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Comics Journalism Under Fire as Means Shannon Hiring Prompts Broader Examination of Ethics

Written by Jude Terror on Saturday, October 31 2015 and posted in News with Benefits

Comics Journalism Under Fire as Means Shannon Hiring Prompts Broader Examination of Ethics

We'll be over here playing the fiddle as the whole thing burns down around us.

Source: The Rainbow Hub

Last night, we reported on the efforts of Bleeding Cool rumormonger Rich Johnston to combat criticism of departed Editor in Chief Hannah Means Shannon, who was just announced as a new associate editor at Dark Horse Comics. The hiring was criticized on Twitter because earlier this month, former Dark Horse Editor in Chief Scott Allie (now Senior Executive Editor) was named in a sexual harassment scandal that included inappropriate touching, biting, and licking of colleagues at this year's San Diego Comic Con and earlier. About two weeks earlier, Means Shannon published an interview at Bleeding Cool on Allie's title change.

This morning, The Rainbow Hub's Emma Houxbois delved deep into the topic, claiming to have received information that Means Shannon's resume was submitted to Dark Horse in August, weeks before the September interview with Allie. In addition, Houxbois notes Means Shannon's later coverage of Jannelle Asselin's scoop on the Allie scandal, which she says "raised eyebrows for effectively echoing Dark Horse President Mike Richardson's statement on the matter." Houxbois also notes that Bleeding Cool seemingly broke a New York Comic Con press embargo on news of Dark Horse publishing a Moebius collection by two days, giving the site an advantage over other sites with the scoop. 

Hannah Means Shannon, currently on a cross country road trip to the West Coast, where she'll begin her new job at Dark Horse, has not yet responded to any of the allegations. However, Rich Johnston did answer a question on Twitter about the timeline:



Johnston himself is no stranger to controversy in this area, as we all remember the secret he's keeping that's "worse than Jimmy Saville," but which Johnston won't publish because it could seriously damage one of the Big Two comics publishers. But Bleeding Cool is hardly alone in having potentially conflicting ties with comic book publishers. It's an industry norm!

The article on The Rainbow Hub is an in-depth piece that goes beyond the relationship between Means Shannon and Dark Horse to explore the wider issues of conflict of interest between comics journalists and publishers, including the transition of other comics journalists to comics writers. She uses as an example Andrew Wheeler, who, while still the Editor in Chief of Comics Alliance, will soon publish a creator owned comic at Oni Press, and cites other examples as well. She also mentions the difficulty in reporting on harassment in comics due to the tight-knit and defensive culture of the industry, something gone into in depth in this piece by Nick Hanover at Loser City. Houxbois's article solicits comments from Hanover, as well as Graphic Policy's Brett Schenker and Women Write About Comics and Comics Alliances's J.A. Micheline, all journalists with a history of defying the trend of publisher asskissing, about the ethical problems facing the comics journalism field. It's well worth your time to go and read it before we continue here.

The Outhouse was not asked for comment for the article, but if we were, we would have pointed out that comic book publishers also appear to be the main source of advertising revenue for comic book websites, with major sites like Comic Book Resources and Newsarama frequently running full page site skin advertisements for Marvel or DC that compliment the numerous daily articles covering those publishers activities. Comic Book Resources publishes a weekly Q&A with Marvel Editor in Chief Axel Alonso, which has been accused of being used as a vehicle for Alonso to deflect criticism against Marvel. The Eisner Award winning CBR is the largest and most highly trafficked comic book website, while Marvel Comics is the largest American publisher.


The incestuous relationship between comic book media and comic book publishers is one The Outhouse has covered extensively in the past. Our own run-in with DC Comics, in which the publisher demanded that we temper our snark in their direction if we wanted to interview creators at C2E2 that they sent us emails offering interviews with, is well known. That attempt at control backfired for DC, with The Outhouse doubling its efforts to mock their stupidity and launching the Has DC Done Something Stupid Today counter website. But the Outhouse's lack of industry respect and low operating costs (and lower profits) made resistance easy. Bigger sites have more to lose if publishers threaten to withhold access to EXXXCLUSIVE information for fawning articles and fluff interviews with talent, which are the lifeblood of mainstream comics reporting.

Just look at the hostile reaction when Vaneta Rogers attempted to ask DC Comics executives tough questions in their weekly interview on Newsarama in 2012:

Nrama: I do notice though, and obviously, in the media, we try to look at trends in the industry. It's tough not to notice that a lot of the top-selling books each month are either relaunches or are involved in some type of big event. Your two bestselling books in October were the start of "events". You're one month removed from Zero Month. Rotworld andH'el on Earth and Death of the Family are on the table. Given your experience, is it fair to say the standard monthly, non-event comic book adventure is antiquated? Do you think retailers and perhaps readers need the signal of "event" or "relaunch" to hold or renew interest? If only once or twice a year?

Cunningham: No.

Wayne: No, we don't. Otherwise, all the work we've done for the last two years to prepare for the New 52 initiative, we would feel as if we had wasted our time, and we don't feel that at all.

Cunningham: No, I think that sort of analysis is extremely surface and doesn't deal with the facts at all.

Nrama: What facts? What facts am I missing?

Cunningham: I don't know. I didn't hear enough of your thesis to know how that works. You're citing a couple of what you call "events," and then you're saying that that's the only thing that works in the marketplace. And I'm just not sure your what your evidence is to make that claim, so I'm not sure why I have to cite evidence to go against it.

Nrama: The top sellers for DC in October were the starts of events. AndMarvel's top sellers are often either event-related comics or relaunches. Obviously, the relaunch was an event itself. And you had a lot of crossovers happening since then. I'm just wondering if, in the current marketplace, there isn't a need for an event-type label to really call out monthly comics and keep them fresh?

Cunningham: I think, again, Vaneta, you'd have to cite evidence from past months where that hasn't been the case. And I'm not sure what the Top 10 tells you about the overall marketplace in any statistical point of view.

Nrama: All right.


That weekly interview was soon moved to Comic Book Resources by DC, but encountered similar issues in 2013 when their reporters attempted to go off book and ask real questions:

With regret, CBR News has to inform our readers today that there will no longer be a "B&B" column on the site after only four short months.

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.

Specifically, Harras and Chase declined to comment on questions about DC exclusive talent Jerry Ordway in regards to his statements about his work with the publisher. (Though it should be noted that DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee did discuss the matter in a recent CBR TV interview)

After ensuing discussions on the matter, CBR regrets that DC has decided not to continue what we consider a valuable discussion for readers, retailers and creators. We will however continue to cover the company's comics, editorial moves and broader impact on comics to the best of our ability – including future interviews with DC executives and editorial staff as they are willing and available.


In 2014, CBR reporter Casey Gilly exposed some of the tight control DC tries to exercise on its interviews when she spoke to Meredith and David Finch about Meredith Finch's controversial comments on Wonder Woman's feminist aspects:

David -- there were some previous comments you'd made about your version of Wonder Woman not necessarily being a feminist character, and being more grounded in beauty and strength. I'm wondering how that point of view has changed as the series progresses? What are you thinking about when you're defining Wonder Woman for this new arc and how are you bringing in Meredith's point of view for this loving, grounded, humanitarian character?

David: It was really Meredith's take on the character that made me feel like it was the right thing for us to do. I thought she had a really great grasp on her, and I love it when a character has an easily definable core. That seems to be the most true. So, talking to Meredith and her saying who she thought Wonder Woman was -- it was like, that's a great approach.

Wonder Woman is a feminist icon, and its something that has been important to me from the beginning. In drawing it, I wanted to make sure that I approach, in a respectful, inclusive way -- [David trails off]

My question is not coming from a defensive point of view. I know that the word "feminist" can mean different things to different people, depending on the context. I don't think you meant anything negative by that comment, and I was hoping to hear more about what was important to you, as an artist working on the series, and how you're defining the character.

[At this point in the interview, a DC publicist interjected, saying, "I think part of it is what you were talking about earlier is her body type and how she doesn't have to have these big, huge muscles and you're putting her into everyday situations and actions. You can talk about that."]

Meredith: That's what I'd said earlier -- you look at Kacy Catanzaro right now, who was the first woman to make it into the "American Ninja Warrior" finals. She is 5 feet tall, 100 pounds, and she did things that, for me, are superhuman, and for a lot guys are superhuman. I look at that, and when people get hung up on Wonder Woman having a specific body type -- go tell that to Kacy. Women are strong, whether they have big or small muscles. It's not the size of your muscles, but obviously [it's] the size of your heart that really is what's important. That, for us, is going to be central. Its what I want people to get out of the book. It's about heart.


That exchange echoed a 2012 interview with Len Wein on the Daily Beast when that same publicist interfered in the interview, which interviewer Tim Marchman was having no part of:

Having no idea how this could happen, I ended up on the phone with Len Wein, who edited Watchmen, and as a writer helped create iconic superheroes Wolverine for Marvel and Swamp Thing for DC. Wein is writing two of the new Watchmen comics, including Ozymandias, which debuts tomorrow. I wouldn't say he was yelling at me, but he was speaking with exclamation marks, which because he seems like a nice guy, I'd ascribe at least in part to occupational hazards.

"These are not shady business dealings!" he said. I had just told him that I thought an argument he was dismissing was really about shady business dealings.

They certainly strike the outside world as incredibly shady, I said.

"I'm sure Pam's going to jump in here," he said, "but I completely disagree with you!"

"And it's not his place," said Pam, "to talk about the business."

Pam, who had arranged and was monitoring the call, works in some capacity for either DC Comics or its parent, DC Entertainment, a division of Warner Bros. whose mission, according to a press release from a few years ago, is "to fully realize the power and value of the DC Comics brand and characters across all media and platforms." Warner Bros. is itself one of the many subsidiaries of Time Warner, which has annual revenues larger than the gross domestic product of about half of U.N. member states, which I mention because it suggests the scale of the vast unyielding drive for profit that has led to, among many more obviously horrible things, Before Watchmen. (I should also mention that I have happily cashed Time Warner checks.)

"Pardon?" I said.

"It's not Len's place to talk about the business!" said Pam. "He can really only talk about what he's writing and what he's doing with these characters now." Which, fair enough.


Last year we spoke with Matt Brady, former siterunner of Newsarama and deadbeat dad of The Outhouse, who left comics journalism for several years before returning to the industry to write the occasional comic for BOOM! and Dynamite. Asked why he left while Newsarama was on top of the comics journalism world, Brady replied:

I called it quits because it was losing the fun aspect to it. When things started, it was pretty much the Wild West, and there were real leaks and scoops and things like that. As the years went by, and the publishers started trying to control the press more and more and phrases like, "We'd be very unhappy with you if you..." became more common, or laying the groundwork for a story only to see another site get it handed to them as an exclusive...I think overall, I just really got tired of playing the game. I started writing for comics journalism in 1994, so by the time I left, I'd been doing that kind of stuff for what...about 14 or 15 years - the last eight were full of 7 day weeks of 16+ hour days. It was time to go - I needed to retain, or regain my sanity.

I've said it before - when I told my friend, Charles Brownstein, the Executive Director of the CBLDF, that I was leaving, he told me that with that one decision, I added ten years to my life.


It doesn't look like things have gotten any better since Brady left Newsarama so many years ago. The vast majority of content on comic book websites consists of thinly veiled press releases masquerading as news stories, clickbait top ten lists, and the payola exchange of exclusive access for positive coverage has expanded beyond the comics journalism world and into mainstream media outlets like The Daily News and USA Today. And as Big Two coverage from big websites comprises the majority of comics journalism, it defines the patterns that smaller publishers and smaller websites follow. When reading a story about comics on the internet, it's impossible to filter out the influence of marketing departments from the perspective of the reporter. In fact, it's probably best to assume it's all marketing, and treat it appropriately. This has been the case for years, and it's only now beginning to raise eyebrows outside of "troublemaking" sites like this one.

It's really a sad state of affairs, but the truth is, there's really no money in comic book journalism, which makes the field ripe for exploitation by opportunistic publishers. Now, please click on the banner ads to your right and support our magnanimous sponsors, Double Take, so we can continue to pay our writers.

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