Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Story Length – How We’re All Measuring Up

The comic medium is completely caught up with story length. Always has been. Everything is measured and structured so that you can’t always go outside of the boundaries, which must be limiting. Whether it’s pages in an issue, panels on a page, or words in each panel, there’s a rule to everything and it’s interesting to see how storytelling differs from the 1960’s up until today. Our stories are becoming longer, and how does that change what the reader is given? Hit the jump to find out.

Stories used to be short and dense, that’s the easiest way to categorise it. Each story took up one issue and very rarely would it carry over. They were meant to stand alone, each comic was somebody’s first and you had to introduce the character and resolve the conflict all in one sitting. There was a rush to each tale, connections between people and scenes were tenuous, at best, most times. The story hummed along to get to the next fight. It was density and bang for your buck.

Take in mind that my thoughts on this style of storytelling are not judging it as necessarily bad. This was just how things went and there were economic and social reasons for this. Comics were very much a purchase of want not need and so to convince the adults who had lived through a depression to spend their money on entertainment like this for their kids it needed to have some perceived value.

To get a character’s entire back history and motivation jammed into each and every issue the pages were often quite text heavy. Characters would think in expository slabs and an omniscient narrator would explain whatever you needed to know in enough detail to keep you on track to understand this brave new world you were being introduced to and immersed in. It was a style of telling instead of showing, but most editors didn’t mind because comics were just for kids anyway, detailed and complex narratives structures could be saved for the adult novels. Even Stan Lee was a pseudonym because he thought he’d grow up one day to write the great American novel and his real name was to be saved for that glorious moment in his career.

The 60’s

The early works from DC and Marvel completely showcase the simple storytelling style; done in one tales of heroes fighting villains and always winning the day. It was nice but it was going to have to develop and add a little more texture eventually. Stan Lee worked to stretch the form by having some stories go on a little longer. He had the spectre of a masked villain loiter over the top of Daredevil for a few successive months and his Fantastic Four tales slowly became more intricate and needed multiple issues to flourish and resolve. It required that a reader come in at the start and follow the title through time to get a conclusion. A gamble, and Lee always did his best to make sure each issue stood up on its own and had its own set of back story and mini-resolution, but no doubt a chance where comics gained the ability to have more in depth storylines.

Lee lived by the edict that each comic was somebody’s first and so he wanted to ensure that everything they needed to enjoy the show would be given to them in that one purchase. A satisfying experience that would hopefully bring them back for more in the future.

This style of storytelling is reflected in the other entertainment of the day where The Twilight Zone was always just a great punch contained to the one episode, or where the Bond movies were all happy to stand apart. Entertainment was designed for that moment, you didn’t have to wait, you didn’t have to know anything else. You just had to strap in, tune in, drop out, and enjoy. You could call it a simpler time, or you could call it a purer time. Ultimately, as long as it’s a good story I wouldn’t complain. I love the Twilight Zone and so many creators these days find it so hard to be economic and succinct and still be able to deliver such depth and meat to their tales.

The 80’s

It seems that as comics entered the 1980’s so too did much of their readership enter later stages in their life. Those who were in the Merry Marvel Marching Society were now in their 20’s with jobs, or older. Their tastes were possibly more refined and their desires larger than just seeing their favourite heroes tackle the villain of the week with a speedy and simple catch at the end. These men and women looked for something a bit more serious, in motivation and execution, and so the comic companies did their best to give the public what they might want.

The 80’s is always cited as a breakthrough period in comics, and it certainly was, and if you look at the length of stories you can see an added depth and complexity that certainly was not there two decades prior. Chris Claremont had taken over the Uncanny X-Men and would spend the next 17 years crafting saga after saga that relied on storylines seeded prior to slowly come to fruition. Alan Moore crafted a noir golden age tale in Watchmen that took 12 issues to completely flow out and resolve and I can only imagine what someone would have thought if they bought the fifth issue alone and tried to understand it all. Even then, it still needed desne prose appendices and extras to flesh out the universe and history in which the tale was so deeply mired. The story was finally being taken to a new form where you’d need every piece to truly make a decision about what was being told.

Crossovers also came into vogue and no good crossover could ever be told in just one issue. These were epic tales and to fit in all of the characters we needed plenty of issues. But this storytelling technique was not yet the norm, it was the side dish, the guilty pleasure. It was for hardcore fans, not the average man on the street.

If a creator decided to do a long form story then they made sure it was still self-contained. If you got all the pieces then you got all you needed. We were given Born Again and Year One from Frank Miller and in each we are given the character and a slice of their life that builds up and then serves us a crescendo that neatly ties everything up and if you never read a story about that character before you’d be fine and if you never went back you’d feel like you got all that you’d ever need again.

It’s interesting to see that the major storylines from the 80’s era try their best to give us everything we need in their set of issues. Stories like Secret Wars and Crisis On Infinite Earths are all relatively self contained. Obviously, creators will often come back to the character moments or changes that ripple out of these stories but mostly these tales are meant to be completely enjoyable as they are.

Pages in the 80’s started to become a little easier to read, the text slowly thinned out and the development of splash pages became closer to what they are today, more about the art than the introductory establishing shot. Omniscient narration wasn’t so easily used to drop everything on the reader and a more literate sense came into the structure of the writing and the pages.

To compare this storytelling style to the era, you can see that many films of the 80’s revelled in being a neat little story set or trilogy. Star Wars and Indiana Jones had not yet bloated out and on television we might get a season long story, on things like Dallas, but each season generally stood on its own two feet. It’s not a perfectly mathematical theory but it does continue to be proved if you’ll continue me down the page.

The 2000’s

As comics entered the new millennium, it felt like storytelling reached what must be its final stage. Stories are now in such a state of long form that it doesn’t always feel like anything ends and that each conflict/resolution is just another act in the overall tale. There are many examples where a creator has set out to tell a story that has defined arcs but the overall grand scheme can only be appreciated if you take in each and every chapter, which can often amount to many years’ worth of work.

Brian Michael Bendis has been steering the direction of the Marvel U for the better part of a decade and it seems that his overall Avengers tale has been 7 years from start to finish. He kicked things off with Disassembled, where the broke the Avengers apart, and then he wove them through New Avengers from the Raft break out to the Secret Invasion of the Skrulls, and then into the Dark Reign and finally ending in Siege. It’s been an arduous journey, with many roster changes, and though each story can be enjoyed on their own it is meant that each and every arc and event is building to a complete story. Where Bendis’ new, relaunched Avengers work will fit into this tale remains to be seen.

Bendis also made this work for his run on Daredevil by making it a truly cohesive and epic piece of spandex storytelling. Everything counts towards the end and he really builds to a fiery finale. Ed Brubaker is doing the same for Captain America by having the story follow the one main thread for years. It only now feels resolved and he’s starting a new chapter of it all in the Heroic Age. Jonathan Hickman is also well into this style of storytelling in his Fantastic Four run, and Secret Warriors also feels like one big tale, except for the Dark Reign and Siege tie-in issues which were clearly weaker as he strayed from his vision.

Geoff Johns has spent just about as many years over at DC building up a mammoth Green Lantern saga via Rebirth, Sinestro Corps War, and then into Blackest Night. He decided to strip the character down and then slowly rebuild him into a top selling character and one that can carry his own event. It’s an impressive feat and one that has worked through sheer dedication and love of the entire universe around the character. To enjoy each arc you’d just have to dial in for a few months but to get the entire myth you needed a few years of persistence to the tale over many different titles.

Grant Morrison has also done a very impressive feat of making his Batman arcs stand alone, mostly, by having them almost subversively mean something more later on when presented with the entire tale. He’s taken the character into death, a major event, a new title, with a new man as the main character, and then a mini series about the return of Bruce Wayne and you can elect to read it as one massive saga or you can enjoy segmented pieces that generally stand alone for your enjoyment.

There are also great examples of very long form storytelling outside of the universes of the Big Two as there are many creator owned titles that have run around 60 titles to tell the entire story. Y: The Last Man, Planetary, Preacher, Ex Machina, Transmetropolitan, Scalped, and The Walking Dead are just a handful of examples of titles that require you to devote many months, and years, to get a complete scope of the story being addressed. Usually, there are defined arcs but everything is always enhanced by seeing the wholistic context in which each moment is written. To try to jump on can be difficult because so much has been covered in previous arcs and there aren’t usually that many expository dumps where the reader can catch up. To catch up you are expected to go read what has been done.

Many complain of the decompression of the stories being published today, and I can understand why readers do not want every story to be expressly stretched for the trade experience (Diggle and Johnston’s latest arc on Daredevil stands out for me in this regard) but there are also benefits to having a story be told over many years. You get to completely immerse yourself in the tale, and with the characters, and that’s an amazing experience to share with the creators. I am a massive fan of long term storytelling because you can fit so much more in, obviously, but you can tease out the slow burn and truly make the characters grow and change within the context of the events being presented to them.

Pages in today’s comics seem so much lighter in terms of text and story density but this is because writer’s are obviously spreading the story out, so they don’t need to cram as much action into every page, but they are also placing some of the continuity onus on the reader to understand who each character is and what their prior story is, thus not needing as many expository narrations to be delivered. I feel that the writers have also better learnt how to make the words balance with the art so that only a line need be written to convey emotion, motivation, and foreboding for what is to come. Each line must be necessary for inclusion now and the language and complexity of what is said has been lifted where not all lines need to be spoon fed to the reader.

We also now get massive double splash pages that sometimes feel like padding to fill out an issue and other times are true representations of the majestic scale on which some stories are told. Mostly I see these splash pages, especially when there is more than one in an issue, as a bit of place filler to get the requisite page count right so that the issue ends on the right beat to set up the next issue. It’s a shame that this happens so often but readers are getting better at reading a tale to fill in the gaps and appreciate the art. There has even been experimentation of silent issues, but this is usually to tell a story in a different way, not because of laziness. Some might even argue that it’s more difficult to plot and plan an entire issue through images and not have the words let the reader in on the full intent.

Long form storytelling has also been slowly built up in the common entertainment industry and LOST would be the perfect example. It took six seasons to tell its one gigantic tale. It would be pretty hard to take just one episode, or even one season, and enjoy it only for what it is. Each part of LOST is a piece and to get the whole puzzle you need to be in on the entire thing (except for Expose which was surprisingly one of the best episodes of the show and also one of the few stand alone tales to be told over six years). Other shows like Buffy and The Wire also learnt to craft long form stories, though they did a better job of making each season a little more stand alone and separate, though obviously having just that bit more meaning and enjoyment when placed into the grander context.

Movies and books today also usually look to the longer form of making everything work together for the larger tale as we see Harry Potter and Twilight both build momentum and fans as they trucked along their pieces of the whole picture. It seems that most fans seem to appreciate being given a sprawling saga that they can lose themselves in. They don’t want characters to go away but rather prefer to see them through from the cradle to the all important grave. The longer the story the more invested we become in the characters and the greater the weight of the story can be.


I wonder for the future of storytelling whether there is any further to go. Can our stories get any longer. Could we see a long form tale take 10 years to tell, or even longer. Imagine an epic about one character that spans decades. Or, at least, imagine another one after Cerebus did it. Could you stay on board that title, with that singular creative team, for that long? It would be an investment that would challenge but the rewards of seeing such a massive portion of one character’s story and journey would surely yield an impressive result. Or have we swayed far enough away from the early days of singular stories filled with text that we’ll settle back into a happy medium. I think each story needs its own amount of space to be told, to stray from that and be locked in by the mandated segments that you are supposed to align with is to ruin the organic nature that is the act of forming a universe within your mind and then best expressing it. Some stories work best for comics, others for movies, others sonnets and songs, so I think you should go with what works. If it’s not organic, and you force it, then the bitter taste left with the public will be the only lasting impression you leave.

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Marc said...

I'm not sure I agree that the 1960s were a time of "telling, not showing." In fact, I'd argue the opposite. During that time (at Marvel, at least), it was all about the art. The art was always done first, and the words came afterward; Stan Lee didn't write scripts for his artists to then "show" him. Between artists like Kirby and Ditko, I think it really was about the spectacle.

I do think there was a "telling, not showing" phase, but it started a few decades before the 1960s and ended with Fantastic Four #1 in 1961 (later at DC). The stories published prior to that were much more emblematic of the qualities you mentioned -- the Twilight Zone quality (think EC or the Atlas monster stories) and being aimed at kids, for example.

There were exceptions during that time, of course, like Simon and Kirby's Captain America -- now there was a book about "showing." But for the most part, I think the '60s are really the second phase in the development of the long-form story, and that they deserve a bit more credit for that.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Hey Marc - yeah, I guess that'd be fair to say, you make a good point. Having read a stack of old Marvel issues, though, it is hard to get past wordy Stan Lee at times as he tells us what is happening quite often, and I know the text to art ratio then was massively higher than it is now, but now it's so sadly low that I feel disappointed to get through a comic in only a few minutes.

Anonymous said...

........yeah its comics you need to stop thinking that most comics have a good timeline and story structure

Steven said...

The future is getting closer and closer for what is a niche market within the quickly dying field of print publishing. The continuous price raising of 22 page pamphlets cannot go on much further. Four dollars a book seems almost insane.

For short-form pamphlet storytelling, the model will have to move to a digital format. Hopefully not the 'digital motion' thing they currently sometimes use.

The trade paperback graphic novel format will have to become the standard practice within comic book physical publishing eventually. If only for the ability to keep the books in print indefinitely.

Brandon Whaley said...

I agree with you Ryan. Seems when I go back and read my old Silver Surfer issues I'm constantly in the Surfer's head being told what he is thinking rather than current comics where he is shown as stoic and a man of few words. Sure, he IS a man of few words, but the old comics shoved his thoughts down my throat. Not that it was bad, but it definitely did a lot more "telling" and a lot less "showing."

Anonymous said...

oh get a grip . they are just comics . There will never be a epic tale of ten year like harry potter or whatever because they are not good eenough period. I like comics but they are no match to novels , films , and television , granted if they are good

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Uh...I'm not talking about continuity or timeline WITHIN the tale but talking about the distribution method of the tale. Stories like LOST and Y went for years to get to us, regardless of how long time moves in the actual tale. I'm talking about having people hanging on a story for years and getting one big massive pay off for getting that one story continually for some time.

I'd argue that comics are equally as good as any other medium, especially as you can get a monthly fix but the tale can take years to transpire (in our time) and you aren't beholden to actors aging and having to organise their pay scales to keep everything running along well. You can write Yorick Brown for years and only have him change a little because you are the master of comics. Books can be just as epic, if not more so, but I wouldn't say one is better than the other, it's just a matter of choice.

Anonymous said...

you can also have the same tale without having to have a fight every month

2Books can be just as epic"

just as? come on mate you have to admit movies and books are miles better . There has never been a comic up to harry potters calibre or sopranos or lord of the rings , the road etc I could go on and on but the fact is there has never been a comic up that epic andI doudt there will ever be

Dennis N said...

I miss the times back when Anonymous commenting was turned off

Kirk Warren said...

@Anonymous 8 - Im not sure if you are trolling or not. It's kind of sad you have such a limited world view that Harry Potter is your prime example of a movie/book that is "epic" and is some kind of high calibre work of art that comics can never possibly reach.

william said...

I am not trolling . I used harry potter as I thought that would relate to the word "EPIC" as it was a well written series which made millions of children to reading . I also used the road and lord of the rings. And you say I am limited but you have not used any comics that have reached the calibre of other mediums . I like comics I buy them for my son but I dont kid myself that they are as good as the other mediums

Anonymous said...

I reallydont like how you guys can delete comment s if you dont agree with them :(

sorry it just seems so easy to delete 8s comments because you dont like them . . . ity was just an opinion

Klep said...

@Marc - I think it's more that the 60's was a time of "telling AND showing." Frequently you would have panels with characters describing exactly what could plainly be seen in the art. In my opinion, you can track the growth and maturation of the industry in part by looking at the decline of such unnecessary exposition, which these days is quite rare.

Brian Dickey said...

I believe the potential of comics is best summed up by a quote I've seen from Harvey Pekar, Warren Ellis, and I believe Will Eisner. Comics are word and pictures, you can do anything with words in pictures (quote likely mangled and paraphrased). The combined visual and literary aspects of the medium opens up possibilities for narrative structures that are not possible in other forms. Now, do that mean every piece of work is high grade caliber? No, but neither are Twilight and Transformers 2. Every work in every medium can't be claimed as high caliber. But you can hold up works such as Transmetropolitan, Sandman, and The Filth as high achievements. To write off an entire medium as only capable of low grade pop culture is astoundingly ignorant.

Don Winslow said...

So, no one here reads Hellboy/BPRD? At the end of Storm and Fury, Mignola will have reached the midpoint of a 30 year plan. BPRD is hitting nearly the same midpoint. It's an epic story that just recently threw me for a loop. Hellboy is really the rightful ____________? Come on!

It's some of the best comics being put out there and no one here reads it. Sad. Oddly, I read through Atomic Robo on this site's suggestion and found it to be Hellboy but with a robot. I think Hellboy is the greater work and deserving of a larger audience.

Anonymous said...

not really most comics just go round in circles with no real character develpemont or story progression ie spiderman , batman , registation act , new kyrpton could go on and on . oh and god forbid 8 and another opinion kirk

Ryan K Lindsay said...

I'd say that plenty of comics match up to the epic calibre of The Sopranos, and I use Y: The Last Man as another example. That series is exceptionally solid. The same with series like The Walking Dead or DMZ. I'd take the Pepsi Challenge with any tv show or book series against these comics. They're massive sprawling stories and I feel exactly on the same level as anything like Lord of the Rings (but that's just me, I'm not a massive Rings fan though I can see why many are so enamoured with it).

@Anynous8 - I don't believe you are a troll, I just think we might have our wires crossed. You cite The Road as being epic, in that case you mean the scale of the actual tale, not the size or depth of it, as The Road was simply one book, not a series of them. The Road might not be the same sort of epic as I mean when I talk sprawling saga like six seasons of a tv show or cmoic, or whathaveyou, but The Road certainly is epic. However, there's plenty of comics that match that level of emotional maturity and I'd cite Pride of Baghdad as one and Asterios Polyp as another, they might not have epic/broken landscapes but they do have epic themes. I also hear things like Maus and Blankets are pretty epic too. So in either case, I think comics have plenty of epicness to match anything like the Harry Potter books or The Road.

You also mention not needing to have a fight every month, and I agree, and that's why a lot of the series I mention here have plenty of issues of nothing but good story. Issue #57 of Y is my favourite all time issue and it's mostly just two naked people talking.

I think you should maybe check some of these other comics out before just listing comics as an immature medium of superhero fantasies (even if it is a lot of that, ha)

As for anyone hating on the anonymous section, man, we wouldn't have had this conversation without it so I'm happy, that's all we need, more good conversation, which we're kind of getting! Huzzah!

Ryan K Lindsay said...

I think everyone seems hung up on superhero comics for their arguments. Sure, they go round in circles, that's part of their game (some of them), but the other comics, the really good and well written ones have some serious character work and storytelling mastery. To write a story off because someone decided to let the pictures aid them is a little narrow minded, and that's not me ranting because someone disagrees with me, it just seems silly to say "ah, movies are no good, you need words on the page to get a REAL tale" (and before someone tries to make the argument that movies are inherently better than books I'll cite Memento, and I know it was a Jonathan Nolan short first, but there is no way to appreciate that except on film!). Makes me wonder if when Guttenberg redefined the print age people who were used to tell stories said "bah, you can't have a tale without a voice, these pages are useless".

It seems flippantly ignorant, but it's for anyone to hold those views.

I generally don't think Batman is as good as high literature, sure, but some of the Vertigo work is sheer brilliance and it shouldn't be cast aside because the writer chose this medium instead of the higher form of novels.

Not saying you can't hold a different view, I just implore you to look outside of superhero comics before lambasting the entire medium...you're missing out on so much.

As for Anon12 - how often do you know we delete, or even refuse comments? I can think of one deleted comment from the past month and if you think we should have kept that one then you just aren't for this site, but otherwise we moderate but I always approve the comments, or at least have so far. We could delete a comment we don't like, we always had that power, but we rarely do, we just chat back.

koottie said...

I enjoy long stories in comic books but I really like it when they finish up a story in a few months such as second coming, and I enjoyed the "break" in between messiah war and second coming. I didn't like how blackest night ended and brightest day happened almost instantaneously. They might as well of called it blackest night 2.

I would love it if there was a show such as breaking bad, lost, or true blood that told an epic tale for as many seasons as, oh I don't know, the Simpsons.

twobitspecialist said...

I still think that guy is trolling. I know it's off-topic but if he is allowed to express his opinions, however inflammatory they be, than I want to express mine. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

In terms of the 90's, I can only imagine you abide to the philosophy if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing. But it was also an interesting time because it was a point were the art took center stage. the whole development of Image comics should not be seen as a decline in quality, but a different kind of appreciation, that contributed to the quality of comics that we have now in which the art matches, not always, the story. It's been a long road to get here but it's just getting good in my opinion.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@twibit - the only difference is, he's expressing an opinion and he's not really going against anyone, just against my definiations, and that's fine, whereas your say is more just against him as a person, via his views - if that makes sense. In other words, don't feed the trolls, but feel free to eruditely converse with them.

@Anon21 - When looking at actual story size i didn't feel a lot of the 90's was super relevant and any ground made there via Image and the like, was better covered in the further effects they yielded in our 2000's storytelling.

I would think, say what you will about the 90's, it certainly was a formitive stage in the comic medium, for good and/or bad.

Marc said...

@Ryan - Yeah, the amount of text in some older comics gives some people a harder time than others. It's especially difficult when you're used to reading comics that, like you said, take only a couple of minutes to breeze through. You'd think more writers would have discovered a happy medium by this point!

@Klep - You have a good point, "showing and telling" is a pretty good way of describing it! I'm not sure I agree with some of the comments that have described the "telling" as "unnecessary" though. That was just the style of Stan Lee and Marvel at that time...it was the way he chose to tell the story, just like you might say a writer today who doesn't use many words is making a stylistic choice.

If you don't like that style that's one thing, but I think it's a mistake to assume there was something inherent to comics in the 1960s that somehow bound Lee to write in that way. That's apparent if you look at any one of the huge number of counter-examples from that time, many of them non-superhero-related -- like ACG's Herbie, for example.

@Anon8 - Even if you think there's never been a comic book as great as the best books or films, why would you just assume that the genre isn't even capable of that sort of greatness? I can't even imagine regularly devoting my time and energy to a medium (ANY medium) if I thought that little of it and its artistic potential.

brandon said...

To continue with what Steven posted with print media dying out (newspapers, magazines, music and even books to some extent) is the future really in digital format? It seems to me that digital output will be even harder to make money off going forward which in turn will probably create a lower level of quality output and less of it.

Most companies that relied on print (in any industry) to make money have struggled to do so on the internet as well.

In that regard maybe storytelling will go back to easier to produce types like a simple self enclosed story.

William said...

Its for my son who is ten . And let's nit argue about the quality for a second. But can you really see books one day being sold and celebrated like harry potter( I use this book as it turned many kids to Reading , a well written series and a movie franchise, unlike twilight)

twobitspecialist said...

William - Perhaps your son will grow to enjoy the medium better than you do right now. Right now, you remind me of parents in the '70s who didn't give a flip about comics.

twobitspecialist said...

William - I'm still baffled that you would come to this website, where we all love comic books and enjoy comic book discussion, and then proceed to criticize us for and comics books in general. Do you even have anything you feel passionate about? We do, but you criticize us for it.

Dennis N said...

I agree with #14, you really get a lot more from a mix of pictures and text than you get with just having one or the other. Just because most comics aren't great doesn't mean there's anything about comics themselves that makes them unable to be great. Shows like the Jersey Shore exist, and yet television can be great.

A lot of this discussion reminds me of the article Roger Ebert wrote a few weeks ago about how video games could never achieve the level of art that films do. He was roundly criticized for it, so much that he changed his mind. The consensus was that video games mostly aren't art, but they can rise to that level in the future; that is, there is nothing inherently preventing them from being masterpieces.

William said...

I enjoy comics . I get them for my I pod. I was just having an intresting discussion with Ryan about comic quality compared to other mediums. He seemed intelligent enough to understand that. I cannot say the same for you.

Anonymous said...

get a life twobit and stop trying to derail a disscussion .

I believe that comics may be up to scratch with any other mediums now that they are movies . and you are able to get comics through digital instead of trying to find a comic shop

wolflahti said...

Interesting and well-presented, but just about everything said here applies to one specific area of comic publishing. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than the fights-in-tights genre.

twobitspecialist said...

William - Wow. Now you are calling me dumb. Good for you, sir.

Anon30 - I've done nothing but defend comics books from near-sighted people. If anything, William de-railed the discussion by starting to talk about how comic books suck.

katie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ryan K Lindsay said...

This'll be a long one, apologies first:

@Brandon - you make a good point about digital quality. Newspapers rushed online and then the editor process suffered massively with less spell checking and fact checking going on, so you make an interesting side point; will this happen to comics too as the immediacy of being able to print straight online derails the editor process. I honestly don't know my stand on that one...

@DennisN - you make a great point with Jersey Shore, every medium can be derailed, even the lofty novel as dime store trash (and not the cool old hard boiled trash/pulps) but real trash gets published and even Twilight gets my goat as it's exceptionally poorly written, but I don't know that this debate needs a Twilight flame war right now, ha.

@wolflahti - I mostly used superhero comics as examples as for years they were the majority of what was being published, and probably still are right now. Towards the end of this article I do try to show that independent comics nowadays do look at the higher quality, and there are tons of examples for that right now. Even for the early days I should have listed the EC horror, sci-fi and crime comics but didn't...Excellent quote by the way, made me smile.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@William - the man who proved (to a degree) anti-troll by simply adding a name and putting a case forward. Also, thanks for assuming my intelligence, ha, let's test it out. I honestly do see certain comics being celebrated years later and I in fact know this happens because I see comics get taught at many levels of education. I am a primary school teacher and I teach comics of all sorts. Works like the new Marvel Oz books are brilliant and a different way to present the old material, not to mention works like Maus which can raise some very high level concepts. Comics are even taught at university level, and comic journo Tim Callahan does a course in it and it sounds brilliant. There are works in comics that will be celebrated and I guarantee a lot of it will be stuff that's being made right now. If I were in high school I'd be teaching way more of it. Look at a writer like Brian K Vaughan, and again I look towards Y (sorry, it seems like my only example, it's not, it's just my favourite), and the man knows how to structure a page. In novels the turn of the page doesn't matter, you just keep reading, whereas in comics the turn of the page is structured to give you a little kick and BKV nearly always does it. His writing is economical, erudite, and completely worthy of study in a lot he has written. The only reason comics aren't more widely celebrated is because it's still a niche market, and people still have so many preconceptions about them, which is a shame. Sure, there's plenty of dreck, but there's some wickedly smart stuff.

Now, I'll get to Harry Potter, a book I don't like so this is purely my 'opinion' but again as a teacher it's a somewhat informed opinion. Harry Potter is a fine and accessible book but it's not exactly 'great', not like Melville or any other classic. Rowling simply stood on the shoulders of giants to create a very enjoyable tale that entertains kids but to me is the equivalent of a popcorn flick, and that's a great thing to get kids reading, so long as it's only a gateway and platform. I remember hearing someone marvel at how Rowling created all these creatures...she did not. I remember hearing someone complain that the X-Men movie ripped off Potter (school for specially powered kids, old headmaster, etc) my jaw nearly hit the floor. Rowling is (I'm sorry, it's true) a simple writer. She's effective, sure, but she also loads up each novel with way too much back story that was included in prior volumes. Harry Potter, to me, is like pandering to the lowest common denominator and I'd much prefer teach other things (The Phantom Tollbooth being one substitution I always make). Now, Lord of the Rings, that's high literature, sure. Potter, fluff, I'll always see it that way.

Lastly, William, I am curious as to what you read? (And I'm not asking in some smug asshole way) What comics do you get on your iPad, and have you read any of the creator owned stuff coming out lately? I could list off Y, Scalped, DMZ, that sort of thing that you might just love (though it's not for your son, not yet anyway :) so I'm interested to know if you've given the much better stuff a go or is your view of comics only in the spandex stuff (which usually lacks in a lot of quality)?

Anonymous said...

dark knight frank millar. invincible (for my son , ok but at least the story and characters always progress ( also my son is twelve my bad) the walking dead, the first arc of iron fist) detective comics rucka williams)

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Alright, just to help out with the deleted comment before. Whoever Katie is I just want to let you know, I read your comment (even agreed to a mild degree) but it simply wasn't going to help so I deleted it. If you want to discuss that with me please do (just put it in a comment if you like and I'll read it in moderation, or email me)but I did not think what you said up in this board was going to aid the discussion any (I know you probably think I should delete the comments that you are talking about as well, and please know I am aware of this and am considering options). Please don't take this as a slap to not comment again, I just don't want to see this devolve, any more than it has in places.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

It's weireding talking tlike this but this comment is only for 'Katie'. I have recieved your comment, I won't publish it, but I will reply here.

I agree with your sentiments and want you to know that this situation is has been put in my 'critical list' and I'll be dealing with it with some finality hopefully very soon. Please feel confident that I am on the job. Cheers.

william said...

I stress that I like comics . but it grows tiresome when you see spiderman go through the same stories. or the characters never grow . peter is now single living with his aunt, asgard is in heaven again, superhuman act gone. batman back.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@William - yeah, but that's super comics, and they're rarely going to be studied, though i could make cases for some stories, but have you read any of the other comics, the not-super ones? If not you should, there's some insane quality in them. That stuff will live on and be studied. If your argument has only meant the titles I mentioned in most of the article, then yeah, you might be right, very little superhero fare would be studied, though I'd be interested to do some work with Daredevil, though probably not in primary school...a shame.

Anonymous said...

I cannot stand daredevil now. Ithought the bendis/brubaker run was edgy and out there . but diggle is now doing the brainwashed story which i despise . we all know he will be back to red . again the cycle of all superheroes . no character or plot progression

Marc said...

Something tells me that Anon41 sort of missed the point of Ryan's comment...

william said...

it was an accident . get a grip

Dennis N said...


OMD was roundly criticized for the regression, and I don't think Asgard is back in the heavens quite yet. If you're reading Avengers Prime, it seems that the 9 worlds are all messed up.

That said, Asgard will be back. Long running superhero comics have a status quo. Everyone knew that Batman would come back, and Superman before him. That's just the constraints of being in-continuity at one of the Big 2.

What happens is how well a writer can work within the constraints that he's given, and that applies to all mediums, each with different constraints. Newspaper strips get 3 panels a day, comics gets 22 pages a month, movies get ~2 hours, Haikus get 5-7-5 syllables. Short stories are generally constrained to a few pages and yet some of the greatest works of art are short stories.

How good of a tale and you tell, while working within the status quo?

william said...

you cannot make that good a tale working within a status quo. no matter how good thd writer is they are still constrained whereas independent or strong creative control, and novelists have full control and they are no restraints. your comment summed up my point on superhero comics

twobitspecialist said...

William - Fine. You win. Superhero comics suck. Let's call it quits right here and go home.

Anonymous said...

Have not seen that many comments since the site became the marvel crisis (just for 2 weeks tough). It is great, today you go to other comic book review sites and see if you are lucky 10 comments.

This is freedom of speech and I celebrate it.


Ryan K Lindsay said...

@William, I think you can make a good tale within the Status Quo, Bendis did it on Daredevil for most of his arcs (man, do I only have the same old examples, ha). The Steranko Fury stuff was pretty damn solid, even Bru's Cap has pushed some boundaries, just for get its more recent arcs where it's proving your point...

I think it can be done, it's a damn sight harder, but it can be done.

@twobit - let's not resort to extremes, mate. Good discussion needs to be taken in stead.

@DIANA - you call it freedom of speech, I call it heaps of work, ha. Nah, I am loving this thread, great discussion and it's made my day to have come from my article, this right here is why I write and publish on TWC, you guys. Thanks.

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