2022: The Year I Burned Out on Comics

I've been reviewing comics for a long time. Unofficially I did it a little around the turn of the century. Then I did more starting in 2006, and Panel Patter began in 2008, after a trip to the Small Press Expo. I've had an amazing time being a part of the comics world from the outside circle, and I could fill endless pages of cyberspace talking about how many good people I've met.

Our high was probably 2017 (the freak Eisner Nomination Year), and my personal high was being selected as an Ignatz Judge in 2019. 

There's plenty of times, however, when I've really just felt blasted. Like I couldn't get myself to the computer to talk about a comic. So I would think about stepping back. Every time, I'd get right back on the horse. Until this year.

Well, I don't know exactly why, but 2022 was the year I called "uncle" and realized I was completely burnt out not just on reviewing comics, but reading them. I couldn't bring myself to read anything I had from the library anymore. (So I turned them in.) I couldn't flip open my tablet to Marvel Unlimited. My review copies sat unread (though others have kept the torch going here and I thank them for that). I have boxes of older comics I picked up over the years to read - and I just couldn't. (Some of which I've since marked for giving away, because I know I'll likely never read them.)

I love comics, I always will love comics. But this year, I just couldn't handle comics anymore. Couldn't handle the pressure of needing to talk about them. Felt as though I'd said all I could possibly say about comics over the past 15+ years. There's only so many times you can find a different way to say that a person uses innovative panels or that their precise lines kept me lingering over the page or that the structure of the plot only works because of the way in which the art provides a slight reoccurring theme.

I felt like I was repeating myself. Like I was a pale imitation of what I came to pride myself on. I felt like I was devolving into cliche and hype. It became harder and harder for me, because I'd always vowed I wouldn't keep going past when I thought I could do the job right.

The other issue is that I'm just not sure that this (writing a column) is the best way to get people involved in talking about comics, the way that it used to be. When I was first getting into online comics criticism as a reader, everyone had a website/blog. You wrote comments (remember those?), did shared theme weeks - all kinds of stuff as a community. Twitter happened around the time I got started here, and it definitely helped get us out there to a wider audience, but a lot was word of mouth, link sharing between similar sites (RIP Tom), and having a reputation (that I remain proud of) that we were a creator's site. A place where people would be excited to get a review because we'd dig into things. Sometimes by creators themselves, too.

But time goes on. Click-bait became more and more popular. I'm not a hypocrite; I read them, too. They're fun. But they weren't what we do. Video and podcasting started picking up, too. I just don't really dig podcasts, so my enthusiasm for starting one was never there. And who the hell wants to see some middle-aged man on camera holding up a tablet with a comic on it? Not me, though I did consider it because it would mean less writing.

The other issue with time is that Panel Patter is always 100 percent volunteer. So because of personal lives, we weren't always able to capitalize on some of our success the other other sites who started similarly have been able to do. I'm so happy for them, because they have the same spirit as what I used to do, but have managed to break into the "Big Time" with a minimum of clickbait.

And of course, there's the Rise of the TV/Movie connections.  A lot of sites, even good ones, have given a place to TV/Movie items to help increase their clicks.  I have had one hard line for the site: No covering anything but comics. That'll be true as long as I own the site, and I don't intend to give it away.

Were those mistakes? Should I have allowed hot takes, listicles, and Umbrella Academy updates? Should I have stopped doing any other hobbies but this site? Maybe. But I didn't. And even though it's caused us to fade back, I still stand by those decisions.

At the end of the day, I think the biggest issue falls into three categories:

1) With so many comics read (40 years and counting), it's much harder to really blow me away and give me something new to write about. This is not a knock on current comics at all! But after tens of thousands of pages read year in and year out, I've seen a lot of things. And I am still enjoying them (well, I was until I burned out). But I'm out of new words and new ways to say things and since I'm not getting paid to do it, I think my brain just doesn't want to sit here at the laptop anymore and trying to find variations on things I've literally said hundreds of times before.

2) Comics is ready for the next generation. I think about this a lot. I'm not the type to say "things were better when I was younger." People who do that about media are elitist jerks who are purposefully being controversial to keep themselves in the spotlight. But we all grow up with what we grew up with, and we're all familiar with what we're familiar with. We form preferences and attachments. Hell, the fact that I didn't want to move to podcasting or video blogging is a perfect example of this: It's not what I learned on! When I see people excited about new comics and new creators, I'm so happy for them! But it's becoming increasingly clear to me that my taste and the taste of the "kids" (i.e. teens and 20s) are different--and they should be. But it also means why in the world would those kids look to me to help them find new work? The kind of work I'm going to enjoy isn't going to be the same as theirs. And that's okay. But it also means I'm not sure I am the person who's up for discovering and promoting new creators anymore. 

3) The website format is probably outdated, but I don't have a better plan. As I said above, I feel like we're a legacy format. I don't think people go to sites to read them anymore, so you're left with hoping people click off a link they see on another social media platform. That's honestly left us scuffling because we're often one little Tweet in a sea, and many of our long-time supporters left the platform ages ago, and we don't have the manpower or desire at this time to try and be everywhere on the internet. Plus again: If a Tik Tok generation person is looking for a new comic to read, are they going to come to a print site anyway? I'm just not sure there's a huge market for what we do, and while it's fun, it's also time consuming.

Put those things together, and it led to burnout. I was pressing too hard thinking about "oh god, what do I say about this comic? Will anyone look or care and then have I just wasted hours of my life trying to get this right?" and not just enjoying it as a way to relax and entertain myself. 

So I stepped back. I stepped away.

I'm not ready to be back yet. I'd like to do a "favorites" list but I might not be able to this year. We'll see.

Why am I sharing this?

Because I think it's good for people to know how I feel. To not just have me disappear. We've seen that happen far too many times. I wanted to be honest, and to let those of you who still care about what I have to say know why I'm not saying it lately.

Is Panel Patter done?

No. The site's staying up, though obviously with less content. James has been amazing at ensuring we still have a presence out there. And we have others who are still contributing as they feel able. It's nice for people to have a home when they want it, since there's really not a lot of people doing the strange thing we do here. And maybe some folks who aren't happy with what's out there will want a place to write, and Panel Patter can always be that place.

Am I done?

I don't think so. I'm taking a break. I'll see how I feel. Maybe the issue is that I need to reboot myself like a Marvel Comics re-numbering and try to do what I want to do (share my love of comics) in a different way. Or maybe I just write a periodic longer piece when I'm inspired.

We'll see. The greatest part of owning your own site is you get to make the rules.

Have a great end of 2022, everyone. There's a ton of amazing comics out there. Go read them. Go find the people who are digging into COMICS online and follow them somehow. Maybe I'll join you in 2023. Maybe I'll be a part of that somehow. I'm just not sure yet.

What I'm sure of is that I'm proud of this site and my teammates over the years. And I hope that after regrouping, I'll be ready to do more again. Thanks for reading all these years!