Can We Critique?

First, a quick plug, I recently discovered that if you buy one of my comics, there’s an option to receive a discount if you share it on social media. So you get a cheaper book and I get some more exposure. Everyone wins.

This one took me a while to get down properly because it’s a delicate subject and needs to be worded properly.

With webcomic criticism, there has always been a bit of debate over whether it is actually allowed or not. I have seen numerous people, authors and fans alike; respond to negative feedback with “You shouldn’t complain because you don’t have to pay for these comics. If you don’t like it, just don’t read it and stop complaining.”

And I have to call bullshit on that.

LWICRIT

What most of these people saying that criticism is invalid are forgetting is that these authors are putting up ads in order to receive some compensation. Ads that are paid for by other people who wish to get their products out there. And you are making money off of me every time I visit your site, whether it’s just to check on the latest page or read the archives, because my visits raise your traffic, which raises the amount of ad revenue you receive.

Ads are a primary income for many people online, which is why there is a controversy over ad block for individuals. If you can’t see the ads, the ad companies do not give money. In one of the comfy-con panels, Randy Milholland and Danielle Corsetto mentioned that because of ad block, they have lost a chunk of money and as independent web cartoonists, they can’t always afford the loss, which is why I only run ad block on sites with annoying ads, or in the case of blip, ads that cause the video to not play.

This is why I don’t take stock in the whole idea of “I don’t owe you anything.” I’m not saying I am entitled to the sort of comic I want, I am most definitely not and neither are the rest of the audience. However to dismiss negative feedback because “I don’t owe you anything” is a bizarre form of creator entitlement that has never sat right with me. By that logic, people cannot complain about free-to-air television even though those companies fund their programs and pay their staff on ad revenue and are able to charge higher for shows that receive higher ratings, much like websites do.

Once you put up an ad, print a book or make some other form of merchandise, you are saying that you believe that this comic is good enough to deserve money. That enough people come to the site that advertisers can reach a new audience through you, that your characters or phrases are good enough to wear in public, and in the cases of printed books, that your comics are in fact worth money.

That is what gives me, El Santo, Robert Howard, the Bad Webcomics Wiki and all the rest the right to point out problems or issues we have with your comic. It’s why I have no problem with anyone doing a review of Domain Tnemrot, Living With Insanity or Gemini Storm. In fact I encourage it. Because I freely acknowledge that even though you may not be paying me out of your own pockets, I still make something from you visiting my websites just like everyone else.

That’s the best thing about the internet, just because something is free does not mean the original creator does not see anything from it.

Unless you’re the kind of person who torrents. Then you don’t really have a leg to stand on.

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Also, tomorrow marks one year since my first opinion column went up on Webcomics Overlook (Should redo it soon). Thanks to El Santo for letting me do this and also thanks to you guys for the kind words in response and also for being honest when you thought I was screwing up.

 

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Posted on March 12, 2014, in webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 29 Comments.

  1. Even if they DON’T have ads or any revenue streams, I have just as much a right to give critique as they have the right to wholly ignore it. Or delete it from the comments, as is usually the case.

    • Disclaimer: I tend to never actually give critique unless asked for. I guess I should have made my comment clearer in how hypothetical it was.

  2. I tried to spell out my thoughts on criticism in a series of articles on my site:

    http://wildwebcomicreview.blogspot.com/search/label/Critical

    Sorry it’s upside down (first post is at the bottom). Not sure if I can change that, like at all.

  3. I think whenever you present something in public and ask for an investment in people’s time you are opening yourself to criticism. So, even if some kid on the internet isn’t planning on making money, if they put up a post on their tumblr or DA that ANNOUNCES ‘webcomic coming soon!’ or ‘check out my sweet comic I made! *link*’, as opposed to not really advertising it or asking people to check it out…then I think they’re pretty much fair game because I can’t reconcile having as your object the attention, praise, etc, from readers, but wanting to filter out any other kinds of feedback. You cast a net in hopes of catching the attention of the public, you shouldn’t feel entitled to control their reactions.

    I’m probably going to upset you, but your view on torrenting and pirating is quite incorrect and outdated. For one, that comic likening torrenting to ‘robbing a 7-11′ is flawed for the same reason that ‘you wouldn’t steal a car’ is flawed; copyright by it’s very essence is intangible and not subject to diminishment. Actual money and objects and cars can be ‘taken’ to the DETRIMENT of the original owner. With torrenting and pirating, if there was never the intention to buy an actual copy, then nothing has been lost. Literally. If I download a crappy movie just to see if it is that bad, one which I literally was not going to drop a nickel on to even try it, and I do end up hating it, they were never going to get my money anyways.

    What I’m getting at is that motivation comes into play; There are some people who download for the sole purpose of getting everything they can for free…but free riders and moochers and bootleggers and people like that have existed in many forms throughout the history of copyright. The majority of people who download do so for reasons related to convenience; things like time shifting, format shifting, and even back ups. A lot of people, like myself, might also use it to preview shows and movies, which results in buying boxsets we nevvveer would have if not for the risk-free preview of downloading.

    I’m not at all saying it’s ‘victimless’ because there are some industries affected by it surely, but they are also subject to just the overall impact of a sudden shift in technology and business models which many of them have NOT adapted to, or have actively resisted. It’s a complex issue and to say it’s like ‘stealing a car’ is just incorrect, and frankly, propagandist.

    • That may be the case, however my point was that if you are illegally pirating something through a channel the author or copyright holder has not authorised, then I don’t believe you have the right to criticise the work. I just added in the Our Valued Customers strip to include more than one image.

      • If I borrow a comic from a friend, am I allowed to criticize it then? I haven’t paid for it. The end result is exactly the same, but most people would not consider borrowing a book to be pirating. There are copyright holders out there who vilify the second-hand market, for the sole reason that multiple people have access to a work, but the holder gets paid only once. Just because they don’t like it, doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. Morally or legally.

        That being said, your entire premise strikes me as odd because….why would I buy something I think I won’t like…just to confirm that I don’t like it? I would NEVER financially support something just for the privilege of saying ‘This romantic subplot is crap! Just as I suspected!’. If they have a mindset that you must meet X qualifications to criticize them, chances are they aren’t going to be receptive no matter how much money you put into their kickstarter.

        • Well that isn’t an equivalent argument because your friend bought the movie and it is now his/her property to do with as they wish, which includes letting you borrow it.

          • It is an equivalent argument because you said “through a channel the author or copyright holder has not authorised” which can include borrowing. As well, there is no functional difference between 5 people borrowing the same comic book irl and 5 people downloading the same book online. You might try and argue that downloading tends to be on a larger scale, but you can’t forget that so are libraries and video stores. It’s completely analogous.

          • I may need to make a new article on this, but let me try and explain. Once you have bought a book, a movie, a piece of art, etc. you fully own it. It is your property to do with as you wish. I could commission an artist to do a piece that takes them several weeks of work and once I’ve paid for it, I could then give it to someone as a gift, let someone borrow it or yes, as you mentioned, sell it at my leisure because it is my property. You are talking about creating new copies of the work that the owners of the property never consented to. There is a big difference.

            Also, I used to work in a library. How they order in books and movies is by going through legal channels. And they are allowed by the authors, who even do book signings at said libraries. And there is still a big difference because the borrowers return the materials, they do not keep them unless there’s a book sale, in which they pay for them. And the ones who do keep the materials longer than permitted are charged fines.

            Again, you argument just does not apply to this situation.

          • That’s funny. I don’t seem to be able to reply to your latest response. Hmmm….

            First off, I said they were functionally the same; aka the copyright holder getting paid only once, regardless of whether or not they consent to people borrowing or downloading. It is all the same money in their pockets.

            For another, copyright is in a constant state of flux. If you take a look at the video game industry, you can see how they have been working to eliminate the second hand market, of both downloading and borrowing, for years. The common person doesn’t consider borrowing a book to be infringement, but it only takes a signature on a bill to make it so.

            What I’m getting at; copyright is intangible and the laws surrounding it have ALWAYS been created from nothing. There is no absolute right or wrong and what is legal today might become illegal tomorrow, so appealing to “IT’S ILLEGAL!” is a weak argument, especially when you said, “through a channel the author or copyright holder has not authorised”…which could be looking at it on the wrong device tomorrow.

            PS: I don’t know if you can control the ability to reply to a post on this site, but since your last response is the only one where a ‘reply’ button doesn’t come up, I’m going to assume that’s the case. Next time, just come out and say you’re done with the issue. Give me some proper notice that it’s over. It would be better than doing something that makes people lose respect for you.

          • Actually, the site only allows for a few replies-within-replies to avoid the comment section turning into a bunch of spaghetti posts.

            Also, copyright laws are ridiculous. My father is a dentist. He works in cooperative structure with other dentists, and together they operate out of a large building with a shared waiting room. In this waiting room the radio tends to be on. A member of the national copyright organisation (a non-governmental body) showed up to tell him they had to pay a fee for playing the radio for a large audience. After being told that the building was officially government property, he never showed up again.

            So, for this organisation the act of putting multiple people in a room counts as “copying”. They should all buy their own radio’s and listen to them. Or something. Similarly, DVD’s tend to give a series of warnings about how you can’t show them at “mass events” because it’s against the law. Not that I’ve seen those in a while, because I torrent my movies so as to avoid said 5 minutes of warnings, trailers, etc. and to be able to just get on with the fucking movie. And that’s not even mentioning lopsided release dates, inflated costs for $2 plastic discs, shelf space and all other problems that disappear when you do something that’s only illegal because a frighteningly conservative industry has failed to embrace technological advance.

            From my father’s example it’s pretty clear that the definition of copying is pretty iffy. I’d link to a documentary about the subject, but I’m afraid it’s entirely in Dutch. For all intents and purposes, lending out a book IS copying it. The data is transferred to the memory of someone who is not the original owner. If we were discussing this in terms of computers, that would be illegal. I’ve also lended out video games to friends. They played them and returned them. The effect is exactly the same as when they would have torrented them (which is also why this multi-billion dollar industry wants to outlaw it).

          • Thank you for clearing that up, Piet! I sincerely apologize for jumping to conclusions, David Herbert! I was surprised and miffed that that was only thing I could not directly reply to and it seems the conclusion I drew was incorrect, sorry!

            @Piet “only illegal because a frighteningly conservative industry has failed to embrace technological advance.”

            Pretty much that. Copyright is a subject very near and dear to my heart. I appreciate what it does to make sure that creators get paid for their work, but I do take issue with how it is applied. I would love to see a world where more middle men are cut out so that things like our beloved webcomics are economically viable. However, I am extremely skeptical that increased copyright will encourage that. Quite the opposite, I think. Innovation, not legislation.

          • Yeah, I think I should just do another article, though two quick things.

            Mr_y as Piet said, there is a limit, I had to reply to my own comment as well. Also, just because the video game industry is trying to switch games to a subscription based model doesn’t change copyright law at all. You don’t seem to understand the definition so I’ll be sure to include that in my next article.

            Piet, I’m pretty sure your dad’s example was a scam artist because there is no legal limit on how many people can listen to a radio at one time.

          • Mr. Herbert, please do not make assumptions at the expense of my argument. It was ruled only in 2012 by the European court that no license fees have to be paid for music played in waiting rooms. The organisation I was talking about (Buma/Stemra) applies the reasoning that ANY use of music, video, or print requires a license, with accompanying fees, of course. This ruling was arrived at after the exact scenario I just described: A dentist refusing to pay license fees for having a radio in his waiting room.

            My argument stands. You may respond to it accordingly.

      • We know it’s your point, but it’s a futile point to hold. Simply put, they DO have the right, as it’s ensured by this whole freedom of speech thing. Furthermore, the criticism itself isn’t influenced by the legality of the product, which also means you can’t discriminate criticism on this point, because there’s nothing to tell such criticism apart from other criticism.

        Your entire point seems to be that something has to cost money before it can invite criticism. However, I don’t feel like you’ve properly explained your reasoning behind this opinion. It seems you took the “I don’t owe you anything” argument and turned it into “you owe me something”, in regards to criticism. You start out by saying criticism can’t be waved away if the product is free, but then you say it can, as long as there’s an option to pay for the product. This opens up a nasty can of logic worms. Does it also follow with my example about Mr Tim below? Do people who have spent more money on a property have an automatically stronger right to provide criticism? If I make a webcomic and make available a $1000 special subscription, am I then free to dismiss any and all criticism by those who didn’t pay my $1000 the only function of which is ticking a box in my brain where I respond to criticism? These are all Appeals to Authority, where the authority is a person’s status as a consumer.

        • Actually, though I agree I could have made it more clear, the point of the article was how the idea of “You don’t pay anything so shut up” is an invalid defence.

          • And I agree with that. My problem is that you seem to apply exactly that reasoning to people who torrent their material.

            Furthermore, the reason you give for the defence being invalid is that even when the reader does not spend money, their presence still generates money, and therefor they *are* paying, and do get a say. That not so much makes the defence invalid, but actually validates it by arguing that people pay even when they don’t intend to. This is topped off by the statement that torrenters (perceived as non-paying moochers) DON’T get a say. So, to me the entire article seems to reinforce the idea that you have to pay to get a say.

  4. My view on criticism is very simple: There are no rules, as is readily apparent from everything people have to say. If you have a means of expressing yourself, you can do so. And that’s what many people do. That’s why I take offense to the view that people’s criticism is unvalid if they torrented said comic. Whether they “stole” it or not has no impact on the quality of the product. In fact, I feel it’s artist and fan entitlement to dismiss criticism if they can accuse the critic of “stealing” the product. Especially because many people torrent products because they feel they are being overcharged for them, which is an easy sentiment to have in a recession after previously buying expensive products that were ultimately disappointing. Or maybe they just need to be able to buy dinner, but still like comics. Or maybe the issue they want to read simply isn’t available in print. It’s the industry equivalent of petulant webcomic artists who tune out critics as long as they still have one loyal fan. The artist and/or fans weigh the odds in favour of their own bias along completely arbitrary rules that have zero connection with either the comic or the criticism thereof. The truth is, criticism has no price of admission.

    But according to the same mental gymnastics, does Mr. Tim have the right to mercilessly ridicule his own customer base? I mean, if it all boils down to having to pay for the right of criticism, technically he should only be allowed to brownnose, given that they’re providing his paycheck.

  5. In my opinion, putting your work on the public notice board called “the internet” is what gives people the right to critique you. It takes some nerve to put your comic where everyone can see it and then expect to only hear nice things about it.

  6. Since we’re on the subject of criticsm, Gavin Aung Than of Zen Pencils fame has been doing a series of strips entitled The Artist-Troll War, in which he portrays critics as a giant green blob of HATE, waged in battle against the forces of ART, led by legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.

    Now personally, I think Gavin’s comic falls short in a couple of major respects. First off, by lumping in all critics as Haters, Gavin suggests that there’s no such thing as valid or constructive criticism, a position that I happen to strongly disagree with. Furthermore, Gavin’s appropriation of Miyazaki as the leader of the forces against criticism is an exceptionally poor choice, since in reality Miyazaki is a rather fierce critic of anime and the anime industry in general.

    Overall, the Zen Pencils piece comes across as overly defensive and hostile to any and all criticism, which I found to be pretty disappointing, given the normally optimistic and inspriational tone of the comic.

    Anyone else have any thoughts on the matter?

    • To be fair, I think he has tried to imply in the comics that he’s only referring to overly negative criticism (emphasis on the overly), or trolling, rather than all criticism. Also, that our culture is allowing trolling to become much more vocal than sensible critiquing. (Which would be an interesting topic to delve more into, does the general ‘all comments are valid’ stance actually hinder the culture of critiquing, when some people just want to be asses?)

      Whether that implication is strong enough in the comics is questionable, though.

      Also, on the subject of criticism, there’s an excellent book by the British film critic Mark Kermode, called “Hatchet Job: Love Movies, Hate Critics”. It puts across that ‘professional critics’ (not professional because they’re paid, but the attitude they have to their critiquing), have a great importance to the art-form they are critiquing. I tend to agree with this viewpoint. Criticism is is one of the best ways to learn and grow as a person.

      • To be fair, I think he has tried to imply in the comics that he’s only referring to overly negative criticism (emphasis on the overly), or trolling, rather than all criticism.

        The problem is, though, the comic makes absolutely no distinction between different types of criticism, instead literally lumping together all critics into a giant green blob of “HATE”.

        In any case, Kris Straub just posted a comic in response to that Zen pencils comic, and he sums it up better than I could ever possibly hope to.

        • I completely agree with you, and Kris’ comic (in fact I returned here to post the same comic). Ironically, with a good critical eye, the Zen pencils comic could have been so much better. It’s too broad stroke-y.

          Is that irony? I can never remember anymore.

  7. I take into consideration most criticism of my comic, but disregard complaints about the subject matter, the update schedule, or general bashing that I can’t extract anything useful from. There’ve been times when a critic was nasty & rude but still managed to help out, even if it wasn’t their intent.
    Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t hurt! But that’s when you step away from the keyboard and cool off and think it over. I like to compare criticism to a vaccination – it might sting like hell but you come away from it a little stronger.

    Not sure about the “don’t owe you anything” aspect, even considering the presence of ads. *Technically* I don’t owe anyone this free webcomic, but my professional/public rep is partially riding on it, so presenting the best work I can do on the best schedule I can manage benefits both me and my readers. I guess that’s an unspoken contract of sorts.

  8. Internet is much like that wall in a public bathroom, one shouldn’t take the scribblings on the toilet wall too seriously, because in there anyone can write anything anonymously. I mean look at me, I’m writing stuff under the alias of my cat. When you see “church boats” and senseless profanity in a toilet wall, you ignore it. Same should be done with any attempt at trolling.

    That said I think dismissing any negative criticism is inherently a bad idea for any artist, since constructive criticism can be a tremendous help in finding flaws and finding how to fix them. Thats why personally I always give thanks for any kind of criticism, but of course its always up to me whether I will actually do what they told me to do. They might be just as wrong as me after all. Criticism can give options to how to solve problems, or what to avoid in the future and more options is always a good thing. Thats why a good artist takes criticism into consideration and thinks whether that will help his progress or not. No artwork is perfect after all and the pace of learning never stops with an artist.

  9. I have to wonder if many (or any) of the current crop of artists who work on web comics ever went to Art School or had any art schooling at all (and no, this isn’t a back handed insult on their work, though…) Because one of the stables of any good Art School or creative schooling for that matter is the critique. I spent many an hour during my years of school presenting my work (whether painting, drawing or 3D piece) to fellow students and instructor for their critique. A critique is an invaluable tool for any creative person. It should make you step back, look at your work again with a fresh eye. Consider what’s said. You don’t necessarily have to agree with any or even all of it, but should keep what’s said in mind, when working on future work.

    I’ve been writing/drawing my daily comic for four years now, and have yet to set up any type of advertising. I just haven’t gotten round to it yet. So a click on my site would cost nothing. But does that make it any less valid for a critique?

  10. The usual counter to any criticism with comics is “Well, draw/write better yourself, then.”, which IMO is a very disguided thing to say. Two primary goals for any comic creator are, that the reader both understands whats going on, and cares what is going on. Though the latter can be a very subjective field and has many ways to make the reader care about whats going on, it is very easy to spot stuff that is wrong with the former, if the flow of reading stops with most of your readers due to some error in art, composition, story, layout, etc.

    If a lot of people complain about that same part in the comic, then the odds are that part needs some revising or that at least the creator should know not to repeat the same mistake in the future. If the flow maintains the whole way through, then the creator can be sure that at least technical-wise theres no really big issues with the comic. Nothing that sticks out like turd in a potato-mash, like my old grandpa used to say.

    With the more subjective stuff like quality of the artwork it is more likely that criticism coming from a more veteran artist can be more helpful than criticism from a complete stranger who has never even touched a pencil or a brush in his life (because the odds are that veteran has done the exact same mistakes you have but learned how to fix them). That much is true. But it should not be used as an excuse to dismiss criticism from your audience, for they can point out something that confused or irked them, which took them out of the immersion of the comic.

  11. I’m surprised that anyone even pirates comics given that they don’t exactly cost much, and typically aren’t hard to get a hold of.

    However I don’t know what the prices are for most digital comics, the whole idea just reeks of easy theft to me.

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