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Eric: Prospecting perspective.

So, let's revisit Jon Rosenberg and Fleen, shall we? Because since the last post on the subject, there's been a development or three -- most notably a followup post on Rosenberg's site.

You remember the kerfluffle, I trust. If not, you can see my response to it, here. And from there, you can backtrack back to Rosenberg's original post. And so, the cycle of critical life is complete. I knew while I was writing that post -- and several other critics, pundits and what-have-yous were doing the same -- that Rosenberg would more than likely have something further to say.

What I didn't expect is that he would apologize. I mean, this is the Internet. What are the odds?

But, apologize he did. He explained that the post was meant to stir the shit up, get people talking, get people looking at Fleen, but direct their ire to him. This was successful, but he found that he was feeling badly about it. People were taking it rather more personally than he expected. People were taking it significantly more seriously than he expected.

And, perhaps worst of all, people were arguing his outrageous position, rather than the core thesis that had led him to found Fleen in the first place. And as a result, the discussion he actually wanted to have wasn't being had. The debate had become "can creators have a critical voice." Which, quite honestly, was tangential at best to Fleen.

So, he apologized. He said he had been, respectively: mean, hyperbolic, and incorrect. He said that he had done a disservice to his thesis. And he felt badly about it.

And after apologizing, he restated his core thesis, in hopes that would be the launching point for the next step of the dialogue. For convenience's sake, I'll reproduce it here:

Doing these things did a disservice to my thesis, which is that having a creator-only press is potentially unhealthy and damaging to webcomics in general and the webcomics press in specific. Doing these things buried the legitimate reasons for something like Fleen to exist (which by the way, is not for objective reporting -- objectivity and criticism don't mix. I never used the word objectivity once in my post). What I was trying to say was that there may be a conflict of interest in having the only souce of information come from creators. But all the bile-spewing turned the discussion from "is it healthy to have an all-creator press?" to "should people who are creators also be allowed to have a critical voice separate from their work?" These are two very different discussions, and I think that they likely have different answers.

So. The question before the house has been moved away from whether or not creators should have critical voices, and over to whether or not it's healthy when only creators have critical voices. And that, quite honestly, is a worthy discussion to have.

Though it's also a short discussion, honestly. Because for my money Jon Rosenberg is absolutely right -- not because there's any superiority to a non-creator's perspective over a creator's perspective, but because the two in fact have different perspectives. And differences of perspective are absolutely vital for a robust critical environment.

If one looks at Critical Theory, the absolute zeniths of criticism come when there are several different schools of criticism attacking similar subjects from radically different perspectives. When you have New Critics and Aesthetics and Historicists and Structuralists and Post-Structuralists and Marxists and Feminists and Platonic Scholars and Jungians and Campbellians and Christians all screaming at each other, united only by a passion for literature and a sneaking suspicion that Harold Bloom is insane, you have a critical environment that is burgeoning with growth and insight. Something new about the works being study comes out of this environment. Something new about the study of literature itself comes out of this environment.

On the other hand, when a specific school of criticism emerges and comes to dominate the discussion, what happens is less an elaboration on literature and critical thought, and more an example of naval-gazing. Deconstructionism at its height was so pervasive in critical thought that adherents to other schools of criticism were completely shut out of the dialogue. What resulted from that wasn't robust deconstructionism but a monumental contraction of the discourse. Non-deconstructionists and casual readers alike simply walked away, muttering dark things.

Well, we don't yet have codified schools of webcomics criticism (though we can see the beginnings of them growing out of the criticial tradition). However, we do have multiple perspectives and theories on the work. If you read my stuff and Joe Zabel's stuff, you'll see differences between our respective understandings of criticism. Move over to Scott Kurtz's critical essays (and he's written some, over on his site, and they're good.) and you get a different perspective than either Zabel or I have. And so on, and so on, and so on.

But, the thing is? I write webcomics. And long before I ever registered Websnark.com, I'd failed at being a Webcartoonist. Joe Zabel's been in comics for years, and he's in webcomics now. Scott Kurtz even puts together a little strip you might have heard of. Our perspectives are different, but we have that common element in all of them. We've all sat in front of the page and thought "how am I going to dirty this up with pictures and words?"

Rosenberg maintains that there's a value in having a critical organ on the web that lacks that common element. He's trying to recruit a number of writers, all of whom will have differences of opinion and background -- different perspectives, in other words -- but with the common element that while they are fans of webcomics, they are not webcartoonists. He thinks it will improve the discourse to have that voice out there.

And I agree. I honestly do. I think the more perspectives you get out there, the better we're all going to be. This is why I get annoyed when people trash the Webcomics Examiner, or Comixpedia. Or Websnark, for that matter. (All right, I might have other reasons to be annoyed when they trash Websnark.) All too often, people see a perspective that's not the same as their own and reject it outright. Often with colorful language and assertions about the critics' mothers.

Not me, though. I think the more people out there we have trying something different in the critical discourse, the stronger and healthier that discourse will become.

So, here's to Fleen. And here's to the Examiner, to Comixpedia, to McCloud and Zabel, to Tangents and I'm Just Saying, to Kurtz and Gabe and Tycho, to Blank Label and Dumbrella and Checkerboard Nightmare hitting people with shovels.

Here's to perspective.

And here's to not losing it.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at December 28, 2005 1:50 PM

Comments

Comment from: djcoffman posted at December 28, 2005 2:21 PM

Fleen can go to hell because they don't list YIRMUMAH there.

Just kidding.

I think we're all sort of "insiders" -- webcomics ARE very insular-- and this is all very entertaining but only to people who give a rat's ass about webcomics in general.

Comment from: Tyler Martin posted at December 28, 2005 2:28 PM

An apology? Weak.

I think creators can be critics too, but it really opens the way to being hypocritical. That's right, watch out for that rafter in your own eye.

Comment from: Arachnid posted at December 28, 2005 2:36 PM

Naval-gazing? Staring at fleets of military ships? ;)

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at December 28, 2005 2:44 PM

Deconstructionists are all about frigates and fast attack boats being more significant than aircraft carriers or destroyers.

As a good New Critic, I'm personally a fan of the Aegis Cruiser.

Comment from: SeanH posted at December 28, 2005 2:53 PM

I'm a committed hitting-people-with-shovelsist.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at December 28, 2005 2:56 PM

If Joe Zabel doesn't mind me mentioning it here, he and I have talked about the possibility of me contributing to the Webcomics Examiner. So it's not like Fleem is the only one reaching out to critics outside of those already involved with their own webcomic.

As for my own critical school... I'll be damned if I know. You'd think, given that I've been doing this for over 6 years, that I'd know by now. But I didn't study schools of criticism so much as schools of philosophy. Anyone have any idea which school of criticism is associated with transcendental surrealism?

Comment from: Tangent posted at December 28, 2005 2:57 PM

As an aside, last night I was at Barnes and Nobles, and a couple of young gentlemen were there talking about the latest DC Comics trade paperbacks, and I asked if they'd read any web comics. And one of them said that he'd read Sluggy Freelance, but that was about it.

So I told him about Tangents, and about Websnark. And mentioned how there are hundreds of comics out there, many of which are better than what DC Comics puts out (they were talking about the "relaunching" of old characters and the like, and how DC wasn't doing it very well).

They were rather interested to hear this, and appreciated the links. (I really should print out business cards for Tangents. *chuckle* Be easier to give out the URL, even if "tangents.us" is fairly easy to remember.)

The thing that's important here is this: People already know about web comics. They read one or two here and there. However, they don't necessarily know of how extensive the web comic community is. Nor do they always know of the critical/review community that exists out there.

Critics and reviewers have two functions, when you get down to it. First, they talk about something, mentioning its strengths and weaknesses. But second and more important is the fact THEY LET PEOPLE KNOW about the existance of these works. The web comic critical community is important to the web comic community as a whole... because we help people learn about new comics, comics they might not have heard of before.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Webcomic Reviews
http://www.tangents.us

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at December 28, 2005 3:13 PM

Anyone have any idea which school of criticism is associated with transcendental surrealism?

There was (and to a degree still is) a surrealist school of criticism. Andr» Breton himself was one of the most prominent members of it, and his Manifestos of Surrealism is one of the best critical works on the movement, its elements, and the interpretation of literature through its lens. There is something of a transcendentalist submovement within it, though I'm not sure we could call it a specific school of transcendentalist surrealism. Or a school of surreal transcendentalism, for that matter.

Comment from: William_G posted at December 28, 2005 3:17 PM

Often with colorful language and assertions about the critics' mothers.

Roses are red Violets are blue Your momma is ugly She belongs in a zoo

Comment from: William_G posted at December 28, 2005 3:17 PM

Boh! My delightful formatting! Erased by a cruel twist of internet fate!

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at December 28, 2005 3:29 PM

Well, I know of the surrealist school of criticism, of course. It never took a really strong hold over discourse, what with deconstructionism running roughshod over everything. That, and the similarities between the two schools meant that a surrealist could be invited to the first part of the conversation, and then shunted into the corner just as they really got started on going where they wanted to go.

The problem with transcendental surrealism, of course, is that we're all completely nuts, and I mean that in the nicest way. The closer you get to transcending to surreality, the more detached from (and thus more crazed you appear to) the standard paradigm. And given how many paths there are to follow in the school, there's even less unity than in surrealism proper.

I suppose that explains my eclectic style, without any firm grounding in any particular school. It's kind of pointless to worry about a school of thought when your entire philosophical outlook is based on self-study.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at December 28, 2005 3:45 PM

32 -- yeah. Deconstructionism really set off a depth charge. Only stuff like S/Z really competed with it, and I think that because Linguistic Criticism was so utterly alien to the Deconstructionist mindset that they just never ended up in the same room if they can help it.

Harold Bloom is insane, though. Did you hear him on NPR a couple of weeks ago?

Comment from: Wednesday White posted at December 28, 2005 4:00 PM

'Course, what gets me is this:

What I was trying to say was that there may be a conflict of interest in having the only souce of information come from creators.

... 'cause, well, so not.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at December 28, 2005 4:06 PM

Um, no. That would probably involve me owning a radio of some sort, I'd imagine. Though if you know of a place to download Bloom on NPR, I'll give it a go and we can have a grand old time discussing it.

The funny thing is, of course, is that surrealism isn't totally antithetical to deconstructionism, as I hinted above. It's just that it feels astoundingly incomplete, like they got started on a good idea and stopped halfway through, satisfied with what they've done. I mean, maybe surrealism is incomplete (because nobody has found surreality in their lifetimes), but at least we're still working on it.

Though admittedly, the fact that we're still working at it might explain why it's never broken out in huge popularity. People like complete ideas.

Comment from: Tangent posted at December 28, 2005 4:07 PM

Actually, Weds, technically so.

Because didn't you create artwork for Eric to put in his comic Gossomer Commons? Thus you are "tainted" because your art was used in it.

Technically. Or maybe in theory.

Not to mention the fact that you're working with Eric here, and Websnark itself is "tainted" by his own past... and thus in theory you are "tainted" by association.

Personally, I think it's a bunch of hooey. Or maybe Lo Mein. Mmmm, chinese food... *shakes head* Er, where was I? Anyway, creators aren't tainted by their creations so they cannot be effective critics. And non-creators are likewise not less effective in reviews because they don't have a fundamental knowledge of what goes into making a comic.

Each critic has something important to add to the mix. It doesn't matter where they came from, or their philosophical foundation.

Rob H.

Comment from: Tangent posted at December 28, 2005 4:37 PM

Hmm. Not quite sure if that post truly sounds as pretentious as I think it does... I was teasing, Weds, joking about being "tainted" by association with Eric.

Which just goes to show you that my sense of humor sucks. *chuckle*

Comment from: Adrean posted at December 28, 2005 4:39 PM

It not so much the "conflict of interest" than the potential for inbreeding and collective back-scratching that could occur. I see his point there, and I think it's valid. Academia does the same thing, professors reviewing professors and the like -- choking potential brilliant outsiders.

Jon does have a right to his opinion, however inflammatory they are. I don't agree that it's a conflict of interest, though I do agree that it's good to have a different venue for webcomics critical analysis.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at December 28, 2005 4:41 PM

Okay, now having done the five-minute Google primer on Harold Bloom... wait, you only have the sneaking suspicion he's insane? Is that sneaking suspicion blinding you to the obvious realization he's insane trying to whack you over the head?

Okay, that was hyperbole for the sake of humor. I don't think Bloom is completely insane. A bit cracked? Without a doubt. And I think the cracks in him are distorting things... I see the seeds of so many great observations and ideas in what he says, twisted into something I have a gut aversion to.

It's kind of like his own philosophy is self-perpetuating. He created his own philosophy by using his own philosophy. It's like the Ourobouros of critical thinking. However, while it certainly explains Howard Bloom quite well, it does an incredibly poor job at explaining, well, everything else.

I'm now finding perverse pleasure in Bloom. He's got so many things in him that could be so right... but he gets them so wrong. Man, a surrealist analysis of Bloom could be a masterwork of obscure madness growing fractally. I only wish I had the time to devote to it.

Comment from: Adrean posted at December 28, 2005 4:44 PM

I mean, webcomics criticism. That last sentence got mangled. Sorry. :/

Comment from: Robert Hutchinson posted at December 28, 2005 6:01 PM

Weds: Which part is the not, for you? Undisclosed connections can certainly cause conflict of interest--but it's not like the *readers* are somehow immune to having connections.

"Pssst. Say nice things about my art, and you'll never have to buy a hoodie again."

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at December 28, 2005 6:03 PM

I think she meant that there are *already* people who comment on webcomics who are not themselves creators -- for example, herself!

Comment from: quiller posted at December 28, 2005 6:11 PM

I suppose there is a certain degree of conflict of interest in having a webcomic and doing web criticism. I mean if Websnark does a glowing review of a webcomic, the webcomic creator is likely to link to it, and Websnark does link to Eric's other creations, so it could bring more readers to Eric's comic. I don't know of anyone I would accuse of doing that intentionally, however.

But, I agree there is a difference in perspective. If I'm talking about the art in a webcomic, it is from the perspective of a guy who has had a high school level art class, and a high school level art history class, and no other formal art training. I've never drawn a comic of any sort in my life. Very much a layman's perspective. How important that perspective is is another matter, but it probably does make me look at comics differently than an art major would. Of course, I also have a degree in Physics that influences my perspective, in interest in Medieval Re-creation that influences me, and a general geeky outlook on life. The creator/non-creator perspective difference is just one among many.

Comment from: Joe Zabel posted at December 28, 2005 6:32 PM

Certainly one of my favorite things is a Websnark that refers to me by name. Even better is one that refers to me several times! Better still, even, is one that mentions me in the same sentence as Scott McCloud! My deepest thanks, Eric, and a belated Merry Christmas to you as well!:):)

32_Footsteps wrote, "If Joe Zabel doesn't mind me mentioning it here, he and I have talked about the possibility of me contributing to the Webcomics Examiner. So it's not like Fleem is the only one reaching out to critics outside of those already involved with their own webcomic."

I certainly don't mind you mentioning it, Richard. And you have a good point about The Examiner featuring non-cartoonist writers. I don't want to name names without checking with them first, but I believe we already publish several such writers, and of course they do exceptional work.

The Examiner is always looking for new writers, and we're always seeking to be more inclusive. And since we're switching to a weekly schedule in 2006, we certainly can use help in writing all the articles that entails.

Let me just close by saying Eric Burns! Eric Burns and Scott McCloud! Eric Burns and Charles Schultz! Eric Burns and William Shakespeare!

Comment from: Robert Hutchinson posted at December 28, 2005 8:20 PM

Christopher: I tuned out the "only" in that quote somehow. Yeah, that makes more sense than what I was grasping for.

Joe: Schulz. *g*

Comment from: GregC posted at December 28, 2005 8:23 PM

Easy peasy.
"is it healthy to have an all-creator press?"
NO.
"should people who are creators also be allowed to have a critical voice separate from their work?"
YES.

Everyone in the world can be lumped into one of two groups - those who create webcomics and those who don't. To get criticism from only one group, either group, would be a Bad Thing(tm). You NEED the perspective from both groups. Webcomic criticism is still just beginning and as it grows its crew of writers will diversify.

Joe - that's great news about WE going weekly!

Comment from: Merus posted at December 28, 2005 8:23 PM

Roses are red Violets are blue Your momma is ugly She belongs in a zoo

Roses are red
Violets are blue
I'll hit you with a shovel

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at December 28, 2005 8:44 PM

Now, everyone knows that there's only two hard-and-fast groups out there: those that lump people into two groups, and those that don't.

Comment from: kirabug posted at December 28, 2005 9:05 PM

Now, everyone knows that there's only two hard-and-fast groups out there: those that lump people into two groups, and those that don't.

waitwaitwait...I thought there were three groups: those who can count, and those who can't.

Comment from: Joe Zabel posted at December 28, 2005 9:05 PM

Robert H-- Having misspelled his name in the past, I went to Google and did a lookup on him, then cut and pasted from the list. Unfortunately, I did it from this entry--

Charles Schultz Biography
Brief biography and a sample "Peanuts" comic strip.
www.illustration-house.com/bios/schulz_bio.html - 3k - Cached - Similar pages

Comment from: quiller posted at December 28, 2005 10:44 PM

Everyone knows there are 10 groups, those who know binary and those who don't.

Comment from: GregC posted at December 29, 2005 12:26 AM

About the number of groups:
It's turtles all the way down.

Comment from: Dave Van Domelen posted at December 29, 2005 1:13 AM

No love for the battleship? So sad.

Comment from: Plaid Phantom posted at December 29, 2005 1:19 AM

GregC: I count in ternary, you insensitive clod!

Oh wait...wrong site.

Comment from: Plaid Phantom posted at December 29, 2005 1:19 AM

Okay, so I meant that to quiller

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at December 29, 2005 1:39 AM

Hey, Joe, just call me Rick, it's fine. Or 32 - you'd be surprised how easy it is to get used to being called by a number.

Actually, one thing I was thinking about earlier might be pertinent here. See, it might be impossible to get the outsider take on webcomics because there's such a low bar into entry into the community.

Keep in mind, I'm not saying it's a bad thing. But let's face it, you don't need much to get a webcomic started, which would pull you away from "outsider" status. And most people I know that read webcomics get the idea in their heads sooner or later to try putting one together themselves - which invariably lead them to, at the very least, become a failed webcomic artist and shifted over to the other side of the ledger.

And yes, I have worked with two friends on a webcomic idea. So it's not like I'd be a 100% outsider even if I take up Joe's offer (at the very least, the idea of the critical roundtable intrigues me to no end).

Comment from: Ray Radlein posted at December 29, 2005 3:55 AM

Hey, Joe, just call me Rick, it's fine. Or 32 - you'd be surprised how easy it is to get used to being called by a number.

Snff. Some of us are Free Men.

Comment from: Joe Zabel posted at December 29, 2005 6:45 AM

Rick-- I'm not concerned about any webcomics creation that Examiner contributors may have done. I'm a trusting guy-- I assume that people are gonna be fair and objective.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at December 29, 2005 8:17 AM

I don't bring up my point on a question of trust (though as I've said before, especially with a review, objectivity is impossible). I have no doubt that a reviewer can have their own webcomic project and be fair about others' webcomics.

However, my point is that because getting your own webcomic started is so easy, nearly everyone involved with webcomics in any way can easily get one launched, which thereby shifts their perspective from outside critic to insider critic.

We all seem pretty much in agreement that voices outside of the webcomics community are good to have discussing webcomics. The problem is, though, finding such a voice that won't get sucked into becoming a creator himself, thereby removing that outside voice.

That might be true, Ray, but some who are free choose their number anyhow. Well, at least nobody has called me Mr. Footsteps for a while.

Comment from: A.G. Hopkins posted at December 29, 2005 11:49 AM

Mr Footsteps? I'd just like to point out that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Webcomics Party.

No really, I never get invited, and I'd even bring my own bottle.

So yeah, you won't be the first. :P

Comment from: gwalla posted at December 30, 2005 9:44 PM

32: NPR's broadcasts are available on their site.

I was introduced to Bloom's ideas through a book on comics (How to Read Superhero Comics and Why by Geoff Klock), and it made perfect sense there. However, I've never read or heard anything from the man himself.

Joe: Weekly? Cool.

Ray: Be seeing you!

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