Dear Tom Preston
I'm sad to say, that I absolutely HATE Your new SYAAC story.
Over the course of publishing "Persistence of Vision", a lot of times you have mentioned your annoyance with the fact, that people tend to judge this story, before it's finished. This is something anybody publishing a webcomics should be ready to deal with and you may compare this to an equivalent of an ongoing comic book series being published in 20-pages issues. I don't see any writer complaining that people review an issue that is only first part of 6-issue storyline individually. And why should anybody do that? If something that people didn't liked or even took an offense to happened in that issue, then it is completely normal, that they will complain.
Let's take a look at this blog post by Colin Smith of Too Busy Thinking About My Comics: [link]
Reviewed comics features supervillain preparing (and by that I mean pulling his pants down to take his cock on the walk) to rape teenage girl, while saying "It's time to see what evil dick tastes like". Maybe, as Smith says, in the next chapter the victim will turn the tables on him? Maybe his genitals will be separated from him before he can do anything more that waving them in front of her? Maybe she will be rescued by a main character? The question is who cares (Smith goes in different direction with his complains, but I'm going to explore this one)? This chapter will still feature a scene of bad guy preparing to rape a young girl while saying "It's time to see what evil dick tastes like" Nothing will change that. The next chapter may be the best thing in the history of comics, it may be the finest achievement in the entire medium. It may lead to every artist in the existence declaring Rohn Romita Jurnior their main authority on art and life. It may lead to all writers worshipping Mark Millar as some kind of religious figure, declaring him to be a second coming of Jesus Christ AND Elvis Presley and fight for the privilege to listen to his words of wisdom. It may be so good that entire manga industry will just cease to exist as all mangakas will abandon their craft to study the style of Millar and Romita. It may even lead to Jack Kirby coming back to life to kneel before Mark Millar and John Romita Jurnior and declare them new kings of comics (it didn't do any of those things, by the way) . But it still won't change a fact that this chapter featured suprevillain getting his private parts out to rape an underage girl while proclaiming that "It's time to see what evil dick tastes like". Nothing will change that. (A friend of mine mentioned that a lot of people seeing something so awful would just drop the series, because no matter how good the things to come will be, what lead to them was a guy getting ready to rape a girl while saying "It's time to see what evil dick tastes like".)
Now, I'm in no way comparing your comics to this abomination. It would be unfair, because that was a nightmare out of a twisted, depraved mind that wanted to show every comic book fan how much he personally hates every single one of them while your comics is just plain bad. What I'm saying is, that this is something a comic creator has to accept people will not wait to judge your story when it's finished, they will judge it on what they have. If you publish series in issues, it will be judged by the issue. If it's in chapters, each will have to stand for itself. And if it's in separate pages each page will be judged individually. If you published it, then it means you think this is good enough to keep people waiting for the next update. And if they have a problem with it, why shouldn't they say that?
Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that each page should be rated in separation from the others. But every page adds to the entire story so it should be judged both from perspective of how it individually holds up and how it influences entire work. It's sort of like a tv series, one of those with coherent storyline. Every episode is judged by how it's done and how it adds up to what happened before. I don't think that LOST would be so successful if people would just wait for it to end before coming up with who are their favorite characters or all those zany theories. If one page per few days is the format you decided for this series, then you should treat it as you upload new episode of tv show. If you want people to wait when the story is finished to judge it, publish entire story at the same day.
But, that sentiment of yours is, sort of, understandable. There are many kinds of stories when things are not what they appear to be. Many wonderful stories when our perspective gets utterly smashed by the surprising twist or turn of events we didn't see coming. Sadly, you did not wrote that kind of story.
I admit making several assumptions over the course of the story. I formed my opinions about characters and expressed them. You asked me to wait when the story is over. I did.
Not a single opinion I made about those characters changed. Nothing on those following pages make me think I was wrong. You only made my hopes go up to be mercilessly smashed and ripped apart by merciless mediocrity, turning into mauled zombies of disappointment. Not because I'm close-minded and cannot admit being wrong. I was really hoping you will cook up something that will make me eat my previous words. I hoped I will have to apologize to you for what I said. But I don't have to. Because I still believe in everything I said. In some cases my belief is even stronger than it was when you asked me to wait.
Let's start with the characters of Jenny and Tara. You took a great offense to the fact that many people has seen them as strawmen or as yaoi fangirls. You called people of hypocrisy for being okay with guys liking to see lesbians but having a problem with girls wanting to see gay characters. This would be a fine argument, if it wasn't so completely missing the point. I don't have problem with Jenny and Tara liking gay guys, I like to see some dude-on-dude romance from time to time myself. I just absolutely loathe the way they act. They are loud, gets excited over simple things and try to shoehorn their appeal into everything. Their lines are flat and stereotypical ("Kiss! Kisss!" and especially "Sqeeeee!") and doesn't act like normal people. They don't think about what is in or out of character in favor of fanservice. They come out as not interested in story itself ("There is so much TEXT here" comment doesn't help, making them look like illiterate morons), they complement their own writing ("Squirrelific! That's so brilliant!") and their input is shown to be clichéd and stupid ("Where are all catch phrases and goofy situations?" comes out sounding like it was all they contributed into the story). These all are traits of stereotypical crazy yaoi fangirl. Tara even dress like that stereotype whoever told you to put her in that godawful jacket with cat ears at the last page, never ask that person to help with the outfits again. This is associated as a kind of thing only hardcore anime maniacs and japanofiles or people who desperately wants to be harassed in high school would wear (and no, I don't care if jacket like that really exist, neither if someone is wearing it or what person he/she is), which helps enforce her image of stereotypical yaoi fangirl. I know that this one is a little nitpick, but it illustrates my main problem with those two characters just like I cannot see normal person wearing that jacket, I cannot see a normal person act like Tara and Jenny. They act like people on the Internet, not like people in real life. Their lines are lines of random people posting comments on youtube, it's not something you would say into somebody's face. This is a trait shared by Tenko in previous story, something I noticed after rereading it none of them act like a normal person but like a really stupid 4chaner. And even if people acting like that in real life exist, it doesn't matter. That behavior does not make a believable character it doesn't matter if somebody has a reason to act like Jenny and Tara, if you don't know anybody like that why should you believe people saying such person exist? It is creator's work to make character believable, to convince the reader that yes, a girl who acts like them could exist. Let's compare them to Captain Hammer from Doctor Horrible's Sing Along Blog. Hammer is a jackass. This is his only and defining trait. He has no personality outside being a jackass and is impossible to like. Yet, he is a better character that Jenny and Tara. Because his character works. First, he creates a dichotomy of how a superhero should act, going against the popular image and making viewers wonder why he even is a superhero in the first place and why people love him so much. Second, and the most important, his portrayal is believable. He may be completely unrealistic and over the top in how stereotypical jackass he is, but when you are watching you accept that yes, it is possible for a man like that to exist. Joss Whedon with his co-writers and Nathan Filon make it possible for people to look at Captain Hammer, a very one-dimensional character, and say "yes, it is possible a man like that could exist". Jenny and Tara don't have any of that. I look at them and Mazinger Z, a giant robot, looks more possible.
You said "I like how everyone is demanding I have deep and believable background characters in a 15 page story not about them." I don't understand what is that even supposed to mean. Jenny and Tara are not background characters. Fat redhead guy in Star Wars shirt is. They are main characters. Yes, the story is not about them, but they still have a very big importance to the plot. "A Study in Scarlet" is about Scherlock Holmes, but doctor Watson is still a main character. "Harry Potter and a Halfblood Prince" is about Harry Potter, but Ron Wesley is still a main character. They are not THE main character of the story, they aren't THE hero, but they are still members of the main cast. In this story you have three characters that make for the main cast. Jenny and Tara are not background characters, they play important role in the story. They don't have to be deep. But they have to be believable. And 15 pages is enough to make character believable, again, Doctor Horrible is 30 minutes long musical and did it with Hammer who doesn't even get as much screentime as Doctor and Penny.
I was considering taking back my words about them being strawmen, but I cannot do that. It wouldn't be honest. You see, Jenny and Tara represent a certain kind of people you disagree with, namely people who thinks that they can do anything with characters they write. Story criticizes that and shows as something wrong. And they are set up to be wrong and learn to do better. Their standpoint is shown as based on arguments it's hard to take seriously, every time they open their mouths something stupid comes from them ("There is so much TEXT here" again) ad their input is, as I mentioned, shown as unoriginal (Phase "Where are all catch phrases and goofy situations?" comes out wrong after previous sentence about text right after making them look like idiots you have them say such thing, thus sending a message that catch phrases and goofy situations are something only idiots like them would bother with). It is impossible for anybody to look at them and try to take their side. Not only that, but they are "taught better" very easily while their initial reaction is negative, they come to worship Cleo's story once they read it. This is terribly easy they are shown a "better" way and they instantly submit to it. This is not how things works. If it was real life what Cleo did would result in an argument but I get to that in a moment. This, combined with their unrealistic portrayal make them strawmen. They are unbelievable, over the top and set out to be easily proven wrong. All this combined results in the fact that Jenny and Tara are unlikeable, shallow and stereotypical. You should not be surprised or upset that people act like they are unlikeable, shallow and stereotypical.
I had a problem describing how I felt about Cleo for the first part of the story. A friend of mine (the same one who threw his bit about evil dick) did however. That feeling can be described as constantly thinking, to quote him, "Talk with them. Talk with them. TALK WITH THEM, YOU COW!".
During the story Cleo learned to have more confidence. Sadly, instead of doing this in a sensible and reasonable way, she decided to act like a total bitch. Some people already pointed this out don't you think that what she did was unprofessional, immature and rude? Yes, those are her characters those two are screwing with. But she never even tries talking to them about it. She never complains, she just quietly does what they say. For all we know she has no reason to be surprised what she apparently never explained to her friends what kind of the story she wants to write. How otherwise can you explain that she wants to do epic fantasy and they wants to do goofy comedy? She apparently never explained to them what personality her character has or what he does or probably even what kind of world he lives in either. I don't see any other explanation for their surprise upon discovering the guy can be badass. He is a rogues swordsman with eyepatch, scars, trenchcoat and giant shoulderpad in fantasy world and they are writing his adventures - how can they don't know he is supposed to be a badass? Cleo should have talked with them when they started and explain what kind of story she wants and what they can and can't do. If she didn't it's no surprise they went off the rails. She could fix it by simple talk. Instead she decided to not confront them about the issue and just do what she thinks is the best, without asking anybody. What's worse is that you let her have it easy way things worked to ensure she will take over the story, grow more confident and still be on good terms with her friends. The problem is that this is not how things work. She had chosen the easy way and should face the consequences. First of all, she did not really grew the backbone she was supposed to. Next time she will face a problem she will try again to just stay quiet and then do things her way. And that is very unhealthy behavior because she is basically running away from problems she has with people and hopes they will solve themselves. Those stories are supposed to be "lessons" for aspiring writers and artists and that is a very bad lesson do not confront people over the problem, just quietly stab them in the back. Because that what it is stabbing your partner in the back. She formed a partnership with her friends, they created a team. But the moment she had a problem with them, instead of acting like a good teammate and try to solve it in order to make the teamwork more efficient, she decided to show them that she does not really trust them, doesn't appreciate their help and thinks she can do better that's exactly how a normal person would see somebody pulling out a trick like that. In real life this would end in an argument that would lead to Cleo becoming the only writer as Jenny and Tara packing their things and leaving she clearly showed she doesn't needs or wants their help. It would probably damage their friendships girls wouldn't trust her the way they did before, probably slowly growing apart. That last panel? That would be Cleo walking alone, having learn how to be a coward and selling her friendship over a guy that doesn't even exist. But you decided to go easy on her, which is a sin I cannot forgive you as a writer sin of letting the story go, because you don't want your hero to feel sad.
What's worse, you was advocating how a good story is character driven, how different characters reacts differently to the same thing, how sometimes writer wants to go in one way but the characters go in another
.and yet you had absolutely no problem forcing Cleo, Jenny and Tara to go the way that felt convenient. I presume that the real lesson was "Do what I say, not what I do", am I correct?
There are other problems with this story the fact that Jenny and Tara are never show to have interest in Cleo as a person and friend and the vice versa, making the entire "friendship" thing questionable, question why Cleo even let her friends get their hands on her character if they are so incompetent as their dialogues would imply or that you are expecting us to accept that Cleo's story is better and innovative ("The world is often unkind to new things.") when we never saw anything aside some panels that don't really look good or interesting so you are breaking "show don't tell rule" - but those are the worst and most important flaws the lesson is broken, characters are terrible and the happy ending is painfully forced. I could go on about other things, I could say more about why I hate swordsman's design (reminds me of Rob Liefeld) or ask why Jenny seems to have her eyes closes ¾ of time. But this already has over 4 pages and I'm quite sure I could say it on lesser space. I just want you to know that I really care about the series and I welcomed with open arms the shift from four-panel joke strips to serious stories. But if this is the direction these stories are going to, I would prefer to see the return of funny strips. Because "Persistence of Vision" is a terrible lesson and does more harm than help.