Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Comics Journal: Still Relevant After All These Years?

Over at the Hurting, Tim goes off on Scott Pilgrim and video games, but stops to make a side comment her that caught my attention. Reproduced for your convenience:
The fact that this review landed like a wet turd at midnight begs the question, does no one read the Journal anymore? If the Journal can print a ritual disemboweling of one of Team Comics' most sacred cows without inspiring so much as a blink, well, I don't believe the magazine is penetrating anywhere near as deeply into the "intelligent, opinionated" comic reader demographic as it once did. Perhaps the price increase really hurt the magazine?
You think? Perhaps the magazine has simply painted itself into a corner when it comes to comics with its reviews and focus, while comics have been branching ever outward in the last 10 years. Perhaps its just too damn big.

The reality is, from this devoted former Comics Journal reader, is that there was a time when I would have defended the Journal from almost all criticism, not because it was perfect, but because at least it tried. And back in the desperate, newsprint CBG infested '80's, no one else tried to put two brain cells together and approach comics from an intellectual place.
Groth, for all the times his ego ocassionally overwhelmed the actual content of the magazine, had the right idea, and made more than a few years worth of attempts to get his audience to read critical reviews, to break down the language of comics to something that could be studied, addressed with formalism and standards, and taken apart so that we could see the innards. That he and we saw more offal that could have been imagined through the '90's is not his fault.

And yet, somewhere in-between the comics getting mass acceptance again, not just as a juvenile product but with the greater mainstream American public, the Journal, which should have been on the vanguard of the publishing, started to slip out of view. It got too expensive, too thick to read, too much information packed in one space. It was as if going to a quarterly publication allowed them the time to go deeper into their subjects, which one would have thought would have been a good thing, except that its possible to go too deep and simply overwhelm your reader.

And it became hard to find. I recall that quite clearly. And that is just the buying habits of the shops that I went to, so its partly their fault.

But the lack of monthly publishing meant that there was less timely reporting, and a periodical without an imperative to read is a slightly less appealing periodical. Illustration and Comic Art and Sweeneys fall into the same trap sometimes, no question, and we've already seen the change in the publication schedule for Comic Art in response to that.

Without being privvy to any of the nuts and bolts or finances of the Comics Journal, I hope that Gary is making good money, and I greatly enjoy many of the Fantagraphics books, so many props to the whole crew there. I'm just not sure of the Journal itself anymore.


Michael Fountain: Blood for Ink said...

I'm in complete agreement re. the Journal. I might argue with it, but I was always interested in what it had to say. It was a fantastic resource for discovering lost artists and new material. I'm still a Fantagraphics reader, but the Journal looks like a coffee table book for boutique readers with more money than sense, and I don't even bother.

wayne beamer said...

Hi Charles,

Your comments on TCJ are spot-on, but the problems with it are much deeper than that. Long story short, Gary and Kim would've been better served to have moved TCJ to a journal focusing more on art and creativity, also buttressed by reviews, than one balanced almost evenly on timely news a very, very long time ago.

Both are patrons -- very intelligent, self-taught ones at that -- of the art form who are very knowledgeable about the industry they cover. Words are their swords, their strength, ego and, unfortunately, their blind spot when it comes to tracking the new artistic trends of the day. At one time, I could count on them to reveal new things and be on the cutting edge of comics, all the time.

I stopped subscribing, however, when I realized TCJ had stopped being able to "teach me" any more about comics than I couldn't learn from friends or on my own with the help of the Net. For me, it was just that simple...


Wayne Beamer

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

michael and wayne -

thanks for the comments, its interesting to see where other people thought that the journal lost its way. wayne, you actually addressed something that I struggled with on the original post: that idea of what the journal should ahve done about 8 or nive years ago to transition better. I wasn't sure that i saw a perfect publishing plan, to tell the truth, so I deleted most of that part. I wish that the jorunal occupied the space that comic art and illustration and other occupy. Gary and Kim deserve the recognition for the hard work that they did, and I don't think that they'll get it.