Deconstructing Comics Review of Black Snow Comics

Happy Martin Luther King Day to one and all!  Hopefully it got you out of work.

We’ve got a new review of I’m Famous!, Black Snow and I’m Famous in Japan! in the popular podcast format, from good folks at Deconstructing Comics.

So I’ve just listened to it for the first time  (it was nice of them to email me and let me know it was up, and actually do the review after saying they would, unlike several other people), and I know it can be a bad idea to write something based on your knee-jerk reaction, but I will anyway.

Regular readers will know I’m prone to getting really angry and venting it in rants, then getting depressed.  But I’ll be perfectly honest with you, I’m not really angry or depressed this time.  I expect reviews to be harsh at this point.  I just kind of laugh and take it with a grain of salt.

I look for valid points and see how I can improve.  And this review had some.  At least they read more than those cretins at Digital Strips, and put more of an effort into giving an accurate review.

First and foremost, it is clear they do not share our unique brand of humor.  They didn’t really seem to like (or understand) the content, which is more a matter of personal taste than anything else.  So if they didn’t like that, they probably weren’t going to enjoy the comics.

Speaking of, I’ve always known our stuff was fairly niche, and probably not going to please a mainstream audience.  And I’m fine with that.  Alex doesn’t write in a mainstream style and I certainly don’t draw it.  I’d rather be original anyway.  And hopefully one day just be appreciated for that.

So these reviewers are not fans, and I keep that in mind as I listen.  It can be just as important to hear why someone isn’t a fan as why someone is.

Mostly they don’t seem to like the writing.  Poor Alex.  In both Famouses they take offense at the lack of obvious punchlines, something I’ve written about in the past.  Alex has never been a comic strip guy, so setting up traditional punchlines has never been his forte.  I think he’s got his own comedic sensibilities that aren’t so straight forward and obvious, which these reviewers didn’t seem to see.

They also seemed to take offense at the way Famous hovers between a gag strip and a story.  I always thought we walked that line pretty well.  But they seemed to think the story was too slow moving (or non-existent), and the jokes weren’t funny (or non-existent).  The way I’ve always looked at it is the story is just the backdrop for the jokes, and you make each “scene” as long as it needs to be to tell the jokes.

My favorite comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes, had loose storylines that sometimes led to a series of jokes on a single subject, that seemed to last whatever length they needed to be, then it would just return to random subjects that fit the general theme of the comic.  And I’d say they were pretty successful!

I’m surprised they would call for captions to explain switches in scenes like some traditional old school comic book.  I don’t get that at all.  I think it goes back to their confusion if this is a story or a gag strip.  It also goes against what I’ve read about doing scene transitions in modern day comics.

Is it bad to be so different, or are we just doing a bad job of it?  I don’t know.  I do know I just said I was fine with never being mainstream, but it’s not like that was our intent when we started.  We just made what we thought was funny.  I was concerned that our stuff might be to weird to appeal to people, and over times it’s been proven to at least be somewhat true.  Though Famous has always been the one with wider appeal than Black Snow (everyone I’ve seen read it or even just explained the premise to has thought it was hilarious) so it is a bit disheartening to hear just how off putting the comic was for these two.

I mean if you don’t think Daniel’s drinking is funny, or are going to get hung up on the Anti-Nazi, then there’s not much we can really do for you.

If you want to see our attempt at a mainstream, straight forward gag strip look no further than the debut of Detroit Mock City next month.

They did talk about something I was always a bit worried about when we started the comic; would people get Famous if they never read Black Snow?  From what I’ve seen of readers checking it out in person it wasn’t an issue, but the feeling that they were missing something clearly caused some discomfort for these reviewers.  I’d like to think anyone could pick it up and enjoy it, though they’d get a bit more out of it if they had read Black Snow.  That always seemed to be true, but not according to this review.

As far as the critique of my drawing on Famous, I find that easier to stomach.  That’s something easy to work on, and I think it has been improved greatly since the strip started.  I’ll never know why reviewers don’t take a look at the most current work, as I’d be more interested to hear what they think of that.  I think I’ve addressed some of the problems they had with setting and formatting, though I must say I never gave too much thought to the amount of space between panels equating to time passed.

It is fairly random how I choose to layout my panels in that regard, so I guess that’s something I could try to work on.

At least they liked my coloring!  Who doesn’t like bright cheery colors?

Funny that they really seemed to like I’m Famous in Japan! more.  I always wondered if some people would.  Rawr is a good artist with a knack for joke delivery and pacing.  I’ve always pointed out that he is able to make our stuff seem more straight forward than I think it is written, and the reviewers seemed to pick up on that as well.  I’m glad to hear him get (mostly) praise here.  Though it does tug a bit at my competitive nature to here him basically declared a better artist.  Some more fuel to help me up my game.

They seemed to think Famous in Japan! had the most appeal, and that is definitely something we could examine and learn from.

Of course I was most interested in hearing what they had to say about Two Drink Minimum, and it was a mixed bag.  They recognized my effort to improve the art and seemed to agree that I had done so significantly.  They did call me out one my use of photos, and say how lazy that is.  I don’t know if I agree, but I can see why they said it.  I do put a lot of effort to integrate my photos with the drawings, so they aren’t jarring and taking you out of the story.  I thought I was doing a pretty good job, but maybe not.  Most people seem to really dig it, and can’t always tell when I’ve used a photo.

I suppose I could tone it back a bit, but I really like the way they’ve been turning out.  You’ll see me use photos in a completely different way in Detroit Mock City, where they are basically reference material for the minimalistic art work.  And maybe that is a better way to do it.  I don’t know.  Like I said, I like the way they look in TDM.

They also said my perspective was pretty bad when I was drawing.  I don’t go all out and draw in proper perspective, I just sort of eyeball it, but I never thought I was terrible at it.  Maybe I am though.  It’s something I can try to work on.

The thing that is more concerning to me is that they seemed to think you had to read the original Black Snow comic books to get Two Drink Minimum.  That is the exact opposite of what I want to hear.  This is an attempt to start over, and basically erase those comics from the continuity.  I’m not really sure why they felt that way, as it didn’t seem to be explained in detail, but it’s not good.  I thought we were doing a pretty good job of introducing the characters and story to a new audience.

Equally concerning is their critique of the story’s pacing.  One of the main reasons for starting over (other than improving the art) was to improve the story.  I thought it was a really strong opening, and we did work to condense things a lot in later scenes.  I feel like the story is moving along at a good pace, and we’re taking the time to really get to know the characters so they mean something to you.

Like I’ve said before, Black Snow is character driven, not plot driven.  And maybe that’s not what they’re looking for in a comic. Especially if they think Tarantino had great conversations worthy of all that dialogue.

So what did I really get out of this whole review?  Basically we aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.  We’re never going to please everyone.  You shouldn’t be basing all your decisions on critiques, and I won’t, but I will try to take what positives I can from it to improve my work.

When it comes down to it I think you just have to make something you enjoy, and that’s what we’ve always done, and will continue to do.

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