Offender: Bones McKay-Fleming of her YouTube channel
In her latest video, a review of Hazy Daze, McKay-Fleming rambles nervously for the first two minutes, struggling to talk about the webcomic until she regains her composure enough to say, "I'm just very happy right now because this comic is pretty good... with the whole plot... thing. Oh, wow, I am so happy." Then, she giggles for a few minutes while repeating how "happy" she is, which is followed by her staring at the ceiling while she tries to convey the webcomic's "dialogeyness." In her comments, she offers an explanation for her weak commentary, writing, "I really went with the flow on this one, I just read it and went right into the review," which should be pretty obvious to anyone who watches the video. It gets better, though, once McKay-Fleming starts to feel a little more comfortable, and the stuff from about 15 minutes onwards actually isn't all that bad.
Video reviews are an interesting alternative to regular ol' writing, but doing them right takes some charisma and the ability to speak clearly and confidently. However, even if someone isn't great at speaking in front of a camera, they can always practice reading from a script until they get better at it, and mistakes can be corrected by redoing the scene. In this case, McKay-Fleming was clearly unprepared to improvise a 25-minute video review.
Go way off-topic
Offender: Eishtmo of Wild Webcomic Review
My introduction to "the fast and furious webcomic reviewer" was "The Eishtmo vs Neverwinter," a 2,800-word review of the latest Neverwinter computer game. Since then, he's written about novels, criticism, writing, webcomics, and, lately, a story he's working on, but barely any actual webcomic reviews have been posted to the blog in 2013. Eishtmo's clearly aware of the problem, as he jokes about it in his "Not Comic Review" post, writing, "You know, for a webcomic review site, I should review webcomics once in a while," but I don't think it's funny that he can't present his blog properly.
There are a million-bajillion websites out there, and it's essential for a reader to be able to quickly identify what a website's about as soon as they visit it. People who come to this blog will see the words "webcomic review" and "webcomic reviewer" at the top of the page, and they'll expect to see webcomic reviews. Posting stuff that mostly isn't webcomic reviews, then, is false advertising, and it's both confusing and disappointing. It's okay if Eishtmo wants to take an eclectic approach and write about a myriad of subjects, but if he continues to do so, then he should redesign the blog so that its nature is a little more obvious.
Don't write enough
Offenders: Bob Bretall & Stephen Bretall of ComicSpectrum
This father-son duo averages only about 200 words per review, with four out of their last 10 reviews being 170 words or less. (Their shortest in that span, a review of Kill Six Billion Demons, has fewer than 150 words.) That's a lower average than Helen of Narrative Investigations had when she cranked out 21 reviews in one month. (See Part 1 for more info on that.) It's good that the team actually criticizes the webcomics it reviews and doles out a variety of scores, but the analysis is weak because the reviews are practically just an introduction. In-depth discussion is where the best content is, and this blog isn't thorough enough to ever get to that stage.
A review's a review, and even just writing a little bit about a webcomic can be enough for them to link back to your blog (1, 2, 3). However, the goal of a review blog shouldn't just be to post stuff, but, rather, to post stuff that's substantial, interesting, and noteworthy. It also doesn't help that this blog covers well-known, long-running webcomics such as Ctrl+Alt+Del, Cyanide and Happiness, and The Order of the Stick, which have already been written about in more detail by other review blogs.
Write too much
Offenders: Max-Vader & Alex Barry of Project A.F.T.E.R.
In last year's reviewers article, El Santo of The Webcomic Overlook had the longest reviews, averaging more than 1,300 words in his main posts. Max-Vader's average word count is about three times longer than that, and his posts are accompanied by Barry's "AFTER Thoughts" (get it?), which are another 700 words or so. These guys have some smart commentary, but readers have to dig through all the unfocused rambling and overly detailed analysis to get to it, which makes the blog not very enjoyable to read. Also, Barry's commentary, which is long enough to be its own review, doesn't add much to the blog, as it mainly just echoes stuff that Max-Vader already explained at length.
I'd rather read a review that's too long than one that's too short, but a reviewer only has so much interesting stuff to say about a certain subject. If Max-Vader cut the most expendable two-thirds of his reviews and kept the rest, his blog would be better and more readable. In addition, Barry's capable of writing his own reviews, and covering more webcomics would be of greater benefit to the blog than making Max-Vader's super-long posts even longer.
Summarize the premise
Offender: Lauren Davis of io9
You know how, on the back of a book or movie cover, there'll be a little description of who the protagonists are and what the story's about? That's what this blog does, and it's boring. I'm aware that the blog's called Saturday Webcomics and not Lauren Davis Writes Webcomics Reviews, but if the point of the blog isn't to review webcomics, then, well, what is the point of it? All these posts accomplish is that they prove Davis reads webcomics, and "I read something" is more suitable for a Tweet or Facebook post than a blog on a major website.
When it comes to writing reviews, merely summarizing the plot is doing the bare minimum. A reviewer isn't required to be an expert in their field, but they do need to be an expert on the particular piece they're reviewing, and that means going beyond general familiarity. Here are a few topics a webcomic reviewer can address that demonstrate expertise:
- Are the characters original and interesting?
- Does the dialogue seem natural and realistic?
- If there are jokes, are they funny?
- Is the plot moving at a good pace?
- Does the story make sense?
- Is the art style unique, or is it like some other things you've seen?
- Are there any flaws with the art, like anatomical problems, repetitive shots, or a lack of backgrounds?
- Are there any specific techniques the creator likes to use?
- Is the lettering stylistically appropriate and easy to read?
- Are any of the individual pages or strips particularly noteworthy?
Closing Thoughts: I'm not optimistic about where webcomic reviews are headed in general, and I wouldn't be surprised if, by this time next year, all of the blogs I covered in this series are either dying out or have stopped updating completely. (Well, except for Narrative Investigations. Helen's like the Energizer Bunny when it comes to reviewing stuff.) Too many reviewers see their blog as a low-effort project where boldness and controversy should be avoided, and all they're doing is dooming themselves to obscurity. There are tons of smart, insightful people in the webcomics community, but I think most of them are more interested in making webcomics than writing about them. And that's understandable; after all, critiques are often followed by whining and personal attacks, and telling stories or jokes is a more tolerable alternative. But I think there's also a bit of potential for webcomic reviews, and that's if writing them gradually becomes a more respectable hobby, which is a necessary step if the field's going to attract talented individuals. The webcomics community's social dynamics aren't conducive for that right now, but there's always the possibility for growth in that area as webcomics continue to mature as a medium.