I am a complete sucker for good dialogue. The Brians Three (Azzarello, Vaughan, and Bendis) are some of the best guys out at making realistic and natural-sounding dialogue. In fact, I’d say that the big three are Garth Ennis, Azz, and Bendis, in that order.
Ennis has a few themes that he comes back to over and over. “Superheroes suck!” is one. He likes to write about superheroes being awful people, war, and camaraderie. He’s got an incredible ear for dialogue. His people sound like real people. They’re distinct. I wasn’t a huge fan of the overarching story of Preacher, in part because Jesse Custer was kind of a jerk, but the dialogue was so solid that I had to keep reading. Chronicles of Wormwood is one of the most horrible, awful, and offensive comics I’ve ever read. It’s about the Antichrist, Wormwood, only he’s decided to buck his dad’s will and just live out his life without bringing on Armageddon. He’s good friends with JC, another character who has decided to try something different from what his Father wants. He ended up getting brained by a member of the LAPD for his trouble and suffers from brain damage. Wormwood is cheating on his girlfriend with a reborn Joan of Arc, too. It’s pretty despicable, but at the same time… it’s really kind of enjoyable. Ennis’s skill with dialogue turns an interview between a journalist and Wormwood into an insight into the minds and thoughts of both characters. Wormwood isn’t really a bad guy, I mean after all the Antichrist stuff. He genuinely has no interest in furthering his father’s goals and has made it a point to kill anyone who tries to make him do so. He does a bad thing when the journalist gets on his nerves and actually feels bad about it. He goes to break off his relationship with Joan (which ends up backfiring) because of this guilt. Ennis gets characters, is what I’m trying to say. Beyond all the (deformity+face) = Name and potty humor, Ennis writes real people, thanks almost wholly to his dialogue.
Azzarello is the same way. Where Ennis is a more on-the-surface kind of writer, where characters are pretty close to what they say they are, Azz’s characters exist between the lines. What they say is important, yes, but how they say it and what they don’t say is just as important. Look at that up above. Loop, the black guy. What do you get from just those three panels? He’s cocky, rocking a devil-may-care attitude, and he’s clever. Risso’s art helps here quite a bit, too. His body language says almost as much as the dialogue does. Azz’s dialogue has rhythm. People dance around each other’s words and tend to finish each other’s sentences. You have to pay attention to Azz’s dialogue, because it isn’t necessarily plain-spoken. Calling it “layered” would be a start. Words are laced with double and triple meanings. Seemingly offhand bits of dialogue end up being vital. Azz makes you think, and then think again. That’s part of why I love his work so much.
Bendis, for all the played out jokes and catchphrases, is really good at dialogue. He didn’t become one of the top writers at Marvel for nothing. Bendis’s dialogue is stuttery and fairly stacatto. But, who doesn’t talk like that? We start and stop, deliver half-finished thoughts, and talk over each other. Bendis is crazy wordy, but he’s also true to life. His people may sound similar overall, but the stutter-step talky-talk is a great device. One that has possibly been overused, but when used properly, is always excellent.
Let me round this out with one last guy. Personally, I think that Stan Lee brought a lot to comics dialogue. The pre-Marvel books that I’ve read tended toward the bombastic and overwrought. Stan the Man gave characters flaws, and at the same time, gave them voices that stick with you. He’s the man for a reason. To this day, I love the dialogue in those old Marvel books.
I picked this up out of a funny panels thread over at Batman’s Shameful Secret.
We love you, Stan. Don’t ever change.