Saturday, October 1, 2011

Editorial Diatribe from the Catacombs: Where's the narrative?

There are four types of captions in comics: Location & Time, Internal Monologue, Spoken, and Narrative. Location & Time captions were formerly the same font as your dialogue only inside a caption box and italicized. The mainstream companies have begun using various blocky, sans-serif fonts to indicate locations and time stamps. In most cases these are italicized and can be lowercase as well as having drop caps or outlines. Internal Monologue captions, largely replacing (thought balloons), are the inner voice of a character. These are typically italicized. Spoken Captions are the vocalized speech of a character that is off camera. These are not italicized but make special use of "quotation marks". Finally, Narrative captions feature the voice of the writer or editor and are also italicized. - Courtesy of Blambot & Nate Piekos

OR. Virtually all of it can be eliminated, given the proper setting and tone of a given story. Or. The writer and/or artist is particularly gifted in storytelling in the first place and all of the above is irrelevant. Here (see above), it would help if the editor who was responsible for hiring creators who produce stuff like this, would actually crack the whip or withhold payment. See below!

The page (again, above) is a current Newsarama preview of an upcoming Dark Horse Comics Star Wars: The Old Republic - The Lost Suns #5. Apparently neither the writer or the artist thinks that their reading audience has the mental capacity to actually READ a story. Look at this pathetic excuse of a comic page. Look at all of the wasted space that could have been utilized to tell a better story, or at least provided us with some descriptive information. Does Dark Horse think that this creative team is so visually innovative, or their work so remarkably revolutionary, that they can simply dispense with actually giving their readers something for their money? Of course, every page is part of a larger story, but each page is supposed to individually have a beginning-middle-end flow to move the EYE along the page and to entice the reader to want to go to the next page. Nothing about this page makes me want to buy it. And they thought including this in a preview would do so?

Sadly, as all of you well know, this has become the norm. Unfortunately for us all, this kind of sad omission of real story CONTENT probably has more to do with a declining readership, than any number of ridiculous reboots meant primarily to stroke the egos of latter-day creators, who can't actually create much of anything it seems; like words on a page. And lets say that you are one of those tools who truly doesn't give a rats ass about this kind of thing. Would you really buy this page for the kind of cash most creators charge for their original artwork?  If the common charge of modern artists creating "poster" quality images for resell on the convention circuit is true; would you buy THIS image at a premium price? 

I'm including three pages of old school artwork from past masters of the form to demonstrate what a real comic book page is supposed to look like. The artwork by Jack Kirby, Murphy Anderson and Don Heck ably demonstrates that even during action sequences with "quiet" panels, there is still story to be told. These pages show that even during static or contemplative moments, story remains to be told. You will notice that even in the absence of the main character speaking in some panels, all of the remaining space can be used to set the tone, to provide descriptive information, or to just fill in the blanks. I guess these days, when much of the audience is mentally blank, it doesn't matter.

The only remaining comment that I can muster in response to that poor comic page up at the top of this post (due in stores on October 12, 2011) is, "Ugk - -"


cash_gorman said...

I thought about the lack of narrative in many modern comics when reading the Showcase volume of Marvel's b/w Doc Savage series. Part of the reason why that series seems to get the spirit of Doc right is because of the captions which tell the story and get across the narrative voice.

There seems to be a strong contingent of comic readers that don't want to actually READ, glossing over captions and such. Yet, that's where a talented writer can get across their style and voice, that's as unique as the artist's style. This goes back at least as far as the 90s as even then people complained about James Robinson's Starman being too wordy.

Sure there are bad examples of captions and thought balloons, but even then they gave more meat and substance to comics than found these days.

Notice along with them mostly gone are sound effects and speed-lines, as if anything that could not be communicated as an actual photograph or still should be left out.

I think another artist/writer deserving mention is Mignola. In lieu of heavy captions, he uses panels depicting non story-telling elements to heighten sense of mood and style. Thus a scene in a graveyard may have the action broken up of panels featuring a close-up on a broken statue of an angel, a pitch black raven on a tombstone, faded plastic flowers in an urn, etc.

Mr Blue Genes said...

And, like all modern comics, it's printed in muted colors on shiny paper, so that the glare will ensure you can't read it anyway.

Daniel [] said...

Back in the early '70s, my mother investigated using comic books to teach remedial reading, but found that they were unsuitable because they demanded too much reading ability.

I guess that she were just ahead of her time.

Pappy said...

Thanks for your observations, Chuck. I could not agree more.