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My way of reading comics does not necessarily equal your way of reading comics, and that’s cool

Recently, I’ve noticed some things in the comments, so I decided to write … a mission statement!!!! Everyone loves mission statements, right?

Comics Should Be Good has a mission statement. It’s true; go read it. It’s a fine missions statement, and I hope we abide by it. I have some other ideas about comics, though, and I’d like to share them with you. This is, as I noted, in response to some recent comments, but also in response to some other comments I’ve noticed over the years I’ve been writing for this blog. It might be self-evident, but it’s reflected right there in the title of this post:

The way I read comics is not necessarily the same way you read comics. And you know what? That’s okay.

Allow me to break it down a bit. In my post about Scalped, a few people seemed to think that because I wrote about how Dash, the ostensible main character, isn’t very well done, that I hated the comic, despite my praise for the rest of it. The whole kerfuffle over Saga is also a pretty good example, as people seem to think that I can’t call the opening two pages of Saga #12 “gratuitous” yet call the confrontation between Robot IV and Oswald Heist as tense as the first scene in Inglourious Basterds, when Christoph Waltz sits down with the French dude while knowing that he’s hiding people in the basement. How can I reconcile these opinions?

Well, it all gets back to the way we read comics. Everyone reads things differently, and one way is not necessarily better than the other. So people seem to take offense at the fact that I can like a comic yet still point out its flaws. You always see comments on threads like “It’s just a comic/movie/television show/beastiality magazine – just sit back and enjoy it!” Well, that’s fine for some people and even for some things that I watch or read. I’m usually much more forgiving of movies or television shows for a couple of reasons – I don’t write about those all that often, and I don’t want to watch and re-watch and re-watch to catch everything that’s going on. It’s easier to sit with a book or a comic and dissect it for something I’m writing rather than sit and watch an hour-long show or a two-hour movie. That’s just the way it is.

That doesn’t mean I turn off my brain when I watch things, however. I rarely go see movies in the theater anymore, because it’s too much of a hassle to get a babysitter, but I still try to watch them when they come on cable. So recently I watched John Carter and Prometheus. Neither is a great movie, but I enjoyed them. However, I couldn’t just “sit back and enjoy them,” because I don’t turn off my brain when I watch something. So I could still enjoy John Carter even though Taylor Kitsch was terrible and the pacing was really weird and we never actually found out what Mark Strong and his pals wanted. Did they just like conflict? As for Prometheus, on one level it was superb, but it had plot holes that you could drive a truck through and characters who acted idiotically simply because the script told them to. I mean, you’re on an alien planet and you just decide to poke the weird, creepy, snake-like thing? And you’re supposed to be a biologist? So, yeah, even though I don’t watch as many movies as I used to, I still can’t simply sit back and enjoy them.

I do this a lot more with comics, obviously, because I read a lot more comics and I write about them more and I can sit with them right next to me and dissect them more easily. So I notice when things just don’t work in comics. And I don’t like saying, “Well, it’s just a crappy superhero comic, so who cares?” That’s just insulting to readers. People have ranted here how much I hate superheroes, but that’s just not true – I love superheroes. I want superhero comics to be brilliant, and I want writers to aspire to greatness when they write superheroes. Obviously, some of them do and they get shot down by the editors because the DC and Marvel superheroes are never allowed to change, which is why I have moved away from DC and Marvel superhero comics in recent years. I don’t hate superheroes, but I would argue they’ve let me down.

But here’s the rub: I love reading comics this way. I love reading comics and thinking about what works and what doesn’t, and why the writer made the choices that were made and why the artist made the choices that were made and even why the colorist made the choices that were made. It’s very enjoyable … for me. If that means I don’t get swept away by something, that’s cool. I rarely get swept away by anything, and I have a perfectly happy life. I love behind-the-scenes documentaries and commentary on DVDs and all that kind of stuff, because I love learning about the nuts and bolts of a project. I love looking at a work of art and trying to figure out not that it works, but why it works. I can’t help myself, and I’ve been like this for a long time. Yes, once I would simply watch or read something and think “This is awesome!” and not care about the particulars. When I was younger, this usually meant when I watched movies or television, because I didn’t start reading comics until I was 17. But even in the early years of my comics-reading, I was willing to read a lot more simply because I thought the characters were cool. The cheapness of comics helped, too, but mainly, it was because I thought Batman was awesome and so obviously every comic starring Batman was awesome.

I don’t know when I began to change – when I went to college, maybe, and started to learn a bit more about how to think critically about things? Maybe that’s it. But the point is, I did change. I began to understand more about certain styles of storytelling, clichés not only of writing but of movie-making or comics artwork, and subtext. More than that, I began to see these things more clearly, and I enjoyed it. For me, it helps filter some of the crap out, and as entertainment became more expensive (comics being the most egregious example, but movie prices have gone way up over the past 25 years, too), it became easier to ditch things that just weren’t doing it for me. I don’t think it’s good enough to be “okay” these days. I don’t think it’s okay for writers to write 6 issues without getting to the damned point (I certainly don’t hate decompressed storytelling, but I don’t like when, after an entire arc, we’ve only managed to get the team together or we’ve only managed to find out who the villain is – I mean, really?). I don’t think it’s okay for pencil art to be pretty if the artist’s storytelling skills are terrible. I might like a “Holy shit! that was awesome!” moment as much as anyone, but at the same time, I recognize that awesome moments have to be earned. It’s not good enough to draw double-page splashes of Batman getting chased across a rooftop or Captain America striking a pose. That’s just lazy.

All of this, of course, is just my opinion. I don’t hate the comics I pick apart – in fact, some of them I love quite a bit. Just because I think a writer made a misstep on one page or used a dumb cliché that they should have known not to use or because an artist decided to get sloppy with their layouts or used a celebrity as a face model doesn’t mean the book sucks. It might be disappointing, but I am able to look past it. It also makes the things in which I can’t find very much at all wrong all the more impressive. Those comics tend to end up on my favorite comics of all time, and that’s why I still haven’t found anything to replace Morrison’s and Case’s Doom Patrol and Ennis’s and McCrea’s Hitman as the top two comic book runs of all time. Even after I’ve re-read those (because maybe I just had an initial favorable reaction to them and missed some flaws underneath), I can’t really say anything bad about them. But that’s rare. Even when I write about a Comic You Should Own, I often point out things that don’t quite work. That doesn’t mean I don’t love the comics and think you should own them, but there it is. Even books I like right now aren’t perfect, and that’s cool, too. I’ve been trying to think of a comic I’m reading right now that I rarely find any flaws with, and the only one that has been consistently excellent from issue #1 is Chew. Others may hate Chew, and that’s fine, but there’s a reason it consistently ends up at the top of my “best-of-the-year” list – because I just can’t find anything bad about it. I honestly can’t remember an issue that made me think, “Well, that wasn’t very good” or “Man, Layman and Guillory really screwed that sucker up!” Some issues are better than others, naturally, but usually it’s because maybe Layman is setting something up that will pay off later and that issue fits better into the overall plot rather than as a single issue. But that’s the only comic I can think of that I really haven’t criticized very much (well, long-running comic – I loved East of West #1, after all, but that’s only one issue). Maybe I will before Chew ends, but right now, I haven’t.

This is why I was surprised a few months ago when I wrote about the “perfect album.” I got a lot more suggestions than I thought I would, because I can only think of one “perfect album” – as in, I wouldn’t change a single freakin’ note – Marillion’s Misplaced Childhood. This extends to books, too. I can think of a few books that are so good that I wouldn’t change a thing – Don DeLillo’s White Noise (my favorite novel), Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves (the scariest book I’ve ever read), Milorad Pavić’s The Dictionary of the Khazars, Joseph Heller’s Picture This, A. S. Byatt’s Possession, Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, Nicholson Baker’s Vox (the most erotic book I’ve ever read), to name a few. I can think of a lot of books – great books – that I have some issues with here or there. The same thing applies to movies. I just like deconstructing things. I’m not as good at it as some people, of course, but I’m not bad.

Some people might think I’m claiming this is a better way to consume entertainment. I’m not saying that at all. It’s just my way. Some people are far more obsessive about breaking down the entertainment they watch, and some people are far more obsessive about, say, continuity within the entertainment. Some people just want to turn off their brains, and that’s cool, too. I know that some of my friends are far more obsessive about, say, breaking down music than I am, because they’re musicians. They don’t care about doing the same thing with movies, because movies to them are an escape. I’m just pointing out that this is how I read comics. It doesn’t mean I don’t like comics, because I love comics. It does mean I don’t rave about a mildly entertaining superhero book, and because of the expense ($3.99 for Uncanny X-Force?), I probably won’t buy those kinds of books even though I probably would have 25 years ago. I think it means that when I do rave about something, you can probably trust that I really, really liked it, and if you know my taste, you can gauge your interest in something accordingly.

But I’m going to keep reading comics my way, and everyone can keep reading them their way. It’s all good, ain’t it?

36 Comments

Your way is the right way!

You and Rob are so obviously wrong….

I should probably read the piece, right?

I read and enjoy comics in the same way. And the “it’s only a comic” comments don’t really bother me when they’re coming from fans, but I’ve seen the same thing from writers and editors from Marvel and DC before, and THAT’S when that attitude ticks me off.

Rob: Ha! I don’t totally agree with you, mainly because I do know some people who just want to say “Did that entertain me?” If it did, they’re cool with it. I don’t have a problem with that.

Joe H: Yeah, that’s a very annoying attitude to take from people who are trying to get you to spend money on their product.

The “just enjoy it” people always whine at us when we criticize something they love. But we don’t whine at them when they love something we criticize. Therefore, our way is righter than their way.

Whenever they say, “If you don’t like something, don’t read it,” I respond, “If you don’t like my criticism, don’t read it.” Sometimes followed by, “I suggest you leave before I kick your butt all over the map. No way do you criticize me while telling me I can’t criticize the original work.”

I know this subject has come up many times on CSBG, and someone inevitably offers the proper response. Namely, that CSBG exists to offer a critical perspective on comics. If you think comics are “just entertainment” and want to gush over them, you’re in the wrong place. Go join a fan club or something and leave us alone.

I think most of us read this way, and what I look at after I put down the comic (or take out the DVD, or delete the episode) is: Was it satisfying? And do I want more? It’s as simple as that. (Justified and The Americans!)

Splash pages are definately a great storytelling method when used correctly! I’d hardly call it lazy!

the “movie widescreen” panel style has really hurt a lot of storytelling, particularly in superheroe comics. It has lead to the phenomenom of writer’s relying on the art and diologue only to tell a satisfying story. Imagine reading a short story or novel, only its all dialogue!

The best comics mix and use every technique together, and that’s real hard and takes great skill and imagination, and that’s why about 10 or 12 are really, really good (i’m talking mostly at DC and Marvel here) and the rest are just journeyman Joe Average comics.

I’m pretty much the same way too dude. Although for me it all started with movies. Few years back I decided I was gonna try and watch as many of the classics, oscar winners, independant, and cult as possible. For to long I had people telling they couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen this movie or that, so I decided to fix it.(thank you Netflix) After a while of doing this and watching these acclaimed movies, I began to finally see what critics were talking about in terms of movie structure, character developement, etc. I can no longer just sit back and watch a movie and enjoy it for what it is without picking it apart in some way. It’s effected my music, book, and comic book reading as well. And like you I take into account the rising cost of this stuff when making my decision of what to buy. If I’m gonna spend 4 dollars on something I want it to be good. So naturally I will take reviews into a account. Doing this doesn’t guarantee me a great buy but it atleast helps my chances.

A good example recently is EVIL DEAD. Lots of people enjoyed it for what it was and it’s gore. I can’t do that. Yes the gore was great, but the story, acting,pacing, etc were crap IMO.

I’d say you’re overthinking this.

If you’re on website called “Comics Should be Good” you should expect the writers’ opinions about whether comics are good or not and what the writers think about what makes comics good or not. I’m happy to agree or disagree with their opinions, but arguing that they shouldn’t be critical about stuff I love would be the attitude of a not-well-adjusted child.

Wow, this is like Jay Sherman if his taste in movies wasn’t so narrow. (I know, fictional character, but hey, I love “The Critic”.) The reason that Jay gives almost every movie he reviews a scathing review (be it with either his “Shermometer” or his list of which diseases he’d rather get than see a certain movie) is because his is a true love of cinema, but he’s been disillusioned by how commercialized the film industry became (this was 1994/95 we’re talking about, though his arguments could apply to today’s movies too). It’s why he’s such a devotee of Golden Age of Hollywood classics and foreign films. While you don’t turn your brain off, he does the same thing–but it’s turned up to 11.

Rob: Ha! Good point.

Trey: I dig a good splash page. Unfortunately, they seemed to be overused in superhero comics these days, especially DC’s, for some reason. That’s why I think it’s a bit lazy.

Sean: Yeah, I think that the more you watch movies or television or read comics, you definitely begin to see things that you didn’t see before … that is, if you’re paying attention. And that’s why I think it’s so fun, because you can see the guy behind the curtain more, and you can understand what’s going on more.

Turd Burglar: Probably. I tend to do that.

Rojo: You’d think so with the name of the blog, and usually, that’s what we get here. I just wanted to be clear about how I read comics, because people have criticized me for it.

Acer: I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not! :)

I think the people have a problem with critical discourse. Good criticism is worth reading ragrdless of if the reader agrees or disagrees. For American comics, it seems the whole field comprises solely of ‘yo broseph! This shit is awesome/whack y’all”. The reason DC can get away with publishing fundamentally broken. The lack of growth extends to writings about comics too, which, barring Greg Burgas, is filled uneducated jelly-men trying to formulate their half-digested ideas and stretching them out to a thousand words.

Read this now. The best thing I find about your writing is that you aren’t as much a “follow the crowd” type, so if a book is getting ultra super rave reviews, I can trust you’ll break it down and point things out that are just as stupid in the rave book as in the rest of other stuff (not that THAT is your goal, either).

It’s probably what turned me off Saga, reading your reviews of each issue. It’s an ok book, but jeez.

If I was more gooder at writing stuff, I could articulate why Hawkeye leaves the same bad taste in my mouth as Saga does to you. (hmm, is that a good metaphor given the images in Saga 12?).

Anyway, keep doing what you’re doing, because some of us like neato observations.

A Horde of Evil Hipsters

April 15, 2013 at 1:14 am

Trying to find something that’s more enjoyable than Morrison’s Doom Patrol? Talk about your high standards…

Seriously, though, this was a delightful piece of writing. Also quite daring, since -based on the comments section- your readers loathe Morrison and Ennis (and everyone else who’s ever written an entertaining comic book and/or is British) with a passion.

“Obviously, some of them do and they get shot down by the editors because the DC and Marvel superheroes are never allowed to change”

What specific examples are you referring to here.

I like this article. I rarely post in the comments. I think that for 100 people who disagree with something and post on the internet, there are 1000 people who either read and don’t care, or agree and don’t bother to post.

For people with tl;dr mentallity:
Greg Burgas has your best interest in mind. :)

Or, my interpretation ;)
We all deserve as many books on par with quality of Morrison’s DP, or Ennis’ Hitman as possible

TLDR

Just kidding. :)

SPOILERS for Saga…

So did you find the intensity of that final scene in issue 12 to be similar to Inglorious Basterds because you expected the main characters to be hiding there, or because you knew (from spoilers, re-reading it) that they were there? I didn’t get that vibe at all, in fact, it really didn’t make much sense that they would seek the author out.

The problem I find with most critics these days, whether it be movies, books, or comic books, is the juvenile attitude of a lot of recent critics. I compare it to a teenage boy looking at a painting done in art class, and he yells out, “It sucks, man.” I kind of expect the critic to be like the teacher of the art class, who points out the flaws but understands what level the artist is at and will give kudos to the positive while explaining how the artist can improve. This could be blamed on the ‘thumbs up/thumbs down’ attitude of television critics, or on the fact that a lot of critics these days are fans who put their stuff on blogs and then it ends up all over the internet.
I totally get what you’re saying, you cannot turn your brain off while looking at something and just enjoy. I actually enjoy your criticisms because they aren’t a simple ‘this sucks, man’, but is willing to concede what worked and what did not. I do admit, when I watch/read something, it just hits me and I like it but can’t explain why. I can, and will, look at it again and find the flaws and even comment on them, but I liked it on some visceral level that sometimes defies logic and that’s it. I can’t stand critics who try to explain why I am wrong for liking something and these are the reasons. I’ve already decided, dude, give it a rest. It is an incredible waste of your time to keep going on this. I recall reading a blog where a guy spent 20 pages explaining why the Avengers was the worst movie ever made, and went frame by frame, explaining every flaw. I wrote back saying, “In the time you spent writing this, you could have written something ten times better than the Avengers, since you are so wonderful at finding flaws. This is really a waste of your time.”
In the end, I have more of a problem with critics who say, ‘everyone has a right to criticize’ than with viewers who say, ‘turn off your brain and enjoy.’ Yes, everyone does have a right to criticize, but that does not make your criticism valid or, for that matter, deep in any way.

Thanks for writing this out —

When my wife and I first started dating years ago, we’d go to see a movie. On the way out, I’d ask what she thought of it. I’d have thoughts on the soundtrack, the story, the acting… and she would stare at me blankly. No one had ever talked with her about a movie; she’d never considered talking about it afterward!

It seems that, at least for some loudmouths, that’s how they digest comics: eat them, don’t think about them!

My wife and I now talk about movies. She’ll note things differently than me, but we get to talk about them and extend the enjoyment of the movie beyond the hours when we’re in the theatre, making it a shared experience that also brings us closer together.

Can’t we do that with comics, too?

Charles J. Baserap

April 15, 2013 at 6:03 am

I agree for the most part, as I’ve done several pieces on comics being more than just funnybooks, namely http://www.nerdtopiacast.com/2012/09/10/bipolar-express-how-comics-rails/ and http://www.nerdtopiacast.com/2013/01/03/american-history-x-men-issue-1-first-genesis-socio-political-origins-parallels-marvels-mutants/ that wound up being fairly well received, but there are times I have to disagree with reviews, not because of critical thinking or differences in opinions, but because sometimes–and honestly it happens A LOT on this site–because some reviews are based on plain misreadings of a comic or amount to a case of someone reviewing a book and criticizing not the content because of what it was, but the content because of what they wanted it to be based on their own expectations going into it.

An example of the former is when I’ll see a critic complain that a story point comes out of “nowhere,” or overuses the word “inexplicably” when referring to a scene or character action. This was the case in an issue of the Buy Pile some time back when the complaint was about an Uncanny X-Men issue that led to a rant about how ridiculous a notion it was that there was a hyper evolved race that was so advanced and yet no one had ever discovered them since they’d been there for so many years, but the review missed the point completely that they WEREN’T there for years; it was explained IN the story AND in the recap that everything underneath this dome was evolving at super speed though the dome itself was only days or weeks old, but the reviewer mistakenly believed it had been there for years based on how advanced the inhabitants were. When an issue of a series has X happen and then it’s picked up again an issue or two down the road and the reviewer has only read THAT issue, the use of “inexplicably” to refer to X happening is incorrect; if they’d read the issue beforehand, they’d know it wasn’t coming out of left field. That’s like only having read the Hobbit and then walking into the Lord of the Rings with Two Towers and then grousing about how all of a sudden, a Hobbit that’s not Bilbo inexplicably has the ring. When it’s clear a review is being written by someone who missed key points in an issue or hasn’t regularly read a series, it’s tough to take those reviews seriously.

The other example is seen, like I said, A LOT on CBR, though not by Greg that’s I’ve noticed, and basically consists of a reviewer attempting to review the issue he or she WANTED to read, not what was actually read because they had expectations it would be something else going in. The review then devolves into a case of a series of statements not dealing with the actual issue, but complaints about what they hoped it would be and thought they were getting into. It’s like going to a restaurant and ordering the steak, but getting chicken instead; sure, be pissed at the server, but don’t blame the chicken for not being steak if you’re reviewing the actual FOOD. Review what you read, not what you wanted to read because of your own expectations. Some reviews on this site barely even talk about the story itself, just go on about one aspect or a character or whatever and offer little to a discussion on the actual content.

And, finally, a combination of sorts is when a reviewer goes too far in reading into an issue and tries to create things to be offended by and the review becomes all about this imaginary slight, whether it’s the recent accusation that Desaad was in Blackface in the recent Worlds’ Finest issue or if something happens to Character X that’s been foreshadowed for some time and the reviewer hadn’t been reading the series and then sees the event as some malicious and intentional slight on all peoples falling into the same demographic as Character X, those reviews get old, real quick.

In short, I don’t mind a review that disagrees with mine or whatever. But show that you at least read and understand what you’re reviewing and stop reviewing issues you WANTED to or expected to read and review the ones you actually DID. Because i can’t tell you have many times a review consists of something along the lines of, “I went into this issue expecting X, Y, Z and it didn’t happen, so it’s bad.”

Charles J. Baserap
Former Officer, US Secret Service, White House & Foreign Missions Branches
Author, An American at the Crossroads (Amira Rock Publishing, 2010)
Columnist/Editor, NerdtopiaCast.com
Columunist, ForcesofGeek.com

Charles J. Baserap

April 15, 2013 at 6:17 am

By the way, that should read “…though not by Greg THAT I’ve noticed,” not “…though not by Greg that’s I’ve noticed.”

1) It’s okay to be analytical, well-informed, and to have critical thinking.

2) It’s obvious that two different people with critical thinking, analytical nature, and well-informed notions often come to wildly different conclusions about the value of some piece of art or entertainment.

From 1) and 2) comes:

3) It’s hubris to think that just because your critical thinking self sees something “wrong” with a work, that something is “objectively” there.

Criticis (and by “critics”, I mean anyone) have notions that they consider as axioms or postulates. Important things they have considered to be true, and a lot of their criticism follows these “axioms”. But they’re not real axioms (definied as a premise so evident that it is accepted as true without controversy). They only think they are, and many of them fail to have have in mind that the axiom is not accepted as such by other people.

Sometimes even brilliant critics are blind to this. I think Tim Callahan wrote one day that Peter David was an objectively bad writer, because comic book writing could be measured like ability in baseball, and Peter David doesn’t score as much points or whatever. But arts and entertainment aren’t like sports. In sports, there are defined rules and a team or an athlete will score a certain number of points and all of us can agree on which player scored the most points.

But in writing, or any creative endeavour, there is no one set of rules that is accepted by everybody.

Does it follow that all criticism is useless? No, absolutely not. Only that critics must make as clear as possible what are their own personal axioms, so the rest of us may have a clue as to why they like or dislike such and such book/comic/movie, and we can judge for ourselves based on how much we agree with the critic’s axioms.

“I mean, you’re on an alien planet and you just decide to poke the weird, creepy, snake-like thing? And you’re supposed to be a biologist?”

A biologist using a sealed (it was sealed at the time), armored spacesuit? No Earth creature of that size would be dangerous to him while wearing that thing…

@Rene

Yeah that’s all knowledge. Euclid’s postulated most of what we base mathematics on, which is what we base all knowledge on. There is no objective way to prove 1 = 1. Every idea is just an axiom. There is no objective truth, by your measure.

Mudassir,

People have accepted Euclid’s postulates.

But Mr. Greg Burgas (or insert any critic’s name here) is not Euclid. His axioms have not served as a basis for the buildings of a discipline of comic book criticism.

Mudassir: Well, thanks, sir, but I know there are a lot of good reviewers out there. I try very hard not to fall into what you’re saying, and part of why I stopped doing weekly reviews is because I felt like I was sliding that way. I want to have something to say about the comics I read, rather than just saying “It’s awesome!”

Travis: I’m doubt very much if people are just following the crowd with regard to Saga (or Hawkeye) – those books really do enjoy a lot of popular support! But I do try to insulate myself from reading what everyone else writes about something until I’ve gotten my thoughts down, because I want them to be my own. I’m certainly susceptible to other writing, so I try to steer clear of it before I can puzzle out my own thoughts on the matter.

Horde of Evil Hipsters: Well, sure it’s a high standard, but that’s why I don’t gush over things too often! :)

stealthwise: No, I didn’t know that Alana and Marko would be there already. I probably should have guessed, but I didn’t get it spoiled for me. I just thought that Vaughan did a really nice job having the two characters dance around the issue and imply a lot while still saying mundane things. It felt very tense to me, like they both knew something weird was going on but they needed to keep a sense of decorum. The fact that Alana and Marko were there actually makes it better, because when we re-read it, we can see that Heist knew even more than he was implying. There are plenty of movie scenes that use this device, but my mind just went to Inglourious Basterds because, I think, it’s one of the most recent good examples that I can think of. Tarantino likes that kind of thing, though, so I could probably have used some of his other movies as well.

Lyle: Yeah, I see what you mean. I think I can enjoy something on a visceral level and not be able to express what it is I like about it but I can still point out its flaws. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like the concept of “guilty pleasures” because I don’t feel guilty about liking things, but there are some things that, for some reason, just get to me. I really enjoy a lot of the first three seasons of Glee, for instance (this season sucks and I have fallen way behind on the DVR because it’s just not very good), even though I know that it’s not a very good television show. It just got me at some level that I can’t explain, and I don’t think I’d try to defend it. But I do agree with you that sometimes critics go way too far. I try very hard not to do that, and I try very hard not to get sucked into an argument when it’s clear the other person and I are just too far apart.

Jon: Luckily for me, my wife has been like me since I met her, which might be why we connected. She doesn’t like comics, but we talk about television shows and movies and break them down all the time. I still have friends, however, who don’t want to do that, and I just say, “That’s cool” and we move on.

Charles: Part of the problem is comics’ serial nature. When I reviewed the last chapter of “The Lightning Saga” or whatever that Meltzer JLA story was called, I got ripped for not reading the previous chapters so I didn’t really know what was going on. That’s fine, but I also pointed out that if comics want to be serialized, they kind of have to make each issue at least somewhat accessible. It’s a fine line, and if you’re a reviewer who isn’t keeping up, it might be difficult to get into things. But you’re right – if it’s right there in the book and the reviewer just missed it, that’s just lazy. I have forgotten some things from a series I’m reading because it happened 6 issues earlier or even further in the past, but I try to admit my failings when they occur and ask stuff like “Did we already see that?” That’s one of the reasons why I like writing for a blog rather than the main site – yes, the main site has comments, but with this blog, there’s more of a back-and-forth, and I think it’s made me a better reader of comics because I’ve been able to get feedback from so many different people. I also try very hard to not do what you’re saying, which is rant about what I wanted to read rather than what’s there. I’m sure I’ve done it in the past and I know I’ve been called out for it once or twice (whether I agreed or not is another thing!), but I try not to do it.

Rene: Oh, sure. I got in trouble a few years ago by claiming that art is subjective, leading to an excellent post by Joe Rice saying I was full of it and an even better comments section debating the topic. I don’t know the thing with Tim that you’re talking about – I remember his column bashing an issue of X-Factor and his subsequent defense of that, but he did admit that he liked a lot of David’s writing in that. But I’m firmly on the side of “everything in art is subjective,” even though I write columns like Comics You Should Own. Obviously, it’s just my opinion that you should own them! I always stress that this is just my opinion, and if you read enough of what I write, you can get a sense of what kind of stuff I like.

Pedro: Sure, but I still wouldn’t be poking weird alien life forms. Who knows what that sucker will do????

Rene: Oh how I wish they were!!!! :)

Rene,
Yeah, Euclidean geometry fails in outer space. But really if you want widely accepted theories on writing there are plenty of books on the tules of writing, including writing criticism, which are part of literature class currculums aroud the world. They are very well regarded. Similarly a lot of critics in every medium are very well regarded as well.

Something as esoteric as art criticism is never going to be considered objectively true, but that’s like saying the Sun is very bright, but only on Planets that come before Jupitor. The whole of existence is subjective, unless you are interested in the philosophical discussion it leads to, what would even be the point of bringing it up?

Charles J. Baserap

April 15, 2013 at 10:34 am

Greg: I think that’s a fair point, particularly about the serialized nature of comics. And I agree that there should be, ideally, at least some degree of accessibility. For instance, my first comic was Uncanny X-Men #210, bought right off the rack at a bodega in the Bronx. I was 6 or 7 years old, well before wikipedia and the like and had no trouble jumping into the book. A few months back, I bought I believe the 6th issue of I, Vampire because it was serving as a prelude to the Rise of the Vampires crossover and I was already getting Justice League Dark, and I was lost on what was going on and who the main characters were, same for the most recent issue of Dial H, which I got only because it was a slight to in to the last issue of Flash.

At the same time, however, you don’t necessarily want books to become bogged down in exposition either, so you’re right, there is a fine line. One of the things I like about the Marvel recap pages is that I CAN just jump into many titles. I jumped into Immortal Iron Fist with issue 5 I believe and it was because of the recap page catching me up on things. I couldn’t do that with the aforementioned I, Vampire issue. I know the old adage of every comic possibly being someone’s first, but feel it’s also a bit unfair for a writer in chapter four of an eight part story to have to slow the momentum down to hand hold a potentially new reader at the expense of the old reader who’s been reading the arc. For me, that’s where “breather” issues come into play, like what we saw right after the conclusion to Dark Phoenix Saga, where Cyclops essentially narrated the history of the X-Men to that point. But when a story is part x of y and it’s labeled as such, you should no more expect it to be as easily accessible as a first issue as you would to find it as such for the middle chapter of a novel you’re reading, you know what I mean? Again, it is a fine line indeed to walk and I can understand why some readers may be turned off by writers like Hickman or Morrison who often chug along assuming you’ve been following the bouncing ball.

Anyway, I thought it was a great column and thanks for taking the time out to respond.

Charles J. Baserap
Former Officer, US Secret Service, White House & Foreign Missions Branches
Author, An American at the Crossroads (Amira Rock Publishing, 2010)
Columnist/Editor, NerdtopiaCast.com
Columunist, ForcesofGeek.com

Trust me, what I said was a compliment. Jay Sherman, for all his narrow-minded-ness when it comes to critiquing movies “that bring happiness to idiots” (his words, not mine), predicted a lot of what would become of the film industry today. (The show also unintentionally predicted NBC sliding to 5th place in the ratings….)

Mudassir:Yeah that’s all knowledge. Euclid’s postulated most of what we base mathematics on, which is what we base all knowledge on. There is no objective way to prove 1 = 1. Every idea is just an axiom. There is no objective truth, by your measure.

There’s some difference in the demonstrability of different axioms, though. If I decide to not follow Euclidian math one day, I will no longer be able to function in society. If someone disses something I like or praises something I dislike, I can just say “fuck that” and walk away.

Acer: Phew! I rarely watched The Critic, so I wasn’t sure. I have seen the clip of his NBC prediction, though, because of course these days it’s all over the Internet!

Fantastic article, Greg.

I thought your comparison between Saga and Inglourious Basterds was spot on, but for me it was because of something present in that scene which is all too often completely missing from comics… suspense. Sure, there are plenty of cliffhangers in comics, but that’s not really the same thing. Rarely do you find a well written, tense conversation between two people who aren’t just info-dumping and telling the absolute truth all the time. That’s why this scene in Saga stood out and why it’s a shame the issue has become notorious for other reasons.

Also, because you mentioned it, I have to confess that House of Leaves is the only book I ever had to stop reading because of genuine fear for my long term mental health. Doesn’t help that the book starts by telling you everything bad that happens from then on is because you read the story! Thanks very much for reminding me that it’s still out there somewhere. Right, about time I measured my walls again!

Greg-

I’m happy you wrote this. It’s doubtful it will do any good, because as with films like Bowling for Columbine, the only people who will watch/read it are the ones who already agree with it. Will the people that lambast your audacity for disliking things ever bother with this post? Hopefully, but I’m dubious.

I’m like you with most artistic disciplines. I simply can’t turn my brain off. I remember years ago getting into a fight with someone over National Treasure being her favorite movie, which I couldn’t help but laugh at. “Well, I watch movies to be entertained,” she said. That bothered me, because the implication was that somehow I don’t like to be entertained. Of course I do. I just like to be entertained by creativity and intelligence instead of by crap.

Thinking about the impetus for you writing this, the Saga post, the What I Bought columns, and others, it’s occurred to me that trolling isn’t the real problem. You’ll always have a commenter here and there like mccracken, who just chimed in on the Greatest Doctor Strange stories post to announce that Ditko’s Doctor Strange was terrible, and that was it. As though that comment, which offered no explanation whatsoever, is of any value to anything. And sometimes the temptation to make trolling comments gets the better of a lot of us. On the Jeph Loeb voting post, I made a snarky comment about Ultimates 3, which Brian didn’t even allow past moderation. And I’m happy he didn’t, because I should know better. I tried to make up for it with another comment about some *good* Loeb stories. Comics Should Be Good, after all.

But I think the real problem is that the internet has made people forget how to disagree civilly. With no personal interaction, no measuring of facial expressions, no back and forth, it’s all become too easy to go over board with attacking contrary opinions, because what’s the consequence?

When I was younger, I used to feel that I had to somehow rescue people’s taste. I was, obviously, an idealistic and pretentious moron. No I know that’s idiotic and selfish. People can like whatever they like. But when people take the impetus to engage in a critical discussion–and by commenting on a blog that primarily reviews and discusses an artistic discipline, that IS what these commenters are doing–there has to be a realization that a difference is capable of existing between what you like, and what is objectively good. There also has to be a realization that there can be differences in what is objectively good. For every Watchmen (something that has nearly universal agreement that it is, at least in some way, a masterpiece), there are ten Sagas and Snyder/Capullo Batmans (comics that most people agree are toward the better end of the spectrum, but for which there is certainly A LOT of room for debate).

A huge draw of critical discussion is to find differing viewpoints that illuminate your own, which is why it’s so disheartening and surprising how many people seek out critical analysis but then immediately act as though a differing viewpoint is a declaration of war. It’s a catch-22 that boggles my mind: Either you find critical discussion valuable or you don’t. If you don’t find it valuable, then don’t seek it out. If you find it valuable, then how can you be so offended by differences of opinion?

Obviously, some opinions can simply be wrong. But it’s rare for the people with truly outlandish opinions to be able to write intelligently about those opinions, so they don’t count as actual critical discussion. But for those that do, it’s far more useful to try and understand, and then take part in the discussion, than it is to just dismiss.

Daniel: The thing that bugs me most about people who pick on me is that very often, they don’t come back. Whenever someone bashes me for whatever reason, I usually ask them to explain (in what I hope is the nicest way possible), and very rarely do they come back and engage me in a nice discussion. I like those, and even over the Internet, I think they’re possible – when you disagree with someone but can have a back-and-forth about why you disagree. What really bothers me are those people, like you noted, who show up, make a snarky comment, and then disappear. I really don’t have a problem with people disagreeing with me, but don’t disappear when I show up and ask you to explain. I know that the Internet is a place for drive-by insults, but that still bothers me because I try very hard to be civil, and there’s no reason why everyone can’t be. The nice thing about this blog is that people are generally civil, so when we get someone who just shows up to bash and then never comes back, it’s annoying.

Yeah, I’ve been annoyed in the past by people who think that watching something like Citizen Kane isn’t entertaining. I’ve long given up that fight!

I totally agree with this post. This is how I react to entertainment as well. I enjoy the story of Jack Kirby’s fourth world books far more than the actual books. I am still able to enjoy things by turning my brain off but only once, any repeat no matter book movie or television show will only highlight what I didn’t like. I research things while I’m reading or watching them as well

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