Tagged: Understanding Comics

Glenn Hauman: Is Binge-Reading Bad For Comics?

On a whim the other day, I decided to go re-read some old Warlock comics.

It was an extremely mind-blowing experience, and not for the usual reasons when reading Warlock.

The issues blurred by in a smear— or maybe that was the old crappy printing. The seams in the stories were much more visible than I remembered. Things that seemed deep and profound just came off as silly and obvious. Even Adam Warlock himself, instead of being the tormented golden child trying to find his place in the universe, sounded and acted like a whiny brat.

Why? What happened? Was this book hit by the suck fairy?

No, that wasn’t it. It was because I was taking it in waaaay too fast. These books were simply not designed to be consumed one after the other so quickly.

You may have noticed this phenomenon yourself.

Scott McCloud spends a chapter in Understanding Comics about the way time flows when you read comics, how time is perceived, and the relationship between time as depicted in the comics by the creators and how it’s perceived by the reader. But, amazingly, he missed one important unit of time— the gap in time (and therefore reading) imposed from publishing.

We’ve talked for a long time about comics being written for the trades — that moment where we gather up six or so issues at a time, every six months or so, and put them together for a single unit of consumption. But for a lot of history, comics weren’t like that. There were no trades to be had. There were just single issues that you had to wait a month for. (Or, depending on where you grew up, you waited a week for 5-8 page chunks of stories, either in The Spirit section of the Sunday paper or something like 2000 AD.)

There were gaps of time. Cliffhangers. Come back next issue, kids!

Comics creators in the past used those intervals at the same time they were constricted by them. Chris Claremont was mocked for years for reintroducing all the X-Men every single issue, but he knew that every issue was going to be somebody’s first, while other readers were just going to have forgotten who was who over a month’s time. (And over time, X-Men became the most popular title Marvel published. He had to be doing something right.)

The biggest beneficiary of this gap? I claim it was Watchmen. Readers were tossed into a such a deeply detailed world where we were trying to just get more – we had to read the back matter of the issues, the non-comics stuff which hinted at a much larger world because there was nothing else to read. And fans would pore over it and discuss and argue while waiting, waiting for the next issue.

Around 400,000 readers read Watchmen episodically, you can tell who was screaming over the three-month gap between issues #10 and #11. But since then, there’s been the Watchmen collected editions, which is the way most people have read it in the three decades (yikes!) since with a total print run well over 4 million copies at this point.

And I really have to wonder… how are the new folks reading it? Are they going straight through? Are they skipping over the text pieces, and maybe coming back later? I don’t know, but I do know that they don’t have to wait for the next installment… and that has to change how the book impacts you.

What do you think?

Martha Thomases: Understanding Scott McCloud

If you haven’t read The Sculptor, stop reading this and go get yourself a copy immediately,

Need more persuasion? Okay, but you’re missing out on valuable time that could be spent reading this awesome book. I’ve been a fan of Scott’s since Zot because it was funny and human and had a villain named Art Deco. More people became fans when he published the brilliant Understanding Comics. There is no one who uses the graphic story medium to better effect than Scott McCloud.

The Sculptor showcases McCloud’s mastery of technique. His use of color is impeccable. The book is black and white with blue tones, giving the different scenes a variety of moods and weights. The way he uses overlapping word balloons reminds me of an Altman movie. The panel arrangements speed up time and slow it down, depending on the needs of the character.

All of this is in service to the story: David Smith is a frustrated artist trying to make it in New York. He makes a deal with Death (not the cute girl but an old Jewish man who reminds me of my mom’s Uncle Harry) to have 200 days when he create whatever art he wants, in exchange for dying at the end of the deal.

Then he falls in love.

Meg isn’t anyone’s dream girl. A struggling actress, she has serious emotional problems including, I think, a variation of bi-polar disorder (Note: I am not a doctor). Still, her energy and her compassion strike a chord with David. It’s not an easy relationship for either of them. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy to believe it.

I’ve seen people compare the story to Faust, and I guess I get that analogy, but it doesn’t really hold up. David doesn’t ask for fame or power – he just wants to make his art the way he wants to make his art. He doesn’t even negotiate for a gallery show where people can see his work.

It’s all about the art.

A major character in this book is New York City. Not the New York of Friends or Sex and the City or even Peter Parker, this is the New York of cheap rent, scummy landlords, tight money and brilliant, artistic friends. It’s the New York I wanted to live in when I came here nearly 40 years ago. So much so that I almost thought the story took place at that time, until I noticed everyone had cell phones.

I thought that New York was gone. Maybe I’m just too old for it. I’m grateful to The Sculptor for letting me live there again, for at least as long as it took to read.

And another thing! It’s bugged me lately that critics seem to think that superhero movies are the root of all evil. It’s a genre that gets sneers from everyone, even though it’s relatively new (I would say it started with Superman in 1978).

Okay, we can discuss whether or not Thor: The Dark World was as good a film as The Imitation Game. I don’t think it was. Still, it brought happiness to millions. I think that’s a good thing.

And it gives a lot of people a chance to make a living in a field they love. Or, as Marvel writer Gerry Duggan said on Twitter Sunday night after J. K. Simmons won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, “J Jonah Jameson beat two Hulks to win an Oscar, then Ra’s al Ghul said there are too many comic adaptations. #Oscars2015”


Mindy Newell: Up, Up And Away In My Beautiful Balloon

Word BalloonsI wanted to write about word balloons, which I’m pretty sure hasn’t been talked about here at ComicMix before, at least since I arrived here, is it coming on three years already? And now I’m incredibly frustrated and possibly going crazy.

I got the idea from seeing a piece in Entertainment Weekly featuring an interview with Scott McCloud in which he talked about the use of word balloons in comics. I thought I set the magazine aside to use as a reference – and I’ve been tearing about the house for over an hour looking for it. Can’t find it anywhere…and I even went through my recycle bin. And I went to EW’s website, but have you been there recently? It’s H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E! Supposedly it was “redesigned,” but it looks more like it was hacked into by The Onion’s staff, or maybe the same goons from North Korea who hacked into Sony. I mean, what kind of website doesn’t have a search engine icon?? Go ahead, go try searching the site for an old article… even a recap of Downton Abbey from two weeks ago. Unless I’m blind, it just ain’t there, folks – and if I am, please let me know how to search the EW website down below in the comments!

But back to word balloons.

If I could get a nickel for every time someone, upon learning that I’ve written comics, has said something like so you put the words in those little balloons, I’d be a rich lady. Maybe not part of the 1%, but at least a member of the 7%. Well, I do, actually. Put the words in the balloons, I mean. Only it all starts on the written page, whether it’s done as a full script or in what’s often called “Marvel style.”

I think I’ve said this before, but for me, when I’m really in the zone as I’m writing a story, it’s like watching a movie unfold in my head and all I’m doing is transcribing. As Scott pointed out in that article and in his brilliant Understanding Comics, the trick is, since it’s a visual medium, to convey the emotion behind the lettered words. And by using the art of the balloon, not only in its lettering, but in its presentation and placement within the panel. For example, if I were writing a key scene in a story between Clark Kent and Lois Lane in which Lois Lane has had enough of the bullshit, my script would look like this:

Lois: Well, you know what, Clark….

Lois: (big, bold letters in a big, bold balloon, because she’s done with the whole situation) GO FUCK YOURSELF AND THE ROCKET YOU FLEW IN ON!

Not that I could ever get away with that particular terminology in DC land. Well, I could if it was Vertigo.

If you’re lucky and you’ve got a great artist and a great letterer who really get it – and I have been – the final result will really hit the reader. If you’re not lucky, and you’ve got a hack artist and a hack letterer – and I’ve been there, too – the final result is just another panel among many, and that key moment will leave the reader skimming the page and feeling nothing.

Another trick I’ve used when writing scripts is what I call the “Howard Hawks” method. Film director Howard Hawks (The Thing from Another World, His Girl Friday) was known for his ability to have his actors talk the way real people talk, i.e., interrupting each other, overlapping, talking to themselves while the other person is continuing to talk, conversations going on in the background – he was so good at directing his actors in this that quite often you have to watch a scene at least twice to get everything. (Watch those two movies I reference above, and this time don’t pay attention to the main action– listen for what’s going on in the background. It’s quite a kick– for instance, did you know that the leading man and the leading lady in The Thing from Another World were sleeping together? I bet the censors didn’t catch that either, which is probably why it got through the finished cut. And of course Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell were superb at talking over one another in Friday.

The way you do this in comics is to have the balloons themselves overlapping and trying to crowd each other out. In that EW piece, a panel from one of Scott’s comics – I believe it is the upcoming The Sculptor, for which he is getting tremendous praise – has his character walking through Times Square, in his own world – but Scott gives you the sense of the thousands of people crowding and walking through the area with word balloons “floating” everywhere – bits of conversation that are going on around the main character which he doesn’t really hear except as the “buzz” of the city. Again, as a reader, because of the placement of the balloons, the number of balloon, the art of the balloon, you are with the character, not just a casual bystander.

Mindy: (faintly lined balloon with small letters, she’s whispering to herself) shit, it’s 6:27. mike is gonna kill me. better wrap this up.

Mindy: Let me know if any of you find that EW piece, okay, guys? See ya next week. And thanks.