Writer. Creator. Large mammal.

Storytelling Rant

JayJay here. In response to several comments about the state of storytelling in the business today, Jim wrote the following:

RE: Storytelling by artists.  Too many artists these days have no understanding of how to convey information — that is, how to do their part of telling the story.  Or they think it’s their job to make cool pictures and that’s all — explaining things is up to the writer — he or she can always add a caption or something.  Some of them have that attitude even when it’s a full script!  Or, they actively ignore what is called for and draw whatever the hell they want because they think story doesn’t matter.

Call for an establishing shot.  They give you a big head shot.  Tell them to draw figures in action.  It’s a mile away or cropped to the point that it’s meaningless.  Tell them to draw a close up.  They think it’s time to do a direct overhead shot of the room that mostly features the floor.  Give them ref, they ignore it and make something up.  Don’t give them ref and they complain.


In my scripts I tell the artists what they need to get across, provide reference, even throw in scribble sketches sometimes.  I plead with them to make everything clear at a glance.  I say things like:



“If we took this panel out of context and showed it to anyone in the world, they should say, ‘There’s a pilot quickly getting into his seat in the cockpit of a jet and a Native American is running toward the jet just ahead of a dinosaur that’s chasing him.’  Clear at a glance.”


“It doesn’t matter to me how you show this as long as anyone in the world, seeing this panel alone, out of context, would say, ‘The man in the red suit is firing energy beams that are destroying what appears to be a big computer.'”


“Imagine you’re showing what you draw to 1000 people who have never seen a comic book before.  Make sure that every single one of them will understand, clearly, at a glance.”

Blah, blah, blah….  You get the drift.

Do they always listen?

I’ll take the fifth.  Dewar’s if you got it, neat.

RE: Continuity.  Continuity should be a good thing.  The problem isn’t necessarily continuity, except the kind of “continuity” abused by writers obsessed with ancient minutia, either trying to “fix” some tiny glitch that happened years ago, or reconcile some dusty detail with the current retcon, or base what passes for a story on some such flimsy foundation.  Continuity, even detailed continuity can be groovy, if it matters, if it is effortlessly understood.

Writers also have this “you’re supposed to know” attitude that appalls me.  I tried to read a Justice League (?) book a while back that started with a bunch of characters only some of whom were familiar to me.  None of them were introduced — most writers these days don’t know what that term means — and everyone was referred to by his or her civilian first name.  “Bruce” I got.  “Kal” I got.  Then the “Carters” were mentioned.  Who?  Later, halfway through, I remembered that Carter is Hawkman’s civilian last name.  Right?  Slogging through this thing wasn’t easy.  And I felt like I wasn’t in the club.  And when I was done, except for a nifty bit in the middle, I felt like it was a pretty thin read.  And confusing.  If I was a first time reader, I would have pitched the thing by page three and never bought another one.

Nifty bits.  These guys become stars because of occasional nifty bits.  Never mind that as a whole the thing is a Swedish movie with no subtitles starting in the middle and going nowhere.

P.S. The writers of Law and Order, a fairly sophisticated show, introduce characters.  I’ll bet other TV shows I’m less familiar with do, too.  Pretty much EVERY professional writer in EVERY medium introduces the characters.  Except in comics.  There are few movies I can’t make sense of, few TV shows I know of ever that were tough to decipher, few novels that I can’t read effotlessly.  But comics?  Too many are impenetrable.  Some you can figure out aren’t worth the bother.  And very once in a while, there’s a gem.  Far too infrequently.

Is anyone manning the helm?

One good thing — many of these writers don’t challenge the artists much.  Maybe they know better.  There’s fighting, consisting mostly of punching, rather than innovative, creative use of powers.  There’s grimacing — useful for swearing vengeance, anger, intensity.  All purpose grimacing.  There’s looking grim.  What else?  There’s being defeated, battered and bleeding, that’s a staple.  What else?  I don’t know.

But here’s one of the main issues, getting back to continuity: way too much of what’s done is DERIVATIVE.  Nothing new.  Iteration after iteration of the same old stuff.  Same villains again and again.  Same tired concepts rehashed.  Endless permutations of the base conceit — Rick Jones becomes the Hulk!  No, Betty does!  No, what could be more shocking than General Ross!  I know, Krypto!  Wait, this isn’t a crossover….

I’ll end the rant with a story:

Some years back, at the Frankfurt Book Fair, I met Terry Stewart.  I didn’t have a stand, so my friend Wolfgang, head of a German comics publisher allowed me to use his stand as a base as I made my rounds.  I came into the office (most “stands,” or booths, have private offices) at one point to sit for a while and rest.  There was a guy there flirting with Heike, one of Wolfgang’s employees.  He wasn’t thrilled about being interrupted.  But then he noticed my name badge and introduced himself.  Terry Stewart, President of Marvel.

We talked for a while about various biz-related things.  Then, he said, words to the effect, “I feel like we’ve won the lottery two years in a row (with X-Men #1 the previous year and X-Factor that year).  You’re supposed to be the big comics guru.  What do I do next?”

I told him he’d done all the easy-money things.  Now Marvel was going to have to create something.

A parade of derivative stuff has come out from Marvel since.  I’m still waiting for something new from the “House of Idea.”

Here endeth the epistle.

Here are some comments to note:
Piperson’s comment

Jim’s  Response


More Strange Tales – San Diego Comic-Con Memories


Not-So-Secret Wars – Guest Post by JayJay


  1. Legion of 3 Worlds was a great idea and it was terribly executed

  2. Myself re: "last issues".

    Oh, I just discovered Marvel actually did that with their "The End", line of books.


  3. I honestly think that any comic book artist considering entering the business should ask himself: "Do I want to get into the business because I want to draw such and such character and because I'll get to draw really cool stuff or because I want to tell stories that are easily communicated."

    If it's the latter, bravo! If it's the former then …

  4. inkdestroyedmybrush – good points.

    Regarding the adults saying, "I just never understand which box to go to next." But I totally understand the adult who says that. And it's an easy remedy. I used to think that the Gold Key Comics were a drag to look at because they used a very conservative approach. And then I began to really study them. I noticed that a very large amount of them used to use a wide panel, generally the top tier of the comics page, to give us the title and intro. The panel was easily read left to right, if the artist did their job right (and generally they did with that company). The next tier might consist of two panels. But the reader has been conditioned by that top tier to read left to right, then drop down. This might sound silly but it works. In fact, I'm using the same approach in my own comic precisely because it works (check it out come 2 months time).

    The problem is when the "storyteller" elects to get creative but doesn't provide visual clues as to where to go next. Add to this editing that doesn't correct this problem and instead compounds it. The "storyteller", instead of seeing the errors and being made to correct them, thinks that he's doing his job right, keeps on making the sames mistakes, adding more to the lot and there you go: the mess that is modern comics "storytelling".

    I'm curious as to how much modern comic book artists look at the work of past masters like Toth, Kirby, Ditko, Caniff, Alex Raymond, Stan Drake, Roy Crane, etc. I don't mean the surface style. I mean really looking at how these gentlemen were able to get information across in the most efficient way.

    Still, there are excellent storytellers working today such as Mike Manley, John Romita, Jr., Darwyn Cooke, Sean Phillips, Steve Leiber, Graham Nolan so all is not lost. The problem is that flashy and detailed obsessed artwork tends to win out and the few thousand fans that the companies cater to (instead of expanding into other genres and characters) don't seem to care.

  5. Umm…who is this Dusty character? Very odd…

  6. I vividly recall Jim striding through the office of Defiant to make the same storytelling points, and I cringe these days when i hear, as I did just a week ago, some intelligent adults saying, "I just never understand which box to go to next."

    Reading comics, decoding the glyphs that comics use that we all take for granted (i.e. the speed lines, sound effects, the "blast" effect) is like learning another language. After all, language is just a series of squiggles that we learn to call "letters" and then "words". I'm still shocked at how many artists don't get that their full bleed panels blend into each other at the fold. Every page has its series of possible blunders and I'm shocked at how often it happens. The art of storytelling is shockingly lacking.

    On the other hand, Given that the 22 page pamphlet is now changing, it is clear that the approach to single issues is (has) changed. And that has to be ok. Every medium of entertainment has to adapt to its method of delivery. you can't always sequence vinyl the same as a CD (or an 8-track). the floppies are caught between the change over from 22 pages to 140 and it shows. Some allowances have to be made. I wouldn't want to read Blankets in 22 issue increments.

  7. Mat Adler-
    "I have a strong feeling that those in charge believe the monthly comic is a dying form, so they're not too concerned with a long-term strategy for it. They seem to believe digital and bookstore collections are the future. Maybe they're right".

    Well, if they really believe that, they ought to use that sentiment, and get creative!

    Instead of all these reboots, reboots, reboots, issue 1, issue 1, issue 1…


    Like Alan Moore did with "whatever happened to the man of tomorrow?".

    Both companies.

    Last issues for every single title.

    Even bring back Ambush Bug, and Howard The Duck just to kill 'em!

    I'd buy 'em.

    What? Is it just me? Am I sickie?

  8. Blade X

    Mr. Shooter I agree with everything you said.

    I'm going to make a wild prediction and say that 2 to 5 years from now, Disney will rehire you to be either Marvel's new EIC or publisher/president.

  9. Anonymous

    "'Legion of 3 worlds was the worst idea ever' [but a] A *very* small price to pay for the Bierbaum's 'Five-Year Crap' to be doubly-retconned out of Legion continuity, permanently."

    Just for the record, the Legion 5-year gap story was the first time I ever really cared about LSH. Prior to that I would pick up an issue here or there, but when the 5-year-gap hit, I hung on every issue, wondering when the next big revelation and/or missing piece of the history puzzle would arrive (and I absolutely loved Mon-El's post-Crisis recasting as the world-seeder Valor). I think that around issue #39 was where the story shifted to something less-than-stellar, but I still pine for the 9-panel grid and the idea of filling the holes in a 5-year gap. (I also enjoyed the Waid/Birnbaum post-Zero Hour rewrite up through the first arc. The image of Daxamites frying a whole planet with their heat vision still gives me chills. The latest Waid/Kitson endeavor wasn't bad but wasn't mind-blowing, either, and I bailed once they sent Supergirl back to her timeline. Legion of 3 Worlds I got mainly because I'm a sucker for anything with Superboy Prime, though I'm not sure even Superboy Prime's appearance will convince me to pick up the next couple issues of Titans, especially since the DC relaunch is only a month away.) — MikeAnon

  10. Dear czeskleba,

    The Gerber story is coming right up.

  11. Dear Cassie,

    Remember that in those ancient days, things were different. Yes, even Stan wrote clunky things sometimes by today's standards, but compared to the standards of the day, his stuff was fabulous. Clunkers and all. Read a few World's Finest, Superman and Batman issues from 1963, then read the Avengers again. No comparison.

  12. Jim & Tom B. –

    Instead of seeing the email thread here, how about you go with "water under the bridge" and start the project fresh?

    Jim – you have great talent and ideas, let's see them used to bring us something exciting starring the characters you made so alive for us before.

    Tom – though I haven't had the pleasure of working with you for a long time now, I do remember you as a great guy to work with, whether I was bugging you for a quote for Marvel Age Magazine, or when you were helping me refine an idea I had for a new series (unfortunately scant weeks before the 90s implosion that saw a halt to new character books for a while and my transition to the advertising world to put food on the table).

    We're talking 2 comic book superstars here; let's get on to the project!

  13. OM

    "Rob Liefeld can't draw the paper bag that he cannot draw his way out of…"

    …Nonono, you've sort of gotten this one wrong. The actual assessment of Rob's "artistic talent"(*) goes like this:

    "Rob Liefeld can't draw the paper bag that he cannot kick his way out of, because Rob can't draw feet!"

    (*) On a side note, Rob *did* have one final brief period of writing excellence. The first few issues of his Battlestar Ponderosa book, where the Rag Tag Fleet finally makes it to Earth, was really rather well done, most likely due to the fact that the core plot had probably been gestating in his mind since ABC misguidedly cancelled the show back in '79. Ergo, if you've got a decade or so to work on a plot, even someone like Millar, Bendis, Loeb, Waid or even Liefeld and the rest of the Hack Pack can come up with a story that's a classic.

  14. Anonymous

    Well, if someone reads comics for 15, 20, 30 or 40 years there IS going to come a point when you've 'seen it all'.

  15. I can't believe I'm actually talking to the Shooter! Your presence online is a long time in coming, Jim, and if I may say so, you show 'em all how it's supposed to be done! I'm Dusty, and I've spent several years telling it like it is to online comic writers and editors, and have become of forum superstar in the process because of my take no prisoners approach.

    I don't suffer fools gladly, and I never suck up to writers or editors in hopes of getting imaginary browney points. I tell it like it is! I don't care if it's bold or if I hurts somebody's precious little feelings. I'm that guy! Tom Brevoort knows this all too well, as he and I have sparred for years, all in the name of our love for comics, of course.

    Having said that, you are the king! When you were in the high seat, more defining runs and defining character moments happened than on anybody's watch ever. You know your stuff! You should be treated as the E.F. Hutton of comics, meaning that when you speak, EVERYONE should listen. Your track record of success in undeniable. It would be no different if Paul McCartney was in a recording studio. You are the Maestro!

    Bottom line: Everybody wants the prodigal son to return to Marvel, even if it's just for the Korvac sequel. Life is too short for this not to happen! Tom Brevoort is a good guy, and he has a love for comics, just like you. He's easy enough to get along with, and I disagree with him most of the time. I've argued with him, I've taunted him, I've insulted his integrity, and I have questioned his story sense many times, but I genuinely respect his contributions to the industry and his knowledge of the job he does. I think you and Tom would make one hell of a great team and produce of story for the ages! Please make it happen!!

  16. I would definitely be interested to get that behind the scenes look on the Korvac project, but it's up to Jim of course.

    Pete, I have a strong feeling that those in charge believe the monthly comic is a dying form, so they're not too concerned with a long-term strategy for it. They seem to believe digital and bookstore collections are the future. Maybe they're right.

  17. Just want to make clear that I'm not advocating a return to editors that are mean. I just agree with Pete. Editors that know how to edit and know what makes a story good. This isn't to say that there aren't any such editors. There are, but the excessive junk makes one wonder if they're stuck away somewhere.

    What is it that allows such stuff to be published? Why can a writer like Mark Evanier (love those Blackhawks) or Paul S. Newman or Gaylord DuBois come up with an entertaining story issue after issue while many of the hot writers of today can't?

    I think that it may be that the writers I've mentioned knew that their job is/was to craft an entertainment. Entertainment. What a magical word.

    I'm going to draw my own story. Keep it easy to read, It won't be superheroes but I will try to make it fun.

  18. Tom Brevoort


    It's all water under the bridge, but I think that you'll find, if you look back at those e-mails, that I had more concerns than just the few things you mentioned here. These may have been the ones you felt most strongly opposed to or took the most umbrage to, but as I recall, I had a number of comments on your outline. It was an overview of eight issues, so that's somewhat to be expected.

    I've got all of the e-mails too, and I'm perfectly happy to have you post the entire exchange here at some point if you're of a mind to, provided that everything gets posted, and not excerpted or edited. We didn't agree, you chose not to continue with the project as is your right (and an intelligent decision if you don't think you're going to be able to have an enjoyable experience, or get an end result that you'll be happy with.) But I'll completely stand behind the comments I wrote up and my portions of our exchanges.

    From my point of view, I think it's a shame that you walked away. I don't think that our sensibilities and our instincts are so different, and I had every desire and intention of making the experience a fruitful and pleasant one. Didn't work out that way, and sometimes that's the way it goes.

    Tom B

  19. OM

    I'm still struggling to understand what the new Legion status quo is.Legion of 3 three worlds was the worst idea ever.

    …A *very* small price to pay for the Bierbaum's "Five-Year Crap" to be doubly-retconned out of Legion continuity, permanently.

  20. Pete – excellent points. I definitely agree with your comments about editors. But would that be enough? I often wonder if any of the so-caled superstar artists and writers of today would even have made the cut under a guy like Kanigher (who, from all accounts that I've read, was a pretty rough personality) or Julie Schwartz. What happened to the editorship?

    By the way, I feel I can be open here as 1) I'm past the age that a comics editor would hire me (let's face it, aegism seems to be a very real thing in the comics industry, unless your one of the superstar artists and how long does one last as a superstar?) 2) I'm not that into superheroes. It's the medium I love. 3) I'm not going to audition. I'm not being a prima donna about this, but at this point I'd rather do my own thing. If someone likes it, fine.

    So why complain? Because the medium of comics is wonderful. But lately it has become a victim of bad storytelling (at least here in USA) and the problem is that young artists and writers who see the books will think that's the way a comic is supposed to be and proceed in a wrong direction. It's already in process.

    What can be done? Create our own projects, but it's not enough to just create a story so that the grumpy old man down the street can understand it. It has to look as professional as possible. There are standards that must be met.

    To all of us who draw and create -Don't just do superheroes (however if that's what you like go for it). In the civilian world there's romance, high adventure, westerns, horror (and not just zombies and teen vampires), suspense, comedy, etc. There's a whole wide world of genres that are ours for the taking. But they must be done with professionalism.

    Maybe this a call to action. I don't know. Maybe I'm throwing down the gauntlet. Perhaps the fans and pros who like how things as they are now will be sneering at any efforts that may result, but they're not the ones to convince (for starters,don't worry about getting a job with the majors. Get that one thing out of the way and you'll realize how free you are.). It's the general public, the civilians that must be made aware. And it's not through "hip" storytelling. Just tell the story . Make it 1 story = 1 issue. People like to read or enjoy their entertainment at one shot. (Serialized movies and tv shows are not the norm, regardless of the popularity of certain shows and movies). Because in the "real world" it's the civilians that decide what movies, books, tv shows, etc. are real hits and what aren't.

    I hope this makes sense.

  21. You said it, Pete. Marvel and DC are perfectly aware of the fans' discussions on the internet. They know a lot of us old-school guys don't like the new stuff. But they probably think we're in the minority. There are still a lot of fans who are still buying, and who become very vocal (whether pro or con) about every little point of plot and continuity. But precisely because they are so vocal, they seem to be a bigger segment of readers than they are. Sales numbers are the only real indicator of the lay of the land. And sales numbers are not great; many time-honored books are forced to start over for the 19th time in order to keep sales numbers above cancellation levels. Astonishingly, collectors are still obsessed with #1s. I wonder if 10% or so of the fans actually ONLY BUY #1s?? Are they still under the impression that it pays to speculate in #1s? Anyway, it can't last. It just can't. I was not happy when they started putting everything in trades, but now that comics are decompressed to the point of meaninglessness, and impossible to keep track of anymore (both in the storylines and the numbering), I actually think it might be high time to entirely phase out the pamphlets and just do graphic novels, published whenever they're damn well done. It would bring the U.S. version of the medium closer to what's always been done in Europe. Limited projects which are of higher quality because the artists are not under a monthly deadline pressure.

  22. Unless Marvel & DC are a bunch of morons, and they're not, I can't believe they know what fans like us think of the rubbish they produce, and don't care.
    What kind of business plan is that? To try to hang on to the dwindling fanbase while it lasts and not give a toss about the people who've stopped buying. These people do want a career in this industry, don't they? Surely no one's that stupid?
    But then, they must see the internet full of comments like this, so who knows?
    But also, I don't know what even the most high-profile letter writing campaign would achieve.
    Don't get me wrong, I'd be the first in line if I thought anyone would listen, but what would realistically happen?
    What needs to happen is a return to tough editors like Julie, Stan, Roy and yes, Jim who are prepared to say: No, do it again. TELL THE STORY. IT AIN'T GOOD ENOUGH.
    And what needs to happen is comics need to get back into Mom & Pop stores, so that kids fresh out of the Cap, X-Men or Thor movie can become NEW fans.
    And what needs to happen is we start using continuity as the writing tool it is, instead of the albatross it's become.
    But how do we do all this? I wish I knew.

  23. ja

    JayJay Jackson said:

    "Maybe the brilliant, articulate people who comment here and read this blog should start a letter writing campaign to…"

    And there you lost me. But only momentarily, and only because you said I was brilliant and articulate.

    Then I read the rest. =)

    But the problem becomes; how can we know we're even getting through to the Powers That Be at DC & Marvel? For DC to even pay attention to anything, won't be applied for maybe a year, because they've likely so locked into everything they've started with their relaunch.

    And Marvel… same thing, considering (if memory serves)that they're gearing up for the same kind of thing for their characters and books.

    Seriously, any suggestions on how to go about this, beside the 'I'm going to write my Congressman' approach?

    Maybe writing to an online address, where all our letters are posted online, to be exploited publicly to apply whatever pressure we can toward Marvel & DC?

    Worth a try?

  24. About Claremont overdoing it:

    I recall him overdoing it a LOT in Fantastic Four vol. 3 and X-Treme X-Men. Characters would repeatedly rattle down half their life story, be it in thought bubbles ("Here I am, Reed Richards, leader of the Fantastic Four. A trip to space gave us superpowers.") or in dialogue ("Storm, you opened that door like a pro!" – "I was a thief in Cairo once." – "Why'd you give it up?" – "I became a goddess in Kenya."). Suffice to say, it severely interrupted the flow of the story.

    Then there's the tale of Bob Budiansky. In 2006, IDW decided to release a new comic book adaptation of the 1986 Transformers animated movie for its 20th anniversary DVD release (there was a Marvel adaptation from back in the day that was based on an early version of the script, whereas the IDW version was based on the actual movie). For some reason, they decided to have Bob Budiansky write it.

    Half the dialogue in the comic adaptation was directly lifted from the movie (which isn't a bad thing, mind you). The other half was Budiansky's own work. The problem is that the two styles clashed. A lot.

    Back in the Eighties, comic book characters had a distinct way of talking. It worked at the time, but as the years went by, dialogue in comics became more an more similar to the way people naturally talk (or at least to dialogue in movies). And yet, Budiansky's dialogue in that comic adaptation of the animated Transformers movie read as if it had been written in the 1980s.

    And for some reason, Budiansky decided to use asterisks with little info boxes that informed the reader what issue an event mentioned in dialogue occurred in.

    Mind you, this comic adaptation is not in continuity with any other comic, and the movie's plot is fairly self-contained. The main target audience for this comic was definitely hardcore and casual fans who were most likely familiar with the movie. And yet here Budiansky decided he had to point out that the fatal battle between Optimus Prime and Megatron alluded to in issue 2 had occurred in issue 1. O RLY?

    Again, I don't mind these "*in issue 123" boxes per se. All I'm saying is that if there was one comic that really didn't need them, it was this one. And the way it was done came across as very condescending towards the reader. There's "explaining things to the reader" and then there's "repeatedly pointing out the obvious so it interrupts the flow of the story".

    It's not fair to expect all readers to be perfectly familiar with the characters, but treating the readers as morons isn't the right way to do it either.

    (No offense towards Bob intended. It just read very anachronistic for a comic published in 2006, with modern art.)

  25. Anonymous

    "I tried to read a Justice League (?) book a while back that started with a bunch of characters only some of whom were familiar to me. None of them were introduced — most writers these days don't know what that term means — and everyone was referred to by his or her civilian first name." I actually ran into that very same brick wall with DC's "Identity Crisis" — I knew who everyone was, and I absolutely loved the story, so for Christmas I bought full sets of the series for two of my friends. They liked it, but they were often confused by it for exactly the reason you described: They weren't regular readers, so they weren't on a first-name basis with the characters and didn't know about whom the characters were speaking half the time. –MikeAnon

  26. Jim Shooter wrote:
    Some creators who didn't sue, who were "good soldiers" were appalled that by suing Gerber had a character included that was created before the incentives were in place. I agreed that it was unfair.
    I respectfully disagree. I think Gerber deserved whatever he was able to get for the time, expense, and stress the lawsuit entailed for him. Gerber was willing to fight for what he felt he deserved; the "good soldiers" you mention could have done the same if they wanted the same consideration.

    Since we're on the topic of Gerber, I wonder if you'd be willing to comment on the unapprovable script he submitted. Being a huge Howard fan, I'd be interested to hear what changes you asked for and that he was unwilling to make. For those who haven't seen it, Gerber's rejected script is available here:

  27. One thing on the 'introduction' is that it can get really bad. I was reading the Marvel collection of the first 5 or 6 Avenger issues; and there was one thing that quickly started to annoy me. Anyone on the team mentions Tony Stark, and Iron Man goes into think to himself about how "they don't know Tony Stark is here with them!" thought usually in much more words. I get why this was done, but as someone reading each issue in order it gets repetitive and tiring to read. They don't do it with Thor, who's alter ego is shown several times. They don't do it with the Hulk (though in his case it'd likely be Rick commenting on Hulk's duel identity).

    Non-related but that collection also has another thing that bugged me, as its missing part of the story arc since it happened in Fantastic Four. The whole story arc is pretty much Avengers vs Hulk. Issue 1 they're called together to stop him and they form with him joining the team, issue two has someone impersonating him making him leave the team, Issue 3 has him teaming up with Submariner, Issue 4 doesn't involve him, becuase he's over in Fantastic 4 25 and 26, where he's hunting them while they are dealing with Submariner again, but issue 5 picks up after those issues with a torn down mansions and mention of them having another fight with Hulk from the F4 issues. I know its an Avengers only collection, but I hate it when TPBs leave out part of a story. Its done with modern story lines to from what I've seen on AT4W where he'll review a trade, but stuff that didn't happen in the main series doesn't get included so parts of the story are left out. I feel that's another thing hurting readership, its so damn hard to get a fully story. Its fine with details bleed over that don't majorly effect things, but when big events are left out it feels like your skipping over a chapter of a story.

  28. I may be in the minority of comic book readers, but I follow writers and artists, not characters. If Steve Englehart is going to write Hot Stuff the Lil' Devil, then I am there. It may or may not be well-done (OUCH! No pun intended!), but I have faith that in the very least, it'll be interesting. Same with Jim; I don't love or worship everything he's written, but even the stuff I am not crazy about has something interesting in it. The Legion of Super-Heroes means nothing to me and I haven't bought an issue in decades. Then I pick up #37 and everything necessary was there, in place, and by the time I got to page 22 of the story, I wanted the next issue immediately.
    Now, maybe like the rest of you, I've read extensively about the troubles Jim had on that run and I've read what the original, intended plots were and I've even compared them to the published versions, and I gotta tell you: for the first time in ages, I was hooked. With the exception of #50, written by "Justin Thyme", I still enjoyed Jim's run, altered as it was.
    So, Jim…wherever your writing career takes you next, I'll be there to buy it, at least, and more than likely, really enjoy it.
    My point? I have tried to read present day comic books from the Big 2; I've given them a chance, and I cannot say I would likewise follow any of the popular writers: Johns (studied under Richard Donner – and it shows), Bendis (oooh! Tough-guy talk a'la Seinfeld, adding up to zilch), Fraction (I loved his Casanova too), Brubaker (started out great, but now one of the "De-compression Zombies") – plus others. They are all part of a system that is driven editorially: the editor tells his staff at the semi-annual summit meetings what needs to happen over the next six months and they follow orders and fill in the blanks; team players all.
    And so I said good-bye to regular mainstream, super-hero comics from the big 2….until I see that a writer whose work I enjoy is now on such-and-such title and I'll buy it and read it and wait impatiently for the next issue, like the 12 year-old boy I once was.

  29. Dear czeskleba,

    The terms of Gerber's settlement were identical to the standard creator incentives for new characters that I had put in place by then. There were some considerations regarding Marvel's obligation to publish the Duck, which Gerber quickly negated by submitting unapprovable work. Some creators who didn't sue, who were "good soldiers" were appalled that by suing Gerber had a character included that was created before the incentives were in place. I agreed that it was unfair.

  30. Dear Matt,

    Francis is a promising young talent. He draws very well and puts more effort into it than almost anyone. He was sincerely trying. He did some great shots and fabulous designs. He hasn't had enough training in fundamentals yet, though, and when I tried to help him, he didn't always grok at first. (Apparently. Maybe he was ignoring me, dunno.) Neither did Frank Miller grok everything right off the bat, by the way. In an interview in which I said Francis could develop into an all-time great I also said he was still learning, still made mistakes. That was taken as insulting by the editors and, I guess, by Francis. Sorry. Sincerely.

    I wish Francis had drawn what I asked for and more clearly. However, the larger problem was with the fill-ins. I hate writing a full script then having to rewrite it at the last minute after the art is finished because the artist didn't draw what was asked for, didn't plan for copy, much less place the copy and ignored or misunderstood the reference. Warren Ellis said he wouldn't put up with such artists. I guess I needed the gig worse than he did. But I have my limits. Add to the above, by the way, that the editorial people sometimes "fixed" things to be wrong and generally did more harm than good.

    "With Marvel, you mentioned that in response to criticism, you asked editor Tom Brevoort "if he lectured John Buscema about making sure to draw with proper perspective and correct anatomy."

    Wrong. It wasn't "in response to criticism." It was out of nowhere, the kind of admonishment one might give to a first-timer. I learned to introduce characters probably before he was born.

    Tom's only criticism was, as I recall (I still have all the e-mails, but it's not worth digging them up), that he felt that several characters could be eliminated and perhaps weren't necessary. I advised him that the specific characters he objected to were there because Quesada had told me to include them. My instructions were to bring back the Surfer and create a new Nova. I took pains to make those characters essential to the story and they were.

    I withdrew the plot because I got the feeling Tom was going to make the job no fun at all. At that time, I had plenty of other work. I only agreed to do it in the first place because Quesada kept after me to do it and I thought it would be fun.

  31. There are a lot of brilliant comics out there…they are just not only being published by the Big Two.

    Invincible (Image) is a great take on the whole Superman/Superhero story. A lot of Kirkman's stuff is really good (Walking Dead).

    Fables (Vertigo…sort of Big Two)…Bill Willingham has been writing an amazing story for years with this title. So good.

    Morning Glories (Image) Fantastic book by Nick Spencer.

    There is more. I like a lot of books coming out nowadays. I feel like creativity is at a big high right now. Even Hickman's run on Fantastic Four and now FF is great fun.

    lets not be too down on current comics. It's like those old dudes who say music died in the 1960's.

  32. Dennis said:
    I think the failed lawsuits re: creator's rights over the last 20 years has pretty much killed the desire for innovation.
    It's inaccurate to describe Steve Gerber's Howard the Duck lawsuit as a failure. The lawsuit ended with Gerber being given a settlement by Marvel (terms undisclosed at Marvel's insistence). While not a complete victory, it was also not a loss.

    I disagree that lack of character ownership is a reason for the lack of innovation/new characters. In the golden and silver age, there was NO profit participation or character ownership whatsoever (and little hope there ever would be), and yet tons of characters were created. Marvel and DC offer some level of profit participation for creators of new characters now. If anything, conditions are better for profiting for character creation.

    I think the reason there is little innovation or new characters at Marvel and DC is simply because new characters don't sell to the existing stagnant, limited readership, and the creators know it. The few readers that are left don't seem to want new characters or ideas. Also, creators have options besides Marvel and DC if they want to create new characters, and so they take their ideas elsewhere.

  33. Diacanu, I agree, but like I said, I enjoyed Jim's recent Legion, even though he may have justifiably been dissatisfied with some things in it. I certainly didn't feel it was crap.

  34. Matt Adler-

    I couldn't disagree more.
    I'm elitist scum, I'd rather read no comics than crap.
    I also feel this way about movies and TV shows.
    Even as snooty as I am, I have well stuffed shelves.

  35. JayJay,

    Unfortunately, the publishers keep jacking up the prices so they can survive just a little bit longer on their shrinking audience (an audience that freely admits to being pathologically unable to stop following their favorite characters, regardless of quality). Eventually that strategy will hit a wall, but until it does, there's not much the rest of us can do. Believe me, the publishers know full well how we feel about their comics.

  36. But Jim, even when you did work for the Big Two, you were never shy about stating your disagreements with the editorial approach. With DC, you mentioned that you loudly complained to them about problems with Francis Manapul's handling of your scripts, and that led to your departure there. With Marvel, you mentioned that in response to criticism, you asked editor Tom Brevoort "if he lectured John Buscema about making sure to draw with proper perspective and correct anatomy."

    Again, I'm of two minds here. On some level, I admire a guy who is willing to speak his mind and unwilling to bend to the prevailing winds (I think of your recent tale of Steve Ditko, another legendary creator with uncompromising positions). But on the balance, I think I would much rather be able to enjoy more of your work, even if it means not everything is the way you would have done it when you were in charge.

    I read your new Legion run, and although I am certain if I was the writer, I would have picked up on and been irritated by what Manapul didn't follow in the script, as a reader I enjoyed the run and was frustrated it ended under those seemingly avoidable circumstances. Similar to the way I felt reading the account of how the Korvac project was aborted.

    So that's my selfish wish that you would bite your lip in those circumstances, so we could get more of your stuff… it might be frustrating to you, but even a Jim Shooter who compromises on what he thinks is best would still be a heck of a lot more enjoyable than a lot of what's being written today.

  37. I think one of the problems with picking up a comic book today is that the modern 32-page pamphlet is really viewed by the publishers as the hardcore reader's product, and the trade collection as the product that will be picked up by more casual readers. As such, you might end up picking up an issue that's part 3 of 5, and you'll end up lost in the middle.

    Of course, as Jim points out, there are ways of getting around that. I've seen Warren Ellis put up short boxes of text with a character's name, primary motivation, and powers next to the first appearance of a character.

    Jonathan Hickman does a great job of this stuff in FF- you can create the modern version of the "Meanwhile" box with proper typography so that it looks new and modern while still being as informative as the old text boxes that seem to have fallen out of favor with modern creators.

    I always thought one of the strangest decisions in modern superhero comics was to practically eliminate the "asterisk" box, especially when it would refer to a previous issue or another series. I always thought that was a great sales tool, in addition to a great storytelling tool.

  38. Wow, Jim. In an earlier post you said that the Marvel comics in the early 70's were unreadable. I thought to myself "if he thinks that way about the comics then, what does he think about them NOW".

    Now I know. Thanks.

    P.S. I hate that today's editors let British writers write American characters speaking with British slang that no American would ever use.

  39. So much truth in this post.

    One of the few comics I still read these days is Kurt Busiek's ASTRO CITY. There's multi-part stories, but still, every issue is accessible to the reader, the characters are explained by the plot, and the fact that the main character changes with every story makes it all the more necessary for the plot to introduce the characters to the reader.

    I assume your friend "Wolfgang" is Wolfgang M. Biehler of Condor/Interpart/whatever else they used to call themselves? Not exactly the best German publisher, I'm, afraid:

    The current Transformers ongoing comic by IDW Publishing, written by Mike Costa, is a major culprit of decompressed storytelling, as parodied in this webcomic:

    Meanwhile, there's a positive example from IDW's Transformers output that's very popular among fans and is a very good example of how to do it RIGHT: The five-issue limited series "Last Stand of the Wreckers" takes mostly characters that had toys in the late 1980s and early 1990s, many of them never even available in the USA, and used the fact that these characters were effectively still blank slates as a strength. There's no need to know these characters as the story effectively treats them as if the reader isn't familiar with them. Characters get established within two pages, some characters get more characterization despite being killed off after two pages than other characters who are main characters get in 20+ issues, etc. There's also a lot of fanwanky details in there, but those are just the icing on the cake. The story itself is the main attraction. Yes, some people call it a "glorified fanfic", but it's a lot more competently written than IDW's glorified ongoing Transformers "fanfic".

    Jim, a lot of your complaints are typical elements of comics that are reviewed/mocked by Linkara in his show "Atop the Fourth Wall". You should really check it out, I've never seen anyone tearing bad comics a new one in such an entertaining manner. It has become my regular Tuesday evening pastime.

  40. Dear Diacanu,

    We don't need rockstars, though a few would help. We need publishers and executives with a clue and editors who know what business we're in: Storytelling.

  41. Pastrami said…

    "Based on the number of comments and the length of so many of them one would assume you've struck a nerve here, Jim.

    We need to speak up ourselves with our collective spending habits. That's the only way things will change, isn't it?"

    Maybe the brilliant, articulate people who comment here and read this blog should start a letter writing campaign to the tippy top head honcho's at Marvel and DC (like Dianne Nelson, I think, and whoever is in charge at Marvel).

  42. Great post. As someone who read his first comic book at age 4 (1969) and whose diet of comics has now dwindled to just 6 "mainstream" titles, my two cents:

    1) Spot-on commentary regarding art-as-storytelling having long since moved away from the era of Kirby, Adams, Buscema, et al. Artists who knew how to do their job. Offhand I can think of maybe a dozen or so newer artists in the biz whose art is attractive, dynamic, AND able to convey the story well.

    [And God save me from artists in the Image era who now had the freedom to draw unencumbered by a writer!]

    2) Also spot-on regarding comics being insular in their narrative. Every comic is someone's first but not everyone has a computer to go Wiki the backstory (or the time or inclination). I attribute this to the death of the 3rd Person omniscient caption boxes. Hell, even first person narratives usually tell the bits that only a regular reader would be familiar with.

    3) I think the failed lawsuits re: creator's rights over the last 20 years has pretty much killed the desire for innovation. What writer is going to create a Howard the Duck or Blade the Vampire Slayer (supporting characters who made it big) let alone actual series stars from the get-go like a Superman or Captain America only to see Marvel, DC, etc reap the profits from movies, TV licensing? There are still a few (Morrison, Giffen, etc) who seem unable NOT to create characters and concepts. And a rare few like Moore or Busiek who have a knack for recognizing existing archetypes and still able to spin out their own entertaining variations (not wholly originally but fun and insightful nonetheless).

    4) I think comics are better written these days but not better plotted. Characterization is at an all-time high — sometimes to the point of blasphemous takes on the established character. SAVE ME from the writer who takes an unsellable concept and grafts it onto the first established character she/he lays hands on. [David's take on Supergirl from the 90s STILL comes shuddering to mind.]


    A sci-fi critic once pointed out rightly that some stories and concepts can only be written to a certain length given the skills of the author. A writer skilled in the short story form, for example, doesn't necessarily have a skill to write a novel well (or expand an existing story to novel length). I think that applies to comic books even more so. Too many comic books are now being written to the trade paperback length (based on the assumption HA HA it should be collected) but very writers have talent to expand an unoriginal recyled plot that OLDER readers at least recognized has having been done and resolved in a single issue (three tops!).

    And when a writer being interviewed says it must be written to trade paperback lenghth because "that's what the reader expects of us" I feel downright insulting.

    — Denny

    PS: With the DC relaunch my lifetime collecting habits for mainstream has dwindled down to:

    Action Comics (Morrison has a clear love for the character and perhaps can at least remind people of the core elements by re-emphasizing them)

    Justice League (at least for the first arc simply because first meetings are still a 6-year-old's joy)

    Legion of Super-heroes (so long as it's written by Paul Levitz who wrote "my era" back in high school and college)

    Green Lantern (well-written by Johns and nice additions to the mythos [even if plot is usually lacking])

    All-Star Western (Gray and Palmiotti continue to buck trends and do entertaining done-in-ones)

    Frankenstein (hopefully Lemire will be half as cool and original as Morrison was when he retooled this classic character)

    Marvels: None. Civil War was the first nail in the coffin and Marvel's been pounding them ever since.

  43. Dear Pastrami,

    The way sales are in comics today, I think we are.

  44. Dear Pete,

    As I have said many times, there are no rules. Some of the greatest comics ever made were in grid format. Some of the greatest comics creators of all time used nothing but the grid. But some chose to experiment with non-grid presentations and did great things, too; Steranko, Eisner, others. If you are good enough to do that, if you are another Eisner or Steranko, fly free, brave spirit. But too many lesser lights produce unreadable messes thinking they're more skilled than they are. Goodwin had a wonderful expression: "Playing with the panel borders" to describe the misguided efforts of those who thought themselves more clever by half. The bottom line is this: TELL THE STORY WELL. Results matter, rules don't.

  45. Based on the number of comments and the length of so many of them one would assume you've struck a nerve here, Jim.

    We need to speak up ourselves with our collective spending habits. That's the only way things will change, isn't it?

  46. Dear Aaron,

    I've seen exactly one episode of Mad Men, one in the middle somewhere. I had no trouble following it and it made sense to me. The writers are very good and very skillful.

  47. Dear Steve Jones,

    Compressed/decompressed is what we used to call pacing. No reason it can't be decompressed when that serves well and quickened hen that makes sense. The idea is to tell a story well. Whatever that takes.

    I'm all in favor of "new," but Superman, Spider-Man et all are hardly used up. People said all the Thor stories had been told — then Walt came along and proved them wrong. You and I could sit down together for an hour and come up with a year's worth of innovative, interesting stories about any Marvel or DC character. You know we could.

  48. Dear czeskleba,

    I generally agree with what you say. On the other hand, I've been hearing about the imminent demise of print media since the 1960's. In a market where book sales were down and falling, where genre stuff especially was hurting, J.K. Rowling did okay.

    The thing is this: We have to be GOOD first. We have to produce EXCELLENT WORK. If we build it, they will come.

    Remember when Watchmen came out? Good book, big PR, lots of new people read it…said, wow, who knew comics were good?…went to the comics shop for the first time…and found precious little else that appealed to them.

    We need to raise our average considerably. There should be great books, Watchmen level or better, every month, and lots that are really good. Not impossible. Honestly, I didn't think Watchmen was that great, certainly not on an unattainable plateau.

    But the storytelling was clear, no, all panels in the grid and easy to follow, no? And enough juice to tweak people.

    Great and very good, and lots of it, every month. If we build it, they will come. Still.

  49. Dear Piperson,

    AHA! You bring up the key to the whole thing! The idea is to provide the reader enough information to read THE BOOK THEY HAVE IN THEIR HANDS. If a Spider-Man story takes place in and around the Daily Bugle, but in no way involves Aunt May, DON"T MENTION HER! But make sure I get a clue who Jameson, Robbie, and whoever else is who's directly involved.

    A good writer does this elegantly. You don't even notice that info is being provided. Sounds like Chris overcooked it on the X-Men issues you're talking about.

    Getting enough of the drift across but making the reader want to know more is groovy. I did that in the Korvac thing? Really…? I mean, um, yeah, of course, I meant to do that.

    The first meeting of Marvel writers I ever called had one major goal — to convince them to at least MENTION THE CHARACTER'S NAME IN EVERY ISSUE. Many often failed to do that!

    Then, building on that, I tried to explain introducing characters. Some did it reluctantly, grumbling the whole time, and not well, as in your X-Men example.

    Stan always did it well. A typical Stan Lee FF splash page might have the Thing holding up some enormous machine and grousing about it. Reed would be stretching to adjust a dial on the top of the huge machine and saying or thinking something like "E=mc squared, I sure love Sue." The Torch would be partially flamed on and giving the Thing a hotfoot and Sue would be dusting and practicing being invisible. P.S. The machine would turn out to be the McGuffin. One page. Fun, funny and pretty much all you need to know. P.P.S. Did you ever read a Barks Scrooge where Scrooge wasn't doing something miserly the first time you saw him? Or a Laverne and Shirley episode where they weren't doing something ditzy the first time they walked onto the set? Or a Shakespeare play in where the characters didn't give you a pretty good idea who they were and what they were about in the first speech? "In sooth, I know not why I am so sad…."

    EXCEPTION: When it's a surprise reveal who the character is. A distinguished gentleman enters the opera house. He seems wealthy, worldly and opera-savvy. A critic? A wealthy patron? But before the show starts, the stage manager comes out onstage and says that one of the men's costumes has ripped. Is there a tailor in the house? Our guy gets up….

    A GOOD writer, a professional writer in ANY MEDIUM BUT OURS does the above effortlessly, gracefully and well, like Stan. Most of our guys struggle with it, being too clunky and burdensome or skipping it entirely.

    Is there an editor in the house?

  50. Payton: Who to study, I'll be cheeky and say the further back you go, almost the better it gets, so go for ( deep breath ) Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, Wally Wood, Milton Canniff, Joe Kubert, John Buscema, Nick Cardy, Steve Ditko & John Romita. I don't many people would disagree with that list.
    Also, next time you're in a bookstore, look at
    a copy of Essential Marvel Horrorl.1. There's a 4 page Satana strip in there by Romita sr. that's an absolute masterclass in storytelling ( All rush to your copies now, and go ' Oh yeah! That one! )

  51. Anonymous

    Great topic and conversation here, and one that I’ve pondered for a while.

    I collected comics, pretty much exclusively DC, for 7 or 8 years, back in the 90’s. Anything DC put out was on my pull list, and I have really fond memories of a lot of the books. Knightfall, Death of Superman, the Wally West Flash stuff, even the grey haired Hal Jordan to Kyle Rayner Green Lantern. I stopped collecting when I found that I was buying books out of habit, and having to force myself to sit and read them. I just stopped caring. I think at the time, I was feeling what they now call event fatigue. I knew every summer, DC was going to have a line-wide crossover that was often mediocre at best, and would have to shoehorn that into regular issues. Plus, if the storyline was any good, the key components were featured in annuals that were always subpar! I don’t know how creators are picked for certain assignments, but the annuals always looked and read like they were done by the B team.

    Since then, I’ve periodically bought a book or two, but like Jim’s Justice League example, I feel like I have to have read dozens of back issues, other books, and crossovers to have an idea of what’s going on. I remember, after Knighftall, in one of the back pages of one of the Bat-titles, a column from Denny O’Neil, with the title 1 of 1. In that column, he pledged a year free of multi-book crossovers, issues where you could read an entire story in a single issue. What a concept! I was so obsessed with reading things in order that if I didn’t have the right “number in a bat or diamond”, I would wait to read the subsequent issues until I did. Now, it seems every issue refers to a ton of history.

    I remember, as a kid, that we used to be able to watch cartoons, one at a time, in no particular order, without losing anything. Sure, there were the occasional multi-parters, but even those had a nice little recap at the beginning that explained what you may have missed. Nowadays, it seems like every cartoon series has a continuity and a story arc that you have to follow if you really want to know what’s going on. Growing up, I watched GI Joe, Transformers, Thundercats, etc; the modern counterparts of Star Wars the Clone Wars, Ben 10, or even the modern Transformers and GI Joe have continuity.
    Where I’m going with this is this: when was there a shift in storytelling from the encapsulated story to overarching continuity?

    It doesn’t seem to be limited to comics or kid’s shows either – how many adult TV shows are out there now (like 24) where you have to follow every week, or you’re lost?

    I say all that to say this: I’m somewhat excited by the DC reboot because it seems like a bit of a fresh start, but I can’t help but feel like it’s going to turn into a giant inter-related mess all over again, and I’m not going to buy 52 books at $3 a pop just to know what’s going on with Batman.

    -Dave Young

    P.S. Still can't post with my Google account.

  52. Not to beat this horse again – but as I've said before, I think most writers are writing for themselves and their editor and the fan press. Too much "wow, that's a cool idea" and not enough "hey, that's some exciting solid writing."

    And Pete – congrats! Please do let us know what it is when it gets to print. You can slide this one time on not introducing the characters!

  53. Do you guys think a new "rock star", like another Alan Moore, or Frank Miller could swoop in, and save the day, or, is the system too broken?

  54. Aaron Scott Johnson-

    "we first started seeing that in the Marvel guys in the late 80s/early 90s before they broke and formed Image. Since a lot of artists working today drew inspiration from these guys, they learned a lot of the same bad habits and storytelling techniques. That's a bummer".

    That's it exactly!
    That damned Image stuff.
    I bailed on comics in those years.
    I couldn't put my finger on why I didn't like it, I just didn't.
    But yeah, all that ADD, decompressed, "thin read", stuff was all the rage, nevermind the flat out hacky fanboy writing.

    Worse, my friends back then loved the stuff.
    I was an outcast for not getting on board.
    Bad times.

  55. Pete

    One of the main problems with the Marvel intro pages are that they are really badly designed and boring looking. The flow of information is ill considered, and mostly ignores the rules of how to set readable copy. Don't get me wrong, I think they are a great idea, but should be engaging, especially for such a visual medium. If anyone's checked out Mark Waid's new Daredevil book, the intro page on that is beautiful. Incidentally Waid is able to set the scene,tone, and Matt Murdock's current state whilst summing up the Bendis run and Shadowland into almost a couple of sentences in the opening few pages. Hmmmm…

    I would also disagree about needing to return to rigid grids for better storytelling. Whilst I've always appreciated how well a grid structure works – it should always be the backbone of any designed page – I've always loved when an artist uses it creatively AND told the story well. Breaking the panel can be very exciting when done correctly (less so for just another superhero standing around pose). JH Williams did really incredible things on Batwoman, and whilst I've just mentioned Daredevil, Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin's panel work on this has also been exemplary.

  56. I'm so glad to see that Jim and so many of the posters here are of the same mind as me.

  57. Dear Matt,

    I doubt that there was or ever would be any interest in having me around at the big shops anymore anyway. Nothing lost. Might as well tell it like it is.

  58. Chris Hlady-

    90's were those horrible "this holographic foil X-Men cover will bhe a collectors item you can send your kid to college with! Order now!", days.

    ..and the ADD stuff was starting to seep in.

  59. Dear Oscar,
    Great post. I couldn't agree more with what you said.

    Concerning things like page layout and style. It seems that creators today just change things for the sake of changing them. If it's ever been done before then it's "old-fashioned" and thus "uncool". Never mind that it works and makes for better storytelling and that's the reason why it was the norm for so long.

    All this reminds me of one of the best opinions I've ever read about the topic of comic-book layout and storytelling. It comes from an interview with Bruce Timm from the "Modern Masters" book series. He was talking about the time when he was about to start work for DC on the "Mad Love" graphic novel. (Probably my all-time favorite Batman story, BTW). Anyway, here are some excerpts of what he said concerning page layout:

    "I was totally intimidated by it, because I always wanted to be a comic-book artist and here's my big shot."

    "What was always one of my big hindrances about doing comic-book samples, was the page layout. I was always always impressed by people like Steranko or Neal Adams who could do these really cool page layouts that weren't just the grid. They would integrate the entire page design into their story-telling, and I always held that ups as something that all artists should aspire to, but I never had a knack for it."

    "One day I was reading this "Legion of Super Heroes" comic that Keith Giffen was writing and laying out at that time. It just struck me that the entire comic was done on this rigid nine-panel grid – three tiers, three panels per tier. I was looking at it and looking at it and going. "You know what? This is really a great format." Because you can concentrate on the storytelling and not worry about doing an elaborate layout. All you have to worry about is camera angle and body language and that stuff. One step of the process is already eliminated."

    "So for me it was the perfect format. And it has stayed with me to this day."

    I always found this to be very enlightening. Since I first ever saw his work (on BTAS), I have been a huge fan of Bruce Timm (of both his art style and philosophy). After I read this interview it reinforced my admiration of him and his work. It seems, like me, he believes in clean, clear storytelling first and foremost. Which in a storytelling medium, is really the most important thing.

  60. As someone who is studying to be an artist, I find myself drawn (pun intended) to artists like Kirby, Ross Andru, Perez, John and Sal Buscema and Carmine Infantino. Amazing storytellers and artists. I am in utter amazement of Infantino's work on Spider-Woman #5 (http://www.milehighcomics.com/cgi-bin/backissue.cgi?action=page1&issue=78657649650%205).

    @Oscar – I love the grid also, it really does make reading a comic easier and cleaner. I just read Batman: Hush and found the page layouts to be very confusing. I had a hard time recognizing panel borders and even if the page was a single or double spread. Very confusing.

    @everyone – What books do you guys recommend that I study to understand the proper foundations of storytelling? Which artists were great at this?

  61. I can't count the number of times I've recounted to others that incident with Terry Stewart. I've always thought that was a particularly brilliant business insight that has certainly proven true over the years.

    Also, I'm right there with your pain on working with some artists. I've worked with some great ones, but there are too many who don't understand the difference between a comic panel and pin-up page.

  62. Good conversation. Can't tell you how many times I've wondered, has everyone gone ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), or what?

    With such a diverse industry, creators have to play to their strengths, while accommodating all the rules of the industry.

    It seems to me, the golden-age 40s were about propaganda.
    The fifties got us into trouble, and the Comic Code Authority needed to be established.
    The 60s Marvel-wave created a wave of "human" super-heroes.
    The 70s brought creator freedom to the mainstream.
    80s gave us Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Neil Gaiman.
    Can't remember the 90s ADD.
    New millenium. ADD
    Now, it's what the heck happened? Can you put the genie back in the bottle?
    There's a million interesting stories. Some of them will be told. Some of them will be read.
    I bothered to read the Harry Potter series, in paperback, but it seemed that films became the new comic books, the new popular medium.
    Checking out the credits of any film, will tell the hundreds of people necessary to put out a coherent product, and they seldom get it right.

    Comics are neat, as a mini-collaboration. They can still be somewhat coherent (one voice), but the breakdown, the ADD, makes comprehension, almost, a think of the past, which we would be loathe to lose.

    Thanks again, Jim.

  63. @Oscar – a cogent analysis, thanks for that.

    @Pete – congrats on the sale, sir.

    By the way (probably suited better for the Archie Goodwin/ Editor in Chief secret origins comments thread but I'm my way to work and in a hurry, so please forgive me) I won a lot of old Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Mans on eBay and the first issue I opened (#20? It was "July" 1978," so I assume it was put together late 1977) and the Stan's Soapbox in there has the first notice of Archie Goodwin's stepping down and Jim Shooter's promotion to Editor in Chief. Knowing what I know now from that series of "secret origin" blogs, I chuckled, reading between the lines.

    @Aaron – can't argue with the two shows you mention. Two of the best on tv, to be sure, perhaps of all time. I think there's probably room enough for both drop-em-in-the-deep-end storytelling AND more established one-and-done storytelling. The "Previously on…" intros to most tv shows work better for TV than comics, in my opinion. Either way – if there was a Marvel or a DC that felt as complete and fully-fleshed-out as a "Breaking Bad" episode, I'd be reading it regularly. (I will say – since Fraction's come up a few times – I always get a mini-movie of the mind with each issue of Casanova. Not a wasted panel or ill-chosen visual storytelling moment. (All the kudos in the world to Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon for their collaborative efforts on it, as well) Regardless of his work on other characters, his sense of storytelling and gestalt-ness of each issue always impresses me.)

  64. Can't say I agree with your pessimist vision of today's comics. Most of the time,it's quite easy to jump onboard of an ongoing comics, I think we understand rather quickly what happens , without any introduction dialogue. And there's some lines at the beginning of almost each Marvel comics that help. I do this all of the time, jumping on board then quit, then return, and I don't feel lost.
    I even jumped on Legion of SH in 1999 whithout knowing their history at all, reading random issues from different periods, without any problem.
    What I do find really confusing nowadays is:

    – the mix beetween different version of characters (the whole Legion mess at DC, with 3 différents Legion at the same time, whitout any explanation). First time ever I felt lost with the Legion. I'm still struggling to understand what the new Legion status quo is.Legion of 3 three worlds was the worst idea ever.

    – believing wrongly that all the readers have followed the big crossovers/events an so, to not explain at all the plot issues related to that

    – ideas that are used only to shock or surprise, no matter if the thing doesn't make any sense (the Skrull "invasion", Spider-woman as a queen skrull, the Spider-man/Mary Jane /Mephisto deal…)

  65. I tend to both agree and disagree with you, Jim, and many of the comments here. I agree about artists not serving story; we first started seeing that in the Marvel guys in the late 80s/early 90s before they broke and formed Image. Since a lot of artists working today drew inspiration from these guys, they learned a lot of the same bad habits and storytelling techniques. That's a bummer.

    Speaking of serialzed TV, the two best shows on TV for my money nowwadays are Mad Men and Breaking Bad, both of which would make no sense to anyone whatsoever if they came into a season or episode without having seen the recap. I don't think this makes for flawed storytelling per se; I just see it as the nature of long running narrative and, at least to me, when what I saw was good, it creates incentive to seek out the rest of it.

  66. OM

    …If you want to read the prime example of decompression at its worst, check out Bruce Jones' abysmal run on The Incredible Hulk. It provided the genesis for my infamous Bruce Jones joke:

    Bruce Jones is putting his daughter to bed…

    Daughter: "Daddy, read me a bedtime story, please?"

    Jones: "Okay, sweetheart. Lessee….'Once upon a time….'"


    Daughter: "Daddy?"

    Jones: "Yes, sweetheart?"

    Daughter: "What happens next?"

    Jones: "We'll see what happens next tomorrow night. Goodnight, sweetheart!"

    …Go figger.

  67. I read lots of manga and they are all decompressed as far as I can see. They let the art tell the story and do it very well.

    The problem with Marvel & DC superheroes is that all the stories have been told and that everything (or almost everything) has been recycled at least once. We don't need another version of Superman, we need something NEW!

  68. ja

    Craig Hansen said:

    "Part of the problem: Too many comic books rely on that "intro page" of text that virtually no one reads with "the story so far" summaries…"

    Part of the mindset is not having to re-establish all the particulars of a story in subsequent issues, because the intent is to publish a complete graphic novel. Why have to re-establish things in a continuous 250 page hardbound story? Just put in a "The story so far" blurb.

    Events and characters don't have to be reintroduced each subsequent issue of a miniseries or limited issue count of a storyline, in such a way that takes up a lot of space. It can be done subtly, with almost casual reference.

    Why not? This is done in many excellent movies, so why not in comics?

    A way could be found to re-establish things in more and more creative fashion, also. But for many, that's too much hard work.

  69. Jim – your "rant" was on the money. Thank you for giving us your thoughts on this.

    Pete – let me add my congratulations.

    Anonymous – Usagi Yojimbo is a great comic and a perfect example of a solid concept and character. It should be required reading among professionals. Stan Sakai is one of the greatest comic book creators of all time.

  70. Content of course is only half the problem with today's Marvel and DC Comics, with the other half being distribution. Even if comics were written to be accessible to new readers, they are not in places a new reader would ever be likely to see them.

    Sometimes I wonder if Marvel and DC have just given up on the notion of new readers. Everywhere I look I see indications that periodical print media is dying off. Newspapers and magazines are seeing their circulations drop, and many of them are going out of business. The magazine racks at stores in my area are shrinking and offering less selection.

    I almost wonder if those in charge at Marvel and DC have just decided there is no hope of gaining new readers under these conditions, and that their only strategy is to bleed the existing readership dry of as much cash as they can while they last. That would explain the preponderance of cash grab stunt stories over the past 20 years or so, and all the other gimmicks they employ to con existing readers into buying multiple copies of issues.

  71. I think one of Jim's golden rules (or was it Stan's?) was…

    Every issue of Spider-Man is SOMEONE'S FIRST ISSUE of Spider-Man…

  72. Part of the problem: Too many comic books rely on that "intro page" of text that virtually no one reads with "the story so far" summaries…

    They think because that's there, they have no obligation to introduce characters, establish conflict, etc….

    Mostly because the focus is so tight on the future "collected into a graphic novel" concept and "well, that'll read awkward in the collection, so let's make the monthly readers struggle through so that our graphic novel readers won't have to.

  73. I can honestly say I pretty much stopped caring what when on with the big 2 when I saw the stories just dragging out. I can't stand what passes for decompressed storytelling. A page of character A glaring at character B for six (wide) panels and then a full page of one panel with some dialogue that's supposed to move the plot forward. What would have taken three panels (or less) on a single tier now needs a two pages.

    For a while I got into the habit of looking at comics and compressing the decompressed storytelling. I realized that with smarter choices in composition as well as panel layout a story that took 22 pages to tell actually could be told in 16 or less pages. And this was without cramming the panels on the page.

    I may be called old fashioned but I don't think that's the case. I'm a fan of the grid because it, theoretically, allows an artist to create a clean, simple (not simplistic) layout. Unfortunately, it's seen as old fashioned and dull by today's "standards". However, if the non comics reading person were to see a page using the grid, he'd be able to understand it with minimal effort vs many of the layouts done today with the over use of inset panels, figures jutting out of panels, or worse, the misuse of the bleed page (personally, I feel that the white frame around the page creates a separation from the "surrounding environment". Bleed pages cause an intrusion of the "surrounding environment".)

    Companies are constantly reinventing the characters: Good characters and concepts do not need to be reinvented. A solid concept and a solid character should be able to write itself. It amuses me to no end to hear the old "I've decided to take the character in a new direction" which to me is basically "I don't want to write this concept. I want to do what I want to do". Great, but do it with your own creation. I can read a Donald Duck story written in 1996 and it will be the same character that Carl Barks perfected (maybe the story won't be as great, but hey, not everyone has Bark's chops). Whereas with the stuff from the big 2 that character you like is apt to change drastically from year to year. Why does this occur? Because the company has no confidence in it's concepts? Or because they are so desperate to be seen as "relevant"?

    One of the things I notice are "Done in One" comics. Stories told in single issues shouldn't be an event that needs a press release. It should be the norm (especially at the prices that comics cost today). The average person isn't a collector who has to have every issue. They like to read a story at one shot and then be done with it. That's the reality. Unfortunately, the civilians seem to be seen as unworthy or a bother by the "fans". The companies pay lip service that they want to expand the market to get the average reader but on their (the companies) terms (sorry, average reader, no westerns or adventure stories ala Clive Cussler but we know you'll love these superheroes).

    All of this has contributed to the alienation of the general public from a wonderful medium.

  74. ja

    "There's grimacing — useful for swearing vengeance, anger, intensity. All purpose grimacing. There's looking grim. What else?"

    Another way to put that would be, "Rob Liefeld can't draw the paper bag that he cannot draw his way out of, unless Arthur Adams drew it first."

    I love reading comics drawn by people who aren't afraid of doing the hard work of establishing shots & character-driven storytelling, putting all the wonderful detail into their surroundings in the process.

    Don't get me wrong… I LOVE those beautiful iconic money-shot images of characters that would make for cool wall posters and ads! But when every panel is fashioned to look like that, it falls very flat.

    Comics is a business, and fewer and fewer people grasp the concept of – or care about – cultivating new readers. Many act as if they're getting paid for working on their own vanity projects, meanwhile they're eroding long-established equity in the characters they're butchering.

  75. Dear Jim,

    I generally only watch American TV a couple of times a year. So I don't follow series. Nonetheless, the random episodes of Law and Order (good example!) and other shows make sense to me. I admit I may not be able to name every single character or understand every single nuance of each subplot, but those shows confuse me less than "mainstream" comics that I should understand after being a fan for over 35 years.

    Dear Jeff,

    The Earth-1 DC Universe and the Marvel Universe were born in the late 50s and early 60s. With the exception of VALIANT in 1991, nothing has ever come close to their scale and impact in "mainstream" American comics. This is not to say nothing new has been created since the 60s. That would obviously be false. It's true that the early-to-mid 90s were full of new universes. However, some (not Jim's!) were derivative. Perhaps inevitably so, because I fear that fan creators may be tempted to recreate the magic of their childhood favorites, unlike Weisinger, Schwartz, Lee, Kirby, and Ditko, who weren't constrained by such sentiments as they moved forward.

    By "closed to outsiders," I meant closed to civilian readers. Nonfans. The medium is certainly open to writers with successful track records outside the comics field … generally as long as they cater to insiders — the "less than 100,000" that you mentioned.

    I'm surprised that you object to what I wrote since I agree with everything you wrote above. Your Jim Warren anecdote reminds me of a Lee Iacocca anecdote. In 1962, Ford built a concept car, the Mustang I. The fans raved. Iacocca took this as a sign that the car was not appropriate for mass production. The actual Mustang of 1964 was a much more mainstream vehicle and a huge success. One could interpret that story as an argument for mediocrity or watering down. Perhaps, but I don't believe in either of those things. My point is simply that hardcore fan interests do not completely intersect with the interests of the broader audience. The ideal, I think, is to create comics that appeal on multiple levels. Marvel did just that in the 60s. Its stories were devoured by both new readers and MMMS devotees. Now the devotees are creating comics for other devotees.

    Dear William,

    The lack of respect for characters adds to the "professional fanfic" flavor of modern comics. Fans used to speculate about things that couldn't happen for "real." Now those things can happen. Once-forbidden fanfic fantasies are now meant to create sales spikes.

    Dear pete,

    Congratulations on your sale!

  76. All of the above seconded and applauded. DC & Marvel's head honcho's should be made to read that rant every day until they get it.
    I also loved the JLA animated series, couldn't believe how like 'my' JLA it was, with real storytelling!
    I should 'fess up 'tho, and admit: I've just sold a script of a well-known character to a major publisher ( not saying who, I'm not here to plug ) and I completely didn't introduce them! Ah well, I'm just starting out, what's the professional writers' excuse?

  77. Great post and comments! I agree to an extent to what is being said. I've recently bought an Astonishing X-Men comic that had "pretty" art but the story telling was awful making it an unpleasant reading experience. And an X-men with art so obscure I couldn't follow it at all.
    On the other hand sometimes, especially when your writing a team like JLA, a few mysteries can be cool. I actually found Claremont's consistently introducing each character and there problems every issue more than a little tedious back in the day. On the other hand I have very vivid memories of being a 10 year old and picking up Avengers #177, the end of the Korvak/Michael saga. I was inundated by all these many strange beings that I had no idea who they were or what they could do but I was riveted to that thing! After reading I kept pouring over the drawings trying to find clues to who they were. "So the guy with the sunglasses died once already." I thought. Looking at Ironman I thought, "Is this guy human or machine?" The lack of knowing who they were was more of an attraction than a problem with me. I actually became a life long Avengers fan as a result! (To bad they no longer exists. Thanks Bendis!)

  78. I'm of two minds when I read posts like this. On the one hand, I appreciate your honesty and bluntness. On the other hand, I sometimes wish you were a little less outspoken, as I think that's the major reason we won't likely see you write the Marvel or DC characters again. Which is disappointing to me.

  79. My biggest problem with today's comics and storytelling, is that the creators don't seem to have any respect for the characters anymore. It's like the inmates are now in charge of the asylum. The editors and EIC just let the writers of the moment do whatever they want, no matter how much long-term damage it does to a given character or characters. It's like they are afraid of insulting these "big time" writers. Just look at some of the stuff they've allowed to be done to Spider-Man over the years. Someone at Marvel even admitted recently that they kill off a different character every quarter just to boost sales (Captain America, Human Torch, Ultimate Spider-Man, Bucky Cap, etc.). How sad and pathetic is that?

    Plus, it seems that they only hire one type of artist and promote one style of art these days. I used to could tell from one panel what artist drew a given comic. Now, all the art looks the same!!! Comics artists today seem to use too much photo reference and then the pencils are over colored and dark and the story is usually very hard to follow. Comic books just don't look like comic books anymore. One of the most appealing things about comics to me was always the black pen and ink outlined art and the bright colors and fun to read stories. Now, it's all just gotten so dark in both story and art. Comics universes used to be places I wanted to escape to. Now they're places I'd want to escape from.

    This is what happens when the bean counters start making creative decisions – the slow death of the art-form.

  80. Anonymous

    I feel the same way about the "mainstream" comics. I always thought it was strange that I liked TV shows based on comics (Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, etc.) but not the comics they were based on.

    The only comics I read regularly are Usagi Yojimbo and Futurama.

  81. Matt Fraction, to my mind, started out as a pretty good old-school writer. His Punisher War Journal and other early stuff was cool. By the time he did Invincible Iron Man he'd gotten more "decompressed" (too much of Quesada telling him to write more like Bendis, I suspect), which is when he lost me. And while I haven't seen his X-Men or Thor, your comments suggest that he's only continued that unfortunate trend. Until very recently I considered him one of the very few good "old style" modern writers, along with the likes of Robert Kirkman, Jeff Parker and Dan Slott. Guess nothing lasts forever…

  82. Dear Chris,

    Alan Moore is a brilliant writer and creator. I've never worked with him and I don't know him, aside from seeing him on panels at cons.

  83. @Chris – an Alan Moore/ Jim Shooter panel would be fantastic.

    @Jeff Clem – it's too bad Matt Fraction cut you off like that, or didn't grok what you were saying. I'm a big fan of his Casanova stuff with Gabriel Ba/ Fabio Moon. I tried (and failed) to get into his X-Men and Thor, though.

    @Tue – I agree both about Jonathan Hickman (how awesome would it have been for him to have been writing at Shooter-era Marvel?) and also the years of inclusion in your "golden age."

  84. "Nifty bits. These guys become stars because of occasional nifty bits. Never mind that as a whole the thing is a Swedish movie with no subtitles starting in the middle and going nowhere."

    God, I love this blog. That is so true.

    Some fascinating insight in the comments, as well, as always.

  85. Mark Miyake said:
    "The last massive creative explosion in "mainstream" comics was in the 60s, before the medium had become closed to outsiders."

    Really? I emphatically do not agree with the first part of that statement. And by "closed to outsiders," do you mean fans? Creators? Just wondering….

  86. The lack of introducing characters is something that's bothered me for a while, and I'm thrilled to see I'm not alone. It's as if writers of comics have gone too far in the other direction of the way it used to be. When reading the massive DC Comics reprint books for review purposes, I was struck by the way Robert Kainegher introduced every main trope and character trait surrounding his leads in every single story. It got tiresome, reading them back to back. But it's necessary when you're dealing with something that's published (or broadcast) in a serial format. You never know when someone new is coming in.

    It doesn't have to be to the level of detail that Kanigher did it–and come the 1980s, he'd backed off a bit–but writers do need to provide the background and "essential facts" at some point, every time, in some fashion.

    (BTW, I'm not slamming Kanigher. I love his stuff to death.)

  87. I 100% agree with everything you wrote about in your rant, Jim! It's sad that it's not even an exaggeration, it's really the way things are these days.

  88. I remember reading somewhere about a comic convention in NYC in the mid or late 60s where Jim Warren told a roomful of fans that if publishers listened to fans, that would mean the end of the industry. Or something like that; someone please correct me if I am wrong, but I don't think I am far off. When the direct market grew in the 70s and the publishers started listening to the fans in the 80s and aiming their products more at the fans, I was ecstatic. It's what most comic fans I knew wanted: forget the newsstand and the casual buyer and give us fans what we want. Be careful what you wish for; you may get it. The industry willingly ignored and lost a large part of their audience, catering to fans who THOUGHT they knew what they wanted in their comic books. We're always saying we want something new and when something new comes along that might be good, it's ignored for the usual fare of mediocrity. Now we have probably less than 100,000 regular comic book purchasers who the big 2 are trying to please and that market is dwindling as I type this screed.
    Yes, there are a handful of truly creative, great comics published today, but they are, for the most part, hanging by a thread.
    I once tried to discuss the "decompressed storytelling" concept with Matt Fraction at a comic convention and he cut me off with a curt "Ah, they did that in the 80s too! Claremont and Hama told stories that were continued over various issues all the time!" He apparently doesn't understand what is meant by "decompressed storytelling." I tried to tell him that they were telling 4-part or 6-part or 2-part stories that really needed as many chapters and that nowadays, most comic book authors are telling 2-issue stories in as many as, say, 8 issues. He didn't want to hear it; his first issue of X-Men had just recently been published to glowing reviews; I told him politely that it was the first X-Men comic I'd read in many years and that I was totally lost as to what was going on and who was who. He said his dad liked it and that was good enough for him. And now he is held up as a shining example today as a hot writer.

  89. Mr. Shooter,
    I hope this doesn't offend you, as you seem to have much more straight-laced sensibilities, but I'm reading a new biography about Alan Moore and I see quite a few similarities between your beginnings in comics and your views of the industry today. I don't know what your thoughts are of Mr. Moore, but I hold you both in the highest regard to modern storytellers.

  90. I can only agree completely. Except for Jonathan Hickman's stuff, which *is* innovative, I don't read new comics anymore. I look at a lot of them, but it's just recycling of old plot ideas and nothing feels important anymore. Of course, it should probably be seen in a larger perspective. Comics don't sell that well anymore, and it's probably not just because they've gotten worse. Comics is not young people's medium of choice, and hasn't been for over a decade. Movies, however, is still all the rage, because new technology and a stylism that fits the times are always up there on the screen in the latest blockbuster. TV shows are still hot, but thanks to the internet, cheaper DVDs and the proliferation of home entertainment centers, people hardly even have to watch scheduled TV anymore. News, games and downloads come off the internet.

    A company like Marvel is trying to change their business model to fit the times. This means investing big-time in movies, and letting the comics serve that end. The style of the comics becomes icon-driven, with certain heroes and villains and relationships that are so simplified that very little new and different can be done to make the characters and storylines evolve. The comics are becoming less intelligent, but more mainstream. A lot of (what I would call) less-discerning people are embracing the new styles, seeming entirely satisfied by material that means nothing to me (despite my having been a reader since the early '80s). Somehow these significantly dumbed-down comics are actually reaching a more mainstream audience, even as they become inferior to what they used to be. And some fans still sing their praises.

    The change-over from the old style to the new one started in the '90s, but probably did not become thoroughly entrenched until Quesada took over as EIC in 2001. For the next half-decade I got the impression that Quesada and his people truly produced the kind of comics that they loved. However, it was a very different kind of comics to what I loved. I like comics to be story-driven; Quesada, being an artist, like comics to be art-driven. Hence we have decompressed storytelling with very little going on, and the "hot art" being what the book is really about. It's sad that early Image became such a success that, by the mid-'90s, Marvel felt they had to "keep up with the Jones'es" (then-EIC Bob Harras' words), and things have been mainly art-driven ever since.

    DC has a bigger focus on story – I really admire the mega-plotlines they have employed in their Superman and Batman books. But a lot of DC characters and concepts are a complete mess, and they never have been able to maintain a proper, well-functioning overall universe throughout their books. Why? Because they want two things at once: large-scale continuity and small-scale good stories, and they keep changing their minds about which is more important, so these tendencies pull in opposite directions, tearing the long-term continuity to tatters. In the Quesada-era, much the same thing has happened with Marvel. Small-scale stories are allowed to do their own thing, irrespective of the overall continuity. Marvel doesn't reboot, they just live with a mounting pile of bad stories.

    OK, I've said enough, but one last thing: My personal Marvel Age goes from 1961-1991. When Claremont left the X-Men, it was symptomatic of what was wrong, and to me almost all other Marvel titles began losing integrity and quality around that time, some a bit sooner, some a bit later. It was terrible to see titles grow completely uninteresting, when, just a year or two before, it had been impossible to imagine that they would ever become so bad that you wouldn't want to buy them!

    These days I've returned to classic European comics (which I once abandoned as childish in favor of superhero comics!), which still hold up exceedingly well. Spirou rocks!

  91. A guy like Robert Kanigher or Gaylord Dubois probably would have told the story in 1 issue and it would sill be entertaining.

  92. Dear Jim,

    You summed up everything that drives me crazy about many "mainstream" current comics and then some. I can only imagine what it feels like to have my scripts ignored by artists.

    (As a manga translator, I accepted the art as a given, and focused on conveying the author's intent in a different language.)

    If a former DC and Marvel writer (and editor-in-chief!) can't make sense of a modern comic, I don't feel so bad.

    I think part of the problem is that creators are certain that "anyone in the world" — or "1000 people who have never seen a comic book before" — won't be reading or even looking at their work. They are fans writing for other fans. Club members only! As a friend put it, their output is like "professional fanfic." More of the same with "occasional nifty bits," as you put it.

    I wonder how open fandom is to new ideas. The last massive creative explosion in "mainstream" comics was in the 60s, before the medium had become closed to outsiders. Kids who had never read a comic before had no preconceptions, no fixed tastes. Now the companies are pandering to people who love the characters so much that they may be unable to love any other characters after decades of following their favorites through every relaunch and reboot and renumbering. Those people wouldn't try out VALIANT, DEFIANT, Broadway, or "Dark Key." They want the same characters ad infinitum. More open-minded people, the kind of folks who would have become MMMS members in the 60s, who wouldn't care if Marvel wasn't resurrecting each and every 40s character, aren't reading "mainstream" comics anymore. The big two are caught in a cycle of attrition: keep reusing the same concepts and slowly alienate more members of their aging audience. The fans are a sure thing. They'll buy anything! Even Bruce Wayne's Basement! Too bad the fans are also shrinking in numbers. I know of many people cutting back on comics or quitting entirely, but I rarely hear about new readers.

    I think "X-Factor" in your Terry Stewart anecdote should be "X-Force." Both X-Force #1 and X-Men #1 debuted in 1991. Todd McFarlane's no-adjective Spider-Man #1 was the big hit of 1990. Marvel's big move for 1992 was 2099 — a line that was yet another reason I stopped reading comics.

    Did you pick the singular in "House of Idea" on purpose? The House of (Old) Ideas does often seem like the House of One Idea: recycling.

  93. Exactly the reason I stopped buying new comics last year.

    It stopped being exciting, something I anticipated every month. My pre-orders would arrive every 2 weeks and sometimes I would not touch them for weeks.

    My comic collecting friend Patrick was here half an hour ago telling me about a new storyline, I responded "been there, read that about 20 or 30 times before" Oh no Bucky/Human Torch/Ultimate Spiderman/Punisher/Superman/Batman/Aunt May/Aquaman/Mogo's DEAD ??? They'll be back soon ……

    He looked at my book-shelf and saw 6 or 7 Benis Daredevil hardcovers and asked if I enjoyed them, I told him yes, but Frank Miller would have told that entire storyline in 24 issues not 80 odd, and all Bendis did was re-hash Miller and ramp it up a notch or 50

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