The single thing I found the most compelling in Tom Spurgeon's list of things he would change about comics if he could, from item #16:
We criticize and receive criticism without reactionary defensiveness and accept others' ability to do the same with respect for their doing so rather than as an opportunity to press our agenda that much further.
Actually, I think the last half of the statement could use some clarification in the form of a concrete statement; I think I know what he means, but I'm not sure. But the first half is crucial, and a sentiment that seems to be building among those of us frustrated with the relationship between critics and cartoonists. I've seen too many creators freaking out in public over honest (if not always thoughtful) criticism. I don't know if it's a mentality endemic to comics or to a culture overlapping with comics. Kevin Smith's frequently callow relationship with his critics suggests the latter. (BTW, how funny is it that Smith's Wikipedia page cites the MTV Movie Award for "Dirtiest Mouth" (sponsored by Orbit gum!) among the awards won by Clerks II? Surely this is a joke, right? Or would Wikipedia's gestapo editors purge such levity?)
Even more cutting is this bit from Tucker and Nina Stone's interview with Chris Mautner (this being Tucker speaking):
Watchmen, Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, Criminal, Carl Barks, Darwyn Cooke, David B, Lynda Barry, Charles Burns, Krazy Kat—those comics, those creators get real serious writing because they earned it, because they did something that’s worth talking about, that’s worth taking seriously. If you’re not getting really brilliant reviews, really incisive, intelligent response—it’s because you don’t deserve it. It’s because you’re a waste of time to the people who might write those reviews. Not because “it’s comics.” It’s because that thing you did was just middle of the road, and you can’t say anything smart about middle of the road. Because you didn’t earn it, and no sour apples begging will get it for you.
Comics readers seem to love the mediocre. I don't think the problem with comics criticism (in a broad, broad, very inclusive sense) isn't that it rewards terrible, bottom-of-the-barrell work; it's that it rewards second-rate work. Any stab at respectability, no matter how modest, is too-often greeted with hosannas. I've seen people laud Kingdom Come because it used foreshadowing--which I'm sure we all remember is an actual, honest-to-god literary technique! I guess that's a step up from those who think crying superheroes holding the charred remains of less-famous superheroes connotes respectability.
Look, there are certainly people out there who don't care about anything other than Wolverine slicing people up (or the 2008 equivalent, shocking events which will change everything you thought you knew about She-Hulk). But this isn't a Manichean struggle between those people and those who actually want some shred of readability or craft in their comics; I'm not lining up with people who think Starman is the greatest comic of all time in a struggle against those who pay exorbitant amounts to see Batman strangle the Joker with his own intestines, provided that it's in continuity. I want to read legitimately good comics; I want to be an advocate for legitimately good comics and nothing else. It's not enough that a comic doesn't cater to a narrow, dying audience. I want comics which are good, which aspire to something grander than "at least it's not as bad as Wolverine: Origins."
In film reviews, a middling review is often worse than a abysmal review. In comics, works desrving of a middling review win major industry awards. Joss Whedon may not insult your intelligence as egregiously as, say, Jeph Loeb, but he doesn't belong in the same company as Harvey Kurtzman. Many people are well aware of this, but it's always good to remind those who don't quite believe you. Especially in an environment where anti-intellectualism isn't just prevalent but normative. Don't believe me? Consider this comment from the Blogorama interview:
He [Tucker Stone] tried to show he was “down” with comics by saying he liked an issue of the Detroit Justice League that found by accident. But he immediately started espousing the glories of Chris Ware and the “Arty” comics that he can find in NYC.
See? What kind of fucked up culture are we in that familiarity with a terrible, terrible superhero comic confers expertise, while modest praise for a book regarded as instrumental in establishing a bridge to the literary world is evidence that one is out of touch and unqualified to judge the value of an issue of Nightwing? Christ, this idiot seems to imply that Acme Novelty Library isn't even a REAL comic! This is an absolutely outrageous statement, but it's sadly not unique.
We can't say or do enough to eliminate comics' love affair with the mediocre. It's so obvious. Don't make me allude to a certain national political figure here.