So Comics Journal contributor, blogger and all-around comics gadfly Noah Berlatsky decided, based on Tucker Stone’s recommendation, to try the Vertigo crime series 100 Bullets. He didn’t like it much, especially Eduardo Risso’s art work:
In the first place, Eduardo Risso’s art is lousy. The figures are stiff, the anatomy is shaky, the layouts are cluttered and confusing, and the coloring (by Grant Goleash) is more muddy than moody. If you’re going for stylish noir, it’s really important that the art be…well, stylish. You want Alex Toth or Howard Chaykin; bold blacks and whites, dramatic page design — the art should scream sex and danger and class. Risso just doesn’t have the chops. I mean, look at that page below.
The image he then shows is one posted above, which, I believe, is the cover to issue number 5 of the series (or thereabouts).
What is wrong with that woman’s neck? Is this supposed to be a Parmigianino tribute or something? And the proportions are all completely off; her legs are lengthened to make her look sexier, I guess, but it ends up looking like she’s been assembled from mis-matched doll parts. And the ugly red insets segmented up almost at random…what the hell? That’s not dramatic: it just looks dumb.
Except of course, the cover wasn’t by Eduardo Risso, but Dave Johnson, who does all the covers for the Bullets comics and trades, in the same way that James Jean does for Fables. Oops.
That gaffe led in turn to a whole brouhaha on Berlatsky’s blog and The Beat, where scores of commentators opened fire, either dismissing Berlatsky as “a yutz with a keyboard,” insulting him or sternly chiding him for not doing his homework (which in this case would have involved looking at the credits page).
Now, I sincerely like Berlatsky’s writing. I think he trips himself up sometimes and undermines his (often quite good) arguments by going for a cheap shot, but he can be exceedingly perceptive and spot-on. Even when I think his thesis is weak or sloppy or feels like he’s doing a piss-take just because, he’s a smart enough critic that it’s worth taking in his viewpoint, if only to help strengthen my own.
Did not knowing the difference between Risso and Johnson leave him with egg on his face? Sure. Like Noah, though, I don’t think you need to be an expert on any particular medium or genre in order to offer an intelligent critique. I don’t think you need to know anything about who Risso and Johnson are and how many awards they’ve won to talk about what makes their art succeed or fail. I do think it helps to do a little research when you’re writing — make sure you haven’t spelled any names wrong, etc. — otherwise people are going to assume you don’t have any idea what you’re talking about even if you make good points. I’ve made mistakes like that and I know how quickly it puts you on the defensive.
But — and here’s the crucial question — does that mistake completely null and void any of the points he makes about the comic? Does it somehow mean the art isn’t stiff or awkward?
Here’s the thing. If you want to offer a rebuttal of Berlatsky’s negative review, then you have to address the actual review, not call him names or get huffy. That means either defending the cover or attacking his essential claims as Chris Butcher does here, or as Abhay does here. I understand the impulse to be angry; no one likes to have their favorite artists slagged because by extension it suggests they themselves are philistines lacking in taste. So you can act like an Internet troll if you like, but it only makes you look as if … well, like you’re the sort of person who can’t tell the difference between Dave Johnson and Eduardo Risso.
Oh, and I’d like to call “bullshit” on the whole “you’re entitled to your opinion” tack, which is really a polite way of saying “you’re an ass” or worse. I mean, if you want to call someone an ass, go ahead. Just make sure you’re clear as to why you think that way.
* Note: I don’t actually think Eduardo Risso sucks. Please don’t say mean things about me in the comments section.