Funnybook Babylon

August 18, 2008

Quick Rant on Criticism

Filed under: Blurbs — Tags: , , , , , , — Joseph Mastantuono @ 8:51 pm

I wanted to add my 2¢ to the current debate about “Comics Criticism” that David Brothers over at 4th Letter has already covered.

I believe that the creators repudiating critics haven’t experienced much actual criticism; they seem to be responding to reader mail and message board threads. To paint critics as message board posters is absolutely ridiculous.

If Scott Kurtz feels it’s necessary to ignore all criticism of his work, more power to him, but to frame the discussion as a question of “Which is superior? Artist or Critic?” is silly. I wouldn’t care if this concept wasn’t getting spread around in the blogosphere.

Good criticism isn’t about saying “This sucks!” or “Go buy this thing!” Good criticism is an examination or mediation of its subject. It’s disassembling the pieces to see how the work affects you. A good critic can provide context, illuminating a piece of work that may otherwise be opaque.

A good critic is one whose work you can read after reading the book critiqued to get additional perspective on what you experienced.

Criticism is not a mandate on what an artist’s work should be, even when seems like it is.

To all these creators that feel like they need to tell critics to fuck off, my suggestion is to go read some Pauline Kael. If you want a sample of similar criticism apllied to comics, Chris enjoyed Douglas Wolk’s Reading Comics. Wolk cites Kael as a significant influence.

And if people really need to play the “Which is more important? Critic or Artist?” I’d like to mention Roland Barthes. This guy was a critic that developed a whole new language for talking about visual art, from newspaper advertisements to classical paintings. Barthes revolutionized the way we currently think of images and their meaning, and contributed as much to today’s art as any artist.

But this whole debate feels like a thinly veiled way for certain artists to say, “I’m a better person than you.” Making Good Art does not make you a Good Person. Making Bad Art does not make you a Bad Person.

Case in point: RICHARD WAGNER. Or on the flipside, Jeph Loeb. I’ve heard Loeb in interviews and he seems like a genuinely nice guy who’s trying really hard to make good comics. This doesn’t make him a bad person. It just makes him a person who created a bad comic. And criticizing his book doesn’t mean you’re attacking him as a person. If everyone, from “critics” to “artists” to “fans” could remember this, we’d all be better off.


  1. Every Creator that has reacted violently or unreasonably to a criticism is one who, IMO, turned out shitty work.

    There’s a comics professional who likes to spout the party line that all fans are just people who want his job. It’s a nice blanket for the fact that he’s consistently churned out bad comics, his own artists have slagged off his books publicly, has to rely on friends to get his freelance gigs, and usually gets his ass fired off of ones he gets on his own.

    Comment by Dan Coyle — August 18, 2008 @ 11:42 pm

  2. My point being, if he wonders why his career is such a flaming wreck because he’s not one of US, he’s one of THEM, he should start in the fucking mirror.

    Comment by Dan Coyle — August 18, 2008 @ 11:51 pm

  3. Scott Kurtz is just an small example, if it was just him, I wouldn’t care. And nothing against Kurtz’ work, I don’t follow the PvP stuff, but I’ve laughed at some of his strips.

    I’m really sick of artists and writers claiming some sort of moral superiority over critics because idiots send them email and some critics have scripts in their back pockets.

    It’s not just a Funnybook world phenomenon, it starts in bad 8th grade English classes when everyone writes a short story.

    Basically, I don’t think critics should have some sort of inferiority complex or have to makes excuses for their work.

    Comment by Joseph Mastantuono — August 19, 2008 @ 9:39 am

  4. Oh, and Hannibal Tabu’s recent splutterings on this very blog has certainly helped illustrate this point with a vengeance.

    Comment by Dan Coyle — August 19, 2008 @ 10:50 am

  5. I think it just highlights the immaturity of the form; not necessarily that the works being produced in comics for the last 30 odd years are immature, but certainly the inbred, insular fan culture nurtured and cultivated by creators and fans alike harms serious review too often. It does bode well that these issues are being challenged by creators, even if the outcome isn’t favorable, it still implies, at least to me, that we could be in mid-transition and substantial comics criticism could become more and more commonplace.

    On the one hand, you could hem and haw about how Scott Kurtz is a sandy vagina because he produces a stupid webcomic for fanboys, but at the same time it’s awfully disappointing that there are so few places outside of message boards to read something interesting or insightful about comics.

    Comment by ATOM HOTEP — August 19, 2008 @ 10:56 am

  6. […] to ‘fans’ could remember this, we’d all be better off.” -Joseph Mastantuono throwing out a valid opinion that will be ignored by the people who need to read it the most. And you […]

    Pingback by Blog@Newsarama » Blog Archive » Quote, Unquote — August 25, 2008 @ 12:47 am

  7. I agree with you on the importance of criticism for the improvement of the comics the artist create.
    Sure everyone want to write in the way that is most representative of his personality but people have to remember that a critic basically says what doesn’t work in the story and using this information or feedback for improvement would bring us all much better comics

    Comment by Katherine — August 25, 2008 @ 5:52 am

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