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Apocrypha Entertainment Presents:









A NOTE ON REVIEWING

There are plenty of people out there that spend a healthy amount of time reviewing comics and graphic novels. I’m one of them, and I’ve been doing so pretty steadily since 2001.

That’s a LOT of comics written about, folks.

Sometimes, it becomes a war of attrition. Too much stuff sitting in the inbox, too little time, too little motivation. So I slog through it. Occasionally, the “fuck this shit” impulse comes flying through my head and I have to find a way to quell it. I won’t lie to you; it gets harder all the time.

Thus it becomes important to have some rules and guidelines in place to help with the writing and the reading. I’ll share a few (but not all) of mine with you, in case you are someone who has been thinking about firing up a blog and starting to review stuff yourself.

After you first read the work, take a note or two on your initial reaction to the material. Did it evoke a reaction? Was there an emotional component that jumped out at you? If it held your interest, why? I recently read and reviewed ATHENA #2 from Dynamite Entertainment, and something was nagging at me as I read it until I put the book down, checked my notes, and figured out exactly what I had seen that was picking at my brain: the character is essentially a Greek goddess with the powers of Rom, Spaceknight. That was my hook, and it gave me something to talk about in the review. My column last week about Chris Claremont’s legacy on Uncanny X-Men came out of the strong emotional reaction I had while reading the eighth volume of Essential X-Men. The stories transported me back to age 17-19 and the things that were happening at the time, the massive changes that occurred in my life. Thus the column took on a greater life for me than something I felt no passion for. Passion should be part of your writing as much as humanly possible.

Don’t be afraid of writing a negative review. CWR’s Matt Maxwell recently reviewed an anthology from W.W. Norton that features graphic interpretations of Bob Dylan songs. Matt thought the book treated the material in shallow fashion and said as much. How he said it, though, was what mattered. The review was very well written, he made strong points about what he saw as deficiencies in the execution of the book’s aims, and he did these things without being insulting or mean. And that’s the key: maintaining professionalism and decorum. A bad review should never be a personal attack, it should be a guide for a potential reader to help decide whether or not that item might be worth purchasing. CWR’s Brandon Jerwa is one of my dearest friends, but I once wrote a negative review of one of his Battlestar Galactica comics, and our friendship survived it just fine. Because it was about the book, not about my friend or his talent level (which is pretty high). One San Diego I wound up at dinner sitting across from a creator who, when he found out where I was writing at the time, remembered that his book had gotten a heavy pan from that site. I smiled grimly and acknowledged that I was the one that wrote it. But rather than throw the salt at me, he engaged me in a lively discussion about some of the things I had written about in my review and we had an excellent meal. It was all professional and polite; there’s always room to behave like a grown-up.

On the flip side, don’t be afraid to violate your own rules if necessary. All reviewers have some sort of soft spot, and I certainly have mine. It came into play last night, actually. I was reading a comic from a small self-publisher who prints through a P.O.D. service, so we’re talking about someone just starting out, a newbie doing his best to break in to the medium he loves. And I really, really disliked his book. Normally, I’d write a lengthy missive on what was wrong with it… if it was from a regular publisher. But when it comes to small self-publishers, I have that soft spot and don’t play it that way. I fully admit that I contact the publisher and offer them a choice: I can write up my scathing review of their work, or I can let it go and chalk it up to a small amount of time lost in the reading and that’s it.

This happens maybe twice a year at most, but it does happen. I violate my rules. And that’s okay. I can live with it. Life is short.

Whatever your rules are, the one thing I would tell all of you to keep in mind is to approach the task with respect. “It’s just comics” should never be an excuse to approach reviewing lightly. Act professional. Inform creators and publishers when you post material. I’m still around eight years later because I have followed these guidelines and followed them well. Good luck, and happy reading.

Marc Mason  

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