Comics Criticism and Conflicts of Interest

All right, back from Roskilde, about which more soon. In the meantime, Chris Mautner has convened a new critics’ roundtable over at Blog@Newsarama, this time dealing with the problems of conflicts of interest arising from friendships and acquaintances between critics and artists in the comics subculture. Inspired by this post by Tim Hodler, Mautner asked a number of critics to express their take on this issue. Here’s my contribution:

I definitely recognize Tim’s sentiments, and have often had the same thoughts. The comics subculture, as mentioned, is such a small pond that a conflict of interest will invariably manifest itself for any given critic. In Denmark, where the community is tiny by comparison with the US, this problem is naturally compounded, and I’ve certainly had my share of problems in that particular context. And, in any case, critics of other areas of cultural production experience much the same thing, even if their particular field is a much larger one, such as contemporary fiction or rock music.

This is a given, unless one wants to isolate oneself totally from one’s peers — which carries its own problems for the quality of one’s work. My philosophy, ultimately, is to remain as honest as possible with my opinion. To express my views clearly enough that the readers will trust that I’m not holding back, even if there could be a conflict of interest in any particular piece. This might ultimately be an illusion and I probably don’t succeed nearly as well as I hope, but to me this is really the only way to handle this problem. That being said, I don’t review or otherwise critically assess the work of close friends or associates in public. There is definitely a limit to the expectations I hold for my readers’ suspension of distrust. The key, of course, is determining where it lies, but apart from special cases of close association, I’m normally willing to take the risk on the strength of my own feeling of critical honesty.

Regarding hurting the feelings of cartoonists, I believe the lack of critical tradition has made this a particularly problematic issue. I’ve written more about that here.

For much more, go to the roundtable!

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