Every so often I run a google search on Zombie Ranch, just to see what might turn up out there in the wilds of the Internet. This past week I turned up a great review from a Western-themed blog called (cleverly enough) “Slap Bookleather”.
Hang on before I give you any link though, and let me explain what I mean by “great”… because what you’ll see early on is that he found the comic amateurish, going so far as to write, “I read the first couple of pages in shock at how bad it was”.
What was great to me about the review is this: here was a man Dawn and I had never met, with no stake whatsoever in sparing our feelings or otherwise making us happy, giving his brutally honest opinion of what he was looking at. A man who has digested dozens if not hundreds of Westerns in all forms of media, including comic form, and as a result has some pretty high standards. I’ve always wondered how I’d react to being told I sucked, since I figured that sooner or later it was going to happen. At first, there was the natural feeling of disappointment and failure, but I swallowed it down and kept reading. After all, if I’m too thin-skinned to take criticism, I doubt I belong trying to keep going with this. And you know what? It turned out that soldiering on was a really, really good thing to have done, because the whole of that sentence was this:
“I read the first couple of pages in shock at how bad it was, then kept reading a couple more pages, then a couple more, then, inexplicably, it actually started working.”
Don’t get me wrong, though, it’s not a glowing review of our workmanship by any means. Nor does it need to be, as we’ll be the first to admit embarassment at our earliest pages, and admit that to this day we still have a long ways to go to reach what, to use a loaded term, might be considered a “professional” level of polish. I hearken back to a classic early episode of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series where Oz comes across a review of his band from the guy in charge of the school paper.
Oz: “‘Dingoes Ate My Baby’ played their instruments as if they had plump Polish sausages taped to their fingers.”
Freddy: Sorry, man.
Oz: No, that’s fair.
Freddy being the writer of said review, and he apologizes, probably expecting Oz to hate him for it. But Oz thinks about it a moment, then nods and proclaims it a fair enough criticism. Similarly, as I kept reading the critique on Slap Bookleather, I not only thought it fair enough from the perspective of a man used to much more polished works, but he goes on to say that in spite of his reservations concerning the writing and artwork, he was still drawn in to the story as a whole and kept “flipping through”.
And really, isn’t that the whole core of storytelling? The ability to engage your audience, as I already talked about a few months back?
This is especially crucial for a webcomic because of the tradition of not going back to revise your early work. I’ve seen arguments for and against this, but for a lot of people one of the joys they have in reading a webcomic is being able to delve into the evolution of how far the creator(s) have come from where they originally started. We made the decision early on to adhere to that, which means someone unused to webcomics may go back and start reading Zombie Ranch and quickly decide we don’t know what the hell we’re doing. Which, to be fair, we did not. But if we can manage to grab their interest long enough (even if it’s just out of a sense of “ogling the trainwreck”) then a review like Slap Bookleather’s gives me hope that we’re doing enough things right, and improving enough over time, that we can get past the rough stuff and have them not only genuinely enjoying the tale, but ready for more.