META/POLL: The Purpose of Criticism

Martin Phipps martinphipps2 at
Tue Feb 19 08:45:17 PST 2008

On Feb 19, 3:04 pm, Tom Russell <milos_par... at> wrote:
> On Feb 19, 1:47 am, Martin Phipps <martinphip... at> wrote:
> > On Feb 19, 4:45 am, Tom Russell <milos_par... at> wrote:
> > > On Feb 17, 8:34 pm, Martin Phipps <martinphip... at>
> > > >  And, yes, Tom, the negative comments you make can easily be
> > > > made about your own writing.
> > > Because I somehow have trouble accepting valid negative criticism?
> > I don't have a problem with valid criticism.  I have a problem with
> > criticism which is more focused on its own style and wit than
> > validity.
> I don't think I'm guilty of that, but you didn't really answer the
> question.

I think I did.  I didn't have to.  The question was along the lines of
"Are you still beating your wife?" as I had at no point above referred
in any way to your own ability to withstand criticism.

> The implication, at least as I see it, is that I can't
> accept negative criticism.

The implication was that you made comments about my writing that could
be applied to your own writing, nothing more and nothing less.

> I'd like to think that I can.  I try to
> explain myself as best I can, and sometimes I'm wrong and sometimes
> I'm right and sometimes I'll just agree to disagree.  But.
> I don't think I've ever thrown a fit or cried foul when my work has
> been criticized-- at least not in the past three or four years.  I'll
> gladly cop to being an idiot when I a teenager, but I think I've
> matured past that.
> And I'm not implying that you've thrown a fit, and I'm not trying to
> escalate this into a full-blown flame war-- I'm just asking you to
> clarify your statements here and elsewhere.  The general drift that
> I'm getting is that:
> 1. I am a hypocrite.  If this is something you meant to say, I'd
> appreciate it if you clarified it with some examples so that I can
> respond to them.  If this is a case of me misreading one of your
> statements, please tell me so that I can drop it.

There's a couple of comments that stick in my mind.  First, there was
the comment in the "Superfreaks Season 2 #6 compared to Encyclopedia
Brown" (which is an attack right there in the title as Encyclopedia
Brown was aimed at kids) thread about my characters being
"interchangable plot puppets" and, in the same thread, that my
maintaining the mystery until the end was somehow "a cheat".  And more
recently there was the comment in the otherwise positive review that
dramatic moments in Superfreaks are "few and far between".  I'm not
attacking your opinions but rather pointing out that your opinions do
not accurately reflect what I've written.

First of all, my characters are not interchangable and they are not
plot puppets.  They would be plot puppets only if their actions had to
adhere to some pre-determined plotline.  In reality, I just simply do
not plot that far ahead and my writing depends more on how the
characters behave in reaction to what happens around them than having
them behave in a certain way to advance the plot.  In general, my
characters reactions determines where the plot goes as opposed to the
other way around.  This isn't necessarily a good thing: I find it
impossible to plot very far in advance as a result.

Second of all, it seems when I concede a point you will later use it
to criticize me such as when you said I "admitted" to using CSI as an
inspiration.  Actually, I was _acknowledging_ CSI as an inspiration.
If I "admit" to doing something then I must be knowingly doing
something wrong.  It seems as though, in your mind, I should be
striving to make Superfreaks more like Law and Order.  Indeed when I
asked for clarification as to what was wrong with starting an issue of
Superfreaks with a fight scene, you said "it would be like an episode
of Law and Order beginning with ten minutes of gangsters fighting
amongst themselves before the police arrived."  But I had already
"admitted" to using CSI as an inspiration so there is no reason why
Superfreaks has to always follow the Law and Order format, is there?

And yes, to be blunt, I do think you've been hypocritical.  I think
your characterisation of Martin Rock has been all over the map, with
him first of all opining in Green Knight #3 that a secret identity
isn't all that important and then, starting with Green Knight #7,
having his secret identity being his most guarded secret, with him
being the "most dangerous man" in prison in Jolt City #10 and yet
crying as he was being raped just a couple of issues earlier, with him
describing himself as an impecably honest man in Jolt City #2 and yet
covering up his history as the Mask with No Name when questioned by
the FBI first in the annual and then later when he was questioned
again after the incident in the park (which was a lie of omission)
and, finally, with him telling Dani that "four colors don't
swear" (which sounds a lot like breaking the fourth wall) and then
swearing (appropriately, mind you) while having sex with Pam.
Granted, you said the "four colors don't swear" line was a joke but
I'm including it for completeness.

I also have a problem with the fact that Martin Rock has spent his
entire life as either a sidekick, a soldier or a vigilantee and
therefore has never had time for a formal education.  Sometimes his
speech patterns are way too erudite, especially that time when he woke
up in a hospital after a head injury, a situation where even the best
educated person would sound a bit dazed.  It occurs to me now that the
problem may be not you don't want to portray Martin Rock as uneducated
because he's black and you don't want to appear racist: I think if
Martin Rock had been white then you would have had him relying more on
"street smarts", given his fifteen years of living on the streets,
rather than trying to portray him as a master detective, or at least
somebody who could work well with trained, professional detectives.

I acknowledge that you have been fair at times when accepting
criticism(especially with that last point) but I do feel that you have
indeed gotten very defensive and even angry at times in response to
these criticisms.  I feel that you have had characters behave in
certain ways that didn't make a lot of sense at the time (such as
Martin making a deal with Snapp to stop a witness from testifying or
Martin apparently opting not to have counsel during his bail hearing
or, for that matter, not telling the judge the whole truth) but that
they supposedly had to behave the way they did in order for the plot
to go the way you wanted it to go.  I concede, in retrospect, that
Martin Rock trying to hide his secret identity makes sense if the Mask
with No Name was wanted for murder, but this was a point that was
never made during all of Jolt City #'s 1-10 so his motive for
maintaining a secret identity was always a mystery to me.  In all
fainess, it is unusual for you to keep readers in the dark as to your
character's motivations: I remember way back in Net.Heroes on Parade
how every issue would contain a redundant paragraph about how Mr.
Niceguy was seeking redemption as a result of the evil things he had
done for Madelyne Frost. :)

> 2. I accept negative criticism poorly.  If this is something you meant
> to say, I would also appreciate some examples; if this is me
> misreading it, then tell me and I'll think no more on it.

It's an unfair comparison as when you first started posting to RACC
you received a great deal of criticism that you didn't take very well
whereas nowadays your writing is obviously better than it was back
then and you don't have to worry so much about criticism.  The fact
is, based on the level of criticism you were getting back then, you
were entitled to not take it very well.  As a newbie, you should have
been criticized much more constructively and I regret that I wasn't
around when you first showed up to read your stuff and respond to it
point by point (which would have been a lot fairer than blanket
criticism).  I do acknowledge that you do read stuff that newbies
write and I actually appreciate you doing that because I have a hard
time reading stuff by writers I'm not already familiar with (although
I did read Stomach Girl and Wil's stuff about that robot girl and I
have been reading 58.5 and Possum Man).  But it seems to me that you
use a lot more tact with a newbie, either because they are newbies and
you want to encourage them to keep writing whereas you see me as a
veteran who should be able to take it or because you have some
unresolved hostility towards me that you aren't willing to acknowledge
on an open forum.  Either way, your reviews of my writing seem
disproportionally harsh and I see that as unfair and, yes, a bit
hypocritical.  I know for a fact based on how you've reacted in the
past that you don't like getting reviewed like that yourself.


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