What is ComicSutra?
The answer is two-fold. ComicSutra the Web site is one location for all my genre entertainment writing, regardless of whether it involves comic books, science fiction, film, television, games, etc. ComicSutra is also a weekly, syndicated column covering the comic book industry. While it primarily consists of reviews, it also includes news and commentary. ComicSutra is the successor to the very popular column, "Stripped," which appeared in the Long Island Voice. However, the focus of ComicSutra is a bit broader than that of Stripped. Plus, ComicSutra the Web site regularly features columns reviewing or commenting on the latest in the science fiction and fantasy industry.
What you won't find on ComicSutra are rumors, unless they're labeled as such or something has been misrepresented to me. I'm a journalist who writes for real newspapers. If you want unfounded rumors, there are tons of sites for that. I don't want someone to read something in my column or on my site and later find out it's wrong (unless, of course, a deal fell through). Everything I report comes from legitimate sources from the studios, networks, publishers, etc. or other legitimate news sources. Now, sometimes different divisions or representatives of the same company will give different answers. That can't always be helped. And certain companies have used rumors to gauge the public's reaction. In those cases, I'll clearly label the information as a rumor and note that often said company will leak a rumor, deny it and then do exactly what the rumor reported. The bottom line is, I want your trust and credibility, but I digress.
If you're thinking, "So what? She's not the first person to write about film, television, SF, comic books, etc. What's the difference?" I'll tell you the difference. First of all, comic books, science fiction and fantasy entertainment are often treated like the poor relations to mainstream entertainment despite having produced some of the most popular books, movies and TV shows of all time. Yet despite that, it is not covered regularly, let alone fairly, in the mainstream media.
Second, I'm a fan. I've been watching or reading science fiction and fantasy all my life, going to back to the first time I read L. Frank Baum's original Oz series and the first time I saw Star Trek. I'm also a fully trained journalist with years of experience as both a writer and editor. As a fan, I hate most of the newspaper and magazine articles I read on the field. If it's in a mainstream publication, the articles are often condescending and/or poorly researched. Publications catering to the genre aren't much better. Either they're guilty of blind hero worship or they're overly critical in an attempt to push the genre's literary credentials. Unfortunately, I can find very few examples of informed, well-written comic book/SF/fantasy journalism that also respects the field and tries to view it from a fan's perspective. I also tend to find that many columnists covering this genre are just plain boring. Some use cutesy puns. Some "comic book" columnists can't seem to find enough comic books to write about and instead substitute reviews of other mediums (ComicSutra features non-comic book material in addition to, not instead of, its usual comic book focus). Most are dull.
Worse yet, I find far too many critics particularly film critics who want the readers trust without earning it. I can't count the number of times I read a review or article by a writer who didnt know what he or she was talking about or who seemed to have missed huge parts of a plot. Yet these same writers want you to accept their opinions without question. If they like it, its perfect. If they hate it, theres something wrong with anyone who disagrees.
I hate that attitude. All arts and entertainment criticism is subjective whether were discussing the latest issue of Bone, an episode of Babylon 5, a composition by Mozart or the next Star Wars film. Sure, there are benchmarks and guidelines by which a work may be judged, but when push comes to shove, all criticism is subjective.
I always swore that if I got my own column, Id start it off with a "Declaration of Principles," partially as a tribute to Charles Foster Kane's newspaper principles in Citizen Kane, and partially to explain up front where I am coming from and what a reader can expect. Basically, the following is what I keep in the back of my mind while writing, whether it's ComicSutra, a film review for Film.Com, etc. I want your trust. You dont have to agree with me, but if I do my job right, youll be able to tell from each review whether youd like a book, movie, etc., regardless of whether the I liked it or not.
Principle #1: I'm an opinionated writer. If you're looking for someone who blindly cheers any industry news or trend, you're in the wrong place. If a film or book is disappointing, Ill say so. If a trend worries me, Ill say so. You need, want and deserve honest opinions. Ill give them to you.
Principle #2: But I don't hate everything. Many critics go to the other extreme under the guise of "fairness." Theyre afraid of seeming wishy-washy if they like something. Thats ridiculous. If its good, I'll say so. If its bad, Ill say so. I love comic books, movies, science fiction, fantasy, etc., and I want to share that love.
Principle #3: I will be as fair as humanly possible. I dont believe in personal attacks on creators. Thats childish and petty. If I think a book is badly written, Ill say so. That doesnt give me permission to insult the writer. Nor do I believe in wasting time coming up with clever putdowns. I'd rather explain why I did or didn't like something.
Principle #4: Since I admit that reviews are subjective, so I will also admit my prejudices. I generally try to avoid topics I don't like. Why waste your time telling you that I didn't like a book featuring gross humor when the real issue is that I don't like gross humor? But if I do review something that bumps into bias of mine, I'll admit it straight up rather than pretend to be objective.
Principle #5: I try to be open-minded. I'm only human. All human beings have opinions and biases. Liking or disliking a persons work is fine. However, that persons previous work should not drastically sway opinions in regard to current work. Ive been disappointed by certain projects undertaken by creators I adore and have been pleasantly surprised by work from creators I normally dont like. I try to approach each project with as much of blank slate as possible. A truly fair critic will often end up giving a book a totally different review than he or she originally anticipated.
Principle #6: I will approach material in the spirit in which it was created. Some books are just supposed to be fun. Others are aiming high, trying to make a serious point about life, the universe and everything.. You cant judge books going for the former by standards designed for the latter. Comparing Maus to Akiko or Star Wars with A Clockwork Orange would be a disservice all around. They are all excellent, but their aspirations and the intent with which they were created are very different. The audiences they're trying to attract are also different. I take that into account while doing a review.
Principle #7: I do NOT give away plot points without warning. I hate critics who gave away the secrets to The Crying Game and The Usual Suspects or tell you who the murderer is in mysteries or who Luke Skywalkers father really was. I dont believe in wrecking surprises but if a particular work cannot be reviewed without mentioning a plot twist, Ill put in a spoiler warning.
Principle #8: I will give you an informed opinion. A critic has a responsibility to know the subject about which he or she is writing. However, the comic book field is more complicated than other entertainment mediums. Even if someone decided to remake Casablanca with a new ending and cast, the original would still be in videos stores for a comparison. In comic books, entire histories have been changed overnight and back issues can be hard to find. The scant number of reference works on comic books in comparison to other forms of entertainment complicates things also. Can anyone claim to have read every single appearance by, say, Batman, over the years? I doubt it. But I'll do my best to be as knowledgeable and accurate as possible. If I do make a mistake, Ill admit it.
I want you to trust me as a writer and reviewer. I also want you to tell me if you think I'm not living up to the principles above. But most of all, I want all of us to enjoy ourselves.