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Devourer of Words 027: Should You Read the Comments?

Marc Bernardin

I have memories of the Wednesday my first comic book, The Highwaymen, dropped in 2007. I wish I could say those memories are fond; they are mixed, at best. I remember staying up for most of that Wednesday night, and then Thursday night, scouring the Internet for reviews of that first issue. I’m a journalist—what’s more, I edited film critics—so I should’ve known better than to indulge in such behavior, but I had to know.

When you put a thing out into the world, you have to know if anyone is reading it. If anyone likes it. If anyone cares.

And some of those reviews were good. Hell, some of them were great. But there were the ones that weren’t. There were the ones that hated it. Worse, that didn’t get it enough to actually hate it with any merit. But they all hurt just the same. And I did it with every one of the five issues in that miniseries.

If I remember correctly, I might’ve done something stupid like engage with one of the reviewers who I thought got it particularly wrong. And that was it’s own kind of stupidity.

Navigating the Internet as a creator is a tricky thing. Some writers have harnessed the internet’s power like a team of juiced-up Budweiser Clydesdales—we’ve talked about Kelly Sue DeConnick and Warren Ellis—and can engage at will and at length on various subjects. Others use social media to direct people to their work and that’s it. Others still back away completely.

For me, there are four simple rules of dealing with the Internet. Modify as you see fit.

Don’t read the reviews.

Really, it’s better that way. Because here’s the thing: One can count the number of really-on-their-game comics critics on one hand. Too many of them aren’t equipped to judge how every part of a comic works to enhance the ultimate experience. They don’t know color theory or design mechanics or the engineering of panel flow. They read the words and decide if they like what they read. Which is 100 percent fine, but not a fair assessment of a unified piece of work. Every opinion is valid, but not every one is worth ruining your day over.

And the dirty truth of the Internet is that no one ever got traffic by being calm and measured in their response to a piece of content. No, they get traffic by being loud and fast. By saying inflammatory things and by saying them first. Just think for yourself if that will lead people to take the time to truly evaluate, well, anything.

Don’t engage.

Beyond saying “Thanks” if someone has something nice to say, rarely can anything be gained from hopping into the octagon with someone on a message board or on Twitter. Because here’s the thing: whatever you’re trying to correct, or whatever argument you’re trying to make, will likely get lost in the shuffle. Period.

Pick your shots.

And then there are the things you can’t ignore. Or the things that are just plain wrong. A person can take only but so much. But you need to find the right outlet for your outrage and carefully construct it so that your “rant” is bulletproof. People will take the wrong things from it, naturally—that’s the peril of an open and unmoderated forum—but as long as you put the right things out there, you can sleep at night.

Never name names.

Because whatever point you need to make can be made independent of who you’re talking about. It’s not the person who is pissing you off, or making your life miserable, it’s what they’re doing. (And smart people can connect those dots anyway.) You still need to work in this industry and it is incredibly small. Some many call a reticence to call specific people on the mat an act of cowardice. It’s for you to decide if it is, for you. But there is nothing at all wrong with a little pragmatism.

The Internet can be a wonderful place. But you need to find the lane through it you’re comfortable with and stay there. Otherwise, much like Mirkwood Forest, you’ll get bitten, hard, if you stray.

Marc Bernardin’s Devourer of Words appears the third Tuesday of every month here on Toucan!