For those who don’t follow the currents of the Comic Blog-o-Sphere, publisher and indy comics icon Larry Young recently wrote a column for Comic Book Resources where he lamented the general crappiness of comic criticism.
And later, after lamenting the group-think of critics:
I mean, how else to account for what passes for comics criticism, nowadays? When was the last time you read something online or in print that wasn't a bunch of negativity, or, at best, dissembling? Where is everyone's passion? Where is the enthusiasm? I mean, if you don't like what you're reading, here's a thought: stop.
Is that what's going on? Commentators on the scene want the "safest story?" Better to write, "It was kinda good, except for this one part I didn't like," instead of waving your proverbial beer in the metaphorical air and screaming "This comic was the most awesome thing I've ever read!"? Or, "The people who made this comic should be forced to plant trees to make up for the ones they killed to make this crap!" Commentators on the scene are worried about what other commentators think of their work, instead of reaching an audience with their opinions? And is that audience that they are reaching merely other commentators?The blog Crisis/Boring Change had an excellent history and explanation of the debate that deals with the bulk of the fracas. I disagree with some of his conclusions, but his recounting of the history is worth a read.
So rather than work over the whole debate, I thought I’d draw attention to a single part: the sheer weirdness of Larry's accusations.
A lack of passion?
Jesus Christ on a pogo stick, the one thing comic criticism has in abundance is passion. Consult any board on Newsarama for proof. For a lot of critics, passion is all they have. Afraid to make waves? That's all they want to do.
Where many critics fail is their inability to sharpen and direct their passion. A lack of clarity and insight, not a lack of fire, is the problem. What makes bad critics bad is that they can’t explain their passions beyond “this rawks” or “this sucks.”
Go back to any critic you admire, and examine his or her work. Why is it good? What makes the criticism worth reading? The good critics are able to explain their passions and relate them to readers.
Without focus, without thought, a critic is just some jerk yelling.
Young's later defenses of his piece, posted on the message board The Engine, could charitably be described as “inept.” He began with the "I was just trying to start conversation" response, a lame and pathetic ploy. Rhetorical bomb-throwing is an adolescent stunt. It’s easy, it’s cheap, and it’s weak.
The nadir came when Young claimed the post to be a variant of a Cousin Larry Joke.
(A CLJ is best explained by its defense: "If you liked it, I was serious; if you were offended, I was being funny/exaggerating to make a point/being ironic/didn't mean you.")
Cousin Larry Jokes are so feeble they need to be taken behind the shed, patted on the head, given a treat, and then shot.
I actually felt a frisson of embarrassment on Young’s behalf when he tried that rhetorical defense.
Then there's his "peer pressure" and "negativity" charges, which, as any short tour around the Comic Blog-o-Sphere would show you, are disconnected from anything resembling reality.
When the charge of critical "negativity" arises, all I can think of is Kevin Costner. Costner's love note to himself, The Postman, which he directed and in which he starred and co-sang the theme song, opened to dreadful reviews. Not surprising, what with it being a dreadful movie. Costner's response? "Well, critics hate my movies because my movies are positive and they're negative people. They don't like positive things, so they come down on me."
Upon reading this I replied, as any sane man would, “Bwah-ha-ha-haaaa!”
Madonna made an identical accusation a few years ago regarding her own work; I think it was for Swept Away. Regardless, it was hilarious.
To put it in mathematical terms: Accusations of “negativity” = an inability to accept that you might just suck.
“It can’t be that my book stinks! The critics are all mocking me! It must be that…they’re all negative. Yeah! That’s it! Y’all’re just haters!”
So...let’s combine Larry's charges.
1. Critics are dispassionate
2. Critics think in a hive mind
3. Critics are “negative.”
This suggests that his ideal critic would be passionate, individual, and “positive.”
Or, in short, somebody who will praise his books to the skies.
After all, he’s a minor publisher, so those seeking to be “individual” would naturally seek him out. Those who don’t like his books he encourages to shut the hell up, and those who like it, he encourages to yell about it REAL LOUD.
Ever the huckster.
Like most ill-conceived rants, there is a nugget of truth to Larry’s charges.
A lot of would-be critics are indeed simply jerkoffs screaming real loud. (Lacking passion? Nah. Just stupid.) To which one can only say: So what? The responsible critics ignore them, and the jerkoffs themselves won’t go away because you tell them to.
And yes, you can find a lot of repetition in criticism. Though, one must ask, how much can you do with a thirty-page comic without dragging in either an academic crutch (such as the classic trio of race, gender, class) or weird-ass tangents that have nothing to do with the comic at hand?
Also, have you ever noticed that critics in other fields move in packs? Because they’re responding to the same works as one another. That an overwhelming percentage of critics are digging the new King Kong movie doesn’t necessarily mean they’re sheep. It could mean that it’s a good movie. D’oh!
They’re saying the same things? Wow that's a shock, because they’re reviewing the same movie.
You know what critics do suck? The self-anointed contrarians. Those who decide to hate what everyone loves or love what everyone hates, to demonstrate their “independence.” They are tools, plain and simple, and unworthy of note, because they abandon their first duty, honest criticism, in service of the lesser goal of reputation.
(For an example, the movie critics of Salon.com. If every other critic loves it, they hate it. If everyone hates it, they love it. If reviews are mixed, they don’t know what to do. Because They! Must! Be! Different! Oy.)
Larry later amended his rant to say that what he meant was that critics should be better.
Which we file under D for “duh.” Thanks a lot, Lar.
Comics should be better too, including his own. I’ve read some AiT/PlanetLar books and found them mediocre.
Publish better comics, Lar.
And for the love of Jack Kirby, stop being so negative! Don't go hatin' on us!