Simons Responds to Critical Advice

In response to Kevin’s comments about how creators should respond to criticism, Rikki Simons (creator of ShutterBox) has posted a response that demonstrates his … I’d call it misunderstanding, he’d probably call it disagreement with a number of the points.

First he says that a restricted (non-public) friends list is the same as a public blog and website. Since he has a livejournal himself, I don’t know whether he really is confused or just trying to score a rhetorical point. Simons goes on to insist that critics aren’t willing to play by the same rules they want creators to follow.

I think they’re often just full of themselves. Critics, take your lumps, just like we do. You cannot post a review to a blog with a comments section turned on or your e-mail made public without expecting to hear from the author if they disagree with you. Your review is not any more immune from recrimination than an author’s books are. For the angry author, this probably falls under the heading “if I want to make an ass out of myself that’s my business” but if we’re at least respecting point two for the critic then the least the critic can do is the same when the author takes them on (politely). We also cannot control what our fans will say when they read your review. In some cases when the author links to your review they are inciting a riot, but if the author just blew a year of their life on a work, fatigued, bent in real starvation, and the reviewer spent an hour reviewing after getting free swag, then you as a critic should forgive this reaction. It’s called human nature and professionalism is irrelevant (and usually just wishful thinking on the part of the would-be critic).

If that’s what he thinks of his fellow artists, I’m tempted to be insulted on their behalf. In my nearly decade-and-a-half doing this, I have worked with plenty of creators who are capable of disagreeing publicly and politely, which is what I mean by professionalism in this case. I don’t believe that dealing with each other with mutual respect is “wishful thinking”.

And critics are very used to the same thing. Heck, many of us started in forums where we got nothing but attacks and negative feedback. That’s why some of us deeply understand the difference between a professional response and immature whining.

EVERYONE picks on critics, and many of us welcome the feedback. That’s why we do this, to communicate with an audience about books we love, or hate, or want to talk about. NO ONE is asking for creators to be quiet. We’re asking for authors to be mature. Collecting a bunch of other creators for a public-but-gated “don’t critics suck?” session is not mature. Throwing an online hissy fit because someone didn’t completely love your first book, not mature. Using your book as a bully pulpit because that’s a place you can’t be contradicted, or berating someone from a panel where you have a loud voice and they don’t, not mature.

Gathering alternate opinions, though, is mature. So is making sure you understand the critic’s point (and viewpoint behind the point). Pointing out an error the critic made, politely, is welcome. Ignoring them, fine. Just be consistent about it. If you tend to get too caught up in what other people think, saying “I don’t read reviews” is a sensible strategy… but that means all reviews. Only listening to people who praise you is a recipe for disaster.

Creators can too control some of what their fans say. Especially if they avoid posting things like “this review is so wrong! you should go tell them so!” to their message boards. And whatever happened to setting a good example? (I tend to believe that some creators get the fans they deserve.)

In a twisted way, I like the idea that critics should be the bigger people because they sometimes get books for free. It’s so opposite from the usual “we create from the blank page, so we’re gods, and you’re parasites on our work, so you suck” that some artists toss out.

I think Simons has also misunderstood why critics are saying this to creators. It’s not to avoid recrimination, as he says; it’s to help artists. How you react is going to affect how people view your work. An immature blowup may keep you from getting press and attention in future. It may cause people to spread rumors about you or avoid buying your next title. Is that worth the temporary passion?

14 Responses to “Simons Responds to Critical Advice”

  1. Don MacPherson Says:

    The biggest flaw with Simons’s argument seems to be that just because the creator might have worked long and hard on a labour of love that it should be immune to any kind of critical scrutiny.

  2. Lyle Says:

    I can see some confusion with the LJ friends list but, overall, it seems to me that Simmons misunderstood Kevin’s point. When Kevin says, “Your LiveJournal ‘friends list’ does not necessarily reflect the taste of the general reading public” I didn’t think he was talking about public vs. private conversations but about mistaking the opionons of your friends as representative of the entire comic-reading audience. (To put it another way, it’s like an author flaming the bad reviews of their book on Amazon, noting how everyone at the writer’s fansite loves it.)

    So saying that statement conflicts with Kevin’s statement about your public online persona being a part of the marketing for your book, misses the point.

    BTW, I believe stuff on an LJ Friends’ list can be public or private (or a mix), so I could see where there may be some confusion… except it doesn’t really play a role in the statement.

  3. Johanna Says:

    Don, heh.

    Lyle, my fault, I was conflating that with other pieces of the discussion held elsewhere. Thanks for clarifying that.

  4. Thomas Gerhardt Says:

    “The biggest flaw with Simons’s argument seems to be that just because the creator might have worked long and hard on a labour of love that it should be immune to any kind of critical scrutiny.”

    Okay, now, I’ve been a launch editor for both Future Publishing and the BMG group in Germany, and every time a writer or the actual editor of the magazine I was launching for them came up with that kind of argument, I did a musical rendition of “Nobody Cares” to them.

    The end product counts, not somebody’s feelings, not the fact that they worked to the bones or missed their honey’s birthday or worked through the weekend.

    NOBODY cares.

  5. Tintin Says:

    By any chance, does it seem like the OEL crowd is particularly vehement towards critics (more than other types of comic authors?)

  6. Johanna Says:

    It can seem that way, but I don’t think it’s accurate. I think it’s because the OEL creators are younger, and thus much more internet-connected and also somewhat less experienced in dealing with public reaction to their work.

  7. Don MacPherson Says:

    Johanna wrote:
    I think it’s because the OEL creators are younger, and thus much more internet-connected and also somewhat less experienced in dealing with public reaction to their work.

    This brings up an interesting question: Is it easier to break into comics by way of OEL manga than more traditional comics?

  8. Johanna Says:

    I think it’s certainly easier to become a paid professional. If you meet Tokyopop’s criteria and are selected by them, then that route seems easier than risking your own money and self-publishing.

  9. James Schee Says:

    I know for me, I have way more stuff that I want to read than I’ll ever find myself able to get to. Sometimes something as simple as a creator seeming to be a jerk online can sway me towards trying something else.

  10. David Oakes Says:

    I guess the real question is how TokyoPop’s “criteria” differs from any other publisher’s. The cynical view is that TP is the “Marvel of Manga”, simply trying to flood the market with titles to dominate shelves, and hoping that maybe one of them will become the next “Naruto”, and they can make even more money licensing everything from pajamas to Happy Meals (TM).

    But let’s say that I offer my OEL to another company, say… Well, Marvel has it’s own brand to pimp, Image requires it’s own money, DC never seems to make up it’s mind if it is creator friendly or a closed studio… OK, maybe not the best parallel, but let’s say I offer my BESMMDF (Big Eye Small Mouth Modern Dark Fantasy – “It’s XXXHolic meets Madame Xanadu meets Hellboy”) to TP, Dark Horse, and Vertigo, all at the same 49% ownership (and no licensing?) of TP OEL.

    So, who jumps first? And who will refuse to touch it? Is the “quality” threshold for OEL set too low? Or is it too restrictive at the established publishers? Who’s being shortsighted, and who’s being realistic? (“Visionary” is reserved for the publisher that actually discovers The Next Naruto, and claims they knew it all along.)

    And will I ever finish a proposal for “Teen Vampires play GO!” to find out…

  11. Lyle Says:

    One thing that does make it easier to get published through Tokyopop… when their OEL line was getting launched and they were encouraging fans to send in submissions at San Diego, they expressed willingness to match a writer with an artist. You don’t find that often in comics, a publisher willing to match an untested writer (who can, apparently, write a compelling proposal) with an artist (of any skill level).

  12. MangaBlog » Blog Archive » Pre-holiday odds and ends Says:

    […] At Crocodile Caucus, Lyle has some good advice for creators on dealing with negative reviews. Rikki Simons gives his take, and Johanna responds. There’s an interesting exchange in the comments, where someone asks whether it’s easier to break into comics through global manga than traditional comics. Johanna replies: I think it’s certainly easier to become a paid professional. If you meet Tokyopop’s criteria and are selected by them, then that route seems easier than risking your own money and self-publishing. […]

  13. Rikki Simons Says:

    Well, this is an extremely late reply to this thread and I apologize for that. I only discovered this thread today because I was being narcissistic with Google’s new blog search engine.

    It’s true that you’ve been writing reviews for a decade and a half but your post seems to almost imply that I have not been writing comics for also a decade and a half. I am not a part of this new OEL crowd. ShutterBox was the first American book published by Tokyopop and for better or worse it stands on its own (and Tokyopop does not own ShutterBox, we signed our contract with TP before they went 50/50 on everone else) . You were one of our early supporters when Tavisha and I published Reality Check! in 1996 and I still appreciate the kind things you wrote back then.

    If I have a misunderstanding here at all it’s that I don’t really know what the other Tokyopop creators are saying when they react to negative reviews. So, you got me there. If they’re being horrible and gathering minions to soothe their egos in locked journals, it’s not a party I’ve ever been invited to.

    Your model of the critic who is trying to help creators sounds great, but I don’t think it’s very realistic for the majority of reviews I read on other blogs. I understand that you take the time to try and be helpful, but the emphasis with many, many other blog-crittics is just to be snarky, with no finesse, no charm. The motive behind these blogs is often to drive the creator out of comics and their idea of being helpful is to demand a different career path. And yet, these are usually the fist guys to complain when their board gets clogged with a new creator’s irate friends. It just seems really, I mean reeeeaaallly silly to me that a reviewer can write a vicious comment — an obviously not helpful comment — and not expect a reply. Why is it not onsidered unprofessional for the critic to be horrible but totally unprofessional for the creator to respond in kind? I’m sorry, I just can’t reconcile those those points. It just makes no sense to me.

    For the person who asked if it was easier to publish with a “global manga” publisher than somewhere else, from my experience, no it’s not easier — for me. For someone else, I guess if the publisher has quota to fill. It’s easier than to self-publish, which I’ve also done, but that’s the case for every regular publishing venture.

  14. Johanna Says:

    I agree with everything you’ve said here. I think misunderstandings come when someone says “critics do…” meaning “some critics” and others take their meaning to be “most critics” (and vice versa for “creators”). Thanks for stopping by.




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