Comic Book Journalists Discuss the Pitfalls of the Job And How To Break Into The Industry

Comic Book Journalists Discuss the Pitfalls of the Job And How To Break Into The Industry

Bleeding Cool's Hilton Collins writes:

At one time, Heidi MacDonald was a huge fan of X-Men comics. MacDonald, a comic book journalist and former editor of Vertigo and Disney comics, was captivated by Christopher Claremont's classic X-Men stories — until he messed them up.

MacDonald told the story during the Friday morning panel Writing About Comics: From Fan to Pro, which she moderated, at San Diego Comic-Con. She didn't say which Claremont X-Men issue started the downward spiral or during which year, but she was pretty clear that she didn't like it.

She had criticized Claremont's work on her blog, The Beat, and he got pissed.

"He contacted me and he was nasty," she said. And then, after a pause, she continued. "But I still didn't like X-Men."

MacDonald used her story to illustrate the pitfalls comic book journalists face. An audience member wondered if comic book journalists faced pushback for harsh opinions. All of them said yes.

Comic Book Journalists Discuss the Pitfalls of the Job And How To Break Into The Industry

It was the session's most thought-provoking audience question. Panelists Jamie Broadnax (Black Girl Nerds), Graeme McMillan (The Hollywood Reporter, Playboy), and Alexander Lu (The Beat) discussed examples of tense situations they'd had with creators.

Lu said that it's tough for some creators to take criticism these days because we live in tense times. It's easy to trigger people, but they shouldn't be overly sensitive.

"You've got to grow," he said. "That's a whole part of this journey."

He added that criticism riles stirs up such strong emotions because people usually focus on negativity more than they do positivity.

Although that's not always the case. MacDonald pointed out that the Wonder Woman movie's positive reception has garnered a wealth of attention.

But above all, criticism should be sincere, whether it's positive or negative. Fake analysis can be easy to spot when it's over-eager to praise.

"A lot of people are just cheerleaders," McMillan said. "You can tell who the cheerleaders are."

Comic Book Journalists Discuss the Pitfalls of the Job And How To Break Into The Industry

Another audience member wondered if comics journalism was a wise career choice for people who wanted to work in the industry. Would companies hire people who tore their work apart?

Yet, the answer to that question only matters for people who want the job. Some panelists had no interest in becoming creators. Broadnax said that she doesn't even know if she'd be good at it.

MacDonald wasn't interested, even after her stints at Disney and DC.

"Been there, done that," she said.

Ironically, criticizing comics actually led to her getting her first professional comic book job with Disney. In those early days, they gave her an editing test where she had to critique kids comics. She pointed out problems with a Chip 'N Dales Rescue Rangers story, and a staffer was impressed with her guts. MacDonald was only one brave enough to say anything bad about the content, and she was offered a job.

She hoped that Broadnax's website, Black Girl Nerds, could serve as a launching point for creators of color. Broadnax didn't mention any situations where her site caused someone to get a job in comics, but she said that she's used it to feature people of color who already work in comic book or related entertainment.

Black Girl Nerds has also been the touchpoint for viral criticism. Broadnax vaguely referred to a situation where she and other women of color critiqued a "certain cover" for its depiction of a young black female character. She didn't name names, but it seemed obvious that she was referring to the controversial original variant cover J. Scott Campbell drew for Invincible Iron Man #1. It featured an image of Riri Williams, a teenaged black girl, wearing a tight red tank top. Broadnax and other fans felt it played into negative stereotypes of black women.

"Black women are often hypersexualized," she said.

comics journalism

Broadnax started prodcasts where she and other black fans can discuss black characters. Podcast titles are themed around hair, like Storm's Silk Press and Misty Knight's Uninformed Afro. Episodes are golden opportunities for her and other fans to analyze characters of color and learn new things about them.

"It was really great to learn about the characters," she said. "We really dive into these characters' stories."

Black Girl Nerds highlights how comic book blogs and journalism can be great ways to get attention. Broadnax started her site to be a beacon for comic book fans who don't get much spotlight. Years ago, for example, she searched the term "black girl nerds" in Google, and the only images she saw were ones of women with black sunglasses on. There was no outlet for black female voices in fandom, so Broadnax started one, and it took off.

MacDonald mentioned creators who got their start in comics after running fansites or holding jobs as journalists. Veteran Legion of Superheroes writer Paul Levitz, for example, had a fanzine when he was 13 before he started working at DC Comics. Novelist Alex Segura was an editor for Wizard Entertainment and the Miami Herald before he got jobs with DC Comics, Archie Comics, and Dark Circle Comics.

About Joshua Davison

Josh is a longtime super hero comic fan and an aspiring comic book and fiction writer himself. He also trades in videogames, Star Wars, and Magic: The Gathering, and he is also a budding film buff. He's always been a huge nerd, and he hopes to contribute something of worth to the wider geek culture conversation. He is also happy to announce that he is the new Reviews Editor for Bleeding Cool. Follow on Twitter @joshdavisonbolt.