Comic Fodder

The Online Comics Code of Conduct

Anyone who has gone trawling through the internet winds up in the gutters at some point. The words are mean, and swearing is the norm, and slurs are to be expected, unless something is wrong with you. While comic book sites tend to avoid these extremes, I have noticed a lot of cussing as passionate people try to convey their frustration with something or other, and there are some message boards I simply will not go to anymore, because I know the moderators give free reign to anyone, and it’s not a pretty sight.

What to do for ye olde critic, who by nature of the job has to dish out criticism right alongside the praise? How to maintain the balance between personal disagreement with the creative team’s choices, and not have it slide into a personal attack? And what about everyone else who chimes in, especially the devoted fans who come to the aid of their favorite embattled writer or artist?

Heaven knows we could always root for more common decency towards each other on the net, as opposed to the teenager feeling safe in his mother’s basement hurling epithets at strangers, saying things online that he would never dream of saying to someone’s face. Those kids are lucky, because they have no real-world clue how easy it is to track them down. For comic books themselves, there is a code: the Comics Code Authority. Most of the titles from the big publishers still pay lip service to it, even if the standards of today might give your grandpa a heart attack. The Code has its critics, and it can be argued that the Code is a bad thing for comic books. That is an argument for another day, though. What I am here to present is my own personal code, and it would be nice if others were willing to sign up to it.

1. Always be willing to admit when you are wrong.

My close friends and I have an understanding, and it has been mentioned out loud and established more than once: you do me a favor when you correct me. This is not a juvenile game of gotcha, although I confess sometimes it can sound like it. As we discuss the weighty topics of the day, be it religion, politics, where the Hulk buys his giant purple underwear, facts and opinions are tossed about rapidfire. However, on occasion someone has his fact wrong, or is ignoring a truth that is not just relevant, but a focal point. Although I may sulk for a few seconds if my main thesis is dismantled, I have to thank my friend and acknowledge his point. He has not hurt me; on the contrary, he has enlightened me, and I am more educated because of it. My friend has done me a favor.

Online, I stick to the same rule, even though we are all mostly just electronic acquaintances. If I put down something and you happen to know that there is a fact that contradicts my statement, go ahead and put it out there, and if you can convince me, I will come around. It requires an open mind, one that is willing to admit it does not already contain the wisdom of the ages. While I know a person or two who acts like that, I have to admit, I’m not nearly that smart myself. Rather than cling to a flawed argument, the truth allows me to discover more things and move forward.

2. Provide support for your statements

As a critic of comic books, if there is an element I feel to be overused, you might notice I tend to point out exactly where I have seen it before, whether it is the Millenium repetition via Secret Invasion, or the simultaneous use of armies of super-powered thugs bandied about lately in Green Arrow, Manhunter, Batgirl… I rest my case. If the subject involves the subjective taste of art, I will still cite specifics, understanding that it boils down to my personal preference. Regular readers know I have no love for too many background panels in a row with only one color and no details; I prefer tight, crisp lines; manga is not my favorite style, and so forth. I try to keep myself honest enough to admit that a particular style may not be to my taste, but seems to be appropriate for the genre or other setting of the comic.

3. Try to be nice

Talk about a hard one! This one can be tricky for a critic, because when you don’t like something, you have to be able to express it. Depending upon how the reader interprets it, it becomes all too easy to read a negative comment about a particular writer’s plot or an artist’s swipe and translate it into a personal attack. I have the obligation to be clear, and sometimes that means my comments will be harsh, even to the point where I declare a comic to be worthy only of bird cage lining. That’s the critic’s tough love, exposing all of the plot holes and challenging the creative team to try harder, to reach farther, to do better. Have I gone too far? Go ahead and mention it to me. If I go back and look again at what I said, perhaps I will have to retract some of the harshness.

4. Did I mention being nice?

Have you ever been to a political blog? After the article, have you ever read the comments posted after that, and everyone flaming each other? It is beyond rude. Somehow, somewhere, political beliefs and candidates became something to adhere to as much as a personal religion, and people act like if you express a political thought opposite of yours, that they have attacked you, and you must leap to the defense of your sacred belief! Hey, I get excited when discussing politics too, but I don’t start wishing politicians dead because they represent the ‘wrong’ party, or disown my multitude of friends, who are on the other side of some of my philosophical political beliefs. Come to think of it, at least half of my friends (and family) are on the ‘other’ side, and it makes discussions lively, but none of us would think to stop being friends with the other over any of the nonsense. Why, if I disassociated myself from any opposition, I could only go see 1% of all the movies or TV shows ever produced! The rest would have to suffer from my ideological boycott. Guess which individual suffers the most from that attitude?

Some comic forum boards have turned into this. Marvel vs. DC. Mainstream vs. Independent. Bendis vs. Johns. Whatever. Someone needs to pull those people back from the brink, moderate the boards until civility sets in, or just pull the plug. As a specific example, one person who complained to me recently insisted, “you do NOT have a right to an opinion, only an INFORMED opinion.” I’m not sure what country that is from, because for better or worse, that is not America. The actual phrase is, “You have the right to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.” In a free country like the USA, at least, we do get to have our own opinions, as intelligent or uninformed as they may be. What we do not get to do is suddenly declare that the sky is green instead of blue, and then act like we have won the argument. It is harder to claim “fact’ for discussions involving subjective elements like artwork, and that is precisely why it is more important to remain civil.

5. Listen to Your Friends

Ryan has always been nice to me, and he tells me he finds my opinions interesting. Notice that he didn’t say he AGREED with them. Freakishly, I find myself in agreement with his comic opinions 96% of the time, to the point that I thought he had bugged my brain, and was quotes from my medulla oblongata (and no points for telling me how wrong I am about how that works!). Some of my reviews, though, he disagrees with me. I like a couple things he can’t stand, and there is more than one title that he absolutely adores that I just can’t get into even when I try hard. No two people are wired the same, and that’s not a bad thing. The key is, we respect each other, and we can go to print and say, “Hey, I strenuously disagree with you!” without also calling each other a losing pudwhacker bastard (although I do tend to call my close friends that, but only as a term of affection).

The guy who owns my comic book store gave me comics to review, and he liked a couple of them. I tore them to shreds in print. Guaranteed, he learned something from that about my tastes, how I view comics, and how vastly different my viewpoint is from his in certain areas. And he wholeheartedly disagreed with me, and still likes those comics. I count on my friends to be there, to listen, and if necessary, to correct me. But most of all, I count on them to be there to catch me if I ever take a wrong turn, and if I start to become nasty or disrespectful, to stand up and call me on it, and remind me that I am supposed to know better. Even as I scheme and plot to choose colorful phrases to describe how putrid the latest comic story is, it always has to be done with a sense of humor and no personal insult. I want to hold myself, as a comic fan, to a high standard of personal and professional conduct. The best friends in the world are the ones who are not afraid to help you do that.

Now if only we could get the politicians to adhere to some higher standard…

Your Responsibility

This goes for the people who respond on the boards as well. My reception from the audience who regularly come to Filmfodder has actually been spectacular, and most corrections have been politely put, with only a rare couple of people expressing their offense at some of my statements. Remember when you respond, try to follow all of these guidelines too: try to attack my position, not me. Cite facts or other elements that support your opinion, don’t just arbitrarily declare yourself correct, and anyone who dares to disagree is lower than a fart ripple, and dumber than a box of rocks, to boot. If, during the debate, you happen to agree with one or two of my points, acknowledge that so we can define where we agree and where we part ways.

Finally, always remember that we are all here because we hold certain truths to be common: comics are great, and we love them.
Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.

I've always appreciated the fact that the comments at Comic Fodder, thus far, have not devolved into AICN or Newsarama bleating. We seem to get comments from all sorts of new folks all the time, and don't have to deal with the "(insert character) sux!" crowd. One benefit of a smallish audience, I suppose.

The comments we do get are normally thoughtful and seem more like additions to a discussion rather than some unfortunate soul unloading their emotional baggage.

So, thanks again to the folks who comment. I absolutely appreciate the environment here and it makes it easy to write new columns (when I have time, which, this week... not so much).

-- Posted by: Ryan at October 22, 2008 1:57 PM