11.15.2015

I Quit


...and that, ladies and gentlemen, is 10 years of reviewing comics at Thirteen Minutes.

When I started Thirteen Minutes in November of 2005, I jokingly said that if I hadn't "hit it big" in 10 years, then I'd quit. In less-than-sound business fashion, I never defined what success meant, but looking back, I got to do a bunch of cool things I wanted to do. I got to write about comics. I got to hype the books I loved, support the creators I felt mattered, and hopefully move the sales needle ever-so-slightly by turning new readers onto them. This is my 1,838th post on this site alone, and even if each post averaged only five capsule reviews, well, you do the math. That’s a lot of fucking comics I reviewed. All told, I estimate I’ve done around 9,800 reviews over the last decade. I slowly built a readership at Thirteen Minutes, tracking hit metrics from dozens to hundreds to thousands. I got to meet a lot of great people. I got generously comp'd tons of comics to review. I got dozens of pull quotes used on books I was passionate about.

I’ll never forget the thrill of unexpectedly seeing a cover blurb on Wasteland #6 (Oni Press) in 2007. You never forget your first pull quote. I even got that book CGC’d to vainly commemorate the occasion. I saw a huge spike in traffic after that. I was on the map. I’d met Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten at SDCC in 2006, picked up the first issue before it was even in stores, made a personal connection, hyped the book with genuine interest, and the rest kinda’ took care of itself. It was a model that I tried to replicate for years. I used to joke that Thirteen Minutes was “the house that Wasteland built.” I’ve learned that you reach a point in life where you start to believe there’s no such thing as coincidence, so I took it as one of many signs earlier this year when I got to help bring Wasteland home with a retrospective look at the series called “Surviving The Big Wet,” interviewing the series creators to commemorate the final issue shipping. It felt like I was ending at the beginning, a perfect closed circle.

I also wrote a few mini-comics of my own during this time period, including The Mercy Killing, Silicon Valley Blues, and Blood Orange. Being reviewed favorably by Rob Clough was a particular high point. Rob is a critic whose work I respect tremendously, and he’s graced the halls of The Comics Journal in addition to writing at his own site High-Low for years. This dynamic led to Rick Bradford at Poopsheet Foundation offering me a job reviewing mini-comics. I did a 5-year deep dive into that segment of the medium as the Senior Reviewer from 2009 to 2014, clocking in another 521 reviews of mini-comics and small press titles at Poopsheet Foundation. While I find the signal to noise ratio extremely lopsided, it’s an important part of the industry at the same time. I always viewed my role somewhat egotistically as that of a major league talent scout, functioning as an early adopter and hyping work from people like Noah Van Sciver, Tom Neely, or Julia Gfrorer that I got to see go on, find an audience, and absolutely flourish with wider attention, larger print runs, and more established publishers. (Yes. In true elitist crit fashion, I can say I was into these creators long before you ever heard of them.)

The word is pretentious, but I got to curate a site called LIVE FROM THE DMZ, which was a unique combination of analysis, interviews, and never-before-seen concept art for the Vertigo series DMZ, by Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchielli. I always felt like we were breaking new ground and still don’t think there’s ever been anything like it. I was asked to write an introduction for this important series and got to help bring it all home in DMZ Volume 12: The Five Nations of New York. (During this time period, I even got to flex some creative muscles and help do a little world-building in the backmatter of The Massive by Brian Wood and Garry Brown over at Dark Horse.) I then got to see the original vision for LIVE FROM THE DMZ realized when the content was used as definitive bonus material in the DMZ Deluxe Edition Hardcovers. I can legitimately say I’ve been doing freelance work-for-hire at DC Comics since 2012. The final volume I worked on, and the finale of the series, DMZ Book Five, is out next month, and I can’t realistically imagine going out on a higher high as a critic. It’s another one of those signs that one chapter in my comic book life is closing.

One of the things I’m most excited about is that I’m currently co-writing an alt history project called Rome West with Brian Wood, featuring art by Andrea Mutti, which should be announced very soon. None of this was ever my intention all those years ago, to “break in” or whatever, because I don’t think that terminology really means anything anymore, certainly not what it did even 10 years ago in terms of some kind of exclusive contract with financial stability, but nevertheless, I’m eager to line up more freelance projects on the writing or editorial side. When all of this began, I could’ve never predicted that I’d now be co-writing a project with my favorite writer in comics, right in the middle of the Creator Owned Renaissance.

Brian is a person I respect, the kind of creator I’d want to be, turning out a relevant, respected, and multi-genre body of work. Brian went from being my favorite writer, to being a friend, to being a sometimes collaborator. If Thirteen Minutes was “the house that Wasteland built,” then Brian became The Patron Saint of Thirteen Minutes. He continually challenged me to be a better writer and taught me so much in terms of writing about comics, and then about writing comics themselves, which is exponentially more difficult. I could write endlessly, but I can really boil that mentorship down to a handful of learned lessons: Write intellectually honest work. Nobody promotes your work like you do. Place value in your own intellectual property. Surround yourself with people who want you to succeed. Sometimes patience is your best weapon. Sit down, shut up, and do the fucking work. Wrap all that up and it basically translates into being an advocate for creator owned comics, something I always kept in my mind as a guiding principle when writing.

I got to meet tons of cool people in the industry, from “big name” creators, publishers, and editors, to the talented small press crowd, to fellow bloggers and journalist types. I’ll just rattle off a few, because nobody really reads exhaustive lists of names. I met Ryan Claytor of Elephant Eater Comics at an in-store signing in 2007 and we became great friends. Ryan’s professionalism and good nature were constant sources of encouragement both creatively and personally. Thirteen Minutes won an award for Best Web-Site after being nominated numerous times from my friends across the pond at The PCG (nee: Paradox Comics Group). 

Later in the Thirteen Minutes run, I met critic Keith Silva, who writes with a rare sense of panache, employing a flirtatious use of language that I admire. Through Keith, I met the gang at Comics Bulletin, including Daniel Elkin, Jason Sacks, and Chase Magnett. There’s no better crew to hang out with at SDCC. Sacks is like a walking encyclopedia who can interview creators for 15 hours straight. There are few people I enjoy drinking and ruminating more with than Elkin. We sometimes tease Chase about being more than a full decade younger than the rest of us, and he’s still a little unnervingly idealistic, instead of being a cynical veteran like me, so maybe there’s something to be said for handing the critical baton off to his generation. These guys are truly men in what is usually a boys’ world. I’m stealing a Sam Keith line about working on Sandman, but I always felt a little bit like Jimi Hendrix trying to jam with The Beatles when working with them, yet they graciously kept asking me to participate. Thanks to Comics Bulletin Publisher Jason Sacks for indulging me as a Contributing Writer at his site with my own weekly column.

There are dozens of people I could mention, but a few special people did favors for me, helped me promote, or were just cool to me when others acted like gatekeeping douchebags. I also count people like David Mack, Kody Chamberlain, Ben Towle, Joshua Dysart, Ken Kristensen, Larime Taylor, Jackson Lanzing, Alyssa Milano, Shaun Simon, Dominic Umile, and Barbra Dillon as extended members of the Thirteen Minutes “family,” if such a thing exists. On the retail side, I have to mention Lee Hester from Lee’s Comics in Mountain View, CA who, to this day, still probably has the best LCS around and was my weekly stop for more than a decade when I lived in the SF Bay Area, Dan Shahin at Hijinx Comics in San Jose, CA who gave me my first regular reviewing gig before Thirteen Minutes even launched, and my current LCS sponsor, Michael Cholak at Yesteryear Comics, certainly the best shop in San Diego, where I work creator signings and have made so many new friends.

Rest assured, I will always check out new work from people like JH Williams III, Warren Ellis, Paul Pope, Antony Johnston, Greg Rucka, Kody Chamberlain, Frank Quitely, Darwyn Cooke, Matt Kindt, Joe Sacco, Rafael Grampa, Danijel Zezelj, Juan Jose Ryp, Becky Cloonan, Jamie McKelvie, Jonathan Hickman, Jason Aaron, Jerome Opena, Dean White, Rick Remender, Cliff Chiang, Nathan Fox, John Paul Leon, Larime Taylor, Chris Dingess, Matthew Roberts, Greg Smallwood, Michael Lark, Tradd Moore, Chris Burnham, Simon Gane, Fiona Staples, Kurt Busiek, Tula Lotay, Matthew Southworth, and Declan Shalvey.

Never fear, I'll be first in line to support the latest indie project from people like Tom Neely, Julia Gfrorer, Noah Van Sciver, Brendan Leach, Mike Bertino, Pat Aulisio, Lauren Barnett, Mari Ahokoivu, Trevor Alixopulos, Dash Shaw, Jordan Crane, Sammy Harkham, Ryan Cecil Smith, Josh Cotter, Josh Simmons, Ryan Standfest, Jim Rugg, Jason Shiga, Rob Kirby, Patrick Keck, Elijah Brubaker, Chris Cilla, Katie Skelly, Malachi Ward, Nate Powell, Box Brown, Nick Bertozzi, Derek Van Gieson, Tom Scioli, Conor Stechshulte, Rob Davis, Ines Estrada, and Derf Backderf.

There’s no way I can ever ignore the powerhouse small press publishers I grew to love, support, and champion, starting with Dylan Williams at Sparkplug Comics. Here’s a guy whose smile just lit up the room and made you feel like the most important person in the world when you talked to him. I still miss you, man. There’s Kus! Komiks in Latvia, Tom Kaczynski at Uncivilized Books, Matt Moses at Hic & Hoc Publications, Austin English at Domino Comics, Justin & Raighne at 2D Cloud, and Jordan Shiveley at Grimalkin Press. Please leave me on your comp list! I will still talk up your books!

I want to make one thing crystal clear. I'm not going to stop reading comics. There’s something magical that happens on a tertiary level by combining words and pictures that is irresistible to me. I have no reasonable doubt that I’ll be reading comics until the day I die, with a particular interest in creator-owned titles. You may still see posts here, but I imagine way fewer. Provided there isn’t some glaring conflict of interest, I like doing advance reviews of books from creators I want to endorse. I still love comics, love writing, and love writing about comics, if, and this is the key, if a book ignites that spark of response. I’ll still crank out my annual best-of list, because people love lists, and my mind has been scarred from two decades spent in Corporate America, so cataloguing in this hierarchical, PowerPoint ready, bullet point fashion suits my “must make order of chaos” brain. You can still find me on Twitter @ThirteenMinutes. When I find something worth talking about, I’ll be talking about it somewhere. I’m not saying “no” to any of that. I’m saying “no” to something else very specific.

As far as the weekly grind of trudging down to the LCS every Wednesday and scrambling to dutifully post capsule reviews, spending my weekends wrestling with long-form pieces, or even just posting a full accounting of every title I pick up come hell or high water… I’m done. I’m exhausted. I’m basically quitting weekly reviews. I’ve felt for a long time like I was simply running on fumes. I started feeling this way, strongly, around 2012, and waited to see if the feeling would pass. It didn’t.

Between deranged trolls at my site, witch-hunts for my friends, and encounters with a couple of raging asshole creators at SDCC, there was intensifying drama that made me feel disillusioned with the whole community. I mean, it made me lose my mind and want to quit this whole fucked up business for good. It actually degenerated to the point where people were getting called out for calling out call out culture. Paging Grant Morrison – it was fucking ouroboros. One person aptly compared the mob mentality of the Comics Internet to a coiled viper, just lying in wait for the smallest perceived transgression, in order to strike a socially acceptable target of cruelty. I get enough toxic politicking at work, why would I want that from my hobby?

More than anything, I don't want to be tied to this static process in this old venue, where (outside of a small handful of creators I’d follow to the ends of the Earth no matter what they worked on) I seem to be finding less and less material that sustains my interest, and after 10 years of never missing a single weekly post, I think I’ve made good on what I set out to do, and feel that I’ve earned the right to just walk away at this nice symbolic number of 10.

I could go on some tirade where I question the cultural relevancy of blogs, if the age of free blogging platforms is passé and coming to an end, or ponder the utility of being a small voice in a very large ocean. Let’s face it, we’re not all going to be Tavi Gevinson or Cory Doctorow, and at times it seemed like there were more reviewers, sites, podcasts, interviews, and media outlets than there were creators actually making any meaningful work. Instead of being the type of old-school tastemaker that I aspired to be and feeling like I was moving the needle, sometimes I just felt like a needle lost in a haystack. The proliferation of voices on the internet – I mean, everyone is a broadcaster of some kind now – just means that people can search the morass of white noise for tastes that mirror their own and ignore everything else. At times, I wondered if I ever challenged anyone or was just preaching to my own loyal little choir.

I could question the point of reviews in the first place. In a very pragmatic sense, they have, at best, a negligible sales impact in a system where the retailer is the true customer in the direct market and artificially labeling books as “sold out” is simple manipulation of supply and demand prior to consumer engagement. The simple fact is, reviews don’t move the sales needle. Twitter posturing doesn’t move the sales needle. I’m tired of the hype machine, the sickening popularity contest in which I see truly talented folks continue to toil in relative obscurity while critical darlings with obvious flaws in their work continue to garner praise, and all of the reindeer games that occupy the culture of put-on persona promotion in social media. I’d rather just hang out with my IRL friends at SDCC and drink Cucumber Gimlets at The Lion’s Share. I’d rather just make some comics with my IRL creator friends that I’ve made over the last decade.

I could question the point of reviews in a more qualitative or enlightened way, where there’s the argument that the art discourse itself is the goal, which I do believe. Hey, I worked at one of the top five contemporary art museums in the country for seven years and can bore you to death with enrichment of culture arguments and efforts to build connoisseurship in an audience, but that’s all immeasurably nebulous. Daniel Elkin once told me that ultimately he writes reviews for himself, that that was the whole point, to clarify in his own mind how he feels about a particular work, learning to articulate how it all functions. Art Reflects Life. I get that. But, I’ve now had a lot of practice doing that. I’ve gotten really good at figuring out what works objectively. I’ve gotten really good at figuring out what works subjectively, for me. I’m satisfied with my filter. I don’t need more practice.

I could question, as self-proclaimed “fan” (and he used this term deliberately, he does not consider himself a “critic”) Aaron Meyers once did (and he took a lot of heat for making a statement which seemed like an obvious given to me), how he’s gotten followers and friends in the industry by “cheerleading” (his term). He further observed that with the vast majority of reviews there seems to be (generalizing here, as he did) a widespread element of ingratiating oneself with creators and publishers via positive reviews, in an effort break in, curry favor, or otherwise gain some type of access, all of which undermines the entire critical paradigm of essentially telling the truth. I believe that. This is part of the reason we continually have to put sarcastic quotes around “Comics Journalism.” In the simplest of terms, Aaron is a mostly positive cheerleader and I was an always honest, sometimes very harsh critic, who didn’t care about breaking in or who I might upset.  Make of it what you will, but he had 8x the follower count I did. 

I could cite the growing need to recuse myself from writing reviews when I’m starting to do more creative and editorial work because it could be perceived as a conflict of interest in some cases, but it’s mostly just a lack of interest on my part. I’ve been fascinated by watching the career arcs of people like David Brothers, Tucker Stone, Kelly Thompson, or Andy Khouri, who’ve stepped off the critical sidelines and joined the fray in a variety of different creative capacities. I’m not sure what motivated those people, but for me, I’m just done analyzing what “it” means. I’m at a point where I feel more energized by helping to make “it,” whatever “it” is, gaining some experience on that side of the business, and using whatever small modicum of influence or power I may have to push for the kind of comics I want to see in the world by actually helping to create them.

I could talk about reaching a point where I’m much less willing to provide the milk for free, infamously “for the exposure,” unless someone is willing to buy the cow. While I may have gotten a little “internet famous” and made some new friends, there’s simply no money for producing online review content. The only time I actually got paid anything substantial to write reviews was for a small alt weekly in San Diego, interestingly an out-of-industry venue which adhered to a journalistic model, not a fanboy model. I no longer want to hold down a rigorous day job while stringing together multiple critic gigs for so little financial reward. But, that’s a whole separate discussion. I digress. The truth is that I'm just bored by the cycle and want a change.

Reviewing comics has simply run its course for me.

I noticed that the more material I had to read to keep up with reviewing schedules at various sites, I was enjoying the work less when I was constantly cataloguing pros and cons and trying to meet deadlines. It started feeling like a job, and I kept asking myself why I would continue to do something I wasn’t enjoying or being paid anything substantial for, and ultimately found that the answer was “inertia.” I wanted to see how long I could do it, and it turned out the answer was 10 years. Reading for the purpose of critique actually does alter the experience. Reading comics now, as a budding writer of comics, also distracts me because I start reverse engineering the script and can get pushed out. I miss reading for pure enjoyment. I'm looking forward to spending a little more time on the other side of the table, and when I get the chance, reading more for sheer love of the game.

Thanks for reading.

Justin Giampaoli
November 2005 – November 2015

8 Comments:

At 11:04 PM, Blogger BK said...

bon voyage --thanks for the years of good work!

 
At 1:31 PM, Blogger Matt C said...

Thanks for writing!

And I hope to see you continue writing, in whatever format. I'll be following!

 
At 3:11 PM, Blogger Justin Giampaoli said...

Thanks, Matt! Glad to have met you and have you as part of the Thirteen Minutes "family!"

 
At 11:39 AM, Blogger M Onion said...

Dude, I have been following your blog for years. I appreciate everything you've done for comics fans. I walked away from comics twenty-five years ago, frustrated with the big publishers for pimping out their audience to profit hunts masked as cross-over issues and spin-off series. In returning to comics I discovered your blog, and your recommendations filled my shelves. I'd hoped to one day cross paths with you at Comic Con and hand you a six-pack of cold beers as a token of thanks. Your blog guided me back to the reading that had been so central to my imagination. Much thanks!

Enjoy your turn away from the blog and burden. And good luck with every new venture.

 
At 12:02 PM, Blogger Justin Giampaoli said...

Thanks so much for the feedback, this comment means a lot to me! Glad to have made some solid recommendations.

 
At 3:17 PM, Blogger Patioboater said...

Though I was only a sporadic reader, I always enjoyed the blog when I found the time. And I definitely picked up and enjoyed some comics that I wouldn't have known about had you not reviewed them. So your work was indeed appreciated.

Even though the reviews are done, I do hope you continue to write *about* comics on occasion. An astute voice is always welcome.

 
At 6:38 AM, Blogger Ryan Claytor said...

I knew this day was coming, but it doesn't make it suck any less. You'll be missed, man. Your thoughtful, intelligent, funny, informed and approachable voice was an asset to the comics community. All the best to you, my friend!

Ryan Claytor

 
At 4:13 PM, Blogger Justin Giampaoli said...

Thanks, Ryan!

 

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