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Eric: On Best of Lists and the bread that is short

I've had a few people write to complain to me about the Webcomics Examiner's best of list. Almost as many as have written to me saying "so! When's the 2005 Shortbread list coming out?"

(I would think the fact that the remainder of the 2004 list never having come out would make the 2005 list suspect at best suspect, but I digress.)

It's a wonderful dichotomy of response, really. On the one hand, I have this constant stream of letters saying who are these people to say what the best comic strips of the year are? On the other, I have a similar stream of letters saying when are you going to tell us what the best comic strips of the year are? It is, in the end, the curse of the critic. You are excoriated for your tastes, and equally excoriated for not sharing them in a timely fashion.

Well, I have the secret. The silver bullet, if you will, for taking "best of" lists of any stripe in the spirit in which they are intended. They are two concepts that you need to understand, to read and enjoy the lists that come out this year, and to -- maybe, just maybe -- use as guidelines in coming up with a list of your own:

  • No one thinks the lists are objective.
  • You're not going to agree with the list.

That's really all there is to it.

Yeah, the list isn't going to reflect your tastes. That's because... well, your tastes are yours. The list is going to reflect the tastes of the compilers.

Take that Webcomics Examiner list. (For the record, I was not one of the folks who helped compile it, so it's a good test case for me.) Not everything on their list is one of my favorites. And not all my favorites are on their list. Narbonic isn't on the list, for example, whereas for my money no comic strip on the web does it better. (Granted, Shaenon Garrity is one of the list compilers, but still.) PvP isn't on the list. Penny Arcade isn't on the list. Goats isn't on the list. Diesel Sweeties isn't on the list.

And you know what? Those absences don't invalidate the list.

I'm sorry, they just don't. Because the things that are on the list truly do reflect what the compilers thought the best comic strips of the year were. And even the strips that I don't read I can see are high quality, produced well, with good writing and art. The absolute worst case scenarios for me and this list are twofold -- I might see a strip on it that I'd never think of as "best of," and have to reevaluate it... or I might decide that they were wrong.

Which brings us back to the above. I'm not going to agree with the list, and the list isn't objective.

This is especially true based on the kinds of e-mail I've been receiving about this list. A good number are angry because X wasn't included. (X in these e-mails has generally been PvP, Penny Arcade, Diesel Sweeties, Questionable Content or Queen of Wands. With a few Wigu lovers thrown in for good measure.) Many of them say that the list's compilers are biased against the popular strips. Generally, they say, out of jealous.

Which I'd buy a lot more if I didn't get e-mail saying "why the fuck is Something Positive on that list? They're just kowtowing because it's popular!" Or the same, only they invoke American Elf. Or Dinosaur Comics.

(Or they invoke Achewood or A Softer World as "critical darlings." Second verse, same as the first.)

In the end, I've looked long and hard at that list, and you know what? It recognizes Copper and Dicebox alongside Schlock Mercenary and Girl Genius. It notes strips with hundreds of thousands of readers and strips with hundreds of readers. It notes strips of incredible black and white line art and strips where the same art is used day after day. It's a list you can't quantify simply, no matter how hard you try, except in two ways. These are the strips the compilers liked at the time they put this list together, and this is a list that's different than the one you would come up with.

Now, I know one of the subconscious drivers at play, here. For a webcartoonist not represented by this list, it's hard to read it and not get a little pissed off. Even if you know there's no reason on Earth to get pissed off, except your exclusion. I know this because hey -- I felt it too. The first thing I did was scroll down and see if either Gossamer Commons or John Stark made the list. And know what? They didn't.

Why didn't they?

Because the people compiling the list didn't think they were among the best strips of the year.

That does not equate to "they think my strips suck!"

Nor, I should add, have they deliberately insulted me by excluding my comic strips.

However, both of those things flashed through my head on first reading. Because I'm not objective about my own strips, and I have an ego the size of Montana. And it flashed through the heads of (almost) every cartoonist who read that list, because they typically have state-sized egos too. That comes hand in hand with having the chutzpah to put your creative work on the web in the first place.

It spreads, of course, to the fans of those strips. To have a strip you adore not make some critic's best of list doesn't mean that critic is faulting your taste, but it feels like it does. So you get pissed off. And you don't even have the excuse of false modesty for beating that angry reaction down. You're not the artist -- you have no stake in this. Therefore, you're objective and those bastard critics are mean and wrong!

Except you're not objective. You do have a stake in it. You have invested time and appreciation in your favorite comic strips. Reading the "best of" list and seeing the strip you've invested in appear is a validation. Seeing it fail to appear feels like a rebuke.

It's not. Honestly.

Let me give you a practical example -- one that might well piss off a huge fanbase. (Because Lord knows I need to do that, this morning.) Let's talk, for a moment, about Tim Buckley's Ctrl+Alt+Del.

I get a reasonable amount of mail asking why I've never snarked Ctrl+Alt+Del. There are a lot of people who really like it. And a lot of people who don't. And I seem to like things that are similar to it -- I like Penny-Arcade, I like VG Cats, I like Questionable Content -- why wouldn't I like Ctrl+Alt+Del?

The truth of the matter is, I don't read Ctrl+Alt+Del. I've tried to, before. I've done archive trawls and the like. And I just don't cotton to it.

I don't dislike Ctrl+Alt+Del. I think it's well written. I think it's well drawn. I think Buckley knows how to execute a joke and I think Buckley knows his subject matter. Looking at the last few weeks of strips (which I did before writing this) I can definitely understand why it has fans. I think it's well done.

But... it's not my cup of tea. I'm not sure why. It's not Tim Buckley per se -- I actually enjoyed the strips he did at the back of the volume one City of Heroes comics quite a lot. It just doesn't... "do it" for me.

That's not an insult to Ctrl+Alt+Del. That's an expression of my own, personal taste. And you might well disagree with me. You might love Ctrl+Alt+Del and hate Achewood. Or love them both but hate Something Positive. That's possible. That's legitimate.

But, that doesn't change the fact that if I did a "Best of 2005 Shortbreads" list, Ctrl+Alt+Del wouldn't be on it. That doesn't make me "wrong." And it doesn't make you wrong if you think it should be on it. It just means we're different people. Maybe you'll find something on my list you'll like. Maybe I'll find something on your list that I don't currently read that I'll like.

Does this mean you shouldn't publicly debate the lists as they come out? Of course not. Arguing about what should and shouldn't be on a list like that is fun. Treat it like fun and everyone has a good time! Hell, I'm still happy to go into a frothing rant on the reasons why Forrest Gump was populist, sentimental trash that stole the Oscar Pulp Fiction so richly deserved, and that was eleven years ago.

But I don't say "who's this Academy to say what the best movie of the year was?" I disagree with their choice. But that doesn't invalidate it, and that choice doesn't invalidate my opinion as to the best movie of 1994.

So, this isn't an essay about the argument. It's an essay about the movement to "reform" Best of the Year Webcomics lists. I know of several movements -- movements to discredit the Examiner. Movements to use del.ico.us rankings to "definitively" prove what the best comics were. And always, always, always the decrying of critics for the crime of not sharing your opinions.

Or, for that matter, acknowledging your comic.

That's one reason why I'm not doing Shortbreads this year, by the by. The point of the Shortbreads was a Best-of list. But I thought it would be fun to structure them as an awards show, tongue-in-cheek. That, as it turns out, was a mistake. I'm still getting hate mail. And as a result, I never did the Story awards because... well, it was a Hell of a lot of work and I knew it wouldn't exactly reap positive benefits.

I've already contributed some "best of" stuff to a Comixpedia feature I participated in. I'll do some other stuff over the course of the month, I'm sure. And when I do, rest assured it will reflect my opinions at the time I do the post. And rest assured I don't mean to challenge your opinions or insult your favorites in the process.

In the meantime... do yourself a favor and check out the strips that the Examiner cited. Maybe they'll be your cup of tea. Maybe they won't. But they're not likely to suck on toast, so you might as well give them a shot.

And if you're really convinced they got it wrong? Write up a list and put it somewhere people can read it. Highlight what you think the best webcomics of 2005 were.

And try not to take it personally when people get mad about it.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at December 8, 2005 7:36 AM

Comments

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at December 8, 2005 9:56 AM

The Webcomics Examiner list really doesn't bother me. It's the "best of" list for a bunch of people who are rather interested in the artistic side of webcomics, which is fair enough -- I do exactly the same thing when it comes to music, and you know what? It's valid. The bands I think are "the best" will never win popularity contests. Big Black has no gold or platinum records, as far as I can tell, and I think they were one of the best that ever was.

So... yeah. "Best of" lists that are based on individual preferences are just dandy, as long as the reader can differentiate between himself and the people explaining their choices.

(What some people are more likely concerned about is the fact that the opinion of five people are getting a "disproportionate" amount of attention by virtue of the fact that they posted their thoughts on a website and then got other people to read it. Know what? That's what publishing is, folks. Learn to live with it; that one isn't going away.)

Though to be honest I did get royally pissed when Joe Zabel started hounding a guy guy who created a "top webcomics list" based on bookmarks on del.icio.us, criticizing the methodology as being "inaccurate" because it seems to be based more on "popularity" instead of the criteria he prefers.

Which, for the record, strikes me as just as pointless and yes, petty, as all the objections you listed above.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at December 8, 2005 10:04 AM

Which, for the record, strikes me as just as pointless and yes, petty, as all the objections you listed above.

I agree, actually. I think it counts.

Now, I saw the same thing -- I alluded to it above. But it's not the methodology I object to. I think it'll yield an interesting set of results. I just disagree that it will "reform" the "Best of" list process. It'll work for that guy, and good enough.

As for the "disproportionate attention" argument? I hear that all the time. Usually in an e-mail that also includes the phrase "who the fuck died and made you Webcomics Pope?"

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at December 8, 2005 10:07 AM

Usually in an e-mail that also includes the phrase "who the fuck died and made you Webcomics Pope?"

Well it would have to be the last Webcomics Pope... but even then, the Webcomics Cardinals had to meet and vote you in, right?

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at December 8, 2005 10:19 AM

Aw... stupid people, complaining and ruining the Shortbreads for Eric (and by extension, the rest of us). I guess that's why I try to not care about people's opinions unless they give me a reason to care about them. Talking in a civil, intelligent, and non-insulting tone is usually reason enough for me to care.

And for the record, I died and made Eric Webcomics Pope.

Comment from: Booklegger posted at December 8, 2005 10:20 AM

Pulp Fiction before Shawshank Redemption?

You, sir, are a cultural philistine, and I now must regard every opinion you've ever had with an abundance of suspicion, including all the ones I still agree with.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at December 8, 2005 10:32 AM

Bah. The Academy Awards were dead to me ever since The Truman Show didn't even get a nomination.

Besides, on Forrest Gump, any movie in which a mother whores herself out in order to give her son a better shot in life can't be all pabulum.

Comment from: Peter Venables posted at December 8, 2005 10:35 AM

I think it's astounding that this sort of post is called-for at all. It seems rather obvious to me that so-called "best of" lists are subjective in nature and yet, you're the one getting email and being made to feel that sharing your opinion is a waste of time.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at December 8, 2005 10:49 AM

Pulp Fiction before Shawshank Redemption?

On the theory that "I have seen Pulp Fiction and not seen the Shawshank Redemption," yes. ;)

That said -- this is a perfect underscore of the post. I didn't mention Shawshank Redemption. I didn't bring up Shawshank Redemption. My point was "Pulp Fiction was demonstrably better than Forrest Gump," in my opinion.

But, you saw it as eschewing the Shawshank Redemption.

Admittedly, tongue-in-cheek. ;)

Comment from: Snowspinner posted at December 8, 2005 11:01 AM

My only criticism of the list is the general lack of attention to faithful gag-a-days. Penny Arcade's exclusion to me is mostly unfortunate in that PA is one of the most tireless and cartoonish gag-a-day strips around - a blissful celebration of the need to get out there every day and be funny. Which is, I'll note, actually harder than bringing the story. When you're bringing the story, once you've started you always have some setup - as long as you were relatively careful and mapped out where you were going, you're in turn left with an ability to continue telling the story, so long as you know the next step. But when you're bringing the funny? Each day you have to fly blind and come up with a new joke. You get no clues, no pointers, no lead - you just have to put pen to paper and be funny. And the less continuity you leave yourself, the harder that becomes to do daily.

But that's a fairly fundamental philosophical difference, and I have no right to get bent out of shape about it.

But for the record? Irregular Webcomic, Penny Arcade, Digger, Diesel Sweeties, Something Positive, A Softer World, Daily Dinosaur Comics, Count Your Sheep.

Comment from: William_G posted at December 8, 2005 11:26 AM

To nitpick Snowspinner:

Penny Arcade's comic is only thrice weekly. Unless that's changed recently. Any idiot can blog daily.

To disagree with Snowspinner:

Most of the "They're Big Names Thus They're Better Everyone... Just Like Paris Hilton Is" webcomics that didn't get listed most likely because they either just missed making the cut (Peny Arcade and QC specificaly if I remember correctly)... Or are recognizd as "good", they just arent "outstanding" for reasons ranging from the creator(s) resting on their laurels, to the tried and true idea that "popular" or "consistant" or "fits your personal niche" doesn't always equate to "good".

And, the simple fact of the matter is that this is the internet. If The Examiner gave out milk and cookies to everyone, some idiot would bitch that we were trying to kill off diabetics.

No one thinks the lists are objective... You're not going to agree with the list.

Too bad so many seem to miss the bloody obvious.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at December 8, 2005 11:44 AM

Any idiot can blog daily.

Actually, I submit it takes a special kind of idiot to blog daily.

Says the daily blogger, anyhow.

Most of the "They're Big Names Thus They're Better Everyone... Just Like Paris Hilton Is" webcomics

I'm not sure where you got that from Snowspinner's comment. He was bemoaning a dearth of "gag-a-day" posts, not playing the popularity card. I made reference to the popularity card in my actual essay, but only in that I've simultaneously heard complaints that the Examiner was intentionally excluding popular comics and only including some of their list because they were popular. ;)

Comment from: wedschilde posted at December 8, 2005 12:09 PM

hhhmmm.... Am I the only one who thinks Bunny is great?
http://www.frozenreality.co.uk/comic/bunny/

I never see bunny in any of these lists. But then I should probably dig around more.

Now I adore Digger..Ursula is just sublime...all around. Hands down killer artist with a fantastic wit. And Questionable Content has been stellar. PVP...definitely. I trawl "regular" comics and some "indie" stuff every day. Sinfest usually hits my funny bone. Some of the others are hit and miss but regularly get praised. But Bunny... I must just keep missing any good talk on it.

Comment from: Benor posted at December 8, 2005 12:11 PM

Well, first off, I hate the "Best of 2005" list the Webcomic Examiner did. I hate it with a fiery, burning passion. I hate it for the fact that Girl Genius is described as a 'relative new comer' from 2001. I hate it because several of the 'artistic' strips on there are, to me, not that deep or entertaining.

But I have not, and will not, be sending angry emails to anyone about it. Why?

Because if I really cared enough to do that, I could also compile, edit and comment on my own personal list. Penny Arcade, for being rock solid funny and unafraid. Two Lumps, because if cat's don't think like that, they should. Sam and Fuzzy, for having an entertaining story and keeping it funny. Crap I Drew On My Lunch Break, because it's so much more than that. Adventurers!, because I love how it skewers console RPGs. Starslip Crisis, for its pitch perfect parody of every space-based science fiction show EVER. Zebra Girl, for awesome characters and some really good horror. Applegeeks, for, well...awesomeness! I'd probably pick about five more. And have honorable mentions.

But, with the huge number of webcomics, how do you keep the list down to a reasonable size? If I made a list with 50 comics (and if anyone actually cared about my opinion), there would probably be scores of emails about how I left 50 off! And if I looked at the comics they mentioned, I'd probably agree that some of them deserved to be on the list too-but I already have 50! There's no room! NO ROOM, I TELL YOU!

So, while I am still unhappy about the actual list in question (instead of my imaginary one), I'll get over it and forget it.

After I have my revenge, that is.

Comment from: djcoffman posted at December 8, 2005 12:14 PM

Eric, you're a daily blogger? Since when?? hah!

I definitly think it's all opinion. And I love reading the Shortbreads as well, and it matters not that I don't get one-- it's the point of the opinion. I guess if it's someone I actually LIKE to read, I want to know what their picks are for the year.

Hell, I was totally jacking around by listing my list on my site just to fill some blog-- and HOLY CHRIST ON A POPSICLE STICK, I got a TON of people sending me their URLs for their comics, and then when the list was published, I got e-mails from friends of mine asking why they aren't on my list.... hahahah... I only listed things that came to my mind that I thought really stood out FOR ME this year.

It's an odd feeling when someone you know or affilate with makes you feel guilty since you didn't list them. It's true what they say, you'll NEVER please them all.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at December 8, 2005 12:19 PM

Heh. When I looked at the Recent Comments column and saw a snark title referencing the Shortbreads, I thought, "Someone's necrocommenting."

Comment from: ItsWalky posted at December 8, 2005 12:36 PM

"When you're bringing the story, once you've started you always have some setup - as long as you were relatively careful and mapped out where you were going, you're in turn left with an ability to continue telling the story, so long as you know the next step. But when you're bringing the funny? Each day you have to fly blind and come up with a new joke. You get no clues, no pointers, no lead - you just have to put pen to paper and be funny. And the less continuity you leave yourself, the harder that becomes to do daily."

Aggh, don't I know it. THIS MAN SPAKETH TRUTH.

Also, all youse guys lists suck. I mean, c'mon, where's the sodomy?

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at December 8, 2005 12:43 PM

"I mean, c'mon, where's the sodomy?"

In my pants.

Comment from: Clint H posted at December 8, 2005 12:51 PM

"Because I'm not objective about my own strips, and I have an ego the size of Montana. "

I feel your pain, brother.

Still, I'm looking at the list as a springboard to some interesting new comics that look pretty darn good! i alread read Dicebox and Schlock, but the rest are pretty new to me.

(I don't get out much) :p

Comment from: Joe Zabel posted at December 8, 2005 12:55 PM

Christopher wrote, "Though to be honest I did get royally pissed when Joe Zabel started hounding a guy..."

My intent was to comment on the issues raised by Stuart's article. I didn't want to come off as hounding the guy. For various reasons, the thing just turned into a big mess, and I ended up posting a note over on Stuart's blog apologizing if there was any misunderstanding.

In any case, I don't think the movie with the biggest box-office is necessarily the best movie, and I don't think the webcomic with the most bookmarks is necessarily the best webcomic. Having actual people evaluating the quality of something and expressing their opinion is a lot more worthwhile.

Comment from: Wednesday White posted at December 8, 2005 12:57 PM

I mean, c'mon, where's the sodomy?

I'm not allowed to use the harness.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at December 8, 2005 1:02 PM

Actually, I quite like Bunny.

Comment from: Wednesday White posted at December 8, 2005 1:03 PM

Comment from: wedschilde

..................................

I'd just like everyone to know that I have an IUD and no children.

Comment from: siwangmu posted at December 8, 2005 1:49 PM

Thoughts:
--Man am I sorry to hear about all that fallout from the Shortbreads. If it makes you any happier to have done them, they might be the best thing (in terms of comics) that this site has ever done for me. Lists of comics I didn't know, along with explanatuions of what you liked about them, why, and how it related to other strips, and with the unknowns side by side with my then-very-small-pool-of-favorites which prevented the "slide on by" thing I tend to do with snarks of unknown-to-me's on occasion?

I had some comics on the web that I had liked, read in the past, etc.
But I think it was the Shortbreads that made a webcomic reader out of me. I checked out every one, and fell for many. That said (and I hope I haven't said all that before, I have no idea), fuck 'em for causing you trouble.
But I wanted you to know how special they were for me. And your assumption that the awards format would make it neat and snazzy totally held true for my reading experience.

Now, "Best" and subjectivity. This is not directly about your point (ie, exclusion can indicate a hundred different things, there's no accounting for taste, it's pointless to get mad about it, etc.), but this snark does hit something that's been crystallizing for me for a while, now: One problem that I have with reviews has always been that a review is obviously inherently subjective, but "good," "bad," and "total shit" are not. For instance, I surfed movie reviews for Rent, and I swear to God there's a one-to-one ratio of praise for the great songs and excoriation of the unbelievably crappy songs. And none of those people were saying "I hate this style of music," "this approach isn't my cup of tea," "the songs have strengths and weakness and the weaknesses are just too irksome to me to overcome the strengths." No, just "unbelievably bad songs," "incompetent sonwriting," "atrocious writing," and so on. (And I'm not picking on the positive ones the same way because, well, if the songs did it for you then they did do something right, and also why make up reasons not to like things?)

Here's the thing. Reviews are subjective, but they should occur within a universe of shared objective fact. If you say that no one in their right mind could possibly ever enjoy artistic work X, and someone out there is sane and does, then you are WRONG. I'm not saying I won't do it myself for hyperbolic effect, but that doesn't make me any less wrong and I think makes the person being accused of insanity justified if they're pissed about it. In addition to the usefulness of such hyperbole in writing stylistically fun reviews, it gets more complicated, because the inherently-opinion-based nature of reviews means it's normal to dispense with "I think this movie was terrible" and go with "This movie is terrible," which isn't going to help matters of impact any.

The thing is, it's way more fun to be all "Everyone who likes this/doesn't like this is stupid!" than it is to, say, be forced to admit that there are valid issues of taste which might prevent viewers from loving Rent like I did. But I think if reviewers were forced to account for the greater reality (come on, people, the public didn't go to that movie because they're mindless sheep, they went because its marketing made it accessible to them, it starred an actor they have emotional attachment to and familiarity with, and the formulaic nature that drives those of you who see a hundred movies a year batty isn't necessarily going to bother someone who sees three or four), it would make the lanscape a lot more sensible, more inviting, less frustrating and FAR more critically useful.

(Also, anyone who didn't love Rent totally needs their head examined :-p)

Comment from: Kirath posted at December 8, 2005 2:01 PM

A side note - If you haven't seen The Shawshank Redemption, you ought to. Or, if books are more your thing, read it. The movie was every bit as good as the book, and written by Stephen King, besides. (Yeah, I've been a Stephen King fanboy since I read Christine in the 8th grade.)It may not be one of the greatest films ever made, but I loved it.

Comment from: Maritza Campos posted at December 8, 2005 2:32 PM

Actually, my beef is not that what I consider to be some of the best comics were not included. My beef is that some comics I consider bad and overhyped WERE included.

But of course, art is subjective, awards are a feast of egos, blablablabla...

No big deal, really.

Comment from: wedschilde posted at December 8, 2005 2:45 PM

Comment from: Wednesday White posted at December 8, 2005 01:03 PM
>

nope, i would hazard a guess that i'm a wee bit older than wednesday. and have no children either. just born on a wednesday. :::grins:::

but it's a great name!

Comment from: Shaenon posted at December 8, 2005 3:13 PM

Hell, I don't entirely agree with the Webcomics Examiner list, and I contributed to it. It includes several comics I don't consider especially outstanding, several comics I've never read, and at least one comic I flat-out dislike. But that's the way of such lists. They're not meant to be an objective representation of greatness, because that would be impossible -- everyone's got a different idea of what makes something great. They can never really say more than, "Here's stuff that some people with decent taste and the ability to explain their opinions think is good."

And dude, Girl Genius *is* a newcomer to webcomics. Yes, we're all aware that it's been a print comic since late 2000. Actually, I wrote a review of GG for the Examiner in which I talk about the whole history of the comic and how it's adapted to the Web, but it's been pushed back to the next issue.

Comment from: MagnoliaPearl posted at December 8, 2005 3:32 PM

Just the fact that Templar was included made my day.

Comment from: larksilver posted at December 8, 2005 4:18 PM

I like Bunny! I love that you never know what you'll see, but it'll always be cool.

On subjectivity: I couldn't stand Pulp Fiction, didn't really like Forrest Gump, but I loved the Shawshank Redemption. It's on the fairly short list of films that can suck me in when it's on TV with its rather peculiar mixture of the pains of prison life and a certain kind of quiet wonder and joy despite it. I don't like Tim Robbins, but this film is good enough to overlook it - not that he's the star. Morgan Freeman completely owns this show. What a wonderful film.

I've said it before: it's a shame the slasher stuff makes Stephen King so much money. His non-horror tales like The Stand (only marginally horror) and Shawshank are far, far better quality.

Comment from: siwangmu posted at December 8, 2005 4:43 PM

I am going to hell for my intense, BURNING desire to know which strips are on Maritza and Shaenon's bad lists.

Also, I kinda love Shawshank Redemption, Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction. Does that make me weird?

(Also, er... is "populist" a negative? I would say the negative is usually "anti-elitist" or "lowest-common-denominator" or some such. Just curious. Actually, I also love some sentimental in my movies. Huh! I'm weird.)

Comment from: matthewabel posted at December 8, 2005 4:45 PM

I found it quite curious that I had heard of only three of these online comics. Several where actual graphic novel style webcomics. I think there needs to be more seperation in not only the comics world, but the webcomics world. A graphic novel is quite different from a strip a day format, even if both deal with serious matters. The graphic novel format lends itself more easily to story telling as you have more space to work with. I see less and less of the strip format as more and more webcomic artists realize "Hey, this can be bigger."

It's pretty interesting if you think about it.

But I think these lists need to take that into account. If someone is quite obviously doing a graphic novel and simply posting a page of it each day, that should not be lumped in with regular strip style story telling. Both are excellent in their ways, but to compare the two is very unfair to both artists/writers.

I also think that comics written and drawn by the same person need to be in a different category than the team efforts. Comics that are humorous need to be seperated from comics that are dramatic. Of course then, there are plenty of further distinctions. There are comics that are text based (like Dinosaur Comics) and comics that are entirely art based (exploding dog, though I am not sure it counts as a 'comic.'). It is unfair to creators to compare these two.

Of course, I could also make the tried and true argument: "Who fucking cares?" What is the importance of critically analyzing such things? People are going to read comics that they enjoy. It doesn't matter how critics choose to break things down. But for as long as there has been art, there have been people who put the burden on their shoulders to tell us if it is good or not. Thank God, because I don't really want to worry if "Least I Could Do" is critically okay. I just want to look at drawn hot chicks.

Comment from: David Morgan-Mar posted at December 8, 2005 4:53 PM

Snowspinner: When you're bringing the story, once you've started you always have some setup - as long as you were relatively careful and mapped out where you were going, you're in turn left with an ability to continue telling the story, so long as you know the next step. But when you're bringing the funny? Each day you have to fly blind and come up with a new joke. You get no clues, no pointers, no lead - you just have to put pen to paper and be funny. And the less continuity you leave yourself, the harder that becomes to do daily.

That's very true, and that's why I've slowly gravitated towards using more story arcs rather than disjointed daily gags - although my raison d'etre is still to pack a punchline in each day. With a bit of plot to fall back on, I at least have a starting point when I desperately have to think up the next gag, and that's way easier than doing it cold.

Comment from: Maritza Campos posted at December 8, 2005 5:45 PM

Stephen King writes three kind of stories. The REALLY good, the ABYSMALLY bad, and the ones that are really good right to the middle and then abysmally bad on the second half or fall apart towards the end.

I also think SK is very underestimated as a short-story writer. Aside from the fact that many of his books are simply bloated and could use a lot of editing, he has some of the best short pieces in horror. Some of them are really classics although they don't come to mind exactly when you think Stephen King, like The Monkey or Children of the Corn.

Saying which strips I simply think are bad would be a sure way to accumulate drama and OMGness around me. Uh, I'm not really fond of controversy...

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at December 8, 2005 5:57 PM

Uh, I'm not really fond of controversy...

Someone revoke her web cartoonist license!

Comment from: Darren Bleuel posted at December 8, 2005 6:39 PM

I've been unusually vocal about this issue, Eric, but I'm not sure if your snark is at all meant for me, as it doesn't seem to address the actual arguement I've been making. I'll take that to mean that you agree with me! Hooray! Biscuits for everyone!

Point being, and I'll make it brief: I have no problem whatsoever with the subjectivity of these lists.

Comment from: siwangmu posted at December 8, 2005 6:55 PM

"Saying which strips I simply think are bad would be a sure way to accumulate drama and OMGness around me."

It is true, no good can come of it. Which is why I said I'm going to hell the whole "damn I wanna know" thing.
Also you may have the most beautiful name I've ever heard. For the record.

Comment from: Maritza Campos posted at December 8, 2005 7:26 PM

Thank you! I think it's italian or something.

On other news, the Examiner forums are like, dead or something. I find it curious that the heated debate is going on in the darnedest of places (like Keenspot Central, or here) instead of there.

Comment from: Robert Hutchinson posted at December 8, 2005 9:44 PM

As I mentioned on LJ, the one thing I was truly struck by as I read the Webcomics Examiner list was that it seemed that a large portion of the list contributors had a rather narrow range of webcomics-field vision.

It wasn't that subjectivity was bad, or that I could point to any one comic and screech "UNCLEAN" ... it was just that a lot of the comics were in clumps. Current and former "Modern Tales family" webcomickers, plus the Truth and Beauty Bombs folks, made up a good half of the list.

My point isn't that you can't like a bunch of Modern Tales webcomics more than any other webcomics. It just made the piece look rather un-encompassing, rightly or wrongly. A "you can get on AOL through the Internet now!" kind of thing.

Comment from: PO8 posted at December 8, 2005 10:36 PM

Eric: I agree with your comments about the "validity" of choices for "best of" lists up to a point. I think, though, that it's an important point, so I'll do my usual caviling nitpick of a nicely written article.

A "best of" list is a form of criticism. Thus, the few rules of good criticism (which you have successfully described and defended in the past) apply. In the new frontier of the webcomic medium in particular, a credible "best of" list will be able to articulate the rationale behind the decisions, and this rationale will be reasonable if not persuasive. I think the Examiner's list did an excellent job of this, but I think it was an obligation they had to discharge.

Imagine if Garfield had somehow made the Examiner's list. Would you really be able to just say "well, it's a matter of taste, and something intelligent folks can disagree with?" I think you would want to examine their rationale for this decision quite carefully, and that unless said rationale was quite inspiring, you'd be inclined to write the listmakers off as a bunch of idiots with bad taste. Legitimately.

Another famous cartoon pet once wondered, "If there are no stupid questions, what kind of questions do stupid people ask? Do they get smart just long enough to ask a question?" Similarly, your comments seemed to me to imply that "there are no stupid lists". Can't say I agree with that: same grounds.

Comment from: Phil Kahn posted at December 9, 2005 12:46 AM

I just can't believe the Examiner left out Kit & Kay Boodle.

Comment from: Benor posted at December 9, 2005 12:20 PM

But why note that Girl Genius is a new comer to the web when you don't for Little Dee? Is it because Little Dee was created by someone with an older online comic? Instead of saying "Hey, Girl Genius is new to being an online comic" in their little blurb, they could have said how interesting it was for a print comic to change into a webcomic.

Comment from: Denyer posted at December 9, 2005 12:48 PM

Forrest Gump was populist, sentimental trash that stole the Oscar Pulp Fiction so richly deserved, and that was eleven years ago.

Thanks for that "fuck, I'm getting old" moment.

Comment from: bartles69 posted at December 9, 2005 8:24 PM

My point isn't that you can't like a bunch of Modern Tales webcomics more than any other webcomics.
I can't?
Why not?
Personally, I generally like the comics hosted by Blank Label more than those on Modern Tales or KeenSpot. It's just a matter of personal taste.
But, if my opinion is other does that render it invalid?
Imagine if Garfield had somehow made the Examiner's list. Would you really be able to just say "well, it's a matter of taste, and something intelligent folks can disagree with?" I think you would want to examine their rationale for this decision quite carefully, and that unless said rationale was quite inspiring, you'd be inclined to write the listmakers off as a bunch of idiots with bad taste. Legitimately.
Tastes vary. Just because you don't find something funny doesn't mean somebody else won't.
I'm not trying to tout Garfield as a paragon of fine art and subtle humor, but even streching the point to its limit doesn't invalidate the opinions of those who do like Garfield. I don't like Garfield, but dismissing those who do out of hand does a disservice to those who have stated their objections to the strip's bland characters and mechanical, factory-produced drawings in far more eloquent terms than calling its fans "a bunch of idiots with bad taste."

Comment from: Robert Hutchinson posted at December 9, 2005 9:40 PM

I can't? Why not?

Um ... I think you misread my sentence. My point isn't that. That point would be totally unpointy.

Comment from: PO8 posted at December 10, 2005 1:54 AM

I don't like Garfield, but dismissing those who do out of hand does a disservice to those who have stated their objections to the strip's bland characters and mechanical, factory-produced drawings in far more eloquent terms than calling its fans "a bunch of idiots with bad taste."

Ah, but I'm not calling Garfield's fans idiots with bad taste. I'm calling (hypothetical) critics who advance it as a comic worthy of a "best of" list without being able to offer a well-thought-out critical rationale for that choice idiots with bad taste. I'm claiming that when you take the role of critic (even by compiling a "best of" list) you also take on an extra obligation: not just to report what you like, but to explain why you like it. Your claims as critic aren't automatically valid; they need to be defended, especially if they are considered extraordinary by others. As I said before, I think the Examiner did this, but I've seen examples recently where this obligation failed to be met, and it bugs me---I think legitimately so.

Comment from: miyaa posted at December 10, 2005 4:08 AM

Maybe it's just me, but I distinctly recall reading a commentary piece whose hypothesis is that Garfield was always designed as a business vechile first, and a entertainment cartoon second. His penultimate proof was that Jim Davis is in the advertisers hall of fame but not the Cartoon Hall of Fame at the time of the article, which was about the same time as Garfield's 30th anniversary. It was different, the author contended, than Peanuts which started as a comic strip then became a merchandising vechile brought out mostly by Schultz's (paranoidal?) fears that Peanuts would somehow could be completely forgotten at any moment.

Does this ruin my enjoyment of Garfield? Heck no. It's a guilty pleasure, something that there is no reason for enjoying. Same with Control-Alt-Delete.

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