Please accept that these opinions are my own and I don’t expect anybody to agree with them. Comment with good grace and fairness if you’re going to comment at all.
I tried to find a good analogy for a small press comic. A kinder egg was as close as I could get.
It has a shiny foil wrapper. A well loved chocolate combo egg. And a special surprise inside that is hidden until you open it.
- Sometimes that surprise is the best thing in the world: A multi piece assembly of your favourite car. A small sailboat with an elastic propellor.
- Sometimes the surprise isn’t that great but you can find the joy in it: A humourously shaped crayon or a gashapon style miniature figure.
- Sometimes, it’s genuinely disappointing. We all hate getting a jigsaw, right?
You unwrap your
eggcomic and discard the foil.
The chocolate is why you really bought it. Reliable. Something you like. A little treat. It’s a comic! Weeee! It’s stories told mostly in pictures. It’s a medium you are familiar with and brings you pleasure. Comics are chocolate.
You open the capsule and get one of the three variations described above. Otherwise known as the content.
You decide to share your opinions with
your friendsthe internet.
And here my issue begins.
I had a review quite recently. On the whole, as I read it back, it’s a good one. But there are some comments in it that seared through all the goodness and made me feel it was bad. This is why: It’s made clear the only reason it was purchased was because it was cheap and had an additional discount. A throwaway purchase. Ok. I can deal with that. Some people shit gold after all and don’t have to be selective about their purchasing. They were pleasantly surprised. I guess that’s good, right? Further in, I found what can only be described as a complete lack of understanding of the subject matter. It’s the first time I’ve come across someone who doesn’t know the Japanese word for capsule toy is Gashapon (or Gachapon), and while that in itself isn’t a problem, it renders the review, and description of the comic, completely moot. This doesn’t stop the reviewer nit picking at the fact that there are obvious stereotypes, a limited storyline (in 8 pages..) and (apparently) an unclear resolution. Never mind my intent. Never mind that actually, yes, it’s supposed to be like that. Even further in, having been accused of not taking my 8 page, light-hearted-cliche-comedy comic seriously enough, I felt awful. I felt like I had failed as a comicker. I felt like I should stop doing this.
And then I thought I should apologise. Apologise for creating a comic. And I found myself doing just that. I found myself trying to explain the comic to someone with no real understanding of the aspects of Japanese culture that inspired it. Instant fail. Start again. In the end, I tried to excuse it’s faults by explaining that; a) it was the best part of four years old and b) it was my first foray into self publishing ever.
And then I realised. The whole thing had been judged completely out of context.
So lets look at the context of Gashapon Adventure!:
Written and drawn in 2008, published online in 2009. Enjoyed by many. Put to print in 2010 as a first small press experiment. Still available for free online. Sells relatively well and is well received. Usually purchased by the target demographic - post weeaboos, otakus and fellow small-pressers. People buy it because it’s about Gashapon or because they enjoyed it online.
But wait! There’s more.. there’s an AUTHOR. OMG. Maybe knowing something about her might also assist in how to review this comic. Guess what. The shop has links to the website. Or you could just google Non Repro. The website has a whole, lovely, narcissistic page all about ME.
And look! The ME page, also has some information about me! Who would have thought! It’s basic and to the point, but says a lot. There are links to my portfolio, here and my current online comic. And what’s that.. could it be a filmography? Does that imply, perhaps, that this person has a job that isn’t anything to do with comics?
One might call it a day job? One might even extrapolate that perhaps comics are more of a hobby or a sideline? It even says so. Right there. All you had to do was bother to have a quick amble around the site.
This is important. You aren’t just reviewing your kinder egg. You are reviewing the creator. What do you know about the creator? Nothing? Lets get dramatic about this to illustrate a point. You (internet reviewer) could complain about a lack of consistency in the quality of the line work. Here’s a thought. What if the artist has a disability that has an effect on their ability to produce consistent quality of line? It’s probably cited on their website, though they may not want to draw attention to it. You complain about spelling errors. Maybe the creator is dyslexic and doesn’t have the support available for their work to be proofread. You complain that the storyline is amateurish. IT’S PROBABLY WRITTEN BY AN AMATEUR.
It’s so bloody obvious. If you care enough about comics to review them, then care enough about the creators to research them a little. Find out who they are and where this comic has come from. What was the intention of the creator? Is it supposed to be pro standard trying to be discovered or is this just their hobby? And you know what, if the information isn’t forthcoming, ASK FOR IT. Give us that much respect, at least. Give us the option of presenting something to you from our point of view.
Internet reviewer: You are reviewing ME. My work. My effort. Months of planning, drawing, saving, inking, promoting, worrying and finally accepting that it’s ok. The bird has flown. I am officially a small presser and my work is acceptable so far. That was 2009/10. Of course there are problems with it. It’s 2012. Three years is a long time and a lot of learning has been done.
In those three years, four issues of Non Repro and a Jiman Special have magically occurred. And once again, we’re back to reviews.. and reviewing things in context. Look at the first picture again. See how I’ve circled ‘About’? On that page is a very important piece of information that at cons I give out verbally. “Non Repro is committed to supporting emerging artists”. Do you know what that is? That’s a polite way of saying ‘people who have just begun’ i.e. amateurs. It’s an amateur publication, with amateur artists and writers and an amateur editor.
Go back to your kinder egg options, reviewers. You know what? Non Repro doesn’t commission work. We ask people to send it in. Of their own accord. In their own time. Think about that. Think about what it means. Especially before you complain at the lack of editorial. There is editorial, believe me.
I have to send out rejection emails on a regular basis. But hey. I’m not like you, internet reviewer. I give out this thing called constructive criticism, explaining how their work can be improved, offering my help (amateur as it is) and encouraging them to try again.Non Repro is an opportunity for people to get their work in print and be distributed at no expense to themselves. It’s an opportunity to build further on a compact and supportive small press community. It’s a good excuse to make friends and encourage artists to improve whilst reaping the rewards of seeing their work in print. Because believe me, there is nothing as satisfying.
So don’t approach my table at a con and individually pick out the bits of issue X that you think should be scrapped. You have no idea how destructive you’re being. You thumbed through it, you decided to buy it. It was only £2.50. You liked it enough to buy the next issue.. (continuity error on your part, ne?)
Internet reviewer, so many of you say that you are supporting the small press community. Really? Are you being supportive? Or are you trying to get page hits? Are you deliberately trying to be controversial? It makes for fun and entertaining reading, after all..
I read a review today that broke my heart. Reading it was like standing in an abattoir watching someone slaughter pigs. The reviewer picked out each individual component and either briefly praised or totally dismissed it, finally discarding the whole thing and implying that the creative efforts behind it were pointless and unlikely to improve.
The foil you discarded earlier? Remember that? That was the person that made the comic you are currently reviewing. That foil, unhygenic as it is, is the same foil that covers every single comic they have ever created or will ever create. And every snide remark, every bad word, makes a mark on it, just like when you screwed it up and (I hope) threw it in the bin.
The experienced comicker can take these reviews with a pinch of salt. They take their foil, and smooth it out again.. you’ll notice the wrinkles and creases leave marks, but on the whole, this is a good thing. They learn from the marks, their foil is intact, ready to wrap a new egg.
Some people are less used to it, and certain comments are like ripping small chunks out of that foil. You can’t smooth out a hole. You can’t fill it in. It’s there forever, blocking the progress of an otherwise smooth wrapper. You can dislike a comic. You can dislike aspects of a comic. You can think it’s the biggest pile of crap in history, but you can do it politely, tactfully and with encouragement.
More than anything else, if you’re going to judge, do it in context. Reviewing a 14 year old who has just discovered comics and comparing it to a semi pro who’s been in the business for a few years isn’t fair. Comparing an anthology by a small press circle to an anthology by a professional indie publisher is equally unfair. Comparing a graphic novella by me and one by Warren Ellis would be ludicrous. Just because they all come under the umbrella of ‘small press’ doesn’t mean they are directly comparable.
Small press as I know it, has been the most supportive and encouraging environment I’ve ever had the fortune to be part of. I speak to pros, semi pros and amateurs when I say I thank you, fellow creators, for all your encouragement, advice and efforts.
To the internet reviewer: you can hide in a way that big press reviewers cannot. If you want to earn the respect of the small press community, go into this with your eyes, ears and hearts wide open. If you want to support small press and be part of small press, you have to behave like small press.
Don’t be a dick.