Monday, August 31, 2009

Monday Night Fights

Hello Janet,

You may have heard of an incident at the Chicago Comic-Con, where the comic book artist Rob Liefeld was confronted over his work on certain Marvel titles. There's a fair amount of lively discussion online about his art - he's been accused of having no talent because his figures are apparently not anatomically correct, and occasionally copied from other artists' work.

Mr. Liefeld was signing and sketching, as you do at a con, and a comic book fan walked up and demanded that he apologize for what he considered to be a particularly bad piece of work.

Criticism is expected for a creator and you do need to have a thick skin, but having this kind of intense dislike essentially shoved in your face must be soul destroying.

I think it's completely unacceptable to do this to an author or artist, regardless of how a person feels about a book or a picture. When I'm published (and I do mean to be someday), I expect that not everyone will like my stuff and I'm prepared for that. But this kind of personally-directed hatred would blow my self-esteem to pieces. It's close to being my worst nightmare.

So do you know of any author who has experienced something like this? Has it ever happened to you? How did they/you handle it? Is it ever OK to call someone out like this over your opinion? Should I toughen up and expect it, or a variant of it?


Are you crazy? People who care so much about art that they get into fights about it?? This is a sign of the UN-impending apocalypse. I say, bring on the boxing gloves, set up the ring, and let's go at it! Dan Brown versus Thomas Pynchon, nine rounds, loser leaves town, winner gets a spot on the NYT Bestseller list.

Ok, aside from the PT Barnum aspects of this, I'm all in favor of heated debate about the merits of art work. Honestly. If you think some guy's work sucks, and you want to confront him, have at it. You'd better be prepared to defend your position with something other than "it sux, donkey breath" though.

As an artist, evoking that kind of emotion should be your GOAL not your fear. Being an artist means you challenge people to think and feel, and when they do (even if they don't think and feel the way you want) you've accomplished something very close to Nirvana: your work has touched a deep resonant chord in another human being.

34 comments:

Daniel said...

Ha ha! Well, I'm sure Liefeld is used to it. He's admitted to being a terrible artist, so he can't really argue with the guy. Not to mention, being a terrible artist and STILL raking in $1mil in a year (AS A COMIC ARTIST!!) I don't feel particularly bad for him. I'm a professional illustrator, sketch artist, and storyboarder and it is our job to stay on top of our craft.

I'm with you Janet! Break out the gloves... my martial arts are a bit rusty, but I'm always down for some practice.

terripatrick said...

Great answer, Janet!
Creative types should pull up their boots and slog into the fray - not hide their wilted self esteem in the closet.

Literary Cowgirl said...

I think evoking some provocation is excellent, but I'm not sure an artist is always prepared for what it can bring. Ask Annie Proulx how she liked living in Wyoming after the movie release of Brokeback Mountain. I'm sure she's eleated that her story has meant so much to so many people, but I'm also fairly certain tha she sleeps beter at night when she's at her NFLD home.

JES said...

Per the linked article, it doesn't sound like much of a fight (except maybe after the fact, in one or both of the parties' minds). Unlike Daniel, I don't know anything about Liefeld, but the "fan" sounds like something less than a thoughtful critic.

Agree with what you say in the last graf, Janet, in general. But I wish people (audiences as well as artists) were less inclined to live life -- and art -- as a series of powder kegs in need of ignition.

McLean Kendree said...

Yeah, another professional illustrator here, it has more to do with Liefeld being a mediocre artist, but having gained insane popularity from his work. But hey, any working artist is trying to make money with their art, so in that regard he seems to have done something right.

Cowgirl in the City said...

So true! I hope my writing causes people to be passionate about it. Love it or hate it... it's better than just being apathetic.

Cat Moleski said...

Thanks, Janet, for the first laugh of the day!

Mike said...

Yeah, it can be soul searing to have someone nuke you over your work, but NEVER apologize to ANYONE for your work as an artist. Most 'critics' and 'jurors' can't do what the artist does, which is why they do what they do. Kind of an upside down system, actually. People who can't do the work themselves get to decide whose work is 'worthy'.

Keith Schroeder said...

Gi'me a break. I catch hell preparing taxes. If you are in business, someone always thinks they're smarter than you. They also think you make too much; probably think they're better look'in than me, too. Everyone catches flack once in a while, even those folks that repeat, "Would you like that super-sized." Get over it.

My personal observation: The higher the income, the larger the pile of crap served your way.

Should I leave my name on a post like this? Absolutely.

Furious D said...

My reaction to that sort of demand would probably be: "I'll apologize for my work, when your momma apologizes for you!"

But seriously...

I think the anonymity of the internet has created people who think they can attack someone as "evil" simply for creating something they don't like. And that after slagging someone, they then expect to walk away.

I do a blog about the business behind show business. One day I got a commenter who claimed that my criticism of bad business practices, was a sign of some sort of deep psychological problems and that deep down I was really a terrible person.

This fascinated me, because I try to avoid personal attacks with the gossip and innuendo that other bloggers use, and stick to discussing and criticizing business decisions. Yet here was this anonymous person, not saying that I was wrong, but saying that I was a bad person because of what I said.

When I called this commenter on it, in my own sarcastic way, they then declared that they were really a big wheel in TV and not-too-subtly implied some sort of revenge, while never revealing their name.

I suspect that this guy at Comic-Con expected to just walk away without consequences like he's probably done a million times online, just like my commenter.

JM Diaz said...

I couldn't agree more. Getting somebody to spend so much time and effort on my work would be almost flattering, even if he despises it. All I can think of is Jack Sparrow's response to the commandant in Pirates: "But you HAVE heard of me". It's priceless.

This is where having a thick skin comes in handy. So, yeah... if somebody wants me to bring it, I say: "oh, it's been brung!"
Sneering and bad grammar should be enough to instill fear in any critic, or fan.

Les Edgerton said...

If your writing doesn't offend someone, it's probably not good writing--it's an article in Guideposts...

Les Edgerton said...

In the preface to the infamous Story of O, Jean Paulhan wrote, “Dangerous books are those that restore us to our natural state of danger.”

No opposition means a fiction of little value.

inthewritemind said...

I don't think something like that would be soul destroying for me. Disheartening, yes, but I'd get over it. You'll always have people like that when it comes to art.

Actually I'd probably end up laughing about it later. :P

Philangelus said...

I once gave a negative critique of a comic book writer's work on a fansite. I wasn't the only one critiquing it (the work was lousy -- he destroyed the title, and it never bounced back) but he took out his venom on me in particular and gave a villain a name conspicuously close to my name.

I laughed. Let him get his revenge that way. He certainly didn't feel he needed to apologize or explain. :-)

Dan Krokos said...

Spot on. Any reaction is better than no reaction.

Pamala Knight said...

Didn't I tell you that Chicago was a fun and raucous kind of town? You should totally come here, lol. ;-). I can promise a brawl somewhere if you will.

Jen C said...

Go work in retail or some sort of intensive customer service job for a few months. That will give you a skin so thick people will bounce off you when they touch you. Someone saying they think my book sucks pales in comparison to having phones thrown at my head or having grown men try to hit me because I wouldn't give them a refund...

Rebecca Knight said...

I'd have to agree on any reaction = a good sign. I have a disturbing scene in my novel, and the amazing betas who've read it have all either hated it with a passion or loved it. There was no in between.

That's my favorite scene now :).

ryan field said...

There's a book reviewer out there I'd like to eat for breakfast :)

Travener said...

Art as blood sport. I like it.

www.thebiglitowski.blogspot.com

Anthony said...

I love this post. I love it very much.

PASSION. Give me MORE!

Steve Long said...

After a friend and successful author killed off a popular character, she received some nasty mail including "I'll never buy your books again." My comments to her were the opposite. In part I said if you can make people care enough to get angry you're doing something right. So let the games begin!

Kristin Laughtin said...

While I do think it's a bit rude to walk up to any sort of artist or writer and demand an apology for some of work of theirs you didn't enjoy, creators have to be prepared for criticism when they put their work out there. No matter how good your work is, someone will think it absolute crap. I'd hope everyone around would be civil, but that quality is getting rarer these days, especially when the internet allows us to be more scathing behind a veil of anonymity.

That said, the author or artist owes nobody an apology. If they feel they've messed up down the line, they can offer one if they want, but it should never be a requirement. I've said similar things when reading about criticism of George R.R. Martin for not hurrying his next book: once the work is out there, the creator owes nothing more. Once it's out, it's out. Further works (sequels, new series, etc.) aren't required (unless there's a contract in place already, etc.). If a reader doesn't like it, they're free to do so, but they shouldn't expect to receive an apology for it.

dylan said...

Dear Ms. Reid

I lost interest in comic books several decades ago, but there was a time when I read them a lot and studied the drawings.

Following the link you provided I looked at Liefeld's work.

I think the suggestion that this guy is a lousy comic artist is unfair.

The charge that his drawings are anatomically incorrect seems a bit irrelevant in such a stylized and exaggerated medium.

But it is clear to me from this:

http://tinyurl.com/lu2faf

That he is a serial plagiarist.

We all stand on the shoulders of others, and as George Harrison found out (My Sweet Lord/He's So Fine) it is quite possible to unintentionally borrow from existing works, but some of the comic panels in question are direct conscious rip-offs, and that is apparently part of the problem fans have with Liefeld.

A further examination of this Conventional brouhaha suggests that in actuality it was a tempest in a teapot, anywho.

dylan

Suzan Harden said...

ROFLMAO - The Liefield criticism has been around for 20+ years. I hereby accuse all the Dan Brown critics of swiping the Liefield criticisms for their own use.

Janet gets +10 wisdom for having a comic refereence in her blog.

Chad Aaron Sayban said...

I completely agree. Critique has to be kept to the work being discussed. A personal attack on the writer or artist is out-of-bounds and shows that the critic didn't do their homework. I'm always very careful as a book reviewer that I remain professional in all of my reviews whether they are positive or negative. I've torn apart my share of books, but I've always made sure that I point to the flaws with the writing and I never criticize the author personally. A professionally done critique is a complete valid thing. An emotional one (and felonious one in this case) is nothing other than a poor reflection on that person. A critic must always keep in mind that while their criticism may be valid, it is still just their own opinion and they have to support it for it to have any meaning to anyone.

Deb Vlock said...

I agree with you, Janet. Nothing is worse than being ignored, and the best possible outcome is that one's work provokes a strong reaction, positive or negative. But still, a very public reproach or bad review (even a mixed review) stings...take it from one who knows. :)

David Edgerley Gates said...

"Just because you like my work doesn't mean I owe you anything."
---Bob Dylan

Monkey Mama said...

Sounds like the jungle life is encroaching on everyone.
Good stuff. Good stuff.

stacy said...

Yeah, I would love it if someone reacted to my art at all. Better than a shrug of the shoulders any day.

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

I love good reviews (the few I've received) and I learn from the mediocre ones. However, I don't condone uninvited public ridicule. I didn't ask for it, and I don't have to like it.

There's been a lot of discussion on the matter in the last week or so.

Even the thickest skin has some worn parts.

Art in itself is subject to wider scrutiny. Like writing genres, art has so many interpretations. Who's to say a velvet Elvis painting gives less pleasure to the beholder than a Renoir?

Aetheric said...

The whole incident with Liefield left a very bad taste in my mouth. Artists and writers expect criticism, of course; you can never please everyone. But this kind of utter rudeness is simply not acceptable to me.

How can any artist or writer view this in a positive light? I see Janet's point about striving to evoke some kind of emotional response, but this? This is pettiness from a comics nerd jumping on the let's-all-hate-Rob-Liefield bandwagon. The artwork is less important to him than the bragging rights. ("I told Liefield to apologise! Hur hur hur!")

I wish it was about that fan feeling passionate about the art. I think it's obvious that it isn't, in this case. Having seen Liefield's work, I'd agree that he's not a good artist - certainly not in the same league as Alex Ross or John Romita, for example - but doesn't excuse the fact that the fan just came over and insulted him to his face. Whatever your feelings on any piece of work, in my opinion, you don't have right to do that.

Sarahlynn said...

Internet insults are different from face-to-face insults, but I had a related sort of incident on my blog recently.

(This would be the blog I have to give up before beginning the querying process, alas, because it's political and personal and not professional.)

Some anonymous fella spewed large quantities of personal invective at me for a few days before relapsing into silence.

At first I thought he was a random one-issue troll, then I was a little concerned, then I became flattered. The turning point was when he explained that he's been reading my blog for THREE YEARS and his fury at my idiocy finally built to a point where he couldn't contain it anymore and needed to tell me how awful I am.

Three years he's been reading my nearly daily posts! I must be doing SOMETHING right!