Friday, September 27, 2013

Going Critical: Constructive vs Destructive

I have a rather lengthy story I wrote not to long ago sitting on my hard drive.  I think it's pretty good and have considered posting in various places, here and deviant art for example.  I don't not because I'm afraid people will say it's awful, or say nothing at all.  No, I'm afraid of four words:

"Great job.  Post more!"

Afraid because that is utterly useless to me.  It doesn't help me improve my work at all, and worse, it might encourage me to keep going with terrible ideas when they should be reigned in.  This phrase, these four words and its various forms, is a form of destructive criticism.

It's not alone of course, and the reason this kind of "encouragement" exists is because of the weakest of the three major destructive criticisms:  The troll.  Trolls, in internet parlance, are people who spout off insulting comments for no other reason than to make people respond to them, and then they can say more.  The vast majority of trolls are, well, obvious.  There are good trolls out there, that can play a community like a fiddle and drive them into frothing at the mouth rage, but most are obvious, terrible, and not worth the time.  If someone is discouraged by one of these, then they probably have greater problems than just what's in the piece.  At the same time, sometimes trolls can reveal potential problems on accident, and might be useful, but they should only be taken with a grain of salt.

Still, the internet is full of touchy-feely people who believe everyone should be encouraged, so they post things like "Great job.  Post more!"  The reason it's useless is because it doesn't say WHY it's great.  What worked to make the commenter enjoy it?  Why did the commenter enjoy it?  It says nothing.  It is meaningless, meant only to counter trolls whose opinions are meant to simply hurt.  The result is most of the comments on any given piece of work is utterly worthless to improving the comic.

And what's worse is that the creator might start buying it.  Hearing everyone and their uncle say "great job" does have a positive impact, right up until someone counters it.  Then the creator goes ballistic.  How dare someone counter their work that everyone else claims is the greatest thing EVAR.  I've had that happen once.  Remember back when I was talking about Dreamfall I mentioned I wrote a fanfiction for the series.  I was posting it to a particular board, and others were writing stories as well.  I wrote a critique on one, and while the details are fuzzy, the result was that it wasn't all that great.  The author came unglued on me, and I left the board, and stopped writing that fanfic because of it.

Finally, the last form of destructive criticism comes from the nitpickers and grammar nazis.  Their problem is they focus on things that, in the end, aren't important at all.  To a point, some of these things are important, and useful in refining a work, especially on the grammar end.  The phrasing and wording can change the meaning of a piece easily, but it's not that important in the earlier drafts.  Same with nitpicking plot elements.  It's unnecessary criticisms that, while they might be useful, often miss the point of improving a piece, instead beating on the little things.

My Not-So-Wild Review of Schlock Mercenary got this treatment from a commenter.  Considering I write most of these articles kind of off the cuff and do no editing whatsoever (because I'm lazy), I'm sure those errors are there, but it didn't affect the substance of the article, so what good did it do in the long run?  I'm not unappreciative, of course, but it doesn't help me work on expressing my ideas better.  He did follow up by saying he agreed with my ideas, but didn't add in if he had different thoughts.

Meanwhile, my brief discussion about Sinfest a bit ago resulted in a much more constructive comment.  The commenter disagreed with my suggestion that maybe something deeper is going on.  I didn't reply to the comment (sorry!) but I suspect he might be right and if I do a follow up, I may quote him on it.  That comment added to my ideas in a way that quoting off all my grammatical errors did not.

So what makes criticism constructive?  That's easy, answer one question:  Why?  Why is it good?  Why is it bad?  Why did I enjoy it?  Why do I want read more?  I say easy, of course, but it's not.  In trying to write my Supermassive Blackhole A* RE-Review, I had to struggle with why I wasn't enjoying it.  Eventually it came down to bad pacing, and a character that was a little too perfect for my tastes.  It sounds quite harsh, and it is, but I hope it comes across that I didn't HATE the work because of it, I just didn't enjoy it.  The next step is to try to present options to fix it, which I only half did, but we're not all perfect.

The point is to make the product BETTER.  But as I've said, criticism is practically a dirty word, even the constructive kind.  I'll explore why it might be next week.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Going Critical: Introduction

With 4 years behind me, I think it's time we talked about what I actually do here.  See, I'm technically a critic.  Oh, it says "reviewer" at the top, but that's not actually what I've been doing all these years, mostly.  No, I'm being a critic, not just of each comic, but the entire industry.

Considering myself a critic means I have to think differently when I read a comic, but exactly what that is might be a bit hard to describe.

But the word also carries a lot of baggage.  People don't like critics, for lots of justifiable reasons.  Often the idea is that those who can, do, those who can't, teach and those who can't teach, criticize.  This often makes critics as lesser people in this chain of creation, lumping them in with lawyers and corporate executives, groups that most people wouldn't mind seeing just simply vanish from the face of the Earth, preferably via cannon.

And yet criticism is, in and of itself, not a bad thing.  In fact, I would argue that it is a good thing, a great thing even, and vital to the evolution of art, politics, and everything else.  Criticism isn't about putting something down, or saying it's not good enough, it's about championing good work, and encouraging weaker pieces to be greater.

It is about pointing out mistakes, as necessary, but it's also meant to show how to correct those mistakes.  The issue is that it is often confused with trolling, entertainment and simple positive reinforcement.  These cloud real criticism, burying it underneath insincere comments, jokes, and well intentioned but meaningless comments.  It's so bad that finding actual, honest criticism, especially online, is difficult.

And worse yet, even the best critics often fall prey to their own biases or focus on the wrong things.  Instead they savage the topic because they don't like it and nitpick things that, in the long run, don't matter whatsoever.

It all adds up to critics being viewed as horrible people when really we just want to help.  It's getting past those issues, both on ends, that is a task worthy of effort.  With that said, this begins yet another series of articles which I can write in a week and post for a month or so.  Here I will try to explain what criticism really is, how to give it and receive it, and how to identify and avoid false criticism.  I'm not an expert in this, of course, but I'll do my best and use my own reviews to help define the point where applicable.

Next week, constructive and destructive criticism.  See you then.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Fourth Anniversary

You know, last year I kind of skipped an official Anniversary post and instead had a new patch of reviews.  This year?  Yeah, not so much.

Actually, quite a bit.  The last month and a half have been mostly prepping for this anniversary.  The site redesign, the New List, sorting comics, looking at old favorites, all of this has been about this anniversary.  I've been doing reviews of comics for over 10 years now, and only the last 4 have been with this blog, but it still feels like I'm just getting started.

And yet, I apparently have a following of sorts.  I never really paid attention to the stats Blogspot keeps on traffic, mostly because it really didn't matter to me.  I was posting this stuff for myself at the very least, somewhere to vent my ideas and try to get out the things I wanted to talk about.  Looking now, though, wow do I have a lot of people visiting my site.  I mean, I'm not bringing in thousands every week, but even 50 or so is more than I'd expect.  So I want to thank you all for reading.

Which means I need to return the favor a bit.  I really, REALLY haven't looked at the back end stuff for Blogspot until now, and missed things like, a way to catch all the comments made on my blog.  As in I generally miss them all.  My apologies about that.  I still find it hard to remember that this is MY site, not some other site that happens to link everything I read in one convenient location.  So I will make an much more concerted effort to keep up on comments, even if they are few and far between.

On top of that, there really isn't a great way to send me suggestions or other things.  As such, I've created a new gmail account just for this site.  It is  This will be linked on the About page so that should make it easier for people to contact me.  Do note if you send a suggestion, or are promoting yourself, my method of reviewing might mean it takes a great deal of time for it to get on the site.  New comics will suffer great deal from this as I prefer to give them time to take root before I dive in.  I don't always, but I do try.

Finally, you probably noticed a new addition to the site.  Yeah, those are ads, I signed up for Ad-Sense..  I probably wouldn't do it, but not to long ago I was on a computer that was not my own and randomly googled for "webcomic review."  I was fourth on the list.  Not fourth page, fourth.  That may mean nothing, there aren't a lot of webcoimc review sites out there (Webcomic Overlook is at the top, BTW, go El Santo), but it does mean something to me, it means I might actually, you know, get something out of this site besides satisfaction.  I've been unemployed for almost a year now, and any form of income, even the few cents a week this site might bring in, would be helpful.  I'll try to place the ads so they won't be too intrusive, but tell me if you find it so and I'll look to move it around a bit.

Again, I thank all of you for visiting my humble little page.  Which is getting a lot less humble now that I think about it.  Still, I will try to keep weekly updates going, even as I plan a month long trip to Texas of all places (it's a job hunting trip).  I'm taking my laptop, so I will still be updating with something.  Next week I'm driving out there, in fact.  It's a hell of a way to celebrate my birthday, which is the birthday of this site as well.  Officially that's the 16th by the way, but I update on Fridays, and I don't intend to change that.

Until next week kiddies, and for as long as I'm able.

Friday, September 6, 2013


The word "Reboot" has become the rally cry of many a Hollywood and Television executive, and I think I understand why, and it's not just that they've run out of ideas.

Two things play into it.  The first is the need to extend a franchise, but the original cast and writers are getting older and older, to the point that they simply can't act any more, or are dead.  Have you seen Leonard Nimoy recently?  Long running franchises like Star Trek can't rely on their original casts any more, so there are two ways to go:  The Next Generation angle (new ship, new crew, new adventures) or just start from scratch and build a new group of actors to take on iconic roles.

The other reason is, well, people don't really WANT new things.  Claiming they have no ideas isn't the issue, the issue is that WE don't really want something new.  Would you spend money to see the next Star Wars movie, or some other sci-fi film you know nothing about?  They have the numbers, and the numbers say the Star Wars movie would win.  Statistics is an awful thing sometimes.

Okay, so that's why Hollywood, television and gaming companies do reboots.  Why do comic artists do reboots?  And I won't talk about DC and it's issues here, because I don't read comic books.  After all, comic characters don't age, so that's not a reason.  And most comics don't have big enough audiences, or the resources to track stats like big studios do.

For Commander Kitty, it was more necessity than anything else.  The previous version of the comic had been more or less lost due to host failures, and so much time had passed that it was easier to start over again.  The artist even considers the original comic to be more of a "rough draft" and I can see where he's coming from there.  Not much was really lost in the reboot, of course, the characters stayed more or less the same, their relationships reset, but that was likely for the best, and the story was begun anew, and it ended up being much better for it.

There really aren't a lot of comics that do a full on reboot that I've read, but one is, technically, a kind of reboot:  Dumbing of Age.  The whole time I was reading it, I kept feeling like I had seen the art before, and I had, in ads for Shortpacked!, among other comics.  Which I didn't realize until a couple months after I started reading the comic.  The point of Dumbing of Age was to bring together his many characters (there are at least 4 comics this has roots in) and put them "in college, minus fifteen years of baggage."  Again, the rebooting here was less about the quality of the work, and more wanting to tell a different story but with similar characters.  In a way, it actually does fulfill the desire for people to have the same old thing, but in a new, and actually interesting way.  The fact that I didn't feel like I had missed anything is a testament to the writing allowing for the clueless, like me, to get into the comic without even knowing there were other comics.

I rarely see comics do any kind of reboot, they either keep going with what they have, or maybe go back and redo the art (that's very common).  But the stories, characters and whatnot remain the same.  I suspect the reason is more pride than anything else.  This was something they worked hard on, and they don't want to throw it all out and start again, even if it could be justified.  Sometimes, though, the result is much better than the original.  I have not read Shortpacked!, but I have a funny feeling that it probably won't be nearly as strong as Dumbing of Age when I do, despite having several years on it's younger sibling.  And my memory of the original Commander Kitty is dim, but I'm pretty sure the current version is much, much better.  Both should be considered successful reboots, at the very least.

Next week, it's anniversary time.  Until then kiddies.