Everyone's A Critic.
I'll be honest: I hate criticism. There is nothing more infuriating to me than when someone complains about my work. You can't please everyone. There are those who have followed my career through the years, and applaud the stylistic changes I've made, the growth that comes to every good artist. Yes, I'm a good artist. I'm not being egotistical, I'm just sayin'. I think I'm pretty good.
My first graphic novel, High Strangeness, relied heavily on photo reference. It was illustrated in stark black and white, with very fluid inking. My second book, The Last Odyssey, was more in line with the Marvel Conan 'house style' of art, fairly detailed and colorful. I was just starting to get some chops about mid-way through the series. And now for the new stuff; Champion Of A Lost Universe. This is my attempt to turn back the clock and draw a comic the way it might have looked in the late 1970's to early 1980's. That era had a distinctive look. It was stylized but still mostly simplistic and naÃ¯ve. I focused my attention on the Charleton stuff, the Sal Buscema and Joe Staton sensibility, where everyone has sort of the same face, but with different hairstyles. Of course, not everyone gets that. Critics. Everyone's a critic.
Okay, now that I've gotten that out of my system, I can re-examine the good and bad reactions to my work, and maybe, just maybe, acknowledge that being 'pretty good' just doesn't cut it in today's comics industry, whether that's in print or on the web. Or at least, it shouldn't. And therein' lies my dilemma. How do I prep readers to understand that COALU is supposed to look dated? It's supposed to look like it was churned out of a comics sweat shop assembly line, but 're-imagined' with new coloring and various other artistic 'fixes'? Considering the fact that the story evolves into something very dark and violent, I'm hopeful that the contrast between the old-school art and the script will succeed in a big way. It's not an easy sell. This book is far more complex than anything I've ever before attempted in comics. People might not 'get it'.
So far, I can honestly say that the reactions to it have been nearly universally positive, but I'm still working in the web comic's arena, and like most of us, I'd like to break out of that. Come on, admit it. Publishing web comics is hard, with little payoff. I don't know about you, but I dream about the day that I can actually make money from this stuff.
I'll also admit that my career exists mostly beneath the radar of mainstream comics. Perhaps that fact alone is reason enough for me to closely re-examine what I'm doing. Maybe I'm not 'pretty good'. Maybe I'm just 'okay'. See what criticism can do? Hear that sound? That's self-doubt sinking in.
Like every cartoonist, I want universal acceptance and praise, to experience all of the rewards that come with working hard. It's okay to admit that criticism can sometimes feel like a stab through the chest, especially if it's valid. It's still hard to accept that the nature of being an artist is to accept criticism for what it is. It's not always meaningful, and I think most of us can be objective enough to know when criticism is a personal dig instead of an informed observation. But we owe it to ourselves as comics creators to hunker down and face it head-on. Valid criticism can prompt growth as an artist, but it can also destroy that growth if you take it personally. It all depends on how thick your skin is, and how you decide to react to it.