What is real journalism anyway? One respondent said,
To qualify one answer, I don’t YET feel that comics journalism is “real journalism.” It is not consistently professional enough yet to pass that threshold for me, though there are certainly some examples of “real journalism” being done, more by the year. Lastly, it’s easy to overlook comics scholarship and comics studies in this discussion, but I feel it overlaps with the nebulous form of comics journalism as it currently exists.
I don’t particularly [get] the idea of “good” journalism. Comics journalism is cultural journalism, which works differently to political journalism. Sports reporters aren’t asked to perform the same duties as healthcare reporters, and in the same way I don’t believe cultural journalism is weaker than political journalism simply because it has a different operating system, if that makes sense?
What Is Our Job?
What kind of respondents did I want for this survey? I made that deliberately unclear. In my tweets promoting it, I variously said that I was looking for comics journalists, bloggers, and “people who write about comics.” Most respondents were clear with this lack of distinction (a few weren’t!) — remember, 99% believe that bloggers should be considered journalists. So what exactly is “our” job?
86% of respondents feel comfortable describing their job as “analyzing comics and the comics industry,” while 74% say that sharing comics news is significant portion of their job. There is a big overlap between these groups, but a significant number of news writers are not also doing analysis. In comments, respondents emphasize promoting the best of comics and their role in creating positive change in the industry.
76% of respondents say that discussing problems in the industry is part of their job — 65% say that you can’t talk about the industry without criticizing it. Only 11% want to see politics left out of comics journalism. Meanwhile, only a vanishingly small number of respondents feel that bad reviews have a negative impact on the industry, or are bad for comics journalism.
While respondents show a marked preference for taking a critical stance in relation to the comics industry, they also overwhelmingly identify with and feel a responsibility to it. Significantly, 85% of respondents believe that promoting good comics and good creators is part of their job, with 97% agreeing that promoting independent creators is important.
I have a responsibility to the comics industry as a whole.
The Direction of the Comics Industry
70% of respondents feel good about the direction of the comics industry. Wow! Say nay to the naysayers — comics journalists don’t think the sky is falling and they still love comics. I think it’s important to note that there is a strong correlation between those who feel hopeful about the industry’s future and those who believe that its strength is in its (slowly) growing diversity.
My job is to promote diversity in comics.
It is important that the comics industry continue to diversify.
Many respondents feel conflicted on this question, however, commenting that they feel hopeful, but-
“Oh man, the “I feel good about the direction of the comics industry” is tough. Real tough. I think it’s better now than it was, but it still has a long, long way to go.
Another pointed out that
Comics journalism is scattered and, due to its historically fringe nature, is largely conducted by hobbyists with limited to no training. This is changing but due to the unpaid nature of things, those who have training and need to pay the bills will often leave for other sectors. Blogging is a great breeding ground for new voices but currently comics journalism suffers from too many blind spots.
Comics studies–progress in that field and the different explorations across the academic sphere gets limited, if any coverage. This is shortsighted and isolates something which can have intellectual value to the wider culture
Comics journalism and discourse is dominated by American comics and, in particular, superheroes.
This respondent went on to point out that English language comics journalism tends to ignore the world’s largest comics markets (Francophone Europe, Japan, and Mexico), and local comics scenes almost entirely.
They went on to say that
An overfixation on characters is a large problem as well. Creators become less visible and so they become deified as their jobs in relation to the characters they write rather than empathised with as human beings.
Coverage seems to be written towards an established comics audience and there is insufficient writing to cater towards the growing casual to general audience who do not classify in any sense as “fans”–but rather as interested readers.
These are issues that I, and no doubt many of you, have been thinking about for some time. (JSYK I’m always looking for people to write about comics in translation.) They’re worth following up on in future surveys.
That being said, 70% of respondents approve of social media having disrupted comics journalism, opening it up to new voices, and 68% would like to see it become even more democratic. Only 26% percent of respondents are convinced that other writers don’t know a damn thing about comics — and yes, there’s a slight correlation between that 30% who said hell no to social media, and the 26% of Hermione Granger grumadumps.
Most people commenting on popular sites don’t know what they’re talking about.
69% of us just aren’t here for the comments.
1. How many people are getting paid to write about comics?, and how much are they getting paid?
Not as many as would like to be!
2. How do comics journalists and bloggers feel about their work? Are they happy? Proud? Disgruntled?
Mostly happy! Respondents were less enthusiastic about their bosses, however. Poor or no wages seems to be a significant factor in this result.
3. Are we, as a group, excited about the future of our field?
For the most part! Respondents raised a variety of concerns about the future of comics journalism and the comics industry, but most were enthusiastic and hopeful. Encouragingly, the diversification of voices in comics and comics journalism were welcomed again and again throughout the survey.
Having (finally) combed through my survey results and assembled them here, I’m left with so many questions for my next survey. How invested are comics journalists in learning about new comics scenes? What’s more important: maintaining a relationship, or telling it as it is? What does it mean to “know what you’re talking about?”
If you have any suggestions, please share them in the comments.