At FlameCon this year, the Women Write About Comics cadre was well represented on the panel, “Queer Folks Write About Comics.” Scheduled in the final panel slot of the convention, QFWAC was like the dessert of the con. The panelists presented thoughtful and diverse commentary on the state of comics journalism as a practice and as an industry.
The video above features audio of the entire panel.
Moderator Mallory Yu of NPR opened the panel by asking each participant what “comics journalism” meant to each of them, and the range of answers laid the framework for the rest of the lively discussion.
Jon Erik Christianson replied that comics journalism for him was characterized by “a lot of really talented people trying their best,” and CK Stewart pointed out that “all writing about comics is editorial in some way” because everyone in the field makes individual choices about how to “bolster voices that are not heard as much in the industry.” Mey Rude commented that in contrast, she likes to say, “I’m a journal-isn’t rather than a journalist” because as a columnist, she has explicitly used her platform to highlight comics she likes.
The conversation then turned to shop talk, as Mallory asked the panelists how they approached the need for timeliness in reviews. In response to that question, our own Kat Overland, Small Press Reviews editor for WWAC, pointed out that our site’s many Pubwatches meet the goal of timeliness by offering an ongoing monthly examination of a publisher’s offerings, while avoiding the need for instant reporting.
One of the highlights of the panel was in response to Mallory’s question about navigating personal relationships while maintaining journalistic integrity. What do you do as a comics reviewer if you are close friends with the creator of a comic?
CK and Mey provided the poles of the range of responses to this question, with CK saying he tells creators “don’t ever be my friend,” while Mey replied that she does the “exact opposite”—that friendships and creativity go together in her social and professional circles. Later she added that she considers herself “a fan, not a critic.”
WWAC contributors CP Hoffman and Jameson Hampton approached the situation philosophically. “I’ve solved this problem by not having any friends,” boasted CP, who proposed and organized this panel to begin with. “At the end of the day I am the enemy,” they said to a roomful of friends. Jamey commented that the community aspect of the comics scene means that for them, “we’re all in this together.” Jamey later added that negative reviews require emotional labor on the part of the reviewer, and that since they are a volunteer contributor, they decide to “do what’s best for me and my health.”
Mallory turned the group from this question to the looming specter over the discussion: the lack of pay for comics journalism. Rather than a discussion of what the lack of funds means for the field and profession, this panel approached the much more accessible topic of what their lack of pay for this work meant to each of the panelists specifically.
In response to this question, Jamey reiterated that they are intentionally a hobbyist. With a day job paying the bills and health insurance, not getting paid for comics coverage reduces the stress. CP pointed out that there’s a big conceptual difference between sites where no one gets paid (like this one!) and everyone is just trying to get their voices heard, and sites where some highly-placed administrators might get paid a lot while contributors get little or nothing.
Kat Overland’s reply to Mallory came first in this part of the discussion, and she addressed how for a site like WWAC, where the contributors, editors, publisher, and copyeditors are all dedicated volunteers, how we treat each other and take each other’s work seriously becomes very important. She noted that for a regular contributor to WWAC, we are not just promising “exposure,” but rather that over time, the contributor will develop “a polished portfolio” because of the editorial attention the work will receive.
After a few questions from the audience, the panel wrapped up with the contributors sharing their contact information and disbanding for a lot of enthusiastic individual conversations.
Overall, the way the panelists discussed their diverse approaches to the field of comics coverage emphasized the range of ways it is possible for “a lot of really talented people trying their best,” as Jon Erik put it, in comics journalism.