Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Zine Reviews

A friend of mine just sent me two things, one is from an email sent out by Sticky Institute, a zine work space and shop in Melbourne (which I've been to!).

You can find it on their website here, but as it's a little hard to find, I'll just reprint it.


ZINE REVIEWS
"At the institute" we believe that all zines are awesome no matter what, AND we believe in healthy discussion and critical thinking in zine culture. And that these are not mutually exclusive standpoints.

Consider these reviews in the spirit in which they are written - just one person's point of view put out there as starting points for larger conversations and exchanges of ideas about zines.

But first, here's some more thoughts on the role of reviews...

The Bubble – zines and constructive criticism

I’ve been trying to think of a good way to talk about feedback and the current climate in the zine community – or at least the Australian zine community. It’s been bothering me for a while, mostly because like a lot of us, I enjoy a good discussion about what makes zines great. But it pains me that many people I come across only seem to want to discuss the good stuff. Whenever the feedback touches on something they don’t like, it seems to bring up a wall. I’m not going to name names, but friends have told me that there are people upset by newsletter reviews, people who believe zines shouldn’t be reviewed at all. People who have told me that I shouldn’t say anything if I want to highlight something I don’t think works in a zine, or something I find problematic. It’s the ‘if you can’t say anything nice…’ argument, and it feels ironically conservative for the kind of people that seem to make zines. It’s a conversation I’ve had a number of times over the last several months. When I try to articulate why this bothers me, I always think of this particular episode of the US sitcom 30 Rock. Liz, the main character, is dating a very handsome man played by Mad Men’s Jon Hamm. She soon realises he is living in what’s known as ‘The Bubble’, a situation faced by very good-looking people in which nobody ever tells them anything negative and are overly helpful towards them in all instances.

Because of this, he mistakenly believes that he is a tennis pro, can speak French, is good in bed and that Gatorade tastes good in salmon dishes. When Liz attempts to rescue him from The Bubble he lashes out at her, telling her he likes it in there.

What am I getting at with this overly-long analogy? Well, sometimes it feels as if zinesters wish to live in a similar bubble, where they never have to confront anything they don’t want to hear about their own work.

I know not all constructive criticism is given with tact, but a lot of it is pretty innocuous. And a lot of it is intended with the idea of having a dialogue and maybe growing as artists/zinesters/what have you. I can understand how it might be better if sometimes the criticism is sent privately, rather than aired publicly. But zines, when published and sent out, are something very public. So I also disagree with the idea that zine reviews shouldn’t exist because, what? We don’t want to say anything bad about zines, not even about something small and technical because that might kill zines? Are zines like Sumatran Tigers and Giant Pandas? Are they that fragile? Understand that I am not talking about writing cruel, discouraging things to crush the souls of new zinesters who might be terrified away by reviews. I’m talking about reasonable feedback, aimed at seasoned zinesters. [editor - how do you know who's a seasoned zinester and who's a newbie? Should that even be an issue?] I think zines are pretty durable and strong, personally. I don’t see them wilting away into nothingness over a bit of feedback.

Let me be very clear – do I want someone writing cruel, nasty things about my own zine just for the hell of it? No. Of course I don’t. But I am also a grown up, and surely it won’t be the death of me if I encounter someone being an arsehole. Mostly, I’d like it if people responded to something in any of my zines they didn’t like, that offended them or that they thought I could improve on. I think it’d be wonderful to talk to someone like that, and I can’t see an argument for a zinester or artist not wanting to have a conversation about their work, which clearly matters to them.

I’m interested in any reactions to this. And you know what, you don’t have to agree withany of the above, in fact please feel free to disagree with everything. God, write a zine about how wrong I am if you like. Write a rebuttal for this very newsletter even. That’s actually what this is all about.

Candace – runawaykite@gmail.com


Interesting stuff right? Then there's a link to another blog post about how reviews create elitism. It's on Clementine Cannibal's blog and can be found here. Go read it. I mean, if you're reading my blog you clearly have time to kill.

These two pieces led me to spend several hours writing a 1300 word response to my friend. I won't be reprinting that here. Instead I will link to a post by Chantal Lefebvre (who left a comment on the above blog entry) about criticism. Go read it too. Her stuff probably explains my positions better than I could (even if I don't agree with her on every point).

People have said my reviews are often too critical of the work they discuss. I think there is a difference between criticising the way something is done and criticising the actual content. Just as there is a difference between criticising a piece and attacking a creator.

What are you opinions on reviews in the zine world? How about elitism in the zine world? I'd love to have an actual discussion with people, but expect nobody to even reply to this : )

4 comments:

  1. Hi Matt,

    Thanks for taking the time to review zines like mine. I was pleasantly surprised that it caught your attention. And I appreciate that you took the effort to reflect and post a response about my work with a balanced perspective which combined genuinely positive comments and valid criticisms. (For specifics, see my reply to your blog review of my origami fish).

    Feedback is a reason I've sent/traded my zines off into the world: to see whether or not others connect with them, why and how. It is only validating to me as an artist have a fellow zinester (who also understands the zine-making process) to take the time to express their thoughts about a work I took time to plan, create and publish.

    To respond to your question (see, there's one other person who cares enough to respond because I have also thought about this topic!):

    I majored in Art (photo/sculpture mostly) in college and, since graduation, have been working in the 'real world' with not enough time to focus on my new creative interests (comics), for me personally anyway. I've desperately missed and yearn to share my work in a community of like-minded creative folk who care enough to discuss/appreciate/create all aspects and nuances that converge to make art what it is(content/style/voice/socio-political contexts, identity, etc.) as I did in college.

    I believe such discussions are integral in the evolution of art and of artists themselves. I haven't reviewed zines in depth, and honestly haven't had the desire to yet though I know great comics when I read and re-read them. I do know I want to promote lesser-known yet great artists whose work should be more known especially if they're from under-represented groups (minorities, women, LGBT folks) in the mainstream (ironic, I know) zine/comics culture. I am thinking of works, for example, like Keef Chronicles and Joel Gill's comics commenting/referencing African American history and racist representations in comics (still obviously relevant but under-voiced in the comics medium and in society at-large).

    In my opinion, I would only approach critiquing design issues/textual mistakes of any work if they severely hinder understanding of the content/theme/story of the comic. I approach this similarly in my pedagogy as an ESL teacher too (where I teach comics/creative writing for immigrant teens to express themselves freely in their second language, English). As long as meaning is understood, minor grammatical/spelling errors and unpolished writing/art isn't a focal point of criticism though teaching students/artists the standard usage of these skills would only be beneficial. They'd be able to communicate themselves more clearly in future works. And by understanding conventions, they'd have more awareness and control in making artistic decisions.

    (my comment continued below)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Matt,

    Thanks for taking the time to review zines like mine. I was pleasantly surprised that it caught your attention. And I appreciate that you took the effort to reflect and post a response about my work with a balanced perspective which combined genuinely positive comments and valid criticisms. (For specifics, see my reply to your blog review of my origami fish).

    Feedback is a reason I've sent/traded my zines off into the world: to see whether or not others connect with them, why and how. It is only validating to me as an artist have a fellow zinester (who also understands the zine-making process) to take the time to express their thoughts about a work I took time to plan, create and publish.

    To respond to your question (see, there's one other person who cares enough to respond because I have also thought about this topic!):

    I majored in Art (photo/sculpture mostly) in college and, since graduation, have been working in the 'real world' with not enough time to focus on my new creative interests (comics), for me personally anyway. I've desperately missed and yearn to share my work in a community of like-minded creative folk who care enough to discuss/appreciate/create all aspects and nuances that converge to make art what it is(content/style/voice/socio-political contexts,identity etc.) as I did in college.
    (continue below)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I believe such discussions are integral in the evolution of art and of artists themselves. I haven't reviewed zines in depth, and honestly haven't had the desire to yet though I know great comics when I read and re-read them. I do know I want to promote lesser-known yet great artists whose work should be more known especially if they're from under-represented groups (minorities, women, LGBT folks) in the mainstream (ironic, I know) zine/comics culture. I am thinking of works, for example, like Keef Chronicles and Joel Gill's comics commenting/referencing African American history and racist representations in comics (still obviously relevant but under-voiced in the comics medium and in society at-large).

    In my opinion, I would only approach critiquing design issues/textual mistakes of any work if they severely hinder understanding of the content/theme/story of the comic. I approach this similarly in my pedagogy as an ESL teacher too (where I teach comics/creative writing for immigrant teens to express themselves freely in their second language, English). As long as meaning is understood, minor grammatical/spelling errors and unpolished writing/art isn't a focal point of criticism though teaching students/artists the standard usage of these skills would only be beneficial. They'd be able to communicate themselves more clearly in future works. And by understanding conventions, they'd have more awareness and control in making artistic decisions. However, is the reviewer qualified as a teacher, as one to critique technicalities if s/he is not a practitioner of the trade?

    Does the reviewer need to be in order to establish credibility?

    (almost done...even more below!)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Of course, this is my bias in values as I value the content of stories over the form in which it takes. If I'm able to connect with the content (even if there were some hurdles b/c of unpolished technicalities) and liked what I read, then the piece has achieved something for me. As I work/teach full-time with students, I am more of the 'f*ck it, go for it' attitude where complete lack of inhibition is key in beginning the creative process, thus beginning the process of building self-confidence as an artist to the point where one fully understands and uses constructive criticism as a learning tool for artistic development. There are the Lynda Barrys and the Scott McClouds, et al of the world with their philosophies and criteria. The diversity of opinions, again, only make this era of the flourishing comics culture more exciting to participate in!

    Since zinesters are totally DIY publishers who don't have the privilege of having a professional editor around (at least in my case) to discuss what works/what doesn't, then having a zine review community is even more crucial to fill in this role. Of course, in the democratic world of blogging, there is the question: who is a legitimate, qualified reviewer? How is this legitimacy established? Are the standards in which this reviewer uses to measure all works fair, consistent and transparent? Do different reviewers conference among one another to compare their standards of values?

    These are really interesting yet crucial questions that the zine community/critics (as they are for art, film, food, literary criticism) have to debate. And one that I actually would love to participate and learn more about!

    In closing, I thank you for bringing this issue up.

    And thanks for reviewing zines every freak'in day! That's major dedication- your efforts have allowed me to check out the plethora of zines that exists in the world. My creative spirit and sometimes fried brain needs as much refreshing nourishment as it can get to survive.

    -Sassy Spinster

    p.s. If I had just unofficially broke an record of writing the longest comment on your blog, do I win something? :-)

    ReplyDelete