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Reviewing Comics

Hi, Folks:

Lately I’ve reviewed quite a few webcomics and graphic novels, so I thought it might be worthwhile for me to explain the rationale behind what I’m doing.  Essentially, in-depth reviews are a way for me to improve my own cartooning, and to learn from other cartoonists’ strengths and weaknesses.

I usually use the old F to A+ grading system that many of us were graded with in school.  In movie reviews, I’ve given them the full gamut of grades, but not so for comics.  That is because I do not review comics that I hate or can’t look at.  I adopted this rule for a variety of reasons: I have no desire to hurt the feelings of other creators!  After all, my opinions, even in their framework, are subjective.  As far as that goes, I’m quite sure that some people don’t like Johnny Saturn.  I’m fine with that, because you can’t please everyone.

I make a point of twice reading whatever I’m going to review.  The first read-through is to get a feel for the project, the second is for a more in-depth look.  When it comes to the writing, I am especially interested in the tale’s theme, plot, and character development.  In regards to the art, I am studying the penciling, inking, coloring, storytelling, and character design.

What if I like the comic, but the art is not up to my standards?  This is pretty common, because I have ridiculously high art standards.  I’m not making a judgment based upon the realism of the art; indeed, cartoony art can be finely polished and professional (such as Sinfest).  But, if I like the comic, but don’t like the art, I will go out of my way to take myself out of the equation.  In webcomics especially, it can be the case that some cartoonists willingly choose to draw crude or poorly composed comics, even stick figures!  Such comics sometimes gain huge followings!  Consider XKCD or Order of the Stick or Dilbert.

Dilbert?  Yes, Dilbert. The art is quite crude and un-polished, yet it conveys the narrative with great skill, and it reinforces the edgy nature of Dilbert’s corporate world.

Often, when presented with difficult art, I’ll classify it as “outsider” art, or artistically anarchistic. If the cartoonist is clearly attempting to draw in a realistic style, then I’ll comment on his compositions, proportion, contours, etc. in detail.

That’s how I review comics.


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