The webcomics blog about webcomics

Vox Campbelli

Editor’s note: T Campbell was offered the opportunity to respond to Fleen’s recent review of what was identified as The History of Webcomics — while this was the original title of the book, Campbell has pointed out that the actual title at time of publication was A History of Webcomics; Fleen regrets the error.

Campbell’s response to the review, received over the weekend, appears in full below.

Campbell Responds To Fleen!Drama!

Tyrrell handles his critical role as gingerly as a thermonuclear bomb with a busted timer, as if trying to be forthright and fair enough to compensate for the bad behavior of all the book’s other critics.

Relax, Gary. You took time to read the damn thing all the way through and worked off the actual text. You didn’t rely on lies, hearsay, illogical assumptions or character assassination. Just as importantly, you didn’t decide to like it because I seemed a decent sort, or because you’d read my other work, or because you thought I meant well. That already punts you into the top 2% of the bell curve.

Not that there’s not room for improvements on Tyrrell’s improvements. My biggest problem’s one that I didn’t expect to have: he doesn’t hit hard enough.

He mostly critiques the style. Yes, as a writer I tend to shoot for the high-IQ range, sometimes implying what others would state outright. Yes, the book could use more extensive endnotes (and really, they should be footnotes—who has time to do all that flipping back and forth?). Yes, there is a math error. Yes, “PayPal� is misspelled. Yes, there should be pagination.

Why stop there? The front page puts a #$%& period in my name, Gisèle Lagacé’s name on the back cover should have accents, some of the images look too grainy, the page design varies from clichéd to strained to awful, I’m not crazy about the color, and Times New Roman is so last century.

All these details keep me up nights, more than anyone knows. But even addressed properly, a 341,634% increase in traffic is more than weighty enough to make the case for the growth of the Internet audience, a case that barely needs arguing anyway. If you’ve read a few blogs, you know that one doesn’t have to spell “definite� correctly to make a definite argument.

By limiting himself to these simple matters, Tyrrell avoids almost anything that might stir up controversy, and sometimes ends up chasing shadows. He makes a simple case—that my love of detail and implication makes the book a tough read—then clouds it with unnecessary assumptions:

  1. I didn’t mean to say the things he speculates I forgot: I hoped that it wasn’t necessary to tell readers that a new italicized title referred to a webcomic, that proper names listed as “belonging� to a webcomic referred to characters from the webcomic, or that advertising wasn’t PayPal-dependent.
  2. I don’t merely name-check Tim Berners-Lee, I introduce him as the man who developed the Web and followed through on Vannevar Bush’s ideas (introduced earlier). The first sentence to feature him reads: “With its hypertext links, the Web was Tim Berners-Lee’s answer to Vannevar Bush’s 45-year-old prediction.� Implicitly phrased, perhaps.
  3. The section he refers to as “timejumping� is actually two sections, “Unsure Giants� and “Unmodeled Business,� and they present an identity crisis that Keenspot and Modern Tales faced consistently over a four-year period. If that part reads like a sequence when it shouldn’t, that’s the fault of my over-reliance on implication, and nothing else.

Only in his last few sections does Tyrrell approach issues worth discussing, but here and elsewhere, perhaps reluctant to strike too hard, he confines himself to one example apiece.

User Friendly’s publicly traded days should indeed be in the next edition, though more for what they show about Web business in 2000 and onward than their actual influence on the field, which was marginal at best. (Oh, how I wish the article Gary links had existed in 2005, or I had asked Frazer more probing questions! But que sera.)

The “Screen Scene� issue Tyrrell touches on deserves a separate essay. In brief: I think it not blameworthy, but notable, that Fundin and Madsen are the two highest-profile Swedes in webcomics and Haque one of the highest-profile Muslims, yet their avatars are functionally almost identical to Holkins and Krahulik’s. I don’t mean that they need to spend more time educating the readership about the differences between Swedes and American Muslims, but someone should, and right now, AFAIK, no one is.

Perhaps they, like Tyrrell, are too concerned about being misunderstood. The subject of “teh drama� has been beaten to blood-burbling death by virtually every writer who’s discussed webcomics at any length, especially by me, so we don’t need to rehash it here. But if a thoughtful writer like Gary censors himself to avoid being called a petty, character-assassinating agenda-pusher—or calling down the wrath of petty, character-assassinating agenda-pushers—then “teh drama� has dealt damage far greater than its usual oily trail of wasted time and compromised reputations.

“Whether or not Campbell is correct� about anything at all is certainly Fleen’s place to say. It is, in fact, anyone’s place to say. Just because some people who really should have known better have abused this privilege like drunk drivers, doesn’t mean we should ban the automobile.

I am grateful for Tyrrell’s essay, despite its errors and flaws. It will indeed lead to a better History 2.0. And I hope this response will likewise aid him and others like him with other essays that advance the idea—almost unheard-of in the current climate—that criticism might be an act of compassion, for the readers who deserve the best and the writers and artists who try to give it to them.

Relax, Gary. Chin up. The screeches of dramaqueening may drown you out when you least expect it, but have patience. In the end, I think you’ll make it.

And someone has to try this, too.

Editor’s note: In case anybody was looking for a response to the response — sorry to disappoint you, but that’s it. The principals have had their say, now you can have at it, opinionsters.


>>In case anybody was looking for a response to the response — sorry to disappoint you, but that’s it.

What? T Campbell just called Fleen a buncha pussies!

Y’all can have whatever sort of pissing match you want. And for the record, T did not call Fleen “a buncha pussies”; he called me a pussy. And he didn’t even do that, so if you’re waiting for me to throw down in a flamewar, you’re gonna be disappointed. And if he’s ever found unconscious in an alley behind the San Diego Convention Center, I’m sure I’ll have a very good alibi. =)


[…] T Campbell responds to the deliberately pedantic, drama-averse review of his History of Webcomics book posted by Fleen last week. Irony of ironies: in the course of their review, which mostly focused on fact-checking and copy-editing mistakes, Fleen got the very title of the book wrong! Ha! (I don’t mean to fan flames here — all parties are well-intentioned in this conversation, and all have valid points of view). […]

It’s hilarious that you guys love retarded drama so much that you just make it up out of the air.

I’m living proof of that.


Yes, as a writer I tend to shoot for the high-IQ range



Don’t worry, Jeff. We all know he wasn’t aiming at you.

We all know he wasn’t aiming at you.

Seems like he missed, in any case.

Not hard enough? If someone called me a webcomics Orientalist, I’d call that a solid hit.

You are a Web Comics Orientalist babe, you’ll always be in my eyes.



Hilarious. :D

Flawless first post, JRo.

[…] Editor’s additional note: Per Campbell’s response, this post has been edited to reflect the correct title of the book; Fleen regrets the error. […]

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