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Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Critical Look at the Critics, Part 1 of 3 

David Hopkins, always an interesting person to read, has decided to talk to some comics critics he respects for his column on Pop Syndicate. Possibly because he's high, I qualify as one of those critics.

Here you go.

The abbreviated version follows, with the first two questions and my responses... since this is my LJ and I'll be as vain as I want to be.

(I hope people really pay attention to the answer for the second one, because it addresses a major problem I have with what passes for comics criticism. If all you're going to do every month is explain the plot twists of an ongoing monthly well into its 8th year, then news flash: You aren't a critic. You're cataloguing for the already-converted. It bores me to tears.. and pisses me off when you think it's actually bringing in any new readers. We really need to shape up and act like big people already.)

Are you a critic or a reviewer? Is there a difference?

KEN LOWERY: A little from Column A, a little from Column B.

The Semantics Police would probably argue that a reviewer gives first impressions and a general good-bad judgment on a product. A critic isn’t so much concerned with an immediate good-bad judgment as with exploring and analyzing work on as many levels as it offers. It’s about understanding the craft and the underpinnings of a story; it’s like telling someone about how an engine powers a car, rather than just telling you how smoothly that car drives.

To me, an ideal review involves some level of criticism—some deeper thought and analysis, a chance to pull away more from the material than a casual read/view/listen will yield. This is what I strive for. If you read a review I’ve written and come away having learned something about the material, the creators, or just how a story works—even if it’s a new perspective, rather than a new level of understanding—then I’ve done my job. Whether or not you agree with me is completely beside the point.

How do you approach reviewing a comic book?

KEN: I give it a day. I read the material along with the glut of comics I pick up every Wednesday, then I sit on it for a day and let it stew. 24 hours later I come back and flip through, and see what sticks out to me. I come from a writing background, so I’m much better at talking about dialogue, pacing, and story construction than I am artwork. This is unfortunately pretty common with most comics reviewers.

Monthlies provide a unique challenge. Anyone even remotely interested in what someone has to say about Part 4 of 6 in an arc, in series that’s 80 issues in, already knows all the groundwork, so you can assume some level of familiarity with the material. This frees up space. And as most individual issues in an arc are (quite frankly) loaded with filler and padding, there’s really only so much you can say about the average monthly comic.

So I try to bring in larger context. The arc itself, and how well that issue serves a function in it. What the general direction of the title seems to be, from arc to arc, both thematically and artistically. How well does this individual issue represent those trends? That is the final question. Talking about particular plot points gets old fast.

(More next Thursday.)

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