Role of Criticism in Comicson August 8, 2014 at 2:10 pm
People often ask me of all the books I’ve made, which one is my favorite. This is like asking who your favorite child is. For those who aren’t parents, the correct answer is, it’s the malformed, mentally diminished, cripple whom everybody picks on, or in my case Empire State. I won’t try to convince you of its greatness right now. It’s a weird little outlier; if this were Sesame Street, it would very clearly be in the quadrant labelled, “not like the others.” It’s also my most personal which makes it particularly hurtful when someone says the main character in Empire State is pathetic. It feels like they’re calling ME pathetic!
I’m thinking a lot about this now because I recently got an order for Demon from a comics critic who did not like Empire State. Upon seeing his order in my inbox, my immediate reaction was, “Ooooh. I hope he likes Demon!” By contrast, when my publisher, agent and editor tell me there’s something they don’t like about Demon, my immediate reaction is to say, “Screw you all, mother F’ers! I’m publishing this myself!!!” I guess when it comes down to it, I actually care a lot about what my readers think. Part of it is I feel that there’s so little monetary compensation, reader reactions are really all I have at the end of the day. I know this isn’t the healthiest attitude to have, especially when taken to the extreme. For example, I remember I got an email once from someone quibbling with the math in Fleep. I spent a few hours composing a hella long email shooting down every one of his points. The next day, he sent me another email pointing out rebuttals to every one of my points. This went on for several more days before I screamed, “YOU WIN!!!” into the air and then crumpled into a sobbing pile of flesh.
I like writing the occasional review myself (see last week’s review of The Shadow Hero). And I can only imagine what it’s like for someone who writes a lot of them. I think one of the interesting things about the artist/critic relationship is that in some sense we’re working at complete cross purposes. To a critic, a book is a thing to be evaluated on its own terms. But to the creator, a book can be so much more. It’s a form of self expression. It’s also a way to make money. It’s a recon mission to find out what techniques work and don’t work. It’s a stepping stone to the next book. It’s often 2 or 3 years worth of work, and it can represent the sacrificing of a career and a social life for those years. For Craig Thompson, it was over a decade of work! All so that some teenager on twitter can complain about how unrealistic it is that Zam SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER castrates himself to prove that he doesn’t want to rape his sister. Screw that! If that’s how Craig Thompson sees the world, I’ll accept it. END SPOILER.
These days, I try not to read reviews of my own comics if I can help it (Comics Journal reviews aside). I’ve been doing this long enough to know who I am and what I can do. And ultimately, I do think comics criticism could be better. There’s only so many variations of “This comic shows potential and I look forward to what this person does in the future” that I can take. How good you think their inking is, who you think their influences are, whether or not you thought it was well written, all these things can be summed up in one or two panels from their comic. A picture is literally worth a thousand words in this case. What I want to know most is how it made you feel, followed by a bit of analysis. Nothing fancy even. Just say that Black Hole was about the fear of herpes and call it a review.