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Eric: The Podcast and the Examiner: on the nature of Webcomics Criticism.

For those who don't know, I was one of the participants in the Webcomics Examiner's Artistic History of Webcomics roundtable. This was a collection of artists, writers, critics and the like who examined some of the seminal comic strips in the evolution of webcomics as a medium, trying to analyze the nature of their significance and the guide posts of where our specific little corner of art history came from.

These forms of analyses are pretty necessary in criticism, by the by. We need interpretation and analysis if we're ever going to have hope of artistic understanding and recognition. This is the Critical Dialogue, and it's necessary.

What it isn't (and more to the point what it can't be, is objective.

We live in a world where the principle of objectivity in Journalism is under attack as an impossibility -- and the loss of that objectivity is seen as a wholesale abandonment of journalistic ethics and principle, all at once. Really, it's a reflection of the current American character -- decrying idealistic principles as unrealistic and impractical, and then excoriating public figures for failing to live up to them. I blame the Amish, because I figure they won't argue, and I really don't want to discuss it.

And, this has spilled over into the criticial arena. "It's impossible to be objective when rendering a critique, and if you're not objective, your critique, interpretation or review is flawed and very likely worthless." I've seen it before. I'll see it again.

And it drives me nuts, because criticism isn't journalism.

Let me say that again. With italics, because everyone loves italics!

Criticism isn't journalism.

A critic, whether he is rendering a review, an analysis, an interpretation or a critique, is by definition working in a subjective field. Every critical essay ever written is an argumentative essay, putting forth a critic's interpretation of the work in question. Every historicist treatise trying to place a given work into the overall cosm of other works, the author's life, or what have you is rendering their opinion of that work, its significance, the reasons for that significance, the aesthetic and stylistic attempts being made by the work, and whether or not those attempts were successful. It is not a recitation of events and it is not a declamation of fact -- it is opinion, and it's what all criticism runs on.

This is why the essential tool of a critic's trade is the citation. When putting forward that opinion (called a thesis in my line of work), the critic has to demonstrate why he has that opinion. In short, he has to validate his opinion. Citations can reference the work in question, other works, events in the author's life, events in the author's society, the critical work done by other critics (which actually is crucial -- the critical dialogue is built on the foundation of other interpretations and critical work, and validity becomes far easier to show when you can show other folks agree with you) and any other evidence that can support the critic's contention. And here you thought we put all those quotes into our papers so we could avoid having to write so much ourselves. If the cornerstone of criticism were objectivity, there would be little need for citation. A simple description of the facts would suffice, and the conclusion would be self-evident and inarguable.

As it is, so long as you can build validity through your citations, your interpretation is valid. Which means, among other things, that two people can have wildly opposing interpretations of the same work and both be equally right.

(Note too that, especially in the last hundred and fifty years, the opinion of the author is given no more weight than anyone else's interpretation. Meaning and the aesthetic can be different for different people, and someone can read things into your story you never intended, and carry those meanings away and spread them. This isn't television, where everything is put onto a screen for you to consume. Interpretation is active.)


For the record, the theory that informs most of my own criticism (though I'm not a purist) is New Criticism. This criticial theory grew out of Southern universities in the early twentieth century, and holds forth that the only applicable source for citation is the actual work itself -- facts about the author, facts about society, facts about other works... these are irrelevant. The work itself contains its own interpretation, and by reading the subtextual links under the surface of that writing (particularly in a process of rigorous textual analysis called close reading) a viable and valid thesis can be developed and supported. It's one of those theories that makes Authorial Intent as irrelevant as possible, because what an author says outside the work is irrelevant to the work in question.

This is not the only critical theory, of course. Historicism takes an opposing track. All theses must be developed with an eye to the cultural, social and aesthetic context of the work. Art, literature, poetry and the rest evolve, and one cannot interpret those forms without understanding the work's place in that evolution. (Naturally, citations have to strongly support that placement.) And then there's Jung, and collective unconsciousness which leads to Myth Criticism or the political critical theories (it's amazing how earnestly a good Marxist critic can turn any interpretation of any story into a Marxist parable) or estheticism ("Art for Art's Sake," in Oscar Wilde's phrasing) or any number of others.

The arguments between critics who subscribe to opposing theories are beautiful to behold. It's like watching a verbal fencing match where both sides are packing concealed heat and are just waiting for a chance to shoot out their enemy's kneecaps. They are champions of interpretation and theory and worldview, battling it out to prove their point.

But, and I can't emphasize this enough, one isn't right and the other wrong. So long as they can support their arguments, they're both right.

A corollary to this principle is the simple, ineffable fact that anyone can be a critic. Anyone. It doesn't matter what training you've had or what theory you subscribe to (if you even realize you subscribe to a theory at all). A person who tries to interpret, to review, to critique or to place a work is criticizing that work. And if they can support their thesis, they get to be as "correct" as Harold "nutjob" Bloom himself.

(Of course, if you don't know the rules of the road, the critics who do know them will blow by you at two hundred miles an hour. And your right to your own interpretation won't do you a bit of good when no one agrees with you or gives credence to you. But then, we're an ornery, pretentious, elitist lot pretty much by definition.)

Which brings us, twelve hundred words later, to the topic of discussion. That round table discussion.

And, on the other side of it, there was this weekend's Blank Label Podcast.

A little bit of necessary background. First off, I'm a fan of Blank Label Comics. In particular, I'm a fan of Dave Kellett and Kris Straub. I like their comics. I like their insights. I like their humor.

Further, I was a guest on an earlier edition.

Further still, I have been interviewed before for the infamous Modern Humor Authority. And I had a blast with it, and continue to enjoy MHA. (If a critic cannot enjoy satire levied at him, said critic deserves satire levied at him, in my humble opinion.)

This week's guest, furthermore, was Scott Kurtz of PvP. By now, you guys should have figured out. I like Scott Kurtz. I consider him a friend. He considers me a friend. I attribute my success to an early link he gave us. And I'm a mammoth fan of his comickal strip. And I'm loving the current storyline in it to an absurd degree. (I don't want to see that daughter go away, damn it!)

So, going into this podcast, you already know that I'm biased to agree with the BLC/Kurtz gestalt, right? Right.

Further... I hadn't listened to this week's before today. (Exhaustion, illness, dishwasher, work. You know the drill.) In fact, it was Scott Kurtz IMing me that let me know there was even a controversy. So there as well, you'd think the bias would be on the podcast's side, right?

Yeah, didn't work out like that.

KURTZ: Oh, my God, that Webcomics Examiner article was the most ridiculous piece of shit.
[laughter]
[...]
KURTZ: That Webcomics Examiner article was a bunch of people who've got nothing going on in webcomics just talking as pretentiously as they can about webcomics. It's like, "why?" Don't do this. You're not Entertainment Weekly. Like, if Entertainment Weekly did that, or, if like, Time Magazine did that, it'd be like "wow, there's something to this webcomics thing, man. Look how much time they're dedicating to this."
STRAUB: Right.
KURTZ: But, come on, man. You know? It's a bunch of webcomics guys that are currently not-- well, I guess Shaenon is. Shaenon Garrity is. But, like, you've got T Campbell, right, who is one of them. Eric-- well, Eric's doing Gossamer Commons, but Eric is most known for commenting on comics, as opposed to making them. I mean, that's his claim to fame. But, T Campbell is -- you know, he's... and then William G... oh, don't even get me started on William G....

And they went from there. Focusing in on William G, mind. But with a subtext of the idea that somehow the entire premise of an extended analysis of webcomics, done by webcomics creators (who... um... have nothing going on in webcomics, I guess. If one ignores the stuff that's... um... going on in webcomics....) is absurd. A flight of fancy. Pretentious.

Needless to say, I had something of a problem with this stance. And as Mister Kurtz and I were already IMing, we had...

...well, I guess the best expression would be a 'spirited discussion.'

Kurtz's thesis in the argument was relatively simple. (And, for the record, he encouraged me to discuss the argument over here on Websnark. And yes, we're still friends. Believe it or not, it's possible to have an argument with Scott Kurtz and not leave the argument in a Klingon Blood Feud.) With someone like me, criticism is one thing, because I'm already a critic. I come from a critical background. And yeah, I'm doing Gossamer Commons, but I'm maintaining my critical perspective.

The other guys, however... they're webcartoonists. They have their own cartooning aspirations and agendas. They can't analyze other peoples' works objectively. They don't have the perspective -- they see things through their own lens, and that's going to color everything they do. And so a roundtable of that type is doomed to failure.

And this is the crux of my disagreement with him. You see, he can think we all have our heads up our ass. (I'm not entirely sure why -- if you read the Scott Kurtz/PvP section of the roundtable... well, it's pretty complimentary. And rightfully so. PvP is good, but more importantly to the discussion, PvP is significant. It has had clear and pronounced impact on webcomics, in terms of methodology, design, execution, and evolution. But that's all listed out there, better than here.) That's fine. It is perfectly legitimate in the critical discussion to reject another person's interpretation for your own purposes. This is, after all, a subjective medium. We're not always going to agree with each other.

However, Kurtz challenged the ability for the roundtable to be critics in the first place -- to have the necessary perspective to properly be objective. In effect, he challenged the credentials of the panel.

And that attitude is absolute death to criticism.

The critical dialogue can survive disagreement. Hell, it thrives on it. The one thing it can't endure is the implication that those people over there can't be critics.

Anyone can be a critic. And there is no requirement that they be "objective." The requirement absolutely begins, rests upon and ends on what you can cite and what you can support, period. If the thesis is "Scott Kurtz is a total hack who produces work of no merit, when compared to more deserving works," you have to show citations to support that thesis. You have to demonstrate how his work is inferior. You have to cite authorities agreeing with you. You have to build validity into your citations to prove your thesis.

And, if you happened to try it, my answering thesis and essay would nuke yours, because I've got assloads of citable evidence that Scott Kurtz is really good at what he does. This is where the checks and balances of criticism come from -- not a presumption of objectivity, but the capacity for subsequent criticism to use the balance of evidence to produce antithesis.

(Note, by the way, that wouldn't "disprove" your interpretation. If you can support your interpretation, you've sufficiently "proven" it. But, if I have a preponderance of evidence and a thesis that's more strongly supported, it will generally receive greater acceptance and spread father. The "hack" thesis would be considered weak in comparison, and fade with time.)

Further, I've reread the roundtable, and I think it's an excellent piece of critical work on almost everyone's part. (And no, I won't elaborate on the "almost" part of that statement.) Most people have clearly defined theses in each section they participate in. They draw off of the evidence at hand. They cite examples. They build their case. And where there is disagreement, it is informed disagreement.

(For a good example of the critical dialogue in action, have a look at Shaenon Garrity's statements and my answers on PvP. Shaenon's contentions are excellent and well supported, but I disagreed with part of her conclusion. She felt, ultimately, that PvP's appeal and base was gamers, and that it was a gaming comic. I was able to pick the dialogue up and cite evidence that says PvP was focused more on workplace humor than gamer humor -- and that if anything, it was a strip that embraced geek pop culture in general. Interpretation begetting interpretation.)

The other part of their contention was that webcartoonists discussing webcomics is... well, a fool's errand. No one's listening but us, so what's the point? And I can understand why they feel that way.

However, this too is wrong. There is a point to webcomics criticism -- and to the dialogue.

And that point is the future.

Look, the web has been a stick of dynamite in illustration. And in the fine arts. And in art in general. The medium is changing because of the web. It's broadening, and growing, and developing. And right now no one knows where it's going to go, or what that evolution's going to become. No one.

But twenty years from now, it will be a fait accompli. And it will be interpreted scholastically. And the trends that have come from it will be dissected, developed, and debated. This is what Academia will talk about. This is what schools of art will teach. These are the lessons that will come from the stuff we're actually doing right now.

And as the work we do passes into the broader critical realm, students and scholars and theorists are going to be drawing off of tremendous material. Remember... citation is king in criticism. You have to support your thesis. Support it with evidence from the work in question, from related works....

And from critics. Support it from authority.

And you'd better believe The Webcomics Examiner will be one of those authorities. It walks the walk and talks the talk. It generates quotes that a Class of 2019 Art History student will be able to insert into her paper and make it march.

Further, T Campbell has a book deal -- a book deal -- on the history of webcomics. At some Universities that's practically worth tenure.

T Campbell is going to be cited. Joe Zabel is going to be cited. Eric Milliken and, yes, William George are going to be cited.

So, by the by, are Eric Burns and Wednesday White. Both over there, and juuuuuust maybe over here, too. Right now, we get to do foundational work in a whole new medium. This is a critic's dream.

And through our criticism, our critiques, our reviews, our essays and our interpretations, new generations are going to discover the work in question anew. And that means Scott Kurtz and PvP are going to be cited too.

So yeah, maybe the short term benefits seem small. But what the critical work says now becomes the foundation for conventional wisdom, scholarship, and the very evolution of art itself in the future.

(And if you're reading this and you want to get into the exciting world of Webcomics Criticism... you can be part of the foundation too. That's the power of criticism. If you can support it, you can do it.)

So yeah. I got upset. Because Kurtz and Straub are wrong. The Examiner serves a function. They're free to disagree with it, dismiss it as pretentious, and actively dislike it, of course. But the moment they talk like it's wrong to have it exist, then I get pissed off. No, it's not Entertainment Weekly.

But in the long run, it's going to be significant.

Is there any greater aspiration a critic can have?

Posted by Eric Burns-White at October 19, 2005 10:32 PM

Comments

Comment from: coldcut posted at October 19, 2005 11:50 PM

Dateline 2019: an aspiring art student is told to research the history of webcomics through the works of Eric Burns and Wednesday White. Two weeks later, said student delivers a treatise linking Sailor Moon, Jack Chick, and late 20th century word processors to an obscure statue in upstate Vermont. Three weeks later, said student switches majors to accounting.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 19, 2005 11:51 PM

That would be one freaky accounting major.

Comment from: JSW posted at October 20, 2005 12:01 AM

And this, my friends, is why the day that webcomics become recognized as a respectable artistic medium worthy of academic critism is the day that they will become absolutely worthless as an actual medium of expression and entertainment.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 20, 2005 12:05 AM

Because of accounting?

Dude -- harsh.

Comment from: Nate posted at October 20, 2005 12:12 AM

Honestly, I'm not sure if that makes me more or less want to get involved in the whole critic thing. Heh.

Though I do have to question the 2019 date, I can't really say that I've seen regular comics, or animation get the same treatment. Despite all the "OMG graphic novels" kerfluffle in the 80s.

Comment from: kirabug posted at October 20, 2005 12:20 AM

Well-said, Eric. The hard part about criticism is that, unless they *are* academically trained by way of a Lit degree or similar, most people are ignorant of the fact that it's a process with rules and expectations... folks think that producing criticism is as simple as sitting down and writing, "Bob's new comic sucks because I hate it."

In actuality, if you want to criticise Bob's new comic that sucks, you have to explain what's wrong with it, and then prove that those things that are wrong with it are significant enough to say that it sucks, and if you're doing it for a well-taught class or a community that pays attention to such things (journals or magazines or snarksites....) you might even need to cite the things that Bob is doing right and then proof that it's not significant enough to turn around the suckage.

(Oh, and the Bob in question is described on my cast page. Bob's been a victim of this shit for years.)

One might argue that without criticism there wouldn't be literature (or comics or movies or....) because without criticism, there would be no way to separate the wheat from the dross. When you read something that strikes you to the very soul, grabbing all of your friends and saying, "Wow, you've got to read this! It's like, really good." just isn't going to get the message across. On the other hand, being able to talk about the layers of meaning and various symbols used in choosing the characters and the setting provides you the tools to not only convince your friends to read said lit, but also to discuss it on the same level afterward.

And you learn about your own opinions, too. When I had to write a critical essay on Moby Dick in undergrad, I started with the sentence, "I hate this story," and spent about four hours from that point trying to figure out why -- in a way that I could explain and support. I didn't know why I hated it when I wrote that sentence, but by the time the paper was done I did. (And, annoyingly, I didn't hate the book quite as much, having taken the time to really look at its structure. Now I understand it and hate it.)

My question is: Can Scott Kurtz write a critical essay on why the Webcomics Examiner article was, in fact the most rediculous piece of shit? Because hey, if he's got a good argument and can support it, I'll listen :)

Comment from: William_G posted at October 20, 2005 12:28 AM

Eric, again you cut through the crap and get to the core of it.

Good job.

Comment from: Snowspinner posted at October 20, 2005 12:35 AM

I'm a PhD student in English at the University of Florida.

Yesterday, I spent the day in the special collections library working on sorting out the Dick Tracy strips they have in their massive collection of comics. I handled newspapers from the 1930s that the library bought in the last two years just for the comics section. Today, the library made an offer on a massive collection of comics that they're trying to acquire - to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.

On Saturday, hurricane willing, I'm driving down to Orlando to see Mirrormask with four of the other comics studies people in my department.

A week from Thursday, I'm attending a reception for the exhibit commemorating the 75th aniversary of Blondie that I helped set up. The professor who donated a massive chunk of Sunday strips ranging from the 30s through the 50s will be speaking at the reception. It's a bit outside his area - he's actually the world's foremost authority on Carl Barks, the creator of Donald Duck.

We also run a listserv here for comics scholars. At a quick thumb through the recent messages, we have posts from Tennesse State, Southern Connecticut State, University of Alberta, Georgia Southern, and Walsh University. And that's just the ones who sign their posts with their universities - almost everyone on here is an academic, and they're from across the world.

We also run an eJournal called ImageText, that's devoted exclusively to comics.

So yeah - I'd say comics are getting some academic attention.

Comment from: RoboYuji posted at October 20, 2005 12:42 AM

Ha ha, actually, when I want my friends to check out something I like, I DO say "Wow, you've got to read this! It's like, really good." And then they usually do.

And statements like this . . .

"One might argue that without criticism there wouldn't be literature (or comics or movies or....) because without criticism, there would be no way to separate the wheat from the dross."

. . .are often part of the reason WHY creative types aren't overly fond of critics, since it seems to suggest that the critic is more important than the individuals doing the actual creating.

Comment from: jjacques posted at October 20, 2005 12:42 AM

Webcomics are a creative medium, and as such are just as open to critique and discussion as popular music, artwork, movies, television, or whatever. Trying to pretend that we're somehow above being criticized or that it's not necessary for our medium of choice is ridiculous.

That being said, I do often get a "man, these guys are taking it a LITTLE too seriously" vibe from Webcomics Examiner articles, and I strongly suspect I'm not the only author who feels this way. I'm much more concerned with *doing my comic strip* than with addressing the critical response to my webcomic or webcomics in general. I only skimmed that particular article when it ran, because I'd rather be DOING something I care about than just sit around on the Inter-web talking about it. Which isn't to say it's a worthless article, just that from my point of view the discourse is strictly secondary to the work itself- when the discourse starts to sound like it thinks it's more important than the work, I tune out.

Shit, aren't I a hypocrite. I'm writing this instead of finishing Friday's strip.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 20, 2005 12:50 AM

"One might argue that without criticism there wouldn't be literature (or comics or movies or....) because without criticism, there would be no way to separate the wheat from the dross."

. . .are often part of the reason WHY creative types aren't overly fond of critics, since it seems to suggest that the critic is more important than the individuals doing the actual creating.

There's a difference, for the record, between interpretation and review. (I hate that 'criticism' has come to mean 'negativity' or 'reviews for quality' in modern circles.)

Comment from: JSW posted at October 20, 2005 1:12 AM

The difference being that reviews actually serve a purpose.

Sorry, if I sound a bit harsh, but reading this entry has really ignited my loathing for the "literary criticism" community.

Comment from: Snowspinner posted at October 20, 2005 1:29 AM

As a firm member of the literary criticism community, I have to rise to this bait. So why? What about the community bothers you? That we don't tell you what to like and what not to like? That seems silly - if anything, reviews serve less purpose than criticism, in that most people, when confronted with a comic, can figure out if they like it or not.

Figuring out why they like it - that can be harder. But that's really only the tip of the iceberg for criticism - I mean, we also deal with the consequences of it - what it says, what it alludes to, what it wants. I mean, why wouldn't you be interested in the consequences of art? To my mind, unless you believe that art works as some sort of pure transmission originating in the creator's mind and ending in yours, whereby you recieve, perfectly revealed, the Truth of the piece, discussion about why the piece affects you the way it does, what its consequences are, what it's trying to say, and where the failings of what it's saying are seem to me a natural response to it.

I mean, if not that, the only real responses you're going to have to art are "Hey, art!" and "I liked/hated it." Which, if that's all art can do, is pretty boring of it, no?

Comment from: Kristofer Straub posted at October 20, 2005 1:46 AM

It's not wrong that it should exist. Criticism needs to exist, even in forms I disagree with personally. It is fascinating to me that we, as humans operating within a culture we developed, could have opinions, however well-informed, presented as objective fact. (Of course I would believe far more a critic who was trained in that field of study than a person who says he's a critic, proclaiming that "it sucks" or "it's awesome.")

Fine arts degrees are the same way. I really believe everything in the world is art. A crumpled-up Doritos bag is art if its crumpler intends it to be. It carries whatever statement about humanity he wishes to impart to it. (Whether or not I, as an observer, find it effective is a different story.)

Things like the Webcomics Examiner, Comixpedia, The Comics Curmudgeon and Websnark need to exist. They are bound to exist, and they should exist. And it's even impressive that they exist to this degree in such a relatively-fledgling artform as webcomics.

However, I never believed I had to respect a critic's opinion simply because he has written a lengthy article referencing Balzac and Frank Lloyd Wright and the Bangles, anymore than I have to respect the art student who crumples a Doritos bag ten minutes before a graduate critique, and tries to convince his professors that it's really a profound statement about the fleetingness of life, war, childbirth, you name it.

So the only issue I take with this particular snarking is if you are saying that, by virtue of a criticism being a criticism that it cannot be seen as invalid and unpretentious.

When the Webcomics Examiner writes a fourteen-paragraph analysis of style, I think it's a little pretentious. Let's use the word academic instead; it's a lot less insulting.

Sometimes I feel like it's academia for academia's sake. There are examples of this in the physics world. A clever graduate student develops a random paper generator, submits the output to Physical Review Letters, and once in a great while, it gets published! And the following issue contains an embarrassing retraction from the editors. "We thought it was real."

When criticism is indistinguishable from a parody of itself, it's in serious danger.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 20, 2005 2:04 AM

Snow -- some folks have bad experiences with Litcrit. That's perfectly acceptable. If they don't see the point of it, we can't blame them for that.

(Though I sometimes wonder why someone needs to so vehemently dislike something they don't have to participate in. ;) )

M. Straub -- I have no problem with you disliking a given piece of criticism. I just have a problem with the implication it shouldn't exist in the first place.

You're more than free to see a criticism as being pretentious. (Invalid is harder, if it's supported, but that doesn't mean you have to accept the validity of the supporting arguments.0

Comment from: Benor posted at October 20, 2005 2:06 AM

See, I wasn't all that happy with the "Art History of webcomics" feature in general. There were many things I didn't agree with in there. But hey, it's the Internet, we all have opinions. And I accept that critiques aren't meant to be objective.

But you decided to talk about 8-Bit Theatre over Bob and George. And that's terrible.

Now, let no one mistake me for an avid Bob and George fan. I read it for a while, but now, I don't particularly care for it. I don't like 8-Bit Theatre at all, but that's actually not the point of this.

The point is that in this "art history" discussion, the people involved not only admitted that Bob and George came some time before 8-Bit Theater, but that it was (and presumably is) more influential on other sprite comics than 8-Bit Theatre. But 8-Bit Theatre was selected instead.

...so Bob and George came first, thus being a more important marker for webcomic history when it comes to sprite comics...and it has influenced more people, thus being an important marker for webcomic art. But 8-Bit Theatre was clearly more important for the discussion in question.

I get that it's criticism. It's not objective, and people can be equally right.

But I'm a prospective historian, and I can see some disagreeing facts. That's what troubled me.

Oh, and for some sprite comic fun: http://home.att.net/~miller.daniel.r/index.htm Because I love me some Kidd Radd.

Comment from: Ian K. posted at October 20, 2005 2:49 AM

Well said, sir. Well said.

I sometimes get the vibe, and perhaps this is a leap, that Scott just doesn't think PVP is worth your time as a critic. I don't believe that, but it seems like Scott does sometimes and so it becomes more an issue of 'why are you wasting your time analyzing my 850x270 gag strip when you could be analyzing something worthwhile?' and it all comes out as 'that's dumb.'

I could be completely of base, I'm just saying that's a vibe I'm getting. That Scott doesn't think of himself as significant as much as he thinks of himself as lucky.

Equally, when I listened to the podcast on Monday (which I thought was funny) I was thinking "they're going to be pissed."

Comment from: Merus posted at October 20, 2005 3:01 AM

First I heard of this article was from Penny Arcade, who thought their section was absolutely brilliant and insightful. So clearly not everyone shares Kurtz' opinion. Although admittedly, they may have been doing it to get a rise out of Kurtz.

Isn't it usually pretty easy to call people being pretentious for its own sake, though? I know that I can construct bullshit arguments for something and as soon as someone looks at it, it'll collapse under the harsh light of day. Crumpling a chip packet can't be much different - any meaning that one ascribes to it can be easily shown to be full of shit.

I'm saying that either Kurtz can consider the participants as being full of shit (and I do get that vibe from Kurtz whenever he mentions Websnark recently) or actively demonstrate the inaccuracy of their position, but just going out and saying that they're full of shit without backing it up more than, well, they're critics, they write lots of words. That's not special! Look at this comment, for example.

Where it gets surreal is Kris Straub agreeing with Kurtz, himself not exactly an economist with words and running a comic that was full of criticism itself until he decided that he had too much backstory and stopped the criticism so he could purge the backstory from the last time he stopped the criticism. That's not exactly the sort of person I would have expected to be saying 'criticism is full of shit! (unless it's in comic form, then it's okay)'.

Comment from: Shaenon posted at October 20, 2005 3:11 AM

Seldom have I been so glad I don't listen to podcasts.

If I can just stop reading blogs, I'll really be on top of things.

Comment from: Scott Kurtz posted at October 20, 2005 4:21 AM

I never questioned whether criticism or critics were a valuable part of our culture. I only questioned the motivation of the webcomics examiner and it's over-analysis of my gag-cartoon. Who was that for? Me? Readers new to webcomics? The "industry" as a learning tool?

In my opinion it only serves to falsely elevate the reviewers to some lofty status. Something Straub, in a conversation we had earlier this evening, dubbed as "cognoscenti."

PvP and Penny-Arcade are not forms of literature that can stand up to the levels of academic review that these reviewers need to properly define themselves as connoisseurs of "the future of comics." You can't get blood out of a turnip.

Take that review of PvP and replace my name with "Jim Davis". Then replace PvP with "Garfield." How pretentious does it sound now? Guess what, kids. Their ain't much more to PvP than you find in Garfield. Seriously.

Shaenon, T, Joe and William. These are people who have at one point in their life experienced the hunger of wanting to draw comics for a living. How can they remove themselves from that experience and the biases created by that experience to give an objective opinion about PvP?

Go back and read Shaenon's part of my review. It's mostly about me and my competancy as a cartoonist, not about my work itself. The one thing she wrote about my work was incorrect: that it's a gamer comic. That's something that Eric called her on shortly before I stopped reading.

Would it be nice if there was an institution dedicated to examining and lifting up webcomics to the world? Yes. Should webcomics itself be doing it? No.

At least, that's MY opinion.

Comment from: Kristofer Straub posted at October 20, 2005 4:25 AM

I'm definitely not saying criticism is full of shit, nor am I saying that Webcomics Examiner is full of shit. I suppose the message of MHA is, "in criticism, there is a lot of room to hide shit, and you have to be careful."

As far as lengthy webcomic reviews packed with symbolism analysis and discussion of form, I just don't know what their function is, to whom they are speaking. Are the reviews intended for the general public? For other webcartoonists? For other webcomics reviewers?

It's always been up to individuals outside a given community to analyze and note what importance it may have. Actors don't write the reviews for movies they would have liked to have starred in. Movie reviewers do it. I don't know what the function of all this deep thought about webcomics is, when no one outside webcomics gives a damn about that, or about webcomics themselves yet.

I wish we could focus this energy on finding ways to present webcomics to the general public, before we enter into all these detailed analyses of an art form only the participants of the art form appreciate.

Comment from: Kaychsea posted at October 20, 2005 4:25 AM

I got bogged down in a discussion like this on a website a few weeks ago. Nothing to do with webcomics, but a thread on art created from bodily waste products (don't ask). The two sides of the flamewar were "eewww!!" and "It empowers women". I tried to take the sting out of it by viewing it from a critical standpoint and ended up fighting off both sides and phenomenally hacking off one person because I suggested she was would be disappointed if the artist had lied and it was just brown guache, despite the fact she had said exactly that two days earlier! And these guys didn't actually create anything, they just talk about it!

Comment from: Merus posted at October 20, 2005 4:44 AM

"I sometimes get the vibe, and perhaps this is a leap, that Scott just doesn't think PVP is worth your time as a critic. I don't believe that, but it seems like Scott does sometimes and so it becomes more an issue of 'why are you wasting your time analyzing my 850x270 gag strip when you could be analyzing something worthwhile?' and it all comes out as 'that's dumb.'"

"Guess what, kids. Their ain't much more to PvP than you find in Garfield."

A winner is Ian K.

Then again, I can't remember the last time Garfield had a character arc. Or a storyline about a character's concerns about change. So I'd really have to argue that Kurtz is super-selling himself short when he claims his work's on the same level as Garfield. (super-selling: like normal selling, but with special powers.)

Comment from: Ray Radlein posted at October 20, 2005 4:53 AM

How can they remove themselves from that experience and the biases created by that experience to give an objective opinion about PvP?

There's that word again. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Comment from: Ray Radlein posted at October 20, 2005 5:01 AM

As far as lengthy webcomic reviews packed with symbolism analysis and discussion of form, I just don't know what their function is, to whom they are speaking. Are the reviews intended for the general public? For other webcartoonists? For other webcomics reviewers?
I would think that it was obvious: For anyone who is interested in a critical analysis of the form. That can include cartoonists who wish to view their medium through other, trained, eyes; it can include reviewers who wish to understand the current state of critical thinking on the subject; or it can include readers who wish to interact with the art on an additional level, or to glean new insights into it to add to their own. What is so unexpected about any of those motivations?

Comment from: J Ryan Beattie posted at October 20, 2005 5:21 AM

Well, first off, I agree with Eric. I think that criticism of webcomics is important, and I think that webcomic creators are just as valid critics as anyone else. Saying otherwise is like saying that authors can't review novels, which is ridiculous. A critical review's success or failure shouldn't depend on who wrote it. It should depend on how well they supported their point through argument and citation.

Mind, I haven't actually read the article in question, so I can't comment on the criticism in question. It may be flawed. But not because of the participants.

I also think in-depth criticism serves a purpose. It gives the reader something to think about that they might not have caught. It helps them see connections they might have missed before. It helps them see what a comic is doing on more than one level. It's aimed, so far as I can tell, at anyone who reads the comics and wants to see what someone else thought.

Incidentally, Snow, Carl Barks was not the creator of Donald Duck. He was the creator of Scrooge McDuck, Duckberg, and many other things associated with Donald, but not Donald himself.

Comment from: J Ryan Beattie posted at October 20, 2005 5:35 AM

Excuse me, on that second paragraph, I meant "not because of who the participants are." Clearly, if the criticism is flawed, then the fault probably lies with the critic.

Comment from: Doc posted at October 20, 2005 6:07 AM

/Disclaimer: this is horribly longer than I intended and make a lot of assumptions about why people are saying what they are, if these are wrong please call me on them but don't take offence, I'm only trying to figure people's motivations based on how I would act in a given situation.

I think the main problem (if you want to call it a problem) here is that Kurtz and Straub (Mainly Kurtz since I don't read Straub's stuff as much) are just approaching this from a different angle than the Examiner crew.
Scot Kurtz has always seemed to me to be a republican kind of guy, and I mean that in the old school conservative economics, you should only get what you work for way so I'm not being critical here (wouldn't be any point, me being in another country and all). Anyway, approaching something like the Examiner article from that point of view will of course leave you feeling wanting, I mean there isn't a whole lot of *point* to it.
Scott makes his comic but I think it wouldn't be out of line to say he sees it as more craft than art, he does it because he is good at it, people are entertained by it and most importantly it pays the bills for his family. So I'm guessing that for him this sort of article could be akin to someone writing a two page essay on what Eric's school shifting ISPs really said about the world.

On the other hand for the Examiner round table folks in a lot of ways I'd imagine that the article *is* an end unto itself, because it contributes to the whole sphere of human knowledge thing, it gives other people something to draw on in the future when *they* write about the subject and so the overall level on knowledge is increased, and sometimes that will have a practical application (in this case, say a theoretical guide to how to design a business model for a webcomic based on what has worked in the past) and sometimes it won't.
I'm a science student, I finish next year and I'm intensely aware that I can either go towards industry or try and get a research gig at uni. The uni pays less but unlike working in industry it is more freeform and less focussed on objectives and profits, which makes no sense if you are a business but the result is that a lot of research that would never get done in industry is done and as a result things are discovered which improve the field overall.
So that's my piece, though I took a long time getting to it, I just think some people have a more immediate, and to some extent practical, view of what is worthwhile and what is not.

While I'm taking up all these inches I'd just like to point out that this is a civilized and reasoned discussion on how some people said that some other people's stuff was silly and it is happening on the internets! Way to go people.

Also Eric, thanks for some insight into the checks and balances side of critique, what you described was fairly similar to how I understand scientific journals to operate and that never would have occurred to me otherwise, just nice to know that people still realise they need to justify an argument. It's getting decidedly rare.

Comment from: William_G posted at October 20, 2005 6:10 AM

There's that word again. I do not think it means what you think it means.

I loved that movie, Ray Radlein.

Comment from: rukkh posted at October 20, 2005 6:52 AM

In some circles its considered the norm to have your work reviewed by your peers.
No scientific document is published without some form of peer review process.

So why not art? Well creative works have always been harder to take critisism for,
perhaps becuase they come from the heart and not just empirical data or theoretical musing.

I tend to agree with Eric, criticism is hardly an objective realm however I wonder if critics are
really important to an art historians. Do we care what Shakespeare or Picasso's contempories
thought of them? or do we judge their works by their own merit?

Comics are a peculiar form of art, there is no doubt that they are art, but critics and fans
demand the artist have a utilitarian approach to their work. How many times have I read Eric
telling us here that the key to success in webcomics is regular updates?

And so if we are demanding this of them, are they still artists, or are they designers?
"Scott I want that strip on my screen by monday morning, and I want a panda joke!"
A graphic designer does not answer to critics, he answers to his clients, if they don't
like his work they will go elsewhere.

Unfortunatly, so long as people create things there will always be critics...
and apparently they are immune to the defence

Comment from: Merus posted at October 20, 2005 7:18 AM

Has anyone actually tried criticising Twisp and Catsby, though? I'd guess that Kurtz could probably get away with using the Penny Arcade Defense on PvP, which would be hilarious, although sadly that would mean that Eric could never talk about Scott's work again.

Comment from: Meagen Image posted at October 20, 2005 7:48 AM

I only questioned the motivation of the webcomics examiner and it's over-analysis of my gag-cartoon. Who was that for? Me? Readers new to webcomics? The "industry" as a learning tool?

I'm not sure who it was for, but I read it, and thought it was very interesting.

I'm not a webcomic author (though I've toyed with the idea at various points), I'm not a critic (if anything, I'm a reviewer, but I've never applied that skill to webcomics). What I am is a webcomic reader (30+ titles in my bookmarks) and a thinking person.

Is webcomic critique "for" me? No idea. But I read it, and I'm glad it's there.

Comment from: Ahzurdan posted at October 20, 2005 9:09 AM

I never questioned whether criticism or critics were a valuable part of our culture. I only questioned the motivation of the webcomics examiner and it's over-analysis of my gag-cartoon. Who was that for? Me? Readers new to webcomics? The "industry" as a learning tool?



Definitely a learning tool, and most assuredly directed at the web-comics "industry".



How can you ever get better at what you love to do if you don't look around and ask, "What is it that makese this good? What is it that makes this other thing bad? How does that influence both myself and anyone else that is trying to do the something similar?"



I can't believe that there is any web-cartoonist that doesn't look at their own work and the work of others without thinking about what they liked, what they didn't, and how that could be incorporated into what they do.



That's what the article was about. In well established forms of media there are so many people with opinions that those doing the creating can divorce themselves from the critical dialogue. I assure you, though; every medium started out with a group of people walking the walk, and talking about what everyone else was doing in an effort to do it all better.

Comment from: John Lynch posted at October 20, 2005 9:13 AM

I thought I'd chime in. I'd like to write reviews myself and I do have a webcomic of my own that I'm experimenting with, so I'm hardly objective. But I agree with Eric in that I don't think you need to be objective when it comes to criticism. I like Wikipedia because it strives towards a neutral point of view, in an attempt to present articles in an objective manner. But when it comes to criticising a piece of work, I don't think you need to be objective. Viewing "art" is inherently a subjective experience. Any thoughts (no matter how many citations you come up with) on that experience won't be objective.

NOTE: I haven't read the original article, nor have I listened to the podcast (I don't do podcasts ;)), so I'm just talking generally. But I see no problem with either existing. The internet is a large thing, and as long as one person reads or listens to something, and they get something positive out of that and the creators are happy, who cares?

Scott Kurtz said "In my opinion it only serves to falsely elevate the reviewers to some lofty status."

In my opinion, that's getting personal. The people who review it, do so (I assume) because they enjoy it, and people read it because they get something out of it. To say "I think they did it for reason X" (especially when X is not a good reason) seems to me to be mean spirited. If you don't like what they said, thought it was pretentious, whatever. That's fine. But to then go and say what I just quoted seems unnecessary to me.

Scott Kurtz said "Would it be nice if there was an institution dedicated to examining and lifting up webcomics to the world? Yes. Should webcomics itself be doing it? No."

I don't see anything wrong with a movie actor reviewing another movie. In fact, I'd probably be more inclined to listen to it then most of the movie critics out there (whose opinion I don't hold very high). Everyone has an opinion, why should people who make webcomics not voice theirs? People will take from what it what they will, but I don't think it should be done to "lift up webcomics to the world."

Then again, I don't put much stock in people proclaiming Shakespear's work to be the greatest of all time, or analyzing the hidden subtext in a painting. They're fine to express their opinion, I just won't pay much attention to it. And that's the worst that can happen. People don't pay any attention.

Kristofer Straub said "I wish we could focus this energy on finding ways to present webcomics to the general public, before we enter into all these detailed analyses of an art form only the participants of the art form appreciate."

I've heard people say there's no such thing as a webcomic community. And they're right. There isn't. There are people on forums, blogs and websites who view content and discuss it. But because there's overlap in traffic, you could say that a community has formed. But there's no overarching goal of everyone in the community, some people might have a goal of bringing webcomics to the mainstream entertainment industry, some might have a goal of making it easier to view webcomics. Others will have more personal goals, and some people might have a goal to analyze webcomics as an art form. There's room for everyone to do what they want, just because they might talk with people in the "community" about webcomics, doesn't mean they all have to conform to a single goal. You want to focus on getting webcomics to the general public. That's great. But you can't expect other people to put their goals on hold until yours has been completed. Life doesn't work like that. Instead lots of people will work on their own goals, sometimes in groups, and if webcomics do make it to mainstream media, they might look at some of the analyses made beforehand. That's where I disagree with Eric, I think it much more likely that he won't be remembered, neither will anyone whose posted here. But who knows, perhaps I'm wrong.

It's like when people say "Why is there another Linux distro? We should focus on what we already have." People working on Linux don't all have one single goal, they have lots of goals and will work to achieve them. Sometimes they'll be the same as others, other times they won't be.

(I apologise if this comes out horribly formatted).

Comment from: kirabug posted at October 20, 2005 9:14 AM

Kristopher Straub said:

Actors don't write the reviews for movies they would have liked to have starred in. Movie reviewers do it.

Ah, but the kind of criticism we're talking about is not a "review". A "review" is something that says, "Hey, you should see this because the special effects are an A, the plot's a b+, and the acting's an A-. Oh, and there's kittens." But rarenly does a reviewer have the freedom of analyzing a movie's stylistic elements, symbolism, the actor's approach to the material, etc. etc. If they did, it would either ruin the plot for those who haven't seen it, and a "review" is ultimately about talking you in or out of going to the theater in the first place, or make no sense unless you'd seen the movie.

Criticism of a movie is for people who've seen the movie. Reviews of a movie are for people who haven't. And whether we see it on TV or in the papers or not, actors constantly critique the movies they want to be in. They do so just to determine if they want to be in the movie. In order to choose whether to be in the movie, they have to critique its elements and determine whether it's worth their time and effort - and whether it's a character they want to represent. So yeah, constantly. Just not for you and I to read.

And how is a critique by a comic author different from the meta-humor used in Checkerboard nightmare? That in itself is artistic criticism -- it just uses the medium of art to express itself.

Scott Kurtz said:

Shaenon, T, Joe and William. These are people who have at one point in their life experienced the hunger of wanting to draw comics for a living. How can they remove themselves from that experience and the biases created by that experience to give an objective opinion about PvP?

Depending on their style of literary/artistic criticism, that's not only legal but encouraged. Certain styles of criticism require you to cite yourself - what you feel about a piece, but only after you criticise your own motives.

Why would someone who had never hungered to draw a comic be interested in a critical review of techniques? (You could argue that Eric was -- but the now-existance of Gossamer Commons invaliates your argument.)

If each of these comic authors had written well-cited criticisim on their own websites and posted it, would it have been pretentious? It would have been a well-thought-out review of techniques by someone experienced in the craft, with an eye toward their own biases, but validating both the specific comic and comics as a whole. It seems to me that most the arguments here against the piece come down to "we don't like critical essays when written by large groups of people in the know -- but when done individually we seem to think it's OK."

Now Benor, on the other hand, nailed a legitimate criticism of the review (choice of works included), and backed it with citations, which is a great example of how the critical review process works. I'm curious to know how the comics for the Examiner piece were chosen, now, when I wasn't before.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 20, 2005 9:15 AM

Then again, I can't remember the last time Garfield had a character arc. Or a storyline about a character's concerns about change. So I'd really have to argue that Kurtz is super-selling himself short when he claims his work's on the same level as Garfield.

As I said before, anyone can be a critic over any work. But the person who has the hardest time providing decent, citable evidence for his own interpretation is the creator himself. Always.

It can be done, mind. But it often isn't. My opinions and interpretations of Websnark are likely to be off from what other critics will think, because I'm so close to it.

Kurtz's contention that he's not doing anything of note or worthy of critical consideration is part and parcel of that phenomenon. I submit it would be hard to support such a thesis, because he honestly is doing good work, and he honestly is having an impact on the comics scene.

Comment from: kirabug posted at October 20, 2005 9:19 AM

Wow, Eric, thank you for writing this essay, by the way. I'm dusting off some skills (not very well, if it's not obvious) that I haven't taken out of the toolbox in a loooong time. Maybe if I did this more often, my own crap would be more well-written.

Just in time for NaNoWriMo too, whoo!

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 20, 2005 9:21 AM

Do we care what Shakespeare or Picasso's contempories thought of them? or do we judge their works by their own merit?

The act of said judgement is criticism, of course. ;)

This is again the unfortunate result of conflating the act of review with the act of interpretation under the blanket term "criticism." What Shaenon, Joe, William or I think of PvP on a pure reader-response level is in fact irrelevant to PvP's overall significance to the medium of webcomics, except as a guidepost to the response other readers have to the work, which helps shape the course of our research and interpretation. And our assertions on the overall significance to the medium of webcomics are only as valid as the evidence we can cite to support them.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at October 20, 2005 9:28 AM

As I said before, anyone can be a critic over any work. But the person who has the hardest time providing decent, citable evidence for his own interpretation is the creator himself. Always.

Sorry, Eric, but I don't buy this. The artist may not WANT to interpret his own work, or may intentionally play down that interpretation, but unless he is an idiot-savant, he knows pretty much exactly what he's trying to do. Or she.

Whether that intention can be communicated is another thing entirely, but that has nothing to do with whether the work is the artists -- it has everything to do with the ability to communicate.

Comment from: John Lynch posted at October 20, 2005 9:32 AM

rukkh said "Do we care what Shakespeare or Picasso's contempories thought of them? or do we judge their works by their own merit?"

Actually, I'd be quite interested to hear what Shakespeare's contempories thought of him. With everyone calling him a literary god, it'd be interesting to see if people from his own time period were as delusional :P

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 20, 2005 9:37 AM

Sorry, Eric, but I don't buy this. The artist may not WANT to interpret his own work, or may intentionally play down that interpretation, but unless he is an idiot-savant, he knows pretty much exactly what he's trying to do. Or she.

The problem is, what said artist is trying to do inevitably gets in the way of their interpreting what they actually did. The artist can see in their head all the bits and pieces that were intended that never made it on the page. They can also fail to see all the bits and pieces of what made it on the page that they never intended.

Let me give an example of a part of the conversation Scott and I had yesterday. (Not a part of the argument.) We were talking about yesterday's strip, and I brought up how effective it was that Brent's daughter, as she said the most direct questions -- the ones that in their innocence make Brent question his worldview -- she lifted her Skull Plushie to the level of her chin. These were exactly the questions that Skull would ask in the waking world, with exactly that same sense of innocence. As a result, there was a conflation of imagry -- and a very effective one.

Scott thought that was cool, but also mentioned that what he intended was for the Skull plushie to be the daughter's security blanket. She was nervous, asking that question, so she hugged it close to herself.

(Note that this example also highlights how good the daughter's characterization has been.)

It's not that Scott was wrong, and the daughter didn't treat it as a security blanket. But because Scott knew what he intended when he drew that part, he can't distance himself to see what else might be there. That doesn't mean I'm wrong, any more than he is -- but it's harder for him to have a general interpretation of his own work because he has a clear understanding of his own intent.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at October 20, 2005 9:39 AM

Oddly, I only just read the roundtable Wednesday. The thing I brought away from it was someone's (Shaenon's?) observation in the PvP discussion that lots of webcomics creators are in it to say something but Kurtz's only ever been after making people laugh. I, too, but I was in need of the reminder.

But the moment they talk like it's wrong to have it exist, then I get pissed off.

This is what bothers me about William G.'s criticism of webcomicdom. In comments at Comixpedia and in that infamous review, he seems to me to be saying that everyone who's in it just because we can, without any training or with hope to make a living or without a clear idea of what we're doing (the hobbyists, as one thread at Comixpedia calls us), are screwing things up for the fine artists - because it's us that the mainstream notices, when they notice webcomicdom at all - and (here's the rub) ought to quit. I think he even made a bald-faced statement to this effect at Comixpedia once, though despite Eric's emphasis on citation I haven't tried to find it. It ticks me off because, basically, people are being told their contributions are worthless, counterproductive even, and I'm one of them.

And I write this here not despite that I know William reads and comments here (twice on this snark already), but because I know he does, because I'd like him to let us know whether I've read his position correctly. I'm not even interested in arguing about it, because the best and only rebuttal I have or could have is my continued commitment to draw Arthur, King of Time and Space daily til 2029.

I only questioned the motivation of the webcomics examiner and it's over-analysis of my gag-cartoon. Who was that for? Me? Readers new to webcomics? The "industry" as a learning tool?

I guess it was for me. I was in need of that reminder.

Comment from: UrsulaV posted at October 20, 2005 9:41 AM

I think criticism is like fan fiction.

No! Put down the chainsaws! I can back that up, sort of!

Fan fiction is basically a sort of expression of love--or at least passion--from the fan base of a given creative endeavor. Fan art, same thing. It's not meant to replace the story it's based of, it's not, y'know, nearly as important as the original story, but it's often a big part of the community of any given fandom. It would not exist without the original story, and in a sense it's parasitic, but it's based, primarily, on The Love.

The point of fan fiction is not to entangle someone who has never heard of the story. If I write Star Trek fan fic, it doesn't stand in for having watched the show, and the point is not to attract people who've never seen it. It's an expression of love, it's a way to engage the community, and the time we spend fighting over whether McCoy would REALLY eat a tribble if he was starving is time spent in a kind of fangeek bliss. It's a wallowing in The Love.

Criticism has a lot going on that's important. Writing, even of fan fic, has stuff going on that's important, and there again, the people who know the tools will blow past the person typing with one finger in l33t. And, as with anything, most of it's crap, but there are some gems.

For people with a literary background, who can speak with authority about literary devices and actually know who Balzac was, this sort of criticism can be FUN. Frustrating, tough, sure, granted, geeky, hell yeah, but it's basically an English major equivalent of arguing about where access panels on the Enterprise were located. It is an expression of passion for the form, in the idiom that these people enjoy. It's all about The Love, or at least an analysis of why The Love failed in this particular case.

So the argument that we should be trying to get people interested in webcomics before we start writing criticism of them strikes me as failing to understand some of the motives of criticism. It's like saying "We shouldn't write fan fiction, we should be putting up billboards for the next Star Trek movie." This is about the love. The geeky English-major love. This is how these people SHOW their love of the fandom.

We may not always like it, we may often be baffled by it, but the motives, at least, we can probably all understand.

Comment from: John Lynch posted at October 20, 2005 9:45 AM

Christopher B. Wright said "but unless he is an idiot-savant, he knows pretty much exactly what he's trying to do. Or she."

Having bullshitted my way through many English essays, whenever someone reads meaning into a piece of art (whether it be painting, novel, comic) it isn't the meaning that the artist put into it that they're reading, but their own. You can see plenty of meaning in something, or no meaning in something. The important thing is to not claim to know what the artist was trying to say with it (unless there's no chance he'll read it).

I've heard a story where an author went to class, and told them straight out that the meaning the teacher had told them was in his book was bullshit. He wasn't trying to communicate anything, it was suppose to be entertaining. Now he wouldn't have been able to produce any citations from his work, while the teacher could produce many for her points. That doesn't make the teacher right and the author wrong. It just depends on whose opinion you're going to put more stock into.

this comic comes to mind with this, along with quite a few others at Candi.

Comment from: vilious posted at October 20, 2005 9:48 AM

I've got a cartoon up on the refrigerator. No idea who drew it. It came out of Eastern Europe as the Soviet Union fell apart. A prisoner is kneeling before a chopping block, and an executioner has just chopped off his manacled hands at the wrist. The prisoner is maimed, but unchained. His bleeding stumps are raised up above his head, and his face is a mixture of exaltation, grief, and laughter.

It is a one-panel line drawing. Very possibly the artist dashed it off and considers it of no account. I have been thinking about it for about 13 years now. I do not believe that I could have been so deeply engaged by a drawing that took longer to do. Some cuts have to be made very quickly to reach the heart.

One thing that Eric did not mention about criticism: readings of a work that make it more interesting, moving, and engaging are superior to readings that do not. To take an extreme example, reading the Iliad as an etiquette book, no matter how well one supports one's argument, is inferior to reading it as an epic, because the Iliad makes a terrible etiquette book.

So, critical treatments of comics that let readers get more out of them, by making them conscious of more of what is good in the comics, are better than those that do not. This presumes ideal readers, of course; nothing good can be done with lazy or obtuse readers.

I can see how intense critical scrutiny would embarass cartoonists, who may have done the work quickly and unthinkingly. But we are not artists; we are readers. We have a craft too, and it counts. Once the cartoon is out there, it is our job to get as much out of it as can be had.

Comment from: Kail Panille posted at October 20, 2005 9:52 AM

The article was for me.

Just wanted to clear that up.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at October 20, 2005 9:54 AM

But the moment they talk like it's wrong to have it exist, then I get pissed off.

Well this has been a part of webcomics since the beginning of time. Some people have a vision of what webcomics SHOULD be, and expend far more effort than seems practical in order to keep everyone else out of it. Certainly Kurtz and Straub can be accused of that at various times (Kris has a particular flair for it on occasion) but it also took place in that roundtable discussion.

Comment from: T Campbell posted at October 20, 2005 9:55 AM

"Would it be nice if there was an institution dedicated to examining and lifting up webcomics to the world? Yes. Should webcomics itself be doing it? No. At least, that's MY opinion."

This comment of Scott's actually begs a huge concern of mine. But on the other hand, Kris has frequently denounced those pretentious fellows who try to use long sentences and citations to compensate for their lack of understanding.

Once you eliminate those who have done webcomics and those who do not understand webcomics, who's left? Theoretically, prominent, competent people who know webcomics well but have no interest in creating them.

Name five of those people.

Most critics are writers or wannabe writers of the thing they criticize. That's not a situation unique to webcomics, but the coziness of the medium means the social spheres overlap.

Scott seems to feel like discomfort with being criticized is unique to him. It's not. I blush every time I'm praised and blanch every time I'm criticized. ("T Campbell, he's... you know, he's..." WHAT, Scott? He's WHAT???) But criticisms like these-- and The History of Webcomics-- and all the rest of the examination out there-- is not for me. It's for people who are trying to grok this thing.

It's not for you, Scott. It's ABOUT you.

And as long as you are successful, people will be interested in figuring out why.

You can't have the fame without the microscope.

(This is all concept, incidentally. I'm far less sure of myself when it comes to discussing the Examiner's execution, including my own part in it. But concept is where the discussion began.)

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at October 20, 2005 10:00 AM

Well John, that doesn't actually contradict what I'm saying. I was reacting against the idea that Eric seemed to float out (but then partially took back) that an artist isn't qualified to talk about his or her own work when it comes to criticism. I'm not sure Eric meant it quite that harshly, but I've met other critics who HAVE, and it doesn't fly.

If the artist is seeking merely to entertain, then that's pretty much the point. Anything else coming out of it is incidental -- which doesn't make anything else coming out of it unimportant or not worth noting, but I'd certainly think the artist should be allowed some input on the "meaning" behind their work, instead of being dismissed as "just that guy, you know, who did the thing, and should now get out of our way while WE decide how it is important..."

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 20, 2005 10:07 AM

Well John, that doesn't actually contradict what I'm saying. I was reacting against the idea that Eric seemed to float out (but then partially took back) that an artist isn't qualified to talk about his or her own work when it comes to criticism. I'm not sure Eric meant it quite that harshly, but I've met other critics who HAVE, and it doesn't fly.

Let me make it explicit -- an artist can be a critic of their own work, and their work can certainly be as valid as anyone else's. Period.

My point is, the artist's interpretation is not the controlling interpretation. It's no more valid than anyone else's. It all comes back to what you can support.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at October 20, 2005 10:13 AM

A student of Foucault, are you? :)

Comment from: John Lynch posted at October 20, 2005 10:19 AM

Eric said "My point is, the artist's interpretation is not the controlling interpretation. It's no more valid than anyone else's. It all comes back to what you can support."

While that might be true under the theory of New Criticism and true for those who follow it, I think your average person is more inclined to listen to the author then a critic on what meaning was in a piece of work.

Everyone has an opinion, different people have different opinions and some people will be more inclined to listen to one particular person over others. I'm more inclined to listen to the author on what meaning is in a piece of work. I'll listen to a critic on whether or not they succeeded, but I'm not likely to listen to them on symbolism or meaning that the author says they didn't put into it. But that's just my preference. Everyone's different.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at October 20, 2005 10:27 AM

Wow, so much for me to pick at...

"Criticism isn't journalism."

Not inherently, Eric, but it sounds almost like you're making the two mutually exclusive. Criticism needs facts to back up its opinions, as you say, and quite often real journalism skills are required to help that. Moreover, sometimes when writing journalism you need to apply a critical eye to determine which information needs to be processed into an article. The two disciplines are intertwined much more than practitioners of either often want to admit.

"It's impossible to be objective when rendering a critique, and if you're not objective, your critique, interpretation or review is flawed and very likely worthless."

I've seen people throw that at me so often of late it drives me nuts. Generally, that statement is a code for saying, "you don't agree with my opinion; therefore, you must be wrong."

"In my opinion it only serves to falsely elevate the reviewers to some lofty status."

Scott, given the general consensus of critics is that their status is "pond scum, but with a rose smell," I think we could use a little elevations into something higher.

"PvP and Penny-Arcade are not forms of literature that can stand up to the levels of academic review that these reviewers need to properly define themselves as connoisseurs of "the future of comics." You can't get blood out of a turnip."

But you can get some tasty turnip puree, Scott.

I'm sure plenty of authors would have said the same about their work at the time they made it. I seriously doubt Rabelais, back in the 13th century, thought his collection of ribald tales and silly puns would be worth any serious consideration. It's pretty clear that his purpose behind Gargantua and Pantagruel was to entertain people and get them reading. Oh, and to indulge his appetite for puns. (Especially clear if you read the book's foreword.) However, it does merit serious discussion today - I did back when I was earning my degree.

Heck, since someone brought up Moby-Dick, it's worth noting that Melville didn't think the book was symbolic at all until it was pointed out to him. Just as Scott didn't see all the symbolism of the Skull plushie at first. Which ultimately leads me to believe that PvP is much more worthy of intellectual analysis than Kurtz realizes.

"Do we care what Shakespeare or Picasso's contempories thought of them? or do we judge their works by their own merit?"

Actually, I've had to read critical essays by contemporaries of works studied in class back when I was in school. As much as I wasn't enjoying letters about Les Liaisons Dangereuses (oh by, letters about a book in the form of letters), I appreciated the purpose behind it, to better understand the work in the context of its day.

Though all this does make me wonder about my own critical style. I obviously have one, I know that much for certain. I guess it's an adaptation of modern literary criticism, altered to fits the particulars of video gaming. With a healthy dose of 16th century French essay writing care of Chateaubriand, mixed with a knowledge of the failures inherent in New Journalism (which was a going fad in video gaming for a few months).

Comment from: Nate posted at October 20, 2005 10:44 AM

In regular paper pamphlet comics, one thing I've seen mentioned by a number of writers is, essentially "every fan thinks they could do your job." Everybody wants to write Superman, or Batman, or whatever. (Of course, given the quality of some of the stories that have been published, I can't say the fans are completely wrong in this.)

In webcomics, it's the same, only moreso. Anybody can go grab a keenspace account and upload scribbles, or clip art, or photographs with captions added. There is essentially no line between "fan" and "creator" because the barriers to entry are so low. So you're going to find very few people who care enough about webcomics to read them and critique them and don't care enough to think about trying their hand at it. Even if it's just a randomly updated bit of strangeness made in ComicChat.

So you can't really disqualify someone's criticism because of that. And even if they haven't made a comic now, if they hang around posting regularly, chances are they'll look at all the things that work, get ideas of their own, and bump into people who can help them make it.

Even if webcomics go "mainstream", that'll still probably be there. There's little difficulty in finding somewhere to host image files, so there'll always be plenty of "hobbyists" in webcomics. And those are the people most likely to be trying to find out what the good ones did that made them good, and how to get better. So one of the main audiences for this kind of discussion.

Comment from: William_G posted at October 20, 2005 10:46 AM

How do I do blockquotes?

Ah, who cares...

"In comments at Comixpedia and in that infamous review, he seems to me to be saying that everyone who's in it just because we can, without any training or with hope to make a living or without a clear idea of what we're doing (the hobbyists, as one thread at Comixpedia calls us), are screwing things up for the fine artists - because it's us that the mainstream notices, when they notice webcomicdom at all - and (here's the rub) ought to quit."

I suppose this is really my fault for not constantly restating my point until it becomes a nice, easily understood sound bite: "...he seems to me..."

That's what it really comes down to. People making assumptions, filling in the gaps, and basically projecting their insecurities upon me. Hey, that's the internet, I expect that.

What I didn't expect is someone to actally ASK ME instead of hurling accusations at me about my mental and emotional state! Holy, fucking shit! Thanks, Paul!

Let me seperate a few points:

1- Art vs Hobby is a mcguffin of an argument. It's bullshit. Even if you do it as a hobby, comics are art.

2- When the argument came up, hobbiests (is that spelled right) WERE a problem if you want a system where people have to pay for the comic itself instead of the t-shirts being offered along with it. Why pay for something you can get for free? But the webcomic market, such as it is, has settled that argument already. Your comic is nothing more than a pretty sign in front of the t-shirt store. I don't like it, but I accept it.

3- Hobbiests, by their nature, will eventually quit. This is just natural as life's responsibilities pile up on them.

4- Now, here's where I assume your problem with my opinion lies. et me know if I'm off here:

Appealing to the non-nerdy masses... the grannies, the soccer moms, the MP3 downloaders... is doomed for failure because almost no one is making a comic that appeals to the non nerdy masses. We write for ourselves. It's niche programming. People want the webcomic version of... uhm.. I dunno what's popular back home now, so I'll just say American Idol... and what most of us are offering is Queer As Folk.

Okay, clumsy metaphor.

Straub wants us to focus on "...this energy on finding ways to present webcomics to the general public." But there's pretty much nothing they'd be interested in. But that is EXACTLY where all of us horribly pretentious folk are doing, and that's what makes us so fucking important.

If people are out there talking about a wide variety of material like it matters, like it has value, the "mainstream" will start to take notice, and they will start paying attention.

And eventually they will convince themselves that webcomics are worth getting into, just like they did with superhero comics back in the 80s when everyone was talking about them... even if most of them weren't all that good.

But as it stands now, we got people promoting comics like, "This is the best webcomic out there: A 12th level elf and an orc skewer Mircosoft about delays in shipping the new XBOX. They swear, so it's edgy!" and most people don't give a shit about that.

They need to be convinced that there's good material out there. The Examiner does that, and it's becoming quite good at drawing the attention of people who see webcomics as the little people who aren't good enough for a real job in comics.

And the Examiner doesn't talk down to anyone while it's being done, despite what some folks may think.

JESUS ERIC! The "preview" function on this doesnt do line breaks!

Screw it! You get it as is, Paul!

Comment from: Kris@WLP posted at October 20, 2005 10:53 AM

Simple statements:

(1) To me, criticism is nothing more than an examination of how creativity works in practice. Everyone does it- that's how we determine what we like and don't like.

(2) The people who know best how comics work, and how to make them better, are those who work in comics themselves, who have studied the form more intensely and who have put this study into practice.

(3) The same logic which says that webcomic creators make bad webcomic critics because of their bias would have it that plumbers make superior movie critics to movie writers, directors, etc. because of their lack of bias.

and finally

(4) The world at large could not possibly care less about artistic criticism of any sort. Dress it up with as many citations and defensive arguments as you like, a critique is an opinion, nothing more- and everyone has one, and very few people care about anyone else's but their own.

Comment from: Bookworm posted at October 20, 2005 10:57 AM

I just read through the article and comments, and I'd like to point something out that's been overlooked.

Part of the discussion wasn't over the criticism itself, or the advent of critics, or even who is or isn't valid as a critic. It was over the absurdity of the length of the criticism. I've heard eight and fourteen pages given as lengths of actual critiques. That's ridiculous. It's rare that something as full as a stage play gets 8 pages of critiquing, unless it's from the director. Most critics, _writing for the public_ keep their entire articles down to less than what would fit on one double spaced page - and that's for a movie. I'm certain you could easily do the same for a single strip of a web comic.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 20, 2005 11:07 AM

While that might be true under the theory of New Criticism and true for those who follow it, I think your average person is more inclined to listen to the author then a critic on what meaning was in a piece of work.

The "death of Authorial Intent" is pretty common to all modern critical theories. In fact, it's foundational.

Is it intuitive? No, not particularly. But it's how critics have to proceed.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at October 20, 2005 11:16 AM

Is it intuitive? No, not particularly. But it's how critics have to proceed.

OK, I'll bite. Why?

Comment from: larksilver posted at October 20, 2005 11:18 AM

I think Ursula's got the right idea. We must remember that these guys love webcomics. They're not the critics who hate musicals and for some sick reason continue to immerse themselves in the Broadway scene, with the ensuing consistently harsh reviews to show for it. Rather, these guys love the medium, and the art form.

And yes, it's obvious they're seriously chuffed about being the first (and foremost) members of their community on-scene. So if they get a wee bit carried away, who can blame them? As with so many other things out there.. if you don't like it, or it makes your brain all hurty or you think it's a bit over the top... don't read it, aye?

Someday, as has been said above, this stuff could be the substance of courses in school. It could end up being reference material some English or Art History major will have to sift through. English majors may just eat this stuff up, and be just as excited as the critics who are publishing now, and there's no harm in that. None! The discussion has merit because it matters to the authors, and to those for whom the more in-depth critical analysis resonates.

I enjoy the more.. accessible examination of webcomics that we receive here on websnark immensely. The more academic critiques over yonder, well.. I must admit, they're not (insert Penny Arcade Defense here). But neither is "Dude, Where's My Car?"

Who am I, however, to say that the former, high-brow approach, or the latter, low-brow comedy, aren't valid and appropriate for their target audience? And who is anyone else to make that judgement, either? Hubris is such an unattractive vice.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at October 20, 2005 11:22 AM

What I didn't expect is someone to actally ASK ME instead of hurling accusations at me about my mental and emotional state! Holy, fucking shit! Thanks, Paul!

You're welcome. Perhaps I ought've asked sooner. And thanks for the clarification. I think I got it now, and no longer feel persecuted. (I like to think my webcomic has appeal for a broader audience - but I also like to say that it's King Arthur fanfiction. Can it be both? Time will tell.)

Comment from: djcoffman posted at October 20, 2005 11:22 AM

I'm late to the conversation, because I've been trying to think of a way to best relate my thoughts, and how not to spoil a movie in Eric's comments section...

OK.. A very smart writer I've worked for told me something once, he said "If you can DO it, then do it, never "DO ABOUT"." -- Basically saying that I should put 100% of my time an effort into my comics and work. I'd get these flights of fancy about writing a "HOW TO" book or a webcomic news blog, I've had that idea for years! And every time he'd hear me spouting off these crazy exciting ideas, he'd tell me "don't do about." And it just stuck for me and sunk in.

Here's the thing though, i can't discount anyone who's authentically excited about webcomics. Be they a creator, whatever. I came from the realm of the comic book industry, where just about EVERY friggin writer or critic is a failed comic writer, or wannabe of some kind. I think you get that in ANY industry. You kinda have to know the ins and outs of something you're talking about, almost be an authority on what you're talking about... so I have no problem with other creators being critical.

But some really great questions have been raised... does it matter? Who IS if for? The readers? The egos? Who knows... probably different for everyone. I know there are a TON of bitter idiots who've never made it on their own, and seem WAY trollish and bitter about things-- and yeah, those people probably shouldnt be reviewing comics and passsing it off as a fair review of a comic.

I've collected probably 3 people in my head that I love reading about webcomics from. You have to find those sources you trust. And always call a spade a spade.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 20, 2005 11:23 AM

Part of the discussion wasn't over the criticism itself, or the advent of critics, or even who is or isn't valid as a critic. It was over the absurdity of the length of the criticism. I've heard eight and fourteen pages given as lengths of actual critiques.

Hm. How to be diplomatic.

Hmmm....

Well, let me just put it this way. The length of a critique, essay or interpretation should be wholly determined by the depth of the thesis and the required citable material to support the thesis. Period. If you only have enough evidence for a page and a half, two pages is guiding the lily. If you have fifty pages worth of interpretation and evidence, then forty-eight pages is insufficient.

When you get into Close Reading, wordcounts explode, it's worth noting. Jacques Derrida's close reading of Ulysses, entitled Ulysses Gramophone, once devoted eighty pages -- eighty pages -- to supporting Derrida's intepretation of a single use of the word "yes" in the text.

It is worth noting that even New Critics felt that was... perhaps excessive, however.

Anyway -- the concept that there's a word count limit on what we can "possibly" write in interpreting a webcomic is one I wouldn't just oppose but vehemently oppose. I'll write as much as I want on any given topic.

You, of course, are free to say "wow, he's really overwritten this," and not read it. Of course. ;)

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at October 20, 2005 11:24 AM

Ah, cracks on word count. Even more familiar territory.

I think it's an incredible disservice to a writer to complain about word/page count. Word count is something dictated by editors to put as many different types of pieces into a limited space as possible.

However, on the web, we have as much real estate as we want. When Scott McCloud spoke of the Internet and the Infinite Canvas, he meant it for more than just webcomics. He meant it for everyone who produced an artistic work on the web, and that includes critics.

(There's a beautiful irony in that Eric has been less than entheused by infinite canvas when his own writing, without cuts, is a vibrant example of infinite canvas in action.)

A critic on the web has only the boundaries they put upon themselves. We no longer have to submit to the tyrrany of column inches.

Comment from: Robotech_Master posted at October 20, 2005 11:25 AM

Hey, Eric, you know what you ought to do? You ought to use one of those "create your own web personality quiz" pages to create a "to what school of criticism do you subscribe?" quiz. Might serve as a good method of introducing folks to the various schools of criticism and what they mean.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 20, 2005 11:31 AM

OK, I'll bite. Why?

Because lacking telepathy or prognostication, we cannot know the mind of the author. Because an author's intent might not reflect the work he's created. Because taking anything other than the evidence as foundational to a given work leaves the study of literature and enters the realm of faith. Because what a person does unconsciously or inadvertantly in the production of work still has value, can still be interpreted, and can still have meaning to a reader.

And if something in the text can have value, is capable of interpretation, and can have meaning to a reader, it becomes a necessary component to a critic attempting to interpret the work.

The author saying "but I didn't mean that" can't control. When an author finishes and publishes a work, and releases it into the world, he is exposing it to other people. Those people neither have the responsibility nor the capacity to know the author's mind as they read, and when their response differs from the author's intent that response remains legitimate. It is the response they have to a work they're reading. The author doesn't get to tell them they're wrong for how they respond to his work.

The only way that can work, in a critical environment, is to base critical validity on what can be supported.

Is it possible to take statements of intent on the author's part and use it as evidence to support a thesis? Of course. But that doesn't create a controlling thesis compared to a work that supports an antithesis with stronger evidence from the work in question. "That may be what the author intended, but it's not what's on the page" has to be legitimate, or criticism fails at the gate.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 20, 2005 11:34 AM

Hey, Eric, you know what you ought to do? You ought to use one of those "create your own web personality quiz" pages to create a "to what school of criticism do you subscribe?" quiz. Might serve as a good method of introducing folks to the various schools of criticism and what they mean.

R_M -- I'm nowhere near that good a programmer, theorist or philosopher.

But Snowspinner might be a good person to ping. ;)

Comment from: fuz posted at October 20, 2005 11:48 AM

I must quibble with this:

"The critical dialogue can survive disagreement. Hell, it thrives on it. The one thing it can't endure is the implication that those people over there can't be critics."


It clearly can endure that implication. This very essay is evidence to that effect.


What the dialogue could not survive would be a preponderance of the potential participants disbelieving the validity of the dialogue. I think you presented a stirring and impassioned defence of the dialogue, which I seem to completely agree with. It appears that most people who read websnark agree with you. Which is, if you think about it, not terribly surprising. We've already voted with our browsers.


Tangent: I am fascinated by your passing discussions of schools of literary theory. I would like to learn more of this. You told R_M you weren't that good a theorist, which I must passionately disagree with, but that aside, who do you think is a good theorist, so that I can go and read them?

Comment from: Snowspinner posted at October 20, 2005 11:55 AM

I actually long ago made , but it limits itself almost exclusively to postmodernism, and is about theory, not criticism (Which is a difference that this thread mercifully hasn't begun to touch on yet).

I'll work up a school of litcrit one sometime when I'm not drowning in stuff that needs written this week. Or, more likely, when I'm just pissed off at the stuff that needs written this week.

Oh, and the authorial intent thing - the tide is shifting there. Most notably, Stanley Fish, who's the highest paid academic in America, sometimes with reason, is a firm advocate for authorial intent now - although he doesn't think advocating authorial intent actually answers the question of how one goes about interpreting a text - he just uses it to answer "what is the meanng of a text." How one goes about discerning that meaning is an open question.

But also, a lot of the more politically charged criticisms - Marxism, post-colonial, even psychoanalytic depend on the text as an attempt to communicate. And as such, who the speaker is and why they might be saying what they're saying become very relevent.

Comment from: A.G. Hopkins posted at October 20, 2005 11:56 AM

I find it interesting that Kurtz dismisses the "review" after jumping ship halfway through. If we tried to critique a strip, especially if we dissed it, and had only read the first half, there'd be no credibility at all.
Just a note Scott, it wasn't a review. They were discussing why they thought your work had influence on others.
The reason it seemed long was because each person had something to say about that.
As has been pointed out, your opinion on this issue isn't relevant. They each believe you were influential, for the reasons mentioned in the article, which is all that matters for the purposes of the article.

Ursula nailed it. We do this because we love the medium. Whether we do it well or not is open to discussion.

For the record, I'm not an artist, nor have I ever written a webcomic or fanfic. I don't 'dream' of doing a webcomic, as I know my talents, and what I am incapable of doing. To say I wouldn't enjoy it would, of course, be disingenuous, but I'm realistic.
I participate because I enjoy the artform. I'm not particularly well educated in artistic criticism, I'm just reasonably capable of clearly expressing my opinions.

I'm glad to see that at least some people actually enjoy the work. That's enough for me to keep doing it.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 20, 2005 12:20 PM

fuz -- thank you. ;)

I am fascinated by your passing discussions of schools of literary theory. I would like to learn more of this. You told R_M you weren't that good a theorist, which I must passionately disagree with, but that aside, who do you think is a good theorist, so that I can go and read them?

First off, it's worth acknowledging the possibility that, seeing my own failings as a theorist, I'm not any more objective about my strengths in that field than Scott Kurtz is about his significance to the medium of (web)comics art. ;)

However, I believe that theory I know I apply well. Or, at least well enough to publish on the web. However, I'm not nearly strong enough in Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, Deconstructionism, Linguistic Critical Theory, New Historicism or several of the political theories to call myself a strong theorist. I think I am strong enough in New Criticism, Myth Criticism, Jungian Criticism, traditional Historicism and good old fashioned Estheticism to be a good critic. However, as Snowspinner mentioned in another post, there is a significant difference between actual literary criticism and critical theory.

(In short, Critical Theory is the philosophy of criticism. And, like all good philosophy, it actually has very little to do with the real world of interpretation and criticism.)

Comment from: Snowspinner posted at October 20, 2005 12:27 PM

Oh, bother - I botched the HTML posting this, which is the closest to a criticism quiz that I've already made.

Comment from: Nate posted at October 20, 2005 12:33 PM

See Eric's list of lines of criticism up there? That's why my motto, which I should start putting on my LJ snarkposts, is "Fanboy first, critic second." I didn't even know there were that many schools of criticism. Me, I go for the "I like this because..." or "I don't like this because..."

I guess this is why Eric has the famous high paying weblog, and I just have an LJ. :)

Comment from: Snowspinner posted at October 20, 2005 12:40 PM

Yeah! Eric has a weblog, Nate has a LJ, and I have tens of thousands of dollars in student loans!

Comment from: Scott Kurtz posted at October 20, 2005 12:57 PM

Okay Eric, I'm about to be a little unkind.
you said:

"Scott thought that was cool, but also mentioned that what he intended was for the Skull plushie to be the daughter's security blanket. She was nervous, asking that question, so she hugged it close to herself.

(Note that this example also highlights how good the daughter's characterization has been.)

It's not that Scott was wrong, and the daughter didn't treat it as a security blanket. But because Scott knew what he intended when he drew that part, he can't distance himself to see what else might be there. That doesn't mean I'm wrong, any more than he is -- but it's harder for him to have a general interpretation of his own work because he has a clear understanding of his own intent."

It's not that Scott was WRONG? This is what I'm talking about when I mention the pretentiousness of the webcomics examiner.

I wasn't wrong, Eric. You were. Your interpretation, you analysis, our examination was off the mark. That's not what I meant. And when I told you that, all you could do was tell me that my way "worked too."

Wrong. YOUR way works too. But you're not the author of the works. I am. I know exactly what the message is. You don't need to mine the art for some hidden subtext. Especially considering that I'm not dead, and I'm easily accessible to you.

You didn't ask me "Did you mean to do this." You informed me of the symbolism you discovered. That's pretentious, dude. That's not insightful.

To me, the examiner comes off as serving one purpose: showing how YOU guys have figured out FIRST that webcomics are this deep, complex art form of the future. It's not about improving things, or presenting comics to new people or looking at webcomics through the eyes of academic review. It's all about you.

You said it in your snark. One day people will examine the roots of webcomics and the examiner will be there.

Look at William G's rant where he flipps out about the podcasts. I'm the forrest gump to the examiner's well read and critical thinking intellectuals.

People tell me I have a huge ego. I'm here telling you that I'm not the big-shit you guys are making out. And you're STILL kicking my ass????

So now I'm egotistical for insisting that I'm not the king of the internet.

Comment from: Snowspinner posted at October 20, 2005 1:13 PM

(Ooh! I get to lash out at Scott Kurtz! FANBOI DREAM!)

And here's the problem - the same one I criticized JSW for above. Scott, you're right only if the comic is some sort of Pure and Holy communication, whereby what goes on in your brain lands on the page perfectly, and emerges from the page into my brain with similar perfection. But it's not - there's a layer of translation that is happening from ideas in your head to page, and another one from page to my head. And other than a sentimental attachment to the allmighty and visionary Artist, there's no particular reason to decide that your translation went perfectly - in fact, there's perfectly good reason to decide it didn't.

After all, looking at the comic, it's clear that the paralleling of the daughter and of Skull is in the comic. It's there on the page, clear as day. If it wasn't part of what you were putting into the comic, that's all well and good, but it's just as clearly your error for letting it get in there when you didn't mean for it to be there as it is Eric's for noticing it.

Which is not to say "Scott Kurtz sucks for not perfectly realizing his artistic vision," but rather to say that the notion of who's more or less right here is silly, because it assumes that the translation from mind to page or page to mind is somehow better, more accurate, more transcendent, or whatever. And it's not. It's just communication. Communication can't happen without a sender and recipient, and they're both equally important to the process happening.

Comment from: William_G posted at October 20, 2005 1:48 PM

Ah, sweet insecurity...

To me, the examiner comes off as serving one purpose: showing how YOU guys have figured out FIRST that webcomics are this deep, complex art form of the future.

The Examiner wasn't the first to figure out that webcomics are a deep complex art form of the future. Best I can remember, that would be "I Can't Stop Thinking!" by some guy named McCloud.

The simple fact of the matter is that MANY people saw the potential of webcomics, and they had been commenting on it for quite some time before the Examiner's arrival. The Examiner, even if it had been created by an entirely different group of people, would have still come into being. And only because that's the natural evolution of a medium.

"It's not about improving things..."

As I stated above, the Examiner IS improving things, as is every last single webcomics blog, as are the WCCAs for that matter...Because they are making noise about, and giving respect to a medium you seem to be ashamed you're making your coin from.

And people outside of our little world ARE noticing because people are talking. That NYT article didn't come out of nowhere, and it certainly didnt come the first day PvP got over 100,000 UIPs. Someone had to talk about it first, and other people had to take notice.

It's called "buzz" Scott, and I'm shocked that a man who prides himself on his business saavy doesnt recognize that.

or presenting comics to new people
You're saying that you were a regular reader of EVERY last webcomic reviwed in the Examiner? That you never looked at a review of something and went, "Huh? what's this comic?"

You must have a fair bit of free time to stay so on top of webcomics like that. You should start a review site, then.

looking at webcomics through the eyes of academic review
So what was the point of all of the academic approach?

It's all about you.
Okay then... prove it. Show me Joe Zabel's top secret notes where he said, "Now the world shall know the name of Zabel and monunments shall be raised in my honour all across the internet!"

Well?

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 20, 2005 1:58 PM

I wasn't wrong, Eric. You were. Your interpretation, you analysis, our examination was off the mark. That's not what I meant. And when I told you that, all you could do was tell me that my way "worked too."

Wrong. YOUR way works too. But you're not the author of the works. I am. I know exactly what the message is. You don't need to mine the art for some hidden subtext. Especially considering that I'm not dead, and I'm easily accessible to you.

Well, what you know is the intent of the message. Which is not necessarily what a reader's response will be.

The point is, you can't dictate how a reader responds to your work. You can try your level best to convey a specific intent in your work, but once it goes out there, readers are going to see what they see in it. They're not going to necessarily see what you intended.

When I say your intent "works too," what I mean is "yeah -- I can see that. You conveyed that. I can see that." I don't mean to affirm whether that was or not your intent. It was your intent. I accept your word on that. You were there when you did it. ;)

However, that doesn't mean it's what I saw when I read it.

This is why authorial intent can't control -- and why you and I can both be right, but I'm not "wrong" for seeing it differently. Because my honest reaction -- my honest understanding of the comic strip I see before me -- isn't wrong. It is in fact what I saw when I read the strip. And by building that into a thesis and supporting it, I can show how I came to that conclusion.

Let's take a hypothetical example. Let's say your intent, in having the daughter lift the Skull plushie, was feeling a physical sense of fear -- she wanted Skull to protect her from the big mean Dad. And let's say you told me that was your intent -- not that she was insecure or nervous or scared of what Brent might say, but that she physically was scared he might attack her.

(I am in no way saying that was your intent, by the by. This, I reinforce, is a hypothetical.)

If you told me that, I'd look at it again and say "well, that might have been your intent, but that's not what's on the page. I can't see it. Sorry. Guess you didn't pull it off."

By agreeing I could see how the passage could work as you intended it to, I'm affirming that you pulled it off. That is certainly easily interpretable. And if someone else were to write an essay about it, they could certainly point to your statement as supporting evidence.

However, that doesn't change the fact that when I read the strip, that wasn't my response. And that doesn't make my interpretation of that response wrong. And, by being able to demonstrate through evidence the reasons for my evidence, I'm able to show support for my interpretation.

You, as the author, don't get to tell me I responded differently than I actually did. You only get to hope I'll respond the way you want. And sometimes, someone's response will blow you away, because they saw tons of stuff you never intended in your comic. And if they can support what they've seen, if they can show evidence of it... then maybe, just maybe your comic's deeper than you initially thought.

Which, if you get right down to it, is amazingly cool.

Finally... the question of pretentiousness.

I submit that the idea that there is one and only one meaning to a creative work is pretentious.

The idea that anyone who can find meaning in the work and support it, whether it's what the author intended or not, is innately democratic. It says that each and every reader gets to have his or her own response to the work. And if they can all support those responses, from a critical standpoint they're all right.

It's a philosophical point, to be certain. But I can't agree that it's pretentious, because by its definition it means everyone gets to be right.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at October 20, 2005 2:00 PM

Okay, Scott, how can you say Eric was wrong in his interpretation when you say his way works too?

But to some extent, you're right Scott. Criticism often is all about the critics who write it. It takes a huge ego to think that your criticism is somehow much more valid than that of anyone else. It takes a huge amount of ego to think that you could speak for someone else. Even the most self-depricating amongst us in the critic's fraternity sincerely believe that they're doing it because they're the only ones who can, and it should be read.

Maybe it's my own ego talking, but I think that doesn't make it any less important, though. You might think that every word I've ever written is complete and utter bullshit, and that might in fact be true. (I'm egotistical, but I do at least try to be honest to myself.) However, if someone gets something from my writing (just as if someone gets something from your comic), then it was all worthwhile and not just an exercise in emotional masturbation.

If they in fact have written their pieces at the Webcomics Examiner just for themselves and their own egos, then it's pretentious. But if even one person outside of that circle got something out of it,then their pretentions have been fulfilled - they did write to add to the record about comics and added something to it.

Finally, if hubris is so unattractive, why do so many people flaunt it and grab for more?

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 20, 2005 2:00 PM

William unt Scott alike -- be careful to debate the topic and not each other. Remember, you only get to insult me on here. ;)

Comment from: Robotech_Master posted at October 20, 2005 2:00 PM

Art is kind of like a Rorschach ink blot.

When Rorschach made his ink blots, was he intending to make a butterfly, a skull, or whatever else people see when they look at them? No, he was intending to make an ink blot. That doesn't make someone else seeing a butterfly or skull invalid—for that person. In fact, that person describing what he sees and why he sees it that way is the whole point of the test.

Likewise, people see stuff in art that the artist never intended to put there all the time. Sometimes it may be a result of subconscious intent on the part of the artist; sometimes it may just be a result of the mindset of the audience being different enough from the artist to see these things in different ways. That doesn't make either of their viewpoints "wrong."

Scott might see Skull's presence there as a security blanket. Eric might see it as symbolic of the girl's resonance to Skull. I might see it as a cute instance of product placement for the plushies Scott sells through his website. And our viewpoints are all correct.

Criticism, as I understand it, is not meant to say what the artist meant when he made the work of art. It's meant to say what the work of art means to the critic, and why. In that respect, it's impossible for anyone's criticism to be "wrong." An artist can't tell a critic what the critic thinks. He can say, "That's not what I had in mind when I created the art," but he can only control what he puts into it—not what other people take out of it.

Criticism is useful to the audience because often seeing what other people saw in a work can cause you to reconsider and think more deeply about what you yourself saw in the work. It is useful to the artist because he can see how successful he was in conveying what he intended to convey, so he can revise his approach if necessary—and it might even show him things that he didn't realize he meant to say. Or not.

At least, that's the way I see it. I could be wrong—for you. But I'm not for me!

Comment from: William_G posted at October 20, 2005 2:32 PM

William unt Scott alike -- be careful to debate the topic and not each other. Remember, you only get to insult me on here. ;)

DAMN YOU TO HELL, MR. LADYBOY!!

(All apologies to Ryan Estrada, the original Mr. Ladyboy)

Comment from: Ian K. posted at October 20, 2005 2:44 PM

Straub said I'm definitely not saying criticism is full of shit, nor am I saying that Webcomics Examiner is full of shit. I suppose the message of MHA is, "in criticism, there is a lot of room to hide shit, and you have to be careful."

And I think there may be more citations for this being true than for me being short.

Rock out, Kris.

I have to agree with all the negative things being said here about webcomics criticism/the Webcomics Examiner not as true but as potential dangers.

Equally, they're necessary dangers. It's really easy to just go off pretentiously and in a solum loquacious manner about anything art related and never accomplish anything. Most critiques of Picasso are really just saying "it's nice work, if you like blue," likewise a lot of the stuff said about PVP is really just saying "Apparently lots of people think it's funny. Let's guess about why." It's hard to find the critique explaining that Scott has managed to couch an occassionally compelling story inside of archetypical characters using the neuro-associative conditioning of the pop-culture in the eighties to achieve cultural resonance with his readership.

It is often the case that pages upon pages of feculent words must be slogged through before finding something like that, which might also still be feculent and then, in the case of the Webcomics Examiner (for me) there are writers whose tone I just don't like. I'll skim a paragraph and say to myself, "I wish Eric had written that so I could bear to read it."

Thank you, Eric, for presenting this as both a site for critique which I enjoy reading and also as a forum where I can participate in decent conversation without feeling like an asshat fanboy.

Also, since no one has insulted you yet, you are a doodiebrain... sorry, I can't reference solum loquacity without also saying "doodiebrain."

Comment from: Kristofer Straub posted at October 20, 2005 2:57 PM

My point is, the artist's interpretation is not the controlling interpretation. It's no more valid than anyone else's. It all comes back to what you can support.

Man, I just don't know if I can get behind that. I think that individuals can interpret for themselves, and that that is valid for themselves, but I have a hard time believing that one pedophile's belief that the current PVP Brent-meets-his-daughter storyline is a veiled reference to Brent's pedophilic leanings, and that the lifted Skull plush is semiotic code for consensual statutory rape, is as much a part of the work as Scott's own "she was scared."

That is allowed to be that guy's own interpretation for himself, and it would be interesting if he could find enough material there for a paper, but should "Brent is a pedophile" now fully enter the discourse?

Now let's move on from hypotheticals like that. Eric, you say it is pretentious to maintain there is one "true" interpretation of a work. I can see that, and I agree -- even if I think the artist's own interpretation should stand a little taller.

But! The place I'm getting hung up on is, sufficiently-elaborate interpretation can be falsified to a degree, even a great degree. I submit the example of people thinking MHA was real. You weren't fooled for an instant, as I wouldn't be, but so many were. That means that that kind of critical observation is outside their circle of understanding somehow, that all that scholarly-looking talk looks the same to them.

And if that's the case, then academic reviews and critiques really only belong to the academics, and if that's all we're talking about, fine. But it isn't:

Straub wants us to focus on "...this energy on finding ways to present webcomics to the general public." But there's pretty much nothing they'd be interested in. But that is EXACTLY where all of us horribly pretentious folk are doing, and that's what makes us so fucking important.

If people are out there talking about a wide variety of material like it matters, like it has value, the "mainstream" will start to take notice, and they will start paying attention. - William G

I disagree with this, and I submit the following example. I like Star Trek. I would call myself a casual Star Trek fan. Let's say I have a new girlfriend whom I want to introduce to Star Trek. Should I show her some episodes, and talk to her about why I like them?

Or should I take her to the hardest-core Star Trek convention/fan gathering, the kind where everyone has memorized Mr. Spock's locker combination, and giggles that in episode 44 Kirk forgot to activate his chair's comm before speaking? The public doesn't revere these fans because they talk about Star Trek as something important. The public doesn't go "hey, all those guys see so much detail in Star Trek -- I'll check it out."

The public goes "man, some people take things way too seriously." And they run in the other direction.

In the end, of course, we'll always have that kind of fan, and that kind of critic. It's inevitable, and I'm certainly not telling them to stop. What I am saying is that's the vanguard, the first wave of envoys to the outside world. And we look like dorks, if you look close enough.

Do other art forms have this much built-in discourse, built-in drama, built-in sense of celebrity? Are there dust-ups on some EZBoard quilting community? Are there big egos getting in the way there? (Probably, I guess it's human nature.)

If we really want webcomics to become a mainstream industry, we can't let ourselves be known as the guys who take themselves way too seriously. There is room for that too. Just not out there in front.

If someone asked me what a good webcomics primer is, I wouldn't stay the Webcomics Examiner, or Comixpedia, or the Comics Curmudgeon -- or Checkerboard Nightmare. I would say PVP, PA, something broad like that.

I just don't think this kind of dissection makes webcomics important, because anything can be dissected in that manner. It's not up to us to do that dissection; it's not up to us to elevate ourselves to mainstream genius standing. Someone outside has to do that.

Comment from: quiller posted at October 20, 2005 3:02 PM

I think this debate boils down to the difference between artistic mediums and say masonry. A mason who is building a wall is judged on whether he avoids mistakes and builds what he is supposed to build. There is a fairly clear wrong or right, and while there may be aesthetic aspects to it, it is not really open to interpretation.

An artistic endeavor can be just as closely crafted as that wall, built to specifications exactly from the artists mind (at least theoretically). But once it is out in the world it is subject to interpretation. What I like and admire about Renoir may not be what another person likes and admires, and should we write about the same painting we would write very different things. But, the same thing could also be said about the Powerpuff girls or even Scooby Doo.

I was in a creative writing class in college, and one of the things we would do is make a copy of our work for everyone else in the class, and they in turn would read it, make comments on it and give it back to you. I often got mad because not a person in that class seemed to get what I was doing with a story. 50% of the stuff seemed to want me to take things in a direction I wasn't interested in, 25% would be completely worthless ("nice" "I don't get it" etc). But the rest would either give me something useful about a part of the story they got, or else they would see something in the story that I'd never seen in writing it.

As an artist you tend to judge people's comments on whether people get what you are doing or not, and that is probably a decent check on yourself. (Certainly, it was more likely a fault of my writing if nobody was getting my point than the fault of every reader in the class) But if people aren't taking what you've done and making it their own through their own perspectives you are doing masonry and not art.

Comment from: Snowspinner posted at October 20, 2005 3:06 PM

Kris - And you're not wrong. If nobody outside picks up, you're fucked. And I can tell you, among the comics studies people, webcomics are still really marginal - I'm the only one at UF really heavily interested in them right now, although I got asked by someone to give them a list of webcomics that were doing stuff that couldn't be done in print and that weren't McCloudy, so we may be up to two.

That said, in comics studies, we still pay a lot of attention to McCloud and Eisner, who were both working from within the form. And video game studies pays a lot of respect to developer comments - even as we move beyond them, complicate them, and suggest that maybe they don't completely understand what they're doing.

Yeah, outside attention is important. But the more you give us to go on, the more likely we are to go, and the more likely we are to be respectful of the medium and knowledgeable about its background.

Comment from: Shaenon posted at October 20, 2005 3:18 PM

Scott, if you honestly think that what I wrote about PvP was in any way intended to challenge your competency as a cartoonist, I can only apologize for not making my writing clearer. I have great respect for you as a cartoonist and for your work. In my roundtable thing, I tried to talk about what you do in PvP, what your approach to the strip seems to be. I only briefly mentioned you personally, although your online persona is certainly part of the total PvP experience, and I never, ever questioned your competency; on the contrary, I went on at some length about your skill and professionalism. I'm not sure what you mean when you say I didn't write about the work itself. If you mean that I didn't go into descriptions of the plotlines or characters or whatever, well, no, I didn't. I wasn't interested in talking about that this time. And I stand by my statement that it's a comic aimed at gamers. It's not a strictly a "gaming comic" to the degree that, say, Penny Arcade is, but I do think that its appeal outside the gaming-geek community is limited. Which is fine. I mean, I draw a similarly nerd-oriented strip; it's not like we're not trying to do "Garfield" here. And Eric disagrees with me on this point anyway.

About Eric's reading of the current PvP strips: sometimes a reader (and, yes, a critic is a reader) can interpret a work in the way the artist didn't intend. That doesn't always mean that the reader is wrong, or that the artist failed to make his intentions clear. It's just in the nature of good art to open up possibilities beyond the artist's original intentions. In this case, it happens that the presence of Skull, even in tiny plushie form, makes such an impression on longtime PvP readers that they may end up thinking of Skull when they're supposed to be paying attention to the girl holding Skull. That's okay. It's actually pretty great, since it suggests that you've created a deeply beloved character. It's something to think about when you're doing stuff with Skull in future strips.

I don't know if you're familiar with Narbonic at all, but I had a recent strip in which Mell mentioned Helen's first date with Professor Madblood. This caused Robert Howard, the Tangents guy, to theorize that this meant Mell was going to fall for Professor Madblood. That was totally not my intention, but it did make me think about why a reader might get that idea, and what the characters' relationship actually is. If there does seem to be some kind of chemistry between Mell and Professor Madblood, I want to use that, and not ignore it. I'm not entirely sure that there *is*, but, hey, it's worth considering.

The type of criticism the Examiner tries to do (albeit unevenly) is based on the idea that there's more to a work than the artist consciously intends. There are subliminal things going on in any good work of art: recurring themes that interest the artist, developments and effects the artist didn't plan, cultural and personal assumptions the artist brings to the work without thinking about them. (One could compare, for example, the way the "child from the future" fantasy is handled differently in PvP and, say, GPF, and what that suggests about the differences between the two strips.) There's also the way the work fits into the world: the way people react to it, other works it inspires, the general impact it has. Maybe you find this type of criticism inherently foolish or worthless. In that case, I can't really argue with you. But please don't get upset at Eric because he had the wrong reaction to a Skull doll.

Okay, I've gone on way too long again...

Comment from: William_G posted at October 20, 2005 3:27 PM

It's not up to us to do that dissection; it's not up to us to elevate ourselves to mainstream genius standing. Someone outside has to do that.

Chum, they never will until someone on the inside hips them to it, and convinces them that it's worth their time and effort. You know: webcomics are the new black.

Simple as that.

Comment from: William_G posted at October 20, 2005 3:42 PM

I just reread this:

"William George are going to be cited."

And I for one would love being the Artist In Residence at "Sweary Mc Swearer University".

Comment from: Connor Moran posted at October 20, 2005 3:44 PM

I would like to take issue with the idea that there is ANY element of society that is not "worthy" of art criticism. And on a related not, I want to take issue with the idea that people must love or like or be passionate about something to write criticism about it. I argue that the only criteria for whether or not a person ought write criticism about something is weather or not the critic sees some relevancy, something interesting to be learned from studying something.

Two of my favorite books of literary criticism, which I both highly recommend to people who have trouble getting their heads around the idea of criticism of "low art" are Roland Barthes's _Mythologies_ and Susan Sontag's _Against Interpretation_. When Bartes analyzes a professional wrestling match as a text, or when Susan Sontag looks at the pleasures of formula science fiction film (including "This Island Earth," mostly known now as MST3K: The Movie), the point is not that these are great works of art to be worshiped.

The point is that these works illustrate some thesis about art, society, culture, etc. Perhaps Sontag was a devotee of science fiction, and perhaps Barthes loves professional wrestling, but that is not the point. Their personal feelings about whether these works are "good" or "bad" don't enter into the equation, only, as Eric puts it, what they can cite.

Sontag is also a useful counter-example to the idea that such forms of criticism are ignored by society. Sontag is well known and regarded among a large portion of literate America. Her death was headline news (in late December 2004, I may add). Her "Notes on Camp," among many other essays, is very important to how we see such media.

So Mr. Kurtz's assertion that the discussion about PVP must be pretentious because it could also be about "Garfield" is fallacious. If "Garfield" said something interesting about art or society, it would absolutely be a legitimate object of study. As it has been on this very website, I might add.

Connor Moran
The Angriest Rice Cooker in the World
http://www.angriestricecooker.com

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 20, 2005 3:47 PM

Man, I just don't know if I can get behind that. I think that individuals can interpret for themselves, and that that is valid for themselves, but I have a hard time believing that one pedophile's belief that the current PVP Brent-meets-his-daughter storyline is a veiled reference to Brent's pedophilic leanings, and that the lifted Skull plush is semiotic code for consensual statutory rape, is as much a part of the work as Scott's own "she was scared

The difference between this and my own example, quite honestly, comes back again to the question of support.

It would take an extremely belabored and sketchy set of citations to make the last several PvP episodes even vaguely pedophiliac, with the Skull plushie a culmination. And it would be trivial to come up with an antithesis that refuted essentially all of them.

The core of criticism is citation. You're going to respond to the work however you respond to the work. If you're going to convey that response as a valid thesis, you need evidence to support. I suggest it would be very, very hard to construct evidence to support that thesis with validity.

There's one other thing to consider. There is such a thing as audience consideration when you're writing a critical essay. When I'm writing for Websnark and I'm developing a thesis, you're not going to hear me discuss semiotics without defining semiotics first, and going into why it's important you know it. If it's not important for you to know it to understand my essay, I'm never going to bring them up.

(Which underscores the fact that criticism and essay writing are both creative mediums as well.)

When Modern Humor Authority satires criticism (very well, I would add), it's taking on highly academic criticism written for academics. (What was it you -- or someone -- said? "Academic for academic's sake?" There's certainly a point there.) The audience is different, and the terminology gets thick. This is why reading a critical journal can be a daunting experience for a layman -- it's not being written with a layman in mind. Much as a Physics journal isn't being written for the audience of Discover Magazine, hardcore critical work is being written for an audience of fellow critics.

(Which means that the Penny Arcade defense also works for critical essays Dude.)

When you're writing an essay to make a critical point, that essay needs to be pitched to the audience. With a site like the Webcomics Examiner, I'd submit the intended audience is significantly different than the audience of, say, Websnark, with some weighting towards art critics, historians, and the alternative comics press.

(This is not, by the way, to invite peoples' opinions of art critics, historians and the alternative comics press. Lord, we don't need that argument here.)

Comment from: vilious posted at October 20, 2005 3:57 PM

Shaenon pretty much nails it on the difference between what artists intend and what they do. Intentions are shallow; anyone can intend. Artists intend and then make. Good artists intend and then make much more than they could have intended. But unless they are also good critics, good readers, artists often do not look carefully at what they have in fact done. There minds stay back with their intentions, what they started with, the part that anyone can do.

Another way to look at it: speech and comprehension are handled by different parts of the brain. Just as there are brain-damaged people who can understand speech, but not speak, there are brain-damaged people who can talk but who cannot understand what they themselves are saying. Production and comprehension are two different faculties. It does not follow that one is expert at one because one is expert at the other.

This is not to say that artists are idiot savants, creating in a dream and needing their work interpreted for them. It is to say that they are not the final authorities on what their work shows, says, and means. In particular, when artists create very large, episodic works, too big to hold in their heads all at once - like serial comic strips - much of the work must be done unconsciously.

Comment from: Ray Radlein posted at October 20, 2005 4:32 PM

I tend to agree with Eric, criticism is hardly an objective realm however I wonder if critics are really important to an art historians. Do we care what Shakespeare or Picasso's contempories thought of them? or do we judge their works by their own merit?
We can certainly judge their works on their own merit — after all, considering Hamlet or "Guernica" in the absence of intimate contextual knowledge of their creation is the default state for most people — but there are potentially tremendous rewards associated with the act of considering each work of art as a dialogue with the overall artistic and critical environment of its time.

Shakespeare's plays were informed by the critical and popular moods of Elizabethan England; as certain types of plays, or certain subjects for plays, came into vogue or became unfashionable, his plays reacted. When plays starring beautiful young boys in romantic dramas became fashionable, he wrote more comedies of gender and identity confusion (all those long-lost twins, girls dressed as boys, and so forth). When epic bombast was Flavor of the Month, he wrote gigantic dramas. Many of his plays were written in part as specific responses to other popular plays of the day; as examinations and reevaluations of the underpinnings of other authors' works.

Obviously, it is not necessary to understand, or even be aware of, any of this to appreciate his plays, any more than it is necessary to understand the political environment of Elizabethan England to appreciate MacBeth or King Lear or Richard III; but I think it is fairly easy to see how knowing such things can lead to new types of appreciation for those plays.

As for Picasso: Well, maybe it's all still too recent for us to judge such things, but it seems to me that so much of his work was deliberately informed by the critical theories of the day that knowledge of the temperment of his times is vital to a decent understanding of his work. If you don't understand what traditions and theories he was breaking away from, you're going to be missing out on a great deal of the fun, so to speak.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at October 20, 2005 4:42 PM

Okay, can I just pipe in with how much I hate the Penny Arcade Defense? And yes, this goes well beyond my distaste for nearly anything non-charity related to PA.

My offense is that it's basically trying to cut off a portion of people from whatever you're doing. I'm all in favor of people hating what I do - half the time, I want it to be much better than it is too. But I'll never say something as pretentious as "it's not for you." I put it up in a public place; of course it's for you.

But there is a response. If it's not for me, then my opinions of it shouldn't matter to you. And thus, it shouldn't matter if I spend the next five hours ripping it to shreds.

Comment from: Ray Radlein posted at October 20, 2005 4:45 PM

I think criticism is like fan fiction.

No! Put down the chainsaws! I can back that up, sort of!


That is so true that it is scary. More to the point, reversing it, Fan Fiction is self-evidently a form of critical engagement with the original work of art.

(As an aside, slashfic stands as the quintessential triumph of New Criticism over Authorial Intent)

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 20, 2005 4:51 PM

Oh, first he puts forth historicism. And now, he implies a slash connection. It is on, Ray!

(I have no idea what it being "on" entails in this case, mind.)

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at October 20, 2005 4:54 PM

Ahahahahahahahahaha.

That was beautiful, Ray.

Comment from: Ray Radlein posted at October 20, 2005 5:00 PM

I've heard a story where an author went to class, and told them straight out that the meaning the teacher had told them was in his book was bullshit. He wasn't trying to communicate anything, it was suppose to be entertaining. Now he wouldn't have been able to produce any citations from his work, while the teacher could produce many for her points. That doesn't make the teacher right and the author wrong. It just depends on whose opinion you're going to put more stock into.

In the Rabinical tradition, there are numerous jokes (and I submit that a sizable percentage of Rabbi jokes are actually educational tools, designed to convey some lesson about Judaism, in much the same manner as Zen koans) involving Rabbis arguing with G-d Himself about the finer interpretive details of their religion, with the common point being that insights gleaned through careful interpretation of the law are valid independent of the original intent of the author.

"You gave us the law," they say, "but you also gave us minds with which to interpret it."

Comment from: Scott Kurtz posted at October 20, 2005 5:38 PM

Your opinion of my work is welcome and expected.

The presentation of your opinion as FACT not welcome.

I do not subscribe to the believe that critical review of the art will create more "buzz" or attention than the art itself. I've recieved more traffic and attention from my readers than any critical review site. That's a fact I can support with numbers.

The webcomics examiner is trying to set itself up as some authority on webcomics but it comes across as people within webcomics screaming "look at us, aren't we important."

When you use my work to do that, I get uncomfortable.

Please, again keep in mind that the reviews were wonderful. I've since read through everything. I'm embarassed by how flattering it truly was.

But you guys are feeling too important about yourselves here. The critics are not defining this medium...the art is.

And let us not forget that webcomics is an existing medium. The American comic strip and the comic book have been around over 100 years. We're just putting on screens instead of paper. You haven't discovered anything new here.

You look at my comic and see something there that I didn't put in there...that's wonderful. That's great and flattering.

But to state that your interpritation of my work defines it more than the work itself...that's pompous and frankly, it's bullshit.

pure, unadulterated bullshit.

Comment from: Scott Kurtz posted at October 20, 2005 5:43 PM

Oh my god, this needs an edit function.
the typos...so many typos.

Comment from: Chris Crosby posted at October 20, 2005 6:01 PM

"Then again, I can't remember the last time Garfield had a character arc. Or a storyline about a character's concerns about change."

I CAN! http://www.garfield.com/comics/comics_archives_strip.html?1989-ga891023

GARFIELD is so deep it's SCARY.

Comment from: J Ryan Beattie posted at October 20, 2005 6:12 PM

I think you're missing the point there, Mr. Kurtz. He isn't saying his interpretation is more important than yours. Simply that it's there. It works. In fact, what he's saying is in many ways similar to what you're saying. The art defines itself, not the interpretation. But it goes both ways. We're making our interpretations based on what we see in the work. And what is in the work it may or may not be what you meant to put there.

That's the thing. It's about communication. What you mean to say isn't always what you're actually saying. You can't control how people interpret your work. You can shout and scream, "This is what I meant! Not that, but this!" But if they see your work another way, then that's it. Your work supports a different interpretation than the one you meant. There's not much you can do about it, unless you want to make your work so superficial it's impossible to make a deeper interpretation. And frankly, I don't know if that's even possible.

Of course, in this case, it's simply that there's an alternative way of looking at it. And yeah, it works. It's the way I saw it. I didn't even think about the security blanket thing until I read about here. It doesn't invalidate your intention, or even mean you failed to communicate it. But at least two people saw something else. And one of us decided to share it.

Comment from: Snowspinner posted at October 20, 2005 6:13 PM

Scott - you're contradicting yourself. Is the work defining it, or are you? If the work defines it, then anything that's in there is in there and valid, whether you meant to put it there or not. If you are, then the work is immaterial, and it's whatever you say it is. But you can't have this one both ways.

Comment from: J Ryan Beattie posted at October 20, 2005 6:24 PM

Snow puts it much more succinctly than I could have. Even if she is confused in her duck history.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at October 20, 2005 6:25 PM

"I do not subscribe to the believe that critical review of the art will create more "buzz" or attention than the art itself. I've recieved more traffic and attention from my readers than any critical review site. That's a fact I can support with numbers."

Okay, I have to ask - who here is doing this? I don't think anyone is. Especially for a work that is free to peruse (like PvP), critics just add or subtract a bit of momentum. And I think every critic is cognizant of that fact.

Again, maybe I'm just siding with critics out of habit. But I don't think anyone is putting the criticism above the art, despite how it might appear to Scott or other artists here.

Comment from: Snowspinner posted at October 20, 2005 6:26 PM

I'm male, actually. :). Also wrote that when I was tired - Barks created Scrooge, not Donald. For shame, me, for shame.

Comment from: J Ryan Beattie posted at October 20, 2005 6:40 PM

Gadblasted gender neutral names.

Comment from: Snowspinner posted at October 20, 2005 6:57 PM

Gadblasted pantless ducks.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at October 20, 2005 7:42 PM

Okay, can I just pipe in with how much I hate the Penny Arcade Defense? ... [T]here is a response. If it's not for me, then my opinions of it shouldn't matter to you. And thus, it shouldn't matter if I spend the next five hours ripping it to shreds.

But that's exactly what it's for. Remember, the context of the original gag was Kevin Smith's comment that that Ben Affleck romantic comedy he put out "wasn't for critics"; i.e., an announcement that it wouldn't matter to Smith whether film critics spent five hours ripping his latest effort to shreds. Perhaps we ought to have been calling it the Kevin Smith Defense all along.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at October 20, 2005 7:56 PM

I think the Kevin Smith Defense is more accurate, since Gabe and Tycho were in fact mocking that defense quite thoroughly...

Comment from: EsotericWombat posted at October 20, 2005 7:59 PM

I may be off base, or nitpicking, but I would submit that the use of the word "fact" doesn't have any place in this arena. The only thing in any art that is absolute fact is ink on the page, paint on the canvas, etc. which themselves mean nothing but the effect they have on us. *insert overwrought dissertation on beauty vis a vis truth here*

Try asking Bob Dylan what any of his songs mean. He'll likely have less to say than Scott about his comics.

Comment from: Merus posted at October 20, 2005 8:43 PM

Is it just me that does creative work half by feel, finding stuff that sounds or looks right? I'd truly be concerned that I'm the only one. I'd guess, assuming that it isn't just me, that one can rattle on for pages about why a particular word or pose or whatever 'felt right'. I'm sure Kris doesn't have a very good reason why the main character of his strip has a shock of purple hair, but people can come up with their own reasons, which are probably going to be highly personal. The way that one would separate the reasons that are 'right' is to come up with citations, proof to back up one's claim. Let's say then that Kris picked purple at random, and that the hair colour doesn't matter. Where is the actual evidence for that in the work? And, I mean, you could sort of ask why a random colour was the way to go instead of a specific colour, so even things where the author didn't really care can tell people something about the work in question. Including, perhaps, that it's shite.

"GARFIELD is so deep it's SCARY."

Holy crap! That is easily the weirdest set of Garfield strips I have ever read.

Comment from: larksilver posted at October 20, 2005 8:48 PM

Actually, if you're referring to *my* use of the Penny Arcade defense, I wasn't using it to negate anything. I was saying that while I'm not big on literary critique that's as in-depth as that in the Examiner, it's not because it's invalid. I'm not big on it because, well, I have never liked papers written in that style.

You could write me a fantastic 4-page critique on the merits of Matthew McConnahey's ass, including citations of said ass's beauty and delightful roundness, and I still doubt I'd enjoy it.

That's what "It's not for me" means. It means, dude, I don't like it, but I'm not here to tell you that you shouldn't.

Any asshole who uses the Defense and then proceeds to trash whatever it is.. well, that's just rude. hehe

However, as Ray was saying above... if you write a Harry Potter fanfic, and use the Defense when someone says "Dude! I hate Harry Potter, and your fanfic sucks!".. well, duh, you're telling them you're no longer listening to them. You're saying that it would mean more to them if you said "Dude! I love Harry Potter, and your fanfic sucks!" But then, that's not the Penny Arcade Defense. That's not "it's not for me," that's "it's not for you."

Comment from: larksilver posted at October 20, 2005 8:51 PM

"Finally, if hubris is so unattractive, why do so many people flaunt it and grab for more?"

Confidence, even mild arrogance, is a sign of a willingness to believe in onesself, etc. But hubris, if I recall my literature courses correctly, is a word directly lifted from the Greek tragedies. If you'll think back, I'm sure you'll recall that hubris, the ultimate example of foolish pride, is often what causes the freakin' tragedy in the first place. Ergo, it is unattractive by definition.

As for why people flaunt it and grab for more? Well, people are stupid, aren't they? That's the first Rule.

Comment from: Joe Zabel posted at October 20, 2005 9:36 PM

Eric, thanks for the terrific essay on The Examiner and webcomics criticism. Thanks very much as well to the folks who responded with supportive comments about the zine. It really means a lot to us.

I also want to thank Scott, Chris, and the other critics of The Examiner for saying what you honestly think. I think you have some legitimate points, especially the concern about how criticism can be an exercise in vanity.

Anyone who engages in criticism should first take a good hard look in the mirror and figure out why they are doing it. And anyone reading criticism should do so with a healthy dose of skepticism.

The next issue of The Examiner will be coming your way in December. Watch for it!

Comment from: Montykins posted at October 20, 2005 9:58 PM

My point is, the artist's interpretation is not the controlling interpretation. It's no more valid than anyone else's. It all comes back to what you can support.

Whoever *did* write this doesn't know the first thing about Kurt Vonnegut!

Comment from: Montykins posted at October 20, 2005 10:02 PM

Cheap joke aside, everyone always disagrees with critics about the meaning of their work. Movies, literature, poetry -- any time someone says "this means this", the creator is in the corner of the room muttering "It does not! And I should know!" Eric's right that pretty much all criticism is based on the premise that the author's interpretation is only one of many.

Of course, that's because the people who got to define the premise of criticism are mostly the critics who disagree with the creators. But still, that's how it works in "legitimate" media, so it's no surprise that it works that way in webcomics. Except that here, the creators and critics are more likely to email each other.

Comment from: William_G posted at October 20, 2005 10:45 PM

The webcomics examiner is trying to set itself up as some authority on webcomics but it comes across as people within webcomics screaming "look at us, aren't we important."

Still waiting for your proof, Scott... You can back this up with more than "Because I say it is" can't you?

The presentation of your opinion as FACT not welcome.

Comedic irony, or hypocricy? So hard to judge at times.

Comment from: rukkh posted at October 20, 2005 10:52 PM

I guess earlier when I brought up shakespeare and not caring about his contempories I was misunderstood and it appeared that I was taking a stab at Historicism. I guess what I should have said was: When we critique or even read shakespeare work today we don't care what The Suns critic said about the play on the day it was released. Picasso was a mistake on my part, I was going for an artist who was unappreciated before his death, but my knowledge of art is poor.

This whole arguement is one that has existed as long as art itself. Ultimatly the reader can spin anything the way he likes, and the author can only sit back and protest that "thats not what I meant". For example when people try to suggest that the original Star Wars movie is a social commentry on the cold war or WW2, its something that can be easily backed up, but may have no grounding in the authors true intent.

The artists response (Penny Arcade defence) is hardly new either, I recall being told that the Beatles "I am the Walrus" was a direct stab at critics who were trying to find meaning in their lyrics...but even that may be critical hype.

Its interesting reading the 'Queen of Wands' commentarys where the author is frequently surprised by the things the readers get excited about, and combats this through strips where she intelligently plays down the 'wrong' opinion or purposly incites the audience by doing something outrageous which has guarenteed interpretation...

[where 'wrong' depends on whether you stand on Eric or Scotts side of the fence]

Comment from: Wednesday White posted at October 20, 2005 10:52 PM

Will, the Examiner's own mission statement could easily be interpreted as supporting Kurtz's assertion.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 20, 2005 10:53 PM

William -- be careful. That's treading the line a touch.

Comment from: Maritza Campos posted at October 20, 2005 10:56 PM

What the hell are you all talking about? Getting completely different interpretations from a single scene depending on the reader's sympathies are one of the most fun things an author can experience.

(runs away under a rain of rocks)

(and a hurricane)

Comment from: UrsulaV posted at October 20, 2005 11:07 PM

Speaking as an artist, first and foremost of the flat one-panel no-plot arty art art kinda art, rather than a webcomic artist, I would like to briefly snicker at the implied notion that anyone could hope to control the interpretation people put on their work. And then perhaps cry a bit. I'm not sure which.

Hoo, boy.

The only way to make your interpretation stick is to stand next to the canvas and grab each viewer by the lapels and scream "THIS IS WHAT I MEAN!" Even that's only got a fifty-fifty shot. Merely posting an explanation won't do it. Once you do art, it goes out into the wide world, a tender, trembling doe-eyed image, stepping on delicate little Bambi-like hooves through the grasses of sweet innocence, and then the viewers jump on it and mug it. You find your painting in pool of vomit in a back alley a few hours later, with two black eyes, torn clothes, reeking of booze, and the only thing still IN its wallet is your artist's statement.

Okay, it's not quite that bad, but I was havin' fun with the analogy.

The thing is...stopping people from thinking whatever they're gonna think about your art is silly. It's futile. Saying "That is not what I meant!" may certainly be true, but so what? Why should they care what you meant? Nobody's interpretation is wrong. Art interpretation is not like math. You can't do it WRONG. You can do it badly, but it's not the same thing.

Sometimes, of course, it works in your favor. I often find my viewers are a lot smarter than I am. And sometimes, I just feel flattered--somebody really sat down and THOUGHT about something I did, and related it to other stuff, and really dedicated time and energy into thinking about something I created. Even if their interpretation is totally from left field, it's a far greater compliment than "nice."

There are artists who get royally pissed when people interpret their art in ways they don't like. I know a few. Sucks to be them. Most of us, however, eventually learn to roll our eyes at the weird ones and smile and nod at the boring ones and get over the urge to occasionally scream "NO, NO, THAT'S NOT WHAT I MEANT AT ALL!" because that way lies madness. You can either come to grips with the fact that people are gonna be seeing meanings you don't expect, and faces in the rocks that you didn't put there, and then ask if you meant that and if you put them there, or you can turn into one of those crazy people who buy back all their canvases and burn them in despair.

It's a two-way street. The only way to keep people from seeing stuff you hadn't thought was there is to make sure nobody ever sees it.

I had a point somewhere, but I may just have been ranting about art. I'm not sure. Anyway.

Comment from: UrsulaV posted at October 20, 2005 11:09 PM

Damn! What Maritza said! More pithily!

*sulks off to the land of the unneccessarily verbose*

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at October 20, 2005 11:22 PM

I wish there were readers who'd get alternate interpretations of my work from my interpretation. But all they ever say when they don't get mine is, "I don't get it."

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 20, 2005 11:30 PM

Hi Maritza! Thanks for your co...mment....

GO FIND SHELTER! NOW! TAKE THE FAMILY! THE HURRICANE IS CALLING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!

Er... that is... good luck. Be safe.

Comment from: EsotericWombat posted at October 20, 2005 11:47 PM

The only way to make your interpretation stick is to stand next to the canvas and grab each viewer by the lapels and scream "THIS IS WHAT I MEAN!"

you just gave me a flashback to this class I had to take my first semester at college. It was supposed to be a class on body language applied to acting, but it was for some reason taught by a dancer, so we were pretty much doing interperative dance. She had us write lengthy artist statements for like a 1 minute piece. I made a game of it, seeing how much bullshit I could spout and still have the teacher say I was brilliant.

Now that I think of it, is a Tycho rant kind of like an artist statement, only entertaining?

Comment from: Allen Shull posted at October 21, 2005 12:08 AM

I'm friends with an art professor at my school; I'm in Lit. He came up to me at the beginning of the semester to ask what the recent trends were in Lit Theory, because in his experience they were always a step ahead of what was in art, and so he could get the bleeding edge by reading lit theory.

I didn't have the heart to tell him that in all my grad classes I've had a pretty stable war between pro- and anti-theory types. Personally, I think postmodernism (and its overanalyzing habits) has balanced out with anti-postmodernism (whether mod or pre-mod, where things were simply enjoyed).

This discussion is an example. "Any interpretation is valid" seems idiotic, and at the same time "Interpretation is wrong" seems idiotic. We are thinking people who like to make sense of things, and at the same time we're people who like to flat out enjoy ourselves. Can we do the latter without the former? Do we want to? I enjoy PVP, but to surrender my critical apparatus is too much for me--and what's more, it almost can't be done, least of all by someone else.

Comment from: J Ryan Beattie posted at October 21, 2005 12:12 AM

I kind of hesitate to say this. I don't want to sound like I'm an artist, when I'm just an amateur. I don't want to compare myself to real artists like Mr. Kurtz, Mr. Burns, or any of the others who really are good at what they do.

Anyway, I do some writing. I'm working on something that's eventually going to be a novel (I know, everyone says they're going to do a novel someday, or they're working on one). I have some people I know who read it for me and critique it. You know, tell me what I've done wrong, where, and recommend how to fix it, as well as telling me what parts work.

One of the most satisfying things was when one of them pointed out an interpretation of a character I'd never thought of. It made me back off of my work for a moment, and consider how else it might be seen. It also led to new ideas for that character, and how I might work them into the story.

Comment from: Snowspinner posted at October 21, 2005 12:21 AM

Has anyone actually argued "any interpretation is valid?" I mean, I come somewhat close to this, but even I would qualify with "any interpretation that originates from the text in some way" and demand reasons and support and that the interpretation be interesting. (Which is at times just as good a goal for criticism as accurate)

Comment from: kirabug posted at October 21, 2005 12:22 AM

I made a game of it, seeing how much bullshit I could spout and still have the teacher say I was brilliant....Now that I think of it, is a Tycho rant kind of like an artist statement, only entertaining?

Come now, EsotericWombat, I think you're selling yourself short. I know plenty of teachers, and I can guarantee you that a good number of them are highly entertained by seeing how much bullshit their students can cram into an essay ;)

The only way to make your interpretation stick is to stand next to the canvas and grab each viewer by the lapels and scream "THIS IS WHAT I MEAN!"

A long time ago in another life (high school) I was in a poetry argument with my best friend's boyfriend. (Yes, I'm that kind of dweeb.) We were both working the literary magazine, and we would leave terse but incredibly vivid attacks on each other in blank verse in the submissions folder.

This worked fine -- the other students knew what we were up to -- until I put a legitimate submission that I had written as an apology to another student altogether in the submissions folder, and my devil's advocate assumed I was apologizing to him. Lots of oddness after that, but the biggest lesson I picked up was that anything can and will be misinterpreted, even by those who know you best.

In that light, what possible hope could I have to hazard a guess on what Scott Kurtz or Ursula Vernon or anyone else means in their work? And if I take away something of value to me, even if it's of less value than the original message they were attempting to impart, why should it be pretentious to discuss it?

Comment from: kirabug posted at October 21, 2005 12:24 AM

as anyone actually argued "any interpretation is valid?"

No, but I did have an English teacher once that argued that all poetry is about death. Frighteningly, he could back it up in just about every example we provided. Close enough?

Comment from: Nate posted at October 21, 2005 12:37 AM

Eric, dude, you totally aggro drama. :)

Also, I think Ursula's comment about criticism as fanfic for English majors is both amusing and largely true.

But let me add another perspective many of us are probably familar with. Gaming.

Which, I suppose can be considered a kind of performance storytelling art, but that's the kind of thing people say when they're trying to impress skeptical art chicks with their gaming hobby. But for the purposes of this, let's say the GM is the artist, and the players are the critics. I've found many times, both GMing and as a player, that the players will seize on some background detail the GM threw in for flavor, or a chance encounter, and expand it into a major plot point. Or they'll come up with a completely different plot than the GM was going for, that works just as well.

The difference of course is gaming is collaborative, so the GM can adapt to what the players decide to go with, and improvise from there. But I've had players pick up something totally different than I was planning, and I've come up with totally different explanations than the GM had planned. Sometimes they like it better.

So it's not an exact match, but it's kinda related. Maybe. Now I'll go back to selling popcorn.

Comment from: Merus posted at October 21, 2005 1:28 AM

Has anyone actually argued "any interpretation is valid?"

Any interpretation is valid, but some are more valid than others.

And I know that sounds like flagrant self-parody.

Comment from: EsotericWombat posted at October 21, 2005 1:31 AM

kirabug- I'm almost completely sure that wasn't the case. We were the first class she'd ever taught, and while most everyone else was trying to make their statements explain their pieces, I was trying to make mine sound like artists statements. (Woody Allen said that 90% of life is just showing up. In this case I think the other 10% was making it seem like I knew where I was.)

Nate- That's an excellent way of describing it. Webcomics are pretty much the only medium that tends to react instantly (or well, within a day or so) to reader response. Though I have to say that if gaming was an artform it would be more of a table-read cued improv, but that is neither here nor there.

Comment from: William_G posted at October 21, 2005 1:36 AM

You know Weds, I'm looking at the Examiner's mission statement right now, and I'm not really seeing anything that matches what dictionary.com is telling me "pretentious" means.

Nor does it have anything suggesting that the 'zine was going to used it to give a bunch of webcomics' implied bottom-feeders false standing within the community.

Out of fairnes, I'll just assume this all boils down to being one of those tricky interpretation things folks have been discussing.

Comment from: William_G posted at October 21, 2005 1:37 AM

You know Weds, I'm looking at the Examiner's mission statement right now, and I'm not really seeing anything that matches what dictionary.com is telling me "pretentious" means.

Nor does it have anything suggesting that the 'zine was going to used it to give a bunch of webcomics' implied bottom-feeders false standing within the community.

Out of fairnes, I'll just assume this all boils down to being one of those tricky interpretation things folks have been discussing.

Comment from: William_G posted at October 21, 2005 1:38 AM

Weee! Double post!

Delete me Eric or Weds! Delete me like you know you wanna!

Comment from: Thomas Blight posted at October 21, 2005 1:42 AM

One must be very careful when writing criticism.

"This is what this means" is incorrect. "This is what this means to me" is correct. Pretending you are objective is extremely pretentious. (Not that any people here are doing it)

I would like to be a writer. However, it sounds like I would strongly dislike going to university to study literature. I don't particularly care about anyone's interpretation. In fact, I actively try not to make one other than "I liked this book." I read for entertainment, not to find some hidden meaning the author may or may not have been trying to place into our Freudian subconciousnesses or something else equally bizarre. To paraphrase Orson Scott Card, I do not believe Sam, Frodo and Gollum represent the superego, ego and id. I believe J.R.R. Tolkein wrote the Lord of the Rings to entertain people, nothing more.

I just don't see the point of weaving symbolism through my work, or looking for it in someone else's. Call me ignorant, but for me, the cigar is simply a cigar, nothing more. What will the cigar do to society? Probably nothing. The cigar exists to be smoked. I don't care if you contemplate it, just don't make me learn it in school.

I fully support giving people the Kevin Smith Defense. In fact, you should be able to say that to anyone, "Sorry, I'm not for you."

Comment from: nifboy posted at October 21, 2005 2:00 AM

And, because I was digging through the 1/0 archives (to contribute to its Comixpedia article, of course), I wound up finding a relevant strip. Not that I have much to personally contribute to the topic at hand, anyway.

Comment from: John Lynch posted at October 21, 2005 2:32 AM

villious said "It is to say that they are not the final authorities on what their work shows, says, and means."

That's where I (and I think a few others here) disagree. Kurtz has said this and I sort of said this before, but just to be clear: I do think the artist is the final authority on what could possibly be in their work. They aren't the final authority on what it says, only what it could say.

"Scott is a brilliant man and his symbol Y in PVP means X" (in my opinion) isn't something I can agree with. "Scott is a brilliant man and PVP can be interpretted so that the symbol Y means X" is something I can agree with completely (well, except perhaps the brilliant man part :P). That might seem like a nitpicky difference, but to me it's a fairly important one.

That's where I stop agreeing with Kurtz though ;) I disagree with how Kurtz says the above and the conclusions he draws from it.

Nate said "Eric, dude, you totally aggro drama. :)"

Hahaha. I was waiting for that. Although I think this is great. I first saw a couple of rants in a few places, but this has actually got a dialogue going where everyone can say where they're coming from, and where they disagree and agree with others.

Comment from: Robert Hutchinson posted at October 21, 2005 3:07 AM

Wow, this is all so ... underwhelming to me.

I keep trying to add something insightful to this post, but I am as un-critic-al as I am uncreative. I laugh at the funny drawin's. (I'm the future of webcomics, dammit!)

Comment from: Sven8705 posted at October 21, 2005 3:22 AM

kirabug said: No, but I did have an English teacher once that argued that all poetry is about death. Frighteningly, he could back it up in just about every example we provided. Close enough?

I submit that if a piece of poetry is not about death, it is about sex. Most are about both.

...I, myself, have nothing to support this.

Comment from: Merus posted at October 21, 2005 3:35 AM

Well, now that this has died down and there's a whole bunch of critics and critical theory here...

Can anyone explain to me what, if any, value that piece of art that was just a blank canvas had, if you remember it? Because no matter which way I slice it, I can't see the artist expressing anything with an untouched canvas.

Comment from: Ray Radlein posted at October 21, 2005 3:41 AM

The only way to make your interpretation stick is to stand next to the canvas and grab each viewer by the lapels and scream "THIS IS WHAT I MEAN!"

Ah! Performance Art.

Comment from: Ray Radlein posted at October 21, 2005 3:44 AM

Can anyone explain to me what, if any, value that piece of art that was just a blank canvas had, if you remember it? Because no matter which way I slice it, I can't see the artist expressing anything with an untouched canvas.

Sounds like the ultimate paean to New Criticism: The only meaning possible is that which the viewer reads into it. The auteur has vanished from the process completely.

:-)

Comment from: SeanH posted at October 21, 2005 3:59 AM

Merus: there's a lot of symbolic potential there. My early-morning, pre-coffee interpretation (yes, reading Websnark comes before making coffee) would be that life is a blank canvas; drawing on the works of Sartre and Kiekegaard, the viewer should not accept the art forced upon him by the bourgeois "artists", but acknowledge his own existential free will and create his own.

Right, now it's time for coffee.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at October 21, 2005 7:46 AM

In my pre-coffee state, Merus's example means to me that maybe Dada was right. Either that, or we shouldn't equate "memorable" with "art" so readily in our minds.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at October 21, 2005 7:52 AM

Gaming.

Which, I suppose can be considered a kind of performance storytelling art, but that's the kind of thing people say when they're trying to impress skeptical art chicks with their gaming hobby.

No, you're good, dude. I brought my stepkids up to value storytelling, and they grew up to be storytellers themselves. LARP is their medium. Now, interactivity in storytelling isn't my cup of tea; but they get asked to run gaming at cons, so I must have done something right.

Comment from: UrsulaV posted at October 21, 2005 9:24 AM

I have always sneakingly suspected that the meaning of blank canvas art is "Ha! Art is whatever I say it is, so if I say this is art, A) it IS art, and just as much art as the Mona Lisa, and B) some sucker will give me a lot of money for it."

I am perhaps a trifle cynical. On the other hand, statements like "Everything is art!" are so broad that they only succeed in making the word "art" meaningless (after all, if everything is art, then how do we differentiate the paint on a canvas from a quasar or a hedgehog?) and I could totally see a blank canvas being a kind of reaction to that.

Comment from: Allen Shull posted at October 21, 2005 10:22 AM

Ursula: Of course, you can easily get into bickering over definitions of art. I myself consider anything intentionally made without usefulness to be art. Of course, then, I also believe that art can be qualified as to its worth. Example: a train is not art when it simply gets you from A to B in the best way possible, but it is art when the design was in the least bit influenced by an aesthetic sensibility.

"Blank canvas" art is doing something intentional, even if the intentional act is refraining from doing anything. That being said, of course, I see no actual skill in doing so, and with no skill, it seems lazy and pretentious.

I'm reminded of Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word, where he (in '75) predicted that in 25 years museums would have large 8.5'x11' copies of theoretical works, with small paintings beside them to illustrate the theory.

I have to say that I agree with Kurtz and Straub about the ridiculousness and pretension of art and literary theorists out there. But I also must agree with Burns, to say that theory is important, because without theory, it becomes quite difficult to say why something is good without resorting to the sheer popularity of a thing--and if we used that, using a previous example, American Idol would be better than Queer as Folk. Garfield would trump PVP. And I don't think that's so.

Comment from: Mithandir posted at October 21, 2005 10:33 AM

I agree with Eric here. My own little comic (which I won't have the pretentiousness to compare to pvp or any of the other popular acts out there) allows readers to comment on every strip and despite a small readership (aprox 500) we still get relatively many each time. This allows me to keep a finger on the pulse of interpretation and I've in fact more than once changed things in future scripts depending on these interpretations (either to make my own 'vision' more clear or because I found their interpretation worth persuing) Ultimately we can't completely control what our audience reads into our creations, and to me that's one of the most fascinating and rewarding aspects of the whole thing. People who go on about the "possibilities of the web" compared to traditional comics should maybe look away from flash and infinite canvas for a bit and look at how webcomics are one of the very few artform where an audience can actively and persistantly contribute. In my end a webcomic is a joint effort between the creator and the readership and the potential closeness of this relation is quite unique to our field.
I do apologise for the long lines, I am rationing my full stops.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 21, 2005 10:34 AM

The core value of criticism, to me -- beyond the fact that... well, I enjoy writing it -- is a recognition that an understanding of how we do a thing is a worthy thing of study.

I had it asked yesterday if how we create a piece of art -- more to the point, a critic's interpretation of that art -- is more important than the art itself. The answer, of course, is no. Without the art, the critique is worthless.

However, does that mean that interpretation isn't important? No. Because cracking the surface, looking underneath, seeking to understand, and seeking to expand our understanding is a worthy endeavor. Trying to expand on what makes great art great deepens our understanding of that great art, and can inspire further art down the line. Understanding artistic trends as they occur, whether textual or visual, helps us to understand the development of artistic ideals and artistic spirit.

In my case, it also drastically improves my own art. The more I can understand how the people who write well write, the better I myself write. And the more I can explain those things to other, the better, potentially, I can help make other writers. The same, of course, with cartoonists.

Some people hate critical essays. They just don't like the form. I can accept that.

But yeah. It's important. It has value.

I have value.

For what it's worth.

Comment from: Ahzurdan posted at October 21, 2005 10:40 AM

As I read through this (especially the back and forth between Eric and Scott) I am reminded over and over of the dialogue surrounding the alteration of the original Star Wars movies in their re-release, coupled with the discontinuation of the original version.

Wrong. YOUR way works too. But you're not the author of the works. I am. I know exactly what the message is. You don't need to mine the art for some hidden subtext. Especially considering that I'm not dead, and I'm easily accessible to you.

Can't you just see Lucas saying something like this?

You, as the author, don't get to tell me I responded differently than I actually did. You only get to hope I'll respond the way you want. And sometimes, someone's response will blow you away, because they saw tons of stuff you never intended in your comic. And if they can support what they've seen, if they can show evidence of it... then maybe, just maybe your comic's deeper than you initially thought.

And isn't this how you really wish you would have phrased your concerns over the alterations, instead of just screaming and ranting about how your childhood was being destroyed?

And then I think to myself, you know what makes this discussion much more engaging? Terms like 'Jungian Criticism'.

Jungian.

Jungian.

I just like the word Jungian.

Comment from: larksilver posted at October 21, 2005 11:17 AM

"I read for entertainment, not to find some hidden meaning the author may or may not have been trying to place into our Freudian subconciousnesses or something else equally bizarre. To paraphrase Orson Scott Card, I do not believe Sam, Frodo and Gollum represent the superego, ego and id. I believe J.R.R. Tolkein wrote the Lord of the Rings to entertain people, nothing more."

When I was a in high school, I had a former priest for an English teacher. A former Jesuit priest, one we were convinced quit because they wouldn't let him torture the unbelievers, but that's not the point of this little comment, so I'll move along.

The man took analysis of a composition to the ultimate extreme. We were reading A Tale of Two Cities, and everything, and I do mean everything, had significance, and nearly all of it religious in nature. The most memorable moment, the one in which we all knew were in serious trouble, was when we opened the book, and he bypassed the famous Best and Worst line altogether, and instead, began to talk about the mud through which they slogged, and how it symbolized Christ's slogging up the hill with a cross on his back. And how so-and-so was a metaphor for Judas, etc., etc., etc.

As with all things, moderation is good. Certainly critical analysis is important, and valuable. But please? Mud = the dirty sinners' walk to retribution or redemption? argh.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at October 21, 2005 11:27 AM

(As an aside, slashfic stands as the quintessential triumph of New Criticism over Authorial Intent)
Personally, I think postmodernism (and its overanalyzing habits) has balanced out with anti-postmodernism (whether mod or pre-mod, where things were simply enjoyed).

When the next critical theory comes along, will it have to be called Newer Criticism? Will there ever again be a cultural movement not named modernism with a new prefix?

SF writer E. Michael Blake says we ought to declare the present cultural movement "pre-farblism". That way we distinguish ourselves from post-modernism while leaving it to the next movement to figure out what the hell farblism is. ...Wait a minute, that was twenty years ago. Maybe it's farblism now.

Comment from: Montykins posted at October 21, 2005 11:31 AM

That reminds me of the English teacher I had who insisted that every character with the initials "J.C." was automatically a Christ figure. John Carter, Warlord of Mars? Christ figure. John Calhoun? Christ figure. Jimmy Carter? Christ figure. Jiminy Cricket? Well, actually that one kind of works. But still.

Comment from: larksilver posted at October 21, 2005 11:35 AM

One other note about all this...

As a music student in school, we of course learned to analyze music down to its minute components, examining structure, chord progression, even metre and tempo to the nth detail. This was, naturally, valuable in learning the hows and whys of musical composition.

As a vocalist, I learned to critique myself and other singers' works in reference to intonation, phrasing, diction, and of course, the voice itself.

This phase of study is valuable, even necessary, in an effort to become better craftsmen, better artists. Unfortunately, the trend I see is that schools tend to focus nearly exclusively, for long stretches of time, on the study of the structure and form, and end up with a bunch of creative students who've forgotten how to see the big picture.

I've had many discussions with friends who have gone on to be successful performers, educators, and composers, and nearly all of them say that, once the theory was learned and integrated, they then had to transcend the rules, and often to blatantly disregard them, in order to make their art, well, art again, instead of a technical study.

Again, it's about moderation. Too much analysis can smother the creative process and make everything seem like a class project rather than an individual work. Too often, I see people smothered under the weight of their own critical training; when they learn to step outside what they learned in school is often when they truly begin to create again. It's valuable, of course - the rules are there for a reason, after all.

But sometimes, I just want parallel fifths for the feeling they evoke. Hey, it worked for the Gregorians, why not in my composition? heh.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 21, 2005 11:41 AM

As with all things, moderation is good. Certainly critical analysis is important, and valuable. But please? Mud = the dirty sinners' walk to retribution or redemption? argh.

One subsection of critical theory are what I term the political theories. Marxist Critical Theory. Feminist Critical Theory. Christian Critical Theory. Things like that.

Before I begin this discussion, I should note that my comments here are not about Marxists, feminists, Christians or anyone else. Nor about their beliefs. Nor even about critics who subscribe to these theories, as many critics use multiple theories to inform their interpretations. However, when we discuss Critical Theory instead of actual Criticism, we are discussing philosophy, not literature. So I'm going to speak on these theories in the absolute terms they're defined in. Just for the record.

These political theories see all art -- all art -- as what the Marxists term a dialectic. That is to say, an elaboration of a struggle between a given point of view and opposing point of views. In Marxist critical theory, all art and literature is a reflection of the struggle between class and class. In Feminist critical theory, all art and literature is a reflection of the struggle between women and a male dominated society. In Christian critical theory, all art and literature is a reflection of the struggle between faith and disbelief. And so on and so forth.

Now, I believe (as I've told you) that all critics get to be right. Their responses are their responses. And that's fine and good. I believe that. I believe that someone who reads PvP and wholly sees it as Christian allegory and the allegory between faith and disbelief honestly will see it that way.

However, the coin of the realm in theory is citation. You have to be able to support your interpretation if you want anyone else to subscribe to it. And political theories are often prohibitively more difficult to cite and apply. It would be hard to cite credible evidence that PvP (since that's what we keep going back to, here) is entirely allegorical for the struggle of workers against bosses.

(Though... the struggles to keep hairbrained schemes away from Cole, who -- as a sympathizer with the proletariat -- merely wishes to be involved... who in order to continue producing his Capitalistic endeavor signs a deal with Max, placing Cole in a position of--

Ack! My brain! My brain is on fire! Sorry!)

When you look at essays produced by these theorists, you see a whole lot of metaphor and a whole lot of general citations of similarly thinking theorists. It becomes hard to develop a thesis that... well, anyone who isn't an adherent to that specific critical theory will sympathize with. It's possible to create a thesis that a person will say "huh. Well, if that's what you see... okay..." to, or that a professor will give you a passing grade on, but in the end such theses tend to be unconvincing.

Part of the reason for that, in the end, is because the critic himself is reading the work through a filter. Now, we all have our filters. But when they're so blatant, it's easy to see how they've colored the interpretation, and that in turn makes it harder to show validity for that interpretation.

(At some point, I should try to explain the problems with Deconstructionism. But I'm afraid my keyboard would melt.)

Comment from: Wednesday White posted at October 21, 2005 12:14 PM

Kurtz said

The webcomics examiner is trying to set itself up as some authority on webcomics but it comes across as people within webcomics screaming "look at us, aren't we important."

then William said

Still waiting for your proof, Scott... You can back this up with more than "Because I say it is" can't you?

and I went and read through the mission statement and found it pretty hard not to get the impression that the Examiner wishes to be seen as an authoritative critical and academic source, so said so, and then William was all

You know Weds, I'm looking at the Examiner's mission statement right now, and I'm not really seeing anything that matches what dictionary.com is telling me "pretentious" means.

Nor does it have anything suggesting that the 'zine was going to used it to give a bunch of webcomics' implied bottom-feeders false standing within the community.

and I feel like the point's been missed. When Kurtz says

The webcomics examiner is trying to set itself up as some authority on webcomics

then I think that's a valid interpretation of the mission statement (and I don't think it's wrong -- but neither do I think it's bad), and when he says

but it comes across as people within webcomics screaming "look at us, aren't we important."

that's his impression of the Examiner's tone and style. What "proof" can he give other than that? William, you're going off at cross-purposes here, and it's not helping.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at October 21, 2005 12:16 PM

Ah, those brain matches really worked.

Don't look at me like that - nobody wanted to see Eric go on with Marxist theory in Pvp, and that includes Eric.

I honestly wonder if I'm missing out by not subscribing to any critical school of thought. I just try my best to break down what I'm reviewing, and to make it entertaining to myself and my reader.

Of course, the important part isn't the deconstruction, but the reconstruction. It might be just me, but the goal isn't in the thesis, it's in the synthesis.

Comment from: Kristofer Straub posted at October 21, 2005 12:21 PM

See, that's kind of what I'm talking about... earlier in this thread, people were saying that you can come up with any interpretation for anything, but things fall apart when you have to cite sources. But I'm not so sure that it's that difficult to generate that depth of analysis too.

I think my original analogy is very true, that criticism is like art. It's something subjective being presented as objective. Is a fine painting art? Obviously. Is a crumpled ball of trash art? Technically yes. But it depends on how it was executed, what the artist's intent was, and whether or not all that is able to be grasped by an audience.

In other words, I could write a criticism about how Jimmy Crack Corn is a song about Jesus Christ. But if all my research and all my theses are unconveyable to anyone else, my criticism is only worth anything to me.

So how does one know a good or a bad critic when they see them? That's pretty subjective too.

I don't know. Just because you can find parallels between different logical constructs doesn't mean you're doing a creative service. One of my favorite thought exercises is this AI that programmers had developed maybe eight years ago. It searched for parallels in societal constructs. For example, it postulated that the father of a household is like the dictator of a country. I can't deny that there's a resemblance, but a machine came up with that.

Comment from: Nate posted at October 21, 2005 12:28 PM

Paul Gadzikowski said:

No, you're good, dude. I brought my stepkids up to value storytelling, and they grew up to be storytellers themselves. LARP is their medium. Now, interactivity in storytelling isn't my cup of tea; but they get asked to run gaming at cons, so I must have done something right.

I submit to you that something can be true, and yet be complete bullshit at the same time. Yes, roleplaying is interactive storytelling, but it's mostly just geeking out with your buddies and pretending you're an uber badass elf. Or whatever. There's layers, like onions. Which sorta parallels the argument here again. But I don't know how well those layers will work at impressing art chicks with your gaming or webcomics hobby. And I've been reliably informed that webcomics are all about the nookie.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at October 21, 2005 12:31 PM

I'm still struggling with the idea that authorial intent is secondary to the final product. It seems to me that the intent directly contributes to the final product, even if in the end the intent isn't carried through. I mean, what the artist spending all that time doing in the first place?

For example, the way language is used in Help Desk -- specifically, the way the employees of Ubersoft manipulate language in order to justify every egregious thing the company does -- was influenced by Noam Chomsky's writings on the way governments manipulate language to control the way the population perceives what is going on in the world. Of course, there's no reason anyone should KNOW that, because I've never bothered to tell anyone. But I'd like to think that if someone were going to try to do an in-depth critique of the dialogue in Help Desk they would find that something like that an important thing to take into account.

And they might decide that the influence falls quite short, or fails outright, and that the whole thing goes in another direction entirely -- which is fine, as long it's addressed. Or they could decide that I am an utterly pretentious hack, (because, you know, Chomsky?) -- which would be another legitimate point of discussion (and probably hit a little too close to the mark for my comfort, heh). But if someone were to dismiss that outright and claim no, he was instead influenced by, I don't know, Hegel -- well, the only way I'd be able to take that seriously is if they showed how I thought I was starting off with Chomsky, got derailed somewhere down the line and wound up in Hegel's camp.

Is that making any sense? My issue isn't whether or not the artist's reflection actually reflects their intent, but an apparent belief that the author's intent isn't an integral part of the creation process, and so bears no more consideration than any other factor. It seems to me that even if the end result winds up going in another direction entirely -- ESPECIALLY if it winds up going in another direction entirely -- that intent is pretty important.

Then again, I suppose I'm predisposed to be touchy about that sort of thing. :)

Comment from: Merus posted at October 21, 2005 12:41 PM

"So how does one know a good or a bad critic when they see them? That's pretty subjective too."

Sort of like how you never agree with the movie reviewer in the paper. Perhaps the good critics are the ones coming up with the interesting interpretations that aren't immediately full of it. Or perhaps what's important is not so much that there are good or bad critics, but that they fight and Darwin sorts it out.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 21, 2005 12:42 PM

See, that's kind of what I'm talking about... earlier in this thread, people were saying that you can come up with any interpretation for anything, but things fall apart when you have to cite sources. But I'm not so sure that it's that difficult to generate that depth of analysis too.

I acknowledge it requires the person reading the essay in question to judge the quality of the citations in question.

It all goes back to credibility of citation to show validity. A thesis that's purely interpretive -- here is what I think is going on here -- needs only sufficient sources to show you that the work in question can support the interpretation. On the other hand, an interpretation that is showing motive or meaning has a harder time showing validity, or else someone who's reading it will dismiss the thesis out of hand. It would be very, very hard to cast PvP as a Christian allegory, because the citations required would have to be second, third or fourth order. The essayist would end up citing theorists who never saw PvP in the first place, and applying general statements to this specific case.

It can be done -- but doing it in such a way that other critics and readers will find the thesis valid is very difficult, at best. It's why I'm dubious about political critical theories in general -- they get in the way of interpreting the work on its own merits.

So how does one know a good or a bad critic when they see them? That's pretty subjective too.

Well, yes. Of course it is. Given that litcrit is innately subjective, you're going to end up believing some critics are worth the time it takes to read them and some aren't. Which is of course what people do. Look over on the review side of the continuum. Folks figure out those reviewers whose tastes and opinions largely match their own (or that they have faith in even when they don't) and listen to them. I'm more likely to give Roger Ebert credence than Harry Knowles, because subjectively I prefer Ebert's movie reviews to Knowles's reviews.

Criticism is the same way, only an order deeper. I happen to think, for example, that Harold Bloom is full on insane, and I take any critical work he's done in at least the last twenty years with seven pounds of salt. I think Barthes is brilliant but esoteric. I think John Crowe Ransom's work was both accessible and seminal. And so forth.

When I write criticism, I do my level best to cite and support my opinions. However, ultimately you're going to be the one who decides if what I'm writing is bullshit or profound. (Or profound bullshit, for that matter.)

Just because you can find parallels between different logical constructs doesn't mean you're doing a creative service.

And just because you don't care for criticism -- or see the immediate value for yourself -- doesn't mean we're not.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 21, 2005 12:44 PM

I'm still struggling with the idea that authorial intent is secondary to the final product.

Welcome to the most seminal debate in critical theory for the past hundred and thirty years. ;)

Comment from: Merus posted at October 21, 2005 12:49 PM

"It seems to me that even if the end result winds up going in another direction entirely -- ESPECIALLY if it winds up going in another direction entirely -- that intent is pretty important."

Again, Star Wars looks like an awesome example. George Lucas intended Han Solo to be a lovable rogue, but gave him a bit of a nasty streak in the cantina shootout. Certainly, he's a lovable rogue, because that intent is communicated in the movie, but what people actually knew for twenty years was that Han Solo isn't above pulling a gun on someone under the table. Which is more important, Han Solo being a lovable rogue who always plays fair, or what he actually did in the cantina, and what millions of people though he was like?

One should be able to see the author's intent in the work, and when one can't, you end up having a conversation with the author along the lines of "But that's not what I meant!" "So why didn't you say that instead?"

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at October 21, 2005 12:55 PM

Welcome to the most seminal debate in critical theory for the past hundred and thirty years. ;)

But I can't even understand why the debate is so important! If someone sends a great deal of time and effort creating a piece of art with a specific goal in mind, and mentions out loud that there was a goal in mind, and goes so far as to tell you what the goal was, I can't understand how someone could dismiss that statement out of hand. I can understand reaching the conclusion that a) he didn't pull it off, or b) the stuff he was trying to do got overshadowed by something else a lot more interesting, or even c) claiming that the author wasn't really trying to do that at all, and made up the explanation after the created the thing to begin with... but even if art has more to do with the interaction between finished product and the audience, the artist's goals were part of what went into the finished product.

I don't know... I can accept not hitting the mark when I try to do something artistic... I can even accept missing the mark so badly that I wind up taking out an innocent bystander... but if it doesn't even matter that I try, what the hell is the point?

Comment from: Kristofer Straub posted at October 21, 2005 1:19 PM

And just because you don't care for criticism -- or see the immediate value for yourself -- doesn't mean we're not.

It's not even that I don't see the value, it's that it needs some direction to it. Let's examine PVP and break it down into every categorization it can possibly be broken down into. The style of writing, the sense of humor, the font selection, the distance between the text and the word balloon line. The use of four panels, the Hirschfeldian line style, the places he does and doesn't close a design element. The ratio of funny to poignant strips. Segment it and categorize it and quantize it until you have what could serve as a hundred-page "definition" of PVP as a product of all its influences, and the directions it could go in.

If there is no thrust to this definition, it's mindless symbol disassembly. Aha! I have found a similarity between his template usage and the margin-scribbled stage directions of some lesser-known 18th-Century French playwright. Why did I bother to write that, because it can be written? And am I expecting the plaudits of whom? The general public won't give them to me.

Other like reviewers would. We could form a knitting circle of sorts. And if that's the case, and if it can so arbitrarily be done with any subject, then that criticism is distilled down to something for hobbyists. It becomes analysis without function or goal.

I'm not even saying "don't write it." Our arguments are relative and opposing -- I say "don't pat yourself on the back because you can do that," and you say "don't not pat me on the back either."

At any rate, this discussion has sort of strayed from its original framing... I don't know if I can contend that functionless analysis is what Webcomics Examiner is doing. Sometimes, it feels like it.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 21, 2005 1:26 PM

We're not discussing dismissing the intent out of hand. We're discussing a reader's response to the work. Among other things, criticism lets an author know if he's effectively conveying his intent or not.

In other words, the dichotomy is between what an author intended and what an author did. Of course intent shapes the product. It's the primary force shaping the product. However, if ten people read the work and get something completely different from it, it doesn't really matter what the author intended. What's on the page doesn't convey that intent.

That's why I state -- and reinforce now -- that an author's intended interpretation doesn't control. It's there, and if the author pulled it off it's valid. And someone who does interpret the work the way the author intended can use an author's statement of intent as a citation to support it... but the author doesn't get to decry someone else who doesn't see their work the same way, if that person can support his interpretation. The reader doesn't have the responsibility to decode "what the artist intended." He really doesn't. His responsibility begins and ends with reading the art in question, and responding to it honestly.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at October 21, 2005 1:29 PM

Well when you put it that way it almost sounds like we're saying the same thing. Which... confuses me... so I will take a moment to digest this.

Comment from: Scott Kurtz posted at October 21, 2005 1:40 PM

Whether your INTENT was to be pretentious and design your reviews to elevate your status as an intellectual or not....that's what I, the reader, inferred. And Eric, you can't control my reaction to your art. And my reaction is as valid as your intention.

I say you guys are being pompous. And my criticism of your criticism is as valid as your intent of your crticism of my work.

Webcomics examiner is the James Lipton/Inside the Actor's studio of webcomics. A bunch of guys trying to sound smarter than they really are. You guys are dissecting fart jokes and telling us it's shakespere. I call bullshit.

And that's what I, the reader, get out of your art. Whether you intended that or not. That's the subtext that I get out of the webcomics examinier.

And for you to dismiss it, only proves my point.

Do you like apples????

HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM APPLES?!!

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 21, 2005 1:54 PM

At any rate, this discussion has sort of strayed from its original framing... I don't know if I can contend that functionless analysis is what Webcomics Examiner is doing. Sometimes, it feels like it.

All right, let's take a quick example. Let's look at the Roundtable's core question, and my interpretive response to it in PvP's case.

The question, when applied to PvP was "Scott Kurtz's PvP is highly regarded and highly successful, and is one of the comic strips that entered early and clearly had high significance to the webcomics that followed it. What led to that success, and what did PvP bring to the table?"

My own answer to that question boils down to this: he was dissatisfied with his work in the beginning, so he redefined it. He redefined his artistic style. He redefined his professional habits. He redefined his commitment. In so doing, he created a templating system that ensured high consistency of design from one strip to the next. He stopped missing updates and made a huge priority in making deadlines, building habit into his reader base. He developed a best practice that worked for him, and he stuck with it." In a later elaboration, I pointed out that while he certainly rooted his strip in "geek pop culture," his strip wasn't gamer-focused so much as workplace-focused, which itself is a more universal theme and allows for broader scope."

Nowhere in this did I compare his work to Passion Plays or Petrarchian Sonnets, because that wasn't germane to the thesis or the point. This was metacommentary on methodology.

If you look at my earlier snarks on Miranda, Jade and Max, you'll see a much more traditional emphasis on interpretation. I was drawing on the evidence laid out before me to support my core thesis: Max wasn't actually a bad guy, even though he was the antagonist. All of that was interpretation, and (in that case) Kurtz indicated I got a lot of it "right" in terms of his intent. But all of it was an honest attempt to interpret the rich characters Kurtz had developed and present supporting citations for my interpretation. (That essay is here, for the record.)

Am I saying there isn't multiple-layer-thick compare and contrast essays that only another specialist would appreciate out there? Sure -- lots of them. But just like you're saying -- those are being written for specialist audiences. Whether they're thought experiments, or the person thinks the author "meant" all this, or the person thinks that maybe this is a clue to how the brain organizes like material doesn't really matter -- it's the Ph.D. candidate writing for other Ph.D. candidates, and not really caring if the general public gets it or not. It is one step away from being an in-joke.

Similarly, the roundtable was made up of creators and critics analyzing the routes the early successful strips took to become successful. And they were writing with that audience -- the audience of creators and aficionados and artists -- in mind.

So, yeah -- I think that an interpretation meant for the general public needs to be understandable by the general public. Websnark is, for lack of a better word, populist. It's meant to be read by the general public. When I write an essay on Websnark, it's with that audience in mind. And if you dislike my essays on the grounds that they're intellectual masturbation, that's your call, but they don't seem to fit the criteria you're describing.

As for patting myself on the back? Hey, I put time, energy and effort into the stuff I write. You're damn right I pat myself on the back when I finish it. (At least, if I actually like it.) And yeah, I happen to think it's significant for what it is. I believe in the tradition I'm working in, and I believe that my work will become a part of that tradition. And I believe that work makes a difference to our understanding of writing and art and text. And I believe that rigorous examination of that understanding improves writing, art and text. I believe that the ideas highlighted spread out.

I believe that when I write an essay showing how right Kurtz got the characterization of Miranda and Jade, that people will read it. I believe that webcartoonists who read it might go back to PvP and examine how Kurtz did it. And I believe they might -- just might -- learn something from it, and apply what they've learned to their own work.

There's nothing you can say to me that will convince me that doesn't matter. And there's nothing you can say to me that will convince me the attempt isn't noble. You can tell me I'm failing at it all you like. Lord knows I have failed at it before, and will again. But you can't tell me that it's not worth trying in the first place.

Back in September of last year, I posted my shortest philosophical snark. Let me repost it here:

"Why do you care so much about webcomics, anyway?"

Because art matters.

The same answer applies to "why do you criticize webomics, anyway?"

Art matters.

And this is what I can do.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 21, 2005 2:01 PM

Whether your INTENT was to be pretentious and design your reviews to elevate your status as an intellectual or not....that's what I, the reader, inferred. And Eric, you can't control my reaction to your art. And my reaction is as valid as your intention.

I say you guys are being pompous. And my criticism of your criticism is as valid as your intent of your crticism of my work.

Yes, it is.

And, further, you were able to support it. I may not agree with your interpretation, but I agree it's a valid interpretation.

My disagreement was with the contention that we couldn't do it in the first place. That a fallacious concept of "objectivity" prevented us from being critics at all. That our subjectivity disqualified our critiques.

That's what you don't get to do, Scott. You don't have to like what we write. You don't have to agree with it. You can actively disagree with it. But that doesn't mean we don't get to do it, and it doesn't mean we're not valid as critics.

And for you to dismiss it, only proves my point.

That I don't dismiss it proves mine.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 21, 2005 2:04 PM

(Oh... I almost forgot....)

(Mmmmmmm... aaaaapples...)

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at October 21, 2005 2:07 PM

Ah, to twist an old saying around, when Scott Kurtz gives you apples, you make apple pie.

The difference is, Scott, is that Eric et al. are saying that what you drew depicted this, and that you ended up showing this.

However, you are saying that they are pompous, not that they come off pompous.

Eric admits right off that he's being subjective in the beginning of this snark. However, it appears as if you are trying to pass off your opinion as fact.

And finally, Shakespeare wasn't afraid to make a bawdy joke here and there. Dante in fact did make a fart joke (the classic "And he made a trumpet of his ass" line at the end of Inferno, Canto XXIII) and we *do* talk about him on the same level as Shakespeare. And that's not even getting into Rabelais and his two-page discussion of the best item to use to wipe one's ass (his decision: the neck of a still-living goose).

Face it: scatalogical humor, such as the fart joke, is one of the most important literary devices in history. I somewhat wish I had written a paper on this in college, with the essay entitled "Pull My Finger."

Comment from: Kristofer Straub posted at October 21, 2005 2:21 PM

Eric, don't get me wrong. I know that Websnark is populist and by and large falls outside of my complaints about criticism. So you don't need to defend Websnark against my argument, because I'm not leveling it there. I read Websnark each day; I do not read Webcomics Examiner.

Also, Modern Humor Authority has just published a review of the movie Doom, calling attention to a subtext that I didn't think existed.

Comment from: RoboYuji posted at October 21, 2005 2:32 PM

Ha ha, I have this odd urge to see the Doom movie now.

Comment from: thok posted at October 21, 2005 4:06 PM

Wow, long thread.

A couple comments

1. I find it interesting (appropriate? ironic??) that this discussion comes during this particular arc of PVP. Part of Brent's concern seems to be about losing control of his creation (his daughter) and having it change forever; that seems to be part of the problem Kurtz has with the critical community. (Of course, I have to be careful; today's comic could have been influenced by this discussion).

2. There's no reason why the two different meanings (security blankey; innocence) have to conflict with each other. Even if we accept the security blanket interpretation of the Skull plushie, we can still ask "Why Skull?" For example, Kurtz could have made a copy of Linus's blanket, or a WoW-themed plushie, or even (if he was in an ironic mood) a stuffed panda. Each of these would work as just a security blanket; part of the point of the innocence intepretation is to reinforce the particular choice of Skull, rather than the alternatives.

(Incidentally, if you believe this is just a dream, the innocence intepretation also says a lot about Brent, as does the fact that his "daughter" suggests that this is a vision for God.)

Comment from: Montykins posted at October 21, 2005 5:16 PM

And finally, Shakespeare wasn't afraid to make a bawdy joke here and there.

"Here and there"? His plays are full of obscene puns (that amuse no one, but that's beside the point) and scatology.

Hell, King Lear has Gloucester saying "Can you smell a fault?" (pronounced the same as "Can you smell a fart?" right there on the first page! That's a little something for the lads in the cheap seats right there.

Shakespeare's a good example, actually -- he'd almost certainly disclaim most of the meaning that has been assigned to his plays.

Comment from: Merus posted at October 21, 2005 5:47 PM

I've just realised that I can't even remember why the Webcomics Examiner was pompous.

Perhaps some people should agree to disagree?

Comment from: Kristofer Straub posted at October 21, 2005 6:23 PM

I've just realised that I can't even remember why the Webcomics Examiner was pompous.

It's okay, I can remember for you. With little difficulty. But none of this will be settled in this thread. Although it would be awesome if we could, so we could present our solution to the world art community.

Comment from: EsotericWombat posted at October 21, 2005 6:28 PM

Man, you can't tell me you didn't laugh at the Porter. Booze, the devil, limp dicks and Jesuits? Its a comedy goldmine.

Comment from: Snowspinner posted at October 21, 2005 6:55 PM

On the authorial intent debate, at the risk of responding to a question with more history than people care about, basically what happened was this. World War II ended, and the G.I. bill was passed in America. A huge number of relatively uneducated people were suddenly in the universities. A non-authorial based reading strategy (New Criticism) came into vogue in response to this, because it really stripped it down - you didn't need to know the author's biography, you didn't need to read a lot of secondary criticism, it was just you, the text, and interpretation.

This was followed up by deconstruction and postmodernism, where the text started becoming subverted - where the author's intent became irrelevent because texts were read as being more ambiguous, more tortured, and more contradictory. The hallmark of a deconstructive reading is when you get to the point where the text is contradicting itself, and exposing an uncertainty about somethng that was a key aspect of it. And this is tremendously liberating - politically as well as personally. It makes texts a lot more interesting, and puts into play a bunch of questions that aren't really a part of the authorial debate - portrayals of gender in Shakespeare, the implied racism of children's literature, etc. And that's a big move, and one that was largely made possible by ending the author's hard control over the work.

Also, it's worth noting that there's a reason Eric departed academia, and part of it is (I would guess) that the new critics hold minimal sway there anymore. They've been out of fashion for about 25 years now. And most of what's come after is, if not actually adhering to authorial intent in full, at least somewhat more considering of it than the new critics.

Comment from: Snowspinner posted at October 21, 2005 7:02 PM

I think Eric is being a hair unfair to political criticism. There certainly is the bad political criticism - my favorite example reads the Wizard of Oz as a sermon about the gold standard. But the field as a whole does no worse than Sturgeon's Law would predict. The best feminist/Marxist/whatever criticism does not shoehorn every text into a straightjacket, but rather approaches the world from a feminist or Marxist perspective, and is mostly only interested in texts that speak to that perspective. A good Marxist scholar just isn't going to care so much about, say, Calvin and Hobbes. But I don't think anyone would object particularly to someone reading Dilbert from a Marxist perspective.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at October 21, 2005 7:07 PM

That kind of political criticism makes a lot more sense to me.

Comment from: Steve Hogan posted at October 21, 2005 7:23 PM

I think it's unfair to claim that the Webcomics Examiner guys are too egghead-y without offering counterproposals. Should they dumb it down 25%? 35%? 50%? Should Larry The Cable Guy be tapped for editorial input?

I'm thinking of recording a rap album that deals with this issue. I haven't decided yet if I want to call it FEAR OF A SMART PLANET or IT TAKES A NATION OF MILLIONS OF SYLLABLES TO HOLD US BACK.

Comment from: Aerin posted at October 21, 2005 7:38 PM

32_footsteps: I think I may have to steal that one.

This debate underscores the biggest part of my pain as an English major. (My focus is screenwriting, not lit, but you'd better believe I still take piles of Lit classes.) Going back to what someone referenced earlier, it's perfectly legitimate to write a paper expounding on Sam, Frodo, and Gollum as representatives of the superego, ego, and id. I can see that interpretation, and I can even get behind it as an interesting alternate spin on the work. However, if that paper said that Tolkein intended Sam, Frodo, and Gollum as representatives of the superego, ego, and id, well, that's when I break out a blunt, heavy object and make with the hurting. You can certainly ascribe any meaning you want to a piece of work, and as long as you use relevant and apt citations, I'll pay at least a little attention. But, unless you have direct evidence as to the author's intentions (which is why a paper how Wright uses Chomsky's ideas in Help Desk would be absolutely valid, since you can cite his comments here as to intent), you CANNOT ascribe anything except the words on the page to that author. Period. Any interpretation you put on it is YOUR interpretation, a point many of my classmates seem to have missed entirely.

There's a passage in Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson that I love. It's way long, so I'm sorry, but I'm going to quote it here because it's brilliant and relevant. Feel free to scroll past me.

It's Nathaniel Hawthorne Month in English. Poor Nathaniel. Does he know what they've done to him? We are reading The Scarlet Letter one sentence at a time, tearing it up and chewing on its bones.

It's all about SYMBOLISM, says Hairwoman [her English teacher]. Every word chosen by Nathaniel, every comma, every paragraph break--these were all done on purpose. To get a decent grade in her class, we have to figure out what he was really trying to say. Why couldn't he just say what he meant? Would they pin scarlet letters on his chest? B for blunt, S for straightforward?

I can't whine too much. Some of it is fun. It's like a code, breaking into his head and finding the key to his secrets. LIke the whole guilt thing. Of course you know the minister feels guilty and Hester feels guilty, but Nathaniel wants us to know that this is a big deal. If he kept repeating, "She felt guilty, she felt guilty, she felt guilty," it would be a boring book and no one would buy it. So he planted SYMBOLS, like the weather, and the whole light and dark thing, to show us how poor Hester feels.

[skipping ahead a bit]

So the code-breaking part was fun for the first lesson, but a little of it goes a long way. Hairwoman is hammering it to death.

Hairwoman: "The description of the house with bits of glass embedded in the walls--what does it mean?"

Utter silence from the class. A fly left over from fall buzzes against the cold window. A locker slams in the hall. Hairwoman answers her own question.

"Think of what that would look like, a wall with glass embedded in it. It would ... reflect? Sparkle? Shine on sunny days maybe. Come on, people, I should have to do this by myself. Glass in the wall. We see that on top of prison walls nowadays. Hawthorne is showing us that the house is a prison, or a dangerous place maybe. It is hurtful. Now, I asked you to find some examples of the use of color. Who can list a few pages where color is described?"

The fly buzzes a farewell buzz and dies.

Rachel/Rachelle, my ex-best friend: "Who cares what the color means? How do you know what he meant to say? I mean, did he leave another book called 'Symbolism in My Books'? If he didn't, then you could just be making all of this up. Does anyone really think this guy sat down and stuck all kinds of hidden meanings into his story? It's just a story."

Hairwoman: "This is Hawthorne, one of the greatest American novelists! He didn't do anything by accident--he was a genius."

Rachel/Rachelle: "I thought we were supposed to have opinions here. My opinion is that it's kind of hard to read, but the part about how Hester gets in trouble and the preacher almost gets away with it, well, that's a good story. But I think you are making all this symbolism stuff up. I don't believe any of it."

And that sums it up more eloquently than I ever could have managed when I was a high school freshman. Read everything you want into the work, but leave the poor author out of it.

Also, I just had to share that, if only because The Scarlet Letter utterly destroyed symbolism for me.

(This is probably formatted badly. I hate preview mode.)

Comment from: Aerin posted at October 21, 2005 7:40 PM

Dammit, formatted even worse than I thought. The blockquote was supposed to extend down to "But I think you are making all this symbolism stuff up. I don't believe any of it."

/me takes a damn bat to Preview mode, Office Space-style

Comment from: Kristofer Straub posted at October 21, 2005 7:53 PM

The Webcomics Examiner shouldn't have to change anything. They're doing what they want to, and they should be free to do it exactly the way they want to. And maybe they will be noted for something "significant in the long run," even if that sounds a little like hubris to me.

I just personally feel like they're in this brackish area between the ground floor criticism and legitimacy Eric mentioned, and the mindless symbol-gnashing I mentioned. Webcomics desperately need legitimacy from the mainstream -- but that has to come from the mainstream, not our own contemplation about the art form, no matter how in-depth it is.

But I take some comfort in knowing that someone gives a damn about webcomics to that degree, despite my criticism of the way they display it. I'm reflecting on how I'm talking about this criticism and its tone of "the groundbreaking importance of webcomics as a thrilling and incredible new medium," and I hope it's not coming across like I'm saying "screw webcomics."

I feel like webcomics are a natural extension of culture, and free content on the internet and all that... what's a good way to put it? When television came out, there was talk of the destruction of radio. But radio didn't die, it just got a little more specialized.

Now with the advent of cheap hard drives, we now have TiVo. But I'm not hearing a lot of groundbreaking discussion about how DVR is changing the face of TV forever, you know? DVR lets you rewind and fast-forward live TV; the internet lets you scroll around images. DVR lets you watch TV on your schedule; the internet lets you hyperlink content so it's no longer a straight line.

Why are there no criticisms of DVR, describing the incredible power that's being unleashed and placed in the hands of viewers? Is there a ground floor of criticism waiting to be populated there?

Comment from: Snowspinner posted at October 21, 2005 7:58 PM

As someone in the academy who's well acquainted with new media studies, if not active in them, I will say that A) the DVR is discussed as changing what the medium of television is, and B) The "incredible power" of the Internet in terms of hyperlinks and things has been on dodgy ground since about 2001, when Lev Manovich ripped it a new one in _The Language of New Media_, and while it still has its adherents, it's not really the main discussion anymore in the high-end academic stuff.

Comment from: J Ryan Beattie posted at October 21, 2005 8:39 PM

Also, so far as I'm aware, no one's tried taking that technology and trying to exploit it to make a new kind of program that wouldn't work just as well on regular television.

Comment from: Joe Zabel posted at October 21, 2005 9:22 PM

I wanted to address what I think is a faulty impression that Scott and some other folks may have. As Scott wrote, "I only questioned the motivation of the webcomics examiner and it's over-analysis of my gag-cartoon."

Our analysis of PvP was not all that long, comparatively. Although it is arguably worthy of critical attention, in this context we were considering it more as a representative of the trends in webcomics development.

In fact, we have devoted much, much more attention to some other artists in past issues.

For example, we devoted an entire roundtable to Derek Kirk Kim ( http://webcomicsreview.com/examiner/issue040913/dkkrt.html ) and Shaenon wrote a lengthy and absorbing feature article on DKK for the same issue ( http://webcomicsreview.com/examiner/issue040913/dkkwork.html ).

I penned a career retrospective of Patrick Farley ( http://webcomicsreview.com/examiner/issue041213/farley.html ) that ran to a really horrific length.

John Allison, who seems equally beloved by the general public and the high-art crowd, was the subject of a Michael Whitney piece examining his evolving art style ( http://webcomicsreview.com/examiner/issue040809/scarygoround.html ) as well as being mentioned in Tym Godek's feature about language in webcomics ( http://webcomicsreview.com/examiner/issue050613/whotalkslikethat.html )

Some might argue that we have devoted too much attention to these and many other artists. I disagree; I wish we could devote a lot more attention to them!

Comment from: kirabug posted at October 21, 2005 9:53 PM

But radio didn't die, it just got a little more specialized.

You mean The Buggles were wrong? Ack!

Hairwoman: "The description of the house with bits of glass embedded in the walls--what does it mean?"

Being the pragmatic I am, I can remember attending classes where conversations like this took place, and piping up with, "It means they wanted stronger bricks." After all, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Then I'd turn around and write a paper proving it was a symbol, just to drive the prof nuts anyway.

Gawd, I so have to find his email address and send a link to this thread -- look! you can use this stuff after you graduate! for fun even!

On a separate note, this whole thread did make me take a closer look at my own work and make some plot decisions based on what I want someone to get out of it.

Comment from: kirabug posted at October 21, 2005 10:21 PM

A hundred and ninety five (six now) comments. Lord, Eric, you do aggro drama.

Comment from: Aerin posted at October 21, 2005 10:36 PM

I wouldn't really call this drama. There's been very little even resembling personal attacks here. This has mainly been a long, in-depth, and highly intelligent discussion on things nearest and dearest to an English major's heart, so I'm guessing Eric is happy to aggro this sort of thing.

Comment from: Kristofer Straub posted at October 21, 2005 11:10 PM

I have thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of this conversation. It's the feel-interested* Websnark of the year!

* not intended as a slight; this topic is one I have wanted to discuss since the inception of MHA

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 21, 2005 11:16 PM

I'm with Mister Straub on this -- I don't consider this aggroed drama. I got to revel for a bit in philosophy, theory, lit, with intelligent people of multiple viewpoints.

Frankly, it was wonderful. You guys rock.

Oh, and:

Also, it's worth noting that there's a reason Eric departed academia, and part of it is (I would guess) that the new critics hold minimal sway there anymore.

Well, that's why the University of Utah rejected me (specifically, they said I had a "lack of appreciation of modern critical methods.") That was ultimately less an issue of New Criticism and more an issue that I think Deconstructionism is dingo's kidneys.

Mostly, however, I'm not in academia because I'm poor and couldn't get an Assistantship. To this day I think about it, though at this point I'm probably too old to start over.

On the other hand, I've had a miserable week at work. Again. So maybe it's time to take a leap of faith.

Comment from: Snowspinner posted at October 21, 2005 11:31 PM

I've no good sense of how old you are, and thus no idea how long ago you got rejected, but at least now, deconstruction has largely given way to the political criticisms. Though the political criticisms, as I said, are also getting less "We must shoehorn the text into this model!"

And while I would not go so far as to say deconstruction is dingo's kidneys, I also really don't give a flying fut about it. :)

I think the real moral, though, is that Eric needs a second shirt following "I aggro drama." Specifically, "I agro litcrit."

Which I would TOTALLY buy.

Comment from: Merus posted at October 21, 2005 11:56 PM

Where else do you giant discussions about litcrit and its relevance to webcomic on the same page as the Canadian time pole?

The Canadian Time Pole. That sounds like I should be able to equip that and get +3 to Intelligence.

Comment from: Joe Zabel posted at October 22, 2005 12:09 AM

Before this thread is completely extinct, let me just add that we're always looking for new contributors-- not simply to fill the magazine, but to provide different perspectives and expanded horizons. The contributors' guidelines are here: http://webcomicsreview.com/examiner/about.html#guidelines

If you're interested, contact me, joezabel@yahoo.com.

Comment from: Montykins posted at October 22, 2005 12:40 AM

Great! Because I think I've just about figured out a half-decent Christian Allegory that can map onto PVP.

(It's not so much the "This character's struggle parallel's Christ's" angle, though -- I figure there's something that can be done with the way some characters know Skull's there and some don't. So a few thousand words of, um, "analysis", and then it looks like "God is in your heart". Or something. Look, I've only been working on it since the beginning of this paragraph.)

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at October 22, 2005 1:00 AM

First things first - what are you stealing from me, Aerin? I'm finding it enjoyable to test out lines on Websnark comments to be used later. But if you're going to steal my "Pull My Finger" essay, I call dibs.

As for Shakespeare and writing for the peanut gallery - I'm going to defer to you, Monty. My study of Shakespeare mostly consists of Macbeth (I always got to do the Porter, which was fun). I went to three different high schools because of moves, and I always moved to a new school just in time to do Macbeth. And when I went to college, I decided to not study anything written in my native tongue (which is why I keep going back to Rabelais).

But aye, I remember the porter.

And Kira, the Buggles were right, in a twisted way. "Video Killed the Radio Star" was about a distopian future where sound ceased to exist (and yes, this is according to Trevor Horn, who co-wrote the song). You could always interpret modern living as one in which there is so much sound you naturally filter it out, putting yourself in a bubble blocking out the world.

And if you think that's nuts, you should see what I could do with "Elstree."

Comment from: larksilver posted at October 22, 2005 1:47 AM

I'm afraid I must disagree about Shakespeare's low-brow humor not amusing anyone. It amuses ME, particularly when performed well. It's still more cleverly done than such efforts as "Dude, Where's My Car?" and "Saving Silverman."

Bad puns and the occasional well-played fart or boob joke are my guilty pleasures, what can I say? Don't look at me like that. Hey! I'm a fixture here in the comments. Don't ban me for liking low-brow now and again!

*runs and hides behind the Canadian Time Pole*

Comment from: Montykins posted at October 22, 2005 2:41 AM

I'm afraid I must disagree about Shakespeare's low-brow humor not amusing anyone. It amuses ME, particularly when performed well. It's still more cleverly done than such efforts as "Dude, Where's My Car?" and "Saving Silverman."

The stuff that makes sense, sure. The stuff with the endless footnotes explaining that "something" and "nothing" are Elizabethan slang terms, and therefore, in connection with this passing reference to horns (which the Elizabethans found hilarious), this scene is secretly a brilliant obscene joke, and not gibberish at all.

I mean, take Hamlet (Act III, Scene II). I'll allow "Lady, shall I lie in your lap?" If I'm pressured, I'll make allowances for "Do you think I meant country matters?"

But when it gets down to pretending that every time Hamlet or Ophelia says "Nothing", it's hilarious, well, I think modern audiences are being asked to try too hard.

Comment from: EsotericWombat posted at October 22, 2005 3:54 AM

Well In that case you can pretty much rule out "Much Ado About Nothing" eh?

Comment from: EsotericWombat posted at October 22, 2005 3:56 AM

you know, just as I hit "post" it hit me that the "something"/"nothing" thing still has a certain signifigance today. Take binary

Something: 1

Nothing: 0

Comment from: gwalla posted at October 22, 2005 5:02 AM

Hey, why no love for Harold Bloom? (said the guy whose only knowledge of the guy's work is through paraphrases in a book on superhero comics)

But if someone were to dismiss that outright and claim no, he was instead influenced by, I don't know, Hegel -- well, the only way I'd be able to take that seriously is if they showed how I thought I was starting off with Chomsky, got derailed somewhere down the line and wound up in Hegel's camp.

But see, that's not criticism, it's a statement of fact, and can therefore be false. A critic writing about how Help Desk works as a Hegelian dielectic, on the other hand, can only be wrong if he's deliberately lying about his own impressions and conclusions.

Comment from: Aerin posted at October 22, 2005 5:10 AM

I'd want to steal the "Pull My Finger" title and the concept of the essay. Though I don't know what class I'd write that for. Maybe when I do one of my stodgy British Writers classes. Though if I could find enough material, it would be a killer final for my 19th Century US Women's Prose class...

You'd probably write it better, though.

Comment from: Adrean posted at October 22, 2005 1:47 PM

Who better to judge another comicker's work than another comicker? They know the stuff.

Comment from: Ray Radlein posted at October 22, 2005 2:15 PM

Hey, why no love for Harold Bloom?

Because he has turned, especially as of late, into the litcrit world's number one disdainfully sniffing stick-up-the-ass attacker of all things which don't fit into his narrow and fossilized definition of "The Classics." He acts as though you are an ignorant peasant, for practically all values of "you."

Compared to him, William F. Buckley is a jive-talking hipster; he has become a caricature.

Comment from: Kristofer Straub posted at October 22, 2005 2:17 PM

It depends on what the function or audience of the judging is. If a 43-year-old Mexican plumber is on trial, a "jury of his peers" is taken to mean other people, not other 43-year-old Mexican plumbers.

There are lots of insider magazines where cartoonists and animators and other kinds of artists review their own kind, but the thing that makes those arenas "legit" is that you also have scholars reviewing the works elsewhere. If it's just us reviewing us, it's like we're trying to draw up our own credentials.

Right now, we don't have the luxury of being reviewed by legit external critics, but just because we're wearing our dad's shirt, tie and pants doesn't mean we're all grown up.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 22, 2005 2:31 PM

Ray -- there's that, yes. (My favorite is his complaint that kids are reading trash like Harry Potter, instead of good, classic children's literature like The Wind in the Willows. Which comes down to the idea that the stuff he liked as a kid is good, but the things kids like today isn't.

But no, my disdain for Harold Bloom is the concept of prefigurement.

You see, Bloom's literary theory is essentially a political one, only without politics. It is his considered opinion that Shakespeare is the figure in literature that the literary world surrounds. All works can be assessed and interpreted by their relationship to Shakespeare.

Including works like the Canterbury Tales. Which predated Shakespeare by centuries.

You see, he has put forth the thesis that Shakespeare is so significant that his influence reaches back into time. And Chaucer was so good a writer he could receive the... um... transmissions from the future, I guess. So. The Canterbury Tales was influenced by Shakespeare, clearly!

The idea that Shakespeare's work was influenced by The Canterbury Tales, and thus any correspondences could be explained that way... well, diminishes Shakespeare's genius. And therefore cannot be countenanced.

So, yeah. Batshit insane.

Comment from: Snowspinner posted at October 22, 2005 2:34 PM

Bloom is actually sort of double-hated. On the one hand, he's, as you describe, a godawful stick-in-the-mud. On the other, he only writes popular academic books these days, instead of meaningful studies of anything. So he's simultaneously insistent that we do respectful study of the classics while not actually doing any himself.

Also, he appears to sexually harass his students.

Comment from: Snowspinner posted at October 22, 2005 3:10 PM

Oh. Prefigurement.

Yeah...

The sympathetic and sane way to read that (And the way that I think most people do) is that Shakespeare's literary influence is so vast that we in post-Shakespearean world can't read anything except through a lens that has been transformed by Shakespeare. So it's not that Chaucer recieved Magic Future Transmissions, it's that Shakespeare changed how people read so that we can't read Chaucer now the way that, Chaucer was read when he wrote.

Comment from: gwalla posted at October 22, 2005 3:26 PM

Ah. Understood.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at October 22, 2005 3:59 PM

Of course, prefigurement falls apart if you simply managed to avoid reading most Shakespeare, as I have. I suppose some wiseass would counter about how Honore de Balzac (or possibly Gustave Flaubert, seeing as I liked Flaubert leagues better) changed how I read. And even then, the average Francophone would probably be upset that I didn't say Victor Hugo (I've only read some of his poems in the original French) instead.

Comment from: Nate posted at October 22, 2005 8:28 PM

Bah. You haven't read Shakespeare until you've read it in the original Klingon.

Comment from: EsotericWombat posted at October 23, 2005 12:39 AM

Dude, What did I tell you?

Comment from: Tangent posted at October 23, 2005 12:43 AM

Comment from: kirabug

Ah, but the kind of criticism we're talking about is not a "review". A "review" is something that says, "Hey, you should see this because the special effects are an A, the plot's a b+, and the acting's an A-. Oh, and there's kittens." But rarenly does a reviewer have the freedom of analyzing a movie's stylistic elements, symbolism, the actor's approach to the material, etc. etc. If they did, it would either ruin the plot for those who haven't seen it, and a "review" is ultimately about talking you in or out of going to the theater in the first place, or make no sense unless you'd seen the movie.


Hmm. I think I've been slammed. *grin* Must be why I'm no longer mentioned in your links page. *wink*

When I started Tangents, I was in a sense going off on a tangent from what Eric was doing in Websnark. I felt he didn't comment about certain genres that were quite deserving of comment. And indeed, I've found multiple comics that Eric has just ignored, including some I've e-mailed him about and strongly suggested they deserve a Snark from him (because I freely admit that Tangents is a small fish. I'll never be one of the serious big names because my reviews are glowingly positive, even when I feel negatively about something).

If you look into what I say in my reviews, and specifically in the Meta-reviews, you'll see that I do get into some critical venues. Sure, I might not work in the classical sense of criticism, but it works. And considering I've had people regretfully tell me they have to stop reading Tangents because I hooked them on too many web-comics... I must be doing something right.

What is the difference between what I write and what was in the Webcomic Examiner's roundtable? You tell me. I know I've taken some deep looks into certain comics (for instance, I've greatly enjoyed the recent "dream strips" in PvP and did write up a Tangent on them, despite the fact that Mr. Kurtz and myself tend to disagree on quite a few things. And heck, I disagree on him about the belief of pretention in this discussion.

The thing to remember is this: These are people's opinions. When someone states "Scott Kurtz was showing the parallels between Skull and Brent's daughter when she pulled the Skull doll up to her chest" there is an inherent "in my opinion" or "it is my belief that..." in there. Do we truly have to spell this out each and every time?

Well, I do periodically write warnings that people should come up with their own opinions about comics instead of trusting what Eric or myself have to say about them. What I like, someone else may not. And while Eric may have disliked GPF's Surreptitious Machinations storyline, I ended up enjoying it a great deal (though that may be because I read it all at once, rather than one strip at a time).

Despite my tendency to state outright that these are my own ideas or interpretations, I think any intelligent reader would realize that when Eric or someone else says something like "Brent's daughter was an aspect of the innocence of Skull, and this is manifest by her hugging the Skull plushie to her chest" that THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT THEIR OWN INTERPRETATION. They're not stating that this was what Scott Kurtz intended by this.

(Yes, some critics actually *do* mean what they state when they talk about what symbolism actually meant. I remember a Rodney Dangerfield movie in which Dangerfield's character hired the writer of a classic story to do an interpretation of said story, and got a bad grade because the teacher felt it was different. But do we truly think that the people in the Webcomic Community see things in such terms? That level of hubritic critic tends to exist in the Education/Literary Field. Webcomics are still in their infancy and have attracted very little attention from most of Higher Education. And besides, the authors are mostly still alive to defend their perspectives in this. *grin*)

BTW, Shannon... I'm flattered by your comments about my Tangents (because I love to know people actually read these things *grin*)... but I double-checked and cannot find anything about my believing Mell would fall for Madblood. Or any comments along that line. It's puzzling. *smile*

*sigh* Figures I'm on dial-up during the most exciting Websnark discussion of quite some time. Alas...

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Webcomic Reviews (and yes, with Kittens!)
http://www.tangents.us

Comment from: Ray Radlein posted at October 23, 2005 10:55 AM

Of course, prefigurement falls apart if you simply managed to avoid reading most Shakespeare, as I have.

Not really, because practically every last English-language author you have read has been massively influenced by Shakespeare. The point to 32_footsteps' more charitable interpretation of prefigurement is that Shakespeare so thoroughly permeates English language culture that we can't seperate out his influence even in those cases where it would clearly be desirable to do so.

To that extent, he seems to be saying, Shakespeare represents a Singularity point in English literature and culture, in that inhabitants of either side of the divide essentially cannot (or could not, of course, since it's not like we can go grab Aethelred the Book Reviewer of 1252 to get his opinions of The Pickwick Papers or Sense and Sensibility as a test case) judge the works of the other in anything like their native context.

To at least some extent, it's certainly true; Shakespeare does cast a giant shadow across the face of English language culture, and he is, pretty clearly, just about the most influential figure in English language literature. That's fairly inarguable, whether you believe that it is because he was a singular genius posessed of gifts unraivalled since then, or that it's because he was simply the best (or most influential) writer around at the one point in history — after the printing press, and right at the dawn of modern English culture — where his works would most effectively permeate the developing culture.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 23, 2005 2:38 PM

The problem with prefigurement, on the other side of the coin, is that it's true of any work of major significance to the Canon. To single Shakespeare out is to elevate his significance from "important" to "Godhood."

If one takes any kind of evolutionary approach to literature, then one must take a broader one than even the Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon. For example, the King James Version of the Bible is contemporary to Shakespeare, and has had at least (if not more) direct impact on the development of literature in English. For centuries, the KJV was required reading for... well, everyone, and an author who knew nothing of Shakespeare would have been expected to be able to quote chapter and verse of it.

Similarly, Dickens was monumentally popular and monumentally significant in his era, and the novels he wrote inexorably affected the novels that followed and colors our perspective of the novels that predated them. And Chaucer himself was a nuclear bomb in the development of literature. It's certain that Shakespeare's own work would have been very different without the Canterbury Tales predating it.

Of course, the same could be said of the Illiad and the Odyssey. And dozens of other works.

What Bloom does is raise Shakespeare's importance to the point of fetish -- something the Elizabethans themselves failed to do, I would add. It reaches ludicrous proportions in his work -- Shakespeare stops being seminal and becomes apotheotic, and it becomes increasingly difficult to take what Bloom writes seriously as a result.

There's a reason I compare Bloom to the more fanatical Marxist or Feminist critics. He's not interpreting in comparison to Shakespeare, he's letting his views of Shakespeare overwhelm what he actually sees, and as a result his citations become suspect and with it his validity.

Comment from: Prodigal posted at October 23, 2005 3:19 PM

Quoth Scott Kurtz, to Eric:

And my reaction is as valid as your intention.

And that was Eric's point to you, Scott, when he pointed out that other people could interpret your use of the Skull plush doll in a way other than how you intended. So if you're going to serve them apples up to Eric, you have to eat a helping yourself.

Comment from: miyaa posted at October 23, 2005 5:53 PM

Does Prefigurement work only with English Lit, or can you use it to say that Shakespeare's work is the defining work for all literature in any language? Even in Klingon?

Also: Kira, does this mean movies need more kittens?

Comment from: Plaid Phantom posted at October 23, 2005 6:10 PM

If one takes any kind of evolutionary approach to literature, then one must take a broader one than even the Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon. For example, the King James Version of the Bible is contemporary to Shakespeare, and has had at least (if not more) direct impact on the development of literature in English. For centuries, the KJV was required reading for... well, everyone, and an author who knew nothing of Shakespeare would have been expected to be able to quote chapter and verse of it.

Ironically, last I heard Shakespeare had quite a hand in the creation of the King James Version. Or it was at least highly suspected.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 23, 2005 6:20 PM

"Quite a hand" is something of an exaggeration. The last prevailing theories I had heard was that he had worked on some of the Psalms.

Comment from: Montykins posted at October 23, 2005 6:46 PM

The last prevailing theories I had heard was that he had worked on some of the Psalms.

...and had nothing better to do with his time than secretly encode his name into them.

It's always sounded kind of unlikely to me (because it requires that Shakespeare specifically request the Psalm that matches up to the age he's going to be when the KJV finally gets printed), but there are some reasonably eminent people who think it's plausible. On the other hand, this article in the Times of London seems to be written by somebody who has a list of the actual translators.

Comment from: Tangent posted at October 23, 2005 7:38 PM

Tsk. Of course movies should have more kittens in them! They have to pay for those milk shipments somehow... *grin*

Rob H.

Comment from: Benor posted at October 23, 2005 8:17 PM

I believe, at this point, that we should gracefully close the discussion entirely. Allow me.

BENOR SMASH PUNY THEORIES OF CRITICISM!

*smashes*

Comment from: Joe Zabel posted at October 23, 2005 9:07 PM

Sorry, Benor, but I had one final, belated observation that I just hafta make:

Much of this discussion has centered around Scott's contention that the interpretation of the artist is always superior to that of the critic.

Well, one of The Examiner's reviews actually anticipated that in a very ingenious way-- it combined the review with commentary by the artist being reviewed!

http://webcomicsreview.com/examiner/issue040913/reman.html

The piece is by none other than William G! The moral? Great minds think alike!

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 23, 2005 9:15 PM

I hereby anticipate another solid week of discussion on this topic. ;)

Comment from: Wednesday White posted at October 23, 2005 10:01 PM

I'll be at Duane's.

Comment from: Benor posted at October 23, 2005 10:26 PM

But....Benor strongest one there is...

Zabel make Benor very sad.

Comment from: J Ryan Beattie posted at October 24, 2005 1:56 AM

At least you're still stronger than (Insert Person Here), Benor.

Comment from: kirabug posted at October 24, 2005 2:02 AM

Tangent wrote:

Hmm. I think I've been slammed. *grin* Must be why I'm no longer mentioned in your links page. *wink*

God's honest truth, I didn't even look at whose comments I was responding to when I wrote that. I do stand by my comments, just please understand that they weren't aimed at you specifically.

If you look into what I say in my reviews, and specifically in the Meta-reviews, you'll see that I do get into some critical venues. [snip]... I must be doing something right.

I believe you, though I haven't read your site in a while. (It's a writing-style thing, not a content thing.)

What is the difference between what I write and what was in the Webcomic Examiner's roundtable? You tell me.

I'm not sure - mostly because I haven't been reading what you write. Let me take a different tack, and you can tell me:

A "review" (in my mind) is a description of what's going on in a particular story, with the assumption that the audience hasn't yet read/seen the story. Attention is paid to the delivery of the story and the reviewer makes a case to the reader for why the reader should seek out (or avoid) the story. Although a review is strengthened by citing sources, it's not required, and in fact is discouraged if it means ruining the film for others. (This features phrases like, "The twist at the end of the film was a disappointment" without describing said twist.)

A "criticism" (still in my mind) is specifically a description of critical elements to the telling of the story, whether they be the symbolic nature of the elements, the effects of certain historical events or political views on the work, or the effects of the work on other works. It's assumed the reader is relatively familiar with the work(s) in quesiton -- or can become so very quickly. A criticism is specifically out to prove a thesis. The point is to make the reader aware or some crucial detail that adds meaning or effect to the story or to the reader's life which the reader may have otherwise overlooked.

A good part of the Webcomics Examiner article (though not all - it is a roundtable after all) is aimed repeating over and over the following thesis:

Comic X had/has significant impact on webcomics and their history.

It then goes on to provie that thesis by citing that the elements 1, 2, and 3 set it apart from its peers or influenced future comics, but elements 4,5, and 6 can be seen as detractors from its impact.

But since it's a roundtable and not a formal paper, it's nowhere near as tight a thesis as a formal paper would or should be. On the other hand, it's not a review -- the authors expected that you were familiar with the comics, and they used the comics to prove their thesis.

So if your posts each have a defined thesis of what you're trying to prove and then you prove them, with the assumption your reader's already familiar with them, they're criticisms. If the reviews are to draw your readers to the comics without ruining the plots, they're reviews. And both are just fine. Neither is better than the other.

Eric leans toward formal criticisms, which are very effective considering the tightness of his prose, his ability to quickly and effectively cite his point using examples and references, and his significant knowledge of the material. Considering his audience is mostly webcomic-savvy, it fits well. (One could easily argue that the formal criticisms led directly to the webcomic-savvy audience.)

I lean toward three-line reviews consisting of a link and the words "This made me laugh" or similar. Considering my small-potatoes audience is mostly folks unfamiliar with webcomics other than mine, it also fits. But I'm not very good at extemporaneous criticisims (as is obvious by how long this post has become), so I purposely try to avoid them unless I feel it's critically important to my audience, and I think a significant number of them are familiar with my subject matter.

I'm not familiar enough with your content or audience to say one way or the other for you.

Miyaa wrote:


Also: Kira, does this mean movies need more kittens?

Sure! Kittens improve both good movies and bad. As long as no one invents smell-o-vision, because I'm allergic to the little beasts.

Comment from: Plaid Phantom posted at October 24, 2005 2:10 AM

I knew that "quite a hand" was an exaggeration; I just never got around to changing that phrase. I didn't realize, though, that it was only a few psalms. I was under the impression that he did a bit more than that.

Comment from: siwangmu posted at October 24, 2005 2:13 AM

In Feminist critical theory, all art and literature is a reflection of the struggle between women and a male dominated society

I've never formally learned about this, but I'd be inclined to put it this way: Feminist critical theory assumes that (nearly) all art and literature contains a reflection on gender struggles.
It then consists of looking at what exactly is showing up in the reflections. It doesn't mean Work X is about gender, but it is interested in what Work X says about gender, which, most of the time, is something.

Or that's just my fantasy idea of what a logical Feminist critical theory would be? That's very possible too.

On a related note, that MHA about Doom made me kind of sick, being that I've not had familiar exposure to the excesses of feminist analysis (which would make it funny to me) but I have had lots of exposure to borderline-or-outright-misogynistic dismissal of feminism (woo North Carolina!) (I am not implying the MHA is this, just Historicizing my reaction).

Comment from: larksilver posted at October 24, 2005 8:12 AM

I have had lots of exposure to borderline-or-outright-misogynistic dismissal of feminism (woo North Carolina!)

I'm not too popular with my relatives (well, really my hubby's) in North Carolina. During the years we stayed there, I made my .. er.. independent streak known. Walked out of two family gatherings even, the first when they took me aside and told me "I'm going to put candles and snacks down on the table so the men don't have to go looking for them and can focus on the football game. You'll need to keep your child off the coffee table." I told them that was impossible (he was just learning to pull up... on the coffee table), and why the hell did they invite me, if the big strong menfolk were the only ones who could watch the game? I just went home, played with my baby, and had a grand time.

The 2nd time I walked out of a gathering was a bit more of a big deal, oddly. They were going off, after Thanksgiving dinner, about persons of, er, color, and I asked them to stop. When they proceeded to angrily yell at me about how I was "wrong-headed" and that they didn't hate them, but "they hate us".. blah blah blah. Took my baby and left. We left NC not too long after that. The racial tensions here in Texas are bad, on occasion, but nothing like THAT... and it was a theme I noticed a lot, at least in Thomasville/High Point.

Comment from: A.G. Hopkins posted at October 24, 2005 10:09 AM

Kris, you've mentioned a couple times that web comics can't be legitimized by being reviewed by the artists themselves, but must be recognized by the mainstream, by people outside web comics.

What defines someone as 'outside' web comics? If a person doesn't write or draw a webcomic, but simply enjoys them, does that place them in the community?

What 'mainstream' person is going to do legitimate criticism of web comics who doesn't at least enjoy the field? How many of these non-producing people must be involved before it becomes a mainstream viewpoint?

The impression I get is that you want a magazine devoted to webcomics criticism which isn't published or written by web comics artists/writers, or you want web comics criticism to show up in a mainstream oriented publication, performed by non-participating writers.

My concern here is that an article doing an in-depth criticism of a web comic is not likely to be done except by someone who has an interest in the material. People who review movies don't do it for the money, they do it because they love (or at least enjoy) movies. (Sure, they get paid sometimes, because some of them are good at it, but they're good at it because they love cinema.)
The same is true of books or plays.
So, where is the venue for these criticisms? Any publisher is going to print things which their audience is already interested in or which they think a number of people are interested in. Frequently, they will print things they are interested in. I would point you towards people like Asimov or Campbell, or any of a half dozen other magazine publishers for science fiction who also wrote the stuff they publish. Their magazines provided the earliest criticisms of stories and novels, usually written by other authors.

Especially in print, but even online, you want to provide the things your audience will enjoy.
Thus, it only makes sense that a publication which includes web comics crit is going to cater to people who enjoy web comics. The crits will be done by people who are interested in the field, whether they are web comic artists themselves or not.

The day that you can open a Sunday paper and see a section on web comics along with the weekend's plays is a ways down the road, but if you look carefully, you might see the dust cloud in the distance. Occasional rare articles in the NY Times reference web comics, for instance, and have even included a touch of criticism, albeit shallow and poorly done. This doesn't make us a 'legitimate' art form in the mainstream, but that sort of thing doesn't happen all at once. SF was sneered at for decades before it even attained a hint of legitimacy. That didn't stop people from examining the art form.

To say that web comics can't criticize themselves until mainstream (whatever mainstream means) recognizes them is to say that they aren't allowed to recognize their worth before others do, which is patently silly. You can't limit what is seen by saying that to see anything other than triviality is pompous. And if it is seen, then it should be allowed to be stated.

If that's not what you're saying, please clarify for me, as that is the impression I get from your statements.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at October 24, 2005 12:51 PM

I'm not sure whether posting this is going to be a good thing or a bad thing, but what the hell. For the record, this comment isn't intended to be a personal attack on anyone -- there's no-one in this conflict that I really dislike (I tend to disagree vehemently with Scott Kurtz a lot, but that's not the same thing, although it can read the same way on the internets...) So if this sounds as if it's coming down hard on specific people, my *intent* is rather to come down hard on a particular piece of drama that has been around for as long as web cartoonists have been posting in the same place.

So here goes:

I've had this nasty little suspicion in the back of my mind that this blowup between the Webcomics Examiner and the Straub/Kurtz podcast is only tangentially about criticism -- and that criticism is, in fact, just acting as a proxy for the REAL issue here. And that issue just happens to be probably the oldest argument around in the wacky world of webcomics: "what must webcomics do in order to succeed?"

Kris Straub has essentially said as much in this forum -- that he is interested in ways that increase the visibility/popularity of webcomics. Kurtz has been pretty clear throughout the entire time I've seen him post that his interest in webcomics is primarily making it a commercially viable product (and from time to time I have been known to vehemently disagree with him on his ideas in that respect, but that's another story entirely).

The Webcomics Examiner article in question was, it seems, a bit more... ah... academic in nature, and could be seen to represent the "webcomics as art" camp rather than the "webcomics as commercial product" camp. Not that the two camps are necessarily segregated, but I think for the purposes of The Argument the segregation is assumed even when it isn't there.

The Argument, distilled to its base essence, is that webcomics needs to "Do Something" in order to succeed and thrive, and that Something is pretty definite and distinctive, and if you're not actually out there doing that Something, you are in fact holding back the people who ARE out there doing that Something, and you really have no business describing what you do using the same terms that the "serious" web comic artist/entrepreneurs are using to describe themselves.

Kris Straub and Scott Kurtz definately hold a similar view as to what that Something is. SOME of the members on the Examiner panel (at least one -- William G, I believe, who has not been impressed with the benchmarks they use to gague success) seem to endorse a different idea of Something, one that is apparently antithetical to their own.

Of course, where The Argument is concerned, all Somethings are by nature antithetical to each other. There is only One True Way.

In Kris' view (and again, I beleive his comments in this thread pretty much back this up) the roundtable critiques did nothing to advance the cause of webcomics as a commercial success -- they were, in effect, pointless acts of self-indulgent navel-gazing... and therefore, according to The Argument, they work AGAINST anyone who is trying to do, you know, Something.

Whether or not criticism is valid became the specific focus of this particular skirmish because what was really at issue was whether or not someone who represents a differing idea of what Something is should be taken seriously.

Now, I'd like to think that there's enough room out there for more than one idea of How Things Need To Be, and heck, even enough space for more than one of those ideas to WORK flourish, but apparently I'm in the minority on that regard. Still, it'd be nice if everyone would actually fight about the thing they're actually fighting about, instead of using something else as a proxy. It just confuses things.

And hey, if I'm wrong, and this was actually about criticism after all... well, sorry Eric. I just aggro'd you more drama...

And with that, I suddenly feel the need to go hide.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 24, 2005 1:02 PM

Christopher -- you may well be on to something.

One of the points I champion, again and again, is the idea that not everyone making comics on the web has the hope of making a living making comics on the web. There are those who are honestly seeking artistic or aesthetic goals instead of commercial ones.

Which does not make them innately superior to those who do seek commercial goals. It doesn't even make them innately more artistic than those who seek commercial goals. I think PvP is an artistic success, for example -- it's well done. It's good art. That Kurtz makes a living at it doesn't change that fact.

However, one of the oldest arguments of time is Art for Art's Sake versus The Marketplace, and it's natural that there would be some lining up. After all, a lot of us are Americans, and in America success has a dollar sign in front of it. If you're not taking in cash, how do you know you've succeeded.

We can also extend things a touch -- is it possible for someone to want to write a critical essay for its own sake, without concern for either academic success or commercial impact? Is there a room for the person who writes such things for their own sense of personal growth?

That's not me, of course. I do it for the chicks, man.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at October 24, 2005 1:30 PM

That's not me, of course. I do it for the chicks, man.

AOL! Sex, drugs, and webcomics...

Comment from: Tangent posted at October 24, 2005 2:01 PM

Well, what makes a critic? For that matter, what makes an Outsider?

I wrote and drew a web-comic three years ago. Since that time I've not done a thing (though I had plans... oh yes I had plans... like so many others who wanted to do a comic on-line, there were plenty of plans of what I could do to make a truly interesting story, the next well-read comic... but plans are worth about the same as dreams). Does this make me an insider? Does my past in the web-comic field taint me by association?

The same holds true for Eric. He was also a failed webcartoonist. His strip also struggled and finally succumbed to indefinite hiatus. Later, after Websnark became a success, he restarted his efforts and created a superb comic, as a writer instead of an artist/creator. Does this taint him by association?

Are we just running in circles, unable to achieve true objectivity? (Well, okay, objectivity and Rob Howard may be on the opposite ends of the spectrum, but I don't think my "alarmingly optimistic" path is any less wrong than someone else's (not pointing fingers at anyone, honestly) more cynical approach to reviews and criticism. I see this as the path of dreams and aspirations and don't try to stomp on fingers when I talk about the dreams of others. Sometimes it almost seems like critics go out of their way to be harsh and cruel - they take the term "criticism" and go to an extreme, rather than realize they need to be objective.)

Personally, I think that Eric and my knowledge of what it is to be a webcartoonist gives us a little something extra. We know what effort webcartoonists go through to get a comic out. We understand the stress and anguish that happens when suddenly the story has to change and we need a massive rewrite or that things have changed from the beginning and suddenly we need to explain why, say, a character was more worldly at the beginning and now is naive and honestly had no idea that, oh, say, nudity is taboo.

We also know what webcartoonists go through when an update is missed, and how it starts to build up inertia, becoming harder and harder to update the more updates are missed. A critic without prior knowledge of what cartoonists go through for their art is like a runner with an artificial leg: he can still run, he may be quite good with some practice, but he's going to be beaten by those with two whole legs more often than not, because the artificial leg is lacking in many ways. (Not to deride our brethren who are lacking limbs, I'm just making a point here and I've seldom been politically correct in my ways.)

So now let's go a step further: Can a successful cartoonist, like Shaenon Garrity, be a critic? Well, why not? She has all the tools and knowledge needed that failed cartoonists like myself have, and further they have the discipline to continue updating day after day. So what they need is the discipline to avoid using their criticism to increase their own readership and success over the others. Shaenon is able to do this. Some others may not be able to. (And perhaps this is what Scott Kurtz fears, partly: can Shaenon and other cartoonists like her, who are walking the path of critic and cartoonist at the same time, remain unbiased in their thinking? Please note, Scott, I did say "perhaps" as in "this is my speculation and I'm not putting words into Scott's mouth" though I'm sure if you get tetchy about it this won't matter much *grin*)

To sum up, here's my opinion. If you limit who can be a critic, then those who become critics, who fit within the narrow spectrum of who can "be" a critic, then those critics will become pretentious and annoying. If you allow normal people to become critics, people who may approach this as a fan or as a creator or however their background dictates, then you will have a much healthier critical community to talk about web comics, which will help push web comics from the outskirts of society and into the mainstream.

In the end, isn't that what we all want?

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Webcomic Reviews (for the latest in pretentious, over-the-top reviews and criticisms, rants, fanfics, and let us not forget kittens!)
http://www.tangents.us

Comment from: Tangent posted at October 24, 2005 2:14 PM

btw, my comment about a runner with an artificial leg being beaten by those with two whole legs should read "other runners with two whole legs", or in other word "those" is referring to other runners, not just some shmoe off the street. Still, I think I like the edit-free version of this system. It doesn't let people retcon what they said earlier. *grin*

Rob H.

Comment from: kirabug posted at October 24, 2005 3:17 PM

A.G. Hopkins wrote:

The day that you can open a Sunday paper and see a section on web comics along with the weekend's plays is a ways down the road, but if you look carefully, you might see the dust cloud in the distance.

Heh - if newspapers still exist by then. Talk about a medium in serious danger! Does the online copy of the Philly Inquirer count?

Comment from: abb3w posted at October 24, 2005 7:23 PM

Time for my to throw in my potted-plant grade opinion.

First: art is a form of communication. Furthermore, it's a particuarly imprecise one. The "meaning" of art is not only what the artist intended to be conveyed, but also what the audience gets out of it. So, the author may have intended an allusion between the plushie of Skull, a blue troll with the soul of a innocent, to Linus' iconic blue security blanket in Peanuts. And if at least some of his audience get that, fine. Suppose a critic notes that the child draws it closest to her as she asks the most penetratingly Skull-like questions. If said critic is in fact the only one who saw that, or agrees with the significance (especially after the critic points it out), then I would say that such a critical interpretation was crap, regardless of what sources the critic cites. If, on the other hand, everyone who saw it save the artist himself immediately made that connection, then the intent of the author is rather less important to the meaning than Kurtz would be happy with.

Varying middle grounds are more often the case. Many people just look at the gag-a-day, snicker, and go on with their lives. Some may consciously recognize the allusion, intended or not. Some may unconsciously sense it, but have their reaction to the scene colored thereby. Critics can help sometimes, by drawing those unconscious reactions to the conscious level. Sometimes critics can point out those less familiar with allusions to classics that -- Cushlamachree! -- are considered fundamental to the medium itself. Sometimes, however, they're just talking to other critics, and nobody who doesn't buy into the whole critical theory gets it.

So, yes: sometimes the critic is full of shit, no matter how many sources they cite. They're just a non-representative member of the audience. But the artist isn't the absolute dictator either. It's the audience as a whole -- or in its many parts -- that matters, and the Value of Art is what the audience gets out of it. While the intent of the artist may have relevance, it's peripheral to the final question of Meaning. The artist and the critic alike are only members of the audience... just a bit more vocal than most.

Second : while comics are not a new medium, and Webcomics are a logical progression from the old dead-tree format, there are major differences. Webcomics have radically different economics from any traditional print media; this has social implications. Reduced entry cost for self-publication makes this something nearly anyone can try, regardless of the controversy of the themes the address, the talent or lack thereof of the artist, or even the ability to consistently meet deadlines, even of the wide variety of publishing schedules that Webcomics allow. This results in mountains of digital bird cage liner so bad it would put your electronic canary off its feed. However, it also allows for artists to try profoundly new things... and the occasional amazing talent to be showcased.

Some artists find out how much running a popular site costs, and how hollow the tip jar rattles, and are driven off by their own popularity. Some just give up after a few days/weeks/months/years, finding more personally rewarding ways of spending their time. Some carve out a nitche (perhaps fur-lined), plod along with a tiny audience of maybe a hundred people, and are perfectly happy with that. Some get unpleasant lessons in intellectual property law at lawyer-point.

But prior to the web, comics artists were ALL in it for the money. Many still are, and some make a decent living at it, even to where they can give away ten grand to charity in the name of someone who annoys them, just to make a point. However... not everyone is in this for the money; some are in it for a good time, for the sake of art, or to piss off their ex. And if you don't think that changes things, you haven't paid enough attention to Microsoft in the last ten years.

Webcomics are a new development in the history of art. Perhaps it will be as ephemeral a stage as the chimp made fruit-spattered canvases of a few decades past. Perhaps it will be a major development. But it is a stage. So yes, the ideas of those like Eric and Wednesday who are getting in early will help shape the critical view of the genre in decades to come, and how others are led to look upon it.

On the other hand... dude, we're just talking about comics. Like Filk music, the best they can hope for in the history books is to be a footnote to the big changes in world history. Perhaps an interesting footnote (cf "Hope Eyrie" and the Solidarity movement for filk, and Nast and Tweek in comics history), but a footnote nonetheless. Don't take yourselves too seriously, gang.

Comment from: Joe Zabel posted at October 24, 2005 7:30 PM

I just wanted to respond to Christopher Wright's post. I realize that it tends to be sympathetic to The Examiner. But I think we really ought to take Kris Straub and Scott Kurtz's criticisms at face value. Anything else amounts to an ad hominem fallacy.

Comment from: gwalla posted at October 24, 2005 7:48 PM

What defines someone as 'outside' web comics? If a person doesn't write or draw a webcomic, but simply enjoys them, does that place them in the community?

Given that I have done nothing of note besides gab on message boards and blogs, yet have been invited to Haven House on occasion, it doesn't seem to be against the rules!

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at October 24, 2005 7:56 PM

I just wanted to respond to Christopher Wright's post. I realize that it tends to be sympathetic to The Examiner. But I think we really ought to take Kris Straub and Scott Kurtz's criticisms at face value. Anything else amounts to an ad hominem fallacy.

An ad hominem fallacy is an attempt to win an argument by attacking the character of your opponent rather than the argument itself. That's not what I'm doing: I'm suggesting that there is actually another argument going on BEHIND the criticism argument. I'm not attacking anyone's character.

Comment from: Joe Zabel posted at October 24, 2005 10:14 PM

Chris-- My philosophy background is weak, but I can Google:

"There are three major forms of Attacking the Person: (1) ad hominem (abusive): instead of attacking an assertion,the argument attacks the person who made the assertion.

"(2) ad hominem (circumstantial): instead of attacking an assertion the author points to the relationship between the person making the assertion and the person's circumstances.

"(3) ad hominem (tu quoque): this form of attack on the person notes that a person does not practise what he preaches."

From http://www.datanation.com/fallacies/attack.htm

I think your post is an example of the circumstantial variety. You're attributing Kris and Kurtz's views to a circumstance, i.e. a belief in Team Webcomics that they supposedly share.

I didn't mean to suggest that your post was vindictive in any way; but I think it's always better to assume that a person means exactly what they say. Otherwise, it becomes virtually impossible to come to any kind of mutual understanding.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at October 24, 2005 10:29 PM

I'm not convinced my post fits the criteria of a circumstantial ad hominem either, but I suppose you can make a case for it. That said, I'm not yet convinced I'm wrong...

Comment from: Joe Zabel posted at October 24, 2005 11:54 PM

Chris-- You might very well be right; Kris and Kurtz might, subconsciously, be motivated by a yearning for Team Webcomics. But--

1) How could we ever really know whether you were right?

and

2) This line of reasoning does nothing to refute their original critique.

Just like when Kurtz writes, "To me, The Examiner comes off as serving one purpose: showing how YOU guys have figured out FIRST that webcomics are this deep, complex art form of the future. It's not about improving things, or presenting comics to new people or looking at webcomics through the eyes of academic review. It's all about you." That's pretty much an ad hominem argument. How can you ever reason with a guy who's decided he can read your mind and thinks he knows exactly why you're doing what you do?

Comment from: Kristofer Straub posted at October 25, 2005 1:35 AM

How can you ever reason with a guy who's decided he can read your mind and thinks he knows exactly why you're doing what you do?

You really can't, but where I would rephrase it is, that's what it looks like you're trying to do.

I agree with abb3w's post up there -- there is room for webcomics critique and analysis without it automatically being self-serving and masturbatory. The core of the argument for me is, webcomics are a great new medium, but they're very, very rooted in a very old medium. Great examples of webcomics aren't much more than great examples of barely-read, unknown print comics, except that they're "printed" on a screen.

I made a joke to Aaron Farber tonight about writing a critical analysis of Stuffed Crust Pizza, and how it completely subverted the paradigms and status quo by making us eat crust-first, and how that changes everything. It's not turning the pizza world on its ear; it's a novelty. Webcomics have more in common with that than the invention of radio.

Comment from: Joe Zabel posted at October 25, 2005 7:17 AM

In my opinion, the invention of the internet is quite a lot like the invention of radio, and I think it's legitimate to study webcomics as a manifestation of this new invention with all its new possibilities. But The Examiner has frequently been skeptical about the new possibilities afforded by electronic media; consider the discussion of Argon Zark, for instance.

In any case, that debate doesn't have any connection that I can see with the charge that we're trying to set ourselves up as cognoscente. But maybe I'm missing something.

I've been writing analysis of comics since the early 1970s. I do it because I enjoy it. I am not aware of any benefits I might reap if I were "elevated" to being a cognoscente in the field; it's not like it's something you can make money with, or use to pick up girls.

If this charge is based on "what it looks like," then presumably quotes can be provided to parse out the distinction between analysis for its own sake, vs. analysis for self-aggrandizement.

That said, I recognize that the need for acknowledgment is a basic human trait, and all of us critics are probably in it for that to one degree or another. But I don't think that undermines the worth of the analysis itself.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at October 25, 2005 9:35 AM

Chris-- You might very well be right; Kris and Kurtz might, subconsciously, be motivated by a yearning for Team Webcomics. But--

... what is/are "Team Webcomics?" The only connection I can make with that phrase is when TCampbell used it to describe the esprit de corps Keenspotters had in The Years What We Didn't Get Paid in his "History of Webcomics" article. Which... isn't something I think Scott would advocate. :)

Comment from: A.G. Hopkins posted at October 25, 2005 10:37 AM

it's not like it's something you can make money with, or use to pick up girls.
What? We can't? Oh man..and I was so in it for the girls. I thought the groupies were just a little slow in arriving. :P

Comment from: Tangent posted at October 25, 2005 1:25 PM

No, A.G., it's just they got the wrong address and showed up on my doorstep. It was fun, until they asked to see my sketches... and then they all left. *sniff* I miss those fangirls...

But they left some imaginary kittens, and that became history in and of itself...

Rob H.

Comment from: A.G. Hopkins posted at October 25, 2005 3:03 PM

Ah, well, see? If they thought I had sketches, they'd have been disappointed anyways. :P

Comment from: quiller posted at October 25, 2005 3:53 PM

Hmm, Team Webcomics reminds me of Team America. The other members of my D&D group had just seen that movie and decided that our group had to be named Team Waterdeep. So I get a reminder of that connection every time we play.

Comment from: Joe Zabel posted at October 25, 2005 6:25 PM

Christopher-- Team Webcomics is derived from "Team Comics," a term coined by Tom Spurgeon, former Comics Journal editor and creator of The Comics Reporter. Here's a link to his explanation: http://www.tcj.com/250/e_spurgeon.html

I don't have as caustic an attitude towards the concept as he does, but I'm skeptical about team comics and team webcomics. People read comics and webcomics because they're attracted to them and interested in them. You might be able to inspire a temporary surge of interest by some kind of a "Go Team! Go!" promotional program, but that's a temporary effect at best.

I myself got caught up in the Team Comics fever a few years ago. From 12/98 thru 9/2000 I published a monthly e-zine called Indypreviews, in a futile attempt to promote indy comics sales at the point in time when print comics are solicited (3 months before they hit the shops.)

I frequently encounter folks who think that The Examiner's purpose is Team Webcomics. A number of staff members think as much; for all I know, maybe they all do. That's fine with me, of course. But my own view is that I write for the magazine in order to express ideas, and that ideas have an intrinsic value

Comment from: Joe Zabel posted at October 25, 2005 6:27 PM

--as does punctuation! (Period at the end...)

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at October 25, 2005 9:12 PM

Ah, I see. Well after reading that I can't imagine how anyone would think Kris and Scott are promoting Team Comics.

Comment from: larksilver posted at October 26, 2005 12:55 AM

I'm confused as to why anyone would be surprised that one manifestation of comic fandom would be the supposed orgy of criticism in the Webcomics Examiner of late. This is geek fandom, after all, where minor details become bits of information carried through time to the grave, where movies about somewhat whiny teens with lightsabers (hey, he WAS whiny, at least at first!) change the course of lives, and everybody knows what the Kobiyashi Moru (sp?) is.

This is a subset of humanity which can tell you, often, the entire backstory of that villain from Superman with no vowels in his name, or pick apart in great detail how Rogue and Jubilee got smushed together in X-Men (and where the HELL IS Gambit!?). We love our comics, man.

Duh, of course the subset of the fandom with a literary/academic bent is going to have fun with combining their love of one with their love of the other. Of course they will. This is not wrong.

Is the effort to squash something based, clearly, on a desire to "legitimize" (ICK, this word is based on the assumption that webcomics need help to be legitimate, which they don't) webcomics really a good idea? Aren't those who say that "real critics" have to talk about comics to make them real actually saying that webcomics, and comics as a whole, aren't "real?"

Seems strange to me that at least some of the folks saying this make their living in this field. What are they doing, if they have so little respect for it? It's a puzzle to me... but then so often, the ways we as humans trash others to make ourselves feel smarter/bigger/better/more important often puzzles me. Geez.

Comment from: larksilver posted at October 26, 2005 1:02 AM

Aren't those who say that "real critics" have to talk about comics to make them real actually saying that webcomics, and comics as a whole, aren't "real?"

Grammar police, pull OVER. Sorry about that. Hopefully, the point is clear nonetheless, and if not, huzzah I'll rephrase.

If you say we need "real" critics to examine our work to make it valid, then to me this says that you believe our work - your OWN work - is NOT legitimate art? uhm.. .that's just.. well, dude, I'm sorry for those who feel this way about the thing they spend their time and love on.

Comment from: False Prophet posted at October 26, 2005 1:34 AM

Kurtz said:

Webcomics examiner is the James Lipton/Inside the Actor's studio of webcomics. A bunch of guys trying to sound smarter than they really are. You guys are dissecting fart jokes and telling us it's shakespere. I call bullshit.

Ironically, Shakespeare was just an Elizabethan guy writing fart jokes. Until the critics elevated him to the ranks of...well, Shakespeare. :-)

Comment from: larksilver posted at October 26, 2005 7:04 AM

False Prophet: Well, to be fair, he was an Elizabethan guy writing really excellent fart jokes. And those jokes were wrapped up in some pretty spankin' good drama.

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