Several months ago I wrote a post about the return of DC Letters columns. I enthused about the decision and my hope for a better tomorrow vis-a-vis a managed conversation about comics.*
While letter cols no doubt will manage the conversation, there's also no doubt that the internet is an enabler for misplaced entitlement and bad behavior (why DC bothers to have a comment section on its blog is beyond me. Its the same six guys criticizing every single item that goes up) and DC can manage their conversation with fans a bit better.Yesterday was the first time I'd noticed a letter column appearing in my issue of Superman 709, so I decided to use the channel offered to me by DC to share my opinion. While I do not expect to see that letter make it to print, that wasn't the point. I wanted someone at DC to have a chance of seeing a letter telling them "this is working for someone who likes to give you money. Please keep it up." Had I posted to the Message Boards or to a comment on a blog post, most assuredly, civility and a positive message would have been lost in the cacophony.
Of course, DC has had a Bulletin Board/ Message Board for years. And the last time I visited that board regularly was around... 2002 or 2003. Even at that time, the place was becoming hopelessly toxic. About three weeks ago, I accidentally stumbled onto the Boards while looking for help regarding DCU Online, and was completely amazed at the vitriol, ignorance, and stunningly awful grammar found in an Aquaman forum.
That same attitude, which is encouraged all over online (from my local paper to Gawker), had also trickled out to DC's very public blog. Shockingly hateful comments, ignorance and bigotry, disturbing levels of entitlement, ugly personal attacks, and, frankly, an astounding lack of knowledge about the very subject of DC Comics, were on display in the comment sections of virtually every single post. It was a quagmire. And all I could think was "Why is DC giving any of these people a forum to do this in public? And associate this horror with their official site?"
Well, I guess all that's over now.
According to Chris Sims at the Comics Alliance, DC has given up on offering comments on their website and pulled the gate down on the Message Board. I, for one, think this was the right decision, and hope that the change is permanent.
Its also not without very recent precedent. Recently the website for The Comics Journal, the supposed high-brow approach to comics (ahem, comix) underwent a change of management, and in that change, they dropped what some described as the worst-of-the-worst when it came to ill will and misplaced anger. In short, the TCJ Message Board is no more, and the site managers seemed positively relieved.
It was a place that had some virtues but mostly, I think, it was a place where unhappy people went to be even less happy. Its time has more than passed...At the crux of it, I'm not convinced that giving your more insane and obsessive customers a soapbox on your website from which to spend hours each day complaining is very good business. Its a bit like asking the crackhead who wanders by your shop to go ahead and come inside every day from open to close on the off chance he might spend some money.
I'm a DC fan, and I find it off putting. It does not make me want to engage with my fellow fans, and actually kind of makes me dislike my fellow fans. I'm a DC fan, and I would rather fall into a swarm of bees than spend a week moderating the message boards, or get punched just once in the face rather than partake in a discussion on the message boards.
Frankly, media outlets have tried the whole "community" approach, and it doesn't work very well. Self-organizing communities seem to do much better** in this regard, and with social applications now freely available all over the place, I don't think DC owes it to anyone to bother with these tools anymore. After reading about the upcoming Batman release, frankly, I don't care what WildFang666 thinks about the creative team. I care what I think, or maybe what you guys think, or what folks at the comic shop might say (all trusted sources).
Look, the internet is absolutely still out there. Those same few people who decided that the steps of the DC Blog were their hobo camp can claim a WordPress site or go off to Blogger. But I think I'll be happier if DC takes steps to just let the comics and work speak for itself. We don't need to know what DarkKnightBlade has to say. I'm good, thanks.
Will this become a new trend? Well, I don't see sites that are the business having much luck dropping comments. The sense of community is part of what makes the site go, but its sad to know how much time must be spent moderating comments (its sort of the depressing factory job of the 21st Century). But for sites trying to sell an actual product...? I don't know. And that product could be anything from comic books to soda to actual news.
I assume the generation that grew up with internet comments as a standard issue part of life will be shocked. But for some of us who can remember a time when you needed an internet connection and a valid email to get into print or part of a conversation, we remember getting along just fine. Editors edited and responded to letters, and there was the concept of the crank file. Sadly, the crank file has become the discussion, and not just in comics.***
So, I vote for keeping it down. Your primary job is to make comics, not babysit crazy people.
For someone who has embraced the insanity, I recommend Estate 4.1, who posts the best comments from wire services articles. After you get done weeping for humanity, its actually pretty darn funny.
*I just totally quoted myself. And that is terrible.
**I think you may have seen how quickly I've clamped down on comments around here when we've had a drive-by troll or two, and there's an astoundingly polite and friendly bunch of commenters on this site... in part due to the site's smallish readership. Also, note I've patted myself on the back twice now in footnotes.
***CNN - cannot tell you how sad it makes me when you spend time reading Tweets on air or inviting anyone with an iPhone to submit content.