Being one of my favorite comic artists out there, I'd like to ask some advice. Recently I got a scathing critic who completely tore apart something I wrote. Some of it was valid, but it was mostly just pointing out flaws and generally making me feel really bad about what I do. Have you ever gotten a cruel critic, and what do you do to keep your confidence up?
Wow, first off, thank you for your generous opinion of me! I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling so discouraged and hurt. Regarding your painful critique, consider a few things before you take it to heart – Is the person critiquing me someone I respect as an artist? As a human being? Are they someone with my best interests in mind? If the answer to any of these things is “No” then I would disregard their words (as much as you can. I know how painful a thoughtless critique can be).
It sounds like you’ve looked at this crit and pulled some useful things out, and that’s good, but don’t let one person’s opinion change what you’re trying to accomplish. Your work is your work, and if it is coming from an honest place, you will continue to develop and hone your abilities until that honesty shines through. Adopting someone else’s voice will never get you far in the long term.
Because I am both easily influenced, and hyperaware of my shortcomings as an artist, I’ve given myself permission to sort of work in a vacuum. I reached a point where I realized that what I needed to do was practice quietly and become stronger at what I was already doing. Trying different approaches and looking for shortcuts or magic solutions was stopping me from putting in the hours that would help me move forward. I’m a slow learner and develop only through repetition and careful breakdowns. Trying to keep up with whiz kids who were very good at observational drawing was making me loathe myself and doubt my work. While informed critique does help me to fix places where I’ve been lazy or fallen back on bad habits, too much of it coming from people who aren’t familiar with what I’m trying to accomplish only results in me doubting myself, rather than striving harder.
Your voice is the one thing you have. It’s good to listen to advice and not be resistant to well-informed criticism, especially when you are just starting to develop your skills. But in the end, you should only take to heart those things that will serve you and help you move forward and become more of yourself – the things that will amplify your unique voice and make your personal qualities shine through – not those things that will make you more like some other artist or writer, or more palatable to some other audience, or that discourage you so much you stop producing. Give yourself permission to mentally say “Screw you buddy! Nobody asked for your shitty opinion!”.
As to brutal critiques I’ve received….Early in university a teacher pulled me aside to talk about “not drawing those characters anymore”. She said my desire to do cartooning was getting in the way of learning “real art”. In a way, she was right, but I was a tearful 19 year old struggling badly, and I didn’t want to be in fine art – I wanted to be studying animation. When I explained this, she told me that was a bad idea because I would probably wind up killing myself.
Now, I have no doubt she meant well. I am sure she saw me as a trainwreck of a sheltered teenage girl in the middle of a massive derailment. She was probably either trying to get me in line with the purpose of the class, or else possibly trying to steer me away from a stressful career when I was clearly already going to pieces. But at the time it felt like a punch in the gut – and frankly, telling a quaking, sobbing student that she’ll probably wind up committing suicide is perhaps not the most sensitive thing a person can do.
Now, obviously I didn’t wind up killing myself (but it was a close thing) and those comments helped light a fire in me that got me through my degree – with my teeth gritted and grim sense of “Fine then. No one’s going to help me, I’ll get out of this hell-hole myself.” – after which I successfully (and secretly) gained entry into the school I had actually wanted to attend. Ultimately, I did decide studio work wasn’t a good fit for me, but here I am in a cartooning career. Other teachers at that school made similarly discouraging comments (including one snorting when I explained i was leaving the program with a BA instead of a BFA and telling me it was just going to take me longer to finish when I came crawling back) and I have to wonder what on earth possessed them to try and hobble me like that – it’s something I keep in mind in my own work as (surprise!) a college animation professor. My job is to encourage the good skills, offer solutions for the weak ones, and never, ever, EVER to cut a student down or discourage them.
So..uh…sorry for the long aside, but unless this person is someone who cares about you and is looking out for you, their critique sounds like it was rather mean-spirited and may not have had your growth in mind. I try to remember that not everyone’s opinion is informed or valuable, and I hope you can keep that in mind, too. Glean the useful things and try to apply them, throw the rest on the fire along with anyone who tries to tear you down instead of build you up.