What is a cliffhanger.

August 25th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

A little while ago, I posted an entry about my decision to temporarily drop the Birds of Prey comic, due to a cliffhanger plot element.  Last month, after an epic separation of one issue, I jumped right back on board, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next issue due to a different cliffhanger.  At scans_daily, and in conversations with other comics people, I noticed that many people felt the same.

Tastes differ, and what makes me sit up and take notice of a comic is going to make another person throw it across the room.  But the conversations got me thinking about how cliffhangers work, and what separates the good from the bad.

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Garth Ennis’ Most Revealing Moment?

February 26th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Cut, because you might be at work and I’m posting a scan from a freaking Garth Ennis comic.

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Misery, And Why We Like to Read About it

February 23rd, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

It’s no secret that comic books are adolescent power fantasies.  They’re about being the smartest, the strongest, the toughest, the meannest, and above all, the one who gets things done.  Kids have little power and fantasize about growing into someone who does.

I don’t see the need to stop reading comics when we’re out of adolescence, since most of the adults still don’t have control over most of their lives.  I suppose you could argue that some people do, particularly the ones who don’t read comics, but I believe that if they did, the world would either be a much better or much, much worse place.

So the fights, the flamboyant outfits, the adventure of comic books, is easy to understand.

What about the pain?  Spider-man took off, in part, because Peter Parker’s life sucked before he was a superhero and after he was a superhero.  Superheroes, for all their power, get clobbered.  They lose at love, they lose loved ones, they lose battles and companions.  Theirs is a world of nonstop pain, and a lot of the pain is theirs.  Why are they so popular?

There are lines about how conflict is necessary for drama, and that old-chestnut, ‘realism’ appears in many justifications for comics melodrama, but I don’t think that’s it.

I think we like their misery because their misery ends in fights and adventure and over-the-top emotional outbursts, and ours doesn’t.  Personally I would like it if a lot of the things that make me sad or angry could be resolved by putting on a cape and doing battle with my enemy.  I’d like if I could solve any problem by smashing a motherbox, or a bomb, or some other high-tech or magical macguffin.  I can’t.  That’s not the world I live in.

A comics character loses someone they care about and it’s time to hit and kick and scream and the world hangs in the balance.  We lose someone we care about and, more often than not, it’s time to sit and feel sad, to acknowledge that our lives are lesser for losing them, to know that there is nothing we can do about it, and to realize we’ll be lucky if we find one person who cares enough to try to comfort us.

A comics character has a violent tantrum, and it solves their problem.  We do, and it makes our problem worse. 

A superhero sees a problem with society and he shoots, punches, or uses magic until it’s a little better.  If we see it, most of us realize it takes a lot of boring, frustrating, detail-oriented work to change things even a little bit for the better.

Put aside the capes and the silly names, and much of comics’ appeal is this:  It is so much nicer to be angry than it is to be sad.

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The Game of Questioning Creator Intentions

July 16th, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

I wrote, a few posts ago, about selective continuity, the practice of admitting some parts of continuity into your vision of a character and setting other parts aside, and the way that that leads to wildly different visions of the same character.

At the end, though, I mentioned that often I will dismiss a writer’s version of a character, particularly if it is a character I like and want to keep seeing in a certain light, while being fine with that writer mucking up another character’s reputation.

I’ve seen this happen a lot in comics, and there seems to be a consistent excuse for it; that the writer him or herself is biased toward one character, or one type of character.

“Don’t read him, he always writes women as bimbos.”

“She hates that character and is using the comic to make them look bad.”

“He’s given an interview where he talks about how that’s his favorite character from when he was a kid.”

What better way to drown out continuity than with a resounding cry of “NO FAIR!”  There are, however, a few problems with it. 

The first is the way it tends to exaggerate creator’s preferences.  A casual mention of a character that a writer or editor liked or disliked as a child can lead to endlessly recurring denunciation by fans, who assume that any plot point is either meant to artificially build up or knock down that character.  I’m not a huge fan of Wonder Girl, but if I ever write Wonder Girl in comics, I don’t think I’d take a hit out on her just because of my lack of appreciation.  (And I’ve mentioned several times on this site that I think Batman is a jerk, a prick, and arrogant idiot, and a torturer.  I hate to see what kind of backlash that will bring about when I write Batman comics.  ((And I will.  I swear it.)))

The second problem with taking a writer out by questioning their intentions is that it often turns into a self-selecting point of view.  The few times when they did not adhere to their supposed pattern?  Flukes.  Fear of being mocked.  Or something prevented by the constraints of the story.  It’s never that their styles are more varied than critics will admit.

Finally, this view prevents readers from even considering a new take on their character.  You cannot imagine how much it pains me to write that last sentence, but it is true.  Characters often need to change or they stagnate, and seeing your character built up over time is a fun thing.

That being said, I do enjoy torpedo-ing a piece of bad, or obviously biased, writing from time to time.  Writers as well as characters can stagnate, and writers as well as characters can have bad habits.  (Of course I wouldn’t know about either.)  And fans are free, and often eager, to point it out.  Plus there is a air of good, old-fashioned village gossip to that kind of talk.  As long as it doesn’t escalate to torches and pitchforks, it can be a lot of fun.

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Selective Continuity

July 12th, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

I’ve written before about how, when following a character, you generally have to throw out the continuity you don’t like and read the continuity you do.

What I’ve noticed, though, is this trend tends to cultivate pockets of people who see very different characters.  This depends on a lot of things.  One is when you got to know the character.  People who are used to the warm and cuddly Batman of the 70s, do not like the colder Batman of today.  People, on the other hand, whose first impression of Bats was The Dark Knight Returns, wonder at how cuddly he’s gotten in the past year.

There are also different incarnations of each character.  Catman started out as arguably one of the more noble Secret Six characters.  But in Legends of the Dark Knight he was introduced as a psychotic murderer who slashed up women.

But things get a bit contentious when people drop or keep continuity based on how much they like a character.  We are all inclined to give more credit to those we like, in fiction and in life, and serial fiction gives us a convenient excuse for bad behavior.  I’ve gotten into arguments in which I can write off a character’s fall from the path of righteousness with an airy, “Oh, that wasn’t X-character, that was Y-writer.  You can’t trust Y’s writing.”  If I don’t like the character, however, Y-writer’s character choices seem perfectly trustworthy, and fair game to use in an argument.  Ah, the capriciousness of the reader.

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For and Against

June 30th, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

I’m not a fan of the later Bourne movies.  I think they skimp on the clever details of spy stuff and instead just show Bourne magically appearing places without explaining how he managed to be there.  I think the plots are shaky.  (Well, they were shaky to begin with.  He breaks into the ultra-top-secret headquarters in Paris, grabs all the guns and . . . gives them a good talking-to?  And that solves the problem?  Really?)  I think the camera is even shakier.  Shaky to the point where I couldn’t tell whether the struggles were between highly trained assassins or old ladies in a slap fight.

I have a friend who really likes the later movies, though.  And says so.  Usually to bait me into responding.  Which I do.  Vehemently.

During one argument, when I was getting particularly overheated about the idea that they were going to yet another Bourne movie, presumably called The Bourne Epilepsy, when he said, “You know, you don’t have to see it.”

And I realized that no, no I don’t.  I don’t particularly care about Jason Bourne or the movies in the first place.  Why was I even madly talking about how crappy the later movies were?

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In Circles

March 12th, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

The most common question asked during a Con is, “How do I get into the comics industry?”  The most common answer is an extremely weary sigh, followed by, “Have a few comics published already.”


You can bet your life on hearing that conversation at least once per Con. 


When you’ve gotten a few Cons under your belt, you’ll hear the same circular exchange again and again, spiraling up through wannabe writers and artists, through independent publishers, all the way to established companies.  You’ll hear it cut across creative panels, marketing discussions, and technological analysis.  Everywhere, it seems, what you most need to succeed is success.


At WonderCon, I went to a panel of independent comics publishers.  A fan got up and asked why more of them didn’t move to an e-comic format, offering downloads for small fees and bypassing the printing and shipping costs.


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Putting Things In Order

January 29th, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Like most of you I progressed from issues in a pile to shelves to a box, to multiple boxes, to boxes stacked several feet deep.  Getting things out of them is often a chore, and when I do unearth my old comics, I like to read a full story.

A lot of the time I can get a full story from reading the issues.  And mini-series that touch on a few regular runs, like Villains United or Faces Of Evil, don’t cause much trouble.

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