- Posted by Johanna on September 28, 2009 at 3:41 pm
- Category: Comic News
The only panel I went to at this year’s Small Press Expo was the Critics’ Roundtable. It was held at 3:30 on Saturday (the perfect time to take a break and sit down), moderated by Bill Kartalopoulos. (Update: Sean Collins has posted his recording of the panel in case you’d like to hear it for yourself.)
The guests were
- Rob Clough
- Sean T. Collins
- Gary Groth (The Comics Journal)
- Chris Mautner
- Joe McCulloch (aka Jog)
- Tucker Stone
- Douglas Wolk
I thought that was a few too many people to allow everyone to participate equally. I would have liked to have heard more from Mautner, for example, but he didn’t get much chance to talk. Also, as you’ll notice from the picture above, we were joking about how similar the panelists were in resembling each other. I guess the youngish bespectacled white male represents many comic fans, though.
Along similar lines (wishing for a little more diversity), some of the most interesting comparisons came when Wolk (who works in print for well-known outlets) and those who mostly work online talked about how the experiences were the same or different. I would have appreciated more differentiation among the kind of work represented on the panel. (When they were introducing themselves, it came up that 4 of them write for the Savage Critics and 4 or 5 of them have written for The Comics Journal.) Maybe instead of so many bloggers, they could have included a podcaster?
But enough criticizing the critics. There were around 65-75 people in the audience, which surprised me at such a good turnout, and they seemed interested and engaged in the panel discussion. There was only time for a few questions at the end, and I had the impression that there could have been many more if another panel wasn’t starting.
Regarding these notes, I have done my best to capture statements and opinions accurately. Please don’t take anything (especially anything you object to) as a direct quote, but the concepts should be correct.
Criticism on the Internet
The first question posed to the panel was “how has the internet affected criticism?” McCulloch started by saying it allowed a quick response to whatever had been read and wide access (through search engines). You can also write however you want (in terms of style, length, etc.). Wolk added that it enabled conversation to take place quickly and broadly. (I appreciated this point, his emphasis of community.) Collins pointed out that you didn’t have an editor or gatekeeper, and Mautner liked the promotion opportunities, that you get the reward of readers’ attention, and that could lead to other things. Clough made a point about the problems of the internet, that it doesn’t always have long, thoughtful, critical pieces; instead, there was too much short snarky stuff.
The next question was to Groth, asking him why he didn’t have a blog. He referred to himself as “generationally challenged” and said that he spent several weeks honing a piece, so he wasn’t into the rhythm of posting every two days. He also thought that the potential conflict of interest put him in a difficult position. The Journal has shrunk as a proportion of Fantagraphics’ output now that they publish 60 graphic novels a year. Since the magazine is less prominent, I got the impression he felt the risk (of someone being annoyed by his opinion and taking it out on the company) wasn’t worth it.
I’m not sure what the next question was — my next note says that McCulloch pointed out that comic writing on the internet has grown a great deal in the five years he’s been doing this and that it’s easier for a new contributor to get lost. Wolk responded that if you don’t care about hit counts, timing doesn’t matter, so you can put out a piece when it’s ready and it’s there as long as the site is. I think this led into people talking about sequart.com having disappeared in some kind of database crash, and Clough saying that he no longer had copies of 200 columns he’d written for them. There was commiseration over this.
Stone (who talks like he writes, leading to the saltiest comments on the panel) said that self-imposed deadlines made him write.
but he doesn’t know his hit counts. (Update: I got this wrong. Collins said he didn’t know his hit counts.Stone said that whatever his wife wrote was most popular.) Clough chimed in that he has a compulsion to write about what he’s read and that pushed him until he got it out there.
Print and Internet Differences
Groth then asked the others if they wrote differently for print and internet. Mautner said definitely! You have to consider your audience. In print, you have to explain a lot about comics; on the internet, you can assume that we’re speaking the same language. McCulloch pointed out that print has space limitations. Collins made the observation that when he’s writing for a general-interest publication, they mostly want reviews of good stuff, so he doesn’t publish bad reviews in print. Wolk backed him up by saying that the editors generally feel that if the review is negative, “why should our readers care?” Online, that’s opening a conversation; in print, you’re rendering judgment.
Then there was a discussion of whether Bottomless Belly Button got any in-depth criticism. Someone had read something that said that searching the internet just returned “it’s good, you should get it” reactions that were pretty shallow. At this point, Stone left for the men’s room. And I stopped trying to capture everything they were saying, so I didn’t get much of the BBB conversation.
The Critical Discourse
The next question was whether they felt that they needed to participate in critical discourse and weigh in on big tentpole books. Stone returned to say, “Critical discourse? What the f*ck is that?” He went on to point out that the wider internet has a low level of dialogue, illustrated through more profanity. Wolk felt that talking about what others were covering wasn’t an obligation but a pleasure. Clough feels obligated to cover review copies. He’s not interested in saying whether or not someone should buy it but just engages the work.
The panel began using Final Crisis as an example of something that was widely covered. Collins loved the book and the back and forth about it, but he would also love to see that volume of people writing about Acme Novelty Library #19, which he thought was the best book of the year. Wolk responded, “You might see more coverage if Acme was monthly,” which led to much laughter. McCulloch pointed out that there was so much conversation about FC because it affected so many other titles (supposedly). Clough thought it was easier to think about FC than Acme.
Then he asked whether the others approached reviewing art comics and superheroes differently. Collins said he was sure he did but he tries not to. Wolk thought it was hard to get away from the bigger continuity. Stone said he approached a minicomic from a 19-year-old shy kid different from an established older author, and he wouldn’t review the minicomic if all he wanted to say to the creator was “stop making comics”. (Only he said this in many more words and with more of a verbal picture of the poor kid.)
Collins pointed out that when reviewing for his own blog, he was self-selecting. He didn’t want to force himself through something that he expected to tear apart. Wolk finished by saying that his allegiance was to the reader, not to the person making art. There was no value in “scorched earth” unless it was useful or meaningful to the reader.