Feb. '17 Q&A: Down With the System

From a reader who wishes to remain anonymous:

Hi, this is ...[redacted]... on twitter. I've subtweeted you and your site a few times and I think you noticed - you said [redacted]...[redacted]...[redacted]...[redacted]...[redacted]...[redacted]...[redacted]...[redacted]...[redacted]. (Or at least, I think you're the one who runs the twitter account... I'm not familiar with how your site operates the police officer blog posting account or the social media handles.) Anyway, I've been getting the impression that I may have struck a nerve with my tweets, though since we haven't had a lot of direct interaction, it's hard to tell if some of your posts were influenced by that or if I'm reading too much into it.

You said in a recent post that 2016 wasn't particularly easy for you, and I noticed you changed your bio on the site to be more self-deprecating, so I wanted to apologize. I had assumed that if you saw my tweets at all - which I thought at the time I was vague enough that no one would know who I was talking about - you would just brush them off and not think twice about them since I'm just some random schmuck. I hope my comments didn't come at a particularly bad time and just add more baggage to what you were already dealing with.

I also want to apologize that this email turned out much longer than I expected when I sat down to write it. But since I'm emailing anyway, I wanted to give some context to why I had criticized you before, in a manner that's hopefully more useful and less aggressive.

While I don't agree with all your reviews or points, I think you generally have a fair opinion on what works in a comic and what doesn't. And I'm certainly not expecting you to give glowing reviews to everyone who knocks on your door. If I have a real criticism for your site, it's that you seem to treat the creators that you're reviewing disrespectfully. Not saying you have to like everyone you review or kiss their feet, and I know some people will come in swinging if they got a review that wasn't as good as they expected (regardless of whether you're respectful or not). But there are quite a few times when I've seen an exchange where the onus is on you.

Your Decrypting Rita review is a good example of what I'm talking about; I'm personally not a fan of that comic (and the sparse times I've spoken to that creator, we haven't gotten along), but I thought her reply was fairly modest/friendly, she thanked you for the review, and she even played along with the site's cop gimmick. But your reply comes off as aggressive and makes no attempt to reach a common ground, or even possibly joke back with the Cop blog account. But my thoughts on this aren't limited to just the comments section - the reviews themselves could be worded differently to be less confrontational.

I do think getting a bluntly negative critique of your webcomic can be an eye-opening experience and motivate improvement for some people, but for others, it's a discouraging nail in the coffin. When doing a review, it's really easy to look at a work and think "this is a
product, and my thoughts are aimed at trying to make it better." But what you'll find is many webcomic artists are a) young, and b) not good at taking criticism, because they aren't looking at their work as a product, but a passion project. It's often times something they're making to cope with depression (or other problems), or it's a deeply personal idea that they've put their whole heart into making real, and thus take criticism as a personal attack. They want to be told it's good, which is why they ask for a review; and when they get the blunt truth that it isn't quite what they thought, they go into defense mode. They don't see it as a product, they see it as an extension of themselves.

I did find it interesting in one of your recent posts that you said this: "What's going on is that I'm vulnerable to being overwhelmed with negativity and self-criticism in a way that kills my ability to be productive." Which, if I'm reading this correctly, tells me you already understand what I'm talking about, at least somewhat. It's easy to look at a webcomic and think "this is clearly bad," but if you follow creators, you often find they're very critical on themselves and often struggle to find the motivation to share their work. They often don't know where to go to improve - which is where a review can come in handy to help them find their way. But if that review just tears them down, then instead of thinking "this is where I go from here," they may think "I'm not good enough to do what I want to do," and give up completely. It's going to be their own job to thicken their skin and learn to distance themselves from their work, but that takes time, and I believe your reviews can still help them reach their goals rather than being the wall that ends their journey.

My point with all this is not so much "give everyone nice reviews," but rather be mindful of your wording and how you engage with people. It
is possible to word critiques in ways that keeps the creator(s) receptive to them while still getting your points across; communication itself is a skill that takes practice, and plenty of people aren't very good at it.  I think that if you keep all that in mind, it can help you write reviews that are more productive. AKA: The difference between criticism and constructive criticism.

Ultimately, it's not your job to make people feel good about their work. It's your website, you can review however you want. If your goal is more to provide a recommendation to
readers on which comics to read, or just appeal to the crowd that likes to hate on comics/creators, then my thoughts above probably don't mean much. But if your goals are to try to influence creators and help them make a better product, then maybe this is worth considering. Just my two cents.

Anyway, I hope that you enjoy the work you do. Your site bio before, if I remember correctly, said you don't enjoy reading webcomics. If that's true, I'd encourage you to find a hobby that you truly do enjoy and motivates you to do great things. If that's not true, however, then I wish you luck in meeting your goals and growing/improving your website. My bottom line is I believe people should enjoy what they do - it's better for your blood pressure and mental health - so I hope you do.

I hope that 2017 goes well for you. Feel free to brush off my comments if you don't find them useful for your goals.

Good luck,

I appreciate your feedback and your concern for my well-being. However, your analysis is completely wrong.

There's an important and fundamental issue you ignored, which is the creators' value systems. Here are a few examples of the kind of counterproductive, flimsy and unrealistic value systems I'm referring to:
  • My webcomic is special and unique, so I deserve to have my creativity recognized.
  • My BFF said she loves my webcomic, so I deserve to be praised by everyone else.
  • I've been working on my webcomic for a long time, so I deserve to be popular and successful.
  • My webcomic has a lot of fans, so I deserve to get positive feedback.
  • I'm a brilliant and hilarious webcartoonist, so I deserve to be recognized and praised.
  • I aspire to be a professional cartoonist, so I deserve to have my dreams come true.
  • I spend a lot of time making my webcomic, so I deserve to have people spend at least a little bit of their time reading it.
  • I entertain people for free, so I deserve to be rewarded with attention and praise.
  • I'm just an amateur, so I deserve to be praised even though my work is amateurish.
  • It's hard to make a webcomic, so I deserve to be encouraged and praised for trying my best.
Value systems like these are worthless garbage. They revolve around expectations of fairness and sympathy that are completely made up. And importantly, the really great webcartoonists -- the ones who deserve praise and recognition the most -- don't think like this.

The sad truth is that most webcartoonists aren't capable of making good webcomics. Even if they have the creativity, patience and time for it, many creators are so crippled and weighed down by their value systems that they have zero chance to be successful.

Constructive criticism isn't the solution for these creators. They'll desperately cling to and defend their value systems at all costs. Even when their webcomics fail, they would still rather blame others -- critics, readers, life in general -- than give up their precious value systems.

Also, webcartoonists are fickle by nature. Many of them get into cartooning in their teens or early 20s and then lose interest once they start to have careers and families. Some creators look for new hobbies when they find that making webcomics isn't as easy and fun as they thought it'd be. And other creators just get bored with their characters and settings after a while. I knew about these issues even before I started reviewing webcomics, so you can't lay the blame on me entirely when creators call it quits.

When I bring up my weaknesses and use self-deprecating humor, it's partly because I'm trying to lead by example. I'm free from value systems, and this allows me to have unlimited potential. My mission with this blog is destroy dysfunctional value systems. If people quit their webcomics over it -- I don't care.

I did say that I don't like reading webcomics, but that's really only half-true. I like reading the good ones as much as anyone else does. But my main motivation to read webcomics is to write about them and to get better at writing and publishing. I'll happily read a terrible webcomic if it gives me something to complain about in a review.

I also already have plenty of interests and hobbies aside from reviewing webcomics. For example, I like to listen to audiobooks of the classics whenever I'm driving. (Coincidentally, I've been listening to a reading of Don Quixote lately, which is about a guy who has a ridiculous value system.) And actually, most of the stuff I've been reading lately is nonfiction. The idea that I'm a bitter masochist who spends all his time reading awful webcomics is hilariously inaccurate. I'm so much more well-rounded than that.

I'm not going to deny your claim that I'm disrespectful and dismissive toward some creators. These people should feel ashamed that they haven't outgrown their childish value systems. The webcomics community should make fun of them and treat them like outcasts.

I do encourage and welcome discussion ... when it's based in reality. Sometimes, though, I'd like it if people would just shut the fuck up and listen to what I'm saying. I know I'm not supposed to talk like this, but I don't need to hear someone whine about how important their delusional value system is to them.

Finally, as for my well-being, I'm doing better right now than at any earlier point in my life. I'm feeling confident and energetic, and I'm excited to write reviews and try out new things, such as this Q&A format. Writing about myself isn't a cry for help; rather, it's a strategy to improve my writing and step outside my comfort zone.

That's all I have to say for today. Haters, leave your comments below. If you want to ask me something for next month's post, head to the Q&A page


No comments :

Post a Comment