12.18.2009

Creator & Critic Explore Creation & Critique (Part 2 of 4)

In case you missed it, check out Part 1 in this series discussing the relationship between creators and critics in the comic book industry.

Justin: Ah, I remember that western song; that was funny! I think Kevin's feedback paid off, I think your work certainly grew to show a realistic balance of personal experiences.

I think I'm my own toughest critic as well; for example, finding typos after something has been posted just *kills* me. "How did I miss that?! Grrr!"

I have received some feedback that's stuck with me. I've had sort of an online relationship with Brian Wood, and then I finally met him in person at this year's San Diego Con. He said something to the effect of "there's a lot of people doing what you do, but not very well, you're one of the most articulate, well written, etc." Coming from a professional writer, one who I respect and am a fan of, that carried a lot of weight. But it's funny, because Brian has pushed back on some of my criticisms from time to time. When his DC/Vertigo series Northlanders began, I gave him some grief about his period characters speaking in modern parlance and he called me on it. But it was never adversarial or lacked civility, it was just him taking me down his path of reasoning and explaining an artistic choice he'd made. I had a better appreciation of the work because of it.

Another that springs to mind is a time that Steven Grant at CBR once put out a call for anyone still just doing weekly reviews, he perceived that there were few in the field still doing this, so I submitted 13 Minutes as an example. Ultimately, he did this quick round table of like the top 10 sites still doing weekly reviews, and linked to them. He ended his summary of 13 Minutes by saying that I "wasn't afraid to be opinionated" and that hit me hard. It gave me some focus. Keep doing it. Keep telling the truth as I see it.

Lastly, Kurt Busiek stopped by to correct me on something. I was writing some random piece about his Green Lantern strip in Wednesday Comics and made a passing reference to his work on The Brave & The Bold. Well, I know very well that was Mark Waid, I just totally brain-farted, rushed the post without proofing, and he was like "well, thanks for the kudos on Green Lantern, but yeah, The Brave & The Bold was Mark, not me." Haha! It was a minor mistake in the grand scheme of things, but embarrassing since I pride myself on getting the details right. You just eat humble pie, be gracious, smile, nod, and move on.

Aside from just the obvious need for accuracy and fact-checking, all of those experiences really just taught me to be precise. Am I actually saying what I mean to say, in the clearest way possible? Sometimes I have a tendency to flood my sentences with vocab and the meaning gets watered down. Sometimes something like "there's a high level of detail in these pencils" becomes "the efficacy of the line work is dramatically rendered in such a way as to heighten our..." and that's just kind of nebulous. Remember Hemingway, I say to myself sometimes. Short. Crisp. Declarative.

What about you, as a creator, have you ever pushed back on a critic's assessment of your work?

Moving on to another topic, I'm interested in any ethical dilemmas you may have encountered. Have you ever experienced any sort of conflict of interest where a review or interaction with a critic is concerned?

Ryan: In answer to the pushing back on a critic’s assessment, I have done that from time to time. I recall a pretty flippant and ignorant comment posted to a positive review I got. The person who commented must have only read the word “autobiography” and made a judgment, because his two cents was something like, “Sounds like Harvey Pekar. Already been done.” I wrote my master’s thesis on autobiography in comics, buddy. Don’t mess! :) Ha-ha! So, I wrote back (very diplomatically) and explained that while, yes, Harvey Pekar’s name is pretty much synonymous with autobio comics, it doesn’t mean there have not been new advances in the autobiographical comics genre. I pointed out a few reasons why my books were different and probably wrapped it up with something conciliatory like thanking him for taking the time to comment. Anyhow, it’s not often that I’ll rebut, but I felt like it was a grassroots opportunity to educate.

Anyhow, about the ethical dilemmas between myself and critics, I’m not sure what sort of ethical dilemmas I might have, if someone is willing to review my stuff. (Spoken like a self-promoting opportunist.) Can you give me an example of what you mean?

Justin: Well, I don't think you would ever do anything like this, but I once met a creator (who shall remain nameless) at an LCS signing. Essentially, he offered me a free copy of his book if I promised to give it a positive review. I explained that I didn't operate that way, that all I could guarantee was my honest reaction to the book, which may or may not be positive, but that I would promise to do a review, period. He seemed exasperated by this, as if I was the only one who'd ever rejected such an offer. I began to walk away; he called me back and we started haggling like it was a Persian Bazaar. What we ended up settling on was that if I liked it, I'd do a review, and if I didn't like it, I wouldn't post anything. In the end, the book was awful and I didn't post a review. I wanted to trash it, but figured I'd given my word and no exposure whatsoever was probably better punishment than even the bad press would have been. Again, I know a move like that isn't your style, but I'm wondering if you have encountered any type of conflict in the past?

That leads into my next question, which is how would you describe the relationship between creator and critic? Is it inherently adversarial or can it be symbiotic?

Ryan: Ha-ha! I was totally LOL-ing over that last story. What an awful and aggressive impression to leave with a reviewer. Do I have stories like that? God, no. At least I hope not! Maybe you’ll have to poll the reviewer community. Ha-ha. But, honestly, I think the most assertive I get with reviewers is giving them a free book and hoping for the best. So, I think I’m going to be a disappointment with regards to creator/reviewer drama-rama. Sorry.

On with the creator/reviewer relationship query. I’m starting to feel like these are loaded questions, Justin. Do you have more stories to get off your chest? :)

I’ve actually had pretty good relationships with reviewers. As I said before, even if it is not a glowing review, I respect them for giving me honest, critical feedback about my work. That’s what I want. That’s what makes us grow (as creators). If every reviewer pats the creators on their heads like mommy does, none of us will get any better. So, yes, even in situations where there is constructive critique of my work, I still view the feedback as valuable. This was the case with review site, Optical Sloth (as I mentioned above), and several others as well. So I’d cast my vote for the creator/reviewer relationship as being largely symbiotic. Or maybe I’ve fortuitously steered clear of enough snarky reviewers to be blissfully ignorant.

After you spin me your tale of adversarial creator/reviewer relationship woe, I’d like to hear about your criteria for a good comic. What special qualities, what sort of hutzpa, what characteristics do you look for in an “A+ reviewed” comic? Maybe this will act as an indirect constructive criticism to comic creators at large.

PLEASE JOIN US HERE IN ONE WEEK FOR PART 3 IN OUR SERIES!

4 Comments:

At 12:54 PM, Blogger DMonkey said...

Big J - how can I get a copy of Silicon Valley Blues and you gonna check out Avatar? Later

 
At 12:59 PM, Blogger Justin said...

D-Boney,

SVB was a very small print run and sold out long ago. I might have the script somewhere at home if you want to check it out, plenty of "Big C" references in there!

Will Netflix Avatar, advance reviews pretty mediocre... revolutionary CGI technology ala Jurassic Park & Titanic, but largely style over substance, say the haters.

The Mother Ship, I Seen Your Girl, Nic-Knack-Snack-Attack!

J

 
At 1:07 PM, Blogger DMonkey said...

I'd love to read SVB since I was somewhat part of it.

My kids are all jacked up to see Avatar and man was I disappointed with Invictus. Sadly, Mr. Eastwood seems to have gotten lost in his own style.

"Hey, why don't you missionaries come on in here? Have a seat...uh yah, don't mind what is on the TV"

Darth Donsey

 
At 1:25 PM, Blogger Justin said...

Dude, I totally thought of you when I first saw the trailer for Invictus... Rugby World Cup, Matt Damon, Swarthy South Africans, Morgan Freeman's Grisled Warrior Locks, that movie was made for you!

"UHH... HUH? OH, UHHH... Yeah, that Mooneyham is a closer, I like that kid."

Chplumme

 

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