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The Do's and Don'ts When Reviewing Comic Books

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When I started taking myself seriously as a comic book writer, I was given a lot of great advice from seasoned pros. I’m thankful for their words of encouragement and their tips and tricks for “making it” in this industry. There was one bit of wisdom I didn’t listen to, though, until recently.

“No good can come from reading reviews of your work.”

But… but… I really wanted to know what people thought of what I was writing! So I ignored this advice and set out to track down every review of my stuff I could find. And it almost completely destroyed me as a writer.

I’m pretty proud of the stuff I’ve written. I can be a pretty harsh self-critic, so rarely is something perfect in my mind. But I can always look myself in the mirror and say I tried my best to give readers a good, fun story.

So when a review comes out that claims my work is “three-day old garbage left lying in the sun” (as it did for something I wrote four or five years ago) it can send me into a tailspin.

Nowadays, I get angry reading reviews of other writers’ work… so I have to tread carefully when it comes to reading reviews of my work.

I like positive reviews as well as the next guy. When I find them, I want to share them with others. The bad reviews, though, those can really hurt. Now, I know what you’re thinking.

Well, everybody likes positive feedback more than negative.

Sure, but here’s the thing: a well-done “bad” review can be just as encouraging as a “sparkling” review. Insightful criticism can help a writer identify blind-spots and improve overall. But those reviews are few and far between. Instead, I find at least five godawful reviews for every one thoughtful examination. I’m talking about reviews written by folks who have something to prove… some permanent stick up their backside… some bone to pick… or some wound to air out…

You know… the malcontents.

I’ve written reviews in the past. Not for comic books, mind you. My first few paid writing assignments were for role-playing games. And I slaved over them to make sure they were insightful and helpful to the reader. They were HARD to write. Years later, I thought of reviewing fiction and comic books and movies. I started to put some thoughts together and quickly realized I would make a terrible reviewer of those things.

So… how do you know if you’re a craptacular reviewer? I think you probably know deep down if you’re in the review game for the right reasons. But here are a few common themes I’ve found in reviews that are, in my opinion, a waste of time.

Pet peeves or red flags?

You be the judge.

“Meh.”

Whenever I hear this… no matter where it is or in what context… it’s like nails on a chalkboard. I get it. Showing how apathetic you are is super-cool. Only, apathetic people are TERRIBLE reviewers. If you can’t conjure anything better than “meh,” you’re better off hiding in your darkened room and writing really crummy poetry about cutting yourself.

“I didn’t read this, but so-and-so wrote it, so I’m sure it’s (great/terrible).”

This one pops up far too often. I don’t care if you love or hate me, don’t review something of mine unless you’ve read it. Keep your unfounded opinions to yourself.

“I hate the event this is connected to, so I hate this, too.”

The chip on your shoulder has been noted. There are great stories connected to events. There are terrible stories connected to events. Measure them on their own merits or not at all.

“This was so bad, I’m glad I downloaded this illegally so I could review it.”

Kiss my ass.

“I wish this had been written by so-and-so A instead of so-and-so B”

Wish really, really hard and it just might come true.

“As I write this, allow me to incorporate interesting YouTube videos of babies smoking… or kids screaming… or car crashes… or anything else that doesn’t apply.”

I know, I know. Writing for the Internet means you can add artwork or quick snippets of video very easily. But ask yourself. Are you spending more time looking for video snippets than you are really thinking about the work you’re “critiquing”?

“I think I was expecting a different story.”

That should be a GOOD thing! If a creative team surprises you, you should be ecstatic. I’m guessing that reviewers who use this one like to read the last page of murder mysteries first. Also, they’re probably very jumpy people.

“This is not a story that needs to be told.”

I’m sure this one might be cause for debate. But… really. What comic book story NEEDED to be told? If you really think about it, you’re gonna find it really hard to find more than a handful of comic stories that NEEDED to be told. This is entertainment, folks.

“If I were writing this. I would have…”

Stop. Stop writing reviews and start writing comics. Look, I had a different ending in mind for Alien: Resurrection… and, yeah, it would have kicked ass. But guess what? I didn’t hustle and become a successful and talented screenwriter, so I’ll just keep that story to myself. If you would write something different, go ahead, do that.

“I usually hate everything so-and-so writes, so it pains me to say this was good.”

Ah, the sort of back-handed compliment/insult. I know it’s tough to admit that your years of ranting about someone might have been wrong, but there’s no need to show your ass in a positive review.

“This was okay, but I’m still mad at (writer) for killing my favorite character 10 years ago.”

Don’t worry. It’s comics. The character will be back. And then I’m gonna lobby to kill ‘em off.

“This sucked because (character A) could never beat (character B) in a fight.”

When I was a kid, I had some great debates about Phoenix fighting Galactus or Wolverine vs. Batman. They were fun, but they don’t make for a good review. This kind of analysis is best left for standing in front of the counter at the comic shop.

In the end, I still want to know what people think of my efforts. But I’m more interested in what readers think than reviewers (and—yeah—to my way of thinking there’s a big difference). So, I’m not going to spend too much time seeking out reviews. If there’s a really insightful piece out there, it’ll find its way to me. The good ones (insightful and otherwise) will reach me, too, and –full disclosure—I’m still gonna share ‘em.

But I’d rather readers reach out to me directly to let me know how I’m doing. One e-mail or tweet or Facebook post means so much more to me than a review anyhow. I might agree or disagree with you, but I’m generally pretty decent about it.

Writing comic books, whether you believe it or not, isn’t easy. I beat myself up pretty hard over my own work. I don’t need to seek out the malcontents who wanna dish out a little more abuse.

The book that was called “three day old garbage,” by the way, is one that people frequently tell me how much they enjoyed, so it only goes to illustrate what’s important—one negative review or loads of happy readers.

I know which one I’m striving for.

###

Cullen Bunn is the writer of The Damned, The Tooth, and The Sixth Gun from Oni Press and The Fearless from Marvel. He is also the author of a middle reader prose horror novel, Crooked Hills, from Earwig Press.
 
Website: www.cullenbunn.com
Twitter: cullenbunn
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cullenbunn

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Comments

  • Jason Wilkins

    Jason Wilkins Nov 15, 2011 at 3:11pm

    Although I'm fairly certain I haven't committed any of the above faux pas, I'm also pretty sure I've made Eric and Fred cringe a time or two with my opinions. Never pretended to be a real journalist though (as most people think of them). I'm more properly a blogger, I suppose, than a reviewer or journalist. Having said that, I'm not quite sure what one of those is. Sigh, I'm confused...:P Another great column Cullen!

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Nov 17, 2011 at 4:02am

    Great column, two general rules for my writing on comics : 1. judge the work by its own merits 2. find the hook for your writing that makes the article/review/interview interesting

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