Dirk Deppey on Journalista

There’s no corner of the sequential art industry that gets ignored, thanks to Dirk Deppey. As the linking dynamo behind Journalista, Deppey has built a web presence that is a daily stop for anyone who wants to stay informed about comics. Deppey took time out of his recent vacation to answer a few questions on his role as TCJ.com online editor and his past gig as managing editor of The Comics Journal.

Tim O’Shea: Some people mistakenly assume your responsibility as TCJ.com’s online editor is to do Journalista. What all do you do as online editor?

Dirk Deppey: Journalista’s a big part of it, yes — I mean, it requires anywhere from six to twelve hours a day, depending on what’s out there, so it takes up the overwhelming majority of my time. The other big job is producing the online edition of the print magazine for subscribers, which entails turning the text and images into something Web-friendly, which while not as time-intensive as the blog still takes a significant amount of work. There are also the random online-only goodies, nominal policing of the message board and whatever else rears its ungainly head. I probably put in a good 50-55 hours a week on the website, all told.

O’Shea: I’ve been amazed at how long you have done Journalista, how do you avoid burnout. After stepping away from Journalista v.1, what drew you back in to do v.2 of it?

Deppey: A regular paycheck, and the prospect of doing it from home in Tucson, Arizona. Burnout’s an issue, but not that significant of one — so long as I remember that this is a marathon and not a sprint, I generally manage to keep from overworking myself. Hell, I’m working in my jammies from my living room, doing something I love. This is the best job ever.

I’d pretty much done everything I’d set out to do as managing editor of the print version of The Comics Journal — I think the only thing I hadn’t ticked off the list was a proper webcomics issue, if only to make up for a horrible botched attempt at same by a previous editor. By and large, though, I’d run out of ideas for the magazine, and it was looking like time to hand the reins over to someone else. Our advertising manager, Matt Silvie, mentioned that he’d have an easier time of selling ads on the website if I was doing the blog again, and so I dashed off a proposal and was surprised to discover that Gary was amenable to the notion.

O’Shea: Do you consider yourself to be in competition with Tom Spurgeon and Heidi MacDonald, or do you regard them more as allies in your effort to cover everything BUT DC and Marvel?

Deppey: Well, Heidi does in fact seem to devote most of her efforts to the New York corporate-comics publishing scene (and its associated media tie-ins). That’s not a value judgment, but it does put her on a
different “beat” than Tom and myself, by and large, so I’m not sure you can even make the case that we’re in competition to begin with. [Editor’s note: Deppey is right, MacDonald definitely covers DC and Marvel, so my initial question was flawed.]

As for Tom, I see us as more complementary than competitive. There are minor differences between us, of course — I’m more into webcomics and manga than he is, while Tom can kick my ass where newspaper comics and Eurocomics are concerned — but the biggest difference is one of approach: I go for breadth, while Tom goes for depth. That is, I post a
wide variety of links that are broken down by category but otherwise are given pretty much equal emphasis, whereas Tom selects a few items and offers more analysis on them, giving the rest short shrift. It seems to me that you can read both blogs and not feel like you’ve read the same thing twice. Consequently, it’s not something that I really worry about.

O’Shea: Did you come out of the womb with a strong distaste of the two mainstream comics companies’ product–or did young Dirk Deppey have a hankering for an issue of Spidey every once and awhile?

Deppey: My first comic book was a Boris Karloff comic, followed by a parentally mandated run of Archie comics that I don’t even remember reading, followed by the one that hooked me: the Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics. I must have checked that out of my local library a dozen times before I’d turned ten.

After that, I spent a fair amount of money (for a working-class elementary-school kid) buying a given Marvel title at my local Circle-K, not really liking it, and moving on to another one hoping I’d find something better. Sometimes I’d like an individual story — I remember that Project Pegasus run from Marvel Two-in-One, and I discovered Gerber’s Howard the Duck by buying the last issue published before he and Marvel parted ways — but the only titles that I ever read for any real length of time were Claremont and Byrne’s early run of Uncanny X-Men, Mantlo and Golden’s Micronauts, Moench and Sinkiewicz’s Moon Knight and Wolfman and Perez’ New Teen Titans. And then I got to high school, discovered Henry Miller and set aside the funnybooks for a few years.

(I can in fact remember the exact moment when I fell out with Marvel. It was the penultimate issue of Claremont and Miller’s original Wolverine miniseries… that was in 1982, which would have made me 14 or thereabouts. There was a fight scene between Wolverine and a bunch of ninja on a kabuki stage, in which he does that beserker thing and just starts hacking at them. When he’s done, there’s a pile of bloody bodies on the stage and a page of purple prose meant to be Wolverine’s voiceover narrative, and sandwiched in the middle of it — in what was obviously a different letterer’s hand — was a caption box reading “They’re lucky they’re still breathing.” Which struck me as nuts; the guy had just indiscriminately cut them all apart with knives, right? Then the thought hit me: “Well, it IS a children’s comic, after all…” and with that, the spell was broken and I stopped reading comic books. I didn’t get back to them until some four years later, when Alan Moore and Los Bros Hernandez comics sucked me back in.)

O’Shea: When podcasts became the flavor of the month did you ever consider moving Journalista! into a format like Rocketboom?

Deppey: No. I’ve toyed a couple of times with the idea of doing a regular podcast, but the extra time it would take would probably wind up being the straw that broke the camel’s back. There’s more than enough on my plate right now, thank you.

O’Shea: With the Internet landscape changing on a daily basis, do you expect you may move on from Journalista! in the next few years?

Deppey: I can’t see it at present; I’m fairly happy where I am right now.

O’Shea: With readership of newspapers and magazines seemingly on decline, do you envision a major increase in online subscriptions to TCJ in the next few years?

Deppey: Not in the short term, no. Our readership tends to be overwhelmingly print-centric — I went back and looked a few months ago, and while every subscriber who gives us an e-mail address gets online log-in information sent to them, it seems that maybe one in ten at most ever access the subscriber area.

We have offered online-only subs for a few months now, and while they do sell in a steady trickle, it’s still a relatively small fraction of the overall readership. I suspect this will grow over time, but not dramatically so.

O’Shea: Are there certain creators or books you’ve championed in recent years that have not gotten the attention you think they or it warrants?

Deppey: Oh, sure: I think Eddie Campbell is one of the best longform cartoonists working in the English language right now, and he hasn’t gotten remotely his due. Paul Grist‘s cartooning is a joy to read, and I miss his police-procedural series Kane immensely.

A number of the cartoonists featured in the comics section during my run on the print magazine were people whose work I’d seen in fragments and wanted to own in print, so seeing books announced containing work by people like Boody Rogers and Nell Brinkley is like a dream come true for me. I hope they sell.

Ai Yazawa — it was her fashion-romance series Paradise Kiss that first convinced me that there was good work waiting to be found in the manga section of your local bookstore. Yazawa’s work reminds me of one of my favorite filmmakers, Pedro Almodovar, in how it effortlessly mixes characterization and plot with a skill and verve that only Gilbert Hernandez can match. Her current series, Nana, is a hard sell insofar as its a rock-n-roll soap opera that skews too adult for the otaku, too lowbrow for the lit-comics types and too girly for the Wednesday Crowd, but I swear on a stack of Bibles: Nana is easily one of the best comics in serialization at the moment. Each volume is like candy to me.

In fact, there are a bunch of manga artists whose work has fallen between the cracks because it doesn’t hit the teenager sweet spot. Iou Kuroda. Jiro Taniguchi. Ariyoshi Kyoko’s Swan should be on the bookshelf of anyone seriously studying the language of comics — she took the emerging visual tropes of shoujo manga and turned them into a dazzling
symphony of graphic invention, the likes of which I haven’t seen since Howard Chaykin’s work in the 1980s. Mari Okazaki’s Suppli has turned out to be an absorbing office romance worthy of a massive twentysomething readership, but no such readership seems to exist at the moment and it looks like Tokyopop may be about to give it the axe. Jesus, then there’s Moto Hagio

O’Shea: Would it be fair to say that Journalista is typically awash with cynicism and snark? Has there ever been a time that, when you found out more about a story, caused you to regret your initial tone that you took?

Deppey: Maybe at first, back when I was still figuring out how the whole blogging thing worked, but I like to think that I’ve learned to hold back the bile for people and situations that actually deserve it.

O’Shea: Do you think you personally have had more of an impact on improving The Comics Journal during your two-year stint as managing editor or currently as the online editor?

Deppey: I think that I was an average Journal editor, all told, but with the possible exception of the shoujo-manga and 30th-anniversary issues, I find it almost impossible to open an issue I edited without seeing my many, many mistakes. I was learning on the job; I’d never edited a magazine before, and there were all too many places where it showed.

I suppose I’ve probably done better with the blog, all told, simply because I’m less out of my element online than in print. Beyond that, I really can’t say — I’m just too close to it to have any kind of objectivity.