Monday, April 9, 2012

Interview: Thirteen Minutes

13 for Thirteen

  I recently read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. O.K., it was a 'book on CD,' but still effort (when was the last time you spent fifteen hours and forty-five minutes listening to anything?). Ahem. Cline's story takes place in a dystopia where the only respite from a cafeteria of catastrophes is the 'Oasis,' a virtual reality that is as lifelike as life, but, you know, not. All of the characters -- Wil Wheaton narrates so, everyone sounded to me like Gordy LaChance -- are only known to each other by their user names in the Oasis and not their 'real names.' To sacrifice one's anonymity in Ready Player One, to tell someone your 'real name' is sacrosanct, a holy thing; and face-to-face contact, outside of the Oasis, is nearly verboten. This is, I’m well aware, a long wind-up, so here's the pitch: I've never met Justin Giampaoli or even heard his voice, we live on opposite sides of the continent, but we communicate over email and Twitter several times a week, which has given me the (false?) impression that I know this guy … he's one cool cat, a tastemaker and the kind of writer (and blogger) that I hope to, one day, emulate. The characters in Ready Player One bond over nineteen-eighties ephemera and video games, they are the dearest of dear friends and yet they never meet [spoiler!] until the darkest of dark hours. At Thirteen Minutes, Justin's blog, I've found an oasis myself, maybe more like the ancient library of Alexandria, a place where an encyclopedic knowledge of comic books (current and past) stands shoulder-to-shoulder with shrines to favorite writers and artists and all of it curated with carefully-crafted criticism that is never lazy, dispassionate or dismissive. When I asked Justin if I could send him some questions, he was game.  He did mention that he thought bloggers interviewing bloggers was the nadir of … blogging, but that didn't stop him from writing some six thousand words. So, think of this as one of those old-school Rolling Stone interviews (Justin offered up old-school Esquire) from the '80's or better yet the '70's, a quasi-rambling conversation that reads like the best B.S. session, the type that occur in the small-hours between fast-friends, who have never met.  

Sophisticated Fun: What’s the significance behind the title of your blog, 13 Minutes?

Thirteen Minutes: I should have a better canned answer for this, but I don't. It was a confluence of three different things in my brain. First, when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, I used to frequent an award-winning comics shop in San Jose called Hijinx Comics, which was owned by an intrepid and charismatic fellow Silicon Valley Refugee named Dan Shahin. He used to tell me that there doesn’t have to be much symbolism behind a name, it just has to sound cool. He'd say "what would you rather do, visit 'Dan's Comics' or [and he'd move in real close and whisper this with a wild-eyed subversive smirk] come be a part of "the wacky hijinx?" It was just about standing out from the crowd. Dan actually gave me my first paying job reviewing comics for his retailer web-site around 2003 or 2004, essentially giving me store credit for whatever books I wanted to review. Second, I just didn’'t want the word "comics" in the title. Originally, I had lofty aspirations of getting more people involved and cranking out music and movie reviews too (something I'd done in the past), for a wider stab at pop culture. Lastly, it's a nod to a really obscure DC Comics character named Traci Thirteen. She came close to a brush with popularity a few years ago in a book called Dr. Thirteen: Architecture & Mortality by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang.

SF: You were writing (and writing about) comics books before starting 13 Minutes in November of 2005. How has blogging changed how you think and write about comics?

TM: When I started the blog, I felt like there was a big gap in the market. On one end of the critical spectrum, you had the sometimes haughty erudition of the Art Comix essays at TheComics Journal. On the other end, it was the largely vapid frat boy humor of Wizard Magazine. I didn't feel like anybody was writing the types of reviews that I wanted to read, that reflected my personal reading habits. My reading interests always varied widely based on my social circle on the fringes of the industry. I mean, I can absolutely get down with the latest Tom Neely book from Sparkplug Comic Books, but I'd also like a fucking decent X-Men book once in a while, you know? I just remember thinking about reviews that 'I could do this as good, if not better,' than what I was currently seeing online. This is part of the reason I really miss the short-lived Comic Foundry, a magazine that Tim Leong and Laura Hudson (now EIC at Comics Alliance) put together. It bridged that gap pretty well.
  Now that I’ve been blogging a few years, I think one substantive change is that a whole crop of other writers have come along to fill that void I perceived. I'll just rattle a few off, but there are people like David Brothers, and Andy Khouri, and Abhay Khosla, and Sean T. Collins, and Kelly Thompson, who have all elevated the review game and the level of discourse, yet kept it totally accessible at the same time. The Comics Journal has even changed its format and leans a little closer to center now. Brothers, for example, will go from reviewing Marvel's Immortal Iron Fist to Brandon Graham's King City, weaving in all sorts of music and pop culture references, without skipping a beat. In fact, some of his most interesting posts are about race relations and may only tangentially touch on comics. I love that there seems to be less compartmentalization. People just follow their passions, wherever they lead. These writers are coming at reviews with all sorts of abstract approaches, generating interesting and entertaining content. Maybe it's time for me to move on to the next thing.
  To answer your question a little more precisely, reading comics for 30+ years and writing about them for over ten years has made me cautiously optimistic. When I start thinking that I've seen it all, that it's rare something will come along and surprise me or inspire me, it's then that I'll find a book or creator that does just that. I find that I like considering things critically, I like articulating a thoughtful opinion. It's not enough to say, "I like this" or "I don’t like this," I want to know why it does or doesn't work. I see a lot of overlap here with my day job, where I’m largely a problem-solver, coming into organizations in a leadership capacity, or externally as a consultant, and really identifying organizational effectiveness, strategy flaws, process breakdowns and communication problems.
  I also noticed, and this is just within the last couple years of reviewing/writing -- for three sites concurrently -- something about my reading behavior. It's that reading to review is a much different experience for me than reading for pleasure, for pure entertainment. Being deliberately conscious of my reactions and constantly cataloguing pros and cons tends to push me out of the work a little. Sometimes I have to remind, or force, myself to give in to the process, to surrender to the story in order to fully enjoy it. I'll make an effort to worry about organizing my thoughts when I'm done, rather than in real-time as I'm reading. I hate that distracting feeling, reading a book and thinking "ohmygod what am I gonna’ say about this?!" Sometimes, I yearn for that total immersion, reading just for sheer love of the game. That's one of the marks of a great book for me today; if I reach the last page and suddenly realize that I was so captured by the art and swept away by the narrative that I didn’t even remember to jot down a single note or type a single word.

SF: You've written mini-comics and you have others in the works, but you are primarily a critic. How has your criticism affected/influenced this (other) creative work of yours?

TM: It goes both ways. Having written comics and self-published them has definitely tempered much of the snark in my reviews. Not all, but most. Snark for the sake of snark is pointless. It's cheap and fast and common, and I'd rather produce something more lasting. Having struggled with scripts, hammered out the dialogue, done my crappy stick figure thumbnails, worked with artists, and dealt with printing, distribution, and marketing headaches, all that, even on a very small scale, makes you understand what creators go through. I mean, nobody sets out with the goal of making a shitty comic. Yet it happens all the time. Even in a comic that does not work at all for me, even if I give it a poor review, I always try to find balance. I always try to find something positive to sandwich in between all the negatives if I can, or to comment on what the creator was going for and how it must have fallen short, just to acknowledge the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into any creative endeavor.
  On the flip side, having been in the review trenches for a while has really honed my eye. I look back on the first couple comics I did and can really find some flaws critically. They were done with reckless abandon, trying to hit deadlines for certain shows or whatever, more obsessed with getting them done than how they got done. And while there's a certain raw flair to that young brash bravado, they do possess technical problems that I'd love to correct if I knew then what I know now. Still, making your own mini-comic is actually something I'd encourage any reviewer to do. Sometimes I see some reviews that point out problems with the "art," but what they're really picking up on has nothing to do with the pencils. It might be an inking or coloring or printing problem, but they can't even discern that because the reviewer doesn't grasp the fundamental process.

SF: By their nature, blogs are personal statements, opinion. How do you maintain a line between your opinions and maintaining some degree of critical distance when it comes to blogging?

TM: In the early 00's, I did some writing for the long-defunct Savant Magazine, which was a self-described "Comics Activism" site that advocated some very guerrilla marketing ideology. It was a cultural touchstone at a very precise moment in the history of online criticism. At the time, a (then) little-known writer named Matt Fraction used to hang out there. Savant was really the first time I saw the audience collectively pushing back on creators in a meaningful way. We were just coming out of the Hologram-Die-Cut-Cover-Polybagged-Spawn-Pog-Death-of-Superman-Trading- Card-Speculator-90's. These writers were demanding better content. Aggressively. They were indie friendly, but not at the exclusion of Big Two Comics. They just wanted quality; the source was irrelevant. These writers weren't afraid to call out crap as "crap." Conversely, they weren't shy about shouting the praises of a good book from the rooftops. I mean, this stuff was actually enumerated in the mission statement of the site, a site which got "retarded hits," as Fraction likes to say in interviews, and drew a lot of attention. Point being, they were not afraid to voice a strong opinion, but backed it up with evidence. I loved that. It taught me something.
  To answer your question, I don't think I do, to tell you the truth. I don't try to consciously maintain a line between opinion and critical distance. I blur the line. That's what really drew me to blogging in the first place: that you have the creative freedom to speak your mind, without being beholden to an editor, or a house style, or a specific format, or some type of journalistic detachment, or fear of alienating sponsors, or whatever. I want to write about work I'm passionate about, and passion is very personal and subjective, so I don't think it's intellectually honest, or even logical, to position an intimate response as being objective. Now, my personal sort of work ethic is that I will always try to back up my opinion with facts. You're entitled to your opinion, but not your own set of facts, so I try to use that as common ground. Before I say the art sucks, I'll try to find at least three instances of that -- because as my high school stats teacher Mr. Embry said "three points make a trend" -- to support my statement. If the perspective or proportions are flawed, and I can cite evidence of that in multiple panels, then it's hard to argue the point if I can position it as fact.
  One of the only real hard and fast "rules" I had to impose ethically is that I won't promise anybody a good review. Period. It could be a creator friend I've known for years or someone I just met at a con. I do promise *a* review of anything I’m comp'd on, but I can only promise my honest opinion, which could ultimately be positive or negative. I've actually had a few guys challenge me on this, situations where creators at cons would offer me a comp copy *wink* *wink* in exchange for a positive review. It's like, sorry, but I don’t need free comics that badly. I've actually had to turn people down and have gotten into mild philosophical arguments over this kind of Faustian Deal. I've had some creators even get really mad when I pointed out typos in their work. That's just ridiculous to me. There's no shortcut. Clearly these people are not serious about comics, don't understand how the press works, and are not interested in improving their craft. To me, it's worth the risk of offending someone if it means that they can trust that every word is my true opinion. It also means that they can actually believe me when I compliment their work.

SF: You compare discovering new comic books (i.e. good comic books) to panning for gold. Does the internet make finding comics easier or does it make it more difficult due to too much information and/or too much noise/distractions?

TM: Both. It makes the access easier. Meaning I can find things online, I can look at an informal network of recommendations, I can make purchases online, I have access to work that I probably wouldn't be exposed to because of my routine habits, or because of geographic proximity. But, it also makes the filtering process more cumbersome because of the sheer volume. The issue isn't a lack of content you enjoy, it’s how do you filter through the sea of other content you're not interested in? When EVERYTHING is available, how do you find SOMETHING? How do I find Ryan Cecil Smith’s reinterpretation of Matsumoto Leiji’s 1979 sci-fi comics amid the morass of YA manga out there, all the European sci-fi comics, all the mini-comics distributors online, and Dynamite Entertainment’s mediocre Voltron series? How would I even know that that book existed? I think Warren Ellis referred to this as "the attention economy" of the internet. You're not necessarily fighting for market-share in a financial sense, but for mind-share, for people's finite attention span. When you can look at anything, but can't possibly look at everything, how do you decide where to focus?  In my experience, you find voices you like, you gravitate toward them, and ultimately you place some trust in them. You do this with enough sources and suddenly you've built a customized network of credible opinions that can help you navigate the overloaded thoroughfares of the information superhighway. For example, Don MacPherson has been a comic book reviewer for a long time. He has a loyal following. He's got journalistic training, so there's a very fair and reasoned and objective slant to his reviews. I appreciate what he does from a technical standpoint. But, he and I rarely agree on comics. If he likes a book, I usually won't. If I like a book, he'll usually slam it in a review. It rarely fails. I’m also not entertained by his writing, which I find to be pretty dry and rote. [Sometimes, even if I disagree with what a reviewer is saying, the delivery will be so entertaining that I’ll follow their work anyway. I'd put Tucker Stone in this category]. So, just for me personally, I don’t put a lot of weight in Don’s critical feedback. Now, someone like you comes along and says hey, maybe consider checking out The Strange Talent of Luther Strode and voila! I buy it, because the source of that opinion has established credibility with me. On the creative side, the same rules largely apply. If a creator like Noah Van Sciver or Julia Gfrorer puts out a new mini-comic, I'm first in line. It's an automatic purchase, something I don’t even think about or hesitate on, because these creators have a long track record of entertaining me, of making me think about the world differently, and sparking some very interesting critical responses. I trust them as creators not to disappoint. 
SF: I'm impressed at your dedication to post new reviews on Wednesdays. There are a lot of mainstream sites with legions of reviewers, why do you make such an effort to be timely and what does the blog gain from your efforts?

TM: Well, sometimes it'll stretch to Thursday or Friday, but there's definitely a commitment to weekly review posts, so thanks. When you really look hard, so many comic book sites just don't consistently do regular ol' weekly reviews. Sometimes I question the value that reviews actually add, if they ever really "move the needle" in a significant way. Initially, this was another one of those gaps I saw in the market. On the rare occasion I'd find a reviewer whose style I liked, I'd read weekly reviews for a bit, and then their sites would just stagnate for long periods, seemingly abandoned. Nobody goes back to those sites. The gain for me is that successful blogs are consistent. There's something to be said for reliability and fresh content. I mean, love it or hate it, you know if you come to Thirteen Minutes, there's going to be at least three new posts or so every week. That said, it's definitely a balancing act between timeliness and quality. There are weeks when I feel I'm sacrificing a little quality or in-depth analysis just because I want to get something posted. On those occasions -- when I really feel like I have something more to say -- I'll go back and do a deeper dive on a graphic novel or collected edition or whatever. And, it's instant gratification really. When I see a good movie, I immediately want to talk about it with my friends and family who've seen it, or encourage them to go see it if they haven't. I want to go read what Roger Ebert had to say about it, so there's also that larger social aspect, wanting to instigate or participate in a conversation.
  I also think that not only am I trying to offer efficient and skilled reviews, merely for the end goal of the discourse itself (because writers are compelled to write, not for fortune, not for glory, but because they simply can’t not write), but because I want the audience to know if a book is worth their time or hard-earned money. I believe I'm a part of the filtering process. That's why I bother attaching grades to the reviews. I hate getting to the end of a review that's degenerated into nothing more than a plot summary, and being left with the "ok, but is this any good or not?" question. Some people think that the letter grades objectify the work or simplify the review process, but it's not meant to diminish the gravitas of art. It's just a consumer guide, and everyone has their own rating threshold for perceived value. So, for the audience that finds me a credible voice, I can help filter out the crap and point them to titles they should be supporting or are otherwise unaware of. On the creative side, I'd like to think creators who trust me and want honest feedback are being offered some small measure of value too. The reviews will either confirm that their intent was achieved, or flag something they might tweak in the future, or even just consider subliminally in their process the next time they sit down to create.

SF: Other than honesty (and an internet connection) do bloggers have a responsibility to their readers or the writers and artists they cover in what they contribute to the critical conversation?

TM: I hate to overlay a business model onto your question, but I think a blogger's degree of responsibility to readers and/or creators depends on what they're getting paid to do. If you're working for one of the bigger sites like CBR or Comics Alliance in some paid gig, then you absolutely have a responsibility to write with the tone, format, and timeliness you were hired to do. I've had editors who were sticklers for things like listing all the creator credits, and the price, and the page count, etc. If that's what I'm being paid for, that's what I produce. That's boring to me, though, and I don't do that at Thirteen Minutes. It's more conversational in tone, like I'm telling one of my friends about the book.
  If you're not being compensated in some fashion -- and that professional arrangement doesn't apply -- then I think it comes down to the work ethic of the personality involved. For me, yeah, I believe I do have a responsibility to my readers and to the creators who bother to investigate the critical feedback I provide. I think that's what creates loyalty: knowing you're going to get a reliable, thoughtful, and honest opinion, one that's hopefully halfway intelligent or illuminating, and one that you'll hopefully be entertained by in the process.
  However, there's a limit to that sense of obligation. I like people who have contrarian opinions, and I like getting comments and feedback, even if they disagree (in a civil manner) with me. If you consistently don't like what I'm saying and just want to engage in mindless argument, then don’t read my site, pick another of the thousands of comics blogs to harangue, or start your own damn blog. I have very low tolerance for blatant sniping. All of these troll comments are "tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Sorry, I had to work in a literary reference in order to establish my street cred around here.

SF: You review comics from both mainstream and independent publishers, but how did you get involved reviewing mini-comics?

TM: I’ve always reviewed mini-comics to some degree, because of the books I came across through friends or acquaintances in the Bay Area, which has a very vibrant indie scene, and then supplemented that with finds at conventions, store signings, etc., but it really took off when I joined Poopsheet Foundation in 2009. I'd actually sent one of my mini-comics, Blood Orange, in for review to Rick Bradford, who owns the site. Rob Clough, a reviewer I really respect, ultimately did review a pair of my mini-comics, but Rick discovered Thirteen Minutes in the process and asked me if I'd be interested in a reviewing position. It's been a very deep dive into that corner of the medium. So far, I've done something like 320 mini-comics reviews at the Poopsheet Foundation alone. I guess word spread, because now I'm getting mini-comics creators from all over sending me their work directly.
  The "panning for gold" analogy certainly applies. In the mainstream, the ratio of silt/gold is probably 90/10. For mini-comics, the ratio is even more ridiculous because things are being produced at such an amateur level the majority of the time. The ratio is probably more like 5%, yeah, I'd say that one in twenty mini-comics, on average, will grab my attention.  That's the small pool of the crème de la crème in mini-comics. I was following creators like Tom Neely, Trevor Alixopulos, Katie Skelly, or Austin English prior to my involvement at PF, but without that job I can honestly say I probably never would have discovered the work of some other creators like Lauren Barnett, Brendan Leach, Patrick Keck, Kelly Clancy, Mari Ahokoivu, or Mike Bertino.

SF: Can mini-comics benefit from digital distribution?

TM: From a business perspective, digital makes all the sense in the world. From crowd-funding tools like Kickstarter, to gauging reprint demand for work initially published online, to outright digital distribution like DC, Marvel, and the other majors are currently doing, it's absolutely worth exploring. I think that's the direction that the industry is experimenting with right now, though it's far too immature a model to measure the long term viability and effects of yet. From the content perspective though, I think print is just endemic to the true comics experience. I want the tangible object. I love books. It's tactile and very sensory. I want to be able to hold the physical thing, flip it, feel it, touch it, smell it, open it, run my hands across the spine, see the paper quality, the way light hits the ink, the print quality, put it in my back pocket, chuck it in the recycling bin when I hate it, stack it on a shelf, give it to a friend. When you talk about mini-comics, I think that’s even more the case. There's such a wide variation in styles and format with minis, embossed covers, letterpress printing, newsprint format, hand-assembly, inventive construction techniques, silk-screened covers, different bindings, the list just goes on and on, and all that diversity, that joie de vivre, would be lost with a digital model. Artistically, I think it would be a major blow to the appeal of what makes mini-comics intrinsically mini-comics, purely as unique objets d’art.

SF: One of the premier critiques on 13 Minutes is The Brian Wood Project. In a post from December 2005, you wrote, ''Impressive debut [Local]. Brian Wood’s scripting finally starting to grow on me.'' How did your appreciation for Wood go from ‘growing on me’ to writing the introduction to the trade paperback (available June 6, 2012) for DMZ Volume 12: ''The Five Nations of New York''?

TM: I think 2005 was a turning point for Brian creatively. I’d read Channel Zero in 1997, Couscous Express in 2001, and Pounded in 2003, and I liked them all just fine, but it wasn't really because they were branded for me as "Brian Wood books." That idea wasn't in my vernacular yet. Honestly, at that time, I was reading so much at that time that I probably didn't even make the conscious connection that they were all written by the same guy. I came in late to the serialized Demo singles in '03 because it was getting so much buzz, especially in the Bay Area, where the original publisher AiT/PlanetLar was located.
  I'd just moved to San Diego and started the blog in 2005, which was coincidentally right when Local and DMZ started. It was like something just clicked in my brain. Suddenly, there was Brian Wood. Dude spoke to me, what can I say? I just *got* what he was doing on an intuitive level. I started to see these inter-textual connections in the work, and really identify with his authorial voice. I rushed out and caught up on most of the other books I'd missed. His whole creative library just fell into place and made sense to me. [At the time] I was kind of getting mad at the comics community because I didn't think he was getting the acclaim that he deserved. The name "Brian Wood" had suddenly become synonymous with quality comics, and he became a creative voice, an aesthetic, that I was loyal to -- straddling that sweet spot between indie swagger and mainstream appeal. Local was probably closest to a universally praised book from him, and Oni Press ultimately published this gorgeous oversized hardcover. DMZ is still his longest running book to date at seventy-two issues, one of the longest in Vertigo history, and it garnered all kinds of mainstream press because of its social relevance.
  I reviewed the crap out DMZ and Local, and followed suit with reviews of Supermarket and Northlanders when they began in '06. Brian is very media savvy, found the reviews, and we started some online correspondence which was initially very sporadic. I remember him pushing back on a review of Northlanders and clarifying what his intentions were with the script. I think we first met in person in 2007 at San Diego Comic-Con. Honestly, my first impression of the guy was that he was kind of aloof and dismissive. In hindsight, having a brief conversation with someone on the tail end of a con marathon, who is likely jetlagged and burnt out of talking to other humans probably isn't the ideal setting to form the basis of a meaningful opinion about someone. Haha! I've also learned in the years that have passed since, that we're probably alike, in the sense that oftentimes people who don't know us well can mistake our quiet confidence and self-reliance for disinterest or arrogance. 
  In 2010, I wrote The Brian Wood Project after repeatedly joking that I wanted to write a Brian Wood book, one that examined the consistent themes running in his work. I guess that sort of cemented our burgeoning friendship. We're not 'besties' or anything, but there's mutual trust there. I've really learned a lot from him about how the industry works and about placing value in your own intellectual property. LIVE FROM THE DMZ became a reality in 2011, and when plans for the final volume of DMZ began in late 2011 for a mid-2012 release, the short story is that the collected editions editor approached me as a sort of "DMZ historian," and offered me the work-for-hire assignment. I'll gush and say I honestly can’t wait for it to come out. It’s a piece I'm really proud of, and it's such an honor to not only bring the final volume of the series home, but to have a high profile forum to comment on it within the context of his larger body of work.

SF: How did ''Live from the DMZ'' come about and how did you get Brian Wood and the other creators in the series to agree to come on-board the project?

TM: DMZ is such an achievement for Brian and an important cornerstone in his library that I think he felt like it should be commemorated in some way. There were a number of different ideas that got kicked around, from print to existing online outlets, and for one reason or another, those just ultimately weren't feasible. With me as a blogger and Wood a fervent proponent of creator rights, we were both drawn to the creative control that a dedicated site offered. The idea was always that the audience would be getting a "backstage pass" with "director's commentary," an in-depth examination of each collected edition, and never before seen bonus materials. I hesitate to use the term "fan site" because that just sounds weak to me, and it's so much more than that. My inability to conjure a concise descriptor just proves how unique it is. There really isn't any precedent for it, or a commonly accepted name for it, and I always felt like we were breaking new ground. I was kind of amused with how Wikipedia tried to describe it, as “a canonical companion site curated by Justin Giampaoli.”
  With the other collaborators, I just got their contact information and asked. They were all eager. Brian and everyone who participated were so generous with their time and content. I was able to reel in most of the other collaborators, even Senior Editor Will Dennis, who is rarely allowed to participate in interviews like that. The others that really stand out in my mind are Jeromy Cox, Nathan Fox, and Kristian Donaldson, who is now working on The Massive with Brian at Dark Horse. Kristian actually created an original piece for the site, which totally blew me away. I think it underscores what a special book this was, even for the people who worked on it. The only way I can think of to improve the great experience I've had would be for DC/Vertigo to announce they were publishing the series in their Deluxe Edition Hardcover format. I mean, regardless of my slight involvement, it’s a rich title like 100 Bullets, like Y: The Last Man, and like Ex Machina, that deserves that treatment. My little pipe dream is that DC would acquire the LIVE FROM THE DMZ content and include it all as definitive bonus material, and keep those suckers in print forever. That’d be the perfect icing on the cake for me.

SF: How do you think 'getting to know' an author or artist affects your objectivity as a critic?

TM: For the most part, I think it actually helps, which may sound counterintuitive at first glance. I believe, the more background information you have on a person, the more you can understand how their personality -- what cultural anthropologists call their "culture of origin" -- the more you can see how it informs their work. It adds another layer of meaning to analyze. For example, sometimes I joke with Brian Wood that his writing changed when he had kids, [I believe] you can see traces of it in Northlanders. Another friend, Ryan Claytor -- who self-publishes an excellent examination on autobiography in comics in the series And Then One Day -- became one of my best friends after we met at an in-store signing. I still have a professional comics relationship with him because of our temperaments. He knows that I'm going to review his work fairly and honestly, and I know that he's genuinely open to feedback and improving his craft. We actually did an interesting exercise where he posted one page a week of one of his new comics prior to printing, and I reviewed each page in-depth as they debuted, inviting his readers and mine to chime in. It allowed for a more personal and unique reviewing experience because of our relationship, one that probably couldn't have existed otherwise. We're all adults. I mean, I don’t think the reviews skewed positive just because he's a friend. If anything, it's made me a better reviewer because when I do find the occasional opportunity for improvement, I have to position it as very factual and measured and in the least off-putting manner, so that it really fits the bill as constructive feedback. I think the relationship between creator and critic should be symbiotic and mutually beneficial when it's working like it should. This kind of relationship is something I'm continually striving toward with more creators.

SF: How long have you been using Twitter to promote your blog and how did readers find 13 Minutes pre-Twitter?

TM: I can be such a Luddite when it comes to technology, which is surprising considering that I spent eleven years working for a Fortune 100 high-tech company. The real issue is that I don't like spinning my wheels. I avoided Facebook for so long because I saw what happened to MySpace. The thought of learning all the intricacies of some new social media tool, only to abandon it once it fades into obscurity, is not appealing to me in the slightest. I'm still not on Facebook, and I honestly feel like Twitter is the new Facebook, though I'm sure something will inevitably come along to make Twitter obsolete.
  I came late to Twitter in November 2011, so I've actually only been on a few months. I'm still very much a Twitter newbie and I don't think I"ve really found my groove yet, but, even in the first three months when I looked at the metrics, it's literally doubled traffic to my site. Essentially, I'm just doing condensed versions of what I do at Thirteen Minutes, telling followers what to look out for on the stands that week, very condensed micro-reviews in 140 characters or less, and then pointing them to the full review. I try to make creators aware too by sending out tweets to them and hunting for that precious RT. Originally, Twitter was part of a longer term contingency, that if I ever stopped blogging at Thirteen Minutes, I could use Twitter in its place, wholly, or at least during a transitional period to a new project, or site, or whatever the next stop was. 
  Pre-Twitter, it was a much slower, a much more manual process, [most] by word of mouth. In the early days, I was also very diligent about emailing creators or even publishers when I'd post a new review, until I subjectively deemed I was sufficiently on their radar. That led to some pull quotes early on (one last plug, for Wasteland, you always remember your first pull quote!) and built something of a creator base, but I don’t do that anymore, especially not with the ease of Twitter functionally doing the same thing. Overall, I'd say I've found Twitter similar to blogging in some respects, in that it's been a nice way to demonstrate knowledge, establish credibility, network with like-minded individuals, and exert some degree of influence on the things I’m passionate about.

Read Thirteen Minutes at and follow Justin on Twitter at @thirteenminutes.

This interview was conducted over email.

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