Wednesday, February 4, 2015

There's Nothing Wrong with Hating Something: An interview with COLIN SMITH about the role of comics criticism and critics themselves

It began with a tweet:
Still trying to write about a truly awful comic.There has to be a way of discussing work that’s terrible without seeming to be point-scoring.
– Colin Smith
To which I responded by writing, “Why write about it at all? Why not just spend your time championing things you love?”
And thus began my initial conversation with Colin Smith, writer for Q Magazine, NewStatesman.com, Sequart, CBR (Comic Book Resources), FPI (Foreign Policy Initiative), and his recently shuttered blog, Too Busy Thinking About My Comics, about the role of modern comics criticism.

Daniel Elkin for Comics Bulletin: First off, thanks again for agreeing to talk more about the role of the critic, criticism in general, and Modern Comics Criticism (MCC) in particular. We covered a broad range of ideas in our tweeting back and forth, but there is only so much you can say limited by 140 characters.
Let’s begin here: Your initial response to my tweet pointing to the use of criticism to champion things you love was something along the lines of that this is “not the critical tradition (you) come from.” Before we go any further in this discussion, I think it would be helpful to clarify and define exactly what that critical tradition is.
Colin Smith: I immediately felt uncomfortable about my use of ‘tradition’ in that tweet. It had seemed appropriate in the by-necessity pithy context of Twitter, but it seems to suggest an authority that I hadn’t meant to lay claim to. A far better way of making the same point would’ve been to say that the critics I most enjoy and admire would never have considered an approach that was exclusively about ‘championing things (they) love’.
If you’ll forgive me, the only way to explain my point is to fall back onto autobiography, and I can well imagine that that would make this too self-involved and long-winded a response to be of interest or use to you. So please do feel comfortable in just calling a halt to these proceedings. I would entirely understand, I promise you!
I never had any ambition to be a critic of any sort. (I certainly don’t think of myself as one.) It wasn’t on my list of things to do. Yet no matter how incredibly minor a critic I am, and I think we can agree I’m an incredibly minor critic, I have ended up writing a considerable amount of criticism. It was all an accident. I had been unexpectedly and protractedly ill. I had to retire from work, I became unavoidably isolated from the world and my mind become more and more distractible and rusty. So simply to get my brain turning again, I started a blog, and while it could have been about anything from theatre to the singles chart to football, I settled almost by chance on comics. It’s a medium I love, of course, but it was also a subject that seemed to promise anonymity. Who was going to read my thoughts on comics? As a discipline, it helped focus my thinking and served to mark off one day from another, but I never imagined that even one or two people would stumble across the blog, or return again after they did.TooBusyThinking was never a major player – it never had more than a quarter million hits in any year – but it was never meant to be. Accidentally emerging into the peripheries of pop cultural debate, it took a while for me to realise that I’d given no prior thought at all to any critical tradition. But to have done so would have been absurd.

1 Too Busy Logo
But after I’d been writing bits and pieces for awhile, I realised I needed to work out what sort of critic – for want of an equally accurate and yet less self-aggrandising term – I wanted to be. That at least wasn’t difficult; the work that I’ve always followed was populist, erudite, amusing, humanist, questioning, contentious and, in a great many cases, savage. My tastes were set in childhood. As a lad, I fell in love with David Low’s political cartoons as reprinted in a school history text book. (The word ‘love’ isn’t an over-exaggeration.) His satire was so elegant, focused, principled, hilarious and yet fiercely expressed that his name was high on Nazi’s death list during World War 2. I really do believe that sealed into my head the idea that situations were to be boiled down their essence and, where appropriate, challenged and mocked.
2 david low's political cartoons
Alongside that, I was fortunate that our family received The Observer when Clive James began writing his TV reviews. I didn’t know what an innovator he was at the time. All I knew was that no-one else that I’d come across in the mainstream media was engaging with popular culture with his enthusiasm and wit, intelligence and insight. He made no distinction between supposedly high and low culture. He was as fascinated by the longueurs of TV snooker and Shatner’s speech patterns on Star Trek as he was the Beeb’s latest Tolstoy adaption. He was astonishingly knowledgeable, a brilliant writer, and his work reflected a fascination with the mechanics as much as the narrative of TV programmes. Noses were frequently and wonderfully knocked out of joint. Like Low, politics was central to his work; though his was typically a light touch, he was – and remains – a passionate humanist.
Finally, the UK’s New Musical Express during the Seventies was an invigorating snake-pit of scabrous reviews, fierce passions and wildly disparate points of views. As with James, writers such as Charles Shaw Murray knew and respected Sci-Fi and comics, which was incredibly rare at the time. The result was a weekly paper that sidestepped the usual cultural snobberies. As it did so, it created its own, constantly toppling hierarchies of what was and what wasn’t acceptable. No-one who read the NME for more than a few months could believe that the paper was delivering an objective view of the music world. That wasn’t the point. The world was constantly being turned upside down, and today’s pack leader might be tomorrow’s taste-traitor. In short, thinking for yourself was the day’s order. I’m not at all sure that championing the best while ignoring all else can encourage that fierce sense of debate and individual worth.
3 NME
This was all fierce, partisan work that made the reader feel engaged, alive, enthralled, appalled and, best of all, enthusiastic. Not all of the NME’s articles were well written, but a critical mass of them were absolutely alive with ideas and opinions. To my highly impressionable younger self, these influences all pointed to a culture that was distinctly unBritish; wide-ranging, passionate, opinionated, unconcerned with commercial favour, cussedly independent, suspicious of the establishment’s canons, and so on. Just to focus on the NME, its pages suggested that opinions were and should always be shifting, that power, pretension and poor craftmanship should be challenged if not openly mocked, that the culture should be exciting and perpetually unsafe, that everything was up for grabs and would be again tomorrow. The critic was there to fuel the debate rather than deliver an objective judgment, which surely doesn’t exist anyway. Comforting reader and artist alike simply wasn’t on the agenda. As such, it all combined to suggest that culture was in reality wonderfully protean while criticism was to be enjoyed while never trusted. The very idea that any of these folks I’m discussing would concentrate solely on what they loved while benevolently ignoring everything else is quite simply unimaginable. How could the debate be created if that was so? Where would the fun be if everything was kept safe, nice and polite? What would Low’s work have mattered if it discussed little but the good, why would James’ columns have counted if he was merely ticking off the good things he’d seen?
Yes, it’s a style of criticism that’s often indistinguishable from the cult of personality. To me, that’s exactly as it should be. If the reader doesn’t find anything of worth in the work of a particular critic, then they can ignore. No-one is being forced to swallow a party line, and the richer and more contentious the range of critics, the more democratic the whole process becomes. Good criticism isn’t just about the evaluation, but about the form that the evaluation is delivered within. It can’t be a neutral, safe, and bloodless affair. To reduce it to a choice of partners for a trip down the pub, who would you chose? A lovely kind friend who refused to discuss anything that wasn’t positive, or a drinking partner who would, as Philip K. Dick once said about the French, argue excitedly about the colour of matchboxes? Criticism is a profoundly human activity. It’s not a science and it’s not a component of the education system. If its concerns are collapsed to nothing but heartening and encouraging comments, then it becomes gutted of many of its most fundamental – human – virtues.
It wasn’t that I agreed with much of what I read in the Seventies. The NME, for example, rarely gave a hint of respecting my own taste in music. But the responsibility to disagree was one of the earliest lessons I learned. Despite what so many in the ever-polarising blogosphere appear to believe, criticism isn’t about delivering an opinion that the reader agrees with, or even feels comfortable with. It’s not about standing with this crowd or that, but about standing in a crowd of one.
So the broad critical tradition I spoke of is a completely personal one, and yet, as is of course obvious, it draws from centuries of frequently-dissenting opinions. It extends down to the present from my own baffled childhood through the likes of Private EyeSmash HitsThe New YorkerThe Word and so on. It’s repeatedly painfully honest, confrontational, informed, frequently hilarious and yet highly judgmental. It takes a stand and it names names while it’s doing so. For all that it may take cudgels or a surgeon’s knife to a particular piece of work, such writing is at its heart profoundly creative. Anyone who’d label, for example, the criticism of Orwell and Parker and Hughes and Kulkarni and Brooker and Sontag and Bangs and Ebert and Rimmer as being destructive is surely missing the point. How immeasurably poorer would our culture be without these malcontents and their work? It’s not the only game in town. (I certainly wouldn’t want to throw, say, Ellen Willis’ excellent Out Of The Vinyl Deeps overboard because she’s a more smartly restrained writer than the majority of those I’m mentioning.) But it is the game I’m most fascinated by.
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I find it hard to trust any critic who doesn’t at the very least irritate and annoy me. Many of my favourite critics can drive me up the wall with their opinions. That they often come from the culture of decades past doesn’t undermine their interest or authority, because their work is still alive with ideas and fine writing and thought-inspiring shortfalls. I’ll cheer Gore Vidal to the rafters when he’s discussing P and U writing, but his belief that America ought to have stayed isolated from the Second World War has me grinding my teeth. John Carey’s assault on the snobberies of Modernism and its descendents makes for the most invigorating of reads, but he can be dishearteningly dismissive of pop culture too. I frequently wonder whether Anthony Lane and I have anything much in common at all, while Pauline Kael slated movies that I suspect I’ll defend to my dying day. But that’s not the point. A great critic informs and nurtures, yes, but they also challenge and destroy. The most vital critics respect only so far as they believe respect has been earned. They educate, but from a highly personal and inevitably biased perspective. They make terrible mistakes, and that’s mostly all to the good, because without the ruffled feathers and personal shortfalls they wouldn’t be doing their job, which is the job of being human and stoking up the broader culture. Mistakes are unavoidable, although it’s a poor critic who doesn’t do their best to be as fair and accurate as they can be. In doing so, mistakes and all, they make others think. That’s it, that’s the job. It’s not a responsibility that many who want to avoid wounding their subjects can pull off, although more power to them if they can.
I’m not putting myself within one hundred leagues of such critics. In fact, writing this just reinforces how profoundly disappointed I am at my own efforts. But these are the reviewers I enjoy and admire, and these are the principles that their work appears to me to embody. Why anyone would choose to operate outside of this admittedly-broad tradition perplexes me, even as, of course, I respect their right to do so. Why only celebrate the things you love?
Elkin: For me, it came down to a crisis of consciousness. I had been writing a column for Comics Bulletin called Cheap Thrills in which I randomly pulled comics out of the bargain bin and wrote about them. There were some occasional moments of celebration, unearthing some wonderful book that had been forgotten (which often lead me to ask despairing questions about the larger culture), but for the most part I found myself writing savage and biting reviews full of bile and despondency. While they were fun to write and they certainly gave me an opportunity to excise some personal demons, it began to wear on me. Slogging through a river of crap can be taxing, no matter how much exercise it provides your glutes and your thighs.
I came to the point where, in a review of Ogre #3, I spouted the dictum, “Just because you are capable of creating a comic, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should.”
5 ogre
This sort of statement, I think, fits into the critical tradition of which you were speaking – here I was challenging poor craftsmanship in a brutal and fundamental way. I felt smugly justified in the statement.
Later, through a series of events, I ended up getting some original pages from Ogre and, while they were amateurish and flawed in so many ways, I began to see them in a new light. These pages represented the passion and commitment of two men, the writer and the artist. Here in my hands was a physical manifestation of their hopes, of their dreams, of something truly personal. Staring at these pages I began to questioning the audacity inherent in my riding up upon my high horse and casting aspersions at this small act of purity. There is an enormous amount of work and devotion represented in the publication of any comic, let alone a four issue series.
I began to question what purpose my viciousness served. While I tried to make some small statement at the end of the review about the damage such books do to the small press movement currently afoot, ultimately I was just tearing down for the purpose of tearing down.
This sort of examination made me consider the role of the critic in the age of the internet. As we become more and more flooded with content vying for our attention, attention itself becomes the equivalent of currency.
Which led me to write this tweet in our initial exchange:
As attention is the new commodity, I wonder what validity there is in spending it on things that bring little to the world?
– Daniel Elkin
Negative reviews can often steer attention and, as it is precious, once spent that attention is lost on something more deserving. In this environment, the critic becomes, in a way, a map maker on the content highway, directing flow by acknowledging the road. Not so much taste-maker anymore, nor arbiter of discrimination, but rather cartographer of culture.
It’s a given that the world is a much different place than it was when you were embracing the NME of the Seventies. Information travels so much faster, response time even quicker, and the gap between artist and audience becomes narrower and narrower. That critical voice of the past that you laud would undeniably be different because of this.
Has the role of the critic to fuel the cultural debate been diminished in that thing we call the “modern world”? And if not, then, to quote Elvis Costello singing Nick Lowe, “So where are the strong? And who are the trusted?”
Smith: I wouldn’t support criticism that was brutal for the sake of it, and that kind of viciousness wouldn’t be a tradition I’d ever feel inspired by. Criticism can be accurate and in that cutting, but it needs to be in the service of something a great deal more worthwhile than look-at-me point-scoring. I can’t enjoy criticism unless it delivers a clear sense of what the critic’s criteria are. More than that, I need to grasp why those criteria are of any importance. Neither of us, I’m sure, believe in any absurd standards of absolute right and wrong when it comes to storytelling. That being so, any critic worth their salt has to establish what grounds they have for putting forward their opinion. In many ways, communicating those criteria is far more important than delivering a judgment of some sort. If it’s clear what they are, the argument becomes one that the reader can engage with. That’s the basis for the kind of dialogue that my favourite critics inspire. To go back to the example of the NME in the late seventies, two of the paper’s young rising stars were Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill. Their work was horribly cruel, essentially Stalinist in its arrogance and viciousness. And I wanted nothing to do with their opinions. Their musical taste and political stances seemed – to be polite – ill-thought through and self-serving and nasty. There was plenty of brutality in their work, but I wouldn’t incorporate it into any tradition I’d recognise as worthwhile. By which I mean, the choice isn’t between brutality and kindness, but between the critics who can and who can’t justify their use of a broad range of strategies in their work.
So, I’m not a fan of brutality for its own sake, though there are moments when contempt and even outright condemnation are more than justified. Given my own politics, I’d suggest the Spider-Man story a few years ago in which Peter Parker tortures the Sandman. I thought it was an appalling story, a deeply reactionary piece that – whether intentionally or not – perpetuated all the myths of heroic and necessary torture. And I can’t see how I could have avoided responding passionately and scornfully to it. By the same token, I also laid out my own political position, discussed the storytelling in detail and attempted to explain in some detail why I believed the tale was both politically charged and essentially misleading. Written in haste and in no little upset, I’ll not claim it as anything but the most minor of pieces. But if it was brutal, then that was, I believe, proportionate to the contents of the story I was discussing.
6 torture
But I’d never take a cudgel, for example, to a small-press comic for anything other than what my conscience would see as some truly reprehensible ethical issue. Nor would I be interested in reading such a piece. In such a situation, there’s an obligation to tell the truth, but there are ways of expressing concern without simply dishing out scorn. (I’m not in any way commenting there on your own experience as you discussed it above: there will be few critics of whatever stripe who haven’t at one time or another written things that they deeply regret. ) Of course, some creators will find any criticism to be deeply wounding and by its very nature illegitimate. And I’ve certainly been devastated by criticism myself, and sadly sometimes rightly so, and I don’t use the word ‘devastated’ lightly. But the degree to which a review takes a piece of work to task depends upon, as you yourself touch upon, a whole raft of issues. Frank Miller’s Holy Terror is another example of storytelling that appalls me. But the comic itself doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Miller himself is still loaded up with a huge degree of positive press, money, status, opportunity and so on. In a world in which his Islamophobia has passed without nearly enough discussion and condemnation, it’s hard to imagine tip-toeing through his hardly-minor failings. Nor would it be, in the terms of my own logic, responsible to ignore Holy Terror and focus on less repellent work, or only discuss the undeniable energy and invention of some of the book’s designs.
But Holy Terror is an extreme case, and deserves a passionate, detailed response. The force that might be brought to bear there would hardly be appropriate where most graphic fiction is concerned.
7 holy terror
I see nothing wrong with the role of critic as being – in your own words – a “cartographer of culture”, lauding the good, focusing on the positive and trying to step away from the often-poisonous air of much of 21st century debate. But that approach simply wouldn’t engage with the culture in the way that I’ve tried to touch upon above. The choice isn’t, I’d contend, between positivity and negativity, between ego and altruism, brutality and kindness. There’s a broad range of critical tools, most of which can be brought into play at different times in different ways in order to achieve particular ends. I’ve written reviews which, for a variety of reasons, have focused on the brighter side of things. I’ve also done the exact opposite. But in the end, reviewing is – to me – about communicating a clear sense of the reviewer’s agenda. Once that’s established, the review has to provide the evidence to support the reviewer’s contentions. To what end? To infuriate, inspire, entertain, clarify, challenge and so on. To encourage and praise is just a tiny, if undeniably important, part of that. Again, I can’t see how an exclusively softly-softly approach can serve more than just a few of these possibilities.
But if your end as a critic is to create a nurturing and safe environment in which positive qualities and nothing but are discussed, then how can I argue? To me, it’s an incredibly constrained position, but in the end, who cares what I think? If that’s the cause that you passionately want to serve, then more power to your elbow. To argue against kindness, compassion and enthusiasm isn’t something I’m trying to do. But I do think the agenda that you’ve laid out will massively limit the debates you can involve yourself in.
I do think it’s telling, and touching too, that you’ve quoted from Nick Lowe’s Peace Love & Understanding. For myself, I don’t believe in a choice between “the light of insanity” or “sweet harmony”. Nor do I think that a critic ought to set out to be “trusted” in the sense of providing the kind of absolute truth that the song implies. Having said that, I wish I did. But I think the role of the critic – whether minor or major-league – is even more important in the present day than it was in the past. Today’s babble-heavy blogosphere could do with a great deal more criticism of the kind I’ve been so clumsily trying to praise. That doesn’t mean that any one critic could – or even should – have a huge amount of influence, but it couldn’t harm to have a far greater number of smart, able critics out there. Of course, there’s lots to be found, but a great deal more could only be to the good. I don’t think, as you argue, that we’ve reached a point where the culture would benefit from the limiting of our critical options. For a number of critics to operate solely with such positivity is undeniably a valid business. But as a general rule? I think not.
Elkin: Point well taken, although one could argue that the sort of culture defining criticism for which you are advocating could just as easily be integrated into a series of positive critical analyses as it could a negative review. If the purpose of criticism is to move the debate forward, isn’t it as important to hold up examples of what gets it right as a model, as it is to say “this is what I’m talking about” in the course of showing us what it is not? I’m not sure I understand how that limits the debate.
If you are going about defining an aesthetic understanding, a political appraisal, or an unpacking of modern themes why not point to positive examples? As long as a positive analysis operates in a larger frame and allows for thoughtful discourse, how does that limit it in terms of being interesting, informative, inspiring, or entertaining? How does focusing attention on what, in the critic’s view, is socially and/or artistically valid limit the ability of the critic to communicate his or her agenda? Doesn’t it, in fact, clearly define his or her agenda?
Smith: I do find myself baffled by your concern to avoid saying anything negative in your criticism. Why would you want to abandon such a huge range of your critical options? I share your concern about avoiding the unfair, but take that principle to such an extreme degree? It’s fascinating to me that you’ve a model of criticism that places the positive and the negative in such opposition to one another. In that, we’re very much not taking opposite positions to each other. I’m for pointing out the good, the bad and the middling – to use those terms as shorthand – while you seem to be arguing that you want to focus entirely on the good. It hadn’t struck me before, but you and I really aren’t in opposite corners. I’m not arguing for reviews which are entirely negative, although I do believe that it’s possible for an entirely negative review to be entirely legitimate and worthwhile.
The idea that a critic’s work can set an agenda of its own while being 100% upbeat is undoubtedly correct. But I’d say it’s highly unlikely that such a method would be as informative, individual and entertaining as a review that takes the broader approach. For my money, I actively search out critics who’ll highlight flaws as well as strengths. I can’t imagine being enthused and fascinated by an approach that is, in essence, cheerleading, no matter how passionately and knowledgeable it’s done. As I said before, I’d not want a discussion with a friend about comics in which criticism was so restrained. It seems like a terribly polite and ultimately bloodless approach. I’ve searched my memory for any critic of note and status in the broader world beyond the blogosphere who’s ever practiced criticism in this universally buoyant manner. I’m sure there must be figures of real note who’ve done so, but I can’t recall them. Does that mean that the positive approach can’t be useful or interesting? Not at all. But those who take it are drastically limiting their tools. The idea that we should only describe the work in terms of its better qualities strikes me as erroneous. How is that possible? And how interesting is a critic’s work when it’s all light and no shade, let alone darkness?
You ask,  “How does focusing attention on what, in the critic’s view, is socially and/or artistically valid limit the ability of the critic to communicate his or her agenda?” Perhaps I might return to the example of Holy Terror. How could the positive approach illuminate that book’s Islamophobia? How could it deconstruct the apparently entirely deliberate bigotry in that comic? In a culture in which Islamophobia is so common and so virulent, how could a positive approach take a visible, determined stand? It’s an extreme example, but I’d argue it’s an entirely valid one.
Elkin: I’m in no way saying that there isn’t a role for negative reviews. It would be presumptuous and impertinent for me to suggest such a thing. If someone makes a misstep, then certainly they should be made aware of this and, as such, the culture benefits through a reasoned discussion of how that misstep speaks to larger issues. The intelligent critical voice is paramount in helping frame that discussion.
But when it comes down to the focus of criticism you and I are engaged in, comic book criticism, what ultimately is our role? What do we, as modern comics critics, want from criticism of the medium we’ve embraced?
Colin: The role of the critic is whatever role the critic wants to adopt. My argument, such as it shamefully is, applies only to my own writing and to the critical work I enjoy and respect. But what do I “want from criticism of the medium we’ve embraced?” I want to be informed, entertained, enlightened, stimulated, and challenged. What I don’t want is polite, albeit highly principled, expressions of encouragement and appreciation.  That’s far better than viciousness or ignorance, of course, but again, why does the choice has to be between one extreme and the other? What do I want of comic criticism? The same as the best criticism of any art form offers.
Elkin: It seems to me that much of what passes as modern comics criticism is suffused with plot rehashes, continuity issues, discussions of character, and whether or not the piece at hand is worth the money you could spend on it. For the most part, little thought is given to larger social/political issues. When it does, when critics point out how comics handle (or mishandle) ideas about misogyny, racial sensitivity, sexual orientation, consumer culture, political correctness,  or the basic human need to connect with others and their surroundings, oftentimes such criticism is ignored, dismissed, or savaged by huge numbers of those who call themselves fans and are the ones, ostensibly, who drive the market. Very rarely does comic criticism rise to the level of engaging in cultural debate, mostly because that is not what the market demands. Those of us who spend the time to think about these sorts of things are outliers in our own community.
Smith:  I think you’re absolutely right to point out how little authority the vast majority of comics critics carry in the blogosphere. But I can’t help but feel that that’s inevitable, in that the net has vastly diminished the call – if not the need – for supposedly informed gatekeepers. That process may even prove to be for the good. There’s a lot to be said for a culture in which critics have to fight for even the smallest measure of attention; the old idea of a small elite of tastemakers often stifled rather than encouraged debate. Anyway, the quality of a critic’s work certainly can’t be measured by their influence. Engaging the culture – or rather 2014’s multiplicity of cultures – is something that a critic may or may not succeed in, but it is unlikely to happen in today’s circumstances. But then it’s not the job of a critic to strive to be listened to. (To strive for the broadest audience possible is unlikely to inspire the best work either.) Rather, the job is simply to produce the best work that can be turned out. Whether it’s ignored or reviled doesn’t really come into it.
As for the value of real demolition jobs, you might care to investigate The Hatchet Job Of The Year Awards.  Sometimes niceness simply can’t get the job done.
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There’s a huge number of reasons for assuming the role of comics critic, some of which are less unfortunate than others. Self-expression, the process of learning, a desire to engage in debate, a wish to cosy up to creators, the belief that achievement and excellence should be celebrated; we could go on and list dozens more, I’m sure. But unless you’re paid to produce work, the only criteria is surely to produce work that’s the best you can do according to the principles you hold to. (If you’re being paid, obviously your freedom’s constrained by the responsibility you’ve taken on, and you have to make sure – where you can – that you don’t take on jobs that compromise your principles.) I think we’re both doing our best to do that. In fact, I’m not in contact with any comics critic who’s doing anything but that. Whether anyone’s been listening to what I’ve been chin-stroking about  …. I just don’t think it’s at all relevant. There are few of us who wouldn’t appreciate more readers, of course. I’ve only reviewed two comics in about 8 months, since I’ve been working on a couple of books. But I would’ve preferred the sites who hosted them to have more visitors to my pieces; they were kind to me, I’d have liked to have been of use in terms of hits in return. But since I don’t know how to do that without the hot-air of hype ….
It seems that hardly a week passes without a creator, editor or publisher exhorting their audience to focus on the things they love. Time and time again, we’re told that anything but cheers and thumbs up is somehow not just destructive, but evidence of an inadequate, malformed personality. Well, to paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies, they would, wouldn’t they? No, that’s not an argument in favour of destructive criticism by malformed personalities. But the idea that criticism in its traditional form is somehow a pointless if not despicable practice is becoming all too common in the blogosphere. I have no doubt that many of the professionals who encourage the speak-mostly-only-sunshine approach sincerely believe, as you do, in its virtues. Yet I can’t help but frequently suspect power’s age-old response to, yes, ‘truthiness’ in many of the calls to praise the best and ignore all else. (There are Industry insiders who, having frequently and openly expressed their own beliefs and preferences, seem perversely keen on slapping down those commoners who dare to do the same.) If for no other reason, I’d like to see the folks who long to shut down debate challenged by a great mass of smart, personal, revealing criticism. And I’d like to think that one day my own work might be good enough to add to that chorus.

 Colin Smith’s excellent (though now defunct) blog can still be found at Too Busy Thinking About My Comics. You can find him on Twitter at @Colin_TBTAMC

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