Writer. Creator. Large mammal.

And So This Is Christmas Plus More Sex

First, a Few Items

An Apology to Mark Waid

Mark Waid wrote this scene, which I showed as an example of an out-of-character use of Aunt May for the purpose of a shocker:

I had no idea that Mark had written that scene, not that it would have mattered. I’m an equal opportunity complainer. Anyone may find him or herself honked at here.

Here’s where I went wrong: I judged the scene against Aunt May’s character as it was when I was at Marvel. The Aunt May I knew of was a very old-fashioned woman, the epitome of propriety, who no more would have had sex out of wedlock than my Victorian-era Grandma, who was born in 1888. But, I’ve been told that Aunt May became a little more of a modern Golden Girl subsequently, and that the scene is not out of character for her. Okay.

Sorry, Mark.

In case I haven’t made it clear enough previously, I regard Mark Waid as one of the best and brightest writers I know or have heard tell of.  Have you read Irredeemable?

A Disclaimer

Please understand that when I do my analyses of various issues or hold forth on various subjects like sex in the comics, by no means am I trying to tell you what you should or shouldn’t like. If a scene I find irrelevant, out of character or unsound for any reason happens to work for you or tickle your fancy, so be it. If a book I disparage is your favorite, so be it. We have no argument.

People like what they like. No one has to justify what they like or defend why they like it.

Most of us here have enough comic book background to understand and appreciate things that might fly right over the heads of the uninitiated. That’s cool. Today’s comics creators are creating the stuff for us to a great extent. While I think that might be a limiting factor regarding the growth (or survival) of the business, foolish business strategy and evidence of poor craftsmanship or bad judgment, so what? It’s not up to me to tell them what to do or tell you what to enjoy.

That’s why, in my rants, I take care to separate my comics-savvy reactions from my what-the-hell-is-a-new-reader-going-to-make-out-of-this reactions. What is the writer thinking or not thinking? All I’m trying to do is give anyone interested a peek at the man behind the curtain.

Same with the other perps—I mean participants. The artist, the editor, the publisher and the corporate overlords.  All I mean to do is provide whatever insight I can, given my training and experience.

Nobody has to agree with me. It’s okay, I’m used to it.  : )

On That Subject

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post “Sex and Drugs – Part 2“:


I love the blog and read it daily, but I have to disagree on one point: You can’t really compare a movie and a comic book title. There is no fat in a movie because of the time constraints;they have to cram a whole lot into an hour and a half or two hours. It’s more like a one-shot. Having to deal with a continuing narrative is completely different isn’t it? They don’t just tell a story and it’s done. It goes on and on and on. They really have to flesh the characters out quite a bit more. Maybe I’m looking at it from the wrong angle.

Again, I really enjoy the Blog!


Posted by Anonymous to Jim Shooter at December 27, 2011 1:21 PM


I respect your right to disagree. I think you are wrong. Are there differences between writing for comics and movies? Of course. Movies have time constraints, comics have page and panel restraints. Each medium has advantages and disadvantages. But, the basic obligations of the writer are the same. No matter how many comic book issues have preceded the one in your hands, no matter how many will follow, the one in your hands is the unit of entertainment you bought. The movie you are watching is the unit of entertainment you paid to see. They ought to be worth the price. That comic book, that movie, should be well-crafted. Well-crafted, from the writer’s perspective, means no irrelevant, confusing or non-sequitur parts. No shock-surprises that require prior knowledge to grasp their significance. Nothing to weaken or muddy the story. Nothing to ruin or compromise that unit.

That said, being usually a serial medium, comics do offer the opportunity to do continued stories and long-term continuity bits, teasers, slow builds and continuing sub-plots. I talk about how to do such things starting here: http://www.jimshooter.com/2011/11/how-to-do-continued-stories-and-next-or.html

A lot of movies these days have sequels or spawn a series. Bad directors, actors with clout demanding self-serving changes, interference from the producer or studio and film editors often compromise the screenwriter’s work, but I assure you that a screenwriter with any chops at all strives to make each movie, each unit of entertainment work as well as if it were the only one.

Some screenwriters use techniques similar to the ones explained starting on the post linked to above. For instance, in one of the Predator movies, we see a skull of a monster from Alien in a predator’s trophy case, presaging upcoming Alien vs. Predator movies. (But if you never saw Alien and don’t recognize it, it’s okay! It’s just another weird skull in a collection of skulls.) This has become more prevalent in recent times as sequels are planned, and often contractually obligated.

It’s easier for comic book writers to employ such techniques because it’s a month or so between our releases, as opposed to a year or so for movies. But the same logic applies. The same basic principles of craft apply.

Mystery is good. Confusion is bad.

A few of Mark Twain’s Rules of Literary Art:

  1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.
  2. They require that the episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale and shall help to develop it.
  3. They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit sufficient excuse for being there.

Substitute “issue” for “tale” to apply these rules to comic books. Rule #3 is really Twain’s Rule #4, but it autocorrected to #3 when I cut one rule out (because it was irrelevant to this issue, oops, I mean reply.)

I would expand #3 above to say anything should show sufficient excuse for being there, and I am confident Twain would agree.

An old saw often heard regarding screenplays goes: If you show a gun in Act I you’d better fire it in Act III. Sufficient excuse for being there.

In comics, if you do it as a proper tease, you could show a gun in one issue and fire it in the next. You’d need to show it again in the issue in which it is actually fired.

Kurt Vonnegut had his set of rules, too, in general agreement with Twain’s. For one thing, he said, “If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out.” For comics, I’d modify that to “If a sentence or a bit or a scene does not illuminate your subject in this issue in some new and useful way….” Again, the tease principles apply.


However, it’s the “something wonderful” part that eludes most people. Most people who throw down and dance upon the rules produce garbage. They can proudly say they ignored the rules. But they produced unreadable garbage. It takes someone with rare ability, insight and vision to venture off into new territory and make it work, make it wonderful and find a new way. When someone does, ain’t it grand?

I believe that Twain and certainly Vonnegut would heartily agree.

Even “decompressed” stories can be done if done well. I’ll talk about how to do that sometime, if anyone’s interested. Anything can be done if done with insight and skill.

So, take the “rules,” all rules, for what they’re worth: They’re tools. Twain’s rules comprise a pocket guide that helps writers analyze and judge the efficacy of their work.

The rules are not for readers! Readers shouldn’t be trotting out the rules and measuring works against them to see whether they like them. A reader should like something or not without worrying about whether all the screws are tightened. Unless they think it’s fun to take a story apart and see how it’s built, how it works.

Personally, I think that the notion that comics are so “different” that what would be unacceptably bad writing in any other entertainment medium is somehow okay in our medium is part of what’s killing our medium. The presumption that readers are familiar with what went on before and will keep buying more units in the hopes that irrelevant things will eventually become clear or meaningful is suicidal.

The best way to encourage a reader to buy next issue is to make the one in their hands great.

When I was a kid, when I finished reading a story by Stan and Jack or Steve I said “wow.” These days, when I finish reading a comic book, too often I say “what?”

A final qualifier: Every day, some poorly crafted, stupid, bad creative works succeed, and every day, some well-crafted, brilliant, excellent creative works fail. The success of a creative work is dependent upon too many uncontrollable factors to be entirely predictable. But I firmly believe that producing excellent works is like a batter having a level swing. At the end of the season, the creators who produce excellent work bat .406 and lead the league. Those who succeed here and there with bad work bat below the Mendoza line.

I suspect t’was ever thus. I suspect it always will be.

Somebody Asked

If there was a Legion of Super-Heroes artist who drew the figures nude and let the inker add the costumes. I think that was Jim Sherman. If so, he wasn’t the first comics artist to do things like that.

Stan’s Birthday

Today is Stan’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Stan.

At Marvel, one year while Stan was still East-Coast based, we threw a party for Stan’s birthday.  Some weeks earlier, Stan and I had gone out to lunch together. Striding along toward the restaurant, Stan pointed at a “No Parking” sign and said that he’d owned one of those in younger days. Hung it on his wall. Really liked it. Didn’t know what had become of it.

I enlisted my Mission Impossible Commandoes, Elliot Brown and John Morelli to acquire such a sign.  Secretly and evilly, by night. They did. It was lying under a trailer at a construction site, probably never to be used again.

We presented it to Stan and I think he was honestly moved.

The expanded version of that tale will be along when I get around to it.

And So This Is Christmas

It was Christmas day when I wrote this little segment. I would not, did not ask JayJay to post it (or do anything else) then, but here it is now.

I have a lot of Christmas stories. I have resisted telling them because, I don’t know, they may be of no interest.  Meaningful to me, maybe, but not sufficiently to others. Also, in a couple of them I’m the good guy, and I’ve been accused of telling look-at-me-being-the-good-guy stories. And in a couple of them, I’m the Tiny Tim character and I’ve been accused of telling “poor me” stories. So, screw it.  Here is one that might be amusing, though….

Marvel Comics stopped giving Christmas bonuses to rank and file employees in 1977, I think. Might have been 1978. Up until then, every hourly employee received $25 to $100 or thereabouts, depending on years of service. President Jim Galton handled the situation in characteristically insensitive fashion.  No one was told there would be no bonus. The day before the holiday, no bonus checks came. People started asking—and were told that the corporation as a whole hadn’t done so well, so, coal in the stockings.

It might seem like a small amount of money, but the disappointment was palpable. Nice morale crusher. Good work, Galton.

The next year I asked Galton well in advance if there would be a bonus. He said, “We eliminated non-management bonuses as of last year.” What?

That was an early lesson in corporate evil for me. Tell the employees any lie that serves management’s purposes.

Now what?
To paraphrase Otter in Animal House, this required a really stupid and futile gesture on someone’s part.

I recruited a bunch of editorial types who could carry a tune. I had my brilliant secretary Lynn rent choir robes for all of us, get us candles, candle holders Christmas Carol books…and, oh, yes, a pitch pipe.

And on the afternoon before the Christmas holiday started, in robes and full regalia, we Christmas Caroled the executives and staff upstairs.

For the staff and most execs we sang our little hearts out. Know ye this: Jim Owsley/Christopher Priest can SING! What a voice! And Louise Jones/Simonson has the voice of an angel, as one would expect. The halo and wings are invisible, I presume.

For the V.P. of Finance, Barry Kaplan, and President Jim Galton we sang the following:

“On the first day of Christmas, Marvel gave to us….NOTHING!”

Then, we marched on, caroling. And somehow—a Christmas miracle, perhaps—we did not get fired.


Anyone on the “manager” level or higher received a substantial “discretionary performance bonus.”  Reasonably serious money. I gathered all the comics floor people who received such bonuses, all editors, art director John Romita and production manager Danny Crespi and me, of course. Maybe one or two more, I forget. I suggested we each kick in some dough and give our own bonus to the people in our department getting nothing. Everybody cheerfully contributed except one Scrooge, an editor. Screw him. Even without him, we put together enough money to more than make up for what the rank and file troops weren’t getting from the company.

We continued that tradition. Scrooge continued to be Scrooge. Screw him.

More Sex

The 1990’s were the Age of the Bad Girls. Bad girls, starting with Lady Death, who may have been the first (I don’t count Vampirella, Elektra and other precursors), were anti-hero-ish super women with outrageously curvy bodies, skimpy clothes and stiletto heels. Wicked in attitude, usually, if not downright wicked.

Once Lady Death got the trend started, Bad Girls proliferated. You can probably name a lot more than I can:  Barb Wire, Danger Girl, Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose, Avengelyne….  Most people include Shi, but she was more slender and less a caricature than most.

Broadway Comics offered Fatale.

I formed Broadway Comics in partnership with Broadway Video Entertainment, a division of Broadway Video, Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels’ company. Our purpose was to make great and successful comics, of course, but with an eye towards properties that had potential for TV and film.

Among the experiments tried at Broadway Comics was writing comics sort of in the same manner that many TV shows are written—a group of writers working together. With me were Janet “JayJay” Jackson, Joe James and Pauline Weiss.

Each member of the group had special strengths. JayJay, besides being generally brilliant and having a gift for dialogue, is a great designer. She was wonderful with clothing and costumes. She also created floor plans of locations. She was always sketching.

JayJay, an excellent photographer, also took photos of me and whomever acting out some bits, as well as shots of settings. We often went out to film “on location.”

Joe is a terrific designer and a superb artist. He thumbnailed panels and choreographed action as we went along. He also was good with current slang, real-people talk and such.

Pauline can type faster than you can talk. She was the scribe. She took down every word uttered in our sessions.

I was the head writer/show runner/big cheese. Everyone, including Pauline (who you might think was too busy—but no) made story and copy suggestions. It was a bona fide team, and a good one.

We came up with the idea to do Fatale as an answer of sorts to the Bad Girl trend. She was a “Bad Girl” in appearance, but our intention was to play it more realistically. What if a woman who looked like that and had some fantastic power really existed?

Conveniently, JayJay and Pauline, both actual women, were there to represent feminine realities. Fatale would, said both of them, kick her high heels off before attempting to run or fight. There was a scene in which Fatale jumped down from a roof or some height. Both women pointed out that she’d instinctively cross her arms under her breasts. Etc.

And we stomped on clichés at every opportunity. A handsome high roller approaches Fatale in a casino?  No cliché put down, no dumping the guy on his butt for daring to express interest, as so often happens in comics. She’s honestly attracted to a good-looking guy with the confidence to approach her in a charming way. As JayJay and Pauline averred that she might be.

We followed the Bad Girl trend in the sense that we made the series as sexy, sexual and daring as we could. Doing what the Bad Girl books did, but less plastic-y and artificial. Superhuman, but more human. Or so we thought. We purport, you decide.

NEXT:  More About Broadway and Fatale


Sex and Drugs – Part 2


Regarding What Has Gone Before and a Modest Proposal


  1. Dear Steven,

    RE: "How many comics writers, I wonder, think of their characters as real people, map them out to detailed profiles, and write them as real people? Very few, I'd guess, although that would be essential to having them come across to readers as real people."

    I do a lot of research and back story on characters, for whatever that's worth. I created a super hero title called 7, featuring a team of characters. I wrote over 40,000 words of back story before starting on the script. I'll do a post on 7 soon.

  2. Dear Neil,

    Long ago, not only did the creator of a syndicated strip own the property, but syndicated comic strips were more prestigious than comic books, paid a great deal more.

    I find the various always-do-this-never-do-that rules the syndicates preach to creators idiotic — like the "don't do anything important in the middle of the week" rule. What? I tried to encourage Stan to try some outside-the-box stuff in the Spider-Man strip, but he had been waiting his whole life to have a strip and didn't want to take any chances and possibly blow it. Caniff didn't allow himself to be hemmed in by stupid rules and Terry and the Pirates did just fine. To me, it seems that you have to avoid making the strip convoluted and impenetrable, you have to be skillful enough to it possible for someone to jump aboard as it moves along and you have to make it worthwhile to do so. A good writer and artist can create dailies that are interesting enough even to new readers for them to stick with the strip long enough to be filled in on the fly. Do it right, do it skillfully, and they'll quickly pick it up. Do it with Caniff's rare excellence and they will not dare look away.

    And, of course, the Sundays are where you should be rocking their world.

  3. Anonymous

    I agree completely with "MikeAnon". I think "The Phantom Menace" is a better movie then "Attack of the Clones". If TPM had been the first movie but was followed up by two fantastic movies, people would've given it some slack. As it was, AOTC was worse and ROTS was so-so as well. But AOTC is truly a mess!


  4. Anonymous

    JasonF said…

    'And on a completely different note, I'm OK with Aunt May changing — people change over time.'

    Well… normally when someone is 68 in 1962 they're pretty much dead by 2012.

    I wouldn't say the 'changes' in Aunt May over the past 50 years are all that natural 🙂

    -Pete Marco

  5. Let's pile on Lucas with these two bits from the brilliant show Spaced:


  6. Anonymous

    if you have some time to kill, and want a laugh – these are great (unless you're a big fan of the prequels)


  7. Anonymous

    @Ken – I almost mentioned that myself

    "Here's some rock salt!"

  8. Ken

    I realize we've now gone off-topic, but if we're going to pick on the Star Wars prequels we really need to make sure that Patton Oswalt's great bit on them gets included (kind of an expanded version of MikeAnon's point #4). Enjoy!


  9. Anonymous

    "And as bad as this movie was, I actually liked 'Attack of The Clones' more than 'The Phantom Menace'."

    [MikeAnon:] I would put it this way. "Phantom Menace" is hands-down the better movie — not a good movie, but a better movie than "Attack of the Clones". However, "Phantom Menace" is only watchable as a complete movie. You're not going to drop in on any particular scene of "Phantom Menace" and say, "Hey, look! It's 'Phantom Menace'! Let me watch this for a while." It's either watch it all or watch none. On the other hand, "Attack of the Clones" has plenty of scenes where you can drop in for a few minutes, watch the SFX, and move on — but if you stay on it longer than 10 minutes you start to realize just how horrible a movie it is and then you have to go do something else for a while. [–MikeAnon]

  10. @MikeAnon, that was a hilarious read! It would have been funnier if it wasn't all so true *sigh*

    And as bad as this movie was, I actually liked "Attack of The Clones" more than "The Phantom Menace".

  11. Anonymous

    [MikeAnon:] 7) Death, death, death, so? Considering that the majority of the battling is going on between expendable droids and expendable clones, is there a reason to care about all the carnage that happens in this movie? Nobody worth a damn dies, except for some nameless Jedi whose combat skills make them look EXACTLY as if they're swinging sticks to deflect the most poorly-aimed laser blasts EVAR. All the bad guys had Special-Edition-Greedo aim, for God's sake. The Jedi had to reach pretty far to deflect all those shots that *weren't going to hit them anyway.*

    8) Final fight. Okay, I was a little freaked out worrying who was going to win the saber-duel between Anakin and Dooku. Points for that. But Anakin loses a hand *and falls unconscious*? Anakin is a complete wuss compared to his yet-to-be-conceived son. Luke at least screamed. Anakin? Naptime! And then the day is saved by…Yoda. Okay, I admit I cheered when Yoda hit the scene, but then I was cracking up watching this little green fluffball hopping and spinning in the air like a Mogwai you fed after midnight. And then Yoda is ultimately defeated by his inability to walk and chew gum at the same time — what kind of Jedi Master can't mind-push a falling column of machinery a few feet to the side (so as to avoid crushing its intended victims) and not keep fighting at the same time? And so the final fight ends in a depressing draw. [–MikeAnon]

  12. Anonymous

    "Case in point: Attack of the Clones. Lucas's worst written SW movie."

    [MikeAnon:] I always like to tell people, "That movie was so bad it needed MORE Jar-Jar!"

    The worst parts of that movie were (SPOILER WARNING!!!):

    1) The silly names. Even Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman busted out laughing when they heard that "Attack of the Clones" was going to be the name of the 2nd film. And come on…Count DOOKU? There's no taking seriously a villain with that name. How did Christopher Lee not protest? "Why don't you just call me 'Count Poopula'?"

    2) The wretched love story. Anakin has been obsessing over Amidala since he was 10? That's creepy right there. And Amidala never makes the transition from seeing him as a boy to seeing him as a man — that really bothered me. I had a friend who I'd always thought of as a "younger sister" and I didn't realize until the day of her wedding, "Holy crap! She's not a kid anymore, and she and I aren't that far apart in age! What did I just miss out on here?" I had never seen her as a woman until that point. I would have liked to have seen that transition point happen for Amidala's view of Anakin. The perfect moment for it was there: the moment he rescued her from being poisoned in her bedchamber was all ripe for the realization, "I've been thinking of him as a child, but he's become a man…and a Jedi warrior to boot!" But it didn't happen. And so we were struck with a ridiculously contrived love story. And, of course, worst of all was Anakin's revelation that he'd MASSACRED the Sand People, and Amidala's response of pure acceptance. She should have been running for the ship at that point (same as the girl from Twilight should have been on the next bus out after putting 2 & 2 together).

    3) Samuel L. Jackson as a Jedi. Who the hell wants to see an emotionally restrained Sam Jackson? I would bet anything the casting director was thinking Laurence Fishburne and got the names mixed up. "Get me that zen black dude from the Matrix. Sam Jackson, right?" If you're going to hand Sam Jackson a lightsaber, it had better be the one with "BAD MOTHERFUCKER" written on it. They should at least have gotten Terrence Howard. Terrence Howard can look at you with perfect calm and self-control and scare your pants brown. Sam Jackson looking calm and controlled is about as contrived as the Anakin/Amidala love story.

    4) Origin of Boba Fett. Could someone please file this under "Who gives a shit?" This character's only claim to fame was getting eaten by a giant lizard 30 years later. I would have had way more respect for his cloned-out-the-wazoo father Jango Fett if I didn't already know his offspring was going to turn out such a loser.

    5) So simple a child can do it! Okay, Obi-Wan goes to the library and finds out that the star system he's looking for doesn't exist. Here's where the wise man of Episode 4 comes out to wow us, right? Nope. He returns to Yoda at the Jedi Academy, and Yoda proceeds to let a 6-year-old school him in the ways of seeing what's right in front of your stupid face. So now we understand: "These are the adventures of Obi-Wan Kenobi when he was a moron!"

    6) Technological inconsistencies. Why do the ships look like sleek technical marvels, but Anakin gets a robot hand that looks like it was built from an Erector set? And why is it exactly the opposite in the future — all the starships are hand-me-down but the cyborg hand is so real you could monkey-spank with it?

    (Continued…) [–MikeAnon]

  13. Wout Thielemans

    Who says Bruiser is a mutant? Perhaps he got his powers from a scientific procedure which didn't optimize the rest of his body? As the villain's past has not been revealed yet, this criticism isn't really valid at this point.

    Daredevil is the BEST Marvel comic on the stands today, and IMNSHO the only really, really good one the House Of Increaingly Bad Ideas is putting out. It's on a par with Mark Waid's stellar Flash run.

    I'm not an unconditional Waid fan – loathed his LSH (no, that isn't hyperbole), Spider-Man was hit and miss, he didn't click on X-Men, and Irredeemable/Incorruptible started off extremely strong but both series are running out of steam – they probaby would have worked better as two related miniseries. But what mr. Waid has done with Daredevil is a miracle, and the best contemporary mainstream superhero storytelling on the stands.

  14. Even if they abdicated responsibility and left it up to him, their fault, not his.

    How many comics writers, I wonder, think of their characters as real people, map them out to detailed profiles, and write them as real people? Very few, I'd guess, although that would be essential to having them come across to readers as real people.

    In the same vein, how many characters have specific likes and dislikes that could be listed? Favorite foods, colors, singers, movies, hobbies, etc. If I were to write a profile for someone, I'd include those, even if mentioning them was rare.

    Generally, I'd think that the initial reaction, "_____ shouldn't be doing that" will be the correct one.

    Waid has talent, but he seems to be aiming for superficial effects over plot integrity. He produced the STRANGE miniseries without knowing the good doctor's history, and in DAREDEVIL #6, he had a villain, Bruiser, shift his center of gravity to terrifically increase the force of blows, and then hypothesized that his skeleton was stressed by that. That made no sense; if someone has a paranormal power, the body logically has to adapt to it, or it's like someone with superstrength who can't lift anything heavy, or his bones will break.


  15. Little Jason needs to put it back in his trousers and not cheek his elders and betters, he's just rattling a stick in his grotty little swill bucket. His Ultimate Captain America story – the only thing I've ever read and, as a consequence, will ever read by him – is a vicious, nasty, mean little thing with a singularly spiteful and sadistic conclusion. (Wasn't there something comedic or satirical or witty about Millar's excessively violent Ultimate Cap?) This feels like a cynical and calculated attempt by a hack writer to boost his profile by basking in the effulgent bard's starlight.

  16. Anonymous


    I couldn't agree with you more. My girlfriend and I were discussing this last night. The same thing applies to David Lynch and "Twin Peaks"; The network reined him in and the product was better. On the other hand, if it swings the other way and the studio or network has complete control you end up with formuliac, homogenized Spam in a can. Claremont and Byrne are also a good example; They tempered each other. In my opinion they are much better togther than apart. On top of that, when you have a very strong editor like Jim Shooter with highly talented creators–brilliant runs that we haven't seen since. Unfortunately it's a very volatile mix.


  17. Anonymous

    @Edwqard – I think Aaron is the real deal as well. I also think that he is choosing to squander his talents on forgettable super hero books for the big paycheck at Marvel.

    I compare him to Bendis only in the fact that Bendis also started off with some rally good, indy stuff – like Powers and even Alias – only to become a hack writer for 5-7 books per month for Marvel.

    As far as Punisher Max – I never use popular opinion to measure whether something is good or not. I make my own assessments. The book has stupid things like Bullseye shitting out a gun, and many other moments that simply did not work

  18. @ Anonymous
    "I think your post is very well-reasoned. But I disagree with you about Aaron. He started off his career great with Scalped – but has since clearly become another Bendis – ie a hack writer who will pump out as many books as possible per month for Marvel"

    Well, there we'll just have to disagree. As I said in my post, my affection for Aaron as a writer is certialy my humble opinion and remains so, but I do think he is a vastly different writer than Bendis (and the reasons why are too voluminous to put here and i don't want to hijak this post). I have also found a lot more worthwhile in his Marvel work than you have apparently.

    Don't get me wrong, Scalped is head and shoulders above anything else he's done. That "wow" feeling I get from Scalped is on a whole other "divine" level than I get from his Marvel work. But he still wows me with his Marvel work to a lesser extent. And while I try not to take those "Years Best" lists that are proliferating everywhere this time of year too seriously, his Marvel work like PunisherMax and Wolverine & the X-Men are consistently ranking pretty high on most of them. But, yes, Scalped is head & shoulders above that stuff and I hope he finds time to continue working in the creator-owned vein after the curtains closes on Scalped.

    I'm also sensing a lot of hostility toward Marvel in your post and that I'm not inclined to argue with – it saddens me to this day to see the once admirable and exciting "House of Ideas" that once revolutionized comics turn into it's exact antithesis, and furthermore repeat the mistakes of the last few decades over and over and over and over again. But I think Aaron is the real deal. But, folks may disagree and that's Ok. Like I said, he's not for everybody.

  19. Dan

    Another godawful info-dump was Amidala learning that Annakin killed the Tusken village. He just stood there and told her he did it. Very dry. More dramatic would have been Amidala hearing about it and becoming suspicious and confronting Annakin, forcing him to admit it. Then he would have been forced to justify it to keep her love… and justifying evil is at the heart of Darth Vader's character.

    But no, we get the more expedient revelation–by unforced confession. The whole Clones script reads like a first draft. Again, probably because no one could tell Lucas his script wasn't ready yet.

  20. I haven't read the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic but I've read that it had a lot of references to Miller's Daredevil. Wasn't the radioactive can that blinded Daredevil, supposed to be the one that transformed the Turtles, as an in-joke?

  21. Dan

    Miyake said: "I've wondered if Lucas understood what he did right the first time, because he wasn't able to replicate the same magic."

    Star Wars was like Jaws, great because of (not in spite of) its limitations.

    Both Lucas and Spielberg were limited by the special effects–and budgets–of the time. So they had to make up for it some other way. Spielberg turned to character, Lucas turned to editing. Jaws is an all-time great "buddy" movie simply because Bruce (the robot shark) rarely worked. Star Wars is extremely fast paced–into scenes and out, with fast cuts giving viewers a visual blitz they never saw before–partly due to Lucas's cinematic tastes, but also because he didn't have the money or technology to do all the shots he wanted. We only got glimpses because that's all he had time or money to shoot.

    Compare Ep4 to Ep1. Could you imagine Ep4 stopping for a half hour to show us a pod race where the only part that mattered was the result (which could have been shown in 30 seconds)?

    I could also put it this way: in the 70s, Lucas was fighting against forces that were telling him "no." In the 90s, there was no one who could tell Lucas "no."

    Marvel was never better than under Shooter. I would argue because he said "no" to some great talent. A creator wants to create whatever's in his mind, but it takes an overseer to make sure that that creation is a sellable product (because in the end, we're talking about commercial product intended for mass consumption).

    Case in point: Attack of the Clones. Lucas's worst written SW movie. It was almost all info-dump, especially on Kamino the water planet. Why not have Obi-Wan (and the viewer) learn about the secret clone army by piecing together clues? Instead, we get Obi-Wan and a talking ostrich and a bunch of verbal text. I was sooooo disappointed. Lucas was breaking his own rules–show don't tell, never bore the viewer, keep it moving. Why?

    Because no one had the power or tell Lucas "no."

  22. "but could they not get one of the ‘top-flight industry creators' to come up with an idea of their own?"

    No, they can't. Cause the top industry creators create their own ideas for creator owned books. There's no point for a creator to hand over his best ideas to a company and lose all rights to it.

  23. JasonF

    Eastman and Laird didn't even try to hide the Daredevil connections — the first issue includes an origin that all but names Matt Murdock.

    I recently reread the first half dozen or so issues thanks to a gorgeous collection that was released a month or two ago. Jim's right that the book is extraordinarily crude and amateurish. But somehow it works.

    And on a completely different note, I'm OK with Aunt May changing — people change over time. The trick is to make sure the change is (or at least appears to the reader to be) organic and natural. The Peter Parker of Amazing Fantasy #15 was very different from the Peter Parker who dated Gwen Stacy, but Stan made the change work. I have a fifteen-year-gap in my knowledge of Spider-Man that includes the change to Aunt May so I don't know if the creators responsible for that handled it well, but if they did, then it's fine with me even if it gives us an Aunt May that's not the wheatcake-cooking, medical-problem-having, frail old biddy I remember from my youth.

  24. Dear Marc,

    The story of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a fascinating one, of which I have some inside knowledge. It warrants a post. But, I'll say this much now: The first B&W issues of TMNT were crude and amateurish efforts entirely derived from Marvel's hottest books. Teenage mutants? The X-Men. Ninja? Miller's Daredevil. Anyone notice that Daredevil's teacher was "Stick" and the TMNT's was "Splinter?" Or that Daredevil's enemies were the Clan of the Hand and the TMNT's were the Clan of the Foot? The story of how Eastman and Laird caught lightning in a bottle is one for the ages. Coming soon.

  25. Dear Edward,

    David Lapham and I worked together on many things at VALIANT, most notably, Harbinger. Later, at DEFIANT, we worked together on Warriors of Plasm. Then, he went his own genius way. But, we're still friends.

  26. Dear Steven,

    Obviously, Marvel's editors allowed Mark Waid to write Aunt May as he did, therefore, he was writing her in accordance with the standards in effect at the time. The buck passes to the bosses. Even if they abdicated responsibility and left it up to him, their fault, not his.

    Like you, I don't like the idea of Aunt May being morphed into a different character. But I no longer have a vote.

    P.S. Mark is one creator who has a clue, has chops. I respect him.

    P.P.S. That's a big deal — for me, and for anyone who knows me and respects my opinion.

  27. Anonymous

    I won't argue that 2099 was derivative in its nature but Spider-man 2099 was fairly good (Peter David) and also Doom 2099 was also decent (what I read of it, anyway).


  28. Anonymous

    @Marc – don't know if you've seen the Plinkett reviews of the Star Wars prequels – but they are worth a look for any Star Wars fan. They contain a lot of humor – but they also contain a lot of valid analysis about filmmaking and storytelling

  29. Dear Defiant1,

    Your (and Jim's) point about replicability reminds me of a discussion I just had about Star Wars prompted by the analysis that kgaard linked to. I haven't read the rest of that series of analyses, but I didn't enjoy the following four movies anywhere as much as the first, and have yet to see the sixth movie. I've wondered if Lucas understood what he did right the first time, because he wasn't able to replicate the same magic.

    I love your random ingredients analogy. It matches one of my favorite examples of seemingly random success: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I've read the comic. I can't say it was the best comic of 1984. Yet it took off, and others tried to mix disparate ingredients to cash in. But the dish that was TMNT was one of a kind.

    I never thought writing by committee could possibly work until I read the Broadway line. But of course simply ordering DC and Marvel writers to form committees won't improve their products. Forms are easier to replicate than quality content.

  30. Dear Jim,

    I left out a major point: when looking at entertainment, I try to figure out what the creators' intent was, and judge the product by that standard. It's pointless to watch a live-action movie and get upset over the lack of animation just because I like cartoons. Last year I saw Cirque du Soleil's Beatles show Love and this year I saw the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Both are examples of non-story entertainment. Movies often put me to sleep, but those "how-did-they-do-that?!" stage performances kept me awake. I wasn't expecting much of a story from either show, so I wasn't disappointed.

    However, as you wrote, comics are ostensibly stories. They are certainly marketed as such, not as "experiences" or the like. So I think we should judge comics as stories. Too bad so many barely qualify.

    Thanks for expanding on the Terry Stewart story which I first read at CBR years ago:

    "Well, Terry, now you're going to have to create something. You've pulled all the easy triggers, now you have to really create something. And you don't have the horses."

    2099, or $20.99 as I called it at the time, was one of several reasons I gave up buying comics. In 1992 I was still naive enough to think I was living through the new 1962. Image and 2099 were going to be the new Marvel Universes. Yeah, right. I paid a lot of money (hence "$20.99") to learn I was very wrong.

    So I stopped regularly visiting comics stores for years and missed out on DEFIANT and Broadway which proved you could create wholly original universes. Something that Marvel, with all its talent, couldn't do.

  31. Anonymous

    heh – Marvel's Ultimate line was the next attempt. For a while it was so popular (among fans) that fans were saying that Marvel should scrap the real Marvel universe and turn the whole line to Ultimate. Now the Ultimate line is pretty much defunct and has gone the way of 2099. Still the House of Idea

  32. Dear Marc,

    You are right on the money, Marc. Lots of things that are not story-centric succeed as entertainment. The musical Cats comes to mind. I do not begrudge a publisher making money off of non-story products. But, if you're going to sell what you purport to be stories, shouldn't they A) actually be stories, and B) if so, shouldn't they be good ones well-told? You are correct that lame and amateurish stories with a gimmick or Wolverine might sell — for a while — but, you are again, absolutely correct that gimmicks and all-the-rage characters come and go. Good stories well told, however, have succeeded as entertainment ever since Chudwug the Neanderthal grunted out the first recounting of the day's hunt to amuse the folks back at the cave.

    RE: Moore's remarks about creating something: I first met then-Marvel President Terry Stewart in the Condor-Verlag booth at the Frankfurt Book Fair. I was stopping by the booth for a break from tromping around. My friend Wolfgang, who ran Condor had invited me to do so anytime. Terry was in the office where I meant to sit flirting with one of Wolfgang's employees, a pretty young woman named Heike. He wasn't pleased to be interrupted, but he noticed my name on my badge and introduced himself. We talked for a while. He said that he felt that Marvel had "won the lottery two years in a row," first with X-Men #1 and then with X-Force #1 and Spider-Man #1. He said, more or less, "You're supposed to be the big comics expert. (I get that slightly snide "supposed to be" thing a lot.) What should Marvel do now?" I told him that they'd done all the easy things, strip mining the equity that we'd built over the years. Now, they were going to have to create something new. I also told him that I thought it would be difficult since they'd driven away most of their good writers and real creators in favor of flashy artists. At that point, Stern, the Simonsons, DeMatteis, Michelinie, Claremont and many more were gone. He said they had something in the works: Marvel 2099. I told him it sounded like same old stuff. and that derivative stuff, another rehashed iteration wouldn't do. Marvel was becoming the House of Idea. He was pretty sure that 2099 was da bomb….

    I have short-handed the above conversation to save time. It was actually a lot friendlier than it sounds. We parted on nice enough terms. He probably thought I was not the expert I was "supposed to be" and I thought that Marvel was poised for a long, slow spiral into the abyss.

  33. Dear czeskleba,

    I'm not against thought balloons. I don't understand why they've become taboo. Seems like a legitimate option a writer should have.

    RE: "…wouldn't an artist have trouble with his editor if he turned in pages with characters unclothed? I know Sherman sometimes had problems with deadlines… could he have had a special agreement with the editor to leave this for the inker? It seems like it would place a huge burden on the inker, particularly in the case of a book like the Legion where there are so many different costumes to keep track of. It would also create a risk of the wrong costumes being put on the wrong characters.

    It would depend on the penciler, the inker, the editor and the era. Long ago, in less PC times, if a penciler and inker were buddies and wanted to work that way — most likely for fun, not to save time — and the editor was inclined to humor them, it would have been no big deal. Today, someone would object. Someone who saw or handled those pages as they passed through the office would file a complaint or sue or something. It would not be tolerated.

    Case in point: In the mid 1970's, for a long time, E. Nelson Bridwell had, pinned up on the bulletin board in his office, a long piece of paper (from a roll of paper) on which he had drawn — quite well, in fact — every DC heroine naked, except for tiaras, boots, capes and such, necessary to identify them. No one minded for a long time. Eventually, a female staffer complained and the drawing was taken down.

  34. Dear Brian,

    RE: The Silver Centurion. Thanks. Now I remember. The "GoBot look…!" : ) I can't say I loved the look of the armor then or love it now, but if I'd really hated it back then I would have had it changed. Seems okay, in the context Denny created.

  35. Anonymous

    @Edward – I think your post is very well-reasoned. But I disagree with you about Aaron. He started off his career great with Scalped – but has since clearly become another Bendis – ie a hack writer who will pump out as many books as possible per month for Marvel. I liked his Ghost Rider run, but his other stuff for Marvel has been altogether forgettable (Wolverine, Punisher Max, Weapon X). As I said, I think Scalped is great. But I can't keep giving Aaron a pass, or keep giving him the benefit of being a great new writer, when in fact he is turning in some bland super hero stuff for Marvel, and is now even writing their detestable event comics.

  36. I've just been reading a collection of Alison Bechdel's wonderful strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, which I think is an object lesson in how to correctly handle a lot of the topics covered here. In the limited space of a weekly(?) strip, she tells an ongoing story with a large, rotating cast, deftly breathing life into each character with economy, and making their lives compelling, funny, sad … you know, human. She also regularly portrays sex with maturity and wit. And–most important!–each strip is readable on its own. Knowing the whole story adds value, but any new reader could pick up pretty much anywhere along the way. It's really a master class in storytelling. Unsurprisingly, her long-form work in Fun Home is also terrific.

  37. Alan Moore vs. Jason Aaron

    For those who don't know, Jason Aaron is actually a very talented (IMHO) comic writer who works primarilly for Marvel now, but his best and perhaps most celebrated work is "Scalped", a crime comic set in an indian reservation, published under DC's Vertigo imprint, that is wrapping up with Issue #60 in the near future. Great stuff IMO – think "The Wire" but in comic book form.

    Jason is one of few young, talented writers who have come to prominence in the last decade that give me hope for comics in the future. He may not be everyone's cup of tea and I've never really analyzed his work against Twain's or Vonnegut's "rules" of story craftsmanship, but he's a guy who gives me that "wow" feeling more often than not – and that's an experience that I agree is growing rarer and rarer nowadays in comics.

    Anyway, as much as I enjoy Jason as a writer, I'd have to agree that he jumped the gun in attacking Moore's comments and really didn't address the points that Moore was making. I think that Jason (I'm speculating here) felt he was coming to the defense of his peers and comrades in the comic book writing profession when he wrote his column – and I don't think what Moore intended was a personal attack the way that Jason took it. Nonetheless, in a later column, Jason revealed how he later ran into Moore's spouse at a comic book festival in Spain (that particular festival sounds awesome, by the way) and even though he didn't share the details of their conversation, it sounds like all is good and peaceful between the Moore and Aaron camps (and I'm sure that neither camps were spending the time obsessing on it like the fans were anyway). Those interested in that little tidbit can read the column at this link:


    To Jim Re: David Lapham:

    I couldn't agree with you more wholeheartedly on David Lapham. I didn't realize that you and he worked together in the past and would love to know what you worked on so I could go check it out.

    Another artist who is great at conveying thoughts/feelings with facial expressions is Scott Wegener who currently does the art on "Atomic Robo" (Red 5 Comics). That guy conveys more expression with a robot's face than many artists can manage on a human's. Again, good stuff IMHO, and one of the few titles worth the $$ in this day and age.

  38. Here’s where I went wrong: I judged the scene against Aunt May’s character as it was when I was at Marvel. [. . .] But, I’ve been told that Aunt May became a little more of a modern Golden Girl subsequently, and that the scene is not out of character for her. Okay.

    But isn't that a problem in itself? If your reaction to the sequence with Aunt May
    was that she wouldn't do that, and you were told that she was changed in ways that made the sequence allowable, then the problem was created by the people who changed her. She didn't decide to do that herself, obviously.

    There is apparently now a "versions" problem concerning Aunt May. The Waid/? version will have sex unclothed, etc. The preceding version (?) would not have, wouldn't tolerate four-letter words uttered in her presence, etc. Writers need to have some leeway in interpreting a character — a bible can't anticipate all situations or dictate lines of dialogue — but the leeway stops when it comes to having a woman do things that she wouldn't do.

    Given the constraints on what the heroes do, it's difficult to project how many of them would react to certain situations. One standard "unknown" would be the prospect of anal intercourse. Handling Aunt May, though, shouldn't present interpretive difficulties to anyone.

    In my experience, people rarely stop at saying that they only like or dislike something, or argue about the right to say that. Rather, they'll argue that all reactions are like/dislike (see Brevoort) or that all reactions are relative. My reaction to that is that the reader is infantalizing reactions. Differences in intelligence and knowledge bases exist; if having less intelligence and/or knowledge and not recognizing problems that others see makes someone feel uncomfortable or inferior, that's his problem and no one else's.


  39. Marc,

    While it's true that anything can entertain someone (and youtube is a prime example), I think the ability to repeat a process is really a key point of what Jim is getting at. I can go randomly pour a bunch of ingredients into a bowl, mix it up, and cook it. I might get a masterpiece as a result. Statistically speaking, it is possible. The odds of getting a successful result increase if you adhere to a recipe and actually follow a template for what to include.

    It's important not to ignore this portion above…

    "The success of a creative work is dependent upon too many uncontrollable factors to be entirely predictable. But I firmly believe that producing excellent works is like a batter having a level swing. "

    By the way, I forgot to say that I thought the Broadway style of writing produced the best results. I guess if you have too many chefs in the kitchen it could go either way. At Broadway, all the talents contributing seemed to make it a tighter.. yikes… I want to say "plausible"… storyline.

  40. (Continued from above.)

    Is craft the only way to reach an audience? Obviously not. See my anecdotes. DC and Marvel know the magic words that will lure a certain shrinking segment of fandom every time. Batman. Wolverine. So we get zillions of Batman and Wolverine comics. Somebody's buying them. Not me. If they want to collect Bruce Wayne's Basement, Clark Kent's Closet, and anything else with mantras in the titles that make them happy, fine … for them. But not for the comics industry. A stimuli-based strategy cannot endure. Personal likes and dislikes change. Catering to the unchanging tastes of a shrinking minority is not a formula for success; it's a sign of surrender. Desperation. A lack of imagination. The Japanese manga business is dynamic; the US comics business is static. As Alan Moore said in the link that t.k. posted:

    At the end of the day, if they haven't got any properties that are valuable enough, but they have got these ‘top-flight industry creators' that are ready to produce these prequels and sequels to Watchmen, well this is probably a radical idea, but could they not get one of the ‘top-flight industry creators' to come up with an idea of their own?

    Marvel didn't take off in the 60s by recycling the 40s. Yes, Cap and Namor were back, but they weren't even the flagship characters. The vast majority of the Marvel Universe was new and readers back then could see it grow.

    DC could have done in 2011 what Marvel had done in 1961. Use craft to ignite a new big bang. Alas …

  41. Dear Jim,

    Your multi-topic columns remind me of the old Bullpen Bulletins.

    About likes: I'm not interested in telling people what they should or shouldn't like either. What I am interested in is storytelling. Techniques, not specific content or rigid formulae.

    Here's where things get complex: stories are entertainment, but not all entertainment is necessarily story-driven.

    I've watched TV shows just because I liked some actor(s) in it. The attraction was not the story. I can't tell you what happened in a single episode. Nonetheless, my eyeballs were aimed at the screen. Willingly. And that's enough to make advertisers happy.

    Recently I saw clips from a old Japanese cop show I used to watch with my grandmother. I was moved because the series made me think of her. And I was impressed by the action and pyrotechnics. The narrator explained that such scenes with real actors (no stuntmen!) and explosions wouldn't be filmed today; it would all be done with bluescreen and CGI. The narrator went on and on about why the show was great, but never mentioned stories. I don't blame him. I can't tell you what happened in any episode either!

    Lots of entertainment works on what I'll call a non-narrative level. See my examples above. Here's a musical parallel: a lot of songs remind me of the eras I heard them in. They have sentimental value to me. But are they great music? No. I'd say they work on a non-technical level.

    This non-whatever stuff is very subjective. Other people aren't me, so these shows and songs wouldn't mean anything to them. They would rightfully see the technical flaws, the poor or even nonexistent stories, and be turned off.

    I also see those flaws, yet I forgive them because of factors that have to do with me. I recognize those factors are absent in others and therefore have no desire to recommend my favorites to others in many cases.

    Why "many" rather than "all"? Because I think well-crafted work has broader appeal and is less dependent on subjective "forgiveness factors." Spider-Man had zero sentimental value to anyone when Amazing Fantasy #15 appeared in 1962. But that origin story launched what might be the last great American superhero myth still going strong half a century later.

    I don't want to make something that merely pushes my personal buttons. Craft is a form of outreach. Do something well, and you'll attract the outsiders, the people who'll say, "I never thought I'd enjoy a (fill genre name) here until I read your story."

    I've always found the "bad girls" in comics to be sexist and unattractive. Yet I gave Fatale a chance. Having read your other work, I figured it'd be good, and it was. You and the rest of the Broadway team made a genre I hated palatable. Craft was the key.

    (To be continued.)

  42. I like thought balloons. Stories can be done well both with and without them, but what bothers me is that in modern comics there seems to be an unwritten rule against using them ever. That seems foolish. Certainly a literary device can be overused, but the solution isn't to stop using it completely. Used well, they can add so much depth. Where would Stan Lee have been without them? Can you imagine the first 100 issues of Spider-Man without thought balloons? So much would be lost.

    Jim, wouldn't an artist have trouble with his editor if he turned in pages with characters unclothed? I know Sherman sometimes had problems with deadlines… could he have had a special agreement with the editor to leave this for the inker? It seems like it would place a huge burden on the inker, particularly in the case of a book like the Legion where there are so many different costumes to keep track of. It would also create a risk of the wrong costumes being put on the wrong characters.

  43. If you've never read Denny O'Neil's epic IRON MAN arc (especially issues 169-199), SPOILERS BELOW!

    Jim, if I'm reading Alfred's comment right, the "Silver Centurion" armor is generally the nickname (don't know if it was ever officially used at Marvel) for Iron Man's armor following the events of issues 169-199 (Obadiah Stane's takeover of Stark International, Tony's falling off the wagon, Rhodey's taking over the armor for a spell, Tony's recovery and move to California), which ran from 1982-85. The "Silver Centurion" armor (nicely summarized by David Michelinie's deadpan description of it as "the GoBot look") debuted in issue 200 and stuck around until #230 or so, through the end of the "Armor Wars" saga. Here's a set of covers that show it, to give you an idea of its look (which I don't love, either, incidentally):


    In a story in Marvel Age a month or two before its debut, Mark Gruenwald talked about the design process of the new look– I know Bob Layton and John Byrne both contributed ideas, and I think other artists did, too, although I don't have that Marvel Age in front of me to verify. My main problem with it, aside from how very dated it looks 25 years later, is that it was so full of neat-o gadgets and weaponry (I mean, even for Iron Man, it was overloaded) that it made things too easy for Tony– given the almost limitless technological options contained in one suit, it hurt the narrative suspense. It made sense on the level of character (both that a recovering Tony would want a fresh break from the gold-and-yellow suit and the memories it contained, and also that he'd be smart enough to design such a complete weapon), but it became boring after awhile (a drag enhanced by the six months of rotating fill-in writers and artists between the end of O'Neil's run and the start of Michelinie and Layton's second run on the character).

  44. It's a small world. I came on this blog to recommend that Jim take a look at Azzarello & Chiang's Wonder Woman. I highly recommend it. However, I'm not sure that each issue contains as much exposition as it should. I think it's possible a new reader would find herself lost. Which brings me to two questions…

    1) Jim, how do you feel about the "what has gone before" pages which are now printed on the first page of many comic books?

    2) Do you think it is alright for some books in a line to be directed at a general audience and others to be intended for comics-savvy readers? Or, would that just lead confusion about what a brand (e.g. Marvel, DC…) represents?

  45. Dear Steven,

    You know how it is. Some people are not good at analyzing and articulating things, but they know they enjoyed a story. Some are embarrassed to admit that the reason they liked a story is that the female character's fishnets make them feel all tingly, or whatever. If someone likes something and can't (or won't) explain why, I suppose the proper response is a shrug and a smile. No discussion possible.

    Fortunately, we have no shortage of people here who will fiercely defend their points of view and assail yours or mine with hammer and tongs. Happy, happy, joy joy.

    I'll check out the Azzarello/Chiang Wonder Woman issues and post my decompression theories as soon as I can. Thanks.

  46. Dear Neil,

    Thought balloons just seemed to slowly go out of style, replaced to some extent by narrative captions. I'm fairly neutral on the subject. I believe that if you plan and write the story well, and if the art carries its storytelling burden, access to a character or many characters' thoughts isn't necessary. When I worked with David Lapham, he was amazing. With expression and body language, he could express what was going on in a character's mind better than any thought balloon I could write.

    However, the downside of no thought balloons is that, as you said, it makes for artificial "shocks," and if you don't happen to be working with a Lapham, things can get muddled. Thought balloons also are useful if the character is alone and talking out loud would be…strange.

    I'll throw this into the discussion: We all know what the scallop-y balloons and bubble-trail pointers mean. An amazing number of new readers do not. They don't differentiate between thought balloons and speech balloons.

    I have evolved (or devolved) into a no-thought-balloons writer, and sometimes a no-narrative-captions writer — depending upon the character. Turok usually has Andar with him — no captions. Doctor Solar is mostly alone and his narrative, our insight into his mind, is what it's all about. Captions.

    I'm not entirely in agreement with Billy Wilder, but I catch his drift. He has a point. In many cases, anyway. Here are a couple of for-instances: Jumping off of the roof of a three story building would be plenty scary for you or me. But when Frank Miller was drawing Daredevil, he quickly discovered that it didn't look all that scary on a comic book page. He had to have Daredevil jumping from a ten story building to get the desired effect. Continuing with Frank, when he had Foggy get married, he wanted foggy to wear a tacky tux. He asked Klaus to color it red. Frank showed the coloring around the office and no one noticed the red tux. People wore odd colored clothes in comics all the time in those days — hey, we only had 56 or so colors to work with. So Frank gave Foggy's tux large checks colored alternately magenta and chartreuse. That did the trick.

  47. Anonymous

    @Defiant1: Yeah, I'm not even sure who Jason Aaron is (presumably a comic writer I'm unfamiliar with). But the Moore comments seemed to go hand-in-hand with the stuff we all seem to discuss here often and I found myself agreeing. (I just stumbled across the article because someone on Facebook linked to it. I didn't realize it was from almost a year ago).


  48. Dear czeskleba,

    Jim Sherman and I were both guests at an Ithacon when he as drawing the LSH. I saw penciled pages — he was actually working on them at the show. Possibly he added costumes later, but the figures, at least the preliminary drawings of the figures, looked unclothed to me. I didn't ask him about it.

  49. People like what they like. No one has to justify what they like or defend why they like it.

    Anyone can like, in the privacy of his own thoughts, whatever he chooses to like, but there's a disconnect between simply liking something and saying "I like _____" as a defense against criticism, which is the context in which the statement is often made. If someone lists a story's various problems and defects, and goes into some detail on the subject, and someone else responds, "But I liked it!" — what is the appropriate response, especially when the defender is unwilling or unable to say why he likes it? It's not as if his liking it is an ironclad defense against all criticism of the story, in any form, but that's the practical result of allowing someone to like something without explanation. The position is a discussion-killer.

    And, since the reading material is comics, saying "But I liked it" might mean that he liked the artwork without even comprehending what the story was about, much less have been able to recognize problems in the storytelling.

    Even "decompressed" stories can be done if done well. I'll talk about how to do that sometime, if anyone's interested. Anything can be done if done with insight and skill.

    I'd be very interested. The Azzarello/Chiang WONDER WOMAN issues have been good, but they might be examples of a storyline which would be much better if the writer included more background info on the characters. I've found myself wishing Azzarello was writing a Wonder Woman novel instead.


  50. I don't mind chiming in on the dropping of word balloons. At the time it was done, the quality of art was pretty decent. An artists name could sell a book and fans wanted to see as much of it as possible. I don't think it was a bad decision at the time. The fact remains that word balloons can be a very effective marketing tool and I feel that it is underutilized today. A book (comic) is judged by the cover, and the more insight into the contents that can be conveyed on the cover, the more enticing it *may* be to sell the book. I would like to see more covers provide insight with regards to the content within the interior of a comic.

  51. Anonymous

    I want to point out that I am not a fan of the "decompressed" style. I was just giving an opinion on an ongoing narrative in a comic book vs. a movie. You are WAY more qualified than I on writing comics or movies. I will ask for an opinion this time. What are your thoughts on the dropping of thought balloons? Don't they help convey what's going on with a character or the direction the character is heading, so the writer doesn't have to have "shocking moments" to hammer the point?

    But Billy Wilder once said "Subtlety is great as long as you beat the audience over the head with it."


  52. Dear JC,

    I have quite a bit to say about Penthouse ComiX, actually. Stay tuned. Thanks.

  53. An apology to Mark Waid? That isn't what I expect from a megalomaniac and pariah, Jim!

  54. Terence Stewart wrote:
    The artist who drew his comic characters in the nude (the women anyway) was Jim Mooney I believe, and he drew the Legion of Super-heroes often in Supergirl.
    If Mooney drew the Legion nude and left it for the inker to add the costumes that wouldn't have been a very big deal, since Mooney always inked his own pencils when he worked at DC.

    I've never heard anything about Jim Sherman doing that either (it's not mentioned in any of the interviews in The Legion Companion). I presume Jim doesn't have direct knowledge but just heard the story second-hand from someone, since he was at Marvel by the time Sherman was drawing the Legion.

  55. Dear Alfred,

    Rule-followers who do it badly are as bad as non-rule followers who aren't geniuses. And, you did notice my comment that there are no rules, right?

    I can't recall who the Silver Centurion is at the moment. Maybe that armor is so ugly that I have blocked it out entirely. : )

  56. Anonymous

    Yeah, that is an old article about Moore and Jason Aaron. But Moore was basically saying some truthful things – which is apparently an invitation for angry rebuttals. Much of the responses to Moore were people on the Internet attacking him for being an eccentric or even criticizing his writing – but no one articulately countered the points he actually made in the interview


  57. t.k.

    I don't know who the person is complaining, I'll just say Alan Moore is right. I'm not really a fan of Moore's writing. I think it got an undertone of intelligent resentment for the work which inspired his writing. For that reason, it seems to be derivative in the sense that it's merely the antithesis of what he grew up reading.

    Despite that, I agree with his personal stance on his past works. I agree with his criticisms of modern creators. I know this is opposite to the way many people feel, but I've never been one to go with the flow just for the sake of having everyone agree with me.

    Any creator that is a fan of Moore should have realized they were stepping into his line of fire. Perhaps that is the one thing that is the most amusing about the story in your link.

  58. JC

    Jim, do you have any thoughts or insight about 'Penthouse ComiX'? I flipped through a couple of issues when it was published, many of the creators involved were favorites of mine. I was never compelled to purchase though. Maybe it was marketing, the covers may have been too explicit and the Penthouse name probably turned off potential readers.

  59. Anonymous

    Happy Birthday, Stan!
    Regarding the comic-movie analogy: Just because you CAN spend more time "developing" characters doesn't mean you should. Trim the fat and entertain me, already. I'm tired of paying $4 for setup.

  60. Anonymous

    "A mystery story can have red herrings: deliberately extraneous elements that do have a purpose, the purpose of misleading the viewer or reader."

    [MikeAnon:] A while back I was reading a book by a mystery writer who is famous for having the real villain turn out to be some minor inconspicuous barely-related character instead of the in-your-face bad guy the heroes have been chasing all along. So in the middle of the book, Obscure So&So appears, and naturally I thought I'd finally gotten the jump on the author: "Aha! Obscure So&So must be the real villain!"

    Well, of course, it wasn't — some other obscure person was the culprit. But the real kick in the ass was when the protagonist of the book said at the end, "You know, for a second there I thought Obscure So&So might be the real villain." And I'm like, "Oh, DAMN, the author is mocking me! He put in that obscure character just to throw me off! ARRGH!" (I wrote the author and complimented him on his deception.)[–MikeAnon]

  61. Paul Dushkind

    Alfred Norris:

    A mystery story can have red herrings: deliberately extraneous elements that do have a purpose, the purpose of misleading the viewer or reader.

    Neil Anderson:

    I don't know about Jim, but I think that the Spider-Man newspaper strip is written well in some ways, poorly in others. It always makes me feel like I've missed something if I haven't read yesterday's paper. It makes me feel like I'm going to miss something if I don't buy tomorrow's newspaper. The characters always speak in distinctive tones of voice.

    But the stories are sometimes unstructured, with loose ends forgotten or neglected.

    It's interesting that during Marvel's greatest creative burst, circa 1965, the balloons and captions were profuse and longwinded, but that Stan—or his ghostwriter, if he has one—is just as good with the sparse verbiage required by today's postage stamp sized newspaper strips.

    A little off-subject, but Larry Lieber's art is underappreciated. He draws (or did draw, the last I looked) the daily Spider-Man. Other artists draw the Sundays. The dailies have better facial expressions.

  62. pfgavigan is correct about the Jack Benny story. It was a gag first done in his radio show broadcast on March 27, 1948, and is public domain since it was broadcast without a copyright notice in the show. You can listen to it here: http://www.otr.net/r/jbny/386.ram.

    And the idea that showing a gun in the first act means that it has to be fired by the third act originates with Anton Chekhov, the playwright. 🙂

  63. Anonymous

    @alfred – disagreeing with Twain about how to write is a foolhardy pursuit

  64. Neil Anderson

    I like your comments on telling a complete story, even in sequels. I'd like to hear you expand on that subject in regard to comic strips. When I was a child, and read interviews with comic book artists, I was puzzled by how many said their lifelong dream was to have their comic strip. It puzzled me, because the comic strip seemed like such an inferior medium over the comic book, at least for adventure strips: one panel to recap yesterday's strip, second panel to advance the story, third panel to set up the cliffhanger for tomorrow's strip–and that's it. Now of course, I understand that the allure was having ownership of one's own property. And of course, there are many many comic strips I love that thrive with the comic strip format, but most of them are humor strips. As far as the adventure strips, I admire Chester Gould's Dick Tracy, for example, but I keep finding myself thinking, this would work better as a comic book. The Spider-Man comic strip strikes me as reading a bit choppy, and it's unsatisfying compared to a well-done Spider-Man comic book. I'd be interested to know your thoughts on the subject.

    Neil Anderson

  65. Kid

    Seems to me, Jim, that you're apologising for nothing and that you were right the first time. 'Changing' someone's character into a different character to make them do something they wouldn't have done is what you were complaining about. So, for someone to say 'we changed the character' is hardly an argument against your observation and in no way justifies the change. Surely?

  66. Anonymous

    Just to correct a minor error in an earlier post.

    Jack Benny never said "My money or my wife . . . I'm thinking it over." The scenario was Benny was walking home late at night and was stopped by a robber who threatened him with a gun and said, "Your money or your life!" There was a pause and the thief repeated his demand and then Benny replied with, "I'm thinking it over."

    Benny's humor, much of which is available due to the expiration of copyright, holds up quite well.


  67. Thanks, but no apology necessary. And I grant your point; the May I knew when I was a kid wouldn't have done that, but it just seemed like too good a moment to pass up, particularly (as I said) that it actually took us someplace interesting. I say this not for your benefit (you already know this) but to add to the general conversation about writing: sometimes some of the best stories emerge from characters seeming to act OUT of character–so long as it's eventually shown why that would happen, in a convincing manner. (After all, we all act "out of character" from time to time depending on who we're around, who we're showing ourselves to, and what the immediate circumstances are.) In fact, one of the hardest things to do in comics, I believe, is to sell the readers on a character who has enough depth and complexity to act differently depending on different environmental factors.

  68. Worth repeating from Jim's piece:

    "Personally, I think that the notion that comics are so "different" that what would be unacceptably bad writing in any other entertainment medium is somehow okay in our medium is part of what's killing our medium."

    & worth repeating Twice:

    "The best way to encourage a reader to buy next issue is to make the one in their hands great."

    "The best way to encourage a reader to buy next issue is to make the one in their hands great."

    Ok, 3 x's: "The best way to encourage a reader to buy next issue is to make the one in their hands great."

    Excellent, thanks, Jim.

  69. Love the blog and agree with you 98%. My first 1% of discord is that I disagree with Twain's rule #3 (justify everything's presence).

    Pick any episode of Law & Order (or heck any procedural crime drama since Hill Street Blues) and I can guess the murderer and how they did it in the first act. *Yawn* Is it because I'm the basis for the main character in The Mentalist? Heck, no. It's because Twain's Rule #3 has been beaten to death with a stick the size of Texas.

    Just like humor has a shelf-life (Jack Benny's "My money or my wife…I'm thinking)…so do all styles of writing. Audiences grow up and get accustomed to vast amounts of plot lines. And we notice that gun that you so cleverly put in the corner of frame #8, page 12 of Iron Man.

    My other 1% happens to be based on rumor. I've heard that you don't really care for the Silver Centurion armor. If that's true, I must disagree. It's worthy of praise.

  70. The artist who drew his comic characters in the nude (the women anyway) was Jim Mooney I believe, and he drew the Legion of Super-heroes often in Supergirl.

  71. What? You can't stop there!

    Love this stuff.

  72. Anonymous

    Fatale was one of the best comics of the 90's. It still reads well, maybe even better today. It is overt in its sexuality, but in a way that seems less Penthouse and more Cosmopolitan. The world Fatale existed in was truly interesting. I only wish we could have seen more of it.

    So Jim, any chance we'll ever see the return of Fatale?

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