Written by Dusty Good
Not all comics are created equal. Not all comic creators are created equally. You’ve got your upper echelon, masters like Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Alex Ross and your Lee’s (take your pick between Stan, Jim, Jae, or Pat) and then you’ve got your professional creators who will make a decent living off of their work within the industry, then you have your Indy creators who may never break out big, and last you have your “creators” that have never published anything beyond their masterwork that consists of some stapled copier paper with stick figures on it. (I read some of these “comics” as well) Just like any other medium of entertainment there are varying degrees of talent and experience. It creates a competitive field for a limited amount of shelf space and customer dollars.
I guess this is the best place to start.
Creative minds hate the word customer. Artists and writers don’t want customers; they want fans, admirers, supporters, backers… anything but customers. The word customer conjures up images of the world of business and rarely does the art world want ANYTHING to do with the corporate world. It’s why companies like Marvel and DC keep their artists and their accountants separated by a border that rivals that of North/South Korea. People with the gift of artistic ability don’t mix well in the business world. (There are exceptions to every rule but this is the standard that holds true 9 out of 10 times)
Here is the rub. All those folks that are NOT your family and friends, the ones that enjoy your creative labors… they are and always will be your customers, and by proxy, you are your own marketing, public relations, and management firm. It’s simple economics 101 – Supply and Demand. You’ve got it; we want it, let’s work out a fair market price and trade money for your goods and services.
Why bring up customers? If you really want to make a living off of your creative talents then you need to know your customer base. What they like, what they don’t like, what’s hot in entertainment and within the culture of your medium. A.K.A.—what’s selling.
This is the biggest reason you see so many creators jump on pop culture band wagons and trends. The Walking Dead got popular and started selling out, soon Marvel did their zombie line of books to try to grab their share of the market and even DC jumped in with Blackest Night. The interest is there, the money is there, find the right entry point into the market and you can earn a boatload of cash.
That’s not to say that every zombie book sold out. There were more misses than hits at that target audience, but it was and is good business sense. Go where the “fans” (customers) are. Give the people what they want.
Given the fact that we are talking about comics, there is a ridiculous amount of competing titles out there all vying for the same dollar. Unlike most markets though, creators are not just competing against what’s current, but you are also competing against anything and everything that has ever been made. A comic published today is still going after the same dollar that Detective Comics #27 is after, and Watchmen, and X-Men, and Spider-Man, and Spawn, and everything else you see in long boxes at a con… all trying to earn that same dollar from that same customer.
SO WHAT DOES ALL THIS HAVE TO DO WITH REVIEWERS AND REVIEWS?
In today’s cut-throat comic book market getting any edge means more exposure, which in turn means more “fans”, and that all means more money. Getting someone to sign off on your product in front of the general public is a license to print money. (Please take into account that not all endorsements carry the same weight; as a reviewer or review site is limited by the size of their audience, their own reach, and track record) If a book can get enough positive reviews then it can build a buzz and catch on within the zeitgeist that is pop culture, which regardless of what creators will tell you, is the ultimate goal of anyone that undertakes the creative life. You want your work to be recognized, you want it to permeate the culture, you want it to be influential, and you want it to be successful. (Otherwise, why would you waste your time creating it?)
A good review from the right source can do wonders for marketing and sales of your book. (Again, it’s marketing 101) But what is the right source for a review? Allow me to help with that…
- Does the reviewer have an audience? Anyone can build a blog or website, but are there enough people viewing the site/blog to warrant giving your time and attention to the reviewer? Now there is no magic number that is right or wrong. Obviously a larger audience is preferred; as it will reach more customers, but a safe rule to work from is the rule of 10%. Ask yourself, “If 10% of the visitors from this outlet go out and purchase my product will a review at this site/blog be worth my time?” Again, keep in mind the wide volume of sites and blogs that you can contact. You could make an entire career out of trying to market to all available sources, but you’ve got art to create, cons to attend, deadlines to meet, hands to kiss and babies to shake…wait, that’s not right! SO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR TIME AND ENERGY BY WORKING WITH THE RIGHT SITES.
- Does the outlet have a good track record with creators and fans alike? Does your source have the skill to say good comics are good and bad comics are bad? Do they have a grasp of current trends and movements within the comics market? This is the long-winded way of asking you, “Do they know their shit?” If you trust a site/blog/source then go with it.
- Are they honest? Does the reviewer call it down the middle or do they show consistent bias? If you know that a reviewer tends to write in favor of a particular company or creator that they might be personally be invested in, (be it outside relationships/friendships with editors and staff, free swag, or even money exchanging hands … yes, that does happen in rare circumstances and is the worst sin a reviewer or site can make) and then is that someone you want to represent your work?
An endorsement can be a double-edged sword that becomes a boon as well as a curse. If a reviewer is “pay for play” or easily swayed with outside influences then you might be dealing with someone who is less than credible.
- Feedback is a bitch. Pure and simple. It’s hard for anyone to hear an unfiltered opinion about their work. A comic is like your baby, your prized possession; you have placed so much time and energy into its creation that anyone talking about it (good or bad) can be akin to tap dancing on raw nerves. Before reading a review about your work, take a deep breath, center yourself, and try to keep an open and accepting mind.
An honest review can point out flaws and qualities that may have gone unnoticed. An outsider’s perspective can be invaluable to the creative process; helping a creator steer and navigate the creation of their work to reach a wider audience and get closer to the target of what will yield a higher turnout of customers and profit.
I try to be as open and as honest as I can be when I sit down to write a review. I understand the amount of work that goes into the creation of the end product. You’re not dealing with a comic that was magically shit out over a weekend; you’re dealing with the end result of weeks/months/ sometimes years of sleepless nights, financial hardship, sacrifice and dedication. Comics are an art form that takes time to create, each step as important as the last. Writer-Artist-Inker-Colorist-Letterer-Editor-Marketing-Shipping…What you hold in your hand as a reviewer is the final product of a lot of talented individuals.
It’s with this in mind that I start with my own guidelines to help me navigate the review and grading of an issue. (Keep in mind that every reviewer is different, some are much more methodical, others are more freewheeling, and I can only speak for myself)
- What did I think of the various elements that created this comic? (Plot/Art/Inks/Coloring/Letters)
- How will this comic look on the shelf of my local comic shop? (Does it stack up to the industry standards of quality)
- Where does this issue stand in comparison to the 24 years of comic fandom I have under my belt?
- Would I hand this to a person who has never read a comic before?
- Who is the target audience?
- How well did I follow the story or plot?
- How clear-cut where the characters in this issue?
- Did the artwork standout and assist the narrative?
- Have I seen work from these creators before? Does it show a progression of talent and skill by the individual?
- Did I have fun?
That’s it. If I am honest in my approach I will break down an issue step by step, then take all of those minor grades and form an overall opinion of the work in front of me. Then I take that opinion and stack it up against all of my working comic knowledge to try to formulate an idea of where this story or issue will land among the comic book landscape. It’s more involved than reading an issue, slamming it shut, and shouting to the heavens…THIS IS WORTH THREE OUT OF FIVE STARS!
There are also two major issues here that I want to address:
- Creative newcomers to comics
- Reactions to a review
When I am handed material from my editor it is often a grab bag of companies and titles. Some I have read for years, others I have read multiple trades, and others still I have only a slight working knowledge of the history and characters…But more often than not I am handed work from start-ups and newcomers who have never created a comic before in their life.
This is where it gets tricky. Remember how I said that I take into account all the various steps that it takes to create a comic? You’re often dealing with a team or individual who is “chasing their dream of creating a comic.” This is a noble pursuit; I welcome new members to the industry with open arms.
90% of what I read is someone’s failed vanity project. A comic that never should have seen the light of day outside of a few friends and family members, somehow against all odds and common sense, will find its way to me. I try to be kind. But the sheer volume of suck is so overwhelming that I lose my temper from time to time and take it out on the worst that crosses my path.
If you are a young creator take this wisdom and use it. Ask yourself, “Is the product I am putting out into the public good enough to go toe to toe with what is being produced by the larger publishers?”
It might be your first comic. It might be your first successfully published book. It may even make your parents proud that you chased that dream and made it happen…
Is your work good enough to sit side by side with the industry’s top titles? Can it stack up with the lowest selling Marvel book? Does it have the quality of the hottest Indy title? It may sound absurd but that is the competition you’re running against. You are competing head to head with Todd McFarlane, Alex Ross, Robert Kirkman, and all the rest. Your comic is fighting for the same shelf space that those creators own right now. If your comic is not up to snuff then don’t wheel it out for the world to see.
Take your time and build your comic right. Put in the time. Put in the money. Work with skilled and talent professionals that will take your book to a higher level. If you want to draw but you KNOW in your heart that your artistic skills are lacking than do your due diligence and get some training, go to school, take a course or three, it will only help… and for God’s sake practice! Practice, practice, practice!!!
The same can be said for writers/inkers/colorists…anyone who is chasing that dream. Know that you are at a pro-level before you go pro. That’s why the full job title is PROFESSIONAL COMIC ARTIST/WRITER/INKER…ETC. The “professional” is in there for a reason.
Speaking of being professional, I want to close on this. Always be professional in your exchanges with fellow creators, fans, and even your not-so-friendly reviewers. I’ve had the good fortune over the years to deal with some fantastic creators and I’ll even name a couple: Jonboy Meyers and Jamal Igle are two of the nicest guys in the industry and they didn’t even pay me to say that! I could throw Gene Ha, Nicola Scott, Dave Elliott, Howard Porter and about three dozen others on that list that I was blown away by their professionalism and their kindness. A few minutes of their time made a lasting impact. While I may not always grade their works or projects high because of that interaction, I will always come to their defense when speaking with other fans and pros.
There are those creators and companies that have taken the opposite approach and shown a total lack of professionalism. Granted, everyone has their bad days, but I’ve been outright insulted by people whose work I have enjoyed for years, and all of it stems from reviews that I have given of their work. One of the worst experiences I’ve had in comics stemmed from a top talent a DC who had worked on major projects for that company. This man was one of the surliest and rudest individuals I have ever met. It tainted his amazing work for me. I refuse to even write a review for anything he is involved in because my opinion is tainted.
Being less than professional is the worst sin a creator can commit. Being unable or unwilling to hear constructive criticism is a personality flaw, and it usually stems from an inflated ego, a lack of caring, or outright denial. All three are lethal to building bonds within the industry.
So there you have it! An insider’s perspective on what goes into a review and what goes on in the mind of a reviewer. Maybe this will help you gain a better understanding on the content you’ll run into here at Comic Crusaders little piece of the web. I can tell you first hand that the folks that make up this rag-tag bunch are honest and straight forward in their opinions. Sure, there are creators that hate us. There are even some creators that love us. Regardless, team CC and myself will continue to bring you and the rest of the industry the best in comics, reviews, and opinions on pop culture.