Editor’s note: T Campbell was offered the opportunity to respond to Fleen’s recent review of what was identified as The History of Webcomics — while this was the original title of the book, Campbell has pointed out that the actual title at time of publication was A History of Webcomics; Fleen regrets the error.
Campbell’s response to the review, received over the weekend, appears in full below.
Campbell Responds To Fleen!Drama!
Tyrrell handles his critical role as gingerly as a thermonuclear bomb with a busted timer, as if trying to be forthright and fair enough to compensate for the bad behavior of all the bookâ€™s other critics.
Relax, Gary. You took time to read the damn thing all the way through and worked off the actual text. You didnâ€™t rely on lies, hearsay, illogical assumptions or character assassination. Just as importantly, you didnâ€™t decide to like it because I seemed a decent sort, or because youâ€™d read my other work, or because you thought I meant well. That already punts you into the top 2% of the bell curve.
Not that thereâ€™s not room for improvements on Tyrrellâ€™s improvements. My biggest problemâ€™s one that I didnâ€™t expect to have: he doesnâ€™t hit hard enough.
He mostly critiques the style. Yes, as a writer I tend to shoot for the high-IQ range, sometimes implying what others would state outright. Yes, the book could use more extensive endnotes (and really, they should be footnotesâ€”who has time to do all that flipping back and forth?). Yes, there is a math error. Yes, â€œPayPalâ€? is misspelled. Yes, there should be pagination.
Why stop there? The front page puts a #$%& period in my name, GisÃ¨le LagacÃ©â€™s name on the back cover should have accents, some of the images look too grainy, the page design varies from clichÃ©d to strained to awful, Iâ€™m not crazy about the color, and Times New Roman is so last century.
All these details keep me up nights, more than anyone knows. But even addressed properly, a 341,634% increase in traffic is more than weighty enough to make the case for the growth of the Internet audience, a case that barely needs arguing anyway. If youâ€™ve read a few blogs, you know that one doesnâ€™t have to spell â€œdefiniteâ€? correctly to make a definite argument.
By limiting himself to these simple matters, Tyrrell avoids almost anything that might stir up controversy, and sometimes ends up chasing shadows. He makes a simple caseâ€”that my love of detail and implication makes the book a tough readâ€”then clouds it with unnecessary assumptions:
- I didnâ€™t mean to say the things he speculates I forgot: I hoped that it wasnâ€™t necessary to tell readers that a new italicized title referred to a webcomic, that proper names listed as â€œbelongingâ€? to a webcomic referred to characters from the webcomic, or that advertising wasnâ€™t PayPal-dependent.
- I donâ€™t merely name-check Tim Berners-Lee, I introduce him as the man who developed the Web and followed through on Vannevar Bushâ€™s ideas (introduced earlier). The first sentence to feature him reads: â€œWith its hypertext links, the Web was Tim Berners-Leeâ€™s answer to Vannevar Bushâ€™s 45-year-old prediction.â€? Implicitly phrased, perhaps.
- The section he refers to as â€œtimejumpingâ€? is actually two sections, â€œUnsure Giantsâ€? and â€œUnmodeled Business,â€? and they present an identity crisis that Keenspot and Modern Tales faced consistently over a four-year period. If that part reads like a sequence when it shouldnâ€™t, thatâ€™s the fault of my over-reliance on implication, and nothing else.
Only in his last few sections does Tyrrell approach issues worth discussing, but here and elsewhere, perhaps reluctant to strike too hard, he confines himself to one example apiece.
User Friendlyâ€™s publicly traded days should indeed be in the next edition, though more for what they show about Web business in 2000 and onward than their actual influence on the field, which was marginal at best. (Oh, how I wish the article Gary links had existed in 2005, or I had asked Frazer more probing questions! But que sera.)
The â€œScreen Sceneâ€? issue Tyrrell touches on deserves a separate essay. In brief: I think it not blameworthy, but notable, that Fundin and Madsen are the two highest-profile Swedes in webcomics and Haque one of the highest-profile Muslims, yet their avatars are functionally almost identical to Holkins and Krahulikâ€™s. I donâ€™t mean that they need to spend more time educating the readership about the differences between Swedes and American Muslims, but someone should, and right now, AFAIK, no one is.
Perhaps they, like Tyrrell, are too concerned about being misunderstood. The subject of â€œteh dramaâ€? has been beaten to blood-burbling death by virtually every writer whoâ€™s discussed webcomics at any length, especially by me, so we donâ€™t need to rehash it here. But if a thoughtful writer like Gary censors himself to avoid being called a petty, character-assassinating agenda-pusherâ€”or calling down the wrath of petty, character-assassinating agenda-pushersâ€”then â€œteh dramaâ€? has dealt damage far greater than its usual oily trail of wasted time and compromised reputations.
â€œWhether or not Campbell is correctâ€? about anything at all is certainly Fleenâ€™s place to say. It is, in fact, anyoneâ€™s place to say. Just because some people who really should have known better have abused this privilege like drunk drivers, doesnâ€™t mean we should ban the automobile.
I am grateful for Tyrrellâ€™s essay, despite its errors and flaws. It will indeed lead to a better History 2.0. And I hope this response will likewise aid him and others like him with other essays that advance the ideaâ€”almost unheard-of in the current climateâ€”that criticism might be an act of compassion, for the readers who deserve the best and the writers and artists who try to give it to them.
Relax, Gary. Chin up. The screeches of dramaqueening may drown you out when you least expect it, but have patience. In the end, I think youâ€™ll make it.
And someone has to try this, too.
Editor’s note: In case anybody was looking for a response to the response — sorry to disappoint you, but that’s it. The principals have had their say, now you can have at it, opinionsters.