“When I’m giving my thoughts on a finished article then comic creators deserve my respect” James Blundell on the responsibility of reviewing indie comics

Opinion LogoThe nature of what makes a good review of an indie comic has been a major topic of conversation on social media in the UK indie scene this week after a particularly damning review went viral. Our regular reviewer James Blundell takes a look at the perils of reviewing small press and outlines his own personal thought on how indie critics should be.

Something I always wanted to write about was the process which I follow when it comes to my ‘night job’ of reviewing comics. There was no real reason behind it besides a need to justify why I do what I do in my own head.

However, things have since changed slightly.

These changes come from a recent comic review on another site about a recently released comic book anthology series. This review, in my opinion, is brutal and scathing and, if I were the creator, it would probably make me want to crawl into a hole and die. It appears as less of a review and more an opinion piece, with its author venting his (quite numerous) reasons why he disliked the book, something a number of creators have seen and admonished on that most special of social media’s, Twitter (how do you think I saw it?)

But, was this individual out of line? Are his critics right that he went too far? Well, for me, it’s quite possibly a case of 6 of one, half a dozen of the other. At the end of the day, having written quite a few of them, a review is nothing more than one person’s opinion. What I think of a comic can be quite different to the guy on my left and the girl on my right. Therefore, maybe creators need to pick up a thicker skin or get out of the game entirely.

On the other hand, I’ve learned that there is a fine line between constructive criticism and all out abuse. This is something I think said reviewer needs to reconsider going forward. While I can’t give an informed decision on whether the comic being reviewed is any good or not as I’ve not read it yet, (however it got a pretty decent write up on this very site so it can’t be all that bad) but, having read the so-called review twice now, I’ve struggled to pull out anything constructive, anything which says to the book’s creators ‘this looks/reads bad, maybe you should try this’.

Maybe I’m over analysing and, in the end, everyone is entitled to express their opinion however they see fit (except for personal attacks. Those don’t fly with me). However, while I don’t want to tell anyone who to express their enjoyment (or lack of same) of a comic, I figured I’d share what goes through my head when I review something.

The secret to reviewing comics

First up, it’s probably no secret the number of creators I actually consider friends (although whether they consider me the same is up for debate). From Matt Garvey, Jon Lock, Sarah Millman and Joe Glass to Nich Angell, Lynne Triplett, Dan Butcher and Vince Hunt, I am on good terms with a lot of small press creators. However, because of my position as a reviewer, there’s a better than evens chance that their comics come across my desk(top). So, how do I deal with that? The simple answer is; I treat their book like any other comic! As much as I like these people, I’m critiquing their work and I don’t do anyone any favours by bigging up crap. Not the creator and certainly not the comic fans considering buying their book.

However, I’m also aware that not all comics are my cup of tea. I’m a crime junkie and a superhero nut. I’m also into political and pulp sci-fi books. However, I can’t stand supernatural. Don’t know why, just can’t. But again, I’ve had a good few magic inspired books come my way. So, how do I deal there? Well, it helps to have a good editor to keep me on track (thanks Alex!!) but, when that’s not enough, I also need to focus on the technical aspects of a title. Is it well drawn? Nicely coloured? Well plotted? Good story? I focus on the standard and try and leave my personal feelings at the door (though easier said than done).

But then, there is one last thing I do when I review a comic, and that is to remember one immovable truth; all these people made a comic book, a piece of fictional entertainment and history, while I sat here just reading. Now, there is nothing wrong with reading comics, far from it (in fact more people should do it, but I digress), but all these writers, artists, inkers and colorist invested their time, money, blood, sweat, tears and possibly a marriage into these books. As such, I think that when I’m giving my thoughts on the finished article then the comic, and its creators, deserve my respect and to give it the benefit of the doubt.

And that’s what I think when I review a comic and, for the most part, I think I’ve followed that way pretty well (I’m sure there is one or two that I’ve messed up). Of course, none of us are paid to give our opinions (ok, a couple are) but, while our thoughts on a comic should be our own, I think we should remember to be responsible with the power we have (see what I did there?) and treat the comics we review with respect. After all, it might end up being the last we get to read.

James Blundell is a regular reviewer for Pipedream Comics and you can follow him on Twitter @james_blundell