The webcomics blog about webcomics

Sometimes It’s More Than Just A Rut That You Are Stuck In

There’s nothing more to say about The Far Side.

PorkWrench tries to say it anyway.

Petie Shumate seems to have.. Well. No. Perspective is not there, good linework is not there, the best that can be said about the artwork is that it’s consistent.

For a gag strip, most of the jokes are trying too hard. Or too obscure.

Move along, nothing to see here.

Funny, I don’t remember “too obscure” ever stopping Gary Larson.

Yeah, but he had an overabundance of “clever” and “funny” to fall back on.

Yeah, that’s about the best I’ll say about the art, too. And some of the jokes are obscure, I’ll grant. But, I figure if it gets a laugh out of a few people, it’s done its job. Thank you for the link!

I will admit, however, that the name “Porkwrench” tickles me.

I, for one, find the idea of a pork wrench—nay, a *metric* pork wrench—amusingly funny.

It’s a real shame that all single panel gag-a-day webcomic have to be compared to an print medium example… what, you can’t even give “The Parking Lot is Full” a mention? Or is that too obscure for you?

I haven’t read the whole archives, but I just read the Beatles biography that came out last year and this is funny:

I would have to say that I agree with the comparisons to Gary Larson – the better jokes are mostly just different paraphrasing of what Larson has already achieved. And what hasn’t been lifted from the Far Side, is just too obscure or obvious to be really laugh-worthy.

There’s nothing more to say about The Far Side.

Man, do I disagree.

Maybe you like Pork Wrench and maybe you don’t, but in a medium chock full of Bloom County knockoffs, Calvin and Hobbes knockoffs, and Pseudomanga, it’s refreshing to see folks doing Far Side pastiches.

I hope no cartoonist ever decides not to get in the game because other people did it first. Maybe a given strip will be redundant and derivative… and maybe they’ll grow into something new, or strong. Or make people smile along the way. But there isn’t a webcomic being produced today that can’t be shown to be a descendent of some print comic or other, at least spiritually.

[…] Recently Fleen wrote a post which tore down PorkWrench. I’m all in favour of criticism (I run a review blog, for goodness sakes) but I think that you should at least be constructive in your criticism. Don’t just put down, offer suggestions for improvement, etc. Fleen, however, just said “Porkwrench isn’t even worth a look. Don’t bother, there’s nothing good here.” Makes you wonder why they even bothered posting… […]

Is it just me, or did Gary Larson retire early? Didn’t people have problems with this? That, at least, should give you an answer to whether or not there is anything left to say about The Far Side.

Though Porkwrench shouldn’t be the one to say it. What a terrible comic. It’s not so much that the drawings are bad as that they just feel so overwhelmingly flat. It’s like he has to punch himself in the face to get himself to draw.

This post is awful! What is the point in hauling out some random, little-known webcomic just to slag it in under 75 words?

“The art sucks. The writing sucks. It just sucks. Don’t bother reading it. (Even though I’ve just gone to the trouble to call your attention to it.)”

That’s not a review. That’s a bitchslap!

Reverse psychology meets hidden marketing campaign, perhaps? :)

Eric – I think there’s more people doing Far Side pastiches than you believe there are. I also think most of them are very bad.

Sam – If we don’t at least occasionally show bad comics, and say “these are bad”, then all we’re doing is cheerleading the people who already know what they’re doing (and don’t need help). I tried to find something constructive to say. I tried to give Petie something more to go on. But I couldn’t. I really think this comic has led the author into a trap from which they can’t get out without starting over comletely. The comparisons to Far Side will always be there. The gag-a-day format will never stress/stretch Petie enough to allow for growth as a writer. So, a bitchslap. Too much? Maybe. Petie doesn’t seem to have been discouraged by it.

And if you look through other posts, you’ll see that I do offer constructive comments when I can.

But I agree, this is by no means my best post. The downsides of a daily format – not everything is going to be Solid Gold.

Chris/Carthorzade – if I thought this was a pastiche of TPLIF, I’d have mentioned it.

You’re a good writer and I really like your posts (you nailed the problems with Clickwheel). You can do better than bitchslapping.

I’ll agree that, from all I’ve read, it has little to nothing in common with TPLIF. Dr. Fun is more like it, if you have to go with webcomics.

Well, granted, the post was kind of abrupt, but let’s not throw a wig on a turd and call it Salma Hayek here. The fact is, “Porkwrench” is amateurish. It’s just an amateur cartoonist on his way to becoming a good one. In my perfect world, strips like this wouldn’t even have the opportunity to get reviewed, because he is not even remotely ready to publish in any professional capacity. Such is the downside to posting comics on the internet. Anyone can do it, and anyone does. There are no guidelines. Fifteen years ago, Petie Shumate’s comics would be sitting in a pile on his desk, or in returned Syndicate envelopes, shown only to his closest friends and family for feedback. Now, they’re available to everyone, and reviewed in a capacity where they are compared to “The Far Side”. I just don’t think it’s a fair juxtaposition. It’s like pitting Mike Tyson against Stephen Hawking.

Additionally, this joke is almost a direct lift from The Far Side:

(You know, the one about buffalo ballooning? You know the one, right? I can’t find it.)


Yes but he has been doing it for long enough to expect someone to pass comment. In the past you might have submitted your work for appraisal by a syndicate and, if you were lucky, you might have gotten feedback along the same lines as given here. I hardly see the point of only reviewing stuff when it’s good enough to be praised.

Well, by that token, should we be seeing Star Wars fan films reviewed on “Siskel and Ebert”? I’m just saying that, on the internet, the amateurish strip seems to be held in the same regard as the professional-quality strip. There has ceased to be a distinction.

Paul – I try very hard to review the work based on the work itself. So I wasn’t, per se, pitting Mike Tyson against Stephen Hawking (and, man, someone needs to do a webcomic on that!) – at least not on a point-by-point basis of the artwork or the writing. So when I say the artwork is bad – I don’t mean “bad in comparison to The Far Side”.

But the intent is clearly there to do comics ala Gary Larson.

Bif – right on.

Alexis – Yes, I can do better. I agree, this is not my best post. But I’m trying to review comics, not critique them. And sometimes that means a bitchslap. Would you expect Ebert & Roper to say nice things about the next Uwe Boll movie? (Not that I’m in any way comparing myself to Ebert & Roper. Except, perhaps, in intent… ;-) )

I’ll try to do better this evening. Thanks everyone for reading Fleen.

Paul – What makes a comic “professional quality”?

Does it mean “made by a professional”?

Also, our mission statement at Fleen is to write about webcomics. Not to write about “professional webcomics”, or to write about “good webcomics”, but to write about webcomics.

Hey, that’s a good point, Jeff. Touche´!

Publishing on the web just frustrates me because there seems to be a shortage of people who possess the ability to critically judge their OWN work before putting it in front of ten million eyes, “myself-five-years-ago” included. As Charles Schulz said when presented with sub-par comic strip samples, and I’m paraphrasing here, “I’m consistently amazed at the inability of these people to judge their own work”. I think that ability is critical to producing professional-quality work, whether or not you’re technically a professional cartoonist.

No, Jeff, this post was totally inappropriate. But not for the reasons you think.

The problem, isn’t that it was mean, it’s that it wasn’t something we’ve been conditioned to expect at Fleen; it’s something we’ve been conditioned to find midway through a TalkBack thread at Ain’t It Cool News — an ad hominem attack that says little more than, “you suck.”

I don’t object to a bitchslap in principle. Much of my favorite criticism I’ve ever read, in fact, has been long, well-considered, finally-somebody-needed-to-say-it bitchslappery that diligently explained, with detailed examples, why a piece of “art” is anything but, and why its creator maybe ought to consider a new career in teaching or dishwashing. (One of my all-time faves is the book-length version of “A Reader’s Manifesto” by BR Myers.)

But what you did was worse, in fact, than Porkwrench.

You kicked off with a completely unsupportable statement: “There’s nothing more to say about The Far Side.” Ridiculous; should we retire the four-panel structure because Peanuts was so good? (Also, Mr. Piraro may want to have a word with you.) The single-panel absurdist gag strip trafficking in cruel existential jokes was not invented by Gary Larson, and in an age when anyone can take their comic-strip ideas public, someone somewhere will eventually find something new to say within that construct. Unless, of course, they take your post to heart.

And from reading your far more substantial follow-up comments, near as I can tell, what you really meant to say is that you’re tired of Gary Larson imitators. Fair enough. But in trying to kick off with some sweeping rock-critic assertion that sweeps the decks clean and is about nothing more than you trying to carve out space for yourself as an edgy authority, you shoot your whole “bitchslap” in the foot.

Then, after making this ridiculous crack, you get into the meat of your “argument,” which is “Shumate lacks craft and I don’t like his jokes.” Which is fine. But that’s ALL you say. I mean, very nearly literally, the only two sentences you write are “Perspective is not there, good linework is not there…” and two sentences — two! — saying, “most of the jokes are [generic slam].”

And then you end it with one of the lamest, oldest critical tricks in the book, which is to take those immortal words out of a traffic cop’s mouth. Not only is “Nothing to see here” an INCREDIBLY tired, lazy, hackneyed way to end a piece of writing, it’s just profoundly insulting to Fleen readers. Your job, I hope, is to raise points that add to that nebulous thing called “the cultural discussion.” WE decide whether to linger or move on. And you haven’t earned the authority to tell us where to go — especially after this lazy-ass post.

I hasten to add, you’re capable of great posts (loved the ClickWheel bit) — but what you did here is not criticism. And it sure as hell wasn’t “provocative,” which is what I think you were going for. No, this is trolling with proper spelling that somehow made it above the comment line.

In the follow-up comments explaining your brevity, you write: “I tried to find something constructive to say…. But I couldn’t.” But you couldn’t even find something UNconstructive to say.

And I’m not sure of the point of this post other than, again, your perceived need to carve out some vague, lame, “badass authority” turf for Fleen or yourself. “Nothing to see here,” indeed.

Mike – I completely agree.

But. I’m not doing criticsim. I’m not trying to be provocative, and I’m not trying to carve out some turf.

And I’m certainly not trying to add to some sort of “cultural discussion”, except for the fact that I’m discussing stuff.

I’m trying to write about webcomics. All webcomics. I’m trying to write about my experiences with those comics.

And I’m trying to do it on a daily basis. Some days, this is harder than other days. Yesterday was a bad day. I’m going to try to do better today.

And I felt that if I went into great detail about why the art was bad, and great detail about why the jokes were missing their target – not only would it be crueler, but it would also in a large extent be spending more time on the comic than it’s worth.

But as you say, maybe it would have been better writing.

Wait – there are even *more* webcomic review sites than the ones I already read?

Someone needs to start a site that reviews webcomic review sites.

Well, for those of you who didn’t enjoy this short-and-sweet entry, I’m sure websnark will soon be covering Porkwrench with a 9,600 word post, ending with Eric all tearful and contemplative. “Wow. Jimmy Hoffa. Found in a utility drawer. I’ve… I’ve gotta take a walk outside, folks, and just… look at the birds. Feel the breeze in my hair. And think about life. A tasty, tasty biscuit.”

Your post was fine, dude.

Jeff, I really appreciate your response — and there’s no way you’re talking your way out of this that glibly.

You wrote: “I’m not doing criticsim.”

Sure — but only if you want to endlessly parse the differences between “reviewer” and “critic.” Because you refer to yourself explicitly as a reviewer throughout this comment thread, and even talk about your critical process (“I try very hard to review the work based on the work itself….”) Later, you draw analogies between your own mission and Roger Ebert’s.

Oh, and “trying to write about my experiences with those comics”? That’s the cultural discussion. So’s this. (It’s also, BTW, criticism. It’s a simple, journalistic form of criticism, but it’s criticism.)

But that’s parsing details. My beef is larger. You also wrote: “I’m not trying to be provocative, and I’m not trying to carve out some turf.” And yet you explicitly write in this thread that you posted this in part because you think Fleen needs to dish out a bitchslap every once in a while: “If we don’t at least occasionally show bad comics, and say ‘these are bad,’ then all we’re doing is cheerleading the people who already know what they’re doing (and don’t need help).”

Most important here is that (a) you’ve obviously given some thought to the Fleen mission, and (b) you use the word “we” in referring to Fleen. You refer to this site as a formal body, a collective, something more than a random sampling of people taking cheap shots. And that totally undermines your protestation that you aren’t aware that you’re contributing to a cultural disucssion.

You either asked or were invited to join Fleen because someone someone saw something in your writing, and encouraged you. And now, like it or not, Fleen has built a discriminating audience very, very quickly. People like Eric Fucking Burns come here to read what you have to say about comics.

So don’t post a lazy, ad hominem slam — then try and shrug off your role to me as unconsidered, or say you’re just a glorified diarist. Your post on ClickWheel proved you’re better than that. You volunteered for a job here above the comments line. And you’ve demonstrably proven throughout this thread that you’re aware of your role.

Oh, and you also write: “And I’m trying to do it on a daily basis.” Well, no offense, but boo-hoo. So is Petie Shumate.

I’m almost afraid to mention Off the Mark as a successful single panel gag-a-day comic. Yes, I know it’s syndicated but you can read it online.

Sorry. That was flame-war overkill. But this whole post really honks me off. Particularly given how much I usually dig this site, including Jeff’s stuff.

What do you think I’m trying to talk my way out of?

It was a poorly written post. I let down my readers because of that. I’ve said this, I’ve agreed with you when you said that.

I disagree with the rest of your comments where you are trying to ascribe motives to me – because you’re not capable of knowing my motives other than when I tell you what they are and you’re certainly not capable of telling me what my motives are or should be.

Fair enough. I don’t know your motives beyond the evidence you’ve left in this thread. Go get ’em.

No worries on the flammage, Mike. If I couldn’t take it, I wouldn’t dish it.

The egalitarian nature of the internet raises some real issues when it comes to criticism. Anyone can slap together anything and suddenly it’s on the same footing, distribution-wise, as the most polished, popular, and “professional” strips. Once your comic is on the internet, it could conceivably be seen by as many people as Penny Arcade. Conceivably.

So what does that mean? Should a smaller, “just-starting-out” strip be held to the same standards of quality as Penny Arcade? My answer: Sort of. Yes, the strip’s quality should be directly addressed in review, of course. But not for purposes of dismissing that young strip, however. Criticism of juvenalia should be constructive. There is nothing wrong with a critique (and Mike had a point about parsing the difference between review and criticism — most readers don’t make such a distinction) that says “This comic has a ways to go, in these areas (…) before it can be called a mature strip.”

I think “mature” is probably a better term to use than “professional” since let’s face it, the vast majority of webcartoonists are not going to ever be “professional” in the sense of making a living from their comics and many don’t aspire to be.

Notice should be taken of authorial intent. Eric Burns made a comment on the Webcomics Examiner recently that webcomics were all about authorial intent (to the chagrin of the post-structuralists among us). This is true. Can one offer an objective critique of Dinosaur Comics without recognizing what Ryan North is trying to accomplish? Without the realization that it is intended as a writer’s work, it becomes just a strip where the same art is used every damn day. So when taking authorial intent into consideration, a webcomic that is “just a hobby” need not really be subjected to the same scrutiny as one at which the author hopes to make a living. But it should be given constructive criticism to improve within whatever parameters the artist has set for himself.

Single-panel gag-a-day comics aren’t all Far Side knockoffs. Chopping Block, for example, clearly has its own niche.

However, plenty of them are; Bizarro, for example, is clearly in exactly the same niche that The Far Side was. In fact, it says here that Bizarro debuted as an explicit replacement for The Far Side.

Based on a casual glance through the Pork Wrench archives, I have to say, it does read a lot like a Far Side knockoff with more obscure cultural references to make up for the less-silly artwork. And I can’t see what’s wrong with a webcomic reviewer saying so, either.

Brad – “Mature” is a better definable term than “professional”. But there are many seasoned cartoonists who are making a full time living off of their work, and are still producing crappy comics with crappy artwork.

Otherwise, I completely disagree. It’s not possible for me to know authorial intent, except to the extent that the author tells me. Ryan North could very well be doing a writer’s work, or he could be laughing all the way to the bank at the fact that he’s getting away with a great scam.

One can easily avoid all of the problems that attempting to guess authorial intent poses by using a phenomenological approach – this is the comic as I see it, this is how I read it. It’s by no means “objective”, but then nobody is really “objective”.

And I think the readers may or may not make a distinction between critique and review – but they certainly know it when they see it.

If I write a 3,000 word piece describing the work and it’s artistic intentions and where it fits into a specific school of artwork and how it reflects and reinforces or disenforces certain cultural norms or aspects… then most readers will call it a critique.

If, instead, I write a 75 word piece that says “this comic sucks. Don’t read it”… well, apparently lots of people will tell me I’m not even reviewing it – just spewing crap. Oh, and that they deserve better from me.

Should that be that a strip just starting be held to the same standards as Penny Arcade now, or Penny Arcade when it was just starting? Cos there’s a bit of difference between the then and now (as there is for a whole heap of webcomics currently sitting at the top of the pile after many many years of trying to get it right). Gotta start somewhere.

Good point, Stephen. I wouldn’t compare my own strip as it stands now to Penny Arcade today, but who knows how it stands up to PA’s 214th strip… hmm….

Does anyone know which strip was Penny Arcade’s 214th? :D

[…] I was reading this thread on Fleen today, and one poster made a pretty good point regarding comparing webcomics at an earlier state of gestation with powerhouses like Penny Arcade…. Should that be that a strip just starting be held to the same standards as Penny Arcade now, or Penny Arcade when it was just starting? Cos there’s a bit of difference between the then and now (as there is for a whole heap of webcomics currently sitting at the top of the pile after many many years of trying to get it right). Gotta start somewhere. […]

I have to pop up and defend Jeff’s post on a couple points:

1. “Ad hominem”. This post is not an ad hominem attack. It’s not a “bitch-slap”. Whatever your opinion of the review, it’s clearly slamming the comic itself, not the author.

2. “Constructive criticism”. This post is a review. Constructive criticism is an entirely different phenomenon which is intended specifically for the artist’s ears. A reviewer has absolutely no obligation to offer advice to creators.

As a general rule, I don’t give people constructive criticism unless they specifically ask for it. Reviewing their work for the benefit of others, however, is fair game.

Judging from the number of comments to this post I’d say people succeeded in filling in the blanks you had when trying to find something constructive to say. I have no problem with the post as it was written, but maybe a “what do you folks think?” would be nice when you hit a blank like that. Or is that implied in a blog situation like this?

I think commenting on as many webcomics as possible, good or bad, is helpful. And some posts are going to be short. And not always “nice”. Aren’t you supposed to say what you think? Personally, I like having completely different styles of writing available. Short, with a “here’s what I think” and a “move along”, is just fine by me.

Just like with movie reviews if I read a few by the same author I can usually guess whether I’ll like the movie or not. And it has nothing to do with whether they like it or not. Just a thumbs up or thumbs down is enough most of the time.

Plus, I’m busy. Capsule reviews are a Good Thing(tm). Less can be more.

Eric Burns made a comment on the Webcomics Examiner recently that webcomics were all about authorial intent (to the chagrin of the post-structuralists among us).

No, Eric sodding well did not. ;)

Eric made a statement that though he disdains the concept of Authorial Intent, there was no other lens to look at Experimental webcomics through much of the time, because Authorial Intent is the medium being worked in.

Eric is a New Critic, and thinks Authorial Intent and six-ninty-five will buy an overpriced cup of coffee, but that literary interpretation doesn’t need to even let it in the room if it doesn’t want to, so long as the interpretation is supportable by the text.

For the record.

(Also, the death of Authorial Intent is Modernist, two revolutions or so before Post-Structuralism. Also for the record. ;) )

(Man, Jeff’s got to hate these asides.)

Jeff — believe it or not, I know how you feel. And I understand the frustration with producing something every day and trying to make it… well, not suck.

I did the “every day, rain or shine” thing on ‘Snark for something like three hundred consecutive days.

Looking back, I’m thinking I’d have done myself and my readers alike more good if I’d taken some days off.

I respect what you’re trying to do — but if you find yourself pushing the limits of quality this early on in an effort to produce quantity… you may want to rethink the mission.

Remember, you’re running a marathon, not a dash. Pacing is a good thing.

(Last one today, I promise.)

Oh, and technically reviews do constitute criticism. Which other folks have already mentioned. That doesn’t mean that Jeff’s trying to do critical work, per se. He’s not doing literary analysis or interpretation most days, and he may not be interested in anyone following up on what he says.

But, reviews do fall into the critic’s purview, and as a result get sucked into the discourse along with all the rest.

[…] For argument sake, lets say I am trying goad you to mention me, or my comic. I cite the Porkwrench review that Jeff Lowery thought could be better. It got a HUGE boost of many thousands of visitors from you, for a week. Your full review did not translate into readership that I could tell. I ask you, where will I be the following week after your trashing review of my comic? You and I both know, I will still be a D-List persona. You, being the more recognized between us, must put up, or shut up. You have forgotten the first rule of Pillow Fight Club. That is what you don’t understand about comics. […]

[…] I cite the Porkwrench [sic] review by Jeff Lowery. Porkwrench [sic] got a HUGE boost of many thousands of visitors from you, for a week. Your full review did not translate into readership for porkwrench [sic] that I could tell. […]

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