Reviewing To Promote Comics, Not Tear Down

We’ve covered what makes a good review on Comic Book Daily several times, but I recently came across this statement from Gina Gagliano of First Second Books that sums up nicely my thoughts on the process.

Reviewers to whom I send books are not obligated to write reviews!  In fact, if they get books from me in the mail and they hate them, I would probably prefer that they didn’t write any review at all.  Even if a reviewer gets a book and feels bland and vaguely indifferent towards it, I’ll probably be like, ‘how about you review a nice book from me that you thought was awesome instead of forcing yourself to write something vague and indifferent about this book — I’ll find someone else who loves it to cover it.’

Time is the commodity in today’s world that we all seem to be short on. If I read two books this week and love one but dislike the other, which is better to spend my time reviewing? The book I loved fires me up about the creators, the story and the medium in general and I want to share that wonder and amazement with others. The book I disliked leaves me with nothing but questions and a sour taste. It would be great to read all the new books this week and write a review for all of them, but few of us have the time, money and energy.

This comes to mind as I finish two of the Now! collections from Marvel, Uncanny Avengers Vol 1: The Red Shadow and Avengers Vol 1: Avengers World. I disliked both and wouldn’t recommend them to anyone. Should I write negative reviews of one, or both, giving people a suggestion what not to buy, or should my energy and time be focused on The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward, a book I read last week and thoroughly enjoyed that I would like everyone to pick up, read and enjoy as much as I did. Seems like a simple choice.

Scott VanderPloeg
Scott VanderPloeg

Scott works in I.T. but lives to eat and read. His other ramblings can be found at AE Index and eBabble. Art collection at Comic Art Fans.

Articles: 1231


  1. I don’t think reviews should be simply hot/cold. Few books are so great that they can’t be criticized and few books are so bad that they can’t be praised. We should offer opinions on whether the creators accomplished what they set out to accomplish, and if different choices could have made for a better work.

  2. There is nothing wrong with constructive criticism. The problem is that there are far to many who just trash a book without describing why.

  3. I think it is important to draw some genre distinction when reviewing. You can give a superhero book a good review that says “if you are a fan of this genre you will enjoy it for these reasons”, but you aren’t saying that Spider-Man is better than Maus for example.

  4. I think that’s absolutely true. A horror book is trying to do different things than a superhero book, and those are trying to do different things than an Archie comic. It’s all about execution.

  5. To not review a book because you dislike it seems like a dis-service to both the readers and the creators.

  6. Anyone who’s read Scott’s columns know him to be an intelligent person. So I can only conclude that there are only 2 possible reasons for this write up…

    1. Scott is unable to get beyond his bias toward comics.
    2. He (and others) are out of ideas.

    I guess a third possibility would be a combination of both.

    At what point does the truth come into play? Whether it’s blind faith or blowing “sunshine”… Positive only reviews reek of commercialism. I for one would prefer a critical approach based on the same gauge that other forms of art or literature is measured. An intelligent, insightful analysis is never about plus or minus. It is about just being.

    PS: Also, don’t forget to be entertaining…

  7. I agree with Philip – and also with some of Charlie’s points (minus the ‘trash-talk’) 🙂

    I think a review should be honest.

    An honest reviewer will maintain value in their future words… when there IS finally a good piece to review. Readers should be invited to make their own decision and creators should take the opportunity to either defend their intention… or improve.

    Sometimes, comic books (or any other form of subjective media) are bad… and it’s ok to say so because it’s art. It’s not Science or Mathematics. I can have different answers to the question and they’re all ok. No one person is right or correct.

    As a fan of whatever, you might feel protective when someone doesn’t like it… but will that stop me reading the thing myself and arriving at my own feeling? No, it will not.

    Should there even be a choice involved in review? I’m not sure. Better to have 2 or more reviewers working blind of each other, maybe?

    Art is about making people feel something and what a person feels should be shared either way.

  8. Thanks for all the comments. It seems to have moved away from my basic point, which I’ll reiterate, as the comments seem to focus on the article title and not the content.

    I read several books a week, and really only have the time to review one. With my finite time available I choose to review the book that I enjoyed. I am not concerned with a critique of the material, or an analysis of it’s strengths and weaknesses; just a look at something I enjoyed.

    “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
    – Theodore Roosevelt

  9. We all have a predisposition for things that we will enjoy and if the purpose of your reviews are to let everyone know what you enjoyed out of your reading pile that has merit. The reader would then need to see if their tastes are similar to yours and would likewise enjoy the work.

    But if you change your mind and want more of a critical analysis of the material I would suggest you should randomly determine which of the books you read that week should be reviewed.

  10. I hear that so much on social media for all genres. “I hated Iron Man 3” “Why?” no answer. Tell me why you don’t like something or I’ll just assume you’re trying to be ‘edgy’

  11. Theodore Roosevelt obviously never wanted better than he had. I’d say that comparison is the pursuit of Joy, since the discovery of an improved version of anything results in a desire to achieve or capture it.

    A formal, critical appraisal, examination and assessment of a given object or moment is to ‘review’.

    To select a thing you like… and then tell people about it is both fun and insightful but, a review (to me at least) is more reactive and based on feelings… which will inevitably change from person to person.

    A bad review is just as interesting to read as good one because I’m reading a review. If I want to know how I feel about the subject, I should be reading the actual thing.

  12. Strong opinions about what a review should be, especially from fellow CBD writers Anthony and Danny. I’d like to see those opinions in action and have you post some reviews, especially of material you didn’t enjoy using your defined criteria.

  13. So this article is about how Scott will review books he likes because he’s short on time? Well… I guess I stand corrected. You’re not out of ideas after all.

    I think we were throw off by the meaning of the word “review”.

    A formal assessment or examination of something.

    Examine or assess (something) with the possibility or intention of instituting change if necessary.

  14. I like to do a little of both, the negative and the positive, but I would probably spend more time recommending what is good over criticizing what is bad. Although I would not neglect that, as you will see in my next column. The best way to point out a crooked stick is to lay a straight one down beside it, so I suppose the best way to point out bad art and writing is to offer what’s really good (at least as far as you see it) and let everyone decide for themselves.

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