Who Cares About Comics, Anyway?

August 5th, 2008 by | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Comics are a bastard medium.

It isn’t fine art. Even the commercial art doesn’t quite stick– it’s for sale, yeah, but it’s still somewhere between the two.

Comics are for children. They feature men in tights re-enacting the same simple good versus evil fights they’ve been doing for decades. How deep do you think Batman vs the Joker really goes? Don’t even try to play the “graphic novel” card– graphic novels are just comics with a spine.

The time of comics being worth a grip of money is over, too. It kind of blows my mind when I see people buying variant books for twenty bucks. I have trouble paying more than ten cents a page– why would you go for a dollar a page? Do you really expect that much of a return on your investment? That comic is worthless, son, and it isn’t going to make you money. The ’90s are dead and gone.

Comics are the red-headed stepchild of Hollywood. How many IP farms are out there now? How many people write comics that are obviously movie pictures or storyboards in sequential art form? How many Hollywood writers drop in, dabble a bit, and drop back out, sometimes mid-series? Hollywood options are big news these days– why? Easy: Hollywood is where the money is, friends. Money talks.

Comics are a bastard medium. Not quite fine art, not quite commercial art. Disrespected, not respected, and used as a stepping stone. What do comics have to lose? Nothing at all.

Why not take greater advantage of that?

I love Gotham Central. It’s a great little police procedural. Everything from the writing down to the art clicks. But, take a look at it. It looks like it could have been The Wire or The Shield. It’s staged and laid out like a TV show. It’s got realistic angles, establishing shots, and pretty realistic looking characters. This could’ve easily been a TV show. I’m not dissing or anything. The realism is a point of pride for the series, I’m sure.

Comics can do Hollywood. Hollywood is easy. However, can Hollywood do this?

Look at that. Hyper-compressed information dump gives way to a wonderfully wide open two page spread. The eighteen panel grid is positively claustrophobic. The lack of words and panel size forces you to take your time and pore over each panel. The panels even reflect the reality of the situation. They’re inside an oppressive military facility, and when they escape? A wide open breath of fresh air.

What about the insane style switches in Seven Soldiers #1?

Comics can do so much that movies cannot. However, the general style at the Big Two, and even beyond, tend to stick to realism. Chris Bachalo and Humberto Ramos are a nice look, but work by them, and those like them, is fairly rare.

David Aja made wonderful use of the comics page in his work on Immortal Iron Fist. He kept the straight-forward, realistic storytelling and flipped it. Each strike gets its own panel. Iron Fist dances around the comics page in a scene that would take a split second of action in a movie. He makes the page part of the story.

I loved We3. There are a ton of little narrative tricks and details that force you to read the book slowly and take it all in. The spread above, of the animals attacking the soldiers, is more exciting than bullettime was when the Matrix hit. Every single action gets its place in time. If you look at the panels in order, it’s like looking at a film strip.

No one cares about comics, so comics can get away with a lot. Grant Morrison’s Flex Mentallo is one of my favorite comics. It tells the tale of a forgotten superhero and how you can make fiction a reality. It’s a love letter to comics and it flits from era to era over the course of the series. It’s brave.

We need more Flex Mentallos. Tell a story that might not sell, but is worth the time. Marvel’s started moving in this direction with their revamped Marvel Knights series. Who’d have thought that a story about Daredevil’s Dad would be an excellent comic?

There’s a lot of attention paid to continuity, as well. Things have to line up just so or else the story is ruined.

Screw that.

Keep the stories internally consistent, but go wild. I may not like Marvel Zombies very much, but I can respect what it represents. Take advantage of the fact that most of these characters are unbreakable. Toss Captain America into 1602, sure. Pop Spider-Man into feudal Japan. What if Luke Cage was in his ’20s in 1930s Harlem? What did the Black Panther cult do to fight colonization in Africa?

Take your characters and bend them. If they break, guess what– you can just dial it back to what it was before. You don’t need Continuity Patch Comix. Fans aren’t stupid. If you say “That was then, this is now,” they will assuredly grumble. They’ll grumble regardless, to be honest. But, they’ll get over it. They always do.

Spider-Man made it through the Clone Saga. Batman made it through the ’90s. Luke Cage, Ms. Marvel, Emma Frost, and a host of other d-list characters are headlining now. You can’t break these characters, so don’t treat them like fine china. Throw them against the wall. They’ll bounce back.

Comics need to start acting like comics. No one expects anything out of them but a story that goes from A to B to (sometimes) C. If no one expects anything out of you, you’re free to do what you like.

We need more Seth Fishers.

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12 comments to “Who Cares About Comics, Anyway?”

  1. David, thank you for this update, and the video. Way too often I hear people at my LCS complaining about a series that I think is great (in this case Fraction and Brubaker’s first six issues of Iron Fist or Avengers/Invaders), not because they don’t like the narrative itself, but because they can’t reconcile where it goes in some kind of imaginary continuity time line. If a large element of the fan community cared less about continuity, and more about the actual story itself, I bet we could have more stuff like Paul Jenkins good Sentry mini’s, or Booster Gold, and less Countdown to Final Crisis.

  2. Last sentence is all that need be said, really. Ay-fuckin-men.

  3. Most of the comics I own, and plan on owning, are elseworlds and what if? sort of deals, or else they’re offshoots that’re supposedly on their own, like JMS’s Supreme Power or the Ultimates.

    I wouldn’t mind seeing more crossover talent from other mediums. I don’t really care for Orson Scott Card’s Ultimate Iron Man (and I guess a lot of people have issue with the man himself, but I don’t). I loved David Brin’s The Life Eaters. It was based on a novella that itself borrowed from comics (the name of the short story was “Thor Meets Captain America”).

    What did the Black Panther cult do to fight colonization in Africa?

    I was under the impression that, canonically, that was addressed in Hudlin’s run. Or maybe I’m making the mistake of conflating the actions of Wakanda with those of the Panther Cult? Even so, though, wasn’t T’Challa the first Black Panther to operate on the international scale?

  4. WE3 is one of the best comics of the decade.
    I love this post.

  5. I was under the impression that, canonically, that was addressed in Hudlin’s run. Or maybe I’m making the mistake of conflating the actions of Wakanda with those of the Panther Cult? Even so, though, wasn’t T’Challa the first Black Panther to operate on the international scale?

    It’s mentioned, but I think it could use further examination. There’s no way that one battle was it, you know? Though the Secret Invasion issues of Panther are pretty close to what I want, except with aliens.

    I kind of want to see more about the cult itself, though, as opposed to just Wakanda. Cult implies more than one member, and the position of Black Panther can change each year possibly, so that just seems ripe with possibility.

    WE3 is one of the best comics of the decade.
    It’s easily in my top 3. It’s in part because I love dogs and We3 is simultaneously heart-breaking and wonderful.

  6. it’s impossible to dislike We3. Everyone either loves atleast one of those animals.

  7. To me, it’s that really early Seven Soldiers issue with Zatanna and the magicians falling through universes. That’s what comics can do.

  8. Yup, amen to that last sentence.

    And yeah, some lazy days you just think to yourself “what if Chris Ware did a Grant Morrison book, or even an Alan Moore book?”. Those landscapes of not only ideas but the communication of such ideas. Flex, We3… Just the perfect marriage of the medium and the message discussion.

    I guess comics as movie pitches can be fun, but they’re getting tiresome and obvious (initially they were like Preacher – not wanting to be made into film, but to have the aura of film’s respectability. Presently it’s just effortless). And also flat out loveless. They’re neither amazing like a Morrison nor down-to-earth intimate or thought-provoking like a Hernandez or Ware.

  9. Just found your blog, and I’m glad I did.

  10. To those of you who buy variant covers: as a guy who used to work in a comics shop, we’re laughing at you. We keep our mouths shut because dumbfucks like you are just looking for an excuse to flush your money down the toilet, and such customers are a goldmine. Make no mistake though, we talk shit behind your back the moment you’re out of the store. Even the Marvel zombie who buys everything and smells like sour milk laughs at you.

  11. It’s always so quite easy to spot the opinions of those who are clearly not an artist or writer, as they have no idea what the in the hell they are really talking about.

  12. @AtomManhattan: Thanks for stopping by two years after the fact to be vague and disagreeable! You really got your point across, buddy 😀