Spotlight on: George Gene Gustines

Georgeorgegenegustines.jpggeMUST READ ALERT! Marc-Oliver Frisch talks to probably the most powerful person in comics whom we have never seen interviewed before: the New York Times’ George Gene Gustines. As the main comics reporter/reviewer at The Paper of Record, Gustines has an incredible influence over what the rest of the mainstream media thinks about comics — the explosion of the gay Batwoman story to hundreds of outlets is but one example. He’s also involved with reviewing comics and the Times Graphic Books bestseller list. He’s probably the single most influential comics journalist in the country – yet the only picture of him we could find was this dinky little one from a blog.

Luckily, the interview shows that Gustines is smart, knowledgeable and passionate about comics. (And we’re not just saying that because in the interview he says he reads The Beat religiously.) The entire interview is a must read — Frisch, aided by Michael Dean, asks unusually substantial questions for an online interview, and lets the revealing discussion run long. So just a few pull quotes:

When a publisher wants to break something big, they sometimes offer it to me first. I have to figure out if it’s a story that makes sense for the Times and then I have to convince my editors of that. Thankfully, the more I write, the better a sense I have of what makes a good story. That also, in turn, helps me earn the trust of my editors not to come to them with something that’s too “inside baseball.” (I’ve had at least one pitch where I thought, not even comic-book fanatics would care about this. Why do they think Times readers will?)

[SNIP]I don’t think it’s limiting (at least not in a bad sense). It’s more along the lines of there’s a certain level of story that the comic book publications or blogs can do that I can’t. The stories I write have to be for a more general audience. For instance, at one point in my career, I was sincerely pitched a story about the death of the other-dimensional version of a popular comic book character. That is not a story I can write for the paper.

One of the most interesting parts of the discussion is when Frisch questions Gustines on whether the mainstream media ever runs negative reviews of comics. On the one hand, reviews that are always positive cheapen the material. On the other hand, when a mainstreamer DOES post critical comments – we’re thinking specifically of David Hajdu on GENESIS — they are often criticized by the comics media for not knowing the territory. On the other other hand, panning crappy comics in the New York Times seems like a waste of space when there are so many deserving books that should get the exposure. Our own thought is that we still need to get to the place where comics are considered a mainstream medium, and not something that is still — pow! bam! — being discovered.



  1. George is a class act.

  2. Tom Spurgeon says:

    It’s typical of comics people’s fundamental self-loathing that they tend to want to let “mainstream” people off the hook for not knowing what they’re taking about even when they’re accepting money as a person that knows what they’re talking about.

    Treating comics as significant, legitimate works of art worthy of a negative review if that’s what’s called for is never a waste of time. Otherwise, you’re just a marketing tool, and marketing people will sing your praises.

  3. That sounds sorta like the way Hakeem Olajuwon would only send tapes of his winning games back to his parents in Nigeria. As a result, they thought he was undefeated in his NBA career!

  4. Calvin Reid says:

    Nice guy, good reporter, loves comics. Nuff said.


  1. […] This ties in some what with yesterday’s George Gene Gustines/Marc-Oliver Frisch discussionon whether mainstream media should offer negative reviews of graphic novels. Alarmingly, I was going to mention the A.V. Club as a place that seemed to be mainstream, fairly comics literate and wide ranging and gutsy enough to deliver low grades in their comics reviews. The Onion A.V. Club is one of the few online outlets that offers anything like the authority of print in its heyday; it’s a a Pitchfork that stopped listening to Grizzly Bear for a few minutes. […]

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