Yesterday I announced that the Hooded Utilitarian had left tcj.com. I somehow failed to mention in that post how utterly, ridiculously indebted I am to Derik Badman, who did all the technical work to move the site out of the sheer goodness of his heart. I don’t know what I would have done without him. (Or without Stephanie Folse and Caroline Small, who both did some troubleshooting as well.)
Before we move on into our post tcj existence, I wanted to talk a little more about our time there, for good and ill.
First, I should just say again that I’m very grateful to Gary Groth, Michael Dean, and to Dirk Deppey for hosting us. I think they exposed us to a bunch of readers we might not otherwise have had. I know they put me in touch with a lot of people who have become friends and colleagues — people like Jared Gardner, for example, who I’ve really enjoyed sharing the subdomains with. Also people like Caroline Small, who I suspect found us because we were at the Journal, and who we’ve luckily gotten to write for us.
And, of course, the Journal is the Journal; being on the site was very flattering, and gave us (or at least me!) a sense of being part of a valuable institution and history. I’m not actually a long time reader of the Journal — I doubt I ever seriously read an issue until they started publishing me — and Gary, Kim, etc. were never big influences or models for me as I know they have been for many. But I still respect what the Journal has been, and have enjoyed many of the things I’ve read in it, and I was honored to have been a part of it.
So that’s the good. On to the bad!
That bad being that tcj.com has been a clusterfuck from the get go. Except “clusterfuck” is kind of too active. More a somnofutz, maybe. HU had a number of posts over the year discussing the site’s failings. Those objections boiled down to two: lousy design, no editorial vision. Suat summed things up in his usual forthright manner: “TCJ.com is a token web presence; a hideous, slapdash attempt at “making up” for the diminished print Journal. It is an embarrassment.”
As at the beginning, so at the end; TCJ.com remains, to this day, aimless and ugly. There are many good posts, but the general lack of direction turns everything into bland grey water going down the chute.
But of course a lot of the things going down that chute were links to the Hooded Utilitarian. It wasn’t infrequent for 4 of the 10 posts visible on the front page to be HU links. It was rare that there were fewer than 3; maybe we got down to 2 once or twice in those last weeks when the Panelists started posting regularly.
So, what about HU? How did it fit into tcj.com?
When I learned in 2009 that we were going to be on tcj.com, I assumed we’d be a blog. I thought there’d be a front page, and that tcj.com content would go on that front page, and that there’d be a link to HU off on the side. I guess I figured it would be one of those things where you’d see a couple of sentences about the latest HU post. In any case, the point is, I figured that the content of HU would be clearly separated from the content of tcj.com.
That, as it turns out, was not the case. Instead, HU content went into the same long blog roll as everything else, visually indistinguishable. As a result, in a lot of ways, HU and tcj.com merged. Which meant I was effectively editing big chunks of tcj.com.
Sean Collins expressed his heartfelt horror at this state of affairs.
That vacuum allowed the emergence as The Comics Journal’s loudest and most prominent critical voice an approach to comics and comics criticism that couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to the traditional ideals and values of both the Journal and its parent company Fantagraphics if it were made to wear a snazzy yellow union suit and call itself Professor Zoom, The Reverse Comics Journal.
The thing is…I agree with this.
Not with the part where I’m completely divorced from the ideals of TCJ — I don’t think I am, but that’s maybe a discussion for another time (or for the comments if people want.) But Sean’s point that it was bad to have me filling the vaccum is correct. It was bad. HU wasn’t meant to be The Comics Journal. Even as I’ve moved to having more guest posts and turning HU into a more magazine-like entity, it is still not meant to be the Comics Journal.
Just for starters, I don’t want to spend all my time talking about comics. Writing about comics is fun, and it’s something I’m interested in, but I also want to write about, and read about, film and visual art and books and philosophy…about lots of things. I think that it’s really useful for comics to have people talking about those other things; to see comics as part of a broader cultural milieu. I think it’s valuable for the flagship publication of comics criticism to have a place in its heart (as TCJ has long had) for people who maybe don’t care that much about comics and want to talk about other stuff too — or want to talk about other stuff more. But still, if you let me start determining 30-40% of your mainpage content, my eclecticism starts to be less a refreshing contrast and more a means of undermining your central focus.
And perhaps even more importantly…if you were going to have me edit your magazine, you should probably hire me to edit your magazine. Like I said, I’m creating 30-40% of the content. But I had virtually no contact with Gary, and almost none with Michael. Did they like what I was doing? Did they hate it? I had no idea; there was never any feedback (except that time that Gary showed up in comments to tell me I was adolescent and overly combative. And Michael Dean mentioned twice I think that he was unhappy with something I’d done.) If they’d wanted me to change my blog that would have caused a whole bunch of other problems, but… surely it’s not healthy to have no communication between the people running the magazine and the person supplying a third of the content.
So, if I could see this was a problem, why didn’t I do something about it? Why didn’t I leave, or stop posting on the main page? Well, for the reasons I gave above, I didn’t want to leave — and it was made clear to me early on that posting on the main page was considered vital. Also, I’m a writer; you give me column inches, it’s a struggle not to take the space even if I can see that it might be better not to. Despite my natural inclinations, I did take a couple of steps — in an effort to better separate tcj.com and HU, for example, I decided to stop writing for the main site. And, as employees do, I hoped the people in charge would right things. Towards the end, especially, with redesign promises in the air, I thought there was a good chance that HU would become what I always thought it should be — a tcj blog, with its own editorial focus and its own identity, linked to but separate from the main tcj.com. I was pleased to think that the addition of the Panelists, a strong blog with great writers and more frequent updates than Guttergeek, would help to balance the site.
Instead, of course, tcj.com solved the problem by dumping us. That wasn’t my preferred outcome, but it’s an understandable choice, and certainly Gary needs to do what he thinks is best for his magazine. Giving us only two weeks notice to move was, I think, a shitty thing to do, but you work for Groth, you sort of expect your boss to act like a prick now and then. I also couldn’t help noticing that nobody exactly said anything like, “thanks for all your effort,” or even “it was nice working with you,” but comics nerds, basic social graces, etc. etc. Nobody said, “we hope you’ll write for the Journal in the future,” either, but I doubt that was an oversight.
However! All done now. There are rumors a-flying about the changes at tcj.com, and if they’re true it sounds like the site is going to be much more focused and energized than it has been. This is good news for comics criticism and for everyone who wishes the Journal well. As for HU, we’ve got a roundtable on Alec: The Years Have Pants coming up in two weeks, a roundtable on the televison show The Wire in the works, a guest post by Melinda Beasi and Michelle Smith this week…and bigger changes in the longer term, I hope. We’ve been wanting to do a site redesign for a while (did I mention that I was never asked about site design? tcj just copied the old blogger platform on WordPress without asking me. But I digress…) and now that we’ve moved we’re hoping to do it sooner rather than later.
So thanks again to tcj.com for a year which, despite some headaches and some bumps, has been really rewarding and enjoyable. Thanks too, to all our readers, and to all of you who have stayed with us through the sudden transition. It’s been a bit (okay, more than a bit) nerve wracking, but Derik saved the day, and we seem ready, if not tan and rested. Get our feeds, or just check back every day, y’hear? This is where we’ll be.