One of my first stops on the Internet every morning is Jog The Blog. Jog, or Joe McCulloch, (since that’s his real name) is rightfully considered to be one of the smartest and best online critics working these days, consistently writing about a broad range of comics in an engaging and witty style that really gets to the core of what a particular work is about. I’ll often come away from a book thinking “Yeah, I got what that was about,” only to read Joe’s review and realize no, I didn’t get it at all.
I consider myself lucky, actually, since Joe lives about an hour away from me and works in the same small city I do. It’s nice to have friends you can talk about comics with over a burrito and vanilla latte.
But what’s the use of friendship if you can’t exploit it for the purposes of your biweekly comics column? With that in mind, I called up Joe and asked if he’d be willing to talk about the history of his blog, his own interest in comics and his view of the current scene (if I can use such a hackneyed and overly simplistic phrase). Part One deals pretty much exclusively with his own personal history of reading comics and how the blog came to be. Part two (and three if warranted) will deal with more contemporary and philosophical issues surrounding comics criticism.
I’d like to thank Joe extensively for taking time out to talk. Next burrito’s on me.
Q: Well, the first question I should really ask you, since it seems to be the first one everyone asks whenever they meet you is, how did the alias Jog come about?
A: It’s really served me well I think, because I get a great feeling in my heart when people greet me in real life as Jog. This happened at a library recently. You can just hear them pronouncing the quotes around “Jog.” It’s good when you hear quotes being pronounced.
Jog has been a word I’ve used as an all-purpose alias so to speak. The origin of it was that I was playing some arcade game awhile back and I usually, because I have no imagination, sign my name in the high score tables as “Joe” for my first name. And one day, perhaps through the hand of an angel, I misfired on the last letter, and it hit the letter G. And Jog’s a funny word, and everyone I was with found that incredibly funny. I don’t know what that says about us.
So I started using that word. I’d be in high school with my brother and we’d be working on hacking Super Mario I ROMs, back when hacking ROMs was the hot thing in high school, at least in my crowd, and my brother would replace the word Mario with “Botch,” cause that’s comedy gold right there. And I’d work in the word “Jog.” I think my brother also used the word Jog too. But anyway I started signing myself as that on message boards like Rick Veitch’s Comicon board.
I also used my full name on the Comics Journal message board because they required you to use your full name, so I’ve always been kind of going by both names, but when I started the Web site I though “Well, I’ll be catchier if I use Jog The Blog, because that rhymes. People will remember it.” I wound up going by this name and there was an early period where people were like “What is this guy’s name? Is it Jag like the show about the Navy?” I think I’ve captured the hearts and minds of people now with my name.
Q: Backtracking a bit, what initially in your youth got you interested in comics and what sort of comics were you reading back then?
A: I read a lot of comics because my whole family, my great-aunt and my mother especially, thought comics were a great way to get a kid to read. Cause my family’s been very big about learning how to read quickly, which is a very, very good thing. My great-aunt would usually get comics and logically she would find comics that had recognizable characters on them and get them for me.
I think even at that time, which was 1987ish, there was already a perception with The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen being on the news that superheroes are for bigger kids already. So I didn’t get a lot of superhero comics when I was young. My aunt got the reprints of Disney comics that Gladstone was doing at the time and by sheer chance I wound up reading all of these old, classic Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse newspaper strips that were colorized and rearranged into comic book stories. I loved them so much. I read some of the Carl Barks stuff they were reprinting at the time too but at that age – I was six or so – I didn’t really get into Barks. Maybe Carl Barks was too demanding on my part.
Not to insult Floyd Gottfredson, but there was this cadence to the newspaper strips, the daily format – here’s a gag and here’s a gag and here’s a point – and rearranging that into a comic book story affected my mind. I internalized these rhythms and really enjoyed it.
I read superhero comics a little later, but again, my introduction to superhero comics was a little strange, because we were in that post-Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns era of superhero comics anyway. The first one I remember reading was an issue of Spectacular Spider-Man where the Punisher was having his mind blasted by this C-grade villain and the Punisher reached into his soul and into his pocket for a gun and shoots the villain to death. And Spider-Man’s yelling at him “Why’d you kill that guy? I could have used him for information on the Kingpin!” So this is the kind of happy-go-lucky superhero stuff that was my introduction to the genre.
Q: And as soon as you read it you said “I have to have more of that.”
A: I did actually. That was what superhero comics were “about” for me.
I didn’t get into the heavier stuff like the Mike Grell Green Arrow stuff at the time. I guess I kind of skewed on the younger scale, but yeah, I read a lot of The Punisher. I read all three of the Punisher books that were going on at that time. I think I liked Dixon’s Punisher War Zone the best.
Q: At what time did you stop reading comics and why?
A: As I got older, I’d go to the comic shop, I’d get my father to drive me, and the comic book shops around me at the time or that I had access to …
Q: Just for the record, where was that exactly?
A: This was in northeastern Pennsylvania, directly between Scranton of The Office fame and a town called Wilkes-Barre which is also famous for appearing in the first Faces of Death movie. Right between those two was where I lived.
So anyway, the shops around there at the time — and maybe I’m unintentionally insulting someone because I just didn’t know their shop was around and I apologize in advance — but the shop I visited at the time was very, very superherocentric and you’d be pretty lucky to even get a lot of Dark Horse stuff in there. They bought wholesale at the Image revolution, which I was the perfect age for. I was 12-14 during that heady era. I’d read a lot of Image stuff, a lot of Marvel stuff. Didn’t like a lot of DC too much at the time for some reason.
As I got older, 14 or 15, I got, I don’t want to say disenchanted – I definitely dumped Spider-Man during the Ben Reilly affair – I kind of got bored with it like “Is there nothing else?” I’d be aware of there being other things, because I’d look at the back cover of Jim Valentino’s Shadowhawk, in which he did a public service and put all of these guys like Starchild and Bone and Hepcats on the back cover.
I had no access to these things and I didn’t really have a lot funds to send away to these artists for them to directly send me their books. So I’d just kind of dropped out. I got deeper into high school. I didn’t read too many comics. I started watching a lot of anime though and thinking “Well anime is the logical evolution of comic books.” I always kept one toe in though. Speaking of anime, the first manga I read was Ghost in the Shell, which I read in a little ashcan preview that ran in Wizard. Wizard was also where I first found out about Chris Ware and Acme Novelty Library.
A: Oh yeah. Back in the day they would talk about these things and I guess I was inclined towards being interested in these things. They had a manga column. They had an indie comics column that someone was writing. Just having it there would make me aware. Maybe other readers glossed over it, but it got my attention.
So during this time I’d look at manga if I happened to see it. I got a part-time job at age 16. I figured out I can turn this money into money orders and send it into people for stuff. I ended up sending it to one of the catalogs where you spend so many millions of dollars you get free baubles. I bought a whole bunch of the trades of Bone that had built up and for a free bauble I selected the second Quimby the Mouse issue of Acme Novelty Library. How the hell that got to be a bauble I don’t know, but Chris Ware really knocked me out with that. The Quimby the Mouse stuff blew my mind. It actually changed my thinking on what comics could do completely. The kind of slap I needed.
I followed those things tangentially, but it wasn’t until Free Comic Book Day 2002 and I was 21 years old that I thought “Oh, I could follow this stuff.” I got into it more. I stopped confusing Ennis and Ellis. I got used to it. That’s what prompted me towards going on the Internet a lot; I needed to catch up on all this stuff I’d missed.
That answer’s going to be like five or six paragraphs.
Q: That’s going to be part one. We’ll stop it right there. So how did that lead to starting a blog?
A: I was reading a lot of blogs first of all, talking about reading things on the Internet. I guess the first big wave of blogging was around 2002 or so, I don’t have the history in front of me, hopefully I’m remembering it right. I’d read blogs and I was attracted to the heavier analysis type of blogs that a bunch of people were doing at that time like Sean Collins and Dave Fiore. That thing interested me. “This is kind of the way I like to think about comics” because fundamentally what I do on my site is … it’s my own thought processes. I occasionally hear comments about people who stop reviewing comics and say “I feel good I can sit and read this as a reader without thinking of it as a reviewer. “ I guess I don’t quite understand that. I’d like to locate that switch because I can’t find it. What I do on the site is just the way I read comics and how I process them. I guess in that way my site is more autobiographically-inclined criticism because it’s an account of what I’m thinking about processed hopefully into a reader friendly form.
Q: Do you feel as though you have a writing style per se? And if so, how would you attempt to describe it?
A: Oh gosh. As everyone can tell by now my writing style is slightly different from my conversational style. I think I could put some words together whereas when I’m talking to you about comics, for example, it all sounds like [gibberish], I go though different phases with the writing style. There was a period in 2005 where I got really excited about smothering the personality and style of writing and writing in a really chilly kind of style because that kind of attracted me at that point. At this point it’s hard to describe. It kind of organically forms. It’s prodded around by my own interests but it develops on my own. I’ve been told I have a mid-20th century writing style which I guess I agree with. What does that mean though?
Q: Who are some of your biggest influences as far as critical writing, both inside and outside of comics?
A: I think before starting my blog I was influenced pretty heavily by the writing going on in horror fandom, because I was also a part of that for a long while. Not so much now. Now I’m in the toe-dipping phase of that. But I’d read a lot of interesting analysis that would go into Euro-horror, exploitation fandom. A lot of British writers.
The first and foremost among them is Stephen Thrower, who was also in the noise band coil for awhile. He wrote a lot of half-academic , half-popular analysis. He wrote a book on the Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci, and he just put out this gigantic 800-page book on American exploitation films and he traveled around interviewing these, even for exploitation films really obscure guys and talking to them about their movies. He ran a fanzine called Eyeball for awhile which I think only lasted a couple of issues but that styule of writing, taking serious what might be frivolous stuff, while keeping an eye on the frivolity but still respecting what it is, that’s the kind of thing that really steeped into my writing.
Next week: The downside of having broad tastes and what’s worth reading right now.