Saturday, February 6, 2010

Demented Came The Writer

We've kinda been inundating this blog with essays recently (THANKS ROB), but oh well, you'll just have to deal with it. I felt the spirit of webcomic-critique move me and so I wrote a little something.
(there is apparently some disagreement about the gender of this "Jules Rivera." I'm assuming he is a man but if I am wrong, just change "he is a fucking idiot" to "she is a fucking idiot" etc in the text below.)

Some people were talking about this essay, "Art, 'Art,' and Almost 'Art: What qualifies as 'art' in webcomics?'" by Jules Rivera. Mostly they were talking from an xkcd-point of view, because Mr. Rivera uses xkcd as an example and he provoked a fanboy rage more powerful than ten thousand burning suns. Also, a lot of people just disagreed with him.

I did too, in fact, I think the essay is stupid, though not entirely worthless, as I'd like to use it as a jumping off point for some related thoughts.

His article discusses art in webcomics, with the acceptable premise that art is key in the storytelling, and the conclusion that good comics must then have good art. His last paragraph states that "in order to put out a good-looking product, it helps to still have an artistic eye to get it right." He divides the world of webcomics up based on style: a comic can be a Stick Figure comic, which he decries as "choos[ing] to draw the most haphazard crap" in place of working on art; a Photo Comic, which, if only has a single frame of a photo with no retouching, "DOES NOT qualify" as a webcomic (totally wrong, by the way), a Poser Comic, which uses creepy posed CG characters, which he worried can lead to "a crop of comics that all look the same," and lastly, a comic where the author Hires An Artist, which he likes.

These categories are absurd. Let's start with the lowest of the lowest hanging fruit: Poser Comics? I have never heard of that, and I follow webcomics pretty closely. His examples are "House of the Muses" and "Legend of Lili Deacon." Do ANY of you read those comics? I don't. "Lili Deacon" has been on hiatus for about five months, and "House of the Muses" appears to be some kind of obscure gay-rights / history comic that, I will admit, has characters who look creepy as hell. The point is, they're pretty obscure. But for Jules Rivera, apparently, this is a major category of webcomic. Um, ok.

Photo comics are not nearly as obscure, of course, but they still hardly seem common enough to warrant such a prominent place in the essay. I read about 30 comics regularly, and the only photocomic among them is Superpoop (READ IT, it is great), and it doesn't even take its own photos. I don't consider the author a "lazy bastard" just because some of his comics are one frame of one photograph, nor do I consider the comic "lazy and contrived." It's different from drawing your own work, but so what? As I see it, it's a good analog to general photography vs painting. Is a photo any less a work of art than a painting? If you see an exhibit of photography, do you think to yourself, "well whatever, that isn't cool, because it didn't take effort the way real art does."

Stick figure comics is I suppose where we should spend most of our time. The simple matter is that there's nothing inherently wrong with them. Pictures for Sad Children makes it work really well; the simplicity of the comic (not to mention the lack of color) contributes to the overwhelming feeling of despair that makes the comic so distinct. See this one for an example. Just imagine that comic with detailed, realistic figures. It would suck, no?

And that's true of xkcd too - the problem with xkcd is that often, the simplicity of the drawing detracts from the experience rather than adding to it. In this comic, for example, you can't even tell which way the guy is facing in the last panel, which I would say is pretty important. update: how could I forget this comic - probably the worse example of simplicity in xkcd getting in the way of clarity. Rivera's analysis (that "IT. IS. LAZY." to make a stick figure comic) is a little, shall we say, less nuanced, and that's because he doesn't care.

It's true: He doesn't care. The point of his article is not to actually discuss the function of art in comics, as he claims. Rather, it's to talk shit about any comic that isn't drawn by a professional artist. As he says at the end, hiring an artist - note that he does not say anything about trying to learn to draw yourself - is his favorite method. Why? He comes out and tells us: "it gets me work." Ballsy, Jules. Ballsy. "Commissioned artwork looks like the real deal because it IS the real deal." Holy fuck, this isn't a column, this is a late night advertisement for a shitty artist. "Tired of lousy comics that all look the same?" he might as well say. "There must be a better way! well NOW THERE IS! Call now and hire MISTER JULES RIVERA and your comic will have the BEAUTY and MAGIC of a real professional comic! Just look at this list of satisfied customers! so WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? CALL NOW!"

Literally, his advice at the end is "just pay someone with an artistic eye to do it for you."

I knew he was a hack because he has totally unnecessary naked women at the top of his column (LOOK AT THIIIIIIIS!) as way to get people's attention. And reading this shitty, shitty analysis of webcomic art has only reinforced that. I don't know what the hiring criteria are over at "Comic Related" but clearly they're pretty pathetic.

In summary, Jules Rivera sucks. THE END.


  1. I remember reading on the Order of the Stick forum that Jules Rivera is a female, just as an aside.

  2. I will make a note of something like that.

  3. something that seems to go totally over Jule's head is the idea of style and stylistic choices.

    what seems under discussion isn't art but craft: a well-crafted webcomic has had a lot of effort put into the art. the content or artistic merits aren't considered significant; it's got workmanship behind it, therefore it's good.

    s'the kind of attitude a hired hand shouldwould have?

  4. "And that's true of xkcd to - the problem with xkcd is that..."


    I know I noticed another typo in there somewhere but fucked if I know where.

  5. Yeah, Jules Rivera is a woman.

    I'm not going to talk about gender and perception here, but I really want to.

  6. I will say this:

    There is a big tendency among designers and artists to be very elitist about the fact that they are designers and artists. Anyone who doesn't take full advantage of their skills is viewed as generally inferior. Bad design makes you an idiot. Art which isn't utterly beautiful makes you an idiot. Asking them to help with design or art pro bono makes you an idiot. Their art is a fuckin' valuable thing. They aren't just going to give it up for free.

    But simultaneously they desperately want people to take advantage of their talent. They think everyone should. They think they totally deserve the $100 they want to spend a bit of their free time helping you out with a project, and they think that you should be totally willing to cough that up--that if you are not, there is something wrong with you.

    The problem, I believe, comes from a simple fact: visual artists are trained to see differently, and literally everything you look at has visual elements. Where a normal person might just see a coffee mug on a table, an artist might see shapes and lines and contrast and color.

    This generally means they are pretty good at creating good art, though sometimes they only produce art which other artists would find enjoyable. (This is a tendency you see in every artistic field, of course. Many writers write things that it takes a writer to appreciate.) But it also means they tend to focus too much on the visual, often to its own detriment.

    Not all artists do this, of course. Many artists are quite aware of the value of elegant simplicity--indeed, some designers are exceptionally keen on minimalism. But some of them only see things in terms of their preferred type of art--in Ms. Rivera's case, she seems to like complex character art--and assume that anything less than that sucks.

    The thing about XKCD and OotS and PfSC is this: each of the artists in question has a certain flair for the visual. The stick figures in each of these comics are better than your garden variety stick figures. They aren't pretty, sure. The characters aren't beautifully developed or realistic. But it's not just simplicity; it's simplicity done well. (XKCD, of course, frequently is distracting and hard to see, but he has also done things pretty well; I blame him for trying to stretch the style too far rather than being untalented at visual art.)

    I hate coming out on the side of XKCD, but what she's doing is like criticizing short fiction because it doesn't have the complex plot and depth of a novel.

  7. An unnecessary aside: Thank you both Carl and Rob for interesting crap.

    An unneeded nitpick: The superpoop comic links to rather than just

    A redundant agreement: I concur with most of the points brought up in the essaymabob. Lame 'categories', forgets that people can draw their own damn stuff. Hooray.

  8. Why is there a pulitzer prize in photograpy

    Draw your own pictures, don't just copy nature you hacks

  9. I love that she has decided that actually DRAWING YOUR OWN DAMN COMIC doesn't count. Wonderful.

    where does Dinosaur Comix fit into this hierarchy?

    oh yeah, but okay, I can think of at least one "poser comic," which is the incredibly amazing Powerup Comics. And CAD is basically a copy/paste comic, too, if Powerup "doesn't count" for some reason.

  10. In fairness, the two or so examples I can think of where there is a writer and an artist are pretty great. So there is nothing wrong with encouraging people to find an artist.

  11. Also I guess the premise of the article was "ways to circumvent having to draw a comic yourself"? Which, okay.

    I am reading some of her other articles. She just used "tragic hero" to mean "a hero with a tragic past." Ugh.

  12. rob that was not about gender and perception at all



  15. For all the shit Jules Rivera talks about art I googled her and found her portfolio.

    Honestly? She's not that good. She actually looks like she took some lessons from the Rob Liefeld school of drawing. She has characters with their spines contorted at unnatural angles, outfits with too many pouches, and strange proportions at times.

    I can't be bothered to read her webcomic, but all I can say is she'd better be a better writer than she is an artist if she's going to insult comics like PfSC.

  16. So far it's just Rob and Carl talking to each other using multiple monikers. Anyone else here care abut this rant? Yeah ... that's what I thought. Go ahead, dude(s). Talk to yourself.


  18. You know, at first I thought this new trend among cuddlefish to act like the blog doesn't actually get any comments, and that this is just an elaborate ruse from a small number of people (usually you at least give us credit for half dozen or so) to make it look like we get a lot of traffic, was kind of stupid, but I'm starting to appreciate it. It's great!

    My favorite part is how the intention is so utterly transparent. You say something which is obviously untrue on its face, but you keep anonymous so it's just plausible enough that you really are that stupid, or really are that narcissistic--that this whole blog is just an elaborate play put on just for you, the only other person who has ever commented.

    It demands a response! It's like saying the earth is flat. "Yeah, this blog that shows up on Google trends only has two people commenting on it." But even better than that: "this blog that I managed to find, most likely due to its high Google rank for xkcd-related searches or the fact that it was linked in a place that I frequent, has probably never been found by anyone else, and nobody else has been driven to comment on it before. All of the comments--of which there are literally thousands--are a fiction devised just to convince the visitors that it's really popular, for some reason. Rob then writes posts about the comments that he writes to represent his detractors which he finds the most annoying."

    There's just no sense in it--which is the beauty of it. What looks like a simple attempt to make fun of the bloggers and the commenters as pathetic and desperate is really a nonsensical attempt to confuse and annoy. It's utterly masterful.

    I also am deeply flattered that you should even pretend to think that I'm such a master of voices that I can carry on plausible arguments with myself, shifting to different voices, agreeing and disagreeing with each other with subtle shades of nuance--one voice agrees because of X, while another agrees because of Y, which was often not even found in the original point. Still further voices disagree because of P, or because of R--and often R is a point which is completely invalid and has no grounding in the argument at all.

    Truly, you must think me a mastermind. Thank you.

  19. I like how the last two posts have been entirely about the philosophy of webcomics. Good stuff, guys.

  20. Come for the comic reviews. Stay for the in-depth discussion of art and philosophy.

  21. Actually Rob, all these other accounts are me. I just didn't have the heart to tell you. :(

  22. um, so it's not realistically possible to draw a comic yourself that is not a stick comic according to them?

  23. I've heard of all or most of the comics she criticizes, but definitely not hers... I think there's a hint of jealousy at play.

    Since the argument made in the article is so poorly developed, and the conclusion is nothing more than pushing her own "art", I'd say it's just a publicity stunt and nothing more.

  24. "or because of R--and often R is a point which is completely invalid and has no grounding in the argument at all."

    Shut up.

  25. @Rob

    "There is a big tendency among designers and artists to be very elitist about the fact that they are designers and artists...."

    I agree to a certain point, what designers and artists (which i just might qualify as) usually are on about if they seem "elitist", is the "amateur-culture".

    Its not really that "we" shun people that design something without a degree in HIGHER EVOLVED DESIGN FOR GODLIKE PERSONS.
    Its usually that we shun people that try to pass something as "design" which it clearly isnt.
    Its just a guy with photoshop and an incredible amount of free time.

    As you probably wouldnt see people on as writers, i dont see people on Deviantart as designers.

    You can become a professional designer/artists without a degree, or any professional training, that is certainly true. What im getting at are people that think they are designers because they have photoshop and a graphics tablet. This is what i call "amateur culture", today it is encouraged to produce ANYTHING, its good, its "user created content" its the fucking second coming of raptor jesus, so you better create that content.

    Ever wondered why half the creatures on the spore network are penises or have tits? or how 90% of the user created levels in Little Big Planets suck donkey dick? Did you look just ONCE at custom Second Life avatars?

    Fact is, 90% of the population will create crap if you encourage them to create (Youtube, i swear to god if i see another video with linkin park as background music im going to kill somebody).

    Artists and designers will encourage you to DEVELOP your skills, society will encourage you to create regardless of your skill.
    This comment is completely unrelated to the linked article, the article sucks for obvious reasons that have been stated.

  26. Guys, I have a account, and I'm a fucking FANTASTIC writer. Have you read my eight-chapter Mewtwo/Erika slashfic?

  27. Its almost as good as My Immortal Femalethoth, almost.

  28. More essays? What is this, the fucking Washington Post?!?

    Actually I liked this post and the previous one. That Jules essay was a pretty pathetic attempt at trying to muster up some business for herself.

    I think it had the potential to make a decent argument but she just approached it at such a superficial level. NOT PRETTY = BAD. Very insightful.

    The fanboy backlash was pretty hilarious though. Some of them were saying really ridiculous things. I'd go back through the comments and find some but I don't feel like getting another lobotomy.

  29. On fanboy backlash: I propose that for every argument, there is a sufficiently-worse counter-argument to bolster it, which will appear in an internet comment.

    Anyway, I thought this post made some good points. You should branch out into "things that suck that aren't xkcd or xkcd forum posters" more often.

  30. Has anyone looked at Pron Quest? Its hilariously bad.

  31. I dunno, Femalethoth, it'd have to be pretty good to top "A Snake Among Rangers," the epic Power Rangers/Metal Gear Solid crossover starring a demigoddess (not exaggerating, the story states Zeus is her father) with about 25 different superpowers. In fact, this story is so awesome, the author not only inserts herself once, but as TWO separate characters!

  32. Also: I forgot to namedrop the story that inspired the Mewtwo Boner Saga!

    The Bermuda Island, by TreeFolk.

  33. This comment has been removed by the author.

  34. If you keep posting crappy fan fiction I will be forced to post my Washington/Hamilton slashfic entitled "Love Wears Knickers."

    You have been warned.

    And yeah, I deleted my previous comment because it had a typo.

  35. How did that essay get so many comments? What the hell is wrong with those people?

  36. Rob:
    "You say something which is obviously untrue on its face,"

    Obviously, it's doublethink. You do it too. Which makes this comment pretty interesting because I'M YOU.

    - Anon 12:53

  37. What I think you fail to see is that this column that was written by Jules was to show you the different formats of art that are out there currently in webcomics.

    - stick
    - 3d
    - photo
    - hire an artist because you can't draw really well and it makes your writing job easier to get your ideas across

    The fifth would be, actually having an artist be on your creative team that you've worked with from the beginning, aka a Penny Arcade, Mysteries of the Arcana, Shadowgirls, etc.

    In terms of XKCD 'sucking' graphically, yes. But it makes up in its writing. I find many of his comics very funny.

    But, the same could be said for a webcomic named: Circle versus Square. It was all about Geometric shapes but the writing was top notch in it.

    To conclude, you have to take criticism with the mindset that it is meant for you to improve yourself. If you just think that you are the greatest and you don't need to change, then you are already caught up in yourself.

    Those that are truly great: Phil Foglio, Gina Biggs, Sarah Ellerton, Barb Jacobs are constantly pushing themselves to be better. Maybe its a new shading setup, or a different drawing style they are experimenting with... who knows but they are always working to improve.

    It just takes time.

  38. Kurt I think what you fail to see is that Jules is completely wrong.

  39. @Rob In what respect should I agree with your point of view?

    You have a blog that clearly states that xkcdsucks. Ok, so in some way shape/form you for whatever reason do not like XKCD. Whatever that reason is, I would have to read more of your previous posts.

    What I think you also fail to see is that just because there are comics that you haven't read or even heard of before, like a House of the Muses for example... You immediately pass off as not good in your opinion.

    You state that you read consistantly 30 webcomics. There are thousands out there that are just as good if not as good as what some would consider the 'grandfathers' of Webcomics: PA, PVP / Half-Pixel crew.

    You aren't going to like all of them, I wouldn't expect you too. Heck there are some that even I won't read because it's not my thing. But, I still give it a chance from beginning to end.

    While you have interesting, if not skewed points of view on this particular matter, try looking at things from an actual Webcomic Author prespective... If you could draw and write out a webcomic for a year I think you would appreciate the time and effort it actually takes to put something like that together.

    Then, come back and say what's easier for your style: Stick figures, poser, photo or hand / digitially drawn artwork all with comic style dialog.

    Give it a shot, it's harder than simply talking about it and attacking one that is actually in the industry itself.

  40. Kurt: you should agree with my point of view in every respect.

  41. Rob: the question is then, what are you bringing to the discussion in which I should absolutely agree with you on?

    I think that there are many levels of talent. Some are better artists but not strong in writing, same can be said vice-versa.

    Jules's writing is that of her informed opinion. The fact that it was written months ago and is just getting your attention now is in many aspects quite entertaining.

    Also, the fact that you are actually expecting people to automatically accept your opinion and not question those that agree with you, truly gives me pause in the sense that I wonder why you are doing what you do...

  42. I am bringing statements which are correct to the discussion. Jules' writing is that of her inaccurate opinion. I am doing what I do because I am correct and I provide a public service in spreading the truth.

  43. Kurt: This update was written by Carl, not Rob.

  44. Mr Riviera (IF that is her real name) seems, it might be argued, to have an axe to grind.

    If that "essay" had said "advertisement feature" at the top, I dont think anyone would have had a problem with it. I know I wouldnt.

    I particularly resented the suggestion that anyone who doesnt hire an artist is worthless and irrelevant. But then I remembered - its just trying to sell you something. Its just bullshit spam. Its just another whiny, self-indulgent artist with an entitlement problem clearly crossing the line between "being opinionated" and "being a dick".

    Nothing to see here, move along.

  45. R: it's Rob that is attempting (and failing) to convince me that he is actually providing a service of some kind.

    Either way the commentary that has been written is not as informed as it could be. It's more like a rant than anything.

    Rob: Could Jules have actually added in a more balanced representation, sure if she talked about every genre and style of comics out there. For simplicity sake she just picked the four main aspects of creativeness in webcomics at this stage of the game.

    Also, your attitude of "I'm right forget the rest of you" is bordering on delussional. Look up the fanatic Ben Gordon aka "Bengo" you could easily be his disciple.

    Anonymous: Mrs. Jules Rivera is her real name. In terms of the "being opinionated" and "being a dick" that can easily be said about the commentary in this thread.

    Comes down to everyone is going to have to agree to disagree.

  46. I've never read House of the Muses and I can't because, for me at least, IT CRASHES FIREFOX EVERY TIME I OPEN THE LINK.

    So yeah, BOTH that comic AND Jules are now on "the list."

    P.S. Yes Jules is a female. She looks like an ugly little troll. How appropriate. She also looks desperate enough to go out with anybody so there's hope for you yet, Randall.