Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

October 6, 2014

So I Guess There’s A Bunch Of Talk About Critics And Criticism And Criticizing In Comics Out There

It looks like a remark or several from the writer Cullen Bunn (here's one) has led to a still ongoing flurry of opinion-making about the role of criticism within comics, including critic-to-work, pro-to-pro and industry member to industry action/person doing that thing. It's kind of all over the place. I think this essay from Abhay Khosla and this one from Shea Hennum will get you oriented if it's a subject that interests you.

imageI think the whole thing is kind of bizarre. For one, there's very little negative criticism of work, very little negative peer to peer criticism and very little community policing until someone is ostracized for an outsized act. So it's difficult for me to puzzle out the initial impetus for the complaint, and wonder if it's just an abstract idea being trotted out.

One thing that struck as extra-odd was the idea that there's hell to pay in terms of people holding grudges. I haven't found this to be true over the life of what I shudder to call a career in comics. People get grumpy and pissy about stuff, but actually holding a lingering resentment? It doesn't seem to happen because of critical discourse. The publishers of this site once conspired to label Adrian Tomine a moron and a piker; here's him holding a grudge. I think I've interviewed all of the comics pros that went after me hard during that same era. Two of the comics professionals I like most currently are people with whom I've had massive differences of opinion in the critical realm. Many of the other people of whom I'm most fond in comics are very critical of my own work. I worked for King Features seven months after writing really negative articles about King Features.

This won't be popular to say, but I think if you see criticism as an overture of friendship or even as a way of negotiating status within a specific world -- hell, if you see art that way -- you're more likely to get some of that tossed back your way and care when you do. If you see these things as a job and a duty, both art and responding to art, I think over time that the reactions you get will have greater power in that context than in the other. Some people are going to like you and some people are going to dislike you, but I've benefited over the years from a lot of people realizing that this is what I do and what I owe them is the seriousness with which I take it, not a thumb pointing in one direction or another. Similarly, I want everyone to do as well as possible, even if they've made art or decisions with which I strongly disagree.

It's easy for me to say that, though, because I've been around a while. I'm also pretty naturally positive -- I'm likely the most conventional of all the writers in my peer group, even. The sheer closeness of the comics community now, that someone can "call you out" or whatever they want to call it on-line the second you write something or ask that you not be let into a party you want to be let into, I imagine that can be pretty rough, particularly starting out. I get it. I want to be invited to dinner, too.
posted 2:15 am PST | Permalink

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