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How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

One more post I guess:

Scott Kurtz the person online has always had a somewhat dramatic relationship with what... the world?  At least with people who comment on his work, primarily PvP. Today he writes at length, apparently prompted by a passage in a review by Comics Worth Reading of the book  How To Make Webcomics (which Kurtz is a co-author of).  First off, it's a hugely positive review of the book so it's hardly the case that Johnana is slamming it.  She simply makes the point as a writer that there are a few simple tools available for publicizing work that aren't mentioned in the book.  I really think Kurtz is reading way too much into her review. 

While I appreciate his frustration at the negative energy an artist can pick up from a negative review, the answer to that is probably simply to ignore the reviews.  Sometimes a review is useful, sometimes it's not -- there's no obligation for an artist to read anything written about their work.  But some reviews are useful to some artists.  Some artists can deal with all reviews, some can't deal well with any kinds of reviews (and all sorts in between). Maybe the best advice is to find out what kind of artist you are with regards to external commentary and try to stick to guidelines that work for yourself.  You can't stop the world from commenting on what is public art.

 

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

El Santo, I thought it was Siskel who had the writing credit for "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls."

In any case, whichever one it was, at least they had SOME Hollywood experience under their belt and they were both very decorated and respected journalists before starting their show.

That isn't always the case in this day and age of "blogs, blogs, everywhere a blog". These days, all you really need is an internet connection and a keyboard (and if you're lucky enough to have an iPhone, you don't even need THAT!). ;-)

Now, I do agree that you don't need to be an artist or a writer to give an opinion about a comic book, webcomic, album, film or anything artistic or entertaining. Rolling Stones, after all, has had a long history of music critics that never played or published music before. And, truthfully, when it comes to entertainment, everybody loves to give their opinions about what they like or don't like.

But in this day and age of blogs, it's almost like there's a sub-section of internet species that are living in quiet desperation and their only legitimate way to feel relevant in this world is by criticizing anything and everything they wish they could do themselves. And do it so loud and so passionately, that they get noticed on Technorati.

I made a point in another blog that I think, in general, artists are usually very receptive to critiques. For those of us who have taken a lot of art classes, critiques are a part of that so it's not like we aren't accustomed to criticism. But the problem with the internet is that you just don't know who it is that's "critiquing" you. It could be a 13 year old that's mad because his stick figure masterpiece wasn't selected as 1st place in his Jr. High art contest or it could be a 72 year old art history professor who has written several books on art.

I ask you... who's opinion would YOU value more? The 13 year old or the professor's?

Yet, we as artists, are chastised because we have the audacity to say the 13 year old's opinion isn't valid or useful to us.

Of course, that's just my opion. I could be wrong...

-Chris

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

El Santo's picture

All fair points, Chris.  I was more disputing the notion that you have to be some sort of expert to write a review.  There is benefit, I think, in being an observer.  I have no argument with you that experience leads to better critiques.

Also, it was Roger Ebert.

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001170/

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

The only critics I would pay any attention to are ones who actually do comics well. I know by comparison to others my skills are not great, but I don't want to hear that from someone who can't even draw a straight line.

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

El Santo's picture

Really?

I should remind you that the most repsected movie critic in the world is Roger Ebert, and his movie experience is a screenwriting credit for the terrible "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls."

There's not very much of a link between good creators and good critiquers.  Great movie directors aren't usually great movie critics, and great comic reviewers (like, say, The X-Axis' Paul O'Brien) aren't necessarily churning out comic books.

Not that I disagree with Scott Kurtz or anything.  He's right that it's important to develop a peer circle.  However, I think people are usually off the mark when they say things like, "What's your business reviewing things when you have never put out a good comic?"  The beholders, after all, have different eyes than the creators.

EDIT: Incidentally, Scott, is this going to be a subject for a Webcomics Weekly?  'Cuz that would be awesome.

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

Scott Kurtz's picture

 Wow.

Who knew this would get such a response? Has Johnana responded yet? Just curious.

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

I would have replied earlier, but you don't take comments on your site! :)

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

She actually replied in this thread - see above.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

Whose opinion counts?

Jerry Pournelle made a great point in a panel at a convention: We were talking about writers' groups (read: internal criticism) and he said that the only opinion that matters is that of your editor, because he/she is the one making sure you get paid.

Webcartoonists work without editors, and it hurts us a lot. We often get paid directly by our audience, and there is no single voice to which we can listen that ensures we'll get our next "book advance." There is a clamoring congregation, and they're all saying different things.

I'm not suggesting that we as webcartoonists should seek traditional publishing arrangements. I'm just pointing out that this new market which we have pioneered has some glaring imperfections -- sharp edges against which we will regularly bruise and bloody ourselves.

Coming back to Doctor Pournelle... in our market his advice must be reinterpreted. The opinions of my work which matter are those which I trust as representative of the readers who buy my merchandise, and/or to whom my advertisers wish to advertise. This puts me in the role of publisher and author, seeking a wise, market-savvy  "editor" critic to stand between the two halves of my brain and mediate.

I listen carefully to the praise I get from people who are buying my books in person at events. What do they like? What got them engaged in the story? What is their favorite book from me? I also bounce my comics, pre-publication, off of a few trusted friends who seem to think the same way as these book-buyers. It's still imperfect, but it's a lot better than going it alone.

It also beats the tar out of listening to professional critics. These people are almost nothing like most of my readers, or even most of the people I want to be my readers. Critics typically take a loftier view, and judge a work not for what it is trying to be, or for whom it is trying to be that, but for what it can never be.

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

"It's funny how he always rushes around the internet to blabber at critics"

 

 At least he's not sending his fans to harass them anymore. Give the boy some respect for that.

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

Just reading all of this makes me laugh.  The review was written,..and one of the authors (Kurtz) of the book that was the subject of the review has responded.  That's it. They both have rights to their opinions.  Let's not forget too how much Scott has given to the webcomic community. This doesn't mean that he can't or should never be criticized for his actions or anything els fro that matter, but he has proven that he cares about the community and how others feel just by his actions alone.  He has done a lot for this webcomics community and donated a bunch of time to it as well.  All he did was offer "his critique" of her critique.  If Johanna wants to respond back she can.  Bottom line is: I wouldn't read any more into this than what it is.   You cannot expect a person as passionate about his/her work to not respond to a critique about their product, whether it be positive, negative or neutral.  If they didn't, then we'd have to check them for a pulse.

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

It's equally as funny how everyone hops on the bandwagon to badmouth Scott for having an opinion.

I understand what he's saying and I agree with him.  I'm willing to listen to anyone who has anything to say about my comic, but I really only take to heart what my peers have to say.

But you know what?  It's advice that he's giving; no one is forcing you to accept it.

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

[quote=Pete]

It's equally as funny how everyone hops on the bandwagon to badmouth Scott for having an opinion.

 

You could say the same about Johanna.

 

But you know what?  It's advice that he's giving; no one is forcing you to accept it.

[/quote]

 

Umm, isn't that just what Johanna is doing? 

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

The difference is that I haven't seen anyone attack Johanna yet.  I've seen several places where Scott has been, though.

And I never said Johanna wasn't entitled to give advice.  I was addressing the fact that Scott was providing a counterpoint to it and everyone jumped on his back.

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

Well, Scott has implied a couple of times that I'm lying about accidentally reading that part of the book first ... but that's so mild, given usual internet discourse on this subject, that it barely counts as an attack. :)

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

Touche.  I do remember flinching a bit when I read that bit in his post.  I humbly ammend my previous post.

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

It's funny how he always rushes around the internet to blabber at critics. This must really bother him to know he's not as good as he thinks he is.

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

There is absolutely nothing in Johanna's post about regarding "the critic playing as important a part in the creation of art" and Kurtz's childish fixation on denying the opinions of others having any influence on his "art" is hilarious. He makes a formulaic sitcom-style strip that has succeeded by appealing to the lowest common denominator; it's the "Garfield" of webcomics. That's not an insignificant accomplishment, or something worthless, but if Kurtz would open his ears to well-reasoned feedback and accept the fact that other people have valid opinions, it could only improve his work and perhaps elevate it above its typical rote predictability.

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

Scott Kurtz's picture

[quote=Aaron Poehler]There is absolutely nothing in Johanna's post about regarding "the critic playing as important a part in the creation of art" and Kurtz's childish fixation on denying the opinions of others having any influence on his "art" is hilarious.[/quote]

But there is. By inferring that we as creators should take her reviews internally as constructive criticism, she absolutely is. What Johnana fails to acknowledge is that we address criticism in the book. Just with trusted peers. Like in a college situation. We spend four sections of the book critiquing and questioning each other's strips and creative decisions. It's in there. She just failed to mention that. We absolutely instruct creators to engage in healty and constructive critique. We just don't think people should seek it in review-blogs. (like Johnana's).

We never instruct cartoonists to shut themselves off from all outside opinion. We just instruct them not to take EVERYTHING said about their work as trusted and worthy critique.

I feel that Johnana is absolutely inferring that her reviews could be constructive towards improving works and should NOT be dismissed by artists.

[quote=Aaron Poehler]He makes a formulaic sitcom-style strip that has succeeded by appealing to the lowest common denominator; it's the "Garfield" of webcomics. That's not an insignificant accomplishment, or something worthless, but if Kurtz would open his ears to well-reasoned feedback and accept the fact that other people have valid opinions, it could only improve his work and perhaps elevate it above its typical rote predictability. [/quote]

Oh, I do open my ears to well-reasoned feedback all the time. I seek valid opinions on a daily basis to improve my work. I constantly worry and stuggle with it. I know that PvP is formulaic sitcom. It's that way by design. I want to make it an AWESOME sitcom though. Once of the best in comic strip forms.

I'm just not looking to the review-blog-community for that input. Nor my forums. Nor other forums. I would rather insulate myself from that kind of chaotic input. And I would advise other creators to do so as well.

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

Correcting a few errors:

You mean "imply", not "infer". You think that I'm implying that creators should listen to me. Only I'm not. You're inferring it, erroneously.

Also, I did in fact mention in my review the sections of the book where you critique each other.

My points on this topic were simple: 1. In an otherwise comprehensive reference for aspiring webcomic creators, I found it odd that the authors didn't mention dealing with journalists at all. I expected to see mentions (not a chapter, as you state) of how to create press releases, getting review and news coverage, and so on. I think those are valuable avenues for young strips to get noticed and help build an audience.

2. I found it funny that in the section on dealing with critical response (which appears to only consider fan response, not professional reviews), the assumption was that anyone who didn't like your work was always wrong. When I see absolute statements, I tend to pick at them. That doesn't mean that I think critics are always right, just that a creator might want to allow for the possibility occasionally.

What those following this debate may not know is that you're finding fault with a small section of what was otherwise the most glowing review I've written in a long time.

I acknowledge that the vast majority of supposed reviews don't live up to professional criteria. Just like the majority of webcomics aren't as professionally done as yours. But as someone who's been practicing my craft longer than you've been doing your strip, I do take offense at you not extending me the professional courtesy you demand for yourself.

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

In Scott's defense, he did say, "Overall the review was really positive and I appreciate the kind words."  The rest of his post was clarification on the point you brought up.  It wasn't as if he discounted your entire review because of that point; he was explaining his position.

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

Chris Cantrell's picture

If I were in his shoes, I wouldn't want to "taint" my vision with too much external input.  Too many cooks and all that.

Haunted Pixel Studios www.hauntedpixelstudios.com

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

How Kurtz gets from what Johanna actually wrote, to "the critic plays as important a part in the creation of my art as I do" is beyond my understanding. 

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

 I would have to utterly disagree on two points; one that Johanna's article implies that she thinks critics have an equal importance in the creation of any kind of artwork as does the artist, be it webcomics or any other, and two that critics can never be right. There are professionals that very much want and use the words of their fans ad critics to steer their work with great success. Jeff Smith is one of them. I was lucky enough to speak with him recently and one things I wondered was why he still bothered to make comics in singular issues. Besides having a constant form of income while he completed a greater story, such as "Bone," it allowed him to get feedback, to find out what those mistakes were that he was making. The great cow race portion of "Bone" is a direct result of this as initially, it was meant to be a throwaway sequence and nothing more.

Admittedly, I'm not a creator of greatly known webcomics but I very much value well thought out words of criticism when I can get them. It's rare but they do allow me to see how others view my work and help me to shore up places and bits that aren't working. It doesn't curb me from experimenting at all, but it allows me to see when those experiments don't work. Webcomics are a form of communication. They have to be understood for that communication to work. I can never utterly understand how my comics are being seen on my own. I have to know how they're being taken in from that other source.

The analogy of actors not seeing their films or reading reviews doesn't entirely hold up here either as input from audiences can't affect that work; it's already completed. Unless it's some sort of franchise film, the part in question likely won't ever be touched again. With webcomics, it's rare that an given work is presented utterly finished, whole all at once. The analogy of the Prime Directive doesn't really work either as starship captains were notorious for breaking said directive, especially when it involved dictators and the like.

This is perhaps the best passage in the above response:

"You have to create your art, solicit your critiques and advice internally and from respected peers and move forward."

Indeed. One should choose which external voice to listen to. But those voices are still critical, and are in fact playing a part in the creation of said strip. Just because a voice comes from an unknown source or perhaps from an area one might consider hostile doesn't mean that said voice is utterly without merit. Conversely, it doesn't mean that trusted sources are always right. It's up to the artist to decide, but to ignore outside sources at all is to hedge one's self in.

So, just for the record, I am an artist and didn't agree with the article Scott posted. And my view is worth as much as he wants it to be.

Re: How To Make Webcomics Without Critics?

Scott Kurtz's picture

I love how all the artists who read my post understand what I was trying to say and all the critics and reviewers took exception to it. I guess that's to be expected.

Anyone who claims I don't take criticism of my work well, has not been paying attention to just how much hateful criticism PvP (and I personally) get on a daily basis. We're talking everything from constructive review to stabs at my weight. I think an occasional blog post about it is a fair reaction.

I thought Johnana's review was really great and I appreciated the kind words. But her sticking point about our book was EXACTLY the attitude I'm not looking for in critical review of my work: the concept that the critic plays as important a part in the creation of my art as I do. She was shocked that we didn't have a chapter more sympathetic to the role of the critic and what they might have to offer us as artists.

Certainly, even you can see the dangers of charting the course of your strip based on the opinions of critics and readers. You have to create your art, solicit your critiques and advice internally and from respected peers and move forward.

I'm definitely not the only artist that feels this way, I just might have a bigger podium with which I commented about it from. But how many times have you heard actors or actresses say in interviews that they never watch their own movies and never read reviews of their work. There's a reason for that. It will influence your performance and steer you off course.

I wasn't reading too much into her review. I was just taking exception with that one notion. Critics play a part. But I have already established my critical support group. It's not wrong that I don't seek opinions or critique outside of it.