Publishers, PR, Reporters And Journalism In Comics

lois_laneLast week, CBR announced the end of the B&B columns, where senior editorial staff Bob Harras and Bobbie Chase of DC Comics talked about upcoming DC Comics and answered readers questions.

When CBR proposed the idea of a regular column with DC's executive staff, our stated intent was for the feature to be a place to connect the decision makers at the publisher with the wider comics community. Aside from product and story information, discussing the industry news and debates of the day was something we always planned to focus on both in the regular interviews with Harras and Chase and the monthly fan Q&A. However, the DC team has made it clear to CBR that discussing some of the more controversial debates surrounding the company and the comics community is not something they feel comfortable doing in this format, and ultimately they decided to no longer participate in this feature.

I always have seemed to have had a problem with DC's press people. It got quite heated when I wrote for CBR as Lying In The Gutters, with all sorts of threats being flung around, though Jonah Weiland kept me oblivious as to most of them. Then when a DC representative blatantly lied about the veracity of one my stories (contradicted by the front cover of that week's Previews), there seemed to be an impasse between DC and CBR.

After I left to start writing Bleeding Cool, CBR and DC's relationship improved and after the DC reorganisation, their PR reps started getting in contact with me again, insisting that things had changed. Indeed one press person told me that while he didn't want to talk to me, he had been ordered to by his bosses. And for a while I found it easier to work with DC. I'd hold something so as not to totally spoil a story or project, and they'd correct any obvious errors in what I'd been hearing. For a while it worked out, but then they started having more and more issues with the more controversial issues.

Then I ran the Before Watchmen articles showing off what would later be confirmed as artwork from the planned statues, which confirmed very physically that it was on its way, and named some of the artists. I received Cease And Desist notices from DC, and a West Coast representative rang me up at about 11pm my time accusing me of being a pirate, telling me that they would never deal with me again. And for the most part that's been the case, though a number of DC senior executives occasionally contact me off the books about one thing or another.

When DC promoted the Before Watchmen story, they gave big quotes and exclusive art to non-comics arty site Co Create, with whom they had previously revealed the DC Logo story. The trouble is that this time, the site ran the story, but led by asking Alan Moore what he thought. It didn't go down well.

People at the site were surprised, and told me that it felt like DC was treating them as an extension of their PR department, and if they didn't run purely positive information, then they'd be out in the cold. Which is what happened when they tried to get both sides of the story. And they found it surprising that DC wouldn't expect that of them.

Mind you, it's not all beer and sandwiches at Marvel either. I've been the cause several ructions in the past few weeks, though that's mostly been my fault. But it's not just me, another respected comics reporter has told me the site he works for has told him that Marvel won't work with him on articles, while another has been criticized by Marvel reps for writing too much like me.

But you know what? Maybe some sites have gotten too close to publishers, who do see them as PR extensions. Sometimes you have to bite the hand that feeds you – or be dismissed as a poodle? I've never liked being described as a journalist, and have usually resisted it. But everyone finds a different way to walk the line.

Naturally, I usually end up tripping over my fat feet.

About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.

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