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Why Captain Nihilist reviews the “big” webcomics

A long, long time ago (e.g., two months ago), I promised to do a piece on “Why review webcomics at all?” I turned out to be a more massive project than I realized, and The Webcomic Overlook Central, it turns out, does not employ enough scribes, researchers, and eunuchs to tackle the question in one piece. So, as a way to make this go down easy, I’m breaking the main question into a smaller question.

Mainly this: “Captain Nihilist, shouldn’t you only review webcomics that don’t get much exposure?”

Perfectly reflecting this way of thinking is a comment from Koltreg over at Nerding Blog Jamboree (h/t Art Patient). In the wake of the Jeph Jacques “State of the Webcomics Union” piece, he posted the following:

As for the jab at webcomics bloggers, well … as ironic as it may be, I agree that there’s no real value in writing webcomics reviews other than my ego, as Scott Smith pointed out. Reviews seem to offer little to nothing of value to most readers, except for the one thing Jacques seems to forget: reviews can send readers to new webcomics they might not otherwise discover. The problem is that to my knowledge there are no major webcomic blogs with wide readerships. There are just blogs like mine that are read by small pools of people. Approximately ten people, in my case. If I gave up though, I’d do the opposite of what I need to do – practice my critical-analytical thinking and writing skills.. I am a better writer I was before and as long as you are supportive, there is nothing wrong with writing about webcomics.

Now, according to Koltreg, the most important part of reviews is to send readers to underexposed webcomics.

This is actually a very noble aim. I mean, does the world need another person gushing about how much he loves Penny Arcade? Do we need yet another person saying why xkcd is the greatest webcomic of the century? Isn’t ragging on Ctrl+Alt+Delete just getting a wee bit tired? Wouldn’t you rather hear something new?

I applaud all bloggers who live by this code. I’ve encountered quite a few, in fact, have expressed the same sentiment as Koltreg.

This site, though, will go ahead reviewing the “major” webcomics. And here are my reasons.

Koltreg laments that there are no webcomic review sites that are influential enough to recommend people to new comics. This is true, even when Websnark was updated regularly. But, man, no one gets to be influential by posting only reviews of unknown webcomics. I mean, why would you go to that site in the first place? That’s a huge Catch-22.

Movie reviewers often level the same complaint about motion pictures. Several have mentioned that, hey, if they could skip having to screen 2012 or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and stick to reviewing small art house flicks that they feel deserve wider recognition, they would do so. But, seriously, who in the world would pick up a publication that only screens films like The Sun, Broken Embraces, and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee? Only art house types, and chance are even they wanted to hear you give your take on 2012.

Plus, it brings in the readers.

Hey, come back.

When did it become such a bad thing to bring in readers? I’ve noticed that a very large percentage of people who come in and read reviews are people who already read the webcomic ahead of time. And there’s nothing wrong with that! I do it too. I enjoy reading reviews of comics, TV shows, movies, and music because it’s great to view a work from someone else’s perspective. There might be something you missed the first time around, or differing opinions. You might say it’s like having a conversation about the comic that’s independent of the restrictive confines of an official message board.

However, on the more positive and less self-serving side, reviewing one of the “major” webcomics exposes the reader to your writing style, your preferences, and what you personally look for in a comic. Say you write a Penny Arcade review. Say that you think Gabe and Tycho leaned too heavily on a casual swear word to provide humor but was actually pretty distracting. Voila! You have provided a connection with your readers. If they’ve already read Penny Arcade (and chances are that, if they’re webcomic fans, they have), they know exactly what you’re talking about, and they know if they agree with you or not. Down the road, when they read a review of a “small” webcomic, they know what principles and standards you judge a webcomic by.

It would be much more difficult to make that connection if you did a review of a smaller webcomic with two characters named, oh, Witt and Dunkirk (copyright The Webcomic Overlook 2009). The reader would first have to know who Witt and Dunkirk are, why you think it’s wrong for them to swear, what kind of humor their comic peddles in (if it’s a humor comic at all), etc. Chances are the reader wasn’t going to make that first step anyway, because if they though Witt and Dunkirk were worth two figs they would’ve read them already. End game: no connection made with your readers. Except maybe the creator of Witt and Dunkirk and his 10 or so readers.

Besides, I think it’s kinda futile to run a blog with the express purpose of “free advertising.” It’s a long process to review even a single webcomic. You have to read through the archives, type some 1,000 words, and add links. If the sum-total of that is merely, “Well, I just gave free advertising to someone who would probably be better off going through Project Wonderful, which, at least, gets reimbursed for all their troubles,” then that ultimately — to me, anyway — leads to frustration.

Which is why I write because I love, above all, to talk about webcomics. That’s my biggest reason for writing about webcomics.

Finally, I don’t think webcomics are really that popular. Not yet. Not in the grand scheme of things, anyway. There is no lack of potential readers who maybe have heard of xkcd and want to know more about it. In a way, every webcomic is still a “small” webcomic. So until the day that the names Gabe and Tycho are more popular than Cathy, I think it’s safe to say that you’re still introducing webcomics to new readers, if that indeed was your goal.

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About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on December 9, 2009, in The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. But, man, no one gets to be influential by posting only reviews of unknown webcomics.

    Both are possible to do. Roger Ebert does it all the time.

    And the thing about review blogs is that they’re mostly read by people with bigger audiences. At least Websnark back in the day had an audience that was webcomics creators looks to see if their name was being dropped. When a name was dropped they didn’t know about, they would go check things out. Sometimes they recommended to their audience… Admittedly, more often not.

    I think doing the smaller sites IS a very helpful thing for the smaller sites: Perhaps when one of the fanboys of the bigger sites aren’t busy accusing you of trolling or being jealous or whatever idiocy they’re dribbling out of their slack-jawed mushes, they may go take a look at this smaller comic.

    And when a comic is small, even ten visitors is a good thing. When a comic is big, it doesn’t make a difference what you have to say either way.

    Don’t look at it as charity. Look at it as finding something new and potentially awesome.

    • Just to clear things up, I didn’t mean to imply that you shouldn’t review “small” webcomics. I, too, am in favor of a mix between “big” and “small” webcomics. I’m mainly arguing that there is a very large benefit in reviewing the “big” webcomics.

  2. When the Who toured with a new record they would divide the set list into thirds – the big classic hits, the new album, and obscure stuff for the die-hard fans.

    Variety is good. Your site is called “The Webcomic Overlook” and not “The Overlooked Webcomic”. There’s no reason to ignore a popular comic just because it’s popular. If you feel a comic is worth talking about then it shouldn’t matter if it’s big or small, new or old, bad or good. Ya got something to say – say it.

    • I’d played around with changing the name of this site just because I didn’t want people to get the wrong impression that I was only reviewing “overlooked webcomics,” by the way. (Though… humm… “Overlooked Webcomics” might be a rather cheeky title to use for a feature. Must mentally file that away.) But I guess I’m stuck with it for the time being since I re-upped the domain name and all. 🙂

  3. I love your reviews , all the new comics I read is because of guest strips and online reviews

  4. Definitely agree. I read all of your reviews on the comics that I had read already to see what I agreed with and what I didn’t. I judge if I like something you review later on down the line. For example, my tastes don’t usually align with yours in the funnier comics, but we usually agree with the longer storyline ones. And webcomics are still small.

    Generally because most webcomics are pretty damn terrible.

    But there are good ones. And that’s what you’re here for. To point us in the direction of THOSE! yayyy.

  5. I agree about the value reviewing larger strips. I think its a great way to present yourself as a reviewer, practice your skills and create a dialog with your readers.

    Over at Digital Strips though, we seem to get more readers from the smaller strips (although granted, that’s all we podcast about, leaving bigger strips for occasional blog posts). Smaller creators are thrilled to be spotlighted and send there readers our way. A few seem to stick around each time. Big names folk hardly ever link to us anymore.

  6. I’d originally commented on one of the other half a dozen sites that reposts your blog (which is pretty awesome) but I figure posting here where you might actually see it could work as well. Thanks for the link and the quoting of my blog and such. Besides helping to give me ideas of credibility, you also inadvertently caused a link to my page appear at the site of my enemy, thewebcomiclist.com, which is like an early Christmas. I have major problems with the site from function and design standpoints but that is another issue.
    I mostly stick with smaller comics because of the fact that they are appreciative of the feedback and that somebody actually cares. They want to find guidance or at least feedback. Plus being the socially deprived blogger that I am, working on my own webcomic, I find that building community and notoriety helps a lot. While one does not need to start a team of webcomic artists, having friends or colleagues is incredibly important. I’d personally love to see this more in webcomic review authors and such since there is such a diverse group
    I do sometimes review big webcomics though but recently it is mostly at the bequest of friends/readers wanting me to reconsider or as a way to improve upon former views which is important especially in a fluid medium.
    I do also agree that the entire underlying point for reviewing has to be about love and not for fame. Your Webcomic Is Bad flamed out because it was done as a shock feature and something to troll people with or at least I can think that way. What will happen otherwise? I get thousands of page views for free?
    I do need to read this blog more often though. Thanks again for the link as well.

  7. I do a mixture of reviews, both large and small. Part of this is to gain readership. When a webcomic links one of my reviews, I will get a short-term boost of readers that has exceeded a thousand new readers at times. While this may not seem like a lot, it allows for my other motive to come about: to expand readership to other comics.

    See, of those thousand readers (in theory), maybe a hundred or so will read beyond the one review I wrote. They will skim through the other reviews and maybe they’ll find another comic they are interested in. In doing so, they have expanded their reading, and I’ve managed to increase the readership of another comic.

    Reviewers write for two groups: readers, and cartoonists. Being linked allows reviewers such as yourself to show those readers that there are other comics they may enjoy… and tell them a little of that comic ahead of time.

    In essence, we’re salesmen (and women). And webcomics? They’re the product we love and try to sell.

    Rob H.

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