06.Mar.2011 Comics Comics Gang Takes Over The Comics Journal
Tim Hodler and Dan Nadel Assume Editorship of tcj.com
by BK Munn
The long-rumoured changes at venerable comics news and criticism magazine The Comics Journal have finally materialized. It was officially announced today that the publishers of Comics Comics magazine and blog will assume the reins of the new online incarnation of the Journal. According to a statement in a post by new editors Tim Hodler and Dan Nadel, the team is not taking over the print edition of the magazine: “Gary Groth is the editor of the annual print edition (issue 301 in stores soon!), and Kristy Valenti is our editorial coordinator at the Fantagraphics home office. Our goal is to produce an online magazine about comics as a living medium [...] The Comics Journal was a huge influence on both of us, and when Gary offered the opportunity to help shape it, the challenge was too good to pass up. So here we are..”
It’s amazing to me that in this world of instant transmission the news did not leak out earlier. I can only speculate that the reason it didn’t is that everyone involved is very trustworthy and/or likes to keep secrets or simply respect both The Journal and Comic Comics enough not to spoil the surprise and the work of those involved. I heard of the plans in January from someone who’d been approached to submit an article to the new iteration, but things really started to heat up when the Journal dumped a number of its writers and blogs February 14, indicating some sort of change was in the air. A comment on the Hooded Utilitarian blog let the cat out of the bag February 15 shortly after Tom Spurgeon reported that a big announcement was scheduled for March 1, and the word quickly spread to Twitter. Although the March 1 deadline passed without comment, perhaps to avoid any crossover or confusion with a new digital version of the churlish and feeble Wizard magazine which debuted Friday, the new online version of the Journal appeared unheralded and fully-formed earlier today.
The Comics Comics crew brings a catholic appreciation of comic art in all its myriad forms, coupled with a critical eye and a cutting-edge design sense that should make the new Journal a very interesting place indeed, hopefully returning the magazine to something of its former glory. Ringleader Dan Nadel is well-known as a writer, publisher, designer, teacher, and curator of comics-related projects. Through his Picturebox publishing house and Comics Comics magazine, Nadel has championed the work of the post-Fort Thunder generation of cartoonists as well as the oft-neglected work of a bevy of oddball artists and oldschool vets. Through his two books, Art Out of Time and Art In Time, Nadel has thrown a spotlight on aesthetically and critically-marginalized comic strip artists, underground cartoonists, and children’s comic book creators of the 20th Century, applying an art critics’ eye and an accessible writing style to work that is too often judged from the point of view of the literary critic, censor, or fan-collector. The same sort of looking at old work from a fresh perspective has also been the work of the Comics Comics zine and blog, which has been characterized by lively discussion and historically-grounded writing by Nadel’s co-editors Frank Santoro and Tim Hodler, as well as contributors including Jeet Heer and Joe “Jog” McCulloch –the same crew now tasked with reinvigorating the Comics Journal. Most importantly, Nadel’s co-editor at the new Journal, Tim Hodler, a co-founder of The Ganzfeld and an editor of Comics Comics, is a sophisticated comics critic with a background in the world of New York City book publishing and editing.
Founded in 1976 when Mike Catron and Gary Groth purchased The Nostalgia Journal fanzine tabloid (the name changed with issue 32, January 1977), The Comics Journal shortly became known for its career-spanning interviews with major comics creators, as well as caustic critical commentary and in-depth investigative reporting of the seedier aspects of the U.S. comics industry. Along the way, the Journal introduced a bevy of critics and writers (including modern comics blogosphere mainstays Heidi MacDonald and Tom Spurgeon) and an entire new wave of comics creators to its readership. The magazine endured multiple lawsuits as well as talent migrations, format changes, and a shifting comics and comics news publication landscape, while maintaining a balanced focus on comics history and the contemporary comics industry, its various offshoots, subcultures, and movements. Always a champion of comics as art, Journal publisher Gary Groth eventually teamed with co-publisher Kim Thompson to begin publishing comics under the Fantagraphics banner, most famously launching the Hernandez Brothers’ Love and Rockets and helping to usher in the 1980s and 90s alternative comics movement.
After its landmark issue #300, the Journal proceeded with a controversial redesign of the website, followed by an almost complete abandonment of print through an annual publishing schedule (the upcoming #310 is over 600 pages long), and effectively ceded the online voice and direction of the magazine to a disparate group of bloggers and columnists, with no overwhelming editorial direction or design visible. In late 2010 they laid off blogger and former Comics Journal editor Dirk Deppey, shuttering their flagship linkblog Journalista, and setting the scene for today’s development.
The new Journal site displays a clean redesign and a cornucopia of features, including a preview of Seth’s upcoming graphic novel on the imagined history of Canadian cartooning, and promises columns by Frank Santoro (Riff Raff) and Jeet Heer (Comics Chronicles), as well as articles by Matt Seneca, Ken Parille, Ryan Holmberg, Sean T. Collins, Rob Clough, Richard Gehr, and long-time Journal columnists R.C. Harvey and R. Fiore.