14 ways to spot a bad critic

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Re: 14 ways to spot a bad critic

Postby VeryCuddlyCornpone on Thu May 17, 2012 9:05 am

But... the internet is public. Unless someone's somehow locked up their page so that you need to sign in or register to something to see it, the internet is public. Comics (in 99% of the cases, I'd imagine) are put online so that people see them. People who write TV shows, people who make movies, people who display art in museums, they might not specifically ask for critiques, but it's going to happen. That's the way entertainment media works. When you submit something to others for them to be entertained by, you by definition are inviting them to make a judgment and partake in that entertainment. You can ignore the criticisms you might get, or you can be proactive and use the criticisms to improve your work. And why not improve? Some suggestions I've seen are things that even the laziest person could do- like, "use a different font because the one you've chosen is hard to read." If you're making something, even if it's just "for the fun of it," why not make it even a little better if givne the opportunity?

And too often people use the "acknowledging their work isn't that good" as an excuse to never bother improving, even when they do claim to be asking for help/reviews. If you acknowledge your work isn't that good, well, can you really be that surprised when someone points out just how bad it is?

Even in the case of uncalled-for reviews, the creator is fully free to choose not to read them. No one is forcing them to. If you don't want to receive any feedback (negative OR positive), don't look for it. If someone emails you, don't read it. Dont' google your comic name. Don't put a comment area on your site. Spontaneous criticism is pretty easy to avoid, I would think.

I think the difference is you are asking reviewers to be more responsible to not hurt creators feelings, whereas I'm advocating creators be a bit more responsible, a bit more mindful, and grow a thicker skin. Someone said something terrible about you on the internet- that sucks, it really does, I mean that sincerely, but there's a point where one has to put on their big-person pants and get up and walk away from it and not put so much personal stock in what internet strangers have to say.
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Re: 14 ways to spot a bad critic

Postby Harishankar on Thu May 17, 2012 9:21 am

If reviewers choose to review out of turn or otherwise express themselves freely and unreservedly on somebody else's work then reviewers shouldn't be hypocritical when the comic artists turn around and attack them viciously either.

Reviewers cannot have it both ways either. And I say this in the same sincere spirit that you call upon artists and creators to not take it so personally. :D I say this because reviewers turn all defensive and huffy when the creator asks the reviewer about their own achievements outside of the reviewing sphere.
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Re: 14 ways to spot a bad critic

Postby McDuffies on Thu May 17, 2012 10:49 am

Harishankar wrote:But judging for your own private reasons and keeping it private is different from putting the entire judgement in a review format and then putting it up in the public domain, particularly when the artist has not requested a review. I think it's in bad taste to write unsolicited reviews of artists who don't specifically go about seeking publicity, even though they might have put their work on the internet.

It's not very different, specially on internet where everything that's said remains, there's a very slippery slope between private conversation and published article.
Let's say I read your comic and don't like it. Am I supposed to keep that totally to myself? Am I not allowed to, in a forum I frequent, remark that I didn't like your comic, if that topic arises? Isn't my freedom of expression seriously in danger if I'm not welcome to express my opinion about it to my peers? I think you'll agree that it is. Yet if you run into that post, you will react in pretty much the same way you would to a full review. Will you say "I was not supposed to read this, therefore I am not upset by it"? I don't think so.
And what if I write a blog post about it? By using the same logic you do, if I do that, but not send you a link to my post or inform you of it in any way, then I am not inviting you to pass judgment of my criticism, therefore if you publicly expressed displeasure of my criticism, that would be in a bad taste.
To rephrase my thoughts from earlier: you may not consciously ask for judgment when you put your work in public. But you are, in fact, signing an implicit social contract that says you will be judged, and you have agreed to this clause in advance.

I think what's even more in bad taste is to bash a creator's work in spite of the creator acknowledging that they might not be all that good in the first place.

I don't think it's in a bad taste to tell artist something that he is openly acknowledging himself.
Even so, many artists use that as a wild card. Many, many comics that openly point to their flaws, hoping that the charm of that act would make up for the flaw... but it's not that charming when so many people are doing it.

I think everybody is judging something or the other at different levels and for different reasons every day. And most people probably keep it to themselves.

You are right about that. We are being judged from our early youth. We are being graded at school, we are being judged in our social life by whether someone accepts us as friends or not, we are specially being judged in our professional life - a person of certain age is bound to be used to the idea that where there's action, there's judgment... I agree it may be frustrating that there is no respite from that in this particular hobby of choice, but also, shouldn't it make a person more prepared to it? And, compared to those areas that I mentioned, doesn't being judged for a webcomic you do as a hobby seem very trivial thing to be upset about?

If reviewers choose to review out of turn or otherwise express themselves freely and unreservedly on somebody else's work then reviewers shouldn't be hypocritical when the comic artists turn around and attack them viciously either.

Reviewers cannot have it both ways either. And I say this in the same sincere spirit that you call upon artists and creators to not take it so personally.


There's no doubt that it's fair to criticize a critic, in much the same way how I'll criticize a few of them further down the post.
Also there's little doubt that there's something of a "bad loser smell" when someone criticizes a critic right after this critic has criticized his comic. It may not mean the artist is a bad loser, childishly vindictive or a prima donna, but it'll certainly can seem that way to impartial observers. It's simply not a very graceful thing to do. As someone who's primarily an artist, I really don't like when fellow artists act this way.
As for critic's response to this back-criticism, the same goes as for comic criticism - read, accept, distill what you need, because criticism is skill all the same. I liked how LC has been responding to his criticizers in his thread - short, in-emotional, without intention to get involved into a further discussion. Most criticism, as I've experienced, has effect in long term, cooking in your head for a while.

The most problems I have is when artists denounce importance to criticism alltogether. And they do this very often, you wouldn't believe. Many artists, really do think that critic's only aim is to make them miserable and that the whole trade of art criticism should not exist. It's no coincidence that these are artists who produce consistently awful work, such as Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich and, need I mention, Uwe Boll.

In general if we're to call to certain symmetricalness* of artist's and critic's, I think that artists have a much better deal there. Artists are the ones who are usually defended. Artists are the ones whose beginner's mistakes are more readily forgiven. Artists are given a chance to learn, to grow, artists are the ones encouraged not to quit, patted on the shoulder when they're miserable, praised for their successes (I mean, don't mind that we are a group of people particularly apologetic towards critics, we are more an exception than a rule), and they're certainly not the ones whose trade's purpose is being questioned. It is acknowledged that art takes time and effort, people rarely realize that criticism does too.
It is certain that it's critics that have odds stacked against them. That's not unjustified, seeing as criticism is basically activity dependent on art and all, but let's at least note that fact.

*spellcheck made me spell this word that way. Doesn't sound right to me

I say this because reviewers turn all defensive and huffy when the creator asks the reviewer about their own achievements outside of the reviewing sphere.

Both Cuddly, LC and me disagreed with the idea that you should ask anyone, be it a reviewer or the artist, for credentials other than the quality of the work that is being discussed at the moment.


* * *
I'll admit that I find BWW entertaining in a really horrible sort of way. On some level, one might consider those reviews to be at least a little helpful, though the hyperbolic writing style tends to make each review less about the comic and more about the poor, poor reviewer having to read such an awful thing. But it saddens me that people hear "webcomic reviews" and immediately picture the BWW style of "review." There are plenty of good reviewers out there who take care when writing their work, but people think of the "swear-word, swear-word, vulgar phrase, ad-hominem insult" manner that comprises the Bad Webcoimcs Wiki, and then they assume every other reviewer is like that.

It's entertaining to read when it's reviewing something that I hate, specially those big-time comics that reviewers are usually afraid to tackle because that means a backlash from webcomic's populous fanbase (you know, Chugworth or DD).
But on a principle, I don't approve that they encourage attacking author personally - they actually have a section "what we think about author based on his comic". I don't approve the anonymity because it invariably encourages people to the worst possible kind of behaviour.
But also in general, I don't approve of reviewers that trade only in negative reviews. The thing that I've heard from artists often, and which I think it fundamentally untrue, is that criticism is somehow driven by hatred of art or desire to climb over other people's shoulders. I can honestly say that 90% of reviews I've ever read are written by someone who genuinely likes the medium, and are a product of writer's desire to comment on the thing that interests him so much, and aggravation over, say, a bad comic, doesn't come from hatred of comics, quite the opposite. It comes from impression that the beloved medium has been underused, abused and misused.
But if they have strictly bad reviews, you justifiably ask "Does this guy actually like anything?" Reviewer also has to say something private about himself if he wants us to consider his opinions, and there's no better way to say it than to say what he actually likes. Talking about things you hate is callous, sheltering, but talking about what you like actually says something about you.
For these reasons I can always feel in BWW that whiff of not caring about comics all that much, and specially trying to walk over other people's corpses (if success means having an article on a popular site and having a built-in audience to read it, and in this case it does).
With Solomon it's another story, I always felt in him a great love of the medium, but also a great lack of understanding. He is so tied to the conventional ideas of a good comic that it almost feels like he has a Brian Boland sketchbook handy, so he compares it with every comic he reads and judges based on "looks like this" or "doesn't look like this". It's like he doesn't get the emotional connection, doesn't get the more abstract qualities a comic might have, doesn't get that the whole is sometimes greater than it's parts, doesn't get that sometimes greatness arises in the most unexpected places and not just as a sum of conventionally good craftsmanship. If he was a printed comics critic, I could imagine him trashing Satrapi, Trondheim, Cloves, all those universally praised comics of last few decades.
And, most importantly, he doesn't get that webcomics have created a specific vocabulary that is different from printed comics, and that if you want to consider webcomics in any relevant manner, you have to use this new vocabulary as a starting point.
No need to mention that he is also the master of overstatement, redundancy, and trying to beat opinion into reader's head by repeating it a dozen times, each time with more overstatement.
I guess if I was making a lost of things that discredit the reviewer, well you have the content of the list in these few paragraphs.

I agree with this. When someone receives critique (even if it's just in the form of someone leaving a comment saying "The anatomy looks a little warped in the third panel" or something), there are people who will whip around and insist that they weren't asking for your opinion anyway. Like hell! If the commenter had left them a praiseful comment, I doubt they'd be saying the same thing. An artist saying they don't want people's opinions would be like someone signing up for an online dating website and then getting mad when people try to put the moves on them. If an artist doesn't want anyone's opinions, there's a simple solution- don't let anyone see it.

Yeah, I don't think that it's unjustified to be hurt, I just think that it's a point that is being overemphasized and overreiterated. It's almost as if we're supposed to keep quiet about flaws of one such vile comic as "The least I could do" despite the fact this is the comic that is effectively hurting people in a different, much more profound way.

As a person who's been dedicated to comics all my life, I really can't muster up much compassion for people who are tempted to quit comics after first bad review. To make a good comic, to learn the ropes and find your voice, takes a bit of dedication, and if you don't have that dedication, as a reader I am not at loss if you're not making comics. This, again, probably sounds more cruel than I intended it, I mean I personally have talked some people out of quitting comics, strictly because it can be tough for beginners... but then again people whom I see "hurt" have invariably been in webcomics for years.

Regarding expertise/knowledge/ability on the side of the reviewer:
My anatomy isn't that great. My backgrounds aren't that great. My coloring isn't that great. But that doesn't mean I can't spot bad anatomy, backgrounds, coloring in other comics. I don't need to be an ace at something myself before I can help someone else. Otherwise who would be able to critique the really "great" comics?

Obviously understanding the way something works is pretty important as a revieiwer, but I don't really think anyone's arguing against that

There's that old saying, I forget who to attribute it to... "I can't lay an egg, but I can spot a rotten one."

* * *
I just remembered to comment how in the article that started this thread, there's only ever one mention of a thing in a positive review that might discredit a critic. And it's not even given a full bullet, it's mentioned by the way.
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Re: 14 ways to spot a bad critic

Postby RobboAKAscooby on Thu May 17, 2012 6:37 pm

LC, McD and Cuddly, y'all have pretty much said what I think.

Now - and I'm sure this will come as a major shock to everyone - I'm not that good at comicking. But in the four years since I started I have had about a dozen reviews, all of which pointed out a ton of flaws.
Here on CG I've been reviewed by people with varying styles - from Cuddly's kind but honest always willing to help to McD's analytical backed up with his encyclopedic knowledge to LC's and Serge's harsh but honest - and in all that time I've had exactly one review that was useless (no not LC's) and that's because it had nothing to say, it was brief dismissive and poorly written.
Other than that, every review has helped me more than I think the reviewers realise (thanks guys) and my work has gone from bad to mediocre to occasionally decent.

Hari you've brought up a few reviewee attitudes that I just can't stand (I think there might even be a thread on the subject somewhere), most notably "It's just a hobby" - part of a hobby is learning, trying to get better at it, sharing it with others who may tell you your doing it wrong.
I'm sick and tired of people hiding behind "it's just a hobby" to excuse poor work. Other hobbyist creators outside the world of webcomics share their work with people - online, at art shows, hobby fairs, etc - and they get the same kind of peer feedback and reviews.
Once you take your hobby into the outside world you are joining that community whether you want to or not. It's a community that includes other creators, collectors, onlookers and enthusiasts, all of whom have just as much a right to an opinion on your work as you do and you have the same right of opinion on their work.



And if "bad" reviews are so damaging to the creator's spirit, why the heck am I of all people running the W.A.Y. again?
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Re: 14 ways to spot a bad critic

Postby Harishankar on Thu May 17, 2012 6:52 pm

It's not very different, specially on internet where everything that's said remains, there's a very slippery slope between private conversation and published article.


Let me ask a question. Supposing a really nice old grandma living in your neighbourhood draws really bad drawings/paintings and then presents them to your friends. She does it in her old age and derives no other pleasure in life than to draw. She makes no money off it whatsoever. Now you see those pictures apparently in the public domain, hanging in several of your friend's houses, and feel the need to tear it apart. Do you go take your time to write and publish a newspaper article denouncing that grandma's art and tearing her apart or do you keep your views to yourself?

Now I ask, why is the internet so different? Why is it that, "if it's on the internet, it must be fair game" is such a popular notion? Because there's a screen between the object of your hatred that allows people to express themselves so recklessly?

There are people and real human beings involved. And their feelings. In general, I have to ask thisL why do you Westerners place so much weight on "Freedom of Speech" as your birthright and prefer that over considering another human being's feelings?

I'm sick and tired of people hiding behind "it's just a hobby" to excuse poor work.


And I'm sick of the "right to speech" being raised in defence at every attempt to instill perspective and balance into an issue. Nobody's questioning anybody's right to freedom of speech here.

Just for discussion, what the bloody hell is wrong with this attitude? Why do critics care so much about improvement in random strangers who have no connection with them whatsoever? Not everybody wants to be the best at everything they do. Hobbies are for fun and relaxation, that's why they're called hobbies, for God's sake: not profession. Many people have fun drawing, even drawing badly. It relaxes them and they feel the need to express themselves. It's their hobby and their life. Why do some people feel the need to butt in and criticize even if that person hasn't asked for a review? Why the hell should these people not post their work online? They don't go out of their way to seek publicity either. The internet is just another media. I buy a domain and some web space and put my work out there. That's not the same as actively seeking publicity or attracting attention.

I think we will fundamentally disagree on this point that anything on the internet is fair game. Legally you may be right. But at a higher level, I think there is no meeting point. My attitude towards life is to live and let live. Maybe that's why I get so worked up over the "right to speech" excuse raised in defence to every attempt to instill a bit of balance and perspective.

For myself, I love to draw and improve myself and I am game for a critique or two, because I want to, but I don't judge everybody because they simply enjoy drawing. But why shouldn't I be allowed to draw badly if I want to, without having to face a barrage of unwarranted attention?

For the sake of clarity let me make it clear that in this post, I'm talking almost entirely about unsolicited reviews, not reviews on request. I am much more sympathetic to reviewers who take the time and effort to do a honest review, even if they fall short of the mark and even if they are unfair to the creator - if the creator has asked for it explicitly. I don't justify bad reviews, but at least the creator asked for it.
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Re: 14 ways to spot a bad critic

Postby McDuffies on Thu May 17, 2012 9:30 pm

Let me ask a question. Supposing a really nice old grandma living in your neighbourhood draws really bad drawings/paintings and then presents them to your friends. She does it in her old age and derives no other pleasure in life than to draw. She makes no money off it whatsoever. Now you see those pictures apparently in the public domain, hanging in several of your friend's houses, and feel the need to tear it apart. Do you go take your time to write and publish a newspaper article denouncing that grandma's art and tearing her apart or do you keep your views to yourself?

Now I ask, why is the internet so different? Why is it that, "if it's on the internet, it must be fair game" is such a popular notion? Because there's a screen between the object of your hatred that allows people to express themselves so recklessly?


You don't really prove a point by using the extreme example. For one, internet would be more like if gran'ma exibited her drawings in gallery, and there's no critic who would feign approval just because artist is elderly.
Gran'ma example isn't exactly a tearjerker you intended it to be, but I certainly think that, say, trashing a kid's comic, or an autistic's comic would be a rotten thing to do. But we are reasonably operating under assumption that most of us are well-adjusted adults and I'm sure that you weren't talking about grannies and preschoolers all this time either.

There are people and real human beings involved. And their feelings. In general, I have to ask thisL why do you Westerners place so much weight on "Freedom of Speech" as your birthright and prefer that over considering another human being's feelings?

Because freedom of speech is one of pillars of western philosophy and understanding of the world, it's one of basic ideas on which western society has been built. That freedom of speech is birthright, is considered a self-evident truth.
For sure, humanism is another axiom of western society, but it is believed that humane society can only come through freedom of speech. Does it matter that victorian england was full of gentlemanly behaviour if women still weren't allowed to speak? If I feign pleasure at people's comics when I actually hate them, am I not patronizing?

But that's really too large for our discussion here. We do care about people's feelings, It's just that we don't think that online criticism is such major violation of other person's feelings. A critic hasn't killed or maimed anyone. If he's a good critic, then he hasn't even personally attacked anyone. He's just commented on something he's read.
I am always fully aware that there are real human feelings in the mix. What I am becoming sure of is that they aren't as strong feelings as they're often said to be. I'm becoming certain that pain you're talking about doesn't come from emotional connection to the work, it comes from when reaction to the work doesn't meet author's expectations. If he thought he'd be praised and he wasn't, that's where pain usually comes from.
Starting from myself, why do I, who am very passionate about comics, receive criticism much calmer than some people who claim that they are hobbyists and that comics don't mean that much to them? I suspect that the answer is that I enter the criticism with much less egotism than they do.
After all, if someone is a hobbyist and does comics as a relaxation, but when he gets criticized he's suddenly so attached to the comic that his feelings are hurt, isn't that a bit contradictory?

Just for discussion, what the bloody hell is wrong with this attitude? Why do critics care so much about improvement in random strangers who have no connection with them whatsoever?

It's not. It's just that, if you're writing a review, if it's constructive and helpful, then it has more redeeming values.
If the question is why people have to write reviews in the first place, well... because analytical thinking, need for categorization and evaluation are in human nature. Critics often have an analytical urge which is not unlike artist's creative urge.
There's also people who take webcomics very seriously. Alongside hobbyists, there are authors who want to see webcomics grow into a respected and critically acknowledged art form. And the only way that can happen is in a critical environment, where theoretical writing makes arguements that outside art world will have to accept.

Perhaps everyone could put a sign on their site, saying how serious they are and whether they want to be part of this critical circle. But my impression is that many people would want to have cake and eat it. That when it comes to positive critique, noone will say that they're just hobbyists and don't need that. Furthermore, that most people hope for positive critique and only pull the hobbyist card once they don't get it.
I think that's the gist of what Robby was saying. I think he doesn't mind hobbyists by themselves, he just thinks that many people use this as the last ditch excuse against criticism, while in their mind they very much hope that they'll get the kind of approval that someone who put more effort into it gets.

I think we will fundamentally disagree on this point that anything on the internet is fair game. Legally you may be right. But at a higher level, I think there is no meeting point. My attitude towards life is to live and let live. Maybe that's why I get so worked up over the "right to speech" excuse raised in defence to every attempt to instill a bit of balance and perspective.

I for one can't stand right of speech defense when it's launched against something that is basically a criticism of one's work. If I'm saying that this reviewer sucks, I am not denying him right to speak, freedom of expression. I am effectively saying that it would be better for entire world if he didn't speak, but that is not the same as denying him right to speak or even implying that. A few years ago when I was criticizing dreaded Solomon, I kept running into that arguement - he has a right to speak. Well noone was denying him that right, I was merely making an evaluation of his reviewing work. It takes much of zealotry to interpret mere criticism as denial of right to speak.
But it is kind of different if you ask entire class of people to suppress their expression, regardless of how and how well they're doing it. That's something I can't agree with.
It's the same desire for expression that drives both artists and critics, and it's the same unlimited freedom of internet that allows them to express. To complain about excessive freedom of speech on internet means to open a can of worms that noone really wants opened.
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Re: 14 ways to spot a bad critic

Postby Harishankar on Thu May 17, 2012 9:41 pm

I don't think I disagree that freedom of speech is really really important concept. It is a fundamental right of human beings. But I also think that it is placed at too high a pedestal in philosophical discussions and sometimes even worshipped at the cost of other human values.

The objection I had with it was when it is raised as a defence to a criticism -- be it criticism of an original creator or a reviewer.

See, the problem I have with going out of the way to criticize strangers is very similar to this legal concept called "Locus Standi". Link

Locus standi is a legal concept, but I am applying it generally to life here. I am a believer in the principle that if I have no business somewhere, I keep out of it. If I don't like something, I avoid it.

And for the other issue of "just a hobby", I think that raising the defence of "hobby" is a bit lame when the creator has asked for a review explicitly, but I think artists are justly entitled to use that defence against unsolicited and unjustified criticism - even when their work is in the public domain.

What I'm saying is that reviewers oughtn't to rely on their strict legal and technical rights and instead look at things in perspective.

After all, if someone is a hobbyist and does comics as a relaxation, but when he gets criticized he's suddenly so attached to the comic that his feelings are hurt, isn't that a bit contradictory?


Technically you may be right, but remember that human emotions don't necessarily follow the laws of rationality. Also, I raise the same thing: unwarranted or unwanted attention can be really disconcerting and some critics have a nasty habit of making personal judgements based on what they review. It is very hard for a creative person to separate himself/herself completely from their work. I think perspective comes with time and experience.
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Re: 14 ways to spot a bad critic

Postby RobboAKAscooby on Fri May 18, 2012 2:42 am

McDuffies wrote:I think that's the gist of what Robby was saying. I think he doesn't mind hobbyists by themselves, he just thinks that many people use this as the last ditch excuse against criticism, while in their mind they very much hope that they'll get the kind of approval that someone who put more effort into it gets.


Pretty much. I almost always encounter it as an excuse after the fact.

Hey comicking is just a hobby for me too but I'm realistic about it, I do want to improve my drawing so I can illustrate my novels but other than that art is just a hobby for me yet I realise by publishing my work (yes putting it online is publishing) that people are going to see it and may talk/write about it, that's just part of the game.
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Re: 14 ways to spot a bad critic

Postby Harishankar on Fri May 18, 2012 2:52 am

RobboAKAscooby wrote:
McDuffies wrote:I think that's the gist of what Robby was saying. I think he doesn't mind hobbyists by themselves, he just thinks that many people use this as the last ditch excuse against criticism, while in their mind they very much hope that they'll get the kind of approval that someone who put more effort into it gets.


Pretty much. I almost always encounter it as an excuse after the fact.

Hey comicking is just a hobby for me too but I'm realistic about it, I do want to improve my drawing so I can illustrate my novels but other than that art is just a hobby for me yet I realise by publishing my work (yes putting it online is publishing) that people are going to see it and may talk/write about it, that's just part of the game.


Agreed, but reviewers tend to be harsh with hobbyists and pros alike. If anything, the hobbyists receive a harsher stick because it's easy to bash an individual who is actually not too confident of his/her work. I think there should be a certain leeway for hobbyists - certainly those who aren't selling merchandise, or shirts, or prints, those who aren't actively seeking donations to continue creating, as though the world might come to an end if they did, those who aren't creating printed books and actively asking their readers to "show their support" and so on.

Honestly, reviewers tend to be quite conservative and toned down when approaching already established artists because they're inherently scared of making obvious mistakes in critiquing, offending the artist's fans or too intimidated by their "professional" status. And also there is a subconscious voice telling the reviewer "he/she must be doing something right to get so many fans" etc.

Also the other reason I mentioned hobbyists is because these are the people who tend to be more receptive to criticism when it is fair and balanced, but equally they are insecure and hesitant knowing that there are people who do it much better than them. Naturally such a mindset can lead to reactions against harsh critiques. I think reviewers also need to be sensitive to the subject of their criticism in order to do justice to their own work. Be honest, but not harsh.

Seems like double standards to me (ironically).
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Re: 14 ways to spot a bad critic

Postby robotthepirate on Fri May 18, 2012 3:35 am

What did I start? (Nothing really, I just posted a link)
McDuffies wrote:To rephrase my thoughts from earlier: you may not consciously ask for judgement when you put your work in public. But you are, in fact, signing an implicit social contract that says you will be judged, and you have agreed to this clause in advance.

They should put that in the CG sign up.

And if I can quote myself:
This is freedom of speech:
You can say to me: “You can't tell me what to think or what to say”,
But if that is so then you too cannot tell me what to think or say.
So if I want to tell you what to think or say I can do,
This is freedom of speech.
But you don't have to think or say what I tell you to.
This is freedom.

It's not brilliant, I wrote it on a bus.
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Re: 14 ways to spot a bad critic

Postby Harishankar on Fri May 18, 2012 3:53 am

I notice it's also remarkably easy to douse any debate with the freedom of speech thing. They've got their freedom of speech, they can say what they want: debate over.

Quite simply, instead of discussing a topic at a higher level, we end up debating freedom of speech and then it becomes a circular argument.

But anyway, this topic is about spotting bad reviewers and improving reviewers... not about curbing their freedom of speech.

Assuming for a moment that we all agree about the freedom issue and that everybody has it, can we go further?
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Re: 14 ways to spot a bad critic

Postby RobboAKAscooby on Fri May 18, 2012 3:57 am

robotthepirate wrote:This is freedom of speech:
You can say to me: “You can't tell me what to think or what to say”,
But if that is so then you too cannot tell me what to think or say.
So if I want to tell you what to think or say I can do,
This is freedom of speech.
But you don't have to think or say what I tell you to.
This is freedom.


I like it.
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Re: 14 ways to spot a bad critic

Postby robotthepirate on Fri May 18, 2012 3:59 am

Harishankar wrote:Assuming for a moment that we all agree about the freedom issue and that everybody has it, can we go further?


That wasn't an aguemental point on my behalf, thus far I've been happy to agree with both sides of this discussion at the same time. The posts are all too long for one thing. :shucks:
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Re: 14 ways to spot a bad critic

Postby Harishankar on Fri May 18, 2012 5:16 am

robotthepirate wrote:
Harishankar wrote:Assuming for a moment that we all agree about the freedom issue and that everybody has it, can we go further?


That wasn't an aguemental point on my behalf, thus far I've been happy to agree with both sides of this discussion at the same time. The posts are all too long for one thing. :shucks:

Ah, no issues. I was getting a bit carried away myself.

Sorry if I sounded a bit hostile. It comes out like that sometimes when I am in the middle of a good debate.
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Re: 14 ways to spot a bad critic

Postby McDuffies on Fri May 18, 2012 8:47 am

Harishankar wrote:Honestly, reviewers tend to be quite conservative and toned down when approaching already established artists because they're inherently scared of making obvious mistakes in critiquing, offending the artist's fans or too intimidated by their "professional" status. And also there is a subconscious voice telling the reviewer "he/she must be doing something right to get so many fans" etc.

There are other angles too.
Fanbase of a huge comic such as Penny arcade or Dominic Deegan tends to harass anyone who criticizes their favourite comic, send them threatening mails and bring down their sites, and fans acually usually take criticism of the comic much worse than the author himself (although sometimes it's author who seeks them on critic). Many critics are reluctant to open that can of worms, it's specially tough if you're not backed up by a robust host.

But there's another thing, any review is a kind of publicity, and many reviewers think that it's better to give publicity to small guys than to comics that already have a lot of it. Many reviewers think, what is the point of another article about Penny Arcade? There's already so much said about it, and everyone's opinion is pretty much formed, so the idea is to give media space to those that aren't already widely discussed.

Still, often webcomics whose authors make a living of it are often considered a different league, a sort of out-of-competition with other webcomics, and it's success that critics are intimidated of. That's why I like to see critical reviews of professional webcomics, those webcomics, in any, need some thorough critical evaluation. Webcomics, unlike any other media, still haven't figured out that what is most popular isn't always the best.
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Re: 14 ways to spot a bad critic

Postby VeryCuddlyCornpone on Fri May 18, 2012 10:46 am

This is kind of not on the topic, but I was thinking about this earlier. I kind of wish that I had looked for critiques earlier. Back in middle/high school I didn't put anything online (I odn't think I knew that I could), so my audience scope was limited to my friends and family who had uniformly positive things to say (except maybe not getting all the jokes). My band geeks comic is something I worked on for like two years, but looking at the first and last page, there isn't really much artistic progress. I got stuck in the "It's my style"-line of defense as to explaining why I didn't learn how to draw proper anatomy. And I know I was doing the comic "just for fun," but it really would have been great if over the course of working on it, I had made considerable progress. Now I look back on things I did a year or six months ago and see vast improvement, but those three years of BGA were mostly stagnant. Imagine how much I could have improved in that time if I had sought criticism or attempted to really learn.
I had fun making it and never intended for it to be more than an amateurish comic, but now that I'm working on something I really care a lot about, I wish I was a little more proficient at things that I should have learned long ago. Especially since it's stuff that really doesn't take hours of oppressive study- fifteen minutes here or there makes a huge difference. As much fun as it can be to make a mediocre comic where you don't really push yourself, it's far more satisfying and worthwhile, for me, to work on something where I really try to push myself on every page and really try to improve. Something that ideally will stand alone on its artistic/writing merit, that people who aren't related to or friends with me can enjoy.

Criticism gets a bad rap. There are loads of terrible critics, but one of the best skills any creator can have is learning how to accept, filter, and use criticism, even if it seems useless at face value.


As for why I review, or why I feel I have the right to review, I do it because it's fun and I like to help people. Maybe they don't want my help, that's fine, they can ignore it. But suppose another artist comes across my review and is able to take away something valuabe. Maybe I can help an internet stranger look at their work in a different light. In this case, the comic being reviewed is only the vehicle for multiple people to improve somehow- I might improve at writing, the creator might improve artistically, and so might whoever else reads the review.

I don't aim to cut people down with my criticism. Critics who do that are usually known for their sourness (we always refer to Solomon & BWW, but it's an apt example), and people don't really seek their advice so much as read their reviews for car-wreck value.

If someone feels personally hurt by my comments about their comic, that is never my intent. Everyone feels a personal "zing" when you read criticism of your work- that's normal, I'm not saying you need to be this clinical detached machine. But as I've said before, an internet stranger's comments shouldn't shove you to thinking you need to give up comics altogether. It's an option, sure, but so is taking steps to improve. Heck, so is ignoring it and going on right along as you were before.

I feel that if a person is so deeply affected by a review of their work (especially in cases where the critic was not using ad-hominem attacks or any other *real* signs of a bad critic), it might be best for them to step back and analyze why the criticism hurts so much. Is the critic flat-out wrong, or reading something into the comic that the author didn't intend? Or is the critic just striking a little too close to home? This is where you'd find examples of someone who knows their work isn't good- no matter how much you might joke around about your comic sucking, having someone actually come out and say why they felt your comic sucks can be a bit of an upsetting wakeup call. Maybe the creator just thought his art was bad, but it turns out his jokes also fall flat- something like that. In which case, well, it's going to be true whether or not someone points it out. Ideally, no matter how much the review hurts the creator, some people will click to read out of curiosity and end up liking the comic anyway.

Webcomics are a medium where there almost is no such thing as bad publicity. A work might be really terrible but still have fans and readers. Bad publicity comes into play when the creator is shown to be an extremely unpleasant person in some shape or form. Maybe they insult their fans or respond like a 14-year-old to an unsavory review. Maybe they have really disgusting views and use their comic as a vehicle to disseminate them. If these facts are revealed, that is when you get bad publicity. If a comic isn't good but the creator seems like a good person otherwise, then a bad review probably won't turn too many people away.
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Re: 14 ways to spot a bad critic

Postby Harishankar on Fri May 18, 2012 6:58 pm

Good points those.

Well, anyway, to narrow down this discussion to how I myself would spot a bad review, here are my views:

1. Reviewer admits not to making an effort to read the comic archive because a few of them are very bad. -- maybe the comic creator had an off-day. We all do. Not everybody can make consistently good comics all the time. Quality of writing varies - even with professionals. If the archives are too big, the reviewer should probably take a sampling of comics from different points of time, preferably different years.

2. Too much emphasis on one aspect -- I think if anything, the reviewer should err on the side of the writing part, because comics are so dependent on the quality of the writing than on the art. Art can be improved with practice, but writing well is critical for success. So many comics have great art but the writing sucks - almost as though the comic creator hadn't given a second thought about that aspect.

3. Not understanding or disliking a certain genre -- Maybe the reviewer hates the genre or simply doesn't understand. In such cases the reviewer should first state that fact - with the caveat that the review is likely to be biased. Too often reviewers spew their hatred on the entire genre via a particular comic.

4. Feels the need to psycho-analyze the creator through the comic -- This is also one of my pet peeves. The easiest psycho-analysis is that the creator must be lazy and uncaring, because the art or writing sucks. Actually there are ways to spot lazy artwork, but that doesn't always mean that the creator hasn't put in an effort. Sometimes, reviewers make too many assumptions about the creator's process and then puts down the lack of quality to laziness. Actually it's not wrong to say that the artwork is lazily drawn -- just that I think it's wrong to judge the creator using that yardstick.

5. Not providing enough feedback to be useful -- Again, it's fine to say that art or writing sucks, but not saying why is unhelpful. Again, a reviewer need not hold the hands of the creator, but just provide pointers to improvement or highlight the flaws.
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Re: 14 ways to spot a bad critic

Postby VeryCuddlyCornpone on Fri May 18, 2012 7:57 pm

I more or less agree with all of those.

This is probably a matter of personal taste (actual stylistic choice, if you will), but I'd add "overuse of hyperbole/incendiary language." This tends to go along with #4 but I've also seen it in conjunction with the others. Even if the criticisms are valid, writing with the vocabulary and tone of a Youtube commenter troll makes the reviewer seem like he or she has no idea what they're talking about- sounds more like a 13 year old boy bashing Twilight or something. I don't find swearing inhernetly funny, no matter who it is that's doing the swearing, and most memetic reaction responses are overused or too obvious and make me :roll: .

Again, I know this is a personal thing, some people find those reviews funny. I'd rather see someone actually witty writing a review, though.


Also, on the other side of the coin- reviewers who treat their subjects like delicate eggs. So afraid to bruise the ego of the creator, they go out of their way to either focus only on the good things about a comic, or mention the comic's faults while adding that "they don't really matter that much." I don't see this kind of reviewer too often, because I imagine writing such reviews would be really exhausting and not that fun, if you have to filter everything down to the point where no analysis is even being done.

I'd say my first complaint is worse than the second one. Neither is likely to be particularly helpful but for different reasons. If the writer in scenario 1 is so caustic and vile that the creator doesn't feel like wading through the muck to glean the few gems of advice, then I'd say that's an unsuccessful review. If the writer in scneario 2 is so gentle and pandering that they barely say anything concrete about the subject, then the creator walks away without knowing how to improve. Ideally, in both scenarios, the creator then seeks a review elsewhere.
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Re: 14 ways to spot a bad critic

Postby McDuffies on Fri May 18, 2012 9:24 pm

1. Continually makes bad judgments (with presumption that my judgments are good, of course) and doesn't bring any argument that is convincing to me to support his opinion. Such as criticizing things that, I think, are irrelevant in the big picture, or proclaiming something bad if I consider it good (such as art brute drawing style) or something like that.
That's it really. It really all depends on how things that he writes relate to my own opinions.

A list of things I don't like to see in criticism. Sometimes these things will put me off of reading even if I essentially agree with the reviewer:

1. Overstatement. Strength of language should be according to the work in question. If I call something "the worst comic I've ever read" I should damn well have a good reason. If the comic is evidently nowhere as bad as the reviewer describes, I have to assume one of the following: a) reviewer isn't well read if he hasn't seen anything worse than this, or b) reviewer's words have no real weight since he squanders them without sense of proportion. This goes for praising overstatements, not only criticizing.

2. Assuming anything about an artist is always a bad idea. Roads that lead from artist's brain are complicated, impossible to unwrap, never what they seem like. Even worse, critics always seem to use a straightforward approach to this, as if people write just for wish fulfillment. But authors also write about things that upset them, about obsessive themes of which they don't necessarily approve, or simply pick something up as a mean of narration. When artist has an obsessive theme, how can you know whether he's writing about his dream or hos nightmare?
Also, even if all comics are fair game, people are not. You are a comic critic, not a person critic. You have no right to review a person, specially one you've never met. A person is not a topic of your review, and it's not what I'm reading your review for. Personality of author is irrelevant for me as a reader.

3. Reviewer uses review as a platform to talk about himself, or to showcase his writing ambition. And people do this a lot. Lester Bangs, surely the most well known rock critic, would get away with digressions, not writing about it's topic at all, or even making up a fake review. I imagine I would have hated him. I guess this doesn't lower reviewer's credentials, but it's a purposeful waste of my time, as trick to get me to read something that I otherwise wouldn't be interested in. I'm not here for your confessions, and I'm not here for your bad prose that you couldn't publish without piggybacking it on a review.

4. When arguements are replaced by "clever" descriptions of how bad or good something is, instead of why it is bad or good. Perhaps the most famous example of this comes from none other than Ebert:
This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels...

While movie in question well deserved it, and while I understand how in this case Ebert felt compelled to accentuate, to express strength of the impression the movie left on him, note how he wasted an entire paragraph not telling me anything that he couldn't in one sentence. Strength of his conviction does nothing to convince me. But Ebert is generally ok, consider that there are reviewers who write strictly in this mode.

5. I am not too crazy for critics who stick too closely to a form of their review. Usually they'll split comic in categories like drawing, backgrounds, characterization, plot, colours, etc, and sometimes even calculate their grade as an average of all these grades. Thing is, I don't think that comic is simply a summation of it's individual parts. I also don't think that these individual parts are disjunct. I think that in the end an impression that a whole leaves is the only thing important and in that context those individual parts can't be evaluated as bad or good, but rather as what kind of effect they have on the whole. I think that, in a way, each piece of art creates it's own set of criteria.
Furthermore, this is an excellent way to concentrate only on formal elements and neglect philosophical, emotional, subtextual.

6. I'm kinda irritated by critics whose main criteria is how "entertaining" the work is. Sure, entertainingness is a valuable asset. But art can be so much more than merely entertaining. And no matter how ludicrously entertaining something is, it is still a simple time-waster if it doesn't have more ambition than mere entertainment value.

7. As I said earlier, I loath reviewers who review strictly bad comics. Show me that you can also like comics, show me that you're doing this for the love of medium, not for easy publicity. By telling me what you like, you're telling me something about yourself and your taste, much more than you do when you tell me what you don't like. Let me evaluate your taste, your main tool as a critic, so I can decide whether it's worth my trust.
Strangely enough, I don't mind reviewers who choose to write only about comics they like. I think that from theoretical point, comic art benefits more from analyzing what works instead of what doesn't work.

8. This is maybe a lesser thing and certainly not something that irritates me, but I like to see well-organized thoughts, I like to see that critic has re-read and edited what he wrote. Particularly when review paraphrases the same thing in several places, or when it jumps haphazardly from point to a point, it's a sign that critic doesn't put too much effort.

1. Reviewer admits not to making an effort to read the comic archive because a few of them are very bad.

Worse is when you figure out from the review that he's read only a small part of it but acts as if he's read it all.

I think if anything, the reviewer should err on the side of the writing part, because comics are so dependent on the quality of the writing than on the art. Art can be improved with practice, but writing well is critical for success. So many comics have great art but the writing sucks - almost as though the comic creator hadn't given a second thought about that aspect.

Years ago I would have kinda agreed with you, but nowadays I disagree. I think that art can go a long way towards interpreting the script in one way or the other. Only yesterday I read a french serial which switched artists midway and to my surprise turned from barely readable fantasy drivel to a reasonably entertaining adventure. The scripts were pretty much illogical and derivative as before, but new artists was expressing ideas in a clearer, more organized, and frankly prettier to look at way, for instance due to his drawing, his expressions, paper cutouts suddenly became characters. I think that art sometimes works so subtly on interpretation of the script that we congratulate a script for something that is result of art.
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Re: 14 ways to spot a bad critic

Postby Harishankar on Fri May 18, 2012 11:57 pm

Some excellent points, all.

Years ago I would have kinda agreed with you, but nowadays I disagree. I think that art can go a long way towards interpreting the script in one way or the other. Only yesterday I read a french serial which switched artists midway and to my surprise turned from barely readable fantasy drivel to a reasonably entertaining adventure. The scripts were pretty much illogical and derivative as before, but new artists was expressing ideas in a clearer, more organized, and frankly prettier to look at way, for instance due to his drawing, his expressions, paper cutouts suddenly became characters. I think that art sometimes works so subtly on interpretation of the script that we congratulate a script for something that is result of art.


What you're saying is that the art should match and complement the theme of the comic, right? I think that is true, but that kind of synergy is rarely achieved by most beginners or some intermediates. Of course pro comic creators or artists who've studied the medium for years and understand it well achieve this with ease - carefully and deliberately choosing an art style that works with the theme.

Think of the best comics you've ever read (any comic, not just web comics) and I bet that 90% of the time, you won't actually stop to admire the artwork or the script separately. It just blends to form a whole - an interesting story or novel. This is really hard to achieve.

So I agree with you for well established artists. But for those who are still scratching the art of comic writing, I don't think they can compete at that level yet. Basically a comic where art and writing seamlessly is rare, except for professional comics. For amateurs there will always be a slight disconnect... more than anything, developing consistent and high quality visual storytelling is really hard. For me, for instance, I am not sure I can ever get to that level.
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