I’ve recently run across this article by Travis Pullen that discusses what a good comic book reviewer does over at Film Fodder. According to the article, a reviewer primarily helps you to sort out what you’ll like and what is a waste of your time. That’s useful in this information saturated world we are in today.
I think it even goes beyond that. Well written reviews can be entertaining in their own right and they may even rouse up your positive interest in the material/movie/diner/webcomic (Mr. Pullen specifically mentions the negative, or backlash interest.) However, this is more than just a result of a reviewer spewing an opinion.
Some reviewers (especially for movies) seem to have this outlook that their opinion is somehow more valid than mine. Specifically – what they like is the standard to which everyone must ascribe to. Instead, I think reviewers have an obligation to describe what they’ve experienced with reasonable accuracy. I do not think that requires me to hammer on the weaknesses of a work or to overly praise the the good points that resonate with my personal likes. My personal judgement is not the most valuable thing I have to offer.
Take a webcomic’s art, for example. Perhaps it appears like a four year old drew it. In my opinion, the readers are experts at what they like and can clearly see the sample image for themselves. Within thirty seconds, they’ll make their own value judgement – unless there are other circumstances you should inform them of. Does the artist also put on great airs and brag about their natural talent? Is the artist actually four years old? To properly understand what they are seeing and reading, the readers need to know what it is they can’t see for themselves.
So am I against offering up personal opinion? No. There’s plenty of room for reviewer opinion and I’d even say it was necessary. Did I like it? And why? These are subjective yet valid questions which help the reader decide if they’ll like it or not. I just reviewed a webcomic that, due my personal experience and outlook, I began to dislike more and more as I read it. Someone without a similar experience or outlook might have found it whimsical or even amusing.
It’s not my job as reviewer to presume that I know what my readers will like. My obligation is to show you what I found and how I felt about it – despite any personal bias I might have. Any review, negative or positive, which allows unstated assumptions or bias to decide the day is a bad review. Reviews should offer a mixture of personal opinion, facts and entertainment and should ultimately be useful to the reader.