"Why are you always so negative?"

Got a comment in the Talk Back of last week’s reviews that I thought might be bigger consideration than just responding there were no one would see it. A “Brian” (no last name) wrote: "Whew! Thanks for telling me what stinks, guys! Now I know I don't need to come into your shop and spend any money!”

Which, while fabulous in its snarkiness, actually does bring up something I get a lot: “Why are you so negative all of the time?”

So, let’s go over some of the reasons you’ll find negative reviews here.

First, and foremost, I usually hear it from people who say some variant of “You’re a retailer, your job is to sell.” But, here’s the thing: I don’t see my job as being that specifically limited – my job is to sell, sure, but I see that over the long run, not the short run.

It is like with Variant Covers: some retailers adore the things because “It is like getting a free $100 bill!” Which, of course, it is. But I believe that in the long run taking that $100 can cost you THOUSANDS of dollars in sales as we drive people away from the entire hobby.

In exactly the same way, my job isn’t “just to sell” – it’s to sell QUALITY MATERIAL. If I can discourage someone from buying a shitty-ass comic, then it is at least marginally more likely they’ll buy something good; something that puts the burning need to buy MORE comics within their heart.

What you have to understand is that there’s a fine line here that I constantly try to be smart about. What you see in cold hard type isn’t the same thing you’d necessarily hear on the sales floor – I try very hard to remain positive in the store because a customer there may or may not be interested in my opinion. However, if you’re here, on this website, you CLEARLY WANT my opinion.

On the sales floor, I won’t offer my opinion UNLESS it is solicited, and even then, I tend to try and remain neutral in my phrasing (“It isn’t really my kind of book,” that sort of thing)

There seems to be a supposition that what is said here has direct influence upon the sales floor. After 16 years of selling comics for a living, and more than a decade of internet reviewing, I think I can laugh pretty hard at any connection.

Some of the worst reviewed comics here are the tip-toppest sellers in the store. Look at something like Bendis’ AVENGERS: I absolutely think it is pure crap on a stick, but it has steadily been our #1, 2, or 3 Marvel seller each and every month it has been released.

Understand: most (60-90%) periodical comics are sold by the end of the first weekend. It is incredibly rare that Jeff or I get reviews up in time to influence periodical buying.

Further, every effort I’ve ever made to study it shows that negative reviews simply do not impact even upon our long-term sales of periodical comics. People buy what they want, and reviews have only the most minor of impacts upon those choices.

Ultimately, post-Wednesday reviews have almost no impact upon initial sales – at best, they can be addative to the NEXT time you go into a store. But if you’ve already decided to not buy NEW AVENGERS, I’m not going to make you buy it less.

Another key factor for me, at least, is that negative reviews illuminate the interests of the reviewer AT LEAST as much as positive reviews. If you like all of the books that I hate, then you’re going to approach my positive reviews differently than you would otherwise.

Personally, I HATE reviewers that only give positive reviews – this seems intellectually dishonest to me, and “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” is really only helpful if you’re trying to catch flies.

What I think is that by being HONEST about my opinions, even if it COULD cost me a sale, means that you’re going to value my recommendations all that more. You know I’m not trying to sell you a bill of goods, or whatever happens to be “hot” or whatever.

Further, judging from my email (though seldom the “Talk Backs”), comics professionals generally “appreciate” a negative review more than positive ones. Quite often I’ll get the “Yeah, it’s flawed, and here’s the behind-the-scenes bit you didn’t know”. Joe Casey, not withstanding. Kurt, Sean, Ed, Warren, etc. all of you read my reviews on a semi-regular basis, maybe you could post in the Talk Back if there’s any value to you in here?

Now, if the criticism is that we (well, mostly I) don’t do a good enough job OF explaining WHY I don’t like something, that one is probably valid. I like to think I bat at least .400 though.

Finally, and the point that really trumps any other one: Jeff and I post largely for ourselves. We make no money from this website. There are no banner ads, this is not a profit-making affair (quite the opposite, in fact). I post on MY time (barring the weird odd occasion like this one where I use the AlphaSmart from the counter), time away from playing video games or hanging out with the family or whatever. We don’t get paid for this, barring an incredibly rare PayPal donation or something, so what I’m hoping for is that I’ll make someone (usually Jeff) laugh.

That’s much easier to do in a negative review than a positive one. When was the last time you laughed when I said for the 86th time “USAGI YOJIMBO is an excellent comic that everyone should be buying”? Yeah, exactly.

This is the internet; people LIKE rants. We get thousands of hits, and are usually featured at or near the top of many “blog rolls” every week because of that. It seems to me we must be doing SOMEthing right.

I’m certainly willing to have a rational conversation about the pros and the cons of the approach we take here – please feel free to use the Talk Back to tell me I’m right or wrong, and I listen to all of it. Though I listen far more to people who sign their full name to their opinions…

What do you think?


EDIT after I wrote that: there's a message that follows "Brian"'s, from "Rob L'Heureux" which I thought should also be put on the front page. Here's the whole thing:

" I usually agree with your reviews and pick up your recommendations that I haven't read and sometimes drop titles if I agree with your criticism. But occasionally I think you just miss the mark, the latest two examples being the ASTONISHING X-MEN and FABLES. The art on both titles is exceptional, well above the current standard and using the medium to advantage ( especially FABLES ), and I always enjoy the storytelling. A book like ASTONISHING, where everything seems to have been done with the characters and the writer has to handle these ‘moneymakers’ so gingerly, I mean, this is a monthly serial but the writer still finds fresh material and presents it in an entertaining fashion.

These books haven’t changed my life but I really think a serious critic ( and retailer ) would encourage this level of work. Readers should be encouraged to support these titles, creators should be encouraged to strive for this level of storytelling ( or better ), and publishers should be encouraged to promote and produce more in kind. All of which would help the comic industry.

Sometimes you seem to hold some titles / creators to a higher standard and I hate you. "

I'm curious as to what other people think, though I will note that I gave ASTONISHING an "OK" and FABLES a "GOOD" (!) Am I TOO harsh?