I’ve devoted a good chunk of time this summer to writing about the work of a lot of writers and artists. Some of my commentary has been very positive, and some of it hasn’t. A lot of that has depended on my personal taste, although I’ve also tried to write from the perspective of someone who wants to understand what objectively makes a good story.
Several weeks ago, back when I was in the middle of writing my series on Chuck Austen’s Uncanny X-Men story “She Lies with Angels” I was reading through my feeder when I came across this article by Shauna Niequist on being a creator. Her first two pieces of advice are useful for anyone who is an artist in that they offer some guidelines for how to approach criticism. Her third point is also addressed to creators, but I think it’s valuable advice for anyone:
Be on the side of the creator.
As Niequist points out, once you’ve actually put in the time and energy to make something of your own, you begin to understand how difficult creation is. You wonder if your work is worthwhile, if you can pull it off so that other people will enjoy it, if it’s really just a waste of time and you should give up.
Creation is a deeply personal experience.
And not only is it personal, it’s also vulnerable. You expose yourself whenever you create something and then dare to show it to another person.
So, yeah, I really don’t like Chuck Austen’s run on Uncanny X-Men. It feels out of place in that canon, and I think that the writing and plotting were weak. In spite of that, I don’t dislike Chuck Austen. His work is not to my taste, but I can’t deny that he is a professional writer, which means that on a very regular basis he produces his own work and submits it to the public for approval.
In the same vein, though I utterly despise Rob Liefeld’s artwork and what he did with New Mutants and then X-Force, I try to keep that separate from any personal animosity. He’s a creator. Though I think he can improve his work, I don’t begrudge him for making a living by being creative.
All of this is to say that it’s fun to be a critic of other people’s work, especially in a space like the internet where you’re safe from having to look them in the eye while you do it. Austen and Liefeld also provide easy targets, because they’re rather unpopular creators in the comics industry. So, I thought it would be good to remember that despite whatever flaws we find in other artists’ work, they are still struggling and fighting to produce these things that they then release into the world to stand on their own merits.
It’s an act of love, and whatever else, I can’t criticize that.