Friday, October 25, 2013

Going Critical: Conclusion

I don't think I really made this clear, so I will say it out right:  Critics do not want to HATE anything.  They want it to be BETTER.  Well, good ones do.

At the very least, I never go into a comic, book or game wanting to hate it.  I love reading comics, I wouldn't have 90+ comics on my read list if I didn't.  When I look for a comic to review, I look for one I want to read.  Even Blade Kitten I went in more curious than anything else.  I want to add comics to my read list, it's something that makes me happy.

That doesn't mean those comics couldn't be better.  I loved Perchance to Dream, as a concept, but it was so frustrating the way it played out, to the point I STILL kind of want to rewrite it.  Sluggy Freelance has had it's bad moments (it's gotten better recently), and it deserves to be criticized for it's failings.  Sinfest has been changing it's general direction for a while and maybe that's not for the best.  Just to name a few.

The real point is how the creator takes the criticism.  I already highlighted a moment when the author of a fanfiction reacted poorly to my criticisms.  I guess my best suggestion is to at least understand WHY something is an issue.  Whether it's an issue to you or not doesn't matter, it's why it's one to them.  Don't try to please the critic, but understand why they aren't pleased and use it as a reference for if your work could be improved, even if it doesn't strictly go the way they want.

The best way, though, is to ask questions.  Ask the critics to clarify their points.  Express your own concerns over your work and see if they agree.  Maybe even ask if they have a suggestion or two.  Don't ignore the destructive criticisms, but don't take them personally.  Remember, good critics want your work to be better, they aren't there to destroy it and make you cry.

Finally, remember that you're your own worst critic.  And I mean you're awful at it.  You will ignore your own mistakes more often than not, over focus on things that aren't issues, or just decide it doesn't need improvement at all.  Knowing that is the first step to being a better creator, and a better critic of others.  I tried to highlight some of my issues writing this blog, but there are so many posts (200+ at this point) and so many topics and comics, I just can't remember them all, or read them all.  I know I've missed things, made mistakes or haven't described them as well as I intended.

In the end, I do the best I can, and I will continue to for as long as I am able.  That's all any critic or creator can ever do.  Working together though, we can hopefully make each other better.

Well, that's another series of articles done.  Mostly I did it because, well, I've been on the road this entire time.  Texas actually, looking for work.  So writing ahead gave me time to work on, well, getting a job that is more than flipping burgers or something.  I'm too old for that anyway.  Point is, next week, something to do directly with webcomics, I hope.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Going Critical: Bias

If you've been reading this blog since the beginning, you'll note I try to link to every comic or website I reference.  I feel if I'm going to comment on them, I should at least let my readers read the site themselves and see if they come up with an alternative opinion, with one exception:  Penny Arcade.

I hate Penny Arcade.  And I was hating it before it went through it's recent issues with dickwolves (BOTH times now).  I won't link to it, not even in an article ABOUT it.  Why do I go to such extremes?  Bias.

I am biased against Penny Arcade.  Every thought about it brings with it disgust or rage, sometimes both.  I can't think rationally about it as a comic (as a business, I can, to a point).  Why?  I can't really describe it, not in words that don't default to nonsensical cursing at least.  Knowing I'm biased against it is kind of important because if I tried to review Penny Arcade, the review wouldn't be very good.  All comics deserve a fair hearing, and I would not provide Penny Arcade with one.

In this sense, the reader of a critic should be a critic of said critic.  Pointing out the critic's bias is essential to an active and informed audience.  Last week I linked to the Cinema Snob, which was created in response to Roger Ebert, who had a disposition against horror and other exploitative works of cinema.  Were his criticisms wrong about those works?  Maybe, but his bias resulted in him being more confrontational about those pieces than were necessary.  Does it invalidate any of his other reviews?  God no, nor does it mean his opinion of those pieces any less valid.  It does mean, though that reader must take that bias into account.

That said, it's quite easy to confuse a negative reception with bias.  Just because a critic doesn't like something doesn't mean they naturally hate it.  A bit ago the inspiration for this series came when I had a discussion with an IRC chat member about Blade Kitten of all things.  He really likes the game, and while I've not played it, just watching the Let's Play, I could see that mechanically, the game is pretty solid.  I told him what I thought of the comic and his reply was "everyone has different tastes."

Of course it wasn't about taste, I tried to enumerate that in my review, it's a badly executed comic.  Saying it's about taste is basically saying "you're biased against it because it's not what you like."  Just because I have a negative opinion about the work doesn't mean I'm biased against it.  I didn't go into it wanting to hate the comic, I NEVER go into a comic wanting to hate it, but what I found was poor, so I had to say so in the review.  I don't HATE Blade Kitten, not like I hate Penny Arcade or Diesel Sweeties.  I just found it to be a bad work.

He still assumed I hated it.  Which is funny considering he hadn't read the comic yet himself.  Still hasn't as of this writing.  Will his opinion change when he does?  No idea, but if he likes it, he likes it, life goes on.  My review is my opinion.  I tried not to be bias with it, and I don't feel I am.

Critics who say something is bad will always face this kind of reaction.  They don't necessarily hate it, they just see that it could be better.  The best defense is not go into something expecting to hate it, but that's the only way to get around the issue, and only just.  Still, not liking something means I have to take precautions, thus why I don't link to Penny Arcade, because I really don't want to deal with those who are biased the other way, they love the comic to death.  They might find this place anyway, but at least I didn't actively seek them out.

Well, that's enough of that.  Next week, we wrap this series up.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Standard: Appendum

I'd like to interrupt our current article series with the previous article series.  Because I can.

So Sluggy Freelance did something I don't think it's done in years. It made a reference to Oceans Unmoving.

Two references, actually. The first was the appearance of Uncle Time, who was last seen sending Bun Bun to and back to the prime Sluggy timeline/universe/whatnot (no, that wasn't a grammar error, BTW, go read the story). It wasn't highlighted as a reference, something Abrams has gotten in the habit of doing as his comic is just a touch long if you hadn't noticed. Easy to forget Uncle Time was even in Oceans Unmoving, especially as he was just a floating head there.

Then this happened. A direct, and clear reference to Oceans Unmoving, one that fully tied this story back into the Sluggy canon. So after so long, why now? Well, I'm pretty sure Abrams didn't forget Oceans Unmoving happened, nor did he want to pretend it didn't happen. No, it did, it was important, and eventually it would have to come back.

The reason why now is simple though, back in May, he concluded that Sluggy had entered it's final act. The drawing together of the various storylines left hanging had to happen. References to past stories abound at this point. From the big ones like K'Z'K and why he's the vowelless to the even the Deus Ex Ovum, though not quite in the same form (wonder how many fans caught that one, I only just now realized it). Referencing Oceans Unmoving was bound to happen eventually. Tying it in as deeply as he's done, that wasn't expected.

While I said Abrams likely wouldn't have forgotten Oceans Unmoving, there does appear to be a trend to avoid it as much as possible. I suspect that the deceleration of the final act is what prompted him to stop avoiding it and start looking at how to use it.  Either that or he read my article about how it didn't actually suck, but that would be me stroking my own ego.

Way, WAY back, I divided my comics up into 4 categories, with Sluggy Freelance representing the “Adventure Comic” group. Of course, I also laid out that adventure comics can evolve into “Epic Comics,” and by finally bringing all these pieces together, I think Abrams is well on his way to converting Sluggy over. Oceans Unmoving, for all it's faults, is the perfect connector between the various storylines he has laid out, a kind of neutral ground that can give all this nonsense elbow room. I doubt, however, we'll see the pirates from Oceans Unmoving make an appearance. The story probably isn't of much use in the comic as a whole. It does, however, give Abrams room to possibly resurrect them outside of Sluggy Freelance, where they belong.

And it's not over. There's still various little storyline bits floating around that need to be linked up and merged into the larger story. Though one that I'm not exactly thrilled with is the term “Sluggy” being used as Bun Bun's original name. It does fit, but I don't think it does any good for it to exist in this way. It's not bad, just unnecessary.

We'll see how it goes, especially as the comic has, temporarily at least, switched to a M-W-F format (it's staying on my Daily list, BTW) to help Abrams handle the pressure from it, and from real life a bit better. The comic has certainly drawn me back in, and as long as he keeps us updated on the status, I'm fine with that. Oceans Unmoving's influence is still felt, as he probably would have pushed himself to keep updating, even if wasn't a wise move before it.

Next week, back to Going Critical. Later kiddies.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Going Critical: Are You Entertained?

Most things critics ply their trade on is entertainment and art, and there's often very little difference between them.  There are critics for everything from webcomics (naturally) to pornography.  They aren't meant to be entertainment in and of themselves.  Sadly, however, they often are.

Especially with the growth of the internet.  The internet offers an open forum for opinions of all kinds to cross natural cultural, geographic and whatnot boarders, but it also means those opinions kind of drown underneath everyone else's opinions.  Criticisms are even harder to get through because, well as I said, critic is a dirty word to many.

Thus begins the rise of the "internet reviewer."  Reviewers are not strictly critics, but in general they are, well, entertainers.  Typically they end up on Youtube or where they show clips from a movie or TV show which they then make fun of.  Are they critics?  Well, kind of.  Their comments are critical that's for sure, but often it's in pursuit of a joke.  No one watches the Nostalgia Critic to get his honest opinion on a movie, they go to watch him rage about something.  That's the CHARACTER of the Nostalgia Critic, however, Doug Walker, the actor, is much more of a critic when out of character.

This trend means the most popular "critics" are usually just entertaining.  They rage, and cry and make jokes, but rarely do they do any actual criticism.  I've done it, as far back as my old Earthbeta review, albeit in my brief way.  Even my Blade Kitten review taps it, though it is far more reigned in than it could have been.  There's nothing wrong with being entertaining, at all, but if it falls back on destructive criticism, then has it done any good?

Criticism is about leading to better products, and most entertainer critics don't do that.  They are there just to yell at the product.  I suspect that a lot of the rage against critics stems from here because they don't really make constructive comments, or if they do, they're buried under jokes.  Worse, the really popular ones often have legions of fans who will agree with everything they said about the product.  This leads to entire comment sections filled with people who don't know WHY something is bad and how it might be fixed.

It also comes off as hateful and agressive.  Again, people don't watch Nostalgia Critic for honest opinions, they watch him for the rage.  His raging is funny, but it's not actual hatred for whatever he happens to be doing, usually.  Still, it comes off as trolling, as insulting just for the sake of insulting, when it's more in line with the tradition started with Mystery Science Theater 3000, of making fun of something just to have fun.

Of course, critics end up always riding that line.  Reading a critical review of anything is, well, not all that interesting.  So there's some spice to keep it interesting, or it's far shorter than it should be.  Otherwise all that remains is this kind of snooty commentary that is the opposite end of the reviewers, the snobs, whose opinions may be valid, but come off as condescending and insulting.  Of course, they then open themselves to mockery, otherwise the Cinema Snob wouldn't exist.  I try not to go into snob territory (might have crossed the line in Blade Kitten), but even honest commentary can get confused with snobbery.

Next time, I get into the real pitfall of being a critic, bias.  Until then kiddies.