Friday, October 5, 2007

Your Site that Reviews Webcomics is Bad and This Irony is Probably Lost on You.

Oh, look, one that isn't directly about feminism in comics.

There's a site out there some of you may have heard of: "Your Webcomic is Bad and You Should Feel Bad." The gist of it is, some guy (recently, some people) sits around picking apart webcomics he (they) judges to be bad, usually (pffft, I mean always) in a snark-filled, insulting manner.

This thing gets plugged at me from time to time, and each time, my response to the plugger is, "Why do you hate me so fucking much that you'd try to inflict this wad of crap on my eyeballs?" Because this is exactly the kind of crap that makes me assume an anonymous identity. Holier-than-thou shitbags who aren't content to let anything that doesn't mesh with their perfect art utopia fantasy exist in peace, absolutist jackasses assuming the role of arbiter of taste not only for themselves, but for everybody else as well.

This kind of blog is no innovation. This is the Internet, after all, and snark and self-important twattery are in no short supply. I have noticed what appears to be a pattern among this particular type of critic/reviewer/asshat; I will share the pattern, but only "John Solomon" et al. will know if it holds true in his/their case.

Component 1: Art Student. Took some course of study in the arts, probably at some art-specific school. May very well still be in school. Is convinced their handful of years in an institutional learning facility gives them nigh-superior wisdom.

Component 2: Youth. Is quite probably too young to realize that they don't quite know fucking everything and probably never will. (This is not an absolute rule, see below).

Component 3: Horrible Curmudgeonly Idol. Quite often a teacher at aforementioned school, but could also be some other type of mentor or even some celebrity or notable figure. In any case, the defining feature is this individual's intense hatred for anything that is not either A) themselves; B) something on a short list of personal likes; or C) sucking up mightily to said Horrible Idol. This hatred manifests itself in a harsh binary attack on everything in the Universe, resulting in two classes of things: that which is genius and that which is utter filth. In order to save that which is "genius", it is necessary to destroy (or at least abuse) everything that doesn't measure up to that standard. Rather than put it in so clear a term, however, the hatred is euphemized in some way, such as: "He tells it like it is, isn't afraid to let THE MAN know what he thinks." Noble motives are ascribed to behavior that, for some reason, some people think is visionary inside a classroom, but in another setting, such as a Thanksgiving dinner, would get you ejected from a house and then beaten with crowbars.

Your average Horrible Curmudgeonly Idol is the exception to the Youth component, having managed to maintain the "I KNOW FUCKING EVERYTHING" mentality well past its normal expiration date. What flavor curmudgeon the idol is directly linked to the amount of success he/she has: if they are a successful person, the rest of the world is expected to bend to their whim or be soundly castigated for not obeying/living up to expectations. If they are unsuccessful, sheer bitterness over that which is successful drives a spewing of bile.

("Successful" being related to the Idol's own viewpoint: A person who fancies themselves a painter but cannot make a living at painting may consider having to take a teaching job at some art school to be a personal failure, even if they do quite well at the job.)

Quite often, what happens is this: the nascent asshole hits the art school, becomes exposed to all manner and means of new concepts, and it blows his/her mind, just not quite enough. The Horrible Curmudgeonly Idol is discovered. If it is a celebrity, it is through new exposure to their work, but often it is a teacher at the art school. In the latter case, the student receives a harsh critique on their own work from said Idol, and it "opens their eyes". The failures and mediocrity of their own work is revealed in cruel detail, and the idea is formed that such an awakening never would have happened if not for the glorious whip-hand of the Idol spanking them into awareness... THUS, the asshole-in-training takes this as a sign that they themselves must use this same tactic against art and artists they dislike or despise, to "tell it like it is" in as confrontational and unpleasant a way as possible so that either the object of scorn may themselves "awaken" and possibly redeem themselves, or that they will simply melt away like butter on the skillet of scathing review.

Add in a dash of neo-conservative prudishness swiped right from the bowels of Something Awful, and there you have "Your Webcomic is Ba...

Wait, what? conservative? No way!

Yes way! These folks are every bit as anti-sex as your average Fundamentalist Christian Evangelist, as long as whatever sexual element there is falls outside their politically correct spectrum. Wasn't all that long ago this same kind of person would be openly yelling "faggot" and "queer" at their objects of scorn, but no, now that's a sign of bigotry and intolerance, so to get that same namecalling, finger-pointing rush, they move on down the line to anything less accepted. Furries, for example, or anime freaks.

Make no mistake: this type of person is intensely interested in the masturbation habits of other people. If they even suspect slightly that some person might get a little excited by something a hair out of the ordinary, look out, it's "HAY GUESS WHAT TEH PERVS R DOIN", and it's all okay, because everybody thinks furries (or whatever) are weird. And okay, maybe the furries ARE weird, but what the hell? You've just moved from homophobia, worrying that a gay guy is gonna butt-bang you right there on the street, to worrying that some furfag is going to wrap you up in a coyote skin and mount you on the hood of your Civic. (Or some gender-swap androgynite is gonna dress you up in fishnets and sweatshirts and call you MaryBob, whatever the hell.)

And this goes right to what I was saying last post, about people being all wrapped up in what other people get off on. (So in a way it does tie into feminism, I guess.)

Now, up until this moment, I was satisfied to just let all that go. I mean, picking on bad webcomics? It's like taunting all the kids on the short bus. I suppose it can make you feel superior and all that, but damn, dude, it's way too easy a target and it's a bit overly sadistic for my tastes. My greatest joy at graduating High School wasn't the accomplishment of academic whatever, it was the idea that at last I was free of that cesspool of bullies and cliques. Oh, woe, when I realized that it keeps going long after, but at least I don't have to actually read some fucked-up site about griping about webcomics.

But then someone came up with Webcomics' Seven Deadly Sins, (and someone plugged it to me, the fucker, going "you really gotta read this!", do I never learn?) which isn't even itself all that outrageous, until you get to the last: Pride.

And ooooohhhhh baby, isn't Pride the worst sin of all. Because all those crappy webcomic people think they're the coolest, think they're the best.

But Pride is the very heart of a site like "Your Webcomic is Bad...", the primary driving force. Pride in one's own standards, one's own ability to know what is "good" and more importantly what isn't, Pride in knowing you're in the "cool" section of the Internet, Pride in your ability to make the other monkeys dance and flail and cry, Pride in your very own asshole-ness, your ability to be an utter douchebag to people whose only real crime was to create bad art where you could possibly see it.

(Let's not forget Wrath, too. For every angry webcomic creator who can't accept criticism, keep in mind there's an opposite number right there on "Your Webcomic is Bad..." who can't tolerate the idea that someone would create anything without fucking running it by them to get the aesthetic thumbs-up first.)

(Oh, and though they kinda gloss over Envy, try not to miss that under Greed they complain about some despised comic actually making a profit for the creator In Defiance Of God's Will while other, more deserving and better-crafted webcomics languish in poverty and obscurity. It may not be a personal Envy, but it's certainly Envy on behalf of someone else, at least... the idea that someone does not deserve what they've received.)

At this point I suspect the person who plugged this bit at me knew it'd tick me off, in pure "let's you and him fight" fashion, and I guess it has to some degree. But I have the secret key to victory here in my heart.

If you have a webcomic, and it has been assaulted by this site, or you fear it may be at some point in the future, here is the secret:

The moment you really give a shit what a site like this (or any other) says about your webcomic, you lose. It's the easiest thing to understand, the hardest to accomplish. Almost nobody can completely turn off their feelings when some dipshit yells "you suck, faggot!" at you. Nearly everyone likes approval, hates criticism. But it takes no real skill to dislike something. Everyone can do it. This website is not special in that regard. Any artist or creator must be aware that they cannot please everyone, so worrying about a small clutch of detractors with verbal skills evolved beyond the keyboard fist-pounding argot of 4chan is pointless. Know that your bad webcomic continuing to exist (or better yet, thriving) in spite of John Solomon's shining brow radiating tangible wisdom is the thing that will aggravate him the most.

9 comments:

James Meeley said...

Anon: It's like I said in your last topic, these types are all "little Hitlers." They have the same self-centered belief that their views are shined upon by providence and anything that doesn't fall into line with that just "doesn't get it." The only difference between them and the original article, is they simply don't have the powerbase to push their own private scoio-political agenda onto the rest of us. But with the power of the Internet, they'll still keep trying.

But we have to continue to put up with them and their hateful nonsense. It's the price we will always have to pay, to live in a free society.

Indigo said...

Now, now. Godwin's law.

I extended my condolences to Mr. Solomon and his coterie.

People who derive pleasure from deriding others are people who deserve compassion.

Salmo said...

Oh, wah wah wah. Go to mightygodking.com for a good analysis of that site and this essay.

Anon, A Mouse said...

salmo: I can barely tolerate John Solomon's site in the first place, why would I want to go read more about it PLUS some nimrod kvetching over anything I wrote?

And for all I know that URL leads me to Viagra ads.

slappy the happy robot said...

I extended my condolences to Mr. Solomon and his coterie.

People who derive pleasure from deriding others are people who deserve compassion.


uh huh: a passive-aggressive insult cloaked in "oh I'm too good to descend to their level." hypocritical and self-serving. classy.

Anonymous said...

(It’s certainly stupid, of course, to suggest, as some have, that John Solomon is a “bad writer.” I recognize the need to claim bullshit as gospel truth out of a sense of spite, but come on - either you recognize simple writerly skill at crafting inflammatory rhetoric, or you don’t. As Penny Arcade once said, paraphrased - which is it, are you stupid or a liar?)

But one thing about it caught my eye - not least because the author took double-plus care to make sure it would catch any reader’s eye by bolding and italicizing it, so I don’t think it’s presumptuous to think this the main idea he wants to communicate with his essay:

The moment you really give a shit what a site like this (or any other) says about your webcomic, you lose.

This is quite possibly the stupidest thing I have read in a very long time, and understand I’ve spent the last month reading bullshit court decisions that nonetheless established binding legal precedents of dubious value in Canada - so when I say “stupidest,” it carries with it some weight. (It is, granted, less stupid than the dialogue of Carpoolers.)

Read more right here… »

Let me counter the aforementioned statement with my own, likewise bolded and italicized:

As a producing creative, you have to give a damn about your work.

I probably should have underlined that as well. Maybe print it in bright red. I’ll have to remember to do that next time.

Dismissing a critic - any critic - out of hand is the stupidest, most infuriatingly arrogant thing any artist (or person who wants to be an artist) can do, because the application of criticism is literally the only way that people improve as artists.

Now someone at this point will likely interject something about positive reinforcement or something of that nature, but positive reinforcement doesn’t make you better. Positive reinforcement might help you weather criticism, it might be the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down, but all improvement in any craft is predicated upon one simple rote: “You’re doing it wrong.” Over, and over, and over again. The person who’s telling you what you’re doing wrong might tell you what to do right, or they might not, and this is never a universally correct one-or-the-other choice: sometimes it’s better to tell a given person how to do it right, sometimes it’s better to let them figure it out for themselves.

If you choose to ignore criticism, you are, in effect, asserting that you don’t need to pay attention to criticism, because you are too good for it. Or, worse, that you just don’t care, and the latter is more troubling by half because egotism is a lot easier to stomach than apathy.

The problem: this is crap. You are not too good to be criticized, ever. Particularly if you’re working at a creative endeavor, because god knows the one universal constant about art is that ultimately every opinion has a given level of validity, even if that level is only “does it appeal to me personally.”

I am not suggesting that John Solomon’s words are gospel truth. Sometimes I think he and his merry band are wrong, either in essence of argument or choice of technique. Not often, because most of what he reviews is total shit. But sometimes, yes. I honestly wish Solomon would completely remove the aspersions on personal character that he sometimes throws into his reviews and just take the time to more thoroughly dissect and destroy the works he chooses to review, because that part is inevitably more entertaining and interesting.

It’s his choice to take a purely antagonistic stance; I don’t necessarily agree with it, because I am of the school of thought that improvement of something bad is better than cessation of it. This is because I am of the school of thought that a rising tide of quality floats all boats, and if we raise standards high enough we will never again see a dogshit movie like Crash win Best Picture. (I know - I’m dreaming.) Also, attacking only the horrible shitty work and not the person behind it closes that door so many of his victims rely upon, the “no critic should get personal” door. Not that this would stop them, of course, but at least it would be wholly invalid as opposed to only partially invalid.

But the important thing to note is that Solomon is no mere troll scrawling “you suck” fifty thousand times in a row, and his commenters usually elaborate greatly upon what Solomon initiates. A recent review of the webcomic Broken Mirror, for example, focused entirely on the horrible writing (and it most certainly is horrible writing - gratituous, pretentious, overblown dialogue with no attention to individual character, nonexistent characterization, and pacing best described as “insufferably glacial”), and both Solomon and the commenters quite astutely noted that the artwork, while not particularly amazing, was perfectly serviceable.

That’s a fair review. It’s not nice. But it’s fair.

How do I know this? Because I don’t dismiss Solomon out of hand - and I don’t dismiss the emails I get telling me I suck, either. (And believe me, I get my fair share - along with a regular and healthy variety of comments over at Torontoist complaining about how lame my work there is. I don’t write in a style meant to cater to all tastes. Such is life.)

The only way to tell if criticism is useful is to read it. It may be useless. You may consider it inapplicable, nitpicky, or simply wrong - not all criticism, after all, is created equal, and critics can be wrong. But if you’re going to be a serious producing creative, you have to acknowledge it, because without it, your creative output will be essentially static.

Wholly negative criticism, like Solomon’s, can be the most useful criticism you can receive, for the same reason there are times in life when we need particularly need a cold shower rather than a comfortably warm one. One of the most important lessons anybody can learn when receiving criticism is to learn to ignore the phrase “I liked this.” This is because that particular phrase is completely useless to you. Your audience is supposed to like your work. You have to focus on what you did wrong and learn to do it right. It’s how you get better!

Anonymous said...

The comment above is from mightygodking.com, in his post on this post

:D

James Meeley said...

for me it all boils down to one simply point, which it this:

There's two kinds of criticism: Instructive and Destructive. Here's an example of each:

Instructive: "While I can see what the creator was intending to say with this sequence, the flat and lifeless dialogue, combined with poorly drawn anatomy and any real lack of dramtic flair or humor, makes the work come off as extremely amaturish and bland. In short, it's not very good or interesting."

Destructive: "What a fucking load of shit this was! I mean, did they actually insert the pen in their asshole while they were making this pile of putrid drek? I'd say they need to work on their talent, before they continue with this worthless tripe, but they'd have to go out BUY SOME before I could do that!"

Both of these are criticisms of a work. But whereas the first example shows some thought to, not only making the point of not liking the work, but also in how they want to be sure that their opinions and criticisms are seen as, at least, knowledgable and gives some idea on what could be done to make the more improved. this could actually help a creator get better at their craft.

The latter example, while still showing they disliked the creators efforts, does nothing to help guide wither the creator or any potential reader of the "criticisms" to seeing just where and why they thought it fails and is little more than a persoanl attack, dress up in a "critical analyisis" disguise. It's sole purpose is to crush the sole of the creator, not help them to imporve their craft.

Where does Solomon fall into with his criticisms? Probably somewhere in-bewteen (although prehaps leaning a bit more to the Destucrive side).

And that brings me to the point of this: If you are posting up criticisms of work, should it not be something of value to both the creator and viewing audience? And if someone (like our good friend "Mouse" here, for example) doesn't see what you said in that capasity, is it really because they are "stupid", or because you yourself lacked the skills to properly get your point across?

You see, your whole assumption in this, is that a creator (or audience viewer) needs to be the one to look for the meaning in your criticisim. That simply isn't true. It is paramount to YOU to get that point across, not for the audience to go sifting for it.

If someone see Solomon as a jackass and his opinions/criticisms are "not worth a shit," maybe the fault is not automatically on the viewer/creator. Perhaps it is Solomon's fault for the way he wants to communicate those opinions.

Now, you might say he might not care what others think (which could probably be true), but honestly, I've never fully bought into that. Bottom line is, you post to be heard. You want people to hear you, to heed you, to view you and your opinions as something worthwhile. Otherwise, why would you even go to the bother of posting them in the first place? So, if have established this as a relative fact, then when someone "misreads" you, shouldn't the opus be upon you (at least, at first) to see if there was something you did to create such miscommunication? Maybe some way YOU were lacking in getting your points across?

You are right that a creator is unwise to take the tact of blocking out any and all criticism. But, by the same token, those who make the criticisms are not immune to get some themselves, especially in the way they go about expressing those opinions is in a very destructive way.

Creators need to stay open to criticism, so they can continue to imporve upon their craft. Those who want to make criticisims need to put the effort in to making sure their criticisms are Instructive and clearly communicated. If they aren't, then who's at fault for them being seen as "not worth a shit?"

Anon, A Mouse said...

Hm. I see I'll have to answer this anonymous reposting of this mightygodking whatever... but in a different post.

Because he's wrong, of course, but it may take some lengthy explaining to establish this for other folks.