MUST 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.