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Ask Laura: Comics Journalism, Batman Songs, and Superhero Karaoke

Chris Sims is on vacation today for his birthday, so in his absence ComicsAlliance editor-in-chief has agreed to fill in at his Q&A column, transforming Ask Chris to Ask Laura. And so this week we’re going to take a break from all the 10,000 word essays about why Batman is the best and instead talk a little bit about the songs Batman should be forced to sing at karaoke, the best superhero KJs and — oh yeah, comics journalism.

In the world of comics, who would be the best KJ? Alternately, who would be the worst? -Ben C.

Great question, Ben. As some of you may know, I’m probably as big a fan of karaoke as Chris is of Batman, and the KJ (or Karaoke Jockey) is the keeper of the song rotation, the man or woman who controls when people’s songs come up, typically a hot point of contention.

Questions that can determine whether or not KJs are good: Do they have an ethical song rotation system? Do people have to tip them like crazy to get a chance to sing while their friends get special treatment, or are they fair and impartial? Are they downloading or even making the latest tracks they know their singers will enjoy, or is their karaoke library stuck back in 2004? Do they adjust the audio to make sure every singer has the best sound quality possible or just sit back and let people screech while they sip Miller High Life? Basically, how much do they care about their customers versus how much do they care about themselves?The worst possible KJ would be Booster Gold, for the obvious reason that he cares so, so very much about himself to the exclusion of other, not-himself things. Not only would the songs he hated mysteriously disappear from the queue while Blue Beetle somehow got bumped up to the top of the list over and over again, he would almost definitely be an enormous microphone (and glory) hog. And no matter how good your voice is, when you’re the KJ the evening is not about the amazing performances you give, it’s about the amazing performances you enable.

The best possible KJ would probably be Superman, not only because he’s consummately fair, but also because he tries to be understanding of people different from himself (say, people who like Nickleback), and is constantly trying to improve the world — and, one might presume, the karaoke experience of his singers and/or the depth of his song library. Also, when it’s time to close up shop for the evening and/or counter the apocalyptic god-energy of a supervillain, he sings a mean counterfrequency to the multiverse.

What’s the best part of having minions/ running a comics journalism website? #asklaura -@bestopheles

Absorbing and sorting the massive level of information we receive at the site every day from hundreds of PR e-mails, thousands of tweets, comments, RSS feeds, Tumblr, Facebook and chats is pretty overwhelming, and it would be straight up impossible without the help of my other editors, Andy Khouri and Caleb Goellner.

They’re the “best part” on more of a “I would die if they weren’t there” sort of level, but in terms of what’s most satisfying, there are a few contenders. When we promote a comic or a creator we think is underappreciated and that person reaches out later to tell us our spotlight helped them in some measurable way, I never stop feeling grateful and amazed. As someone who cares about comics and desperately wants talented creators to make a living at it, hearing that our coverage can have a real impact on real people whose work we love… saying it “makes it all worth it” is kind of cliched, but it kind of does.

Another thing that makes me feel incredibly fortunate is when I conceive of an idea for a feature, and then get to see a writer or an artist execute it in ways I never could have imagined. There are things that I am very good at; being funny and drawing are not two of them, so being able to pass the baton to people better than me and watching them take it to the next level is really satisfying. Art in particular has always seemed like magic to me, and having an idea like, say, “futuristic cyberpunk Cerebus” and watching an artist bring it to life brilliantly is one of the best feelings in the world. Maybe it is kind of what it is like to make comics.

-Pick three karaoke tracks for Batman to throw down on! -@patchworkearth


1. “Break Yo Neck,” Busta Rhymes (NSFW lyrics)

If there’s one thing that we know about Batman, it’s that in terms of preparation, planning, and his ability to execute tasks of extreme difficulty, his thoroughness and tenacity are virtually unmatched in the superhero world. I cannot believe that Batman would accept anything less than complete lyrical accuracy from himself in a karaoke setting, which is why I would want to make him sing — nay, rap — the most difficult song I could possibly imagine. While “Bombs Over Baghdad” by Outkast, “End of the World” by R.E.M. and anything by Twista were also strong contenders, I’d still select “Break Yo Neck” as the winner both in terms of the loose thematic relationship to certain spine-shattering incidents in Batman’s past and intensity of the challenge, especially given how many n-bomb substitutions he’d need to make in his own white dude rendition. Pro tip: Songs almost always get more interesting when you substitute “ninja,” and I would think especially so if you are Batman.

2. “Welcome to the Jungle,” Guns and Roses

One of the defining characteristics of Batman is that he is quite simply a scary motherf**ker whose mere presence tends to make lesser thugs wet their pants. When he grabs you by the collar and leans in to growl a threat in a dark alley, I have no doubt that what comes out is crazy intimidating, and hearing him screech “you’re in the jungle, baby… YOU’RE GONNA DIEEEEE” from the shadows would be more than enough to make most henchmen run screaming. Ultimately, “Welcome to the Jungle” is a song of intimidation and terror, and therefore right in Batman’s wheelhouse.

3. “Can’t Hug Every Cat,” Gregory Brothers

If you were truly granted the power to make Batman sing any song you wanted, who among us would not want to make him croon at least one completely ridiculous or embarrassing thing? While forcing your friends to sing intensely sexual songs is usually the fastest route to ensuring their public embarrassment, I don’t think tunes like “I Touch Myself” or Ginuwine’s “Pony” would really faze Bruce Wayne, billionaire playboy by day, all that much. Thus, I would want hear the man who is both vengeance and the night respectively do his best rendition of “Can’t Hug Every Cat,” a musical reinterpretation of an eHarmony video by an attractive young twenty-something woman obsessed with kittens.* Can you imagine Kevin Conroy singing, “I want [cats] in a basket / I want little bow ties/ I just love them / And I want them / To be on a rainbow/ And I just want us to roll around.” Because I can. And it’s beautiful. (*Yes, I know it’s fake. Irrelevant.)

if you performed a Wu-Tang song at Karaoke but changed it to be about Batman, what song and how would you change it? #AskLaura

I don’t understand why like half of the #AskLaura questions were about Batman, even though I’m not Chris Sims. While I know that we may seem identical in appearance and behavior, let me assure you all that we are completely different people. There are pictures to prove it! Including one with Rob Liefeld:

Regardless, if I had turn a Wu Tang song into a Batman song, I would turn “C.R.E.A.M.” (Cash Rules Everything Around Me) into “B.R.E.A.M.” (Batman Rules Everything Around Me), and I would dedicate it to Chris Sims in hopes that this would satiate people’s need to hear me talk about what Chris likes to talk about.

Other than “keep writing,” what advice do you have for people interested in becoming involved in comics journalism? -@chudleycannons

“Keep writing” is great advice, but it doesn’t tell the whole story, as is often the case with two word sentences. First of all, figure out what kind of writing you want to do: straight journalism, or a more casual and opinion-oriented sort blogging? The answer might be “both, at different times” — it is at ComicsAlliance — but they are different disciplines that require different skills, and if journalism is involved, more rigorous ones.

It probably helps if you went to school for journalism — Caleb did, but neither Andy nor I have — but there are plenty of books to give you the 101 version, and I always learned the most from my hands-on experiences. Different websites, newspapers, and magazines all have different style guides and different tones, so figure out which ones best embody the type of work you want to do, and seek them out. Try different things. Working for multiple outlets can develop your work in the same way writing exercises do: by making you more versatile. It may also help you figure out what kind of writing suits you best.

“But how can I even start writing for those websites, newspaper, and magazines without any experience,” you ask? If you’re in school and you can get an internship of some kind at an outlet you respect, you should absolutely do that. It may even be a good idea if you’re out of school, though it may pay poorly or not at all. Sorry: You are going to be poor for a while, at least, unless you have significant alternate streams of income. Make your peace with that now. A day may come when you need to insist on your own value and stop doing things for free, but if you have no experience, today is not that day.

If you can’t get an internship, there are other ways to develop your writing and your resume. Seek out smaller startup websites or magazines who are doing the type of work you find interesting. They may not have the budget to pay much or at all, but if you find one you like and are willing to offer your skills — such as they are — in exchange for clips, connections and some degree of mentoring, that gives you something to bring to the next level of editors, perhaps ones who can pay you.

Working as an intern for Heidi MacDonald and Calvin Reid at Publishers Weekly and working for Tim Leong at Comic Foundry magazine were the two most influential work experiences of my young career, and my success would not have been possible without them. Comic Foundry was a startup, and thus I essentially worked there for over two years for free, but what I learned about writing, design, journalism, and art from one of the best designers in the business was invaluable. Yeah, I was super poor and I didn’t eat much, but I hustled like hell, learned how to edit, and met all sorts of the right people. It completely transformed the way I thought about content, and I’m not sure ComicsAlliance would even exist without it.

Finding mentors is VERY IMPORTANT. Not only because they can teach you how to polish the rough diamond of your writing into something more valuable, but because they are the people who will advocate for you to other editors. Hearing a recommendation from a source I respect is worth ten times anything I read in a cold call letter, because at a certain point if you really are a professional at a high enough level I should either know about you already, or I should be hearing about you from someone else. So find that someone else to advocate for you.

But most of all, make sure you love it, and be honest with yourself about what you really want out of comics journalism or comics blogging. Do you secretly just want to make comics, or are you truly devoted to reporting on this particular niche product during a very weird and volatile time in its history? Are you in a position personally and financially to spend years developing your writing and your reputation, possibly from the vantage point of extreme poverty? Do you love it? Do you really, really love it, more than all the other things you could possibly be writing about or doing? If the answer is yes, then go forth.

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