LA isn’t just home to a community of bright entrepreneurs; it’s also home to a legion of great writers and bloggers. Throughout the year, Lalawag will be chatting with some of the city’s most prominent bloggers to find out a bit more about what makes them tick.
(Editor’s note: Andy gave some extremely insightful answers during our interview, so much so that we’ve decided to split into two parts. In part one (the one you’re reading now), we talk about his blogging background and give some advice for you up-and-coming bloggers. Part two includes more in depth conversation topics such as the Bloggers vs. Journalists debate as we delve deeper into the comics and web content industries.)
Andy Khouri (@andykhouri) is a prolific Hollywood-based blogger who I first met a few years ago while working for a now-defunct digital music service. Nowadays, he just happens to be an editor at the most visited comics website in the US right now, ComicsAlliance. On top of that, he also finds time to contribute to a fansite (Born Dirty) for the electronic band, Underworld, and also maintains his own blog, the eponymous andykhouri.com.
You’re clearly good at the internet, with your content tendrils latched onto so many sites. Tell us a little about the sites you blog for.
I’m one of the editors of AOL’s ComicsAlliance blog, dedicated to the culture and creativity of the comic book industry and related nerd-based communities. We cover all the important news but more than that, we’re a source for original commentary, humor and art, as well as a Cerebro-level content aggregator of amazing Internet things that matter to our readers. On ComicsAlliance you’re just as likely to find a passionate editorial reflecting a socio-political issue and its relationship to comics as you are some crazy fan-made material that we think is just awesome. According to comScore, which is a complex traffic tracking matrix apparatus that I will never, ever understand, ComicsAlliance as the most popular comics site in the United States at the moment. I edit with Laura Hudson and Caleb Goellner, who are based in Portland.
The other site I’ve done work for recently is Born Dirty, which is one of a increasing number of sites designated “official fansites”. In this case, it’s dedicated to the work of Underworld, the brilliant electronic band that most people will remember for the hit “Born Slippy NUXX” that was featured in Trainspotting; their genuinely seminal 1990s electronica albums; and film scores including Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine”. I created the style guide for Born Dirty and have continued to consult as needed. It’s an international collaboration between people connected through music and art, and designed to be a new-fan-friendly alternative to the decidedly esoteric and unconventional site that is Underworld’s official home on the Web.
Finally, I’ve been doing a lot of mini-blogging on my own site, andykhouri.com, in the form of a campaign I call Insomnia. It’s a simple practice whereby I post an original photograph along with some original prose and pair them with a song I think works really well in that moody middle-of-the-night context, for anyone who might see the associated Tweet. The songs stream on my site but also link to Amazon’s MP3 store if the reader/listener wants to download it for themselves. After I get a bunch of songs in the can, I then create a continuous DJ mix along with original artwork and offer that as a podcast. It’s a fun little thing I do for myself since I’m so busy writing about other people’s work.
How did you get started blogging?
This is going to sound really awesome so try to keep your pants on: I was blogging before it was cool. My first blog was an HTML website with frames that I built from scratch in Adobe GoLive, to act as a travelogue for a nearly year-long cross-country road trip I took. At the time, about 2001-2002, documenting a deeply personal experience like that online was still a fairly novel thing to do (although it’s routine now, and often in 140 characters or less), and I learned a lot about how I like to communicate to readers and what readers respond to. Some of that audience is still with me now, almost ten years later.
When I settled back in Los Angeles and began blogging my adventures as an early 20s, Generation Reeeeemix’er about town using that once mighty platform, LiveJournal! I wrote probably two or three books worth of content about this city, with a lot of attention to the comic book, goth, and electroclash scenes in Hollywood. Although it was largely sardonic and preoccupied with my amusing social failures, the music and comics writing created a healthy resume which led to Web content careers in those industries. Other platforms followed, like MySpace, Twitter, Tumblr, and I of course got around to building a proper website and blog for myself as well, to which I ported all my better LiveJournal content.
What platform do you use for blog publishing? What made you decide to use it over the other choices out there?
As an AOL blog, ComicsAlliance uses a pretty great proprietary content management system that I am probably not allowed to talk about, but I dig it. My personal site, andykhouri.com, is powered by the Squarespace platform. While not a free solution like WordPress or Moveable Type, Squarespace offers design customization at a level I haven’t seen anywhere else, at least not with such an intuitive WYSIWYG [what you see is what you get] editor. If you’re very design-inclined like me but very inept at the arcane coding generally required to elevate your blog’s appearance and functionality beyond the basic WordPress templates, I can’t recommend Squarespace enough. Honestly, a great blog is the least of its impressive capabilities.
I’m also an active Tumblr user. It took me a long time to work out exactly what that platform and network were for, but I think it was a case of over-thinking. Tumblr is simply an easy way to share content — usually other people’s content — with your followers. It’s a platform of curation, and I think that’s valuable. Many of us don’t want to weigh down our own blogs and websites with random photographs,videos or other people’s things we just think are awesome since those items will detract from the primary function of our blogs – to promote ourselves and our work. But with Tumblr, you can add to your, ugh, “personal brand” with a new level of engagement: your taste. By dumping your disparate interests in photography, music video, etc. into one marvelously easy to navigate place, you create a kind of curation-of-cool-shit algorithm that has an uncanny way of attracting like-minded people. As such, I’ve found a whole new audience for my professional and personal work just by starting a Tumblr blog to share things that appeal to my tastes.
There’s also a thriving Los Angeles community on Tumblr, and seeing everyone’s photos and writings about the city has had a really inspiring effect on me, and I hope to contribute more of that material myself, like I used to back in the LiveJournal days. There is no city more conducive to photoblogging than Los Angeles, and there is no platform more conducive to photoblogging than Tumblr.
What smartphone apps do you find indispensable on your home screen? Why did these apps make the cut?
At this stage, my real life and online existences are so indistinguishable from each other that I feel like Molly Millions from “Neuromancer,” but possibly sexier. As such, my iPhone home screen is loaded with the essential toolkit for navigating and documenting my travels through our fair metropolis. I’ve got Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Mobile Fotos (brilliant Flickr app for iPhone), Squarespace, Google Maps, SMS messages and my Camera app lined neatly up front so I can easily share whatever I’m seeing or doing with the universe, and that happens a lot here in LA. I always see some great image or overhear some great remark that I have to share right away. These things end up being like historical documents that sometimes inspire future projects.
Where do you do your best writing? (at home, starbucks, the park, etc.)
Luxury hotels, sadly. I genuinely love them, but that gets expensive so I always write from my home office, which looks like a cross between a library and the Batcave. I’m in the market for a comfortable cafe or some other public place to work in the mornings, so if any Lalawag readers want to send me suggestions, I’d love to hear them via Twitter at @andykhouri.
What helps you the most in terms of expanding your readership?
As I said earlier, the secret to ComicsAlliance’s success has been appealing to an audience beyond just comic book readers. Our crowd is incredibly engaged with social media platforms like Twitter, Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, etc. They read our stuff and share it with their friends just as a matter of course. For example, our story on the Westboro Baptist Church protesting Comic-Con in San Diego is actually the most shared story on Facebook in AOL history. ComicsAlliance content is frequently featured by Google News and other aggregators, which in turn gets our material to mainstream news sources like Rachel Maddow, The Daily Show, The Huffington Post, etc. A piece by our Editor-in-Chief Laura Hudson on a comics retailer’s advocacy of violence against members of Congress wound up getting that guy raided by his local police, who recovered “a large amount” of guns. This story ended up being reported by the Boston Globe, giving us credit for inspiring the police action.
Incredibly, we share only 11% or less of our audience with the next leading comic book news site, which is fantastic because it indicates an interest in this material from outside the existing comics scene, which has the tendency to be something of an echo chamber. Getting new readers into comics is the prime directive of pretty much everyone working in the industry in any capacity, so I’m pleased that we’re doing our part.
Do you have any other tips for the up and coming bloggers out there?
The most important advice I give people looking to become professional bloggers — or really anything else in Web content — is don’t write a single word for free. If the site has ads on it, you need to get paid. If you’re supplying someone else’s site with content of any kind, you deserve to be paid. Not paid in free comics or free CDs or in “exposure” or bogus bullshit like that, but paid in money.
If you’re not going to get paid, just build your own site or start one with your friends and use that as a way to get noticed. It’s not as unlikely as it seems. We’ve just hired a new comics blogger whose work we saw on Tumblr and loved, and now they’re getting paid for something they were doing for fun anyway. That’s how I was hired for my first big content job, based on what I’d been doing on my LiveJournal for free.
That said, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to make a great living as a blogger, even for a big corporation. If you’re a frustrated fiction writer or musician or anything else, I think you’d probably be better off pursuing that with a retail job on the side, because blogging — good blogging — is certainly time-consuming. If it doesn’t come easily to you, the money’s probably not worth the effort. As ever, the trick is to find something you’d be doing anyway and con someone into paying you for it.
Click here for part two of our interview with Andy Khouri!