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Why Review Webcomics? The Hard Dialogue

In his blog, Hard says no one should review webcomics because they're free to readers. Let's take a look at more of his post:

I don't think reviews have any place in the webcomics community. Period. Why?

1) Because they're FREE. If you complain about something that is free, you're being ungratuitous. If you critize people who are essentially doing unpaid volunteer work, you're a jerk. Reviews exist so that people gather opinions about something before they buy a ticket, or buy a product.

(One may argue that TV reviews are similar. Well, you don't see a lot of TV reviews, and the people who make TV shows get paid for what they do. They get PAID to entertain you. Webcomic artists do NOT.)

First of all, anyone who paints a review, negative, positive or mixed as "a complaint" is just missing the point. A review is an attempt to point out the characteristics or a work, what works, what doesn't and why someone may or may not want to experience the work. Anyone can review something. You do in a sense everytime you recommend or pan a work to a friend. Your friends know something about you however so they may not need anything more than a yea or nay. A review such as published at Comixpedia tries to explain why we're saying yea or nea.

And why review webcomics other than everyone working at Comixpedia loves webcomics and thinks it's the future of the comic artform? Hard suggests that only a jerk would criticize free art. Nothing's free I suppose is the answer. From a purely transactional point of view most readers don't have time to read everything. Time spent reading one thing when they would have enjoyed something else is not free. So I say, no, free art gets no pass because nothing is truly free from the reader's perspective. But more importantly from the larger perspective of the medium it is important to take the work seriously. To treat it as any other medium which is treated seriously. Actions can change attitudes. Comixpedia may not be the voice that changes attitudes regarding webcomics but for now we are leading that charge as best we can. Webcomics are an innovative splinter from the comic medium, something that began as merely a repurpose of existing forms of comics (comic strips, comic books) and is even now pulling at those conventions to become something else: new, different, more.

Serious work should be reviewed. Serious artists should be familar with other work and go beyond it, not just repeat it. Reviews play a vital role in disseminating information in a community of artists, publishers and the audience. There are in fact a lot of people making webcomics. We are not reviewing everyone. In fact Comixpedia early on made a decision not to review work that was not arguably serious.

What do I mean by "serious" here? No matter the level of popularity or visibility of the artist, if the work is worthy it should be taken seriously. Even flawed work can be worth taken seriously. That's half of it. The other half is work that is popular or supported in a highly visible way. At this stage in the development of webcomics something published on Modern Tales or PV or Keenspot or part of a collective like Dumbrella is meant to serious in the sense that I'm using the word. Some fairly high percentage of webcomics is probably not meant to be taken seriously and they are never part of the ongoing dialogue between artists and the audience that is going on in the webcomics community. Hard's webcomic, in my opinion meets both criteria for "serious" and therefore should be reviewed.

In general, I try to stay away from posting hotly negative things about other people's comics. In the interviews and such I am more apt to point out comics I like than comics I don't like. It's because I know that most people, like myself, are doing the strips for little money or no money at all. Simple manners tell you you don't slag on people who are doing their best with no tangible reward in what they do.

I don't see anything to disagree with there. A review is a far cry from Hard slagging on someone in an interview though. Every review at Comixpedia has come from a reviewer who has read the entire work in question. It is edited by the staff. There is a huge difference between what Hard describes and a review on Comixpedia.

People often post reviews to get the attention of the comic artist. It usually works too. I don't link to reviews -- I link to interviews, but not to reviews. Why? Because, if you're reading the links page you've already formed an opinion of my comic. What someone else has to say is irrelevant. So why give reviewers hits?

I'm not sure I have much to add to what I already said other than to repeat that most people are interested in what other people have to think about a comic. Friends' opinions are important obviously, but reviews play a different role. Reviews in fact can be tremendously relevant to ongoing discussions of the evolution of webcomics as a whole in addition to evaluation of the specific work being reviewed. The fact that Comixpedia publishes online increases the "conversational" aspect of everything we publish. What I'm writing right now is really only possible because we're online, Hard writes online and we can link to each other.

I've always thought that people who want to get popular in a chosen field but don't have the skills to become popular in that field will become critics instead. It's a cheap and transparent way to become an "authority" in that field, without having the skills to master that field.

A charge as old as time. True to some, true for others. Ultimately irrelevant to why criticism and reviews are important to the ecosystem of an art form.

Anyways, I'm still pissed at Comixpedia and refuse to read it anymore. Checkerboard Nightmare hit the nail right on the head.

I think this is a shame as Hard was a thoughtful poster on the boards at Comixpedia. I will say that I think the webcomic from Checkerboard Nightmare was pretty funny. I'm not entirely sure Straub meant it to be serious (in fact I have it on decent second-hand authority that no he didn't) but even if he was it was pretty funny.