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Why Captain Nihilist reviews the “big” webcomics

A long, long time ago (e.g., two months ago), I promised to do a piece on “Why review webcomics at all?” I turned out to be a more massive project than I realized, and The Webcomic Overlook Central, it turns out, does not employ enough scribes, researchers, and eunuchs to tackle the question in one piece. So, as a way to make this go down easy, I’m breaking the main question into a smaller question.

Mainly this: “Captain Nihilist, shouldn’t you only review webcomics that don’t get much exposure?”

Perfectly reflecting this way of thinking is a comment from Koltreg over at Nerding Blog Jamboree (h/t Art Patient). In the wake of the Jeph Jacques “State of the Webcomics Union” piece, he posted the following:

As for the jab at webcomics bloggers, well … as ironic as it may be, I agree that there’s no real value in writing webcomics reviews other than my ego, as Scott Smith pointed out. Reviews seem to offer little to nothing of value to most readers, except for the one thing Jacques seems to forget: reviews can send readers to new webcomics they might not otherwise discover. The problem is that to my knowledge there are no major webcomic blogs with wide readerships. There are just blogs like mine that are read by small pools of people. Approximately ten people, in my case. If I gave up though, I’d do the opposite of what I need to do – practice my critical-analytical thinking and writing skills.. I am a better writer I was before and as long as you are supportive, there is nothing wrong with writing about webcomics.

Now, according to Koltreg, the most important part of reviews is to send readers to underexposed webcomics.

This is actually a very noble aim. I mean, does the world need another person gushing about how much he loves Penny Arcade? Do we need yet another person saying why xkcd is the greatest webcomic of the century? Isn’t ragging on Ctrl+Alt+Delete just getting a wee bit tired? Wouldn’t you rather hear something new?

I applaud all bloggers who live by this code. I’ve encountered quite a few, in fact, have expressed the same sentiment as Koltreg.

This site, though, will go ahead reviewing the “major” webcomics. And here are my reasons.

Koltreg laments that there are no webcomic review sites that are influential enough to recommend people to new comics. This is true, even when Websnark was updated regularly. But, man, no one gets to be influential by posting only reviews of unknown webcomics. I mean, why would you go to that site in the first place? That’s a huge Catch-22.

Movie reviewers often level the same complaint about motion pictures. Several have mentioned that, hey, if they could skip having to screen 2012 or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and stick to reviewing small art house flicks that they feel deserve wider recognition, they would do so. But, seriously, who in the world would pick up a publication that only screens films like The Sun, Broken Embraces, and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee? Only art house types, and chance are even they wanted to hear you give your take on 2012.

Plus, it brings in the readers.

Hey, come back.

When did it become such a bad thing to bring in readers? I’ve noticed that a very large percentage of people who come in and read reviews are people who already read the webcomic ahead of time. And there’s nothing wrong with that! I do it too. I enjoy reading reviews of comics, TV shows, movies, and music because it’s great to view a work from someone else’s perspective. There might be something you missed the first time around, or differing opinions. You might say it’s like having a conversation about the comic that’s independent of the restrictive confines of an official message board.

However, on the more positive and less self-serving side, reviewing one of the “major” webcomics exposes the reader to your writing style, your preferences, and what you personally look for in a comic. Say you write a Penny Arcade review. Say that you think Gabe and Tycho leaned too heavily on a casual swear word to provide humor but was actually pretty distracting. Voila! You have provided a connection with your readers. If they’ve already read Penny Arcade (and chances are that, if they’re webcomic fans, they have), they know exactly what you’re talking about, and they know if they agree with you or not. Down the road, when they read a review of a “small” webcomic, they know what principles and standards you judge a webcomic by.

It would be much more difficult to make that connection if you did a review of a smaller webcomic with two characters named, oh, Witt and Dunkirk (copyright The Webcomic Overlook 2009). The reader would first have to know who Witt and Dunkirk are, why you think it’s wrong for them to swear, what kind of humor their comic peddles in (if it’s a humor comic at all), etc. Chances are the reader wasn’t going to make that first step anyway, because if they though Witt and Dunkirk were worth two figs they would’ve read them already. End game: no connection made with your readers. Except maybe the creator of Witt and Dunkirk and his 10 or so readers.

Besides, I think it’s kinda futile to run a blog with the express purpose of “free advertising.” It’s a long process to review even a single webcomic. You have to read through the archives, type some 1,000 words, and add links. If the sum-total of that is merely, “Well, I just gave free advertising to someone who would probably be better off going through Project Wonderful, which, at least, gets reimbursed for all their troubles,” then that ultimately — to me, anyway — leads to frustration.

Which is why I write because I love, above all, to talk about webcomics. That’s my biggest reason for writing about webcomics.

Finally, I don’t think webcomics are really that popular. Not yet. Not in the grand scheme of things, anyway. There is no lack of potential readers who maybe have heard of xkcd and want to know more about it. In a way, every webcomic is still a “small” webcomic. So until the day that the names Gabe and Tycho are more popular than Cathy, I think it’s safe to say that you’re still introducing webcomics to new readers, if that indeed was your goal.