Dissecting a press release

Dissecting A Comic Book Press Release

I get some press releases from comic book companies. Not many, but enough for them to be a regular feature in my inbox. I’m not sure quite how that happened – my email address has been harvested by a social media company that has been selling it on incorrectly to PR companies, but I don’t know if comic book companies’ PR would acquire it that way.

I’m not too bothered – I might scan the emails occasionally, but I mostly ignore them – but for some reason the press release I received from Bluewaters Productions about Tribute: Whitney Houston stuck out enough for me to read it through properly, become boggled by the amateur level of the content, and then feel compelled to write some thoughts about it.

I have copied and pasted the complete text from the email – you can see it for yourself at Bluewater Productions’ website or their Tumblr [EDIT: no longer; even the Wayback Machine doesn’t have it] – and my notes are interspersed within.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
In what would have been the superstars 50th birthday this year, Bluewater Productions is publishing a comic book about her life in “Tribute: Whitney Houston”.

We shall ignore the obvious error of the missing apostrophe in ‘superstars’ because this is a sentence with far more problems. Apparently, according to the first clause (‘50th birthday this year’), Whitney Houston had 50 birthdays this year, which is particularly impressive for someone who is dead. This is before the sentence becomes a dangling modifier – the first clause should refer to the subject immediately after the comma, but instead Bluewater Productions is somehow the superstar with 50 birthdays this year. The second clause, taken on its own merits, confuses things further by talking about ‘her’ before mentioning who exactly ‘her’ is. This sentence – the opening gambit in a press release to grab your attention – is a mangled mess, and captured my attention for all the wrong reasons. I understand that being a PR is very difficult, especially in an age where the noise of communication is so high, and trying to gain traction in any media about something so relatively small as a comic book is a Herculean task. I don’t envy PR people. However, it shouldn’t excuse a lack of fundamentals in English language – if your job is to communicate, you should know the basics of sentence construction.

Bearing in mind that I am not a copywriter, this is my alternative suggestion:
Bluewater Productions is proud to publish ‘Tribute: Whitney Houston’, a comic book about the life of the superstar in what would have been her 50th year.

Iconic superstar, Whitney Houston broke records in the music and movie industry.   She was an idol to millions and adored all over the world.  Some even said she had the voice of an angel, but the demons of her past was a creeping ghost on her life which was tragically taken away too soon.   Take a look at her past and how she changed the world with just the sound of her voice.  This is the life and death of Whitney Houston.

We come to a pet hate of mine: the overuse of the incorrect meaning of ‘iconic’. With no disrespect to Miss Houston, she is not iconic, let alone an ‘iconic superstar’, whatever that is. I’m not being pedantic in the sense that, originally, an icon was a painting of Christ (or other holy figure). I’m talking about the journalese appropriation of the word to mean ‘famous person’ – when searching around for a term to condense the description of a human being into one word, lazy journalist now use icon or iconic casually without any understanding of the meaning of the word or what is trying to be conveyed. Icon can be used in context – perhaps Miss Houston could possibly be described as ‘an icon of female R&B singers’ – but it becomes a clichéd modifier that devalues the person in question when used incorrectly, as here: what does ‘iconic superstar’ even mean? It’s almost a tautology.

The rest of the sentence doesn’t get any better. There should be a comma after ‘Huston’ because she is being named rather than just a continuation of the sentence. The phrase ‘broke records’ next to music industry unfortunately conjures the image of someone physically breaking vinyl records in a strop, instead of trying to praise her for her achievements within the entertainment business (although I’m not quite sure what records she broke in the movie industry, as she only appeared in three feature films). This paragraph is very vague in its attempts to justify a comic book devoted to Houston’s life, starting from the non-specific record breaking and the generic ‘idol to millions’ and ‘adored all over the world’ (really?). It gets worse with ‘Some said’ – anybody can say something, but it doesn’t mean anything. There is no weight or merit to whatever comes after that lazy introductory phrase. But that’s nothing to the second half of the sentence, which mixes metaphors (‘demons of her past’, ‘creeping ghost’), doesn’t understand subject–verb agreement (‘demons of her past was a creeping ghost’ should be ‘demons of her past were creeping ghosts’, to make the verb ‘were’ agree with the plural subject of ‘demons’), and is missing a comma that would make some sense of the last part (‘which was tragically taken away too soon’ is referring to Houston’s life, but without the comma after ‘life’ to specifically make it a clause referring to the word ‘life’, it reads as if it were the demons that were tragically taken away too soon, which wouldn’t be too tragic because presumably her life would be better without them).

We then get a clunky transition from description of Houston to the imperative: ‘Take a look at her past’. Haven’t you just been explaining her past? Why should we need to take a look at it? A smoother change might have mentioned how the book explores her complex life and how she affected many people (the phrase ‘she changed the world with just the sound of her voice’ is reaching to say the least – Houston did not change the world, and there are very few individuals who actually affected the entirety of civilisation on this planet), and certainly wouldn’t end with the abrupt, awkward final sentence ‘This is the life and death of Whitney Houston’, which just sits there at the end of the paragraph, a redundant (and inaccurate) extra, serving no purpose.

The 32-page comic book released this week, is written by Raphael Moran and drawn by Kirk Feretzanis with a cover by famed artist Neil Feigeles.

Credit is due for the correct use of the hyphen in ’32-page comic book’, but this evaporates with the addition of the comma after ‘week’, which disconnects the subject of the sentence (’32-page comic book’) from the verb (‘is’); the comma would be better placed before ‘with’, to indicate that the book has a cover instead of the artist. And this may be pedantic (he said, after several paragraphs of pedantry), but: ‘famed’ artist? I’ve read a lot of comics but I’ve never heard of Neil Feigeles (sorry, Neil). He doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry. I think that means he’s not famous.

“I was very excited to get the opportunity to illustrate Whitney Houston, one of my personal favorite singers. Hopefully what I’ve come up with would make her happy. And hopefully the fans, will think I did her justice”. Said artist Neil Feigeles

Some more misuse use of punctuation in this paragraph: the comma after the word ‘fans’ repeats the problem of disconnecting the subject from the verb ‘will think’, which is more blatant than the previous error because the words are right next to each other; the full stop after the quotation mark should be a comma before the quotation mark, and the ‘Said’ should be ‘said’ instead (how the writer of this thought that those four words made a sentence, I’m not sure); and the absence of a full stop at the end of the paragraph completes (or, rather, doesn’t complete) the impressive punctuation problem within a single paragraph.

“While doing research on this book, I found it a pleasure to discover what a Power Force Whitney Houston was.” said comic book artist Kirk Feretzanis.

Again with the punctuation problem: the full stop after ‘was’ should be a comma, which at least would work with the lower-case ‘s’ of ‘said’ in this sentence. The confusion I have in this sentence is ‘Power Force’ – what is a ‘Power Force’? Why does it warrant capital letters to emphasise it? How is Whitney Houston a ‘Power Force’? Am I missing a new usage? It isn’t in the Urban Dictionary, so it must be a very new phrase … It might be a personal problem from working as an editor in medical communications and healthcare advertising, but I hate phrases that sound made up – in the work I see, they are usually marketing buzz words invented by a stupid marketing types who shouldn’t be working in the communications industry – and I double-hate when they use capital letters to make the phrases seem more important than they actually are. Seeing such a ridiculous expression in a press release for a comic book makes me very sad.

“The Tribute line of comic books tells the stories of the classic entertainers that have passed on,” says Bluewater publisher, Darren G. Davis “It is a way for us to honor these people who have made a difference in the world.

This paragraph has problems with missing punctuation (there should be a full stop after the word ‘Davis’, and there should be a quotation mark at the end of the second sentence) and a strange decision to have Davis speak in the present tense (‘says’) when everyone else was speaking in the past (‘said’). It also uses the word ‘that’ when referring to people, which I don’t particularly like – what’s wrong with the word ‘who’?

Previous subjects that have been featured in the “Tribute” line include Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Capra, Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean.  All of them can be found digitally on iTunes, Nook & Kindle, and in print at Comic Flea Market.

Another use of ‘that’ to niggle my delicate sensibilities, but it is the confusion in the second sentence: apparently, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Capra, Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean can be located on iTunes, which answers the questions about the afterlife for you – the use of the phrase ‘All of them’ is supposed to refer to the comic books about these people, but the first sentence doesn’t actually talk about the comics specifically, which means the plural pronoun ‘them’ couldn’t be used to refer to the comics (the sentence talks about the Tribute line and the people in them, hence the confusion).

Print copies of “Female Force” can be ordered at http://bit.ly/16sek62
You can download these titles on Wowio, ComiXology, DriveThru Comics, Google Play, My Digital Comics, Overdrive, Iverse, PanelFly, iTunes, Kindle, Wowio, Nook, Kobo and wherever eBooks are sold.
Click here to see the book on iTunes: http://bit.ly/13DG0X0

I don’t have anything to say about the last three sentences – the writer of the press release at least knows how to communicate basic information on how to access the comics – which is a relief, but I’ve written over one thousand words about the rest of it, so it’s about time. I realise this blog post might come across as a bit vindictive, but that’s not why I did it – I just wanted to point out that there should be a basic level of communication skill in a document that is supposed communicate something. This lack of attention to detail displays a lack of care for the reading audience, and if you don’t care about your readers, why should we care about you?

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