Big ole’ beatdown: The new TCJ.com

twitter Big ole beatdown: The new TCJ.com0facebook Big ole beatdown: The new TCJ.com0google Big ole beatdown: The new TCJ.com0pinterest Big ole beatdown: The new TCJ.com0tumblr Big ole beatdown: The new TCJ.comreddit Big ole beatdown: The new TCJ.com0stumbleupon Big ole beatdown: The new TCJ.com0email Big ole beatdown: The new TCJ.com

After a grace period of a few months, internet pundits are targeting the hapless TCJ.com for an old school internet beatdown. TCJ.com thought it knew its way around the ‘net, but wandered up the wrong side of the street and is getting an absolute pasting from hardcore internet bullies site contributors and longtime Journal admirers.

Noah Berlatsky
, never afraid to bite the hand that feeds him, spies the mark in the alley and delivers the first blow from the cosh:

The bad is that TCJ’s content has been unsettlingly erratic, to put it mildly. There remains a lot of good writing, from Shaenon Garrity, Matthias Wivel, Tom Crippen, and many others. But there’s also been David Ritchie posting random tchotchkes, Dave Pifer posting even more random snapshots and Kent Worcester posting his course syllabus, complete with advice on writing style quoted from Strunk and White. And while these are particularly egregious examples, they aren’t aberrations. You don’t get through a week on tcj.com without at least a post or two that makes you think, “what the fuck?” And not in a good way.

The comments to this post deliver many more blows, with sharp criticism of the site’s acknowledged flaws such as: a bad commenting system, terrible decks (the part of the post you read before the cut in the “pageview” click model), an interface that would have been cutting edge in 1997, and a user-unfriendly architecture that has people throwing up their hands and walking away–after delivering a few kicks to the ribs:

I gave up on the TCJ.com shortly after the relaunch because it made me work too hard to find content I liked. Given the number of other interesting things on the Internet, I haven’t really missed it. I looked at TCJ.com again today, and the changes that Noah described aren’t enough to bring me back.


and

For Christmas, I asked for a subscription to the new print version of the Journal. My wife attempted to subscribe by going to this website. She’s a smart person and computer-literate, but she was unable to figure out how to purchase a subscription. I think this is another sign that this website has problems.


Next up, Ng Suat Tong smashes a bottle over the editorial guidance, and Bill Randall shivs web monetization between the ribs, as more people pile on and on in the comments of each post.

As is so often the case, Johanna Draper Carlson shows up with her stompin’ boots to deliver a few well-aimed blows, with special attention to Gary Groth’s poorly conceived introduction to the site:

With so many other established, well-respected choices out there, you can’t rely on the tenacity of your readers to work through your overuse of flashing ads and confusing non-layout.

If Groth wants to slam online work for being “amateurish, shallow, frivolous” (as he did as a site welcome, a badly chosen introduction if ever there was one) and think that they’re going to show all those bloggers how things should be done… well, the contrast between those intentions and the actual site should be in the dictionary as the most obvious example of “hubris” I’ve seen in a while. Gary, your baby was out-of-date before it launched. Your contempt for online work shows through in the lack of effort put in here, with the site ignoring common best practices apparently through ignorance that there even were such things.

Having donned our own pointy toed boots this morning, we’ll join in the donnybrook with a single jpg (slightly sized down) from Journalista, which used to be regular reading but is now a “maybe later” afterthought in our daily rounds because it’s so hard to find and impossible to read when we do:
www.tcj .com 2010 2 16 1215 Big ole beatdown: The new TCJ.com
This is how Journalista reads on a Mac on Firefox, which is, not to put too fine a point on it, the most common browsing experience for those who might be called the “influencers and decision makers” of the computer literate. Given this font crash, the computer literate can only moan “Four type sizes in three sections? WTF–??!!??” While it’s pretty obvious that whoever designed the TCJ site wasn’t very conversant with modern website design, his (or her) emerging awareness of the use of a stylesheet is rather like a child’s wonderment at the majesty of seeing a live raccoon for the first time — wow, what does that cute thing do?

While bad web design is only a technical fix away  — God knows I’ve been fiddling with sidebars and widget since I launched my own website — the overwhelming fail of the new TCJ.com is that the content, by a squad of some of the best writers on comics out there, is so ill-served. The obvious lack of any editorial oversight is the most troubling aspect of the site’s misfire, as Groth’s self-serving salvo seemed to indicate that bringing the Journal’s well-honed editorial vision from the print world to the internet was going to show us all how it’s done.

As it stands, the effect is of the old timer claiming that he’ll show these whippersnappers how to toot about in that new fangled horseless carriage, all right. Take a look at the spanking new design just unveiled for Comics Comics, a site which, like many, including the one you’re reading, wouldn’t exist without The Comics Journal and its legacy. Comics Comics is calibrated for modern web surfers, putting its excellent archives from its talented contributors in a form that is easily searchable and reusable. On the other hand, TCJ.com is so poorly laid out that the best contributors would rather post their best content on their own blogs for free than get paid for it on TCJ.com.

As someone whose first published work was in the old Journal, and someone whose favorite comics list is predominated by Fantagraphics volumes, I want to be loyal to the old girl, but the new website is just a mess. Sadly, as Berlatsky notes in his opening salvo, it looks like this is kinda the way it’s gonna go for a while. Which is a shame because a revitalized online Comics Journal could be the real ass-kicker on the comics internet block, instead of the hapless victim of a group intervention with fists.

 Big ole beatdown: The new TCJ.com

Comments

  1. Joe S. Walker says:

    Here in England I can’t even see the site most of the time, just an placeholder page saying that Apache is working. Sometimes it’s there when viewed on a Windows 7 machine, on XP never.

  2. The real dealbreaker for me was not having an RSS feed. That was kind of a stunner.

  3. jacob lyon goddard says:

    what hurts it most for me is simply that it’s not the magazine. i miss the comics content and i miss the actual reading experience of looking it over on the bus, or in the bathroom, or before i drift off to sleep.
    i don’t think i’ve actually finished reading an article since it made the switch, it’s just to easy to get distracted and wander off to look at something else on the internet.

    and the pink font and new layouts of Journalista really need to go. i used to be a loyal reader; now i just pop in maybe once a week to see what the most recent headlines are (though that might be because of the lengthy hiatus).

    but a certain respect must be paid to Kim and Gary for building a world where this level of internal critique is okay.
    and i’m sure they’re getting a good number of hits from all the hubbub.

  4. Jeff you can subscribe to the TCJ feed like this:

    http://www.tcj.com/feed

    It’s listed on the left hand side of the site…down a ways fro where most folks think it should be in the high visibility area of a site. Since TCJ’s built on wordpress all the feeds are built in if you know the tag or category. (Boy have I learned a lot in the past month!)

  5. D’oh. Thanks for pointing that out, Heidi! I officially rescind my complaint and will make myself an appointment with my eye doctor…

  6. “A group intervention with fists” is today’s phrase that pays!

  7. jacob lyon goddard says:

    …and for some reason, going online has turned it’s once wonderful messageboard into a ghost town.

  8. Alistair Robb says:

    I gave up on the Comics Journal a loooong time ago, both in print and on-line. I always found the amateurish site difficult to navigate and most of the time not worth the bother. Gary Groth has never changed his knee-jerk stance, once he sets his mind against something, that’s that. Not something that I feel is good sense in a forum that should be an objective forum, open to encourage debate. I still buiy FAntagraphics books though, I just wish he would shut his mouth, there’re enough bullshitters out there without him adding his turd pike as well. Stick to publishing Gary and leave the opinions to drunken parties.

  9. bad wolf says:

    On the other hand, i got a lot more out of Kent Worcester’s course syllabus than anything Noah’s written in quite a while.

  10. They have an RSS feed, which I believe has been working for good while now.

  11. Ah, jeez, I missed most of the comments somehow. The post feed was already explained, and bad wolf doesn’t like me any more. How embarrassing for me.

    Even so chastened, I would like to add my voice to those noting that it’s pretty amazing that the Journal is willing to allow such open criticism on its site. It speaks very well of them, whatever other problems they may be having.

  12. Al™ says:

    I don’t get it.

    What I used to love about TCJ in print was that it looked so formal, perfect and presentable, that its very appearance lent credence to even the most radical review or outlandishly theoretical discourse contained inside.

    Its structure was reassuring, and reading it was like visiting a respected learning institution to hear someone’s latest rant about why superhero comics are inherently dreadful.

    By contrast, the online version has devolved into a completely chaotic mess. Where is the main story? Where are the graphics? Where should I go first?

    And where should TCJ go first?
    TCJ should be put into redesign mode. Pronto.

  13. Nate Horn says:

    Journalista is still my favorite thing on the web. Everything else on and about tcj.com sucks, though.

  14. Chad Maupin says:

    I had a similar negative experience attempting to subscribe. I went through the whole process and somehow they never processed the subscription.

    The had no record of my purchase on their end at all.

    Their website and internal procedures has some serious flaws.

    In this day and age no one publishing anything should make the process confusing or difficult.

    I love the Comics Journal but decided to not subscribe due to this.

  15. i agree with a lot of the technical criticisms on the site.

    but the main reason i don’t read it regularly is that half the time i click on an article to read it, i find the same kind of vomitous bile that makes me avoid all message boards these days. and somehow that vitriol passes for “criticism”?! i wish there was more intelligent, thoughtful writing and discussion rather than the same old lazy name-calling and shit-talking that the internet is already full of. sad.

  16. golanbatrac says:

    **********
    “but the main reason i don’t read it regularly is that half the time i click on an article to read it, i find the same kind of vomitous bile that makes me avoid all message boards these days. and somehow that vitriol passes for “criticism”?!”
    **********

    Could you link to an example?

  17. I wish I had never posted that damn syllabus! Damn! Now I’m going to be known as “that guy who always posts random shit” on tcj.com. Thanks a lot, Berlatsky.

    As it happens, my latest post is on McCloud, Harvey and abstract comics – http://www.tcj.com/blog/what-is-this-a-picture-of. I just hope that damn syllabus doesn’t follow me to the grave.

  18. Jesse Post says:

    Leaving aside any criticisms pro or con about the website, just wanted to point out that the print edition of TCJ was (and hopefully still will be) a comics industry treasure. Regardless of your stance on the books reviewed or the views expressed, we are lucky to have such a wide-ranging archive of comics, comment on comics, and insight into the creative process. It’s a true journal of a medium’s history and progress, and it looks great when they’re all next to each other on a bookshelf.

    Figured that was worthwhile to interject, however off-topic it may be.

  19. “Could you link to an example?”

    no. but i shouldn’t have said “half the time…” but it’s happened enough times to make me hesitant to click through to full articles, and there are a few writers over there that i will no longer read anything by. but i’m sure someone else likes them, so whatever…

  20. TCJ.com had a specific design, which wasn’t perfect but it worked, in 2005. But they weren’t happy with that, so they changed it in 2006. But they thought they could do way better, so they changed it yet again in 2009. Many folks are now demanding that they also redesign it in 2010, which would make FOUR different designs in only five years.

    Online problem? That would be a yep. Do they have anyone over there (in freakin’ Seattle, yet, which is, like, Silicon Valley 2) who has any clue about web functionality? That would be a nope. Solution: Cave in and PAY somebody, already, guys.

    As a side-note, who are these dolts yakking about “subscriptions” to the Comics Urinal? Last I checked, the dang thing’s only gonna be printing about one or two issues a year!

  21. Alas, TCJ online needs this tough love. I LOVE Journalista–it’s poorly served by the crummy formatting.

  22. Rob Jensen says:

    The thiung that occurred to me the most recent time I visited the Nu!Journal website wasn’t how awful the layout is (although it *is* awful), it’s that I don’t want to read any of the best articles online. You know — the longer, in-depth articles by Berlatsky, Worchester, etc. Whether I’m on a desktop or a laptop, staring at a screen for that long, even for one 2K-4K-or-more-word article just ain’t fun. (Also: Even though I don’t have a smartphone, don’t even get me started on how there’s absolutely no way I would use a smartphone to scroll through a long article. BID.) And I couldn’t care less about the mostly trivial, pointless link aggregator-ness of the parts of the website that would never have made it into the print version. The print version of TCJ (and really, the print version of any magazine) serves me just fine as a filter to keep all that crap away from me and make reading a pleasurable, informative experience.

    Oh, sure, the website includes articles that they would have liked to have included in the magazine but wouldn’t, due to space limitations or some sort of need to fulfill the conceptual or aesthetic needs/principles that drive the magazine.

    But that only brings up the point that the magazine’s focus had become too narrow and its frequency so erratic and its book-style format so clunky (both literally and figuratively) that it needs to be opened back up to its previous magazine size and Gary should get waaaay less precious about it. Rather than shake up the insular and too-brief textbook into which the magazine had degenerated, the site should be bringing the best parts of what the Journal has been to the web and add to that timelier and more expansive coverage, the site is the exact opposite — it’s a filter-less, unreadable mess. Darn near an indie version of Marvel Age even.

    Even the columnists don’t want to read the site, so how does one get potential readers to keep the Journal in mind until they finally pay for a professional site designer and even then keep the readers who, like me, are completely alienated by the incompatibility of the longer articles to any web design?

    They need to start publishing the magazine — the *real* Comics Journal — again, at a monthly rate (an actual monthly rate, not 8 or 9 or ten times a year), with an editor who knows how to get the magazine on the stands regardless of Gary’s now-rote, stifling pickiness. Keep the magazine in print.

    I mean, as it stands now, Gary clearly doesn’t want to construct a website and the readers and writers clearly don’t want to read what he doesn’t want to do right. What else is there to be done than to re-establish the magazine when that’s what people really do want to read?

    — Rob

Speak Your Mind

*