The Most Amazing Review of the Year


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Recapping television shows must be draining. Or at least one assumes such to be the case, based on the energy the writers at the Onion’s A.V. Club seem able to muster when writing about comics. One of the keenest joys available for the connoisseur of online comics criticism lies in noting the crazy letter-grade equivalences that pop up in each installment of the A.V. Club’s semi-regular “Comics Panel” feature. Ah, the intellectual whiplash that results from trying to understand what kind of schizophrenic groupthink could lead to assigning Chris Ware’s latest issue of Acme Novelty Library the exact same grade (A-) as the latest undistinguished revamp of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents.

To a certain kind of masochist (and don’t all comic-book fans members belong to that persuasion?), this is a fine headache-inducing brew indeed, fer soytin. If you haven’t discovered this pleasure for yourself, search the archives; there is much to savor.

Don't be fooled by this photo — the book does not yet exist!

But all of that pales next to the A.V. Club’s latest and greatest feat, their review of Dean Mullaney & Bruce Canwell’s Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth.

Here is the text in full, as published in the Comics Panel of November 5:

The latest in a flood of biographical collections of Golden and Silver Age comic-book artists, Genius, Isolated: The Life And Art Of Alex Toth (IDW) is easily the classiest of the group. It’s not only that the book is handsome, beautifully designed, and lengthy, with lots of rarities (including the terrific “Jon Fury” material Toth produced in the service). Nor is it that it’s much better written than most such works, by tested comics researchers Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell. It’s that Toth himself is an incredibly fascinating figure. Even if he were only known for his comics work, he’d be considered one of the greats. Genius, Isolated presents enough material showing his brilliance at action drawing and character design to firmly make the case that he deserves the deluxe biographical treatment. But Toth was also a fascinating person, an outspoken critic and defender of the comics medium, a pioneering animator, and a great cartoonist. He’s one of the great characters of the medium, as well as one of its best practitioners, and a worthy subject for this essential biography… A

What makes this review so impressive, of course, is that the book in question not only had not been published at the time of publication, it had not yet even been finished! Bruce Canwell was still researching the text (and is still making final touches on it), and Dean Mullaney is still working on the book’s final design. These facts make one wonder how the A.V. Club can so confidently dismiss the writing and praise characterize the writing and design of the book (much less compare it to other reprints), but it is probably not wise to speculate too far.

I wrote Mullaney about all of this, and asked him if he remembered his initial response to the review. Mullaney’s reply: “Surprise, at first. Then confusion. I thought perhaps I was on Earth-Two, where the book had already been published. Then mild pleasure in noting that we received the highest rating of the week!”

Genius, Isolated will be sent to printers in January, and is scheduled for a mid-March release. Considering the subject, authors, and publisher, it will almost certainly be excellent. I’ll wait until I see it before I say for sure, though.

For more information, go to the Library of American Comics website.

UPDATE: The A.V. Club’s Keith Phipps has responded in comments, and explains the situation in about as gracious and straightforward a way as anyone could reasonably ask, here and here.

In addition to that, Phipps has posted an apology and explanation at the A.V. Club itself, which can be read here.

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107 Responses to “The Most Amazing Review of the Year”
  1. Bill Reed says:

    They didn’t dismiss the writing; they said “it’s much better written than most such works” (note the grammar and phrasing in the sentence; not the best, but understandable). I assume they got some kind of early, unfinished review copy, because they review whatever they get in the mail. I also assume Thunder Agents can get the same grade as a Chris Ware book because they’re not graded on the same scale, but rather on their own merits, like any critic who bothers to use grades would tell you.

    I mean, c’mon.

    • T. Hodler says:

      I think you’re right about the quote — I misread the review as saying that the text was NOT “much better written”, but your reading makes more sense. Thank you for correcting me.

      As for the rest, they did not receive an advance copy of the book, because it had not yet been written or designed! I don’t know what else to say to that. You are welcome to your own standards.

      And if you don’t find the letter grade equivalences funny, that is certainly also your right. I find them hilarious. P.S. Maybe critics shouldn’t bother to use grades?

      • Dave Foley says:

        I suppose by your thinking, you would argue with Roger Ebert for using stars as his rating system. If you have ever read his own defense of that system, you may not be saying what you are. You do not compare one rating to another. The grade comes from what that particular piece of art is attempting to do, and how well it achieves that.

        Deride the site for not checking the work before it is published, but attacking a rating system without having a clue as to how it works seems pointless and childish.

        • T. Hodler says:

          First of all, you seem to be under the impression that no one can legitimately disagree with Roger Ebert. This simply isn’t true. In fact, for decades, he has been producing television shows dedicated entirely to demonstrating just that.

          Secondly, I am aware that the A.V. Club purports to grade each comic as an example of its kind. That is a legitimate approach, but it requires a pretty fine sense of balance to pull off without looking ridiculous. I don’t think they demonstrate that sense very often, but you are welcome to disagree.

  2. patrick ford says:

    Even more amazing is reviews of books, which HAVE been been published, the reviewer hasn’t read.

  3. Brian Nicholson says:

    The AV Club didn’t use letter grades for years, and now that they do, it’s a disaster. The comics section is the most absurd display of that. It’s also pretty funny that any given episode of a TV show (including those that have been off the air for years) receives a lengthy write-up, whereas the comics get gathered up into a bi-weekly roundup, with write-ups that do not bother to identify their individual author, and first issues of mainstream series are talked about alongside completed stand-alone works. Baffling.

    • Dave Foley says:

      Baffling that you do not understand the basic concepts of supply and demand, and the idea of page hits. The avclub is not there to cater to your tastes alone. The internet is a large place, and even you can find your small corner of it.

      • Brian Nicholson says:

        I point out the discrepancy between the TV and comics coverage because it’s the most obvious imbalance. The reviews of individual TV episodes are also longer than the reviews of films, or books, or records. Feature articles are the only thing that are consistently longer.

        It was not so long ago that certain high-profile comics received the standard 3-paragraph review that a book of prose or a film would receive, and TV shows weren’t covered at all. The letter grades are also a recent occurrence. People can call this observation “snark,” or they can call it “nostalgia.”

        Here’s another line you can interpret either of these two ways, in regards to the horrorshow of this comments thread’s weird morality: I wish I had my innocence back.

  4. zik says:

    Its really not that funny, considering many millions of more people care more about television shows than comics. The comics get the space and attention the size of the readership deserves.

  5. evan dorkin says:

    I’m waiting to see who argues with them about the review as if they read the book, too.

  6. BVS says:

    I just don’t understand at all how this toth book got reviewed.
    or really how the review copy system work. theoretically I understand getting a magazine a copy of a book in time for them to review it in the issue that comes out the month the book comes out. but what vexes and perplexes me is when I read a in vice magazine or somewhere a review for fantagraphics book in july when that book doesn’t even come out till in stores till october or november. would someone in the business of comic book publishing perhaps explain this sorcery to me.

  7. MAD says:

    Yeah, Brian is correct. The whole grade issue is a constant topic of controversy over at the AV Club. I personally preferred it when they didn’t have any grades at all, of course, but I can also see their position which was sort of forced on them with the advent of sites like Metacritic. Without the grades, their reviews would be filtered through yet another layer of subjective interpretation (apart from Metacritic’s top-secret “weighting”) in order to be assigned a “score” by the site (that is, if they even bothered to go to such lengths). As those critic aggregator sites have become the norm and, I’m sure, an important gateway for new readers, their choice was more or less made for them and they (and their readers) have to live with them. That said, the easiest remedy is to simply ignore the dumb letter grades, which produce such ridiculous results as the ones you point out. That’s what I do, in any case.

    The space reserved for comics criticism in the site is also another usual topic of discussion. I’m glad they are doing the feature bi-weekly now, but I understand the page hits do not justify any deeper commitment to comics. It’s unfortunate, because a few of the reviewers really know their stuff (even Stan Lee-apologist Leonard Pierce!). The length of the pieces will always be a problem, too (just look at their film reviews, which are otherwise arguably some of the more insightful out there). This might have to do with the length limitations of the print version (at least that’s the excuse that has been given for the film reviews).

    As for how they got a “copy” of a nonexistent book…that’s just bizarre. That is, they must have looked at *something.* I would encourage you to actually contact them, as they are quite forthcoming with such questions. I would guess the truth lies somewhere between what Bill Reed says and Hodler’s unequivocal assertion that no such advance copy exists. Did someone at IDW jump the gun and send a primitive advance copy of the text and preliminary book designs to (some) reviewers? I don’t think that’s too far-fetched, especially considering that the book’s release has been getting pushed back for a while. That Mullaney wouldn’t know about it is even more strange, though.

    …maybe I’ll ask the AV Club myself.

    • MAD says:

      Ouch. And my little dig at/praise for Leonard Pierce just took a whole other meaning in light of today’s revelations.

      Ugh. What an ugly situation.

  8. Keith Phipps says:

    T. Hodler, and everyone else,

    A reader just brought this to my attention. I just spoke to the writer of the piece and I’m sorry to say it’s exactly what it looks like. This is someone given the assignment who could not track down the book—for now-obvious reasons—and faked it. This writer will not be writing comics reviews for us again. My next stop after this is to the delete the review and leave a note on the site.

    I cannot tell you how embarrassed I am by this. Whatever you think of the quality of our reviews, this sort of thing is exactly what we _never_ do at The A.V. Club. We hold ourselves to a much higher standard than this and I can truly say this is one of the worst days I’ve had on the job because of this incident.

  9. Matt Jackson says:

    maybe the page hits aren’t there because the reviews are so bad. i think it’s fair to ponder that if the reviews were deeper, and more entailed, perhaps more people would read them? but really, linking to the comic reviews off the main AV club page with the rest of the reviews would help with page hits too, even in their group form, there is no where to see them off the main av club page on a regular basis. truthfully, the group round ups just seem to be a way for the reviewers to stay on every single comic book company’s comp list. they are so ridiculous in the lack of theme, segue, it just never would be done in any other medium. the editors are putting forth the minimal effort possible with short, shitty reviews of six books that have absolutely nothing in common, and then bury the review on the AV site–it’s basically like an Onion parody of itself.

  10. Keith Phipps says:

    In case it wasn’t clear, this writer will no longer be working for us in any capacity going forward.

    • MAD says:

      Wow. Sorry to hear about that as well.

      I’m glad I brought it to your attention after reading about it here (although I do remember that week’s reviews and I should have noticed it then), but I would hate to be in your position, Keith. That sucks.

      And please tell me it isn’t one of the regular staff writers…(I see two names in there that I wouldn’t consider regulars)

  11. Damn, that’s a rotten thing to have to deal with. Sorry to hear it, Keith.

  12. Cheryl says:

    I am still unclear on the Onion. Is the AV department a parody of arts coverage or not? The entire magazine appears to satirize the news, so this issue is confusing.

    I’ll be honest though, I do get my sports coverage from this wonderful free paper.

  13. Keith Phipps says:

    The A.V. Club is a sister publication of The Onion focused on popular culture. It is not a satirical publication. In print we are bundled with The Onion. Online we have a separate presence at We’re proud to be associated with The Onion but are in essence a different publication.

  14. Jeet Heer says:

    Dear Keith Phipps,
    I’m also sorry you had to deal with this, but I admire the upfront and classy way you’ve handled this. I think it’s good for the AV Club to be open. Comics get delayed all the time, so your should tell your writers if they can’t find a comic, its probably because it doesn’t exist.

    Jeet Heer

  15. David says:

    Tough one, Keith. It’s easy for comics fans to criticize because they feel comics get short shrift from the AV Club, but heck, at least comics get some coverage, folks. I’m a big fan of the AV Club – the quality of the reviews varies, but some of the writers feel like friends to me, even though I’ve never met them. And the craziness of the letter grades is a constant source of argument in the AV Club comment boards, but if they dropped them, everybody would complain that they missed them. You can’t win.

  16. Franklinton says:

    I find the connection the writer of this post makes between what appears to be an isolated incident of journalistic malpractice (which has apparently been dealt with harshly) and his overall indictment of the AV Club’s comics coverage to be specious, and kind of dickish. Describing it as “A.V. Club’s latest and greatest feat” is certainly unfair (unless, of course, he has evidence of similar incidents) and borderline dishonest. Frankly, the classy thing to do would have been to alert the AV Club directly, but, barring that, not using this unfortunate occurrence as a platform to air a personal vendetta would have been preferable.

  17. Sean says:

    T. Holder,
    You “wrote Mullaney about all of this,” but didn’t bother contacting the AV Club to see what was up? Seems like an obvious move. It also would have eliminated your wondering and speculation about the AV Club review, which your readers might have better appreciated.

  18. Andrew Turkenkopf says:

    To whom it may concern:

    I have never read this site, but do read the the a.v. club. I like how both parties have conducted themselves in an upfront, truthful manner.

    I am only a passing fan of comics (Y: The Last Man, The Sandman, and Watchmen, as well as Calvin and Hobbes.) but this site seems to be a great resource for understanding comics, artists, and readers alike.

    Now I am somewhat interested in learning more about Toth,

    Andrew Turkenkopf

  19. b mercury says:

    Grades: they’re arbitrary and unreliable as a systematic, standardized evaluation of quality. Just like they were in every class you ever took except algebra. The AV Club’s use of them, while admittedly trivial, isn’t nearly as flabbergasting as your elaborate, poncy snark about them, Hodler. You sound like you wrote your bit above dressed in a white cravat and affecting a lisp at an art opening in Cliche Snob City.

    As for the haughty defamation, congratulations. You left it to a commenter to inform the Club rather than doing it yourself. I’m glad I’m not in a de facto fraternity with you; your idea of sophisticated comics criticism may not find the Club’s work satisfying, but the at-large idea of basic collegial respect finds you, I hazard to guess, to be an utter prick.

    Yes, the Club’s comics section could stand an upgrade. I imagine they’re working on it. What I don’t have to imagine is that their overall standard of critical quality is pretty impressive, because they prove that daily. Their film reviews, especially in the Phipps/Rabin/Tobias early days, constitute some of the most laconic, to-the-essence criticism available, balancing a read of a work’s specifics with a wider view of where the work falls in context of genre, theme, and (often) broader American culture. They take their work seriously, they conduct it with great respect beneath their humour, and they deserve better than your aloof shtick. If you got a gig there, you’d fart a bouquet of helium balloons with joy. So cool the hell back.

    • T. Hodler says:

      You sound like you wrote your bit above dressed in a white cravat and affecting a lisp at an art opening in Cliche Snob City.

      Are you spying on me?

      You left it to a commenter to inform the Club rather than doing it yourself.

      Look, to you and everyone else complaining about this, I do not have any “personal vendetta” against the A.V. Club. Yes, I think the torrent of unnecessary TV recaps is out of control, and yes I think their comics coverage is shaky at best, but I bear no ill will towards the site as a whole. In fact, I like a lot of what they publish.

      However, as many of you are quick to point out, they are a major media outlet. With that readership comes responsibility. This was an open and shut case: they reviewed a book that did not exist.

      I am not responsible for that review being published, and I am not responsible for the actions that the site’s editors took after they discovered this issue. And I didn’t name or identify the writer responsible, because I didn’t even know who it was. I am sorry that one of your favorite writers did something like this, but I’m just the guy who pointed it out.

      • RobM says:

        But by arguing it was not your responsibility to get involved by contacting The AV Club, doesn’t that contradict contacting Mullaney? Why do you have the responsibility to tell one of the wronged parties, but you’re indignant that someone suggest you point out the mistake to the publication that made it. I’m new to ComicsComics, but I thought a general rule of journalism was to contact each side of the story (even if, like The AV Club itself, this is clearly a website meant to put their own spin on news. And there’s nothing wrong with that).

        Only contacting Mullaney reads like an attempted hit piece. The least you could have done was sent an e-mail to The AV Club yourself instead of setting up the a chain of dominos, intentionally or not, for word-of-mouth to get around and create what could have been a very messy backlash against The AV Club, all over an issue they didn’t know existed. Yes, it was on the publication as a whole to ensure these kinds of shady reviews never make it to the public eye, but that’s beside the point that you couldn’t offer five minutes of your time to give them a fair shake and ask for comment.

        • T. Hodler says:

          I contacted Dean Mullaney because I wanted to make sure that the book was in fact unfinished, and to confirm that an advance copy had not been sent to the A.V. Club. It was important for that information to be correct. I did not contact the A.V. Club because I didn’t need to confirm that they had published the review—it was available online for all to see. You’ll notice I was very careful not to make any accusations in the original post.

          You seem to think that if I had written the A.V. Club in advance, there would have been a drastically different outcome, but that is not in fact the case. If I had contacted Keith Phipps for comment beforehand, Phipps’s response (“I just spoke to the writer of the piece and I’m sorry to say it’s exactly what it looks like.”) would simply have appeared in the main body of the post instead of in the comments thread. I would still have published the post, because I would still have thought a fabricated review was something that readers deserved to know about. (You might not agree that you deserve to know about this.) Presumably, Phipps, who seems to have handled this situation with a great deal of integrity, would still have felt it necessary to take the same disciplinary actions, and would also still have published an apology on his site.

          Now it’s possible that it would have been a courteous gesture to send Phipps an e-mail notifying him of the post, but honestly, it didn’t occur to me. This may have been a lapse on my part, but it seems minor at worst. In fact, within hours, the internet being what it is, Phipps learned about the matter anyway. I’m not really sure what difference a few hours’ notice would have made to you, Phipps, the offending reviewer, or anyone else, but maybe I’m missing something. Here’s the issue in a nutshell: The A.V. Club published a fake review, and I’m not required to help them deal with the resulting bad publicity.

          Honestly, the only things that would have been different if I had contacted the A.V. Club before running this post are (1), that I would have been able to include a response several hours earlier, and (2), that I might not have gotten to interact with you and all of the other fine folks commenting here over the last few days. Actually, okay, on second thought, you’ve convinced me.

          • decal says:

            Kind of hilarious, in an article essentially about journalistic integrity, that you don’t understand that a writer typically gives the subject of a revelation a chance to respond to the claim in the article itself.

            I’m not saying I’m “outraged” or anything, but c’mon – it’s pretty standard. As you say, this isn’t about changing the AVC’s response, but about the perspective given by your article. While Phipps’s response wouldn’t have changed, it would have been included in your article itself, which would both demonstrate more aptly and notably that Phipps is on the up-n-up about it, and not trying to pull anything over on anyone, and also brought more legitimacy to your site/article. As is, your article is a snarky and kinda trashy swipe at a more popular site (though for legitimate reasons), while you left it to a commenter to see things through and make sure the abuse was addressed.

          • T. Hodler says:

            @decal: Read the post again. I did not make any accusations.

  20. Matthew Southworth says:

    Re: Keith Phipps–

    I read the AV Club every morning, without fail, and wind up checking it several times a day (procrastination!). It’s a great site, honest and forthright, without TOOO much internet-snark (unless you read the comments, and I’ve learned not to).

    I can imagine how embarrassed Keith must feel, because I feel embarrassed myself just because I’ve relied on the site for my news and some reviews. He did the right thing and owned up to it, and I for one think that’s brave and am right back to being in love with the AV Club.

    I also want to say, good for ComicsComics readers and posters here–this is a well-reasoned, none too snarky or assholish comment thread. Thanks to everyone for being pleasant.

    Matt Southworth

  21. kef says:


    The biweekly comics roundup is linked to from the front page each time it comes around. And it can be found under the book section. Also, they deal with cheap/free videogames in the same format (Sawbuck Gamer).

    More in-depth reviews would be nice, but for people who are comics readers but don’t follow the industry closely, it’s also useful to get a fairly eclectic update and overview of releases once in a while.

  22. dustin44444 says:

    I am a regular reader of both the AV Club and this blog and I have to say I find the whole tone of this post from T. Hodler to be surprisingly dickish. One of the nice things about this blog was generally the laid back and friendly atmosphere of discussion, but for some reason Holder seems to have an axe to grind against the AV Club.

    The AV Club primarily deals with Film and TV and to a lesser degree things like books, music and videogames. Their bi-weekly article on comics is written at the casual fan who might duck into the article to check it out but is probably there to read about one of the other topics. And I don’t see a problem with that.

    Should they write lengthy reviews of hardback collections of golden age comic strips? Well, people at this blog would be in to that, but casual (and moderate) comics fans would not be. It seems silly to attack the AV Club because they’re not what you would prefer them to be. Not everything can please everyone. If they wrote long essays about obscure comics the majority of the readership of the site would skip over it. So they don’t. If that’s what you want to read, that’s fine, but why rip on the AV Club for it? That would be like me attacking for also not being a porno site. Not everything can be all things to all people. Settle the fuck down.

  23. Miko says:

    I had no idea Comic Book Guy was based on a specific real-life person. But there you go. Just try not hearing this in Jeff “CBG” Albertson’s voice:

    “Ah, the intellectual whiplash that results from trying to understand what kind of schizophrenic groupthink could lead to assigning Chris Ware’s latest issue of Acme Novelty Library the exact same grade (A-) as the latest undistinguished revamp of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents..”

  24. Jeet Heer says:

    It’s probably better to stay above this fray but I want to note that those who are calling Tim’s post “dickish” are guilty of misreading. This post handles this delicate matter with an admirable light touch. It doesn’t moralize or give expression high dudgeons; rather it points out an example of critical malpractice that really does cross a line, as Keith Phipps ackowledges in his comendable apology and explanation.

    • EZE says:

      I am trying to find this “light touch” you speak of.

      Is it when he says “intellectual whiplash,” or perhaps “schizophrenic groupthink?”

      Perhaps the opening sentence, with its lack of ANY MELODRAMA: “Recapping television shows must be draining.” If you don’t read that as schaudenfraude, I can’t help you.

  25. EZE says:

    Pretty much what dustin and b Mercury said. What could have been a strait, maybe slightly cheeky “gotcha” turns in to a pulpit pounding non-sequitur on “crazy letter-grade equivalences.” I can guarantee you I will continue to visit I truly doubt I will ever click on whatever this site’s name is again. Honestly – I can’t be bothered to raise my eyes to the top of the screen to look at the address, and I got here from a link via – you guessed it –!

  26. jasonchristopher says:


    I disagree. Not only does he seem to enjoy and revel in the blunder but he throws insults about the perceived frivolity of the content on the site. Which is fine in my eyes, but the writer didn’t bother to contact anyone at the A.V. Club either. Which is a gossipy, unprofessional and snarky thing to do.

  27. James says:

    Nice of him to give the Toth book the benefit of the doubt, and all of us who are sad about all the shitty scripts Toth had to drawn will apparently have some good writing to look forward to, at least.
    Blurbs and plugs are much more time-efficient sources than actually reading the books.
    The trailers for films give you the whole movie anyway, so save yourself the ticket price, review the trailer. Hey, Boehner (pronounced boner, BTW) didn’t watch the Wojnarowicz film before he pressured the Smithsonian to bump it from their show, so its standard practice.

  28. Dan Nadel says:

    This is a lighthearted noting of one obvious bit of deception and then a little ribbing about the grades. The idea that somehow we should be grateful for any coverage of comics is rather silly, and Tim’s tone is all in fun and not dickish at all. Though I suppose the beauty and terror of the internet is that we could debate the meaning of dickish all day long. That said, this should be an open-and-shut case: Lousy “review”, kind of funky standards. Good for a Thursday chuckle. The end. Back to the rest of our day.

  29. Paul says:

    I agree with Jeet about the “light touch” of the post. But its argument — that only some kind of “schizophrenic groupthink could lead to assigning Chris Ware’s latest issue of Acme Novelty Library the exact same grade (A-) as the latest undistinguished revamp of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents” — is asinine nitpickery. I expect better from this site.

  30. Johny 5 says:

    I’ve been reading the AV Club every day for years.

    I stumbled onto this site for the first time today after reading the AV Club apology.

    …I think I’ll go back the the AV Club now.

  31. Paul says:

    Nice work, Comics Comics. I hope you’re proud you got someone fired during a punishing recession (not least for freelance writers) — and publicly embarrassed them to boot.

    Not that the writer didn’t deserve to get fired — he did — but I’m not sure his dirty laundry needed to be paraded in public. There’s a person there, whether he fucked up or not. Couldn’t you have just sent a quiet email to the AV Club editor? (He hasn’t even been allowed the small mercy of anonymity on the AV Club site, where he’s been named and shamed.)

    I love the AV Club, but it’s a content farm. Writers under pressure do stupid things sometimes.

    • Tom says:

      So you’re saying a writer who made something up and claimed it was real doesn’t deserve to be publicly outed? Really? I’m not sure if you’ve ever studied Journalistic ethics, but this is possibly the worst thing you can do as a writer. He knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote the “review,” and now he deserves the consequences.

      Also, using an excuse like “writers under pressure do stupid things sometimes” is such a load of crap. Making stuff up is beyond stupid when you’re working for a site with a respectable reputation like the AV Club. I think if he told his editor that the book wasn’t even finished yet, most rational human beings would understand.

      I do feel that this Comics Comics article comes off a bit amateurish and smug, but that’s purely due to the writing style. Claiming that the AV Club writer in question doesn’t deserve to be publicly exposed is downright ridiculous.

    • Sean says:

      Uh, no, the dirty laundry did need to be aired publicly, whether it was this site, someone else or the AV Club doing it themselves. I’m not sure why ComicsComics didn’t contact AV Club beforehand for comment, but they were definitely in the right pointing out a fraudulent review.

      The AV Club, as the responsible site I believe they are, would have issued the public apology even if no one else raised the issue publicly, making your point moot.

  32. Wow, did this comment thread get imported over from the Hooded Utilitarian? 🙂

    Good for you Mr. Hodler for bringing this to light, and high marks for Mr. Phillips for doing the right thing in such a public way- seems like a very rare act. As for everybody else… well.

  33. Shane says:

    Just echoing the comments about the unprofessional tone of this piece. I’m not at all saying that the writer at AV Club shouldn’t have been held accountable for their actions (I saw season 5 of The Wire and journalists take this stuff hardcore-seriously) but the way T. Hodler seems to relish exposing this bit of information is absolutely classless. Cheers to AV Club for being grown-ups about all this, though. Integrity’s one thing. Intentions are another.

    I visit Comics Comics regularly and AV Club never. After this little affair: other way around.

  34. James says:

    I indulged in a lot of speculation for my own recent Toth thing on HU, but I had actual sources I was comparing. I was looking the conflicting information in the printed record of words said by the parties involved. Relevant to the concerns of folks like those running this site, the Onion reviewer basically plagiarized IDW’s somewhat self-congratulatory press release, that holds the writers up as much better writers than everyone else that writes about comics, without reading the book in question.

  35. patrick ford says:

    Putting aside the matter of what kind of letter grade is given to what kind of comic book.
    It’s interesting that the AV club seemingly has higher standards than TCJ.

  36. Evan Dorkin says:

    I love the fact that so many people find bad behavior less offensive than snarky writing about bad behavior. Have the Super Friends taught us nothing, people? Deeds, not words, as we learned from Megaforce? This is why white-collar criminals eat America from within and sleep well, while lowly bloggers who bagged on Scott Pilgrim contemplate suicide in the wee hours.

    “I like that site better than your site so you stink for possibly being dicks even though their writer effed up badly and crossed the line.” Merry Christmas, each and every one of you twelve-yr olds. The AV Squad doesn’t need your protection, they’re adults, and handled this properly, whatever you might think of how the post here was written. Excelsior, you fatheads.

  37. b mercury says:

    Other than Paul, to whom does your Utilitarian jibe apply? It seems no one. And Mr. Nadel, we’re trying to discuss our way through an event with a number of intriguing facets and at least one sticky one. I think we understand none of us will look back on the energy we put into the discussion as one of the hallmarks of our lives. Implying it’s too trivial to continue with does as little to enhance your argument as does declaring that you’ve achieved the final word.

    I’m relieved to hear some don’t find the article dickish. I’d prefer to agree. Do said people also believe Mr. Hodler was under no particular unwritten obligation to contact Mr. Phipps directly, as a gesture of collegial decency? It seems like the two stances are going hand in hand. Maybe I overreacted to the tone, but the–to me–flat-out dickishness of the ‘gotcha’ inclines me to believe that a dick in purpose is a dick in prose.

  38. AVClub Reader says:

    I’m an AV Club reader who found this website through their apology.

    And I will not be visiting it again.

    I can’t believe I had to wade through all that axe-grinding bullshit to figure out what the real story was. The writer of this sounds like a pretentious, Comic Book Guy asshole. He implies that this incident isn’t an anomaly, but some sort of regular thing. That is so ridiculous and absolutely false. And really, you don’t CONTACT THE AV CLUB YOURSELF? You’d rather smirk and grandstand and throw stones? Do you have any idea what that makes you look like?

    So, thanks dude. Your perspective and tone are so ugly they’ve scared me off reading any comics beyond Watchmen and Calvin & Hobbes. I don’t want to turn into an unbearable prick like you.

    • avclub troll says:


    • Ali says:

      I love how AVClub Reader said that Hodler turned him away from comics and thinks anyone actually cares that he won’t read another comic. And will you grow up. That’s like saying, “Oh, someone wrote a bad review about a director I like. I’m not going to watch anymore movies. That’ll show’um.” Good one AV Reader.

  39. Tim Hensley says:

    Maybe they can just demote the writer to astroturfing their comments sections.

  40. Alec Trench says:

    Maybe it was just an example of “speculative criticism,” intended to be a subtle tribute to Jorge Luis Borges.
    The fact that an actual publication about Alex Toth is immanent could be totally coincidental.
    What will it mean if the content of the released book is entirely congruent with the review?
    What if no-one else manages to improve on that critique?

  41. Graham says:

    At “avclub reader”

    Calling a the person who wrote a piece about comics, on a blog about comics, a “Comic Book Guy”? Do you post on music blogs calling the authors of pieces you don’t enjoy a “Record Store Guy?

    Do you post on food blogs calling writers about your least favourite variation of chicken teriyaki “Pretentious Restaurant guys”?

    • Ouch says:

      You’ve somehow made it through the last 21 years without ever seeing an episode of The Simpsons featuring Comic Book Guy, Graham? The fact that you missed that reference is pretty impressive.

  42. Jajuka says:

    I would opine that snarky comics writing is a worse offense than an imaginary book review. Snarky comics writing VS Khmer Rouge? Of course I’d choose the latter. Yet the book reviewer is much more capable of providing his opinion in a clear, conciser manner. Reading Mr. Holden’s take on the situation made me think, “This guy is trying too goddamned hard.” I started to gag after reading the line “…this is a fine headache-inducing brew indeed.” Then again, I’d hate to meet a “connoisseur of online comics criticism” in the first place, so perhaps this site isn’t my bag to begin with. I’ll seek out less righteous, needlessly wordy, clever-attempting-overkill opinions, even if they have a number, star, or letter grade at the end of the, God fucking forbid.

  43. greg says:

    Its worth pointing out that the AV club reviews in comic are clearly written by different authors and with a wide range of material. to cover any scores are subject to the very specific context of the item.

    an B for an individual issue of a superhero comic will take into account the genre it is in, that it is a single, often first issue, issue of an ongoing series and judge it in that context.

    there is no unified level of how good things are. I find the standard endless superhero comics utter shit and completely pointless, no better than soaps where things happen simply because they have to for it to go on, i still realise there will be some variation in quality within those limits.

    And the AV club moved from nothing to grades and wrote at the time why they were doing it and how its the review that is important.

    the post was snarky and while the issue it raised important, the problems the author has with the AV club is just him being a whiny little bitch.

    This mistake has been handled entirely properly by them.

    Grow up, retract your bitchy comments like a man realise that a pop-culture website which does not specialise in comics (which despite my wishes and the beliefs of many comics nerds is still a very small, if influential, aspect of pop-culture) might not necessarily dedicate a massive section to it.

    • T. Hodler says:

      I couldn’t care less if they dedicate a “massive section” to covering comics or not — I just think they shouldn’t fake reviews of books that don’t exist. And their grading system frequently makes me laugh. Sorry you don’t feel the same way.

  44. James says:

    Far be it from me to complain that someone plugged Toth, since most of the comics press has avoided examining his work for years, apart from remarking on his personal foibles.
    However, there are some pretty good writers who would probably love to get a paying gig writing about comics. Most do it for the love of it, including all those who wrote about this stuff for years in fanzines, you know, fans….maybe some have not been the most articulate of critics, but if they hadn’t done their initial interviews and commentary, there would be no record of the lives of a hell of a lot of people in comics . If someone is getting paid to write about comics, perhaps they should in put a minimium of effort.

  45. Robert Boyd says:

    “If someone is getting paid to write about comics, perhaps they should in put a minimium of effort.”

    I don’t see how his effort could have been any more minimum…

  46. covey says:

    Everything is nuts.

  47. pulpio says:

    “I’ll seek out less righteous, needlessly wordy, clever-attempting-overkill opinions, even if they have a number, star, or letter grade at the end”

    I give this reply a C.

    He obviously just tothed it off.

  48. phil says:

    So, let me get this straight, the criticism of the letter grading system is wrong, but your criticism of his criticism of it is right….OOOoooOOoohhhhkay?!??

  49. Evan says:

    To begin with, I don’t know why everyone is so damn pissed off about the grades the AV Club gives. Of course they’re completely subject to the writers tastes, that’s what criticism entails. They tend to try and judge films, graphic novels, music, etc. on their own merits rather than assuming that there is some kind of objective way to grade all art. There simply isn’t, so stop bitching.

    What’s more, the site isn’t devoted to any particular medium… they review the aforementioned mediums with no particular emphasis on a single one over the others. The fact that they included them all in the first place is commendable, because many other pop culture sites don’t offer that much variety.

    They may not reflect the tastes of a die hard fan of a particular medium (assuming there even is concensus as to what is good and bad in the first place), so get over it. It’s a shame that the writer chose to fabricate the review, but the staff has handled this well.

  50. James says:


    I have to retract the plagiarism comment, as I cannot find where I read the
    line “it’s much better written than most such works” before, it could just be that the writer hit on a similar wording as someone on one of the comics lists. Secondly I want to apologise for the crack about the “self-congratulatory” promo because whatever it was I was thinking of, it wasn’t in the publisher’s copy.

  51. The funniest thing about reading all these is the many misspellings of Tim’s name. Second funniest: his many cheerful return volleys, as always. Best commenter on the internet! *bow deeply*

    Signed, “Anonymous”

  52. david says:

    “Everything is amazing and nobody is happy” – Louis CK

  53. […] — but they’re also unfailingly honest. And when they get hung up on the wrong end of an egregious journalistic fraud, they own up to it as quickly and gracefully as […]

  54. Alicia C says:

    This comments section has been more constructive than any recent comments made on avcliub boards. It’s just become this place for out-quipping.

    I’m new to comics and I learned early on that AV Club wasn’t the best place to get info. The Interwebs are my friend in helping find the really great stuff. If you’re going to half ass it then just don’t engage.

  55. Bryan says:

    this week in public service bullshit detecting:

    and god bless jajuka, evan dorkin, and timothy hodler…

  56. Paul Karasik says:

    I will say right here and now that I have only read the first couple of comments and then skimmed the rest but that won’t stop me from giving this thread a solid C-.

  57. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I’m not certain why everyone got whipped into a frenzy on this one. You can’t do what the writer did without risking the exact punishment he received, if you’re a writer for enough years you’ve probably pulled some stupid shit in sight of this general neighborhood, you have to have zero tolerance for this kind of thing if you’re a publication, if you act quickly and with class as the aggrieved and responsible party it goes better than when you do it slowly and without class, it’s going to suck for a couple of days anyway, the chances are it’s going to go public which makes it suckier, if you’re one magazine writing about another magazine people are going to read something into that, if you write anything about comics ever in your life someone’s going to call you a nerd, 20 percent of people in any situation want to shoot or at least Internet-insult the messenger, and if you use grades for art someone’s eventually going to make fun of you.

    I think everything worked the way it’s supposed to. A-

    Hey, speaking of things that never came out, wasn’t Matthew Perry supposed to have a television show set in San Diego this year? What the hell happened to that?

  58. brynocki C says:

    Apparently the AV Club has a larger “comment police and respond” division than “comics review” division. And why not, comment sections have a larger impact on the world than comics do. Watchman and Calvin and Hobbs aside.

  59. […] hadn’t. The result was their firing and a public apology from the editor after the fraud was pointed out by another […]

  60. Rob says:

    I can’t believe how much shit you are giving this guy for doing little more than calling what was a pretty egregious editorial lapse to everyone’s attention.

    I read the AV Club from time to time, and I can very confidently say that whatever apparent snarkiness there may be in this post, it isn’t a shade on the stuff that comes out of the AV Club on a regular basis. (Keep in mind you’re decrying the author here as some kind of sanctimonious pedant for calling bullshit on a publication that features a weekly “Tolerability Index” and has made its name on a particular acerbic brand of hipster cynicism.)

    Fine, Keith Phipps has rectified the situation, you can’t reasonably ask anything more of him, and this is all much of muchness. That doesn’t somehow retrospectively diminish the validity of this initial post. If anything, Holder should grow a pair and stick up for himself a little more.

    • T. Hodler says:

      Man, I was digging this comment, until you had to go and say that I don’t have any testicles. Why is everyone always coming on here and questioning my masculinity? I’m going to get a complex.

  61. Rob says:

    Also, his criticisms of the AV Club are pretty on the money: those long-winded TV recaps are fucking pointless. No one needs a detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of the latest shitty season of How I Met Your Mother.

  62. Tim’s article is great because it gets to the under-discussed fact that many ‘respectable’ magazines have writers with no interest in a given subject (i.e. Toth) write articles about those subjects. They also have editors that have no passion for such subjects assigning the reviews and heedlessly publishing half-asleep writing.

    BEYOND the fact that the review is fake, it’s hopelessly mediocre. Everyone defending AV club is falling over themselves to say how well the magazine handled this, but the fact is it’s a horrible magazine for even creating the situation. Writers and editors should be writing about things that they have some kind of interest in.

    There are so many magazines that publish writing of this sort. A lot of people like that kind of stuff, as evidenced by the rabid defense of such horrible material. It’s nice to see it slammed in the face.

    • Brian Nicholson says:

      Reading the fake review, I don’t think it’s a case of someone having no passion for the material. I think it’s about the urge to overpraise a canonized cartoonist- the idea that you can give a positive review for something that you haven’t even read because the stature of the artist cries out for respect, even when, in Toth’s case, it’s someone who didn’t really get good scripts to work with. The fact that the book didn’t even exist made it easier to give a good letter-grade to, because it’s a positive review of the idea of Toth. “Half-asleep writing” is probably the correct characterization, because it’s instinctual to praise a classic cartoonist rather than engage in their strengths and weaknesses- which the blurb format would stop from occurring in any detail, anyway.

      • Actually... says:

        I know I’m ridiculously late to the game here, but this criticism is so far off the mark it’s funny. The writer in question was fairly recently added to the AV Club’s staff. Having been familiar with his prior freelance stuff and his blog, I’d say he was likely added to the staff primarily for what he could add to their burgeoning comics section. His passion for comics is undeniable, and as has already been mentioned, is likely why he fudged this review for a well-known quantity. I’m not denying that the review in question was unethical nor that the treatment he got for writing it was undeserved, but it certainly didn’t come from a place of dispassion for the medium.

        As for the AV Club itself, the editor hired writers to cover specialized topics and assumed they would be covered with integrity. The review doesn’t jump out as false to anyone without intimate knowledge of comics and their release dates, and it was dealt with as promptly as could have been asked, so I think your criticism of their publication is a bit harsh for a first-time offense.

  63. ‘someone who didn’t really get good scripts to work with.’

    See, to me that is just this accepted notion and the lack of any real writing about Toth just goes on to solidify it.

    I think there’s a lot you can say about Toth and scripts. Does his cartooning make the idea of a ‘lousy script’ meaningless? Is there something good about those scripts? Do we all like to poke fun at Toth for working on material that we consider silly when, in fact, it may have meant a great deal to him?

    There’s a lot to say about it. And that’s why it’s frustrating to see an organization like AV Club have all these excuses made for it. The writer faking it is one thing but its the editor who is really at fault for doing no research himself and accepting such a lukewarm piece of fluff about an artist you could write about endlessly. Even if it wasn’t fake, it’s pretty lousy.

  64. “It’s that Toth himself is an incredibly FASCINATING figure. Even if he were only known for his comics work, he’d be considered one of the greats. Genius, Isolated presents enough material showing his brilliance at action drawing and character design to firmly make the case that he deserves the deluxe biographical treatment. But Toth was also a FASCINATING person…”

    Emphasis mine. This makes late era TCJ look like The Economist.

  65. patrick ford says:

    Is there anything more amusing than the current small group fashion of mocking “the canonization” of cartoonists.
    This is placed in a nice warm light when you see the kind of material praised by the same people heaping snide condescension on the tastes of people who like Gilbert Hernandez, Crumb, or Ware.
    Search the reviews of these people and their canon consists of the latest Iron Man movie, teen-theme manga, and old X-Men comic books.

    • Debra Jennings says:

      Nothing is more amusing.
      Someone should write an unverifiable article about this obvious and lamentable phenomenon and then get fired.
      Someone else should make humorous mention of this editorial oversight and get lambasted.
      Many people should comment on the situation and expose their own biases or attempt to comment on the way other people comment.
      New alliances should be formed and old ones discarded.
      Then we should all start over, fresh and ready for a new meaningful conflict.

  66. covey says:

    It would be a shame to have the comments stop just before hitting a third page.

  67. covey says:

    Man, I thought that comment would do it. I’ll try again.

  68. Winston T. Grant says:

    Dude: if you know ANYTHING about comix AT ALL–Alex TOTH=GENIUS. A hundred monkeys in a room randomly typing would have come to the same conclusion after the first fifteen minutes.
    what’s the damn problem?
    What–you also doubt Kirby, Eisner, Alex Williamson,and Frazzetta? Any book about any of these guys will say the same thing—GENIUS, technical mastery, Groundbreaking, cinematic sweep—take your pick. Don’t cry about an honest evaluation of a known quantity.
    Platinum is platinum.

  69. […] – unlike the on-line source that originally reported the incident. […]

  70. […] Yes, the genius (no sarcasm intended) behind this incident. […]

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