Webcomics are constantly being compared to comics made available in print mediums: pros and cons, webcomics breaking into print, print on the web, etc. Much of this discussion is generated from people who read and create webcomics, and is written in defence of webcomics. Oddly enough, it’s not as if you hear the masses screaming that webcomics are inferior to print. Maybe it’s simply inferred by everyone, the same way comic fans infer that their favorite medium is supposed to be inferior to prose or movies?
So maybe I’m just giving everyone a reason to argue their point when I say that right now, I consider webcomics to be not as good as other mediums.
Listen, I like webcomics. Sometimes I like them the same way I like the drawings the kids give me. They’re cute, and full of potential. Potential isn’t something to turn your nose up on. Potential is pretty awesome and I am not one to crush it.
But I have to say, I have never read a webcomic that I wanted to take to a desert island with me. One read, maybe two for the really good ones, and I’m done with it. But then, I’ve never read a comic that really stirred me, either. There are some I love, some I like to reread, but because of the dearth of subject and variety, there’s nothing there for me, yet.
Comics are very young, and webcomics younger still. I see potential that this medium can produce a work that I will love the same way I love Thomas Hardy, J.D. Salinger, or Thoreau â€“ something I can’t imagine not having read. Something that by its mere presence physically in a room makes me remember how awesome life is â€“ that I have read it, that it exists. I could name maybe 20 books, 40 albums, a dozen movies that stir me. But not a single webcomic or comic. I just read Craig Thompson’s Blankets, for example, and for all that I really enjoyed it, it was missing certain things a better writer would have done or cut out. I kept thinking: this is the one before the big one, he’s just cutting his teeth here, it’s almost there. All we’ve got right now in comics is potential. We’ve got dumping grounds full of potential and the mound of comics is getting higher and better all the time, but it’s still just potential.
I personally did not grow up reading comics. I’d seen Archies and strips in the newspaper, but the kids in Archie bothered me and the newspaper comics were only good for a laugh â€“ you didn’t get swept up in them. I didn’t like superheroes, so I never touched any regular comic books. Illustrated books were always my favorites: Marguerite Henry and her horse stories, lavishly illustrated by Wesley Dennis. All those Serendipity books. But I had only a passing interest in the medium until I saw comics online.
I’ve always felt humbled when writing prose or poetry, even when I pulled a Salinger during all my creative writing classes in college. I couldn’t be as good as my favorites. I couldn’t be my own favorite writer. But maybe I could be my own favorite comic artist. Here I could write the stories for me that no one else had done. I could have potential, if nothing else.
I learned to draw by starting a comic. The pull of a story made me want to draw â€“ it always has â€“ and this was the best way to practice. I want the archives of Eat The Roses, my first online comic, online and available forever, because the best thing they can do is to tell people: "You can do this, too. You can learn to draw and how to tell a story with comics. Look at how I start, so clumsy. Just start and don’t worry about it. See what happens. You’ve got potential, baby."
Everyone does this for a different reason. I do it for me, because I haven’t found someone else doing what I want to read, and I put it online because I need feedback from others. It doesn’t matter if it’s a term paper or a comic â€“ I know I can’t see my own work well because it’s all in my head as well as on paper. I need an editor. Everyone else has their own reasons and their own needs. It’s a hobby, it’s an expression, it’s art, it’s fun â€“ it’s complicated.
As a reader, I don’t get into why an author does it. Comics is a medium, and like any other it communicates something between one person and another. I don’t have to see exactly what the author intended, because this is a medium and not a brain transplant. That’s why it’s fun, both to read and create. It’s interactive. You cannot do this in isolation or your comic is no longer a medium. At the same time, you are affected by your readers.
Which is where we come to reviews.
Reviews are not intended for the author, but for the reader. Like I said, however, it’s interactive. Something twinges in me to think of a creator’s potential being crushed by an unfavorable review. I don’t want people to give up on something they love and their readers love because a reviewer looked at something negatively, or even objectively without any room for potential. Like I said, I don’t truly love any comic I’ve read. If I review, do I judge by that standard? Do I judge a work as if it were The Mayor of Casterbridge?
The food critic in my home paper does that. If something gets 3 stars out of 5 from him, it’s a good restaurant and I’ll probably love it. 4’s are reserved for the exquisite, and the 5 is for only the best, which sometimes doesn’t even exist as restaurants are re-reviewed or go belly up. That’s one way of doing it. It may even seem fair to be realistic with people. You are not that good, just because you are popular. You don’t even go in the same room as some print artists, the real professionals. You may be on American Idol, but you don’t hold a candle to true singers: Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Patsy Cline, and heck, Robbie Williams. They are true artists, deft and subtle in their singing, capable of great range and intense emotion. You’re lucky if you’re not off-key.
Of course, that’s not exactly fair. Here are some kids with a lot of potential and a lot of drive. A reality check may be in order, but it’s not exactly helpful when you’re trying your best anyway. For some people with big ego (like, say, ME), it’s actually encouraging to get negative feedback, because it is helpful in that it stirs me to prove the naysayers wrong. For most people, it can make all their hard work seem for naught. Their comics, those that they created for free and went out of their way to make available to everyone, ultimately are worth nothing because a reviewer told them that they’re not good. It doesn’t matter if they did it for a hobby â€“ only that they don’t measure up in someone else’s eyes. Their potential, demonstrated in their hobby, in their practice that each and every comic is â€“ doesn’t matter.
Them’s the hard knocks of real life (not the webcomic, bozos) and there’s nothing for it. You’ve got to have thick skin to put your work out for others to read, period. Readers like reviews, reviewers should try to be objective and honest, and sometimes that comes across badly for the author of a comic. I’m personally torn between cradling potential and not subjecting people to reviews that hold their comic up to a higher standard than they aim, or just letting people deal with it the way you’re supposed to if you’re mature and living in the real world (not the MTV show, bozos).
In the end, though, the second option is all you have, because there’s no stopping reviews or people just saying things all on their own. You can choose to not read it. You can hold it as one voice versus the many voices of your fans. You can dismiss it as opinion (which it really is, there’s no getting away from opinion in a review, no matter how objective you try to be). Or you can take my route and take it as a challenge.
Just keep working on that potential, take it somewhere, and maybe someone will end up taking it to heart. Or a desert island, depending on global warming.