Jim McLauchlin's PANEL DISCUSSIONS - An Intro

Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 by Jim Starlin... yeah, I'm old
Credit: Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2

One day you look at the calendar and realize you’re 46 years old. That’s a little crazy. Then you look again and realize you’ve been working on-again, off-again in the comics biz for 20 years. That’s even crazier.

But that’s the reality of my surroundings as I sit here in 2014—almost half my life in the comic book biz, even though I’ve never really considered myself “a comics guy.” Indeed, I can tell you which Howler died in Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #4 (Junior Juniper!) and which Marvel Two-in-One Annual was drawn by Jim Starlin (#2, duh), but I’ve convinced myself that such trivial recall is just the remnants of a youth filled with reading the comic books my mom would bring back from garage sales at the rate of, like, a buck for a giant stack of 60, Richie Riches included.

And I know this sounds sacrilege to many people, but I don’t give half a sack of wet crap about comic book characters. Spider-Man? He’s made of paper. Luke Skywalker? He just plain ol’ doesn’t fcking exist. Deal with it.

I’ve always been way more concerned with real people. They’re interesting, in a way that creations made of paper never can be. That’s why, I guess, I’ve always considered myself “a sports guy” (I got my start as a sportswriter) or perhaps more to the point, “that journalism guy.” Dealing with real people and telling their stories is what really blows my hair back—what hair that’s left, that is.

 students from Daniel Pearl Magnet High School, Los Angeles, whom I taught.
students from Daniel Pearl Magnet High School, Los Angeles, whom I taught.
Credit: Jim McLauchlin

I recently found myself in a tour back through academia (not recommended) and wound up guest-teaching a high school journalism class an hour a week for 10 weeks. In really getting down to the nitty-gritty, I told the high schoolers that I thought there are three great gifts of journalism:

1) We can show the otherwise unknown. If you’re in the USA and you’re concerned with what’s happening in the Ukraine, Russia, and Crimea, chances are you can’t just hop the next jet to Kiev. It’s the journalists who show the world what might otherwise remain unknown.

2) We can illuminate truth. Watergate is famous. Bell, California less so. But the lesson of both is that not everything is what it appears to be. That nice guy might not really be so nice, and someone’s public words might differ from their private agenda. Sleight-of-hand is everywhere, and properly done, journalism can illuminate the real truth.

3) We can reveal something about YOU that you don’t yet know about yourself. Decent example? I would up writing a lengthy goo-gob about everything right and wrong about the San Diego con after 2013’s show. A very common response after the article ran—and I was very gratified by it—was “Thanks. I think I feel exactly that way! I just didn’t know how to say it.” Every now and then, when the moon is right, you’ll read something about somebody else, but actually learn about yourself.

I also gave the students 10 tons of platitudes to use as guideposts. But I told them repeatedly that the single most important one was, “People like stories about people.”

Credit: Jim McLauchlin

Ultimately, that’s what this let’s-not-call-it-a-column will be. Stories about people. Because they’re made of flesh, blood, and soul, not paper. Ultimately, writing about the next Big Marvel Crossover or Large DC Event isn’t gonna blow my hair back (and I think I lost a few more strands since five paragraphs ago). So congrats. You’ll get not so much news, but news analysis (this other convention piece perhaps a decent example of said). You’ll get op-ed style pieces illuminating things you might not have thought about, nor even known. You’ll get occasional first-person anecdotes and stories. You’ll get photos and documents that, I’m fairly confident in saying after years of collecting and secreting away, you won’t be able to get anywhere else. And ultimately, everything will be about people.

The whole shebang starts next week, and continues biweekly thereafter. I have a notion to get up to speed and start rolling pieces out weekly, but don’t hold me to that yet.

So in the next few weeks, you’ll see articles on just who the hell these costume people are, exactly WHERE the money goes in the comics biz, why Todd McFarlane is the most un/reasonable human being on Earth, how to scam a hotel room at San Diego con, and more.

I’m looking forward to this ride. I hope you are too. Look for the title “Panel Discussions.”

—Panel Discussions starts Thursday, June 26. And for more, feel free to follow @McLauchlin on Twitter. He just wrote something about Tony Gwynn. See? Sports.

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