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B&N Week 37: Your Online Persona

| September 6, 2011 | 8 Comments

It’s Tuesday! Glorious Tuesday! And we all know what that means…

It means I need some theme music or something. Or a faithful sidekick. Or a faithful sidekick that directs my theme music. And no, it doesn’t have to be a midget. Bad people. Bad, bad people.

Anyway, it’s time for another installment of Bolts & Nuts, and this week, we’re going to talk about something that should be near and dear to everyone’s heart. That thing? Your online persona.

Your online persona is more than just “who you are” when you post. It’s what you’re projecting out to the world. It’s what will help get you a job, in conjunction with your skill level. It’s also what can keep you from a job if you’re not careful. Your online persona tells people a lot about you, and it is an integral part of the brand you’re trying to market.

In the end, that’s what you’re doing. You’re marketing a brand, and that brand is your name. You may THINK you’re selling Pen-Man to Marvel/DC, but what you’re really selling is your ability to tell stories not just about Pen-Man, but also Eraser-Lad and Indelible-Woman, which will hopefully translate to being able to tell stories about Spidey and Batman.

So, let’s get started, shall we?

The first thing I’m going to tell you is to stop being a coward. Yes, I’m talking to you. All of you. Cowardly how? Because your screen name is Kremator-9, or Intensive Malarky, or Bubblator. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know of anyone named Kremator-9 in the real world. Screen names allow you to be anonymous, and able to say anything you want.

How many of you have gotten into a flame war, saying off the wall crap that you wouldn’t have the temerity to say in real life? I’d ask for a show of hands, but what’s the point? Most of you have done it, even if you won’t admit it. Yes, that includes me.

Let’s talk about the easiest target in comics for bile, instantly divisive, and able to turn rational people into rabid proponents for both sides of the argument just by uttering his name.

Rob Liefeld.

See what I did right there? I just turned this entire discussion about online personas and marketing your brand into a Rob Liefeld debate, and I can see the responses coming in fast and furious, either for or against. They’ll be filled with bile and venom, or with praise and worship, and then the name-calling starts, and things degenerate, as they always do. Kremator-9 and Bubblator go back and forth, getting meaner and nastier, disparaging each other on every front possible. And they’re not the only ones. Kremator-9 can’t stand Liefeld, and says that he’ll tell him to his face. Bubblator is a rabid Liefeld worshiper, and says that Kremator-9 won’t say anything.

And the fact is that Bubblator is right. The only reason that both of them are able to be as rabid as they are is because they’re hiding behind their screen names, and while Bubblator may be proud to one day go up to Rob and tell him how much his artwork inspired him to be an artist himself, Kremator-9 will NEVER publicly face Rob and tell him how much he despises his artwork, and wishes that his mother took away every instrument of making art possible when he was a child. It’s just not going to happen.

Posters feel extremely brave behind the keyboard, saying things and performing actions that they are incapable of doing in real life. In real life, most people aren’t confrontational. In real life, most people are not bullies. But the screen name is what allows them to be brave.

It’s false. Like liquor, it gives a sense of empowerment that is lacking without it. But this is the persona that you’re projecting.

I have a confession of my own actions.

A some years ago, I was really into my comics. REALLY. And Chuck Austen was ruining the X-Men. It was so bad that I finally voted with my wallet and dropped the title. Hurt me to my heart, because I’m something of a completist. Anyway, it was so terrible that I wrote an open letter to Mr. Austen and put it up in the Writers Showcase on Digital Webbing. The letter stated how much of a hack I thought he was, and challenged him to a write-off: we both write an X-Men story, standalone, and have it published by Marvel, with the readers being the judge of who was fit to continue.

Yeah, silly, I know. It was my screen name that was associated with that, and people told me that there was little chance of Mr. Austen actually seeing the challenge, let alone accepting it. [Would have been decent buzz, but also would have set a terrible precedent. Looking back, I’m happy it went nowhere.]

The moral of the story is this: if it had gone somewhere, it could have gone extremely badly for me, and with my name attached to it, I probably would have a very hard time getting work anywhere else. I would also have branded myself as a troublemaker, as well as the starter of a horrible precedent. It would have been worse than what Micah Ian Wright did to himself, because this could have affected more than just one person. Lots of people could have been affected by it, and that’s not something I wanted.

And it would have been my name.

On Digital Webbing, I was known as Forby, and Steven Forbes is my real name, so it was pretty close. While I understand the need for a pseudonym at times, it’s not something I really go for. I’m one that stands by my words and my work, and unless I’ve done something in porn [maybe], it’ll be by name attached. Building my brand.

See this column? That’s part of my brand.

On Digital Webbing, I’m generally in two modes, and those modes are dependent upon the section I’m in. In the Writer’s Showcase, I’m pretty professional. I give critiques, ask questions, and try to give advice to those that ask. Professional mode. See the tie? The haircut? The jacket? That’s me. When I go someplace like the Chit Chat forum, then I’m more relaxed and silly. I let my virtual hair down. And it’s still building a brand. Letting people know that I can have a conversation that’s about nothing whatsoever, as well as being able to turn on the professionalism when needed.

I eventually changed my name on Digital Webbing to my real name, because of the branding aspect. A little older, hopefully a little wiser, and able to stay away from conversations that can lead to bad feelings.

As a creator setting up a brand, it’s advisable to step away from Kremator-9 in order to be James Spalding, and become known as that. The advantages of that are manifold.

First, if you frequent a lot of different sites, you don’t have to worry about remembering different screen names. Simple, I know, but these things have to be pointed out.

Second, it’s easier for people to keep track of you. Another simple thing, but it’s the little things that end up killing you in the end. The big things are obvious. The little things get overlooked. Besides, you don’t know how many times I’ve seen creators bump into each other who’s one “person” on one site, and another “person” on a different site. “Bill? That you? It’s Ralph! Yeah, Kremator-9! I’m known as Powered Scream here.”

In keeping with the last, it also allows you to keep a measure of consistency when dealing with people. Kremator-9 may be a jerk online, but Powered Scream is much more gracious and tolerant. However, will the real Ralph DeGrassi please stand up?

Next you have ease of identification. This is one of the biggest things. When Ralph DeGrassi puts out a book called Writing High that’s about Anne Frank writing about nuclear winter on Arrakis from the inside of the Sarlac, which wins multiple Eisners and gets a million dollar option from Paramount and goes on to make more money than The Dark Knight and Titanic combined, it’s harder to know who Kremator-9/Powered Scream is.

Or, the other scenario is that Ralph does a lot of small work here, there, and everywhere, getting his name out there and doing his thing. Is it easier for readers [and editors] to keep track of eight different screen names, or one real name?

Next, you also have to stand by what you say. I challenged Chuck Austen, calling him a hack and wanting him to never touch a keyboard again. I then went to a convention and saw the man on a podium, and realized that while I may not enjoy his work on X-Men and it might have been weird on The Eternal, he was still human. He has a family to support, just like everyone else. I felt ashamed of myself in wanting to cut the man off from his livelihood and something he obviously loved. [Also, in the internet age, everything you post is trackable and NEVER GOES AWAY. You may think it does, but it doesn’t, and it has a way of haunting you.]

And finally, how you present yourself online can be a big determinant as to whether or not you get a job, which is the reason you keep coming back week after week to read what I’m saying. You want to get better at writing your scripts, but you have to realize it goes further than that. Your entire attitude has to be redeveloped from the ground up, and let me tell you, it’s HARD if you’re known as a problematic personality online. You have to rebuild bridges, show growth and maturity, and be pretty humble before people are willing to give you a second chance. It takes time.

So what can you do? How can you help yourself?

First, use your name. You already knew I was going to say that, but this just makes it official. If your parents never told you this, then let me tell you: your name is the ONLY thing you have. It sums up who you are and how people perceive you. Don’t believe me? Rob Liefeld. See what I did just there? I evoked a response out of you simply by using someone’s name. Everything you know or believe about the man is wrapped up in two words, and those two words are his name. For good or ill, he’s built his brand. Everyone knows his name, and he continues to get work. Believe it or not, this is where you want to be, what you’re reaching for. Get used to the thought.

Second, think before you post. Getting into flame wars does nothing besides hurt your credibility. And if you think you’re going to post something inflammatory under a different screen name, think again. If a big-named creator like Reggie Hudlin [former writer of the Black Panther series and former director of BET] can get caught out there using a different screen name by someone tracking his IP, then so can you. You don’t want to hurt your credibility if you don’t have to. And remember, this is the Information Age. It’s getting easier and easier to verify statements: corroborating witnesses, documentation, and a little thing created by Al Gore called The Internet. Eventually, the truth will out. Micah Ian Wright. [If you don’t know that story, go look it up. It’s out there.]

Third, whenever possible, go over your posts before you put them up. You’re looking for spelling and diction. This is your brand we’re talking about, so no length should be too far. If you need to first type all of your posts in Word before putting them up, then so be it. The program isn’t foolproof, and typos can creep in, but it can certainly be a sight better than some of the posts I see you making.

This really needs to be driven home. Let me explain.

I basically hung out at Digital Webbing, in the Writer’s Showcase. And while there, I looked at scripts and made comments on a lot of them. I would say that a full third of everything I look at there has an avoidable spelling/grammar mistake. A full third. I’m not even counting the ones who have English as a second or third language.

You should be trying to put your best foot forward when putting up something as crucial as a script. Not doing the preliminaries for at least the basics, such as format and spelling, will get you quickly set straight. Format is the easiest thing to learn, and doing a spellcheck takes only a couple of clicks of a button, max. You’re posting something that a bunch of other writers are going to look at, and you’re going to have a bunch of simple spelling mistakes in there?

Think of it as a writing competition. You don’t want to give the judges anything you don’t have to in order to think less of your work. Spelling is a big one. Simple format is the other. At least show some effort.

Fourth, stand by your words. Like I said, they’re all you have. There is a concept that most people don’t think of or even use in today’s society—at least not by the younger generation. That concept is “My word is my bond.” As a child of the 80s, growing up Black in the middle class, going to both public and private schools, I heard this a LOT. [Well, it was “word is bond,” but it’s the same thing.] I don’t hear it anymore. While the saying may be out of vogue, the concept and meaning behind it should not be. While on the ‘net, you are your words. The two are one. It’s all anyone has to identify you with. If you want to build that brand as something that you can be proud of and others want to work with, then you have to stand by your words. Comics is a small community, and word will get around.

I can also put in things like “do good work,” but really, what does that mean? “Good work” is subjective. The word “good” by itself is subjective. I love peanut butter and think it’s good. My daughter, who is not allergic, doesn’t care for peanut butter at all. (Steven, that’s food!) No, it’s a metaphor. It’s the same thing. What does “good” mean? There was a discussion on Digital Webbing a few months ago that evolved into Lee Nordling saying that we have to “be better.” Of course, the questions are “better than what?” and “who decides?” So, really, the fifth would be “be willing to grow.” There are some of you who just aren’t willing to do that, for whatever reason. Then when you keep bashing your head against the wall and not getting anywhere and wonder why, thinking that comics aren’t worth it, you blame the industry instead of thinking that its you. Just be willing to grow.

And that’s really about it for this week. For homework, I want you to take an honest view of yourself and what you’ve done in the past, and think about what you can do differently, and whether or not you want to change your screen name as you build your brand.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

Comments (8)

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  1. Lance Boone says:

    I try to be the same person on-line that I am in the “real” world…no surprises that way. I’ve always used my real name at Digital Webbing, bleedingcool, CBR, Image Comics, and here(my favorite sites for comic book news and industry tips). IMO, I think I’m already doing a good job of putting my best foot forward, but it wasn’t done with the intention of branding. I’m just a nice guy. 🙂

    • Good for you, Lance! You may be ahead of some of us, there.

      Using your real name can be scary. Especially for the female population. That’s real, because the internet is very often anonymous and sexist. It isn’t difficult to stalk or do all manner of not-so-savory things.

      But if you’re on Twitter and Facebook and identify yourself with your picture or use your name as your handle, as more and more of us are, then the reasons to not use your real name in a forum setting become fewer and fewer.

      But those are just my thoughts. As always, your individual experience will vary.

      • Lance Boone says:

        WAY off topic but I’m happy that I’m able to post on comixtribe from my Firefox browser now. I used to have to go to IE. On more than one occasion, I wrote a thoughtful post in Firefox, clicked submit, crash! Post gone.

        Though sometimes, that might have been for the best. 🙂

  2. Lance Boone says:

    Still no Liefeld haters here? I thought they had a google alert set for anytime his name was mentioned on the internets.

    Maybe they’re too busy reading Hawk and Dove #1. 🙂

  3. Jules Rivera says:

    Ohhh, man. Have I ever gotten into trouble with this.

    A while ago, I wrote a column about comic art and my thoughts on different methods. Some of those thoughts were positive while some were wholesale negative. And I made the INTENSE mistake of naming names. With one article I wrote in an hour haphazardly (for free, no less) and posted to a prominent news site as an afterthought, I racked up 10,000 haters. I never intended to piss off as many people as I did with that article, but I had people harrassing me on the internet for years afterward. YEARS. If you put your name behind what you say, you MUST be prepared for what can come out the other side. It can get ugly.

    Now, I have not flipflopped on my opinions. I still hold the beliefs in that article true, but I’m a lot less vocal about them now. I’ve come to the point where I’m quite sure nobody gives a damn what I think of anyone else’s work (and anyone does, they shouldn’t). I realize now my time is better spent spreading knowledge I’ve picked up along the way. Nobody cares what I think. Just what I know. Same goes for the rest of you.

    As for Rob Liefeld, I’m not a fan of his work, but I don’t particularly hate the man. I think his work defined the “extremely extreme” era that was the 90’s. That’s not really a compliment, but he is a part of comics history, for better or worse.

  4. Paula says:

    Squeeee! You used “temerity” in a sentence! I named my daughter that 🙂
    Okay, going back to the article now… 🙂

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