2.24.2012

Am I A Reviewer Or Not?

So, this happened…

@PeterDavid_PAD: RT If you are an accredited reviewer who would like to receive copies of Crazy 8 titles, write to me at padguycrazy8@gmail.com.

@thirteenminutes: @PeterDavid_PAD Love your work, but what the heck is an “accredited reviewer?” What agency do I apply to for accreditation?

@PeterDavid_PAD: @thirteenminutes I think it’s one of those “if you have to ask” things…

@PeterDavid_PAD: @thirteenminutes Basically we’re trying to separate people who write, “I just read this book. Meh.” from pretty much everyone else.

@thirteenminutes: @PeterDavid_PAD Ok, not trying to be surly, just fascinated by the notion of some commonly accepted qualifications to be a reviewer

@PeterDavid_PAD: @thirteenminutes There’s a difference between a guy who writes a blog w/three followers and one who regularly contributes to major site.

@thirteenminutes: @PeterDavid_PAD Slippery slope, but I hear what you’re saying. Thanks for responding (and for X-Factor 87, still a fave!)

I don’t follow Peter David’s writing career religiously or anything, but I generally think he’s good. I thought his X-Factor run back in the day with Joe Quesada was the business. I’ve enjoyed the current run, especially the early issues with Ryan Sook. I started following him on Twitter because he jumped on about when I did and seemed to have all kinds of entertaining energy. I have only peripherally heard of his Crazy 8 project and don’t really care one way or another if I read the material. What really jumped out at me in this otherwise innocuous tweet was the “accredited reviewer” verbiage.

I think that idea is rubbish.

Now, benefit of the doubt, maybe he didn’t think too hard about that word choice, “accredited,” and I know it wasn’t the main crux of his tweet, but he said it, and it sure bugged me. I think we all have some idea of what he meant... or do we, really? I can see in hindsight that my original message to him may have come off aggressive and fairly smart-ass, so that’s my bad. With all that prefacing out of the way, I want to get into this idea.

The bottom line is that there are no qualifications to be a reviewer. Period. There’s no commonly accepted credentials that are prerequisites, nor is there any governing third party that would validate that, other than the irrational court of public opinion. Reviewing comics at CBR is no more/less “reviewy” legitimate than reviewing comics at John Doe’s Comics Blog. You don’t need any qualifications to bloviate about your opinion on comics online. You start a blog, you talk about comics, and guess what? You’re a reviewer! You might not be a good reviewer (let’s not even go down that rabbit hole about what makes a “good” reviewer, I’m still just talking about what makes an adjectiveless “reviewer”), but nonetheless you are technically a reviewer.

I’ve been reviewing and/or blogging about comics in one form or another online for something like 10 years now, 7 here at Thirteen Minutes alone. I’m currently actively involved in 3 sites, one of which is a paid gig, one of which is with a major “name” creator, I can walk into any comic shop or Barnes & Noble and find one of my pull quotes, tens of thousands of hits involved, and a small but loyal following. Hey, I think I’m fairly successful. I self-identify as a reviewer. I have never once written a review like the one Peter fears: “I just read this book. Meh.” But despite all of that, I’m guessing that I’m not an accredited reviewer by Peter David’s subjective definition because a) until today, he’s probably never heard of me, and b) I don’t write for CBR (nothing against CBR, just an example).

Ultimately, I decided to try and close this conversation thread with Peter down because a) it was early in the morning in California and I felt like being conciliatory, b) I didn’t really feel like arguing once I saw where his head was at, I wasn’t going to be able to move the needle of his perception, and c) I don’t think Twitter is a feasible venue to get deep into a topic like this, that’s what blogs are for. Suffice it to say, I thought his retorts were fairly dismissive and over-simplified. Obviously there’s a simple difference between a person who writes a blog with a limited following and a person who contributes regularly to a major site. Kind of a straw man argument, that one. Not to mention, there’s so much subjectivity in it. For example, what qualifies something as a “major” site? Because someone has heard of it before? Popularity does not equate to quality. If that were the case, some recent dreck like Justice League #1 would have been considered "the best" comic. Is one of the criteria of being a "major" site hits, or unique impressions? If you get 1 million hits, that's pretty successful, but 3 hits isn't. What about 100,000? What about 10,000? What about 1,000? Where's the line? What becomes a credible source? This is my point. It's a slippery slope argument, with no hard and fast rules.

My main point is that he cited two polar extremes that are not binary mutually-exclusive choices. They exist on a continuum, hence my slippery slope description. In an era where everyone’s famous on the internet for 15 people, where is the threshold between obscurity and success? I’m genuinely asking the question, because I don’t know the definitive answer, and am suggesting that one doesn’t actually exist. It would be near impossible to get anyone to agree on the conditions. I’m neither the guy blogging with 3 followers (I easily have 10 times that amount! Haha!), nor am I the guy contributing to whatever is considered a “major” site. I exist somewhere right in the middle.

I consider myself fairly qualified by my own internal compass. One of my first jobs as a kid was working in the neighborhood LCS, I’ve read comics most of my life, with two distinct multi-year gaps where girls, cars, and soccer trumped them. I was interested in writing from an early age, devoured books, wrote for school newspapers, real newspapers, etc. I’ve had several paid writing gigs in pop culture that did not involve comics; my first paid writing gig ever was actually writing movie reviews for a real ball-buster of an editor. In comics, I cover depth and breadth, from the mainstream, to indie small press, to the most rudimentary mini-comics. I’ve made my own mini-comics, one of the best pieces of “training” for being a reviewer I can imagine. Most importantly, I’ve worked outside of comics professionally for, oh, 17 years now. I’ve worked for the Federal Government, I’ve worked in the private sector, I’ve worked in Corporate America for a Fortune 100, and I’ve worked at a small NPO that’s an art institution. I have a degree, but not in journalism or art. I guess my point is that, again, there’s no commonly accepted set of qualifications or credentials to be a reviewer.

As far as I can tell, the only qualifications to be a decent reviewer are a) don’t suck, and b) self-promote. That’s it! Interestingly, I think these are the exact same qualifications needed at the most fundamental level to be a good creator. As far as I can tell, I sort of sit on the fence between being an inbred fanboy and still being an objective outsider with some worldly experience to draw from as a point of reference. Perhaps that’s reflected in my reading habits. I can absolutely get down with Scott Snyder on Batman from DC Comics, which is about as mainstream a title as you can get at the moment. I can also totally get down with the latest mini-comic from Tom Neely, Julia Gfrorer, or Noah Van Sciver. You probably haven’t heard of these people, and if you have, it’s only because I’ve hyped them to you before. Sometimes, the most interesting things happen in the gray area between the two extremes, where a creator like Kody Chamberlain lives; a book like Sweets is totally in my wheelhouse. It’s where I like to live as a reviewer. Creatively or critically, you find voices you personally like for any multitude of reasons, and you follow them. That's it.

Sometimes people with paper qualifications, journalistic training, or academic provenance can produce the driest and most boring review. Sometimes people without these types of ostensible qualifications have the most interesting things to say simply because they do come at it as an outsider who brings a fresh approach and perspective that is illuminating. There’s no journalistic training, no academic pedigree that makes me a reviewer. I review, therefore I am.

“Accreditation” as a reviewer is a false distinction that exists only in limited perception of the world. It is exclusive, not inclusive. Having a byline from a recognized “brand name” site is fairly meaningless in terms of the quality it guarantees. So much of these labels and categorization involve highly subjective matters of personal taste. It’s the same with creators as it is with critics. I follow people, not brands. I’ll buy The Massive from Dark Horse Comics because Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson created it, not because of some blind loyalty to the DH brand, or loyalty to some set of franchise characters. Similarly, I read reviews from Tucker Stone, or Abhay Khosla, or Kelly Thompson, or Matt Clark, or Keith Silva because I happen to think they’re intelligent and entertaining, not because of their background qualifications, or because they happen to write at Comics Alliance or CBR, or their own damn blog with the infamous "3 followers" for that matter. The masthead does not ensure quality. On its face, nothing establishes or guarantees credibility. Quality, accredited, credentials, qualifications, and credibility are all nebulous terminology in this world. What's credible to one person is crap to the next. It’s all a subjective illusion.

4 Comments:

At 12:14 PM, Blogger Keith Philip Silva said...

Justin,

First thanks for the mention (always appreciated, always humbling). You make several great points especially when it comes to following one's own 'internal compass,' essential for any writer or artist, or creative-type. Speaking from the 3 follower end of the spectrum (HA!), I think the beauty of blogging is accessibility. Accessibility to like-minded peers and people with whom, you share a passion. You have to do the work (as you said), but the audience is listening. If one has letters after their name MA, PhD. or CPA (for that matter) it doesn't legitimize their writing -- good writing is good writing, on that we (I think) can all agree. I know in writing for television (especially news), audience is all there is; know your audience and the rest takes care of itself. What's up for discussion here is influence ... and free stuff. I don't have the experience to know if there is a 'swag timetable.' How long does one have to blog/review movies, BMWs, books, tractors, or ice cream flavors before one starts (or should expect) to receive product from the manufacturers? I know in my job, my experience and the reputation of the program opens doors (in Vermont), but there is no quid pro quo -- maybe blogging/reviewing is different, but I doubt it. Mr. David's point is a good one, the most effective strategy to 'get the word' out is to reach out to the mavens and the tastemakers, those that influence the marketplace -- but it's a tricky business and not one I'm qualified (that I can assure you) to assess ... yet. Again, thanks for championing those of us in the 3 follower-guy (the 3%?) side of the equation and keep up the good work.

 
At 12:29 PM, Blogger Justin said...

Keith,

Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I like the accessibility idea you mentined. When I worked at Cisco, we used to always say that the capital "I" Internet was the great equalizer.

I've always strived to be that influential "tastemaker" (like the old music critics were), but that's the thing - there's no set timetable or criteria to define when one's "arrived," not in this industry.

You mention comps/swag, and honestly the same unpredictable, indefinable, highly variegated dynamic applies. Some publishers/creators offered for unknown reasons, some I just got put on the comp list simply because I had the balls to ask. And 98% of the time, they were more than happy to get their material out into the world with some additonal exposure, grateful, and thankful for this.

Not once have I ever been challenged on credibility or credentials.

Best,

J

PS - Everyone check out fellow NON-ACCREDITED REVIEWER Keith Silva, and his comics reviewing blog "Interested in Sohphisticated Fun."

 
At 1:41 PM, Blogger Matt C said...

Thanks for including me in the list of unaccredited reviewers, Justin! Surely the only "accreditation" we ever need is having a group of people (no matter how small!) who listen to what we say? We're not doing this for fortune and glory after all!

 
At 2:20 PM, Blogger Justin said...

"Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory..."

-Indiana Jones

 

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