Launched in 2004 by Heidi MacDonald, The Beat was among a number of early blogs covering the comics industry on a daily basis. Today The Beat’s daily posts attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each month, among them the top cartoonists, writers, editors and executives in the comics industry. It’s not surprising. MacDonald has worked as an editor at Disney Adventure magazine and at DC/Vertigo and her writing draws on both in-depth professional experience and a long list of friends and sources throughout the comics industry.
Since 2006 The Beat has been hosted online by Publishers Weekly. And while MacDonald will continue to co-edit PW Comics Week and continue to edit the magazine’s weekly graphic novel reviews, she has decided to move The Beat to its own web domain and focus the site on a newly transformed (and still transforming) comics industry.
The Beat joined the magazineat a time when Publishers Weekly and the traditional book industry was beginning to focus on the growing popularity and sales of book format comics as well as the growing status of graphic novels as a distinct new category in the book industry. The Beat was instrumental in giving PW credibility among comics publishers and professionals as well as increasing the magazine’s understanding of both the comics medium and of the traditional comics industry. Now as she relaunches The Beat as an independent online news platform, MacDonald talked with PW Comics Week, looking back on the growth of blogging as well as offering her views on today’s comics marketplace and the beginning of a new generation of opportunities and challenges for The Beat: The News Blog of Comics Culture.
PWCW: The Beat is a go-to blog for comics news but it also offers readers a glimpse into the life of a comics professional. Is it difficult to balance the two—breaking news as well as life at Stately Beat Manor—in one blogspace.
HM: I try to do less and less of the personal stuff now, to be truthful. When I started the Beat back in 2004, professional blogging wasn't as prevalent as it is today so you could get away with a lot more. Now blogging is a lot more news oriented. But I do keep a personal touch because I think The Beat is known as a site filtered through one person's sensibilities.
PWCW: The Beat was among several comics blogs that pioneered taking comics news and commentary online. Can you describe the comics blog community when you started and what it’s like today.
HM: I wouldn't be so free and easy with the word pioneer, because the last time I did that I got some flak from the blogosphere. As I said above, when I started there was a lot less competition, and there were far fewer sites delivering daily information. Now there are blog networks, content farms and Time magazine has a nerd blog. A lot of the reason is the advancing technology.
Now, using Blogger or Wordpress it takes about five minutes to set up a site that's the rival of all but a handful of news outlets 10 years ago. With all the competition and noise from not only blogs but Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and every other social networking platform the challenge is to stay relevant and informative. In addition, now you regularly see comics coverage on CNN, in USA Today and the New York Times. Quite often stories are broken there instead of Newsarama and Comic Book Resources. The playing field is huge.
PWCW: Now that you’ve taken The Beat out on its own, can you give us a brief overview of what goes into producing editorial content for The Beat?
HM: Time spent staring at a computer and typing. That's really it. I read a lot of other sites to see what is breaking news and "buzz worthy" but I find the formula for that is constantly changing. There is no rule.
PWCW: What kind of changes, new features and even new writers can The Beat’s audience look forward to at the relaunched blog.
HM: Michel Fiffe, a very talented cartoonist, has been doing a series of interviews with cartoonists and I'm running those—he has a fantastic eye for cartoonists who are unique and have something to say and always has the best art samples. I am bringing in more writers but nothing is announceable yet. The great thing about a daily site is that you can really evolve on the fly. As for my own contributions, I'm trying to so more regular columns or essays, but finding the schedule to do that is always hard.
PWCW: Here at PW we’ve spent the last few years chronicling the growth of the comics category into the mainstream of American reading and entertainment culture. Can you characterize how the conventional comics industry has changed in the years since you launched The Beat?
HM: It's just expanded and exploded to be another part of the entertainment industry and instead of an odd little eddy. At the same time, [the comics industry is] still chronically underfunded, but in some ways that's helped the comic book crowd not be as jaded and flighty as aspects of the entertainment industry where you make a lot of money. And of course graphic novels in bookstores are an established genre and not an unlikely experiment any more, which is fantastic.
While comics have been growing and flourishing, the media itself has been collapsing and exploding at the same time. Comics have arrived in the publishing world just in time to see the publishing world explode in flames.
With social networking, epublishing, the iPhone/iPad and all those other things we fret about every day, the way people collect and consume entertainment and information is changing on an almost daily basis. James Cameron "saved" the movie industry with 3D—now they have a new platform and product to launch. I've been at Toy Fair the last few days, and one of my colleagues mentioned how hard it is to be surprised by anything any more—it's all covered ad nauseum in dozens of outlets. Basically, an accidental YouTube video of a sneezing panda or a comic strip about stick figures can be as popular as something that a giant media corporation slaves over for years. The corporations are still better at making money off their stuff—for now.
PWCW: Although The Beat is moving to take on new opportunities and challenges, can we take this opportunity to remind readers that you will continue to co-edit PW Comics Week as well as oversee the weekly graphic novel reviews at Publishers Weekly?
HM: Absolutely! I am still a Contributing Editor at PW and the co-editor of PW Comics Week and will keep the reviews and news stories flowing for as long as you let me, Calvin!