Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics and Zot!, has written an interesting post up on comics criticism — specifically, looking at negative reviews.
For myself, I always consider reviews useful—even the hatchet jobs. It makes my heart sink a little when I hear other artists dismiss all reviews as irrelevant to their process. A common claim is that reviews tell us “only about the reviewer” and tell us “nothing about the work,” but I disagree. Yes, reviewers have biases. Yes, they miss the point sometimes. But there’s always some kind of information embedded in any reaction to any creative effort.
As someone who writes reviews on a fairly regular basis, I think the idea of how the industry sees these things is really important. The best reviews — the way they should work, or at least the way I hope they work — is not only to give notice to like-minded consumers of whether or not it’s a praiseworthy effort, but to also be an advocate for readers, to respectfully let creators know what works and doesn’t work for us. In a perfect world, reviewers’ reactions to the work — even if they’re off the mark — give everyone some perspective.
But it doesn’t always work that way. Are there some reviewers with an axe to grind out there? Oh, yeah, I’d believe it — I’ve seen plenty of industry folks I know and respect have calls to be fired, have streams of invective sent their way because someone didn’t like — or worse yet, didn’t get — the work in question. Sometimes, nostalgia wins out — I’m sure you can think of status quo changes that are more controversial than others. Other times, things are lost in translation. Sometimes that’s the reviewers’ fault — other times, it’s a question of clarity on the creators’ part.
But, similar to what McCloud says at the end of his post, the most important thing — the only important thing — that a reviewer needs to have is that regardless of who you’re reviewing, regardless the character or status quo, the thing that’s most important is that a reviewer should want the industry to succeed and keep moving onwards. The story and its presentation — not the politics or inside baseball — is all that matters in comics criticism. What do you think? Fans, industry people, let us know what you think!