Joe Gordon is a blogger who’s made international news through his blogging. He runs his own personal blog – The Woolamaloo Gazette – which is accompanied by the Twitter account @LordWoolamaloo. The reason why Joe made the news isn’t a secret, it’s written up here it’s just that in this interview while we’re going to keep the spotlight very much on blogging we’re also going to talk a little about Joe’s job. Joe maintains the books and the blog for Forbidden Planet International.
That’s right; Joe’s a professional geek blogger. How cool is that?
Q1: You set up Forbidden Planet International’s blog. Was it hard work to do? Did you need to persuade many people and tackle many technical challenges?
JG: I was brought onboard to look after the graphic novels on our large webstore and my boss, Kenny, didn’t want it to be just a job, he wanted someone who enjoyed reading the books and talking about them. For years I had been doing reviews online for SF&F, comics and movie on The Alien Online as well as displaying recommended books with mini-reviews in my former bookstore, all of which helped to promote some good reading (especially satisfying when you saw folks picking up good new talent they might not otherwise have gone for). Since FP is the sort of place where the folks who work there are actually into the items they sell it seemed like the perfect sort of place to have a blog to communicate that love of all things comics and SF and wonderfully weird. I think Kenny had been thinking along the same lines and he was happy to go with that.
We started with a straight, simple Blogger platform five and a half years ago, fairly small, bits of news of new items on the site, reviews, recommendations, short interviews and the like, all fairly small. But as with personal blogging I found the more you started posting and the more links you made with other folks, the more you found to post about – the more you do that the more you get linked to, the more you get folks sending you news and links, the more you post and link, which leads to more and so it evolves. Now we’re on Word Press which I find a much better platform (Blogger became increasingly irritating, failed image uploads, failed updates), we’ve built up a lot of links back and forth with folks and with Richard coming on with his brilliant reviews strand, posts from Europe from Wim and interviews from Padraig and Matt it’s all grown to well beyond what a single person could manage, which is good – it means we can cover more and we have more people with overlapping but different tastes so hopefully a bit more perspective.
From a technical side of things it is pretty straightforward as most of what anyone needs to blog is out there ready to use; likewise incorporating other social media like Facebook, Twitter or Flickr is pretty simple too, it is all there on the web, pretty much ready to use, just tailor it to your own needs. And the nature of those kinds of online social media means they are largely designed to work together, so the blog is maybe the main heart of it, but the FB, Twitter and Flickr all work with it (hopefully!) and with twitters and blogs etc of our friends.
Q2: How important is it for a company like Forbidden Planet to have a blog?
I think it’s become increasingly important for a lot of companies. Some have been pretty slow to use blogging and twitter, some are much better at it, a few still seem to have no idea. Obviously we have our bricks and mortar stores where you can enjoy a good rummage through the comics shelves, but not everyone lives close to a branch and so we’ve always had the mail order catalogue and the website, which keeps changing and getting bigger as we cram more on it. Social media has become more important for bricks and mortar operations now (our branches are all on Facebook these days so folks can follow their local store) but for the online side of things it’s even more important, I think, it allows us to communicate with the folks who use our webstore and it allows them, hopefully to feel that they are connected to ‘their’ store, that they know some of the folks there and that those folks are into the same things they are – trying to give that same feeling to online folks as you get when you frequent your fave bookstore or music store not just for range or price but because you like the people there and realise they get the same things you do. Of course it is also handy as a way of creating webprescence for FPI, of letting readers know about new comics and merch we have to offer, but we’ve been clear from the start that the blog while obviously promoting the business, wouldn’t be simply an advertising mouthpiece, we wanted to share our interest in comics and SF and we also wanted to maybe give something back too, by being able to review and interview and highlight good work and new talent.
Q3: How important is it for a writer to have a blog? Is it a distraction, just part of fan service or something more significant?
I think it is extremely important writers and artists have some sort of web presence where they can interact a bit with readers, be it a general website and maybe a twitter feed, a blog or whatever. I know some authors and artists aren’t mad on it – it depends very much on individual tastes and persuasions, after all, and not everyone feels it is for them, just as some authors aren’t that keen on doing readings in bookstores and festivals; some are fine with that (I’ve worked with authors who can talk happily to small group of 20 readers through to some standing on a theatre stage with several hundred to talk to quite happily), others really don’t like it at all.
But the fact of the matter is promoting yourself and your book/comic/movie/animated mutant atomic penguin cartoon is part of the game. It has been for as long as I’ve been in the booktrade and is increasingly important – the appearances at signings and readings are important and, perhaps even more importantly now social media is so embedded in everyday life (even when many of us are out and about and away from a PC we’re still plugged in), the digital promotion and web presence is pretty vital. Some authors and artists still seem happy to have a simple ‘about the author’ on their publisher’s site and that’s their choice, but many do dip their toes into blogging or Twitter and find that it’s a good way to interact with fans, a good way to build up interest and the all important word of mouth about new work they have coming and also to reach readers who may never otherwise be able to interact with them – after all, even if you are an author who does carry out a lot of public engagements at bookstore readings, signings, book festivals etc, at the end of the day only so many can get into these events and many more may live nowhere near where they happen. But distance and audience size restrictions mean nothing in cyberspace
Q4: Which three author blogs would you recommend? Why do you like them?
Neil Gaiman, Jeff VanderMeer and Sarah McIntyre‘s blogs have been regular must-reads for me for a good while. Neil has a nice balance between his work and travels, posting about subjects that interest him or that he thinks some of his readers will find interesting (including some good causes he raises awareness of using his large audience) and about other books and media from the well known to new works and writers you might never have heard of otherwise. And the odd simply silly thing that takes his fancy.
Jeff is a fascinating writer, whatever he is penning – his fiction is simply excellent (right up there alongside China Mieville as one of our smartest and most original new fantasy scribes) and it lead me to his blog. Much from Jeff and his wife on their writing and editing and Jeff, as well as being a brilliant writer, should also be celebrated for the fact he goes out of his way to highlight good new books and comics writing.
Sarah McIntyre’s blog should be read partly so you can sit there and wonder what most of us who are lucky enough to know her think: how the heck does she find time to update it so often and so well with all the projects and events she’s involved with? Obviously she talks about her own work and shares pages and sketches of her comics and kid’s books, but she also adds in lovely little pieces that make you smile, like some of the sketches kids in her workshops drew as they learned to do their own comics, or pics from and about the others in her studio and other creators.
Actually that’s a theme with all the writers/artists blogs I enjoy the most – they don’t just share more about their own work, they all use it to try and highlight good work by others. It’s one of the nice things about the web and the community it helps to link together, books and comics alike, that a lot of the people in it, at all levels, go out of their way to support each other. Comics and the SF folks have traditionally been good at that through fanzines and conventions, these days social media makes it even easier to try and draw attention to good, new work. And that works both ways – we might blog about an artist’s new project and further down the line that artist and their friends might blog and tweet about an interview or feature we’ve posted.
Q5: You’re a photographer with an eye for what makes a great picture, what works visually and what might interest a viewer. Do you think that skill set makes itself useful while blogging or even helping to promote Forbidden Planet?
That’s kind of you to say – I tend to think of myself more as a gonzo snapper than a photographer proper. I did do some photography work at college but these days I simply carry a camera around and snap what takes my eye. For blogging I suppose it is useful, practically because I’ll use some of my pics in my personal blog and since the camera goes everywhere with me I also take some pics at events, author signings and the like. Mostly thought I think it is just part of my interest in the visual, be it drawn art, photography or film and the more you exercise that faculty the more you tend to notice so the more you get out of it because you find yourself looking at things in a different way and noticing more.
Q6: What would your top blogging tips be – especially for people who want to start sharing their book and graphic novel reviews?
On reviewing there’s a fairly simple basis: you want to discuss a bit of the plot and characters (without spoiling the plot, of course!), try to relate it to other works if you can so readers have a better idea (especially if talking about a new creator most folk might not know yet) and then your own personal take on the book and how you felt about it. The latter part is opinion and you should try to be honest – that’s something we’ve always tried to be, because there isn’t much point trying to do a review if you don’t give an honest opinion. But at the same time be aware that is is just your opinion and others may well disagree with it. Also if you have to make comments about aspects of a work you think aren’t very good you should again bear in mind it’s just in your opinion and others might well think something you thought bad is good. And if you have to say some part of a work didn’t appeal to you then try to be balanced and reasonable about it, this is someone’s hard work and effort after all and besides no-one wants to come and read the site of someone who just says nasty things about someone who is trying to create something.
Q7: The internet has forced significant change to the music industry. Once it was hard and expensive to distribute your music – that’s not the case any longer. Now bands and singers make their money through concerts and tours. Do you think the publishing business is heading for such a transformation or do you think the process of author, agent, publisher, retailer and reader will remain largely unchanged?
It certainly won’t stay unchanged, it’s changing already, the question is how far it will change and how. Digital tech, be it cheaper, more accessible printing or totally electronic via online and mobile publishing, allows individual artists and writers to potentially sell their works direct, which is great, but if you are writing, drawing and then having to do the marketing and business side of things (often on top of a day job) then that’s even more time you need to put in, so there’s going to be something to be said for having a publisher or agent who can deal with those things while you get on with actually writing. And a publisher or agent is also handy if you find yourself in the lucky position of having to negotiate with foreign publishers who might want to buy translation rights, or a studio agent who wants to option your work for possible TV or movie adaptation and the like. Some people seem to think everything will be changed; I suspect it’s more like evolution in that a number of aspects of the book trade will (and indeed are already) changing but some parts that are still useful (and profitable) will remain.
Q8: If you could have one magical wish that could only be used to help promote graphic novels – something to push sales figures – what would it be? For example, would it be someone mainstream and famous take an active interest in plugging the format? Or do you think the current fashion of turning comics into movies is all that we could ask for?
Ohh, that’s a good question. I’m not really sure – we’ve already got famous people who openly declare their love for comics, we’ve got mainstream media like the Guardian and Observer reviewing works, even giving out Graphic Novel of the Month accolades and those are being read in book pages by a wide readership, many of whom probably haven’t touched a comic since they were kids but are now becoming aware that the medium offers some astonishing works for adults too. Hopefully we’re becoming a bit more like the Franco-Belgian literary scene in that respect.
As for the seemingly endless optioning of comics for movies, it does seem like barely a week goes past without hearing about another comic being optioned, sometimes comics you’ve barely heard of! I’m not sure just how much many of them contribute to a non comics audience learning about comics though, I know a regular point made by many observers is that even big budget superhero movies don’t often translate into a jump in sales of the comics and graphic novels, although there are exceptions such as Watchmen and Scott Pilgrim. But often the big comics movies are more of a boon to merchandise sales than comics sales. They do create awareness of characters though, I suppose, so when we mention Iron Man to non comics friends at least they know who we are talking about now!
But one thing that could boost the medium? Hmm, you know I think I’d say more success with quality Indy publishers who are putting out work they personally like and want to share – more power and success to Top Shelf, SelfMadeHero, Fantagraphics, D&Q, Blank Slate and their ilk and to good grassroots Indy collaborative projects like Solipsistic Pop and events like Hi-Ex and Thought Bubble. All putting out or supporting interesting new work, that’s what will make people want to read.
Q9: Which book, series or novel that hasn’t yet been adapted into a movie do you think should enjoy a successful movie transformation?
I’m not sure about a movie, but Preacher and Transmetropolitan would both make excellent mini series. I know plans were afoot for an HBO type Preacher a couple of years back, but it seemed to peter out. But with the success of the Walking Dead hopefully some studio is going to think hey, let’s see about these other very adult works, we could have something here. But please, as a series, don’t try to shoehorn them into a movie, they won’t work like that. Away from the gritty, adult content stuff I can’t help but wonder how lovely an animated version of Metaphrog’s Louis stories might be.
Bookwise I think Joe Hill’s Heart Shaped Box would make a great horror chiller flick and Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt hardboiled vampire novels would offer us a very different type of vampire from the ones we’ve been used to. Pierre Pevel’s The Cardinal’s Blades would make a wonderful modern take on Dumas (but with added dragons to the 18th century swashbuckling).
Q10: We’re coming up to the holiday shopping season. Could you predict what you think will be the top 5 most desired/best sellers from geek and collectable culture this year?
Oh, if only I could predict those accurately imagine the killing you could make in your Xmas sales! There’s a lot of new and recent Doctor Who items that will be popular, I think – from individual figures from the latest season to sets like the collection of all the Doctors. And there’s obviously going to be a lot of interest in Tron merchandise (I love the action figures with the helmets and reflective visors – hit the secret button and the visor becomes a mini screen with the face in it as the speech comes out!). And for the cool, hip Indy kid in your life the Scott Pilgrim t-shirts are pretty fab. I had to stop wearing mine, I was tired of all the girls pawing over me.
On best reads to get for someone at Xmas (or to ask for yourself) I’m not sure about which ones will be the biggest sellers, but I can certainly tell you some of the ones that I most enjoyed this year. Darryl Cunningham’s Psychiatric Tales (Blank Slate) is one of the most moving works you’ll read (and is one of those comics you can give to non comics readers and they’ll get it), while Brick’s Depresso (Knockabout Comics) took a very different and more self-effacing, humorous but just as valid approach to mental health. Metaphrog’s new Louis book is simply gorgeous and dreamlike (and as a lovely wee hardback for under a tenner it is a perfect gift book). Tardi’s War of the Trenches is an amazingly powerful, angry read about the horrors of the Great War. Charles Burns’ X’ed Out is an intoxicating bad dream trip filtered through Tintin. Judith Vanistenael’s Dance by the Light of the Moon (SelfMadeHero) is a beautifully told, semi biographic love story. And Canales and Guarnido’s Blacksad collection (Dark Horse) is fabulous gumshoe noir told through animal characters with amazing artwork. I’m sure there’s a pile more to recommend, I need to take another look at my bookshelves and what I enjoyed this year so I can make up my best of the year list!