The Outhouse on Comics Press and Blacklists

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There was a lot of talk at C2E2 about press lists, who’s on, who’s off, how you get on and what’s expected. There’s no question that Marvel and DC, like the studios that own them, want to have more control over a positive message about their products. Unquestionably, the very professional PR people who work at Marvel and DC know that this isn’t always possible, but they still have to do their jobs.

Rich Johnston ruminated on this a few days ago:

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.


Satire/news site The Outhouse has a column today on how one of their writers was told point blank that the site would not get any interviews because of their constant satirical zinging. But, writes E-i-C Christian Hoffer

In fact, it was DC’s constant pushing us aside that helped push the Outhouse to the snarky, satirical site you see today. After years of being denied interviews and review copies while constantly kissing ass, and posting the same bland press releases in the hopes of being seen as “good soldiers”, we decided that we didn’t want to play ball anymore and decided to be a voice for change instead. And I haven’t regretted that decision one bit.

It’s been almost a year since we first started the “News Initiative” that spawned all the snark and satire you see on the front page. While we’ve had a few industry people upset with us from time to time, most of the industry professionals we speak to range from ambivalent to pretty positive about the site’s new direction. At the very least, most people seem to at least be appreciative that we’re taking an honest, unfiltered fan approach towards covering the news. At least ‘til yesterday.


“But, we’re not going to discontinue our satirical criticism of DC in order to talk to creators for five minutes.” he continues, and for his site that makes a lot of sense. When news coverage results in the same 20 sites having almost identical meatless promotional interviews with the same “I can’t talk about that yet,” blank spots…well, no one is really winning.

And what about The Beat? We’re on most press lists, and have good working relationships with almost every PR person out there (I think? hope??) but try to be as honest as possible, which means we’re not a preferred outlet most of the time either. We don’t run those five-minute interviews either, but Bleeding Cool has proven you don’t need approved sources to be a well read site–you just need a lot of sources and people willing to leak information.

Like we said no one is really winning, in this war of access and credibility. The honest authentic voices on both sides are still going to rise above the sludge, but finding them will get harder and harder in an ocean of haystacks. An ocean of sludgey haystacks…okay, no more metaphors until I’ve had more coffee.

Comments

  1. blacaucasian says:

    Isn’t there a happy medium within fluffy PR interviews, honest reporting and smart critical response to a publishers output and snarky biting negativity, though?

    A lot of the press seems to be so much slanted one way or another with most of the coverage.

  2. At Papercutz, we’re happy with all discussions of our work, critical, satirical or otherwise (though obviously, we prefer those discussions to be respectful). I would never excise someone from a press list because they didn’t like one of our books, not that it’s such a privilege to be on a list for press releases and review copies anyway. I’m surprised this is such an issue for other publishers.

  3. DC blacklisting someone? Why, you could knock me over with a feather!

  4. blacaucasian says:

    http://www.theouthousers.com/index.php/news/121814-seven-things-a-nurse-says-is-wrong-about-dan-didios-nightmare-nurse.html

    “In summation, I guess there’s a reason Nightmare Nurse is running around in a D-list DC book. Ten seconds of research probably would have caught that. Oh, and her costume looks terrible too. ”

    I fail to see the satire of this piece. If it is satire, as it’s categorized, I don’t think it’s very good satire. And it’s based not on an entire finished work, but pencils of one page released by DC meant as a teaser to the upcoming book.

    I’m not sure DC blackballed anyone. I think the website blackballed itself.

  5. Doctor Timebomb says:

    Are we sure they weren’t blacklisted for going with that terrible website design?

  6. @blacaucasian, that’s more of an example of one of our snarky articles, and I’ll happily say it’s not one of our better pieces (which is why we ran it on a Sunday). Like any sort of “humor” site, our stuff is hit and miss. We’d like to think we hit more often than we miss, but opinions vary.

    Anyways, as I stated in my original article, we’re not shocked or upset this happened. We fully realized that some companies wouldn’t be fans of the snark and satire. And yes, that snark/satire can be very harsh. So, yes, by not kissing ass and being overtly critical, we basically made our own bed. And now we’re gleefully jumping up and down in it.

    However, after five years of ignoring us, they took two of our writers into a room and lectured them. If they really took issue with our content, they could have always contacted us (which other publishers have done) or simply continued to treat us like the not very important site we are.

  7. Doctor Timebomb, until you stop your negative comments about my web design, don’t expect to get any access to Outhouse writers. :x :P

  8. blacaucasian says:

    “However, after five years of ignoring us, they took two of our writers into a room and lectured them. If they really took issue with our content, they could have always contacted us (which other publishers have done) or simply continued to treat us like the not very important site we are.”

    Fair enough.

  9. Chris Hero says:

    The Outhouse is one of my favorite sites. I enjoy how they have a sense of humor about comics without trying to put themselves over. A big reason I read sites like The Beat and The Outhouse is because I like to know what’s going on in the mainstream comic world without being choked by PR or blaming the readers when one of the comic companies mess up. The Beat and The Outhouse both seem to leverage their coverage of the mainstream comic scene with their own personalities.

    Marvel and DC make me laugh because they take themselves so over-the-top seriously.

  10. Synsidar says:

    Isn’t there a happy medium within fluffy PR interviews, honest reporting and smart critical response to a publishers output and snarky biting negativity, though?

    No, there isn’t. The (superhero) comics industry lacks a professional trade press, a formal review system, and widely recognized quality standards. Reviews of superhero comics can generally be ignored by the publishers, unless someone is offended by a personal attack, because the reviews generally don’t influence buying decisions. The constant emphasis on upcoming issues and the use of Previews means that the publishers are, in effect, telling the fans what to buy, and the reviews often function as extensions of publishers’ PR.

    If the quality standards routinely applied to prose fiction were applied to DC and Marvel’s superhero fiction, many of the numerical ratings in reviews would be in the neighborhood of one or two, retcons and reboots would be ridiculed mercilessly, and there would be more pressure to produce original material, with more emphasis placed on the creators.

    SRS

  11. Mikael says:

    DC has, for years, held their PR in check. Before the reboot, most lesser sites had to go to DC’s website for PR releases/images/etc. Marvel, on the other hand, sends out PR like crazy and are usually more open to having editors do interviews and such. That doesn’t mean Marvel is “right” or “hip” or “friendlier”. It’s just a difference in business. The website mentioned has less twitter followers than parody twitter accounts. So yes, DC can be selective. Remember Marvel’s smacking of the nose to Newsarama years back? Companies don’t have to play your games. This is such a non-story.

  12. I can be as reactionary as the next blogger, I’m the first to admit. Back in early 2008 I was with a now defunct webzine, and at one point I publicly called out a certain publisher’s PR man for not doing his job, for spending more time promoting his own creative efforts than anything from his publisher (aside from the obvious top 3 or 4 big names). My biggest argument was that, while he had held his position at that time for a shorter period than any of his predecessors at that publisher, more titles had been cancelled (even to the point of unfinished mini-series) than during the watches of anyone prior. He emailed me rather quickly and demanded a phonecall, which was a LOT of fun, but resulted in my then being blacklisted by that publisher. Though the guy in question left the company a couple of years later, the blacklist is still fully in place.

    Comic book media is high school. Blacklists are no different than adolescent popularity contests. Do your own thing, and do it well, and nothing else should really matter. Nothing hurts more than the truth, and while unbiased media from comics to mainstream simply does not exist anymore, we should all feel welcome to our own versions of the truth nonetheless.

    I realized ages ago that more comic creators read reviews than do comic fans. That line of thinking eventually had me observe time and again that comics media does absolutely nothing to bring new readers to the comic book medium. Which really should be examined more. I’d say it is precisely because of these popularity contests. Instead of presenting individual human voices for outsiders to connect to, too many media voices instead mimic each other, praying to god they don’t get ostracized by the pack. Who ultimately benefits from comics media? Really?

  13. I interviewed Emma Vieceli last week, and this week somebody sent me a message saying they’d bought one of her books – and loved it! That’s all I need to hear to be happy

  14. Martha Thomases says:

    When I was DC’s publicist, while I of course preferred to get good reviews, what I wanted most was serious consideration. This could be a problem because the comics press (which wasn’t my domain – I worked mainstream) would cover anything, as long as DC advertised with them. The New York Times? Details? Not so much.

    Perhaps the reason the Big Two expect favorable reporting is that they’ve been paying for it.

  15. Torsten Adair says:

    Full disclosure: I get a monthly box of comics from DC Comics, and have access to electronic review copies from many other comics and book publishers.

    I try to be respectful when being critical. Mostly, I’m not angry, just incredulous over certain things that the industry does and does not do.

    As for access, how difficult is it to sidestep the PR handlers and talk directly to the creators? Most seem to have websites, Twitter/Facebook/Google Plus pages, or can be approached at conventions. Numerous times, I’ve approached people, and they recognize me from this site.

    Most PR people I’ve spoken with have decent people skills (which is required) and are friendly, What the corporate overlords dictate, I do not know.

    But, you know what? There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow out there, there’s lots of amazing work being done. Big four-color superhero publisher doesn’t want to talk to you? Go talk to that guy writing a comic about people surviving a zombie apocalypse. Who knows… he might the next Big Thing.

  16. David Bird says:

    Martha: Who exactly is DC paying and how much?

    As someone who’s written for a comics site, and someone familiar with the Outhouse, I can assure you that most of the sites and blogs covering and reviewing comics are not getting anything from DC. Most are fan based and are happy just to get free comics. But free copies, movie passes, etc are part of the promotion of a product. Handing them out doesn’t equal buying a good review.

    Torsten: The Outhouse is very indie friendly, but comics in North America are dominated by the Big Two, so being blackballed by one of them is note worthy, to say the least. Kudos to the staff for making it public, rather than buckling.

  17. Martha Thomases says:

    David, my experience is nearly 20 years old. At the time, if you wanted to be included in coverage in what was then all-print, you needed to advertise in the magazine.

  18. Nathan says:

    Another PR debacle for DC Comics – say it ain’t so! Seems the real funny pages are what’s happening behind the scenes at DC; not in their comics but this reads so much like big brother taking a stick to the little guy. Shame DC. Shame.

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