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Reviewing the Reviewers

Damonk wrote a feature on the Comixpedia Approach To Reviewing Webcomics this month. None of this is really "new" to the staff, he's been telling us this since we started (even me - I have reviewed one webcomic for Comixpedia). Things did work out rather well though - we had this "Comixpedia/Webcomicsland" theme set for our one year anniversary issue before we had any idea that January's reviews would set off a lot of fans of two webcomics in particular.

I just saw a couple of rants from "Dreamshade" about reviewing webcomics and one in particular is clearly taking off from Comixpedia's January reviews.

I'll have to take issue with a few things in it (just my opinion here, this is the blog, okay?).

Comixpedia only publishes a handful of reviews each month. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, as their website focuses more on the webcomic "industry" at large, with various news items, columns, and activities.

We publish between 4 and 8 reviews a month. That's at least 48 reviews in a year. We did more than that last year although I don't have the number at hand. Handful or not - that's a solid 1/4 of the output of the site in terms of articles (not counting news and other stuff on the site). We think reviews are a core part of the site.

The mission statement of Comixpedia, however, seems to be one of promoting webcomics as a whole. Thus, usually, when they post a review, it is a positive one, aimed at showcasing a lesser-known comic that deserves more credit, or one that is of a calibur that could lend credibility to the theory that comics really are art. While the reviews posted tend to go more into the art of "reviewing for review's sake" in terms of length and depth, even without reading the entire essay, the reader can get a general idea of the comic and give it a few links. These few reviews were something of an aberration in that regard.

We've published negative reviews before January - frankly I'm still not counting the two reviews in question in January as negative reviews. Those reviews were mixed - there were positive and negative statements in them. Take an example from the movies. "The Fast & The Furious is a good movie if you like popcorn movies." That's not a negative review - that's saying the movie has a limited appeal but that if it appeals to you, you'll probably like it. No one gets bent out of shape (too much anyhow) that the review didn't also nominate The Fast & The Furious for an Oscar. Folks read the review and decide whether to see the movie or not. Both the Ctrl-Alt-Del and the Little Gamers reviews provided similar information to readers.

As to the above quote from Dreamscape (and other parts of his rant) there is some suggestion that Comixpedia can only promote webcomics by posting positive reviews. That's just not correct. What we do is take webcomics seriously and provide a useful review to our readers. As far as I can tell we haven't trashed obviously bad webcomics and we don't mindlessly rave about well-established giants in webcomicdom.

Let's read more of Dreamscape's rant:

Certainly they did not post the reviews with the intent that "any publicity is good publicity." These were well-established comics with a strong number of current readers. They didn't need any sort of write-up in order to bring fans in as they were part of a network of popular cartoons to begin with.

First of all, everyone should understand that while some few webcomics have reached audience numbers approaching some comic book sales numbers, even fewer (as in maybe one or two) come closer to the numbers a really widely circulated newspaper comic strip has. There is just a huge upside to any decent webcomic's potential audience right now because most humans on the planet do not read webcomics. Particularly with the roll-out of broadband connections in Europe, Asia and North America - I for one believe the audience for webcomics will continue to grow exponentially as consumers move from dial-up to faster Internet connections. And that means there are a lot of readers that can use reviews from Comixpedia to help them determine what to read - a reader's time is the most precious commodity to spend.

Did the writers intentionally try to create a controversy? They must have known that posting a disparaging appraisal on a popular site about a popular site was going to draw in some ire. Take a close look at what happens to a site after Tycho and Gabe or Lowtax vents a poor opinion on it. The authors themselves just rant a bit and move on with life, but fans forget slowly and much less patiently. The author of the antagonized site can usually expect a deluge of emails and forum posts from a legion of righteous avengers. But unless it was a slow week at Comixpedia with nothing to keep the creators entertained, it doesn't seem to be very conducive to be intentionally starting fights with the fans that you're trying to reach.

Hard to know where to start here. One - any mention from a huge site can spike Comixpedia's traffic. We've gotten spikes from links for all kinds of reasons - reviews, stories, whatever. We have no incentive, however, to write a review one way or another to get a "link." It would be a pointless waste of our integrity. Our readership has given us fairly consistent and positive feedback for our reviews. To try and slant a review to get a link would be dishonest. For that matter it has been entirely hit or miss if review subjects link to us. Comixpedia doesn't create issues of the magazine to create opportunities to link whore - we just don't do that. We're happy with our steady but sure growing audience - which has mostly grown through word of mouth. Take a look at the reviews archives - there have been many reviews of comics positive or negative where the big site in question ignored Comixpedia. No links, no angry fans breaking down the virtual drawbridge. And other times the author does post something. Little Gamers created three comics about Comixpedia. No one here asked them to pay that much attention to us. We don't write the reviews for the creators - we write them for readers.