Reviewing Serialized Chapters

A comment in response to my review of Mail Order Ninja brought up an interesting point I wanted to draw more attention to.

MON Book 1 is only the beginning of a series, as I noted in the review. However, I reviewed it as a single element, because that was the package I was given.

A reader responded “you seem to have an inability to recognize the inertia of character arcs”, telling me I should have more faith in the creators to demonstrate the character’s growth and change in future volumes. Which, yes, I agree is what’s likely to happen. However, I don’t think this is my problem, but the publisher’s.

If this had been a more typically sized Tokyopop book, then I’m sure that Timmy would have learned his lesson in the second half, and I suspect that that’s what happens in book two. Let’s leave aside the six-month gap between the story setup and its conclusion, in that case, as well as the other problems I had with the book. if I’m still not excited to read the next volume, then I say that’s the fault of the creators who haven’t created that anticipation in me. The decision to break the story where it did and package it this way was damaging to its presentation. I can’t evaluate a book based on what might happen next month or in the future; if I did, I’d rightly be criticized for trying to write the book myself.

The reader has every right to judge whatever they were sold. The story doesn’t end at the conclusion of book one, but the reader needs to achieve some satisfaction with what they’ve read. If they didn’t like it, or they didn’t like it enough, then the publisher (or supporter) can’t assume that they’ll come back to see the eventual redemption. After all, it’s not cheap to keep following a $3 superhero comic or a $6 or $10 manga series. Publishers and creators cannot and should not take their audience for granted. There’s too much else out there that the reader might like better. You’ve got to make EACH chunk satisfying in a world of so much competition.

This is also, by the way, why I tend to stay away from serialized issues these days. There are so many complete packages out there that are so much more satisfying.

On a personal note, I would love to still have the enthusiasm to believe the best of every comic and creator, to think that whatever concerned or dismayed me would be improved or eliminated in the next book, whenever it came out. But reading serialized comics for more than a few months will quickly disabuse one of that notion. I don’t regret the experience I’ve had reading decades worth of both good and bad comics, because I think that’s taught me a lot about the craft and medium. I would hope, though, that readers wouldn’t blame me for being realistic about the likelihood of stories turning around in the current commercial environment, where there are so many factors working against quality and improvement.


8 Responses to “Reviewing Serialized Chapters”

  1. Crocodile Caucus » First tastes Says:

    [...] Meanwhile, Johanna, writes about judging a series based only on the first issue: …if I’m still not excited to read the next volume, then I say that’s the fault of the creators who haven’t created that anticipation in me. The decision to break the story where it did and package it this way was damaging to its presentation. I can’t evaluate a book based on what might happen next month or in the future; if I did, I’d rightly be criticized for trying to write the book myself. [...]

  2. MangaBlog » Blog Archive » Saturday links Says:

    [...] And this is a bit meta: Johanna Draper Carlson panned Mail Order Ninja earlier this week. The creator read the review and took it to The Engine. Interesting discussion follows. And later Johanna defends her review. [...]

  3. Johanna Says:

    Christopher Butcher also has some thoughts in response.

  4. Tokyopop Sets Tongues Wagging » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] 2006: Mail Order Ninja released in two parts, damaging the storytelling; creator complains about reviews that don’t [...]

  5. Oliver Says:

    I don’t blame you, if the first volume has not hooked you, then that’s that.

    Although I believe first volumes to be nothing like the quality of later volumes, so I shouldn’t be deterred by one bad egg in a series that could potentially be enjoyable (The yaoi Kizuna is a prime example). Is it still the fault of the creator for not finding their voice so early in a series?

  6. Johanna Says:

    No, and sometimes it can be exciting to see a creator develop their story in unexpected ways. But a customer who’s spent money shouldn’t be blamed for not wanting to spend more when they feel “once bitten, twice shy”.

    I think publishers and reviewers can be quite useful in such a case by making it clear that the later, better volume (in this hypothetical) is different and how.

  7. Oliver Says:

    That`s absolutely right which is why I read reviews of later volumes to see if the story`s going in an up or down direction. A story can also start out on good footing but end up from good to bad to worse. It`s better when a first volume is bad so it can save you money and future heartbreak, but what happens when you`re a few volumes down the road and the story lets you down

  8. Johanna Says:

    Oh, yes, I’ve had that happen… or even just lost interest in a story that was going on longer than I wanted to follow it. I try to sell/trade the books in order to get a different manga I think I’ll like more. :)




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