LA Blogger Spotlight: Andy Khouri of ComicsAlliance (Part Two)

→ by Andy Yen < @renowned >
at 1:58pm Mar 9, 2011

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 two (the one you’re reading now), we talk about Bloggers vs. Journalists, and delve deeper into the comics and web content industries. If you missed it, be sure to read part one, where we discuss his blogging background and give some advice for you up-and-coming bloggers.

ComicsAlliance is the #1 most visited comics site in the US. You recently wrote an editorial that was the subject of a Daily Show segment. How does it feel being king of the nerds?

It’s hugely gratifying to see our work recognized in the broader media, which is really the secret to ComicsAlliance’s success. In the case of “The Daily Show”, the story there is that some right-wing racist/Islamophobic bloggers had a complete meltdown when Bruce Wayne — who is not real, by the way, he’s a comic book character — recently selected a French Muslim of Arab descent to be his official Batman of Paris. These ghouls suggested the story — which, again, is a fictional superhero tale in a comic book — was offensive to “real Frenchmen” and that it was impossible for a Muslim to be anything but a terrorist, much less a costumed superhero in the mode of Batman. I wrote an amusing take-down piece spotlighting their horribleness and advocated for this character, a parkour expert called Nightrunner, whose origin is based in the racial/economic/religious tension that we’ve seen in France over the last several years.

Our story went viral, as have many of our editorials on subjects like this. One of my ComicsAlliance colleagues is Chris Sims, who’s made a name for himself over the last few years with a ton of hilarious yet thoughtful blogs about Batman. His work as a “professional Batmanologist” was deservedly known to the “Daily Show” producers, and when they heard about the Muslim Batman story they interviewed Chris right away. You can see the video at ComicsAlliance.com.

“The Daily Show” is the most important program on television with respect to news and culture, and obviously it’s brilliant comedy, so that I had a hand in bringing wasting everybody’s time with such a ridiculous subject, especially a Batman-related topic that I worked so hard to blow up, is a landmark in my blogging/trolling career. I don’t know how to describe the feeling. “Station”?

You’ve worked as a news editor before, what differences have you found between being a “journalist” and a “blogger?” Do you agree with the notion that “bloggers aren’t REAL journalists?”

It’s plainly obvious that many bloggers — which is to say, people who have blogs — are not journalists. There are hacks in every profession. Those excepted, no, I don’t agree that bloggers aren’t real journalists. Certainly, bloggers are generally not news gatherers — also called “reporters” — the people who actually collect from research and sources the information and other material that goes on to become food for the blogosphere. But news gathering is but one function of journalism. The primary function of journalism is to convey information to an audience in a way that’s truthful and responsible, and it’s very possible to be truthful and responsible while still taking a position or being satirical or being passionate. The concept of objectivity is somewhat of a red herring in the debate about the nature of journalism because only sometimes is objectivity actually called for. Sometimes it’s incumbent upon a journalist to couch facts in a more complex way because the truth of an issue — whether we’re talking about comic books and music or politics and religion — is almost never simple.

When I was an editor at Comic Book Resources, which is a very popular and very good more-or-less straight news site that adheres to AP standards, my job was to present the readers with facts from my sources or quotes from my interview subjects as plainly as they were presented to me. That material of course went through my language filter and was transmitted to the readers in my writing style, but to interpret, draw conclusions or otherwise comment upon that material in a way that was provocative or advanced some kind of argument was not appropriate in the traditional news context.

At ComicsAlliance, which is a blog, I take the extra step of synthesizing the facts and other relevant information — which I’ve not necessarily gathered myself, something inherent to most blogging — with my “voice” and creating something that I would find fascinating, entertaining, important or otherwise palatable if I were the reader. If I’d written that Muslim Batman piece as a straight news source, it would be a litany of publishing facts like dates, issue numbers and story summaries along with select quotes from the racists in question, with the readers left to make of it what they will. In the blogging context, I was able to take all that information and present it to the readers and make the authoritative, passionate and even humorous argument that those people were in fact racists deserving of scorn and mockery, and then live or die with my readers based on the strength of my words.

I’m not saying that’s necessarily better than straight news — actually, doing things this way is inherently hazardous to your mind and body, as demonstrated by the death threats and other forms of hate mail my colleagues and I receive — but at the moment I find blogging to be more personally fulfilling on a creative level.

To answer your question more succinctly, the main difference between what we colloquially refer to as “journalism” and what we call “blogging” is that the journalist will tell you something exists, while the blogger will tell you why something matters — or in some cases why it doesn’t. In either case, they are equally acts of journalism.

Other than your own, what are the first three content sites/blogs you check when you wake up in the morning? Why?

This might be cheating a little bit, but the first thing I check in the morning is my Tumblr dashboard (which is of course way more than just three sites). The truth is, I really don’t like downloading anything particularly heavy or substantive into my brain right after I wake up, so Tumblr, with its steady stream of pretty photos, silly memes and the occasional news headline and brief summary, is a great way to gently yawn-stretch the mind in the morning.

After that, I check The Daily Swarm, which is an eminently helpful music industry news aggregator with a penchant for spotlighting all that is stupid and absurd in that realm. I don’t work in the music business anymore, so reading about its ceaseless descent into madness and despair is another way to stimulate my mind without having to focus on actual work.

Finally, (God help me), the third site I usually read is Gawker because I have this need to constantly check the time on our culture’s Doomsday Clock. Anything I say that might sound erudite is undone by the fact that I am desperately curious to know what Charlie Sheen said yesterday.

Who are the five most important people you follow on Twitter and why?

My answers to this will probably be completely different tomorrow, but the ones I’ll list here are people whose existences I find necessary to my Twitter experience. In no particular order:

Kurt Busiek (@kurtbusiek), writer of innumerable superhero comics for Marvel and DC, but more importantly, the co-creator of the postmodern masterpiece “Astro City.” Busiek has an unmatched ability to consider issues and controversies both within and outside the comic book industry and make a comment so sensible and true that it pretty much negates the existence of bloggers and pundits altogether. He has a reputation for being “the one sane man in an insane world,” and it’s well deserved. Also, as I said, “Astro City” is an amazing comic book.

Fake AP Stylebook (@FakeAPStylebook). This is one of those Twitter feeds that got itself a book deal, and in this case it’s warranted. Created by Ken Lowery and Mark Hale, the Fake AP Stylebook feed is a brutal torrent of clever inanities that may or may not be hilarious only to journalists like me, who’ve languished under the Associated Press style guide. Example: “It may be necessary to explain to your younger readers that Mubarak is not a Pokemon.”

Rob Sheridan (@rob_sheridan and @demonbaby) is the Creative Director for Nine Inch Nails. Besides designing everything NIN-related for the most of the last decade and co-creating the astonishingly good “Year Zero” alternate reality game, Sheridan is a prolific Tweeter of news, humor, technology, games, politics, memes and other links that are uniformly relevant to my interests, and usually to everybody else’s as well (his follower count is in the tens of thousands). Like what I was saying about Tumblr above, you get a real sense of Sheridan from the links he curates through his Twitter, and he has a great track record of being absolutely right about pretty much everything, particularly digital content issues like piracy. Also, he’s very funny.

Warren Ellis (@WarrenEllis) is the preeminent comic book author of the Web 2.0 age. Going back a decade at least, his embrace of the Internet and social media defined the early boundaries of what artists could do to promote themselves and cultivate a loyal fanbase online. I would almost definitely not be a professional Internet-based writer today were it not for the think tank that was the old Warren Ellis Forum, whose discussions about the nature and possibilities of Web content inspired me to eventually integrate the Internet and my life in a virtually seamless way. Ellis continues to espouse foulmouthed wisdom via his Twitter feed, as well as fascinating links to news, music and art.

Laurenn McCubbin (@laurennmcc) is a brilliant Las Vegas-based artist and designer. Her work is explicitly about issues having to do with sex, feminism and commerce, and what those things have to do with each other. She tweets in that realm and also shares her opinions and links to other editorials or news items about culture, art and politics — again, often having to do with women’s issues — that I always find myself glad to have read. But perhaps more importantly, she’s often the stern school mistress of reason when we — meaning the sort of anarchist commune that is the Web– work ourselves into a voyeuristic frenzy at the expense of some depraved, undone celebrity like Charlie Sheen or the latest cracked-out spastic who’s embarrassed themselves in the unforgiving court of 4Chan. Laurenn warns us that there are deeper, even darker consequences to consider in all of these situations, and that maybe these things aren’t so funny after all. In other words, she’s the Twitter equivalent of your mom catching you jerking off, and I love her for it.

If someone wanted to go to the best comic book store in LA, where would you tell them to go?

The single best thing about Los Angeles is the freedom it affords its diverse and endlessly quirky citizens. Whatever your heart’s desire — an esoteric music club, a craving for a specific cuisine or fondness for virtually any sort of outdoor activity — we’ve got it within 20 minutes or so, and the same applies for comic book stores.

For the boutique shopper looking for the latest hits, cool collectibles or beautiful art books in a hip, Hollywood setting, Meltdown Comics on Sunset is the place to go (full disclosure: I contribute often to the store’s podcast, The Meltcast). For the hardcore Wednesday shopper (new comics go on sale Wednesdays) who wants no fuss and a deep library of well-stocked back-issues and graphic novels to complete their collections, Los Angeles institution Golden Apple on Melrose and La Brea should be first on your list. For the urbane reader of “literary” comics who may prefer the idiosyncratic outskirts of Silver Lake, the lovely Secret Headquarters is as essential as Intelligentsia.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about “The AOL Way” memo leaked from a few weeks ago since ComicsAlliance is a part of AOL. What are your thoughts on it and how has it affected your writing?

I wish I had something more scandalous to say about the AOL Way memo that inspired so much shock and awe, but the truth is that ComicsAlliance already hits most if not all of the metrics and goal posts put forth in that beast of a document, with the exception of the 70% video thing. The other ComicsAlliance editors and myself are professional writers who come from other sites and publications, and we approach everything we do with a eye for relevancy and commercial success. Frankly, I was surprised to see so much bewilderment in the blogosphere over the idea, for example, that writers are expected to create five to 10 posts a day. I mean, if you’re not blogging five to 10 items a day, what are you doing?

About the Author: Andy Yen

Andy loves to live his digital life on the bleeding edge. He usually falls into the category of "early adopter" by being in on new gadgets and beta versions of software and sites. Most of the time it doesn't end up biting him in the ass. He also loves video games and music and curates a site called My Day Will Come if you're into those sorts of things.

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