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It’s a small world. I came on this blog to recommend that Jim take a look at Azzarello & Chiang’s Wonder Woman. I highly recommend it. However, I’m not sure that each issue contains as much exposition as it should. I think it’s possible a new reader would find herself lost. Which brings me to two questions…
1) Jim, how do you feel about the “what has gone before” pages which are now printed on the first page of many comic books?
2) Do you think it is alright for some books in a line to be directed at a general audience and others to be intended for comics-savvy readers? Or, would that just lead confusion about what a brand (e.g. Marvel, DC…) represents?
RE: “…how do you feel about the “what has gone before” pages which are now printed on the first page of many comic books?”
I guess they’re better than nothing, but some of the ones I’ve seen are badly written and do as much harm as good. They usually shouldn’t be necessary, in my opinion, though occasions may arise that warrant them. I used introductory text pages in “Alpha and Omega,” the serialized Solar: Man of the Atom #0 story published by VALIANT. In most cases, a writer should be able to get across the essential information very briefly, in a caption, perhaps, or a bit of dialogue. Then, as the story progresses, in organic and inobtrusive fashion provide more introduction of characters, situations, etc. I think I did a fair job of it in Turok Son of Stone #2, the script for which we have just made available for download.
Things often go wrong with those introductory texts. Unless they’re written by a skilled writer, they often contain not enough information, too much information (becoming long-winded and tedious) or irrelevant, confusing information. The intro text for Captain America and Bucky #624, for instance, says this:
“1941. ORPHANED AFTER THE LOSS OF HIS FATHER, JAMES “BUCKY” BARNES BECAME THE MASCOT AT FORT LEHIGH AND GAINED A REPUTATION AS A NOTORIOUS TROUBLEMAKER (my italics for emphasis). AS WORLD WAR II LOOMED, BARNES WAS SELECTED FOR A ONE-OF-A-KIND SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT WITH THE ARMY: TO BE THE NEW PARTNER FOR STEVE ROGERS, AKA CAPTAIN AMERICA. AFTER SURVIVING COUNTLESS HIGH-RISK OPERATIONS, BUCKY WAS ULTIMATELY LOST, PLUNGING INTO ARCTIC WATERS AND PRESUMED DEAD…”
As I read the story, somewhere in the back of my mind I kept wondering when Bucky’s troublemaker past would be a factor. Turns out it wasn’t. So why mention it?
Ah, but the main problem with those intros is that too often the writer of the story relies on it to provide all the information necessary, and therefore doesn’t even make an attempt to communicate things we need to know to understand the story. Which inspires the intro writers to be even more long-winded and tedious.
RE: “Do you think it is alright for some books in a line to be directed at a general audience and others to be intended for comics-savvy readers? Or, would that just lead confusion about what a brand (e.g. Marvel, DC…) represents?”
Again, that shouldn’t be necessary. But, since weeding out the unskilled comic book writers (somebody used the term “professional fanfic writers”) isn’t something that the major companies are likely to do soon, maybe giving them a playpen of their own and getting real writers to do the heavy lifting on cornerstone titles would be worth a try. It’s an idea. I can even imagine DC or Marvel trying it. Good one. But…how sad that things have come to the point that quarantining the professional fanfic writers and letting them do stories aimed solely at readers steeped in the lore seems reasonable.
With regard to the earlier discussion of writing and decompression (much of which I agree with), I would like to emphasize a particular pet peeve about modern superhero comics: Lousy action sequences.
To me, action sequences in a superhero comic are like musical numbers in a musical or fight scenes in a martial arts movie. They are not disposable interludes that can be kissed off to advance the story. You'd think, in a decompressed environment dominated by fanboy aesthetics, that the action sequences in modern comic books would be awesome. But they aren't, in what I consider a lamentable lack of craftsmanship.
Typical fight scenes now lack clear spatial relations, identifiable figures, logical and continuous flow across panels, and any semblance of consistency in who wins and why. All the characters are superimposed on each other in melee fashion with no sense of perspective. Mutant comics seem to be the worst offenders these days, but it's a pervasive problem. (Something similar has happened in the movies, with many action films using quick-cut close-ups during fight scenes that make it difficult to tell what's going on, but it doesn't always happen.)
Lack of attention to superhero action scenes undermines sales to both the youth/new-user market and the established older market, since what is cool about superheroes, especially of the Silver Age type, is their distinctive visual and kinetic properties. I don't mind the later "realistic" style that stressed winning with the first blow and mostly portrayed mismatches (e.g. Ellis and Moore) because a) there's a certain logic to those choices, since even super people wouldn't tend to pick fights they might not win and b) they usually depicted these swift battles in a clear and compelling visual manner. But if you're decompressing, a long, high-quality set of battle scenes seems like a legitimate mode of storytelling because one thing superheroes are ABOUT is the skillful exercise of their powers under stress.
I suspect that modern creators take a somewhat "adolescent" attitude toward action sequences–they don't want to be seen as "childish" by playing up the fantasy aspect of the characters, preferring to dwell on various extrinsic shock stimuli to seem more "adult." But getting to see Iron Man use his resourcefulness to figure out and defeat the Raiders for an issue (to take a typical mediocre example rather than a classic) was a lot more entertaining and satisfying than much of what gets printed now.
[MikeAnon:] Couple of points:
1) I had opportunity to ask Stan Lee in 2007 whether he knew from the beginning that the Green Goblin was Norman Osborn. He said no, that he had no clue who the Green Goblin would be. After reading through the first 40 or so issues, I think that either Norman Osborn was specifically created to be the Goblin, or he was a character created for some other purpose but conscripted to be the Goblin for lack of a better character, because his reveal as the Goblin sure didn't seem to make much sense.
2) I think that if a writer provides an artist with the details of the design such that all the artist does is draw what the writer specified the character should look like, the writer should get full credit, whereas if the artist actually collaborates on the design, the artist deserves partial credit — and if the artist designs both the character's look and the concept behind it, while the writer is someone brought in to write the book after the design is done, then the artist should get full credit. [–MikeAnon]
"About dialogue, I think that when you're reading, you shouldn't be able to realize that the dialogues were written by the same person. Each character must have its own distinctive voice."
[MikeAnon:] This is what soured me away from reading Robert Jordan's WHEEL OF TIME series. All his characters, young or old, male or female, sounded the same in my head. [–MikeAnon]
I think Steve Ditko brought more to the table than he communicated in one of his publications. In all honesty, Stan did a better job of defending Steve's contribution than Steve did. I need to go back a reread what Steve wrote.
In most scenarios, I'm in 100% agreement with what Jim is saying. I feel that Stan had such a laid back approach to producing his early 60's creations that he did open the door to the artists getting a valid co-creator status. Stan encouraged the artists to fill in the gaps that define the characters.
I feel that society puts too much emphasis on creator status. No one really creates anything. The elements in a writer's mind were put there by the culture before them. They essentially just line up the building blocks based upon what they've experienced. Daredevil was already a character's name in the Golden Age. The Human Torch was already a flying human-like entity. Some of the building blocks aren't as obvious, but everything is inspired by something that came before in one shape or another.
Before I got into manufacturing and working with engineers, I thought brilliant guys sat down and just invented brilliant inventions. I've now learned that brilliant inventions are more often than not just tweaks and redesigns of previous inventions. The technology powering a mining truck is just tweaked technology that was powering a locomotive. It's scaled down to power the hybrid cars, trucks, and vans coming out in the next decade. Someone will be attributed with creating something, but a large portion of what they invent was already invented by someone else. They just tweaked it and people envision it as something original and new.
Jim: I'm not sure whether you're making a case about what should happen (the right thing to do) or just what tends to happen, in different fields. But there is a crucial difference between comics and film: Comics is usually (not always, as you point out) a close collaboration among two to three creative people, whereas filmed entertainment generally requires hundreds of people's input. The artist of an ongoing comic book series forms a much larger percentage of the creative team than the best boy, or — to take a more important creative example — the designer of the Starship Enterprise.
I think the questions of ownership and creator credit should be addressed case by case; that was the point of my earlier post. But in my own work, I cut artists in on rights more often than not. It strikes me as good karma, and I'd rather have a collaborator who's fully in the game with me. Not making a blanket moral statement or anything; I've worked on projects as sole creator in the past, and I've hired people on a strict paycheck basis too, both as a major-company editor and through my packaging company.
Interesting thought Mr. Shooter.
Usually the designer of a character in Star Wars is given credit as the designer but not as the creator which is something I find odd. Yes, Lucas wrote a character named Darth Vader but the look of Darth Vader is so integral to the character that I think it would be fair to give a co-creator stamp to the designer.
Basically, I think the comics base of assigning creatorship is correct and movies are a little off. But only a little off, because if you adapt a book to a movie no one would ever claim that the fact they designed a look of a character would make them the creator of that character. Even if they changed the look of that character (Sherlock Holmes has a very specific description in the books. Robert Downey Jr. does NOT match that description in any physical way so the character as defined by the visual has been redefined for that movie. But in no way would any one argue that the film makers or Robert Downey Jr. created Sherlock Holmes. They might argue that Robert Downey Jr. Created his interpretation but that's a heck of a stretch).
Or the creation of Optimus Prime: there was a toy already designed and the creation of Optimus Prime was extrapolated from that toy. Is the toy designed the creator? Or the writer who extrapolated from that toy and developed it further?
An example from my own experiences: I was asked to participate in a play, the only thing written was an outline and the idea was that we would all write our own parts. The part I was assigned was Simon Cowell (it was a spoof of American Idol). The reason I was given that role was because they knew I could write that kind of insult humor. In the course of writing those insults I thought it would be funny to be silenced by how bad a singer was and sketch my disdain. In the process of that joke I worked up a cartoon version of myself as Simon Cowell.
I liked the drawing, I liked writing those jokes, so after the play and the good reception to those jokes I developed that character further and started a webcomic with that character.
At that time someone accused me of ripping off the character, as if I had stolen him from the person who wrote the outline.
If the original idea is considered to be; Me as Simon Cowell, then, no, I'm not the creator. But if the idea originates from the joke and the sketch, and the development of that joke, then, yes, I'm the creator.
Basically, I wrote the joke, I drew the joke, I thought of the joke, I developed the joke but someone thought the writer of the outline should get the credit because they suggested I should tell a joke.
The writer of the outline agreed with me, by the way. Never any question in reality but as a… theoreticall dispute advanced by another it
Back to my original point: ask 1,000 people who created Star Wars. George Lucas. Does anyone anywhere rise up, rail against that assertion and insist that the designer of the look of Darth Vader should be given co-creator credit? (Yes, I believe Lucas gave everyone points on the first film, by the way, but my point stands. No one argues that the Best Boy was a co-creator.)
How about the myriad people who have contributed additions to the Star Wars property since its beginnings? Anyone up in arms over their not getting credit as co-creators?
Only in the comic book biz does that sort of thing happen, whether it's right, wrong or indifferent. In other visual media, the person who comes up with the idea and reasonably develops it — usually, but not always the writer — is the creator. The people who come up with the visuals are support troops. Usually.
Sometimes the writer is also the artist. Will Eisner. True collaborations are true collaborations. Siegel and Shuster. Artists sometimes do create things on their own, of course, and sometimes the writers are the support troops.
What constitutes enough of an idea and reasonable development of same is debatable, I suppose. Not so much in other media, mind you, where the idea itself is often enough to warrant creator credit, even if others do the development and create visuals. Only in comic books does some filagree added by an artist raise the question.
The other thing he said was that the Green Goblin was not the reason he left.
Indeed, that rumor is fairly easily debunked. Stan and Steve could not have had a disagreement over a major plot point like that, because they were not co-plotting the stories and were not even speaking to each other. Ditko was plotting entirely by himself for at least his final year, possibly before (he has said he became sole plotter on the book prior to the point where he starts receiving credit as plotter).
Since they weren't talking, Stan had no idea what was going to happen in a given issue until Ditko turned in his pencils. Stan certainly would not have had any idea what Ditko intended for upcoming issues regarding the Goblin's identity. And he would have no real way to force Ditko to change his plans. The disagreements they had arose over places where Stan wrote dialogue counter to what Ditko drew, not over major plot developments.
Regarding the creation of Spider-Man, Stan has said that he believes the person who had the initial idea for the character (in this case, himself) is the sole creator. But he has also said he is willing to give Ditko credit as co-creator. I get the sense that he sort of feels he is the "real" creator but still acknowledges Ditko's contribution to the character's development.
To my knowledge it's not entirely clear who created what. We know Stan came up with the name, the vague idea of "spider powers" and the idea that Spider-Man was a teenager. We know Ditko designed the costume and created the web-shooter concept. We don't know how much each man contributed to the plot of that first Spider-Man story, which to me is an important part of who the character is.
I may be wrong about the DVD source.
This video gives Stan's perspective..
I think on one of the DVD extras for a Marvel movie, Stan talks about his conversations with Steve and trying to iron out the differences. I believe that Stan evidently called himself the creator of Spider-man in print. Stan did feel that he was the creator. For the sake of getting along, Stan wrote Steve a letter saying "I consider" Steve Ditko to be a co-creator. Steve took issue with the word "consider" and Stan gave up at that point trying to make Steve happy. Stan went on to say that he thinks the guy who comes up with the idea is the creator. In my opinion, he did not really diminish the fact that Steve provided input.
I think the loose arrangement Stan had with his artists actually hurts writers in general from that time period because people assume everyone must have created all the important characters in the same way. As you know, that is not true.
I believe when he says that is the reason he never went back. He is always honest and consistent in what he says.
Around 2002 before the movie came out he wrote article where he said they were not talking to each. The other thing he said was that the Green Goblin was not the reason he left. He may have even intended Norman Osbourne all along. There is a character that looks like him seen in the background of some issues. He was introduced in the next to last issue of Ditko's run,#37. The goblin 's identity was introduced in Romita's first issue,39. There was no time for him to developed he only had the one official prior to that. The fact that he wanted the identity to be a unknown has been debunked by Ditko himself in this essay. Remember he was fully plotting the stories at least as far back as issue 25.
The only issue in Ditko's run that showed protesters was Ditko's very last issue 38. It has been confirmed by both Stan and Steve that he had chosen to quit when he turned in that issue. in. Hence we can rule out the protester's as the reason.
Stuart, it's very interesting to hear how different companies and eras handled the credit for the creation of characters.
On Steve Ditko-I agree with Jim. I believe politics probably was part of the rift between Stan and Steve. I think, and this is pure speculation, that Stan making Norman Osborn The Green Goblin was a factor as well. I think Steve had groomed Norman to be the Objectivist hero of the series and when Stan insisted that he be the villian; Steve felt betrayed. I personally think Steve and Jack Kirby should always be givin co-creator credit. I don't care if Stan Lee agrees or not, but that's just my opinion.
Steve Ditko is a sore spot with me. Writers like Denny O'Neil have treated Steve's creations with extreme disrespect in my opinion. They can't leave them alone; 40 years later and a new "Hawk and Dove" series is coming out. Writers like ol' Denny have done everything they could to minimize Steve's versions of The Question, The Blue Beetle, The Creeper, etc. They then did their own versions that were comletely irrelevant, all the while doing their best to insult Steve's vision. When it comes to Denny, it seems political and mean spirited.
Sorry but it pisses me off.
Is that a rhetorical question? I actually don't know the answer. If it's no, then you could make a case that the visual design of, say Darth Vader was crucial to the franchise's success, and that that designer deserved a cut. I, also, am not taking a stance on this — I just don't know enough about the situation.
I'm doing this from memory, but wasn't Lucas famous for cutting nearly everyone who worked on the first film in on the ongoing profits? If so, that strikes me as roughly the equivalent of granting a co-creator credit. It's also very generous, by Hollywood standards.
Did George Lucas do any sketches of anything for Star Wars?
Note, everyone, that I'm not offering a position, here, I'm just asking questions.
Did Stan, has Stan ever claimed to be "sole creator" of 1960's Marvel characters? I know Jack did.
PREACHER was co-owned by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. They came in with the project together following a long collaboration on HELLBLAZER, discussed the book at length early on, and Steve provided the designs. He then went on to draw all 66 issues of the book.
INVISIBLES, on the other hand, was solely owned by Grant Morrison. The reasons: It was intended from the start to feature multiple artists; and Grant's proposal included sketches of the main characters, which were very close to the way they finally appeared. (Grant is actually a very skilled conceptual artist. He also designed the NEW X-MEN logo that accompanied his run, the one that reads the same rightside-up or upside-down.)
Work for hire is a bit different, of course. But the principles aren't too different, in my mind.
"In comics, however, even a work-for-hire artist following a design made by the writer, a description given by the writer or instructions from the editor is given co-credit as creator. Does anyone else think this is unusual?"
Jim: I'll tackle that briefly, since it was a big issue in the early Vertigo days and I continue to wrestle with it in my own, original work…
The key phrases in your description are "work-for-hire" and "following a design made by the writer." In that case, I'd agree. But often the conditions are hazier. Does the direction, "red costume with lots of stars" constitute a design? What if the headquarters or other location is as crucial to the book as the character design, and the artist contributes the bulk of that work? If the project is creator-owned, do different criteria apply?
My own personal rule is: If an artist contributes a significant amount of the design work AND commits to a decent run on the project — at DC they called it the "launch work," which could be an initial miniseries, a graphic novel, or the first year of an ongoing — then he/she should be cut in as a cocreator. Drawing a comic book is much more time-intensive than writing one; it's only fair to compensate artists accordingly, assuming their work contributes to the longevity and success of the property.
"improvise and improve" Duh! I am so repetitively redundant.
If the artist was involved in the stages prior to the details being ironed out, I think it's fair to say the artist is a cocreator. It's one thing for an artist to improvise and improve a character that has already been written and established. It's another thing entirely for a writer to say "This is the rough concept I'm thinking, go do something wonderful with it. I'll look it over when you are done. "
Your creation of the Parasite is an easy defense. Stan defending sole creation of his 60's creations is more difficult because he didn't even have the words to the stories until the art came back from the artist. Even if the artist drew the exact vision Stan imagined in his mind, there is no way to prove it. Stan could look at what Jack or Steve drew and incorporate their ideas into his creation at that point. Whether intentional or not, I'm sure it probably happened.
RE: Doctor Strange: Of all the classic Marvel properties, Doctor Strange was one of the minority, yes, minority, that were principally created by the artist involved, not Stan. Of course, Stan gave Doctor Strange his voice and contributed to the character, but Ditko, according to both Stan and Steve, was the principal creator by a long shot, the primary author of the idea and nature of the character.
In any other medium besides comics, the person who has, and reasonably develops the original idea is the creator. Usually the writer. Ask 1,000 people who created Star Wars. George Lucas, not the army of designers, artists, even re-writers who participated. Ask 1,000 people who created Jurassic Park. Michael Crichton, not the designers and filmmakers who developed the visuals, or even David Koepp who wrote the shooting script for the film. In comics, however, even a work-for-hire artist following a design made by the writer, a description given by the writer or instructions from the editor is given co-credit as creator. Does anyone else think this is unusual?
RE: "I have no doubt that Czesklba is mostly correct (regarding Ditko's refusal to work on Spider-Man and Doctor Strange)."
I have no doubt that he is exactly correct, since I heard Steve say what czeskleba asserted in almost the same words.
RE: "It would be interesting to see what Steve disliked in particular about those first 20 some issues. And what he would have changed."
I spoke to both Stan and Steve about what went wrong, why Steve left. Both were gentlemanly about it. Neither bad-mouthed the other. I never heard about the alleged year of silence between Stan and Steve until a commenter on this blog brought it up. From what little Stan and especially Steve were willing to say about the matter, their disagreements seemed to be about politics. Early in his Marvel years, at the height of the Cold War, mind you, Stan was at least a little conservative (which is not to say he wasn't a strong advocate of human rights and equality, BTW). He was just a bit of a flag waver. I remember a lettercol in Iron Man (or maybe Tales of Suspense) in which a reader asked why so many Iron Man villains were Russian. Stan's answer was, words to the effect, "The Russians have their missiles pointed north. Who are they aiming at? The Eskimos?" As years went by, Stan seemed to go with the flow of the sixties — this is my opinion, I do not speak for Stan — and drifted toward the increasingly popular cultural change-of-mood sweeping the country. I would not venture to define Steve Ditko's politics, and I do not mean to suggest that he was a conservative or anything else, but he apparently became uncomfortable with Stan's playing to the crowd. Peter Parker was in college. How do you not address the things going on everywhere on college campuses — protests, sit-ins, what have you? The one example of a disagreement offered by Stan — and I'm not sure whether this really occurred in the comics, or whether Stan was illustrating his assessment with a made-up example — was that if Steve drew a bunch of protesters, Stan wrote the scene presenting them in a positive light. Steve meant for them to be portrayed negatively. Again, my opinion only, it wasn't the protesters' political stance, necessarily, that Steve might have been objecting to, but their method — breaking the law, infringing upon the rights of others (to attend classes, for instance), etc. Steve is a man of honor and integrity. To my knowledge and consistent with my experience, he simply would not be party to anything he didn't believe in.
I may be wrong, but I think Ditko had been made financial promises by Martin Goodman about having a stake in Spider-man's success and he left out of principle because the promise was not honored. I really haven't seen any evidence to support the theory that Steve didn't like the direction Stan was taking the character. Again, I may be wrong. I think that Ditko did some work for Atlas comics in the 70's and that company was run by Chip Goodman who is Martin's son. His willingness to work for Chip baffles me if he had a problem with Chip's dad breaking a promise. I guess I'll have to reread what Steve wrote about Stan and Spider-man in a book I own. Steve has a very interesting way of expressing his thoughts when he writes. It seems obvious that Steve talks in generic concepts and principles. He'll provide multiple verbs in a sentence with slashes between them as if offering a range of ideas so that one verb can't be misinterpreted. Unfortunately, I did not feel that Steve provided a convincing argument to support his claim that he is a co-creator of Spider-man. I fully believe he is, I just don't think he was persuasive in the selection of words he used to say it.
I have no doubt that Czesklba is mostly correct. In fact that is probably the major reason he has never gone back to either character. However in the case of Spider-Man I am still curious if the difference in direction was something that he disliked. It has been written that Steve and Stan were no longer talking to each other for over the last year of his run on Spider-Man.
That last year is different in tone and feels somewhat darker. Personally I find it the best period of Ditko's run. Even including the post issue 33 stories after the famous Master Planner triology. It would be interesting to see what Steve disliked in particular about those first 20 some issues. And what he would have changed.
Dr Strange I have the impression that Ditko was mostly given free reign in what he wanted to do. Of course I might be wrong.
Any thoughts you can provide on this Jim?
Once again, the knowledgeable czeskleba has nailed it. Steve told me exactly that.
From what I've read, Ditko's lack of interest in doing any additional Spider-Man or Dr. Strange material has nothing to do with unhappiness over the direction in which the characters were taken after he left. It's because he feels it would be a creative dead end to revisit past successes, and because no matter how good a job he did it would not live up to the memories fans have of his older work. It strikes me as similar to Watterson's rationale for retiring Calvin and Hobbes.
I had a idea about Steve Ditko and Spider-Man. Given the disagreements between him and Stan Lee on the series,perhaps another fictional universe could be created in the way Marvel did for Tom Defalco. Ditko could be allowed to do Spider-Man and Dr Strange the way he intended by starting each series from the origin and then going on from there. He could do the series the way he always wished. And it would be outside of other Marvel continuity. Do you he would be interested in this?
RE: "I wonder what your opinion is on having a cover artist who is dramatically different from the interior penciller."
Good question. I think it might spark some debate, so I'll do a post on the subject soon. Thanks.
Comic book creators are a superstitious and cowardly lot. A fair number of them, anyway.
I can't believe that this Groth guy has enough wheelbase to manipulate the creators like it appears he does. Does TCJ have that kind of stroke?
Steven R. Stahl
Careful composition of panels, adherence to the 9 panel grid which creates a rhythm and pace for each page…these are achievements in the story that are met with the art and writing working together to strengthen the story.
That's artistic technique, though.
Artwork can't make a bad story good. Take "Avengers Disassembled" as an example. The premise is fatally flawed. The problems with the premise affect the characterizations, plot, etc. Nothing an artist does can fix those problems. Nothing an artist does can fill plot holes, correct mischaracterization, justify a deus ex machina, etc.
Suppose a writer decides to take a week off and tells his artist to draw a classic "Hulk vs. _____" story. The artist can do practically anything he wants with the Hulk and _____ as long as it ends with the Hulk getting mad (and stronger) and winning — or, I suppose, with the fight being interrupted by the arrival of ____ (Galactus? Celestials?). The writer will do the dialogue when the artist is finished.
In this case, the artist can knock himself out, draw the best Hulk vs. anybody story ever seen, and be proud of his craftsmanship, etc., but the story is still junk, because there's no creativity or imagination in the content. Greenskin vs. anybody, with the Hulk winning by getting mad, is painfully dull.
That's why I focus almost entirely on the writing in assessing comic books. No matter what the artist does in the panels, he's limited by what the writer intends to have happen in those panels — and what happens is independent of the artist's personal skills, assuming, of course, that minimal standards of professionalism are met. One serious error by the writer (esp. premise, characterization) can wipe out all the effort the artist puts into the story because the reader will reject the results.
If what the writer does doesn't work, nothing will. The use of decompression by a bad writer makes a bad storyline painful to read; decompression used by a good writer will probably leave the reader wanting more details than the writer provides.
"Gary Groth, hypocritical hemorrhoid."
Here is another anecdote confirming that. Groth isn't much for respecting creators rights when they're his creators, is he?
About dialogue, I think that when you're reading, you shouldn't be able to realize that the dialogues were written by the same person. Each character must have its own distinctive voice.
"A good example of where compressed stories were done very well, and the remake of those same stories now decompressed were not done so well, would be those awful Heroes Reborn stories, where Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld and company took over those particular Marvel Books."
[MikeAnon:] I don't think these books were "decompressed" so much as poorly done, and poorly done for different reasons. CAPTAIN AMERICA and AVENGERS were both downright crappy thanks to Jeph Loeb's sleepwalking through the writing chores and Rob Liefield's sleepwalking through the artistic chores. FANTASTIC FOUR was bad for a different reason: Brandon Choi doesn't know when to shut up and let things be implied rather than explained. (This speaks to Aaron's point about wanting space to interpret the characters — there was literally a scene in Choi's FF #1 in which I thought, "Oh, I wonder if this means this," and in the next panel I was told, "This means this," explicitly.) There are indeed times when less is more, and Choi had no sense of that. But cluttering the canvas is really the opposite of decompression, which is leaving wide swaths of the canvas blank.
There was one good book in the group, as I recall: Scott Lobdell and Whilce Portacio's 6-issue run of IRON MAN. (I've always been partial to Lobdell's writing. His SUPERBOY and TEEN TITANS will be two of the New 52 titles I'll be picking up in trade.) But then Jeph Loeb took over the book at issue 7 and tanked it from the get-go. [–MikeAnon]
"And I noticed that no one yet has been able to name one example of good decompressed stories in comics."
[MikeAnon:] I think there are plenty of good decompressed stories out there. The problem is that it's extremely hard to pick out a decompressed story and say, "If this weren't decompressed, it wouldn't have been nearly as good. The decompression is part of what made it so good." It's almost definitional that a decompressed story is longer than it had to be, which is going to be a mark against calling it "good." [–MikeAnon]
re: Bendis. Yes, I agree that he has these writing tics regarding his dialogue where people often sound the same. Compared to Stan Lee, where you could almost read the dialogue without pictures and have a pretty good idea who was speaking. I don't know if he feels it is more naturalistic speaking-I cringed when he had Doc Strange say "um…" and "uh" to indicate he didn't agree with the previous speaker, because I dont think Strange talks like that.
Shooter said: ""Even "decompressed" stories can be done if done well. I'll talk about how to do that sometime, if anyone's interested. Anything can be done if done with insight and skill."
I do not automatically dismiss anything."
I guess anything's possible. But I have yet to read a decompressed storyline that I thought was good that way. They ALL read like they drag on forever and waste a ton of page space for no reason. It simply looks like padding. It doesn't look like they're spending drawing space to let the images breathe or anything artsy like that.
I don't feel I'm dismissing this automatically. I'm dismissing it after a 100% failure rate over the past decade or so.
Rob – as an example of out-of-character. I recently saw some preview pages of something Bendis had written. He had Baron Zemo and Madam Hydra talking snarky to each other – like they were both 16 year-old smart asses. That is not character progression – that is idiotic writing
@Rob – good point. But by lazy, they probably did not mean that the writers are doing less work – rather that they refuse to learn some of the basics of their own craft, such as maintaining tension, providing enough detail, so on.
It's ironic, because it's the very thing that Liefeld gets criticized for in pencilling (see http://www.progressiveboink.com/archive/robliefeld.html). Yet today we have many, many writers in comics who not only do not know some of the fundamentals of storytelling, but also refuse to learn them, or improve upon the very craft they make a living at. That is lazy
sometimes, though what seems like an inconsistent character is not really that, but an evolution, established in story, by events. A character is changed but the change was noted.
other times, it's just a character update. The way a teenage character might act in 1965 is not the same way he'd act in 2011, and when telling stories about that same character, is it consistent to how that character was acting in 1965 (with hot rods, acting like the BMOC, and some temper) or 2011 (Extreme sports reckless mentality and skirt chasing). I think the spirit of Johnny Storm in the FF movies was correct, even though it does not match how Johnny Storm was portrayed in 1965. But it would be how that same type would be portrayed today.
I'm also a huge TV, film, as well as music buff. I'm glad you mentioned Mad Men; the writing is superb. I'm also a big fan of another AMC series-Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan is very skillful at giving us info we will need later without the tidbits being 400lb gorillas.
I agree with you on the point that it's rewarding to put the pieces together on your own and have your own "take" of a character or events. But to do this there must be consistency of character. That is where current comics have lost me; characters acting completely different from established canon. I feel it betrays the character, and as a reader, I feel betrayed.
i feel sometimes things were too compressed in the past and too decompressed now.
There's a balance though i do believe the worst of decompression was in the Jemas era.
The scripts i have seen of 'decompressed' issues are still very long and detailed. I'm not sure decompressed means less writing
It seems to me today artists are given an awful lot of the detail by the writer. especially compared to marvel method.
The writer is in total control, practically, a response no doubt to 90s excesses of marvel style.
@Defiant – having watched marvel very closely over the last 10 years, and having read a lot of their comics (until the last year or so), I strongly, strongly believe that the main reason writers are now allowed to do decompressed stories is because the "editors" at Marvel are only interested in being friends with the talent, and are utterly unwilling to reject dumb, poorly-written, or decompressed scripts.
In other words, there really isn't much editing in the classic sense being done at the big 2 anymore
This also indirectly ties into the Jason Aaron versus Alan Moore thing. Aaron was so miffed that someone deigned to insult his buddies at Marvel. It's an editorial atmosphere from the top down of everybody being buddies (and therefore no one stepping on toes by insisting on better creative output)
Aaron Scott Johnson
I'm not interested in writing my own stories when reading someone else's, but as someone who is also a big film and TV buff, I really appreciate subtlety of performance and nuance in writing. I suppose that's where the artist/writer team has to strike the right balance and find ways to communicate their intentions without spelling it all out for me. I love the TV show Mad Men and think it is expertly written. Very little information is explicitly given to the viewer about what a character is going through or thinking; we are left to put the pieces together through performance, context clues, and what we have learned about the characters thus far. I like this experience and find it rewarding, whether its a TV show, a film, a novel, or a comic. But, as you said, that's just my own personal preference.
You've pretty much summed up exactly how I feel about decompression, and Claremont is a great example of how to do it well.
One question begs to be asked. Are editors accepting decompressed scripts because It's easier and cheaper for everyone involved in the monthly grind of producing a comic? Fewer words mean that artists can fill in the voids however they like. They can use one plot to stretch 6 issues rather than have to come up with 6 different plots.
I agree that the buck stops at the top. The low standards that consumers are getting falls in the lap of the people authorizing payment for the work.
I laughed when I read this:
"…I like less exposition and more opportunity to form my own opinions about what is happening in a story or with a character (in all forms of storytelling, not just comics). "
You are entitled to this opinion, but it seems as if you want to write the characters in your own mind rather that let the writer actually tell you their story. Admittedly, I don't read a lot of fiction without pictures. I can imagine things far more interesting that what many writers put to paper. The images, if adequately drawn nail down exactly what the creators are trying to convey. For this reason, I want the writing and illustrations to be clear and concise. If I were interested in my own interpretations, I would just write my own stories. I prefer instead to be inspired.
As far as what Marvel is doing now… I don't read it. I do pay attention to what fans and critics say. I see several problems. The main one being that the stories are centered around events. They feature elements that are intended to shock the reader and make them feel they need to buy every book which ties in. Events are fine, but Marvel tends to negate everything they've established from one event to the next. Many of the comics, including those which tie in are eventually not needed or irrelevant to understand the Marvel universe as a whole 2 years later. Also, I think it's a mistake to make a reader feel as though they are missing something if they don't buy a specific issue. Collectors usually have an all or nothing mindset on what they collect. I should be able to buy every Iron Man comic without feeling the need to buy some other comic with an event's logo on the cover to understand what is going on in Iron Man's life. Again, events are fine, but inspire me to pick up other comics to fill in the questions I might have. Don't label what I'm buying as incomplete by putting an event logo on the cover. Whatever happens, a publisher plan to stick with it and have it affect comics for awhile. Trust is lost when you unmask a hero and then have it all reversed a year later. That's not storytelling. It's a gimmick. It's manipulation and it betrays long term trust.
Although I'm not a big fan of the "we're on a road to nowhere" storytelling style, decompressed stories have been around a long time. Chris Claremont didn't have 6 issue arcs; try 26 issue, or more, arcs. But he had sub-plots, stand alone issues, etc. within those arcs and it worked. Multi-issue story arcs are not the main reason I quit buying current comics; it was the content. I got tired of getting pissed off continuously by the complete betrayal of characters that I had grown to care about. I remember at one point I thought to myself "Put the pre 1990 MU somewhere else–I don't care where. Put it on another Earth on the other side of the Sun! I don't care how lame the explanation is! Just put the characters out of reach of Joey Q and Co.!" I guess I'm in the minority but I like continuity. I like when stories reference earlier stories. I don't mind the violence to a point. But stay true to the characters.
@Aaron SJ – have to disagree about Astonishing X-Men. It does not hold up to multiple readings. It had a few "wow" moments – which always get you the first time you read them. Beyond that, it had some interesting ideas and some cool new characters – it had solid writing. But, when reading it a second and third time, you see, as you said, that it could have been done in 10 issues or so.
If anything, it is an example of why decompression does not work – because it could have been fit into 10 issues
Aaron Scott Johnson
Well I didn't intend for this to turn into me being the decompression apologist, but for the fun of it, I'll keep it going, I suppose.
As someone who started reading comics around 89/90 when I was a little kid (who subsequently got sucked into the Image spalsh-page-o-rama), the decompressed stories of today probably don't bother me as much as some of the other commenters on this blog because when I was introduced to comics, much of what I saw was even worse. I do agree that the 'slow burn for slow burn's sake' storytelling often employed in comics today is also often frustrating and expensive. But I don't think it's inherently bad and I like less exposition and more opportunity to form my own opinions about what is happening in a story or with a character (in all forms of storytelling, not just comics). It an often be taken overboard and that sucks, but it can be done well, too. To respond to the anonymous poster who asked for an example of well done decompressed stories, I would point to Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's 25 issues of Astonishing X-Men as a great example. In 25 issues, they really only told 4 complete stories, but I loved every panel of them. But maybe that's just me.
I also tend to like Marvel more than DC because of the interconnectivity of the universe, but I also think that has (of late) become an issue for Marvel, based on the way they market their books. 'Event' storytelling now has to tag and encompass every single book they publish; while this would be cool if it was for the one blockbuster event they produce every 2 years, because they go from event to event, you never get a chance to read the solo adventures of the character whose book you're buying! Invincible Iron Man, another decompressed book that I think has been mostly good, is wrapped up in every event imaginable. It's cool that he's an Avenger, but I buy Avengers to read Avengers stories; I buy Iron Man for Iron Man stories, not Fear Itself: chapter 321. And we probably shouldn't all get started on Avengers books… 🙂
@Jim and JayJay:
Jim, I tend to agree that writers and artists are giving editorial what editorial wants. Where exactly that stops is hard to say, since comics today seem more like a breeding ground for movie properties than a legitimate field for storytelling (particularly at Marvel). But I respect the "as EIC, the buck stops here" mentality you seem to have lived by during your tenure there, and it doesn't seem like anyone at the big 2 would be willing to take that position nowwadays. JayJay, I agree wholeheartedly. Many comic fans are begrudgingly buying comics, perhaps out of some sense of compulsion or routine, but do not feel like they're getting the value they deserve for their dollar. This is a perfect breeding ground for piracy. People are willing to pay for what they think is worth their money, and willing to pirate what they think isn't.
Thanks for all of the lively responses and sorry for my super-long response!
Gary Groth, hypocritical hemorrhoid.
Robert Stanley Martin
The thing about Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez having to do house painting for Groth isn't true. That was a rumor published by Frank Miller, Steven Grant, and Steve Gerber in their WAP! newsletter, and they retracted it after Groth threw a public tantrum. As I recall, the rumor came out of Groth hiring one of Gilbert and Jaime's brothers to do some carpentry.
It's pretty funny thinking back on it. Groth denounced Miller, Grant, and Gerber as the enemies of truth, justice, and all that's holy when they published that. Of course, afterwards he was perfectly happy to quote them as gospel when they wrote unfavorable things about you.
Ooops, should have said "…former Smallville and Batgirl writer Bryan Q. Miller…"
On the decompression issue, I think the following comment from former Smallville and Batgirl writer on the differences between writing for television and for comics is relevant:
"I think the biggest realization for me was that, even though it seems like you can suddenly go imagination crazy in a comic book (as producability and money aren't issues on the page), page count suddenly becomes insanely valuable. Pages essentially equate to television's producability. Is a certain sequence worth using some of your 22 (or now, 20) on? Is a joke or a gag good enough to justify dedicating a panel to it?"
And that's the problem with "decompression" in comic books – they aren't like movies or novels where there may be a relatively large amount of room in which your story can spread out. You don't have two hours or 500 pages; a comic book might equate to ten minutes of screen time or a few pages of prose. A story might be spread over several issues and collected as a TPB, but despite the rise of the term "graphic novel", the end result might still be more equivalent to a "longish short story" than a novel (or even a novella).
Compression and ellision are desirable in comic books because the page count and monthly publishing schedule mean that stories would otherwise be told (from a reader's perspective) at a painfully slow rate and with little chance to gain momentum. Even if purchase cost were not an issue, decompressed storytelling increases the chance of readers becoming bored by issues in which nothing seems to be happening.
Nothing is 100% anything.
There will always be a subjective aspect to identifying bad writing, but I think I can narrow things down more specifically. I think it's a matter of degree to which a writer compresses or decompresses a story that is a big determining factor of quality. Assuming it is done well, then the story should be as interesting when it's decompressed, as it would have being compressed in the first place.
A good example of where compressed stories were done very well, and the remake of those same stories now decompressed were not done so well, would be those awful Heroes Reborn stories, where Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld and company took over those particular Marvel Books.
Since anything Liefeld ever does is just crazy batshit flubberduncery, I'll omit his contribution and stay with Jim Lee's Fantastic Four comics. I always enjoy Jim Lee's drawing, but even his work couldn't make those decompressed stories interesting. I believe it was greatly because of the pacing. The stories didn't have the momentum that Stan Lee & Jack Kirby's stories had.
You can argue that's solely a decompression issue. I can argue that it's a pacing/momentum issue. It could be that we're just talking semantics.
In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud made the point that the level of detail of an illustration (from super realistic to super cartoony) is directly related to the amount of people who can relate to that illustration. He called it "Amplification through simplification". He said that "The more cartoony a face is, for instance, the more people it could be said to describe."
So I think this can apply directly to compressed and decompressed stories as well. If you get too decompressed with a story, you slow the pace, and now we're in danger of being shown every fingernail and elbow of detail, which is likely to interrupt the flow of reading a good story. It affects how we can relate to even the most outlandish stories, if we're forced into winding roads of mediocrity and self-indulgence.
For me at least, it helps to more closely identify 'decompression' as 'pacing'.
Selling entertainment at progressively higher prices to a shrinking audience is corporate suicide. The numbers tell the whole story. On one hand you have Marvel, DC and others publishing some pretty sub-par comics and complaining that they are getting killed by consumers who feel ripped-off downloading their comics for free.
On the other hand you have progressive thinkers like sci-fi author Cory Doctorow producing high-quality and entertaining content and making it available to be downloaded for free at the same time that the same content is for sale in bookstores and for ebooks. Cory is selling high numbers of his books even though people can easily have them for free. His consumers don't feel ripped-off, they feel generous toward him.
I think we are living in a new world where the same old business models don't apply. And no matter how much corporations and governments try to punish consumers, it will be like trying to hold water in your hands. The harder you squeeze, the less of it you hold on to.
I don't know anything about the benefit books you mentioned. I've heard the tale of Groth coercing the Hernandez brothers into painting his garage, but I don't know for sure that it's true. I know that Sal Buscema refused to appear at conventions for most of his career because Groth, who was a neighbor's kid, wheedled Sal into being the headline guest at a con he, Groth, promoted. Groth, said Sal, exploited Sal mercilessly and ripped him off. Ask Sal. Ask Groth about being arrested for vandalizing a theater. In Connecticut, I believe.
RE: "Is the trend (and, arguably, the subsequent failing) of decompressed storytelling the fault of the writer, or of editorial? 'Event' storytelling is what sells; 'writing for the trade' seems to be the basic business model the big 2 are operating under; so then, writers have to adhere to this model, with varied success, often "stretching out" or "padding" their stories to meet this editorial requirement. I think we can all agree this is a bad thing, but then should our criticism be directed toward the writers, the editors, or both? Where does the 'fault' lie?"
In my opinion, the responsibility for any creative direction starts at the top. I was the responsible party during my tenure at Marvel. I don't know who, in the many-layered management of modern Marvel sets the creative course for the comics, but whoever does and whichever person or people higher up who approve their decisions and/or empower them are to blame. Way down at the bottom of the chain, the footsoldiers will follow orders or, in some cases, get away with whatever they can.
Wednesday, December 28th, I said:
"Even "decompressed" stories can be done if done well. I'll talk about how to do that sometime, if anyone's interested. Anything can be done if done with insight and skill."
I do not automatically dismiss anything.
I'm not sure if Methaqualone helps, but I know Hydrocodone doesn't make modern comics any more enjoyable. I think it would take lysergic acid diethylamide to make them enjoyable, but it's unlikely you'd care about the story or reading them even if you took that.
I started reading before you.
I remember getting scolded by my mom for spending my allowance on 12 brand new comics that cost me a whopping $2.40 + tax. She thought I was spending too much money on comics. That would be $47.88 cents worth today. Most modern comics are worthless just 6 months after they are released. The only good thing for collectors is that if they wait long enough they can buy that $3.99 comic in bulk for a dime when their friend give up collecting and just want to clear up some space in their homes.
It's not just about the money — 'decompression' is NOT an effective way to tell an exciting story.
Since when has a glacial pace of storytelling ever been popular with anyone who's not on quaaludes?
Aaron Scott Johnson said… "One issue I continue to have when reading many of the comments on this blog is the automatic dismissal of decompressed stories. I don't see decompression as an inherent flaw in a story and think it's a fallacy to use the word 'decompressed' as if it's an insult."
You've confused the issue. It's not about a flaw in the story…it's a flaw in the ratio of dollars spent for that story because of the amount of story progress per installment.
Some of us readers feel cheated when x-amount of story content that used to require paying for two installments now requires paying for six installments.
2 x $0.50 = 1.00
6 x $3.99 = 23.94
Even factoring inflation, that's a heckuva price jump.
To some of us, it just looks like padding to milk us out of more money.
I'd also like to point out that I personally don't adhere to the principle that "as long as it's a good story. I'm happy." I have larger expectations than that. Marvel created a tightly interconnected universe inn the 60's and 70's. DC stuck with one-shot stories that were entertaining, but lacked that feeling as if you had immersed yourself into something bigger and more grand. Both companies were presenting stories that were good enough by themselves, but Marvel upped the ante and everything mattered 6 months later.
From a marketing perspective, DC's approach was a failing tactic. By making every comic a self-contained story, there was no need or incentive for a reader to come back for the next issue. The end of every comic was a jumping off point. As Jim has stated earlier, DC at one point considered letting Marvel publish their comics. I would argue that "writing for the trade paperback" whether decompressed or not, is almost as bad as the marketing marketing decision that DC was making in the 60's and 70's. Rather than giving a reader a jumping off point after each issue, publishers are giving the reader a jumping off point after 6 issues or whatever length is planned for the trade paperback. I don't have to be a fan of Chris Claremont's characterization and dialogue to see that the structure of his stories were always plotted and built well in advance of reading payoff. He planted seeds for stories some 2 years or so in advance of the ultimate story climax. Characters were changed and the changes affected future stories.
Being a "good story" is not enough for me to praise a comic. I like stories that have a little depth to them and make the reader think a little deeper.
Decompressed stories don't evoke enough thought for me and they ultimately bore me like a tediously slow game of chess. I don't care how wonderful and brilliant the writer is if I'm sitting around waiting 6 months for it to happen.
A few years ago I thought to myself 'What the heck, I'll buy the latest issue of the Hulk', and see what's going on…
Cost me about 7 bucks (bad Aussie exchange rate) and took five minutes to read — although 'read' was hardly the right word, more like 'flip through' a bunch of pictures. Nothing really happened in it.
How do people get into this stuff? If anything, wouldn't today's A.D.D. 'kids' be wanting non-stop ACTION in their comics?
I haven't bought a pamphlet off the racks since then.
And I noticed that no one yet has been able to name one example of good decompressed stories in comics
Aaron Scott Johnson,
Sales trends since the beginning of "decompressed stories" would indicate you are wrong. Sales trends in effect while Jim Shooter was in charge of Marvel would indicate that tight and cohesive stories do increase new readership. Quite a few of us here are loudly stating that
"decompressed Stories" are the reasons we feel that new comics are a poor value. I raise my hand if you are looking for someone to validate that as a reason why I am no longer buying comics.
Aaron Scott Johnson
@Steven R Stahl
I think one of the great strengths of comics as a storytelling medium is the ability to marry art and words to tell a story; reliance on one over the other is never good, but finding the right balance leads to amazing comics. Watchmen is the first example that comes to mind: so much of the history of that world is given to us through the art, with the "Nixon in '84" posters, the GWAR posters, Veidt advertisements, etc., but this is also done through straight prose at the end of each issue, as well as being interwoven within the narrative of each issue. Careful composition of panels, adherence to the 9 panel grid which creates a rhythm and pace for each page…these are achievements in the story that are met with the art and writing working together to strengthen the story. I myself am not a fan of thought bubbles in comics, but don't discount comics that are written with them, just as I don't discount comics that are told over 6 issues versus being told in one. As long as the story is 'good' to me, I'm happy…although considerably more broke when it takes 6 issues 🙂
Re. Groth/Harlan/Fleisher:- is it true that Groth bought a sports car with the money he raked in from the Anything Goes benefit books? And did he really get Los Bros Hernandez to paint his garage for him?
"The artwork enhances the writer’s content, or detracts from it, but isn’t the content. If the art is lousy, but the writing is good, the reader can appreciate what the writer did and wonder how much better the story would have been with a different artist."
[MikeAnon:] I wouldn't go so far as to discount the art as not being "content." Some great stories can be and have been sunk by horrible art. My favorite example of how bad art can wreck a project is the preview+6-issue series SWORD OF DRACULA. The whole story was written by one author, but one artist handled the preview and the first two issues, another did issues 3 & 4, and another did issue 5 & 6. The preview and the first two issues were *amazing.* It was crazy how much I was enjoying the story. And then came the 3rd issue. I've never seen a series go from zero to 60 in two issues only to go from 60 to suck in one page. It was obvious that the new artist had zero grasp on the kind of book he was working on, and the series was utterly derailed to the point of being unreadable. Same author, same story, but now a train wreck thanks to the art. (I just sold my copy of the TP for store credit. The train wreck was that bad.) So, yes, the artwork is an intrinsic part of the content, and if you get a bad artist, or even an artist whose style isn't a good fit for the style of the author (e.g., Ashley Wood on Garth Ennis' SHADOWMAN for VC2), you can totally sink your book. Bottom line is that the artwork is indeed a form of "content" — in a comic book medium, visual images are just as much "content" as words and plot — and if your images are crap, then even if your plot and words are airtight, you might end up delivering a crap product overall. [–MikeAnon]
Jim Shooter wrote:
Michael won, but couldn't prove sufficient damages to get a significant award.
It's not accurate to say Fleisher won the lawsuit. The jury found Ellison not guilty of libel. It is likely that the main reason for their decision is what you stated, that Fleisher was not able to prove that Ellison's comments had damaged his professional reputation and/or income.
I'm puzzled by Fleisher's decision to sue. If one looks at Ellson's comments about Fleisher in context, it is clear that he intended them to be complimentary. He did describe Fleisher as "crazy, certifiable, derange-o" and other similar things, but it is clear his intent is not to disparage. In the same interview he is complimentary towards Fleisher's work, and likens him to HP Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard.
It also seems clear that he is being hyperbolous, that he doesn't literally believe Fleisher is mentally ill. Certainly one can argue about the appropriateness of trying to compliment someone by calling him insane, and I can understand why someone might be offended by that. But it strikes me as a case of taking something seriously that was not intended that way.
By the same token, I imagine Ellison could have saved himself a lot of trouble if he'd been willing to apologize and say that he meant his comments in a joking and ultimately complimentary way.
There's a summary of the lawsuit here that as far as I can tell seems unbiased towards either side:
Steven R. Stahl
I don't see decompression as an inherent flaw in a story and think it's a fallacy to use the word 'decompressed' as if it's an insult.
You generally won’t find people arguing against the use of decompression in a single story by one writer. What people detest is decompression mandated by editors (along with the absence of thoughts and narration), accompanied by the claim that it’s an artistic advance. It’s not; as an element of style, decompression is no more suited for every story that someone wants to tell than first-person POV in a prose story is. Readers don’t often stop to think, though, about what types of stories aren’t being told, compared to decades past, and what isn’t being said about characters in the stories.
There’s also the point that advocates of decompression and narration-less, thought-less storytelling concentrate on visual effects in the artwork and pacing that has very little to do with the story content per se. In a superhero story (certainly not in comics generally), the story content, as dictated by the writer, exists independently of the artwork. The artwork enhances the writer’s content, or detracts from it, but isn’t the content. If the art is lousy, but the writing is good, the reader can appreciate what the writer did and wonder how much better the story would have been with a different artist.
"There just simply aren't enough good stories being told right now…but I think using the catch-all argument against decompression is kind of silly."
[MikeAnon:] Granted, you can't blame decompression for everything, but here's the rub that decompression automatically brings to the picture: Because a decompressed story takes more space than a done-in-one story, the more decompression is used, the fewer stories there are overall. Great example: Go read the first Heroic Age volumes of AVENGERS and NEW AVENGERS. Then go read the first volume of AVENGERS ACADEMY. Among these three volumes there are a total of nine stories — seven of those stories are contained in AVENGERS ACADEMY, and each of the other two volumes contains one story apiece. Each of those volumes costs $20. Just from what I've told you, if you want to roll the dice on spending $20 on one of these volumes, which of the volumes gives you the chance of reading at least *one* good story — the one that includes seven stories, or the ones that include only one story apiece? The logic is simple. Get the book with the most stories and you have a much better chance of getting at least one good story. (Even bad authors have good stories now and then.) And so there's a direct relationship between decompression and a lack of good stories — decompression results in a lack of stories altogether, and the fewer stories there are, the smaller the chance there will be a good one among them. [–MikeAnon]
"I truly don't believe the 'amount' of story a buyer gets per issue is a consideration for new readers…."
[MikeAnon:] Perhaps not so much with new readers because they don't know any better until they've had a chance to sample different comics and get a feel for what pays off. Old readers? Well, speaking as one, this is the main reason I've switched to trades only. And I can't think that a "trades only" buying strategy is good for the comic book companies. I would think that whether a particular comic book is cancelled or is allowed to continue depends mostly on how the monthly books sell, not how the trades sell. So the question is whether it's more important to gain new readers or retain existing and/or longtime readers. The impression I got from Joe Q was that it's the new readers they want most of all, hence the poster-style covers, the intro pages, etc. I don't know if the decompression is really the writer's choice or if it's a way to keep readers hooked over a number of issues so that sales remain fairly constant, nor do I know whether the supposition that sales would hold constant over that arc holds true — seems to me that if you're looking at a comic whose current story is already in progress, you're less likely to buy it.
According to Mr. Shooter, a story consists of three elements: (1) What were things like, (2) What happened to change things, (3) What is it like now. I think that as a bottom line of good comic book storytelling, every individual comic should contain those three elements — not that all stories have to be "done in one," but that each individual issue has to contain its own three-beat story so as to make the reader feel that they got a story in each comic. I theorize that decompression's main flaw is that it spreads the three beats of the overall story arc over multiple issues without providing a three-beat story within each invidual issue, and that this is what make decompressed storytelling unfulfilling to some such as myself. But I'd have to do an analysis of some decompressed writing to verify, and I don't have the time at the moment — when I get around to rereading ULTIMATE SPIDER MAN from the beginning, I'll keep an eye open for that.
On the other hand, it might be that in decompressed storytelling the three beats within each issue might be internal rather than external — i.e., while doing this one external activity, so-and-so internally changes his/her attitude about this or that. In that case the beats are there, but because the action is internal rather than external, the drama is less memorable. Most recollections of stories are recollections of events, not intellectual or emotional shifts. The protagonist can resolve all sorts of internal conflicts in a single issue, but if little changes externally, it's easier to consider that issue a throwaway than a game-changer (unless those internal resolutions actually spur a change in the character's behavior from that point forward). [–MikeAnon]
I don't remember the backstage story of Daredevil #208. But, I know this: Marvel's policy was that all work done on company owned characters (as opposed to EPIC properties and some Graphic Novel properties) had to be work-for-hire. As EIC it was my job to enforce that policy. If Harlan had an issue, it should have been with the company, not me. It's not like I had an option.
Many, many comic book people objected to Harlan's disparagement of Michael Fleisher. After Michael decided to sue, there was a support-Michael-Fleisher-and-the-U.S.-Libel-laws party held in the Simonsons' apartment, I believe, that was meant to raise support for Michael's lawsuit. A who's who of the industry attended. Tee-shirts were sold at conventions. Artists donated artwork to raise money. Ernie Colon donated a beautiful painting. But when the trial came, no one would testify on Michael's behalf. Everyone feared being ever after eviscerated by Groth and the Comics Journal.
Michael's lawyer, in desperation, asked me to serve as an "expert witness," and testify to the fact that the Comics Journal was read by industry people, that it had some influence among industry people, and therefore might affect Michael's job prospects. Also that Harlan was a respected figure in the comics community, whose assessment of a creator might carry some weight.
No problem there. Proof of the Comics Journal's influence was clearly demonstrated by various industry professionals' fear of testifying. And Harlan, of course, was a respected creator. I was happy to testify to those things. And, I was already the Comics Journal's favorite target, so….
Michael's lawyer was an idiot who allowed me to be dragged into all sorts of topics unrelated to my expert opinion. The defense lawyer asked me something about misogyny at one point, and mispronounced the word. I had no clue what he was asking. He tried to turn that into an attack. Whatever. I wasn't there to judge Michael's work, I was there to give testimony about Michael's denigrators' ability to damage him.
P.S. Michael did the Specter stories Harlan lambasted WORK-FOR-HIRE, and therefore DC was the "author" of those stories. They were done to the specifications set by editor Joe Orlando, so DC or Joe were responsible, not Michael. Harlan is bright enough to understand that, I think, but too ornery to back down and apologize.
Michael won, but couldn't prove sufficient damages to get a significant award.
If Harlan hates me for daring to speak the truth then so be it.
Aaron Scott Johnson
I like both responses to my earlier post and find them both thought-provoking and well "argued" (using the term loosely, since we're all just fans having a good time talking about comics). And I think in these posts both Denny and Jeff have maybe brought to light the real problem commenters mean to address when they attack decompression, and maybe this then will lead to a question for Jim:
Is the trend (and, arguably, the subsequent failing) of decompressed storytelling the fault of the writer, or of editorial? 'Event' storytelling is what sells; 'writing for the trade' seems to be the basic business model the big 2 are operating under; so then, writers have to adhere to this model, with varied success, often "stretching out" or "padding" their stories to meet this editorial requirement. I think we can all agree this is a bad thing, but then should our criticism be directed toward the writers, the editors, or both? Where does the 'fault' lie?
Decompression in comic book storytelling may not always be a bad thing, although I am hard-pressed to think of an instance when it is a good thing. It's more than, "Hey, I paid almost four bucks for that comic book and finished reading it in less than 5 minutes!"
I don't know that I have the nomenclature to properly express specifically just what it is about the modern method of telling a comic book story that bugs me, and maybe others, so much. So, instead, rather than struggle, I off up an example:
Check out the first 3 pages of Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #1, written and drawn by Jim Steranko in 1968. 3 wordless pages showing Fury breaking into a bad guy's headquarters. It's a logical, cinematic progression of panels that leads to a cool payoff; like all good pop art, it knows when to begin and when to end. That is, it knows when to leave the stage, if that makes sense to anyone.
If that same scene were to appear in comics today, it might take up the whole issue or darn near most of it and, no matter how well-done by whomever, IT DOESN'T NEED ANY MORE SPACE OR PAGES TO CONVEY THE NECESSARY INFORMATION. But combine the fact that too many comic book creators are patterning their stories way too closely after movies (which is not a good thing because they are, after all, different mediums and I will never accept that comic books are just "movies on paper") with the "Anything Goes"-for-a-cool-effect mentality so dearly-coveted by newer and younger "talents," and you've got a story with little or no substance. In other words, just because you can do a thing doesn't mean you should. If Bendis or Johns, or Hitch or Millar or Ellis or whomever CAN do a thing to cool effect, but it obscures or obfuscates the story, then maybe they shouldn't do it. And I believe that decompression is part of this trend.
I also don't think it's a matter of how much story or bang you get for your buck in any given new issue of a comic book; I think it's more a matter of getting ANY story or ANY bang for your buck (or 3 or 4 bucks, for that matter!). Many new comic books today simply don't tell a story – they just deliver scenes that don't add up to a hell of a lot for the money. We then end up with a story that is ponderously told over 6 or 8 issues that could have been told in 3 or 4. Marketing is driving the storytelling more than it ever has.
It took me 3 hours to read William Kotzwinkle's "Fata Morgana" (just under 200 pages) and I still think it's one of the greatest fantasy novels I've ever read, whereas it took me well over a week to read Stephen King's "IT" (well over 200 pages), and, well, let's just say that quantity is no guarantee of quality.
Yeah, blaming everything bad in comics nowadays on decompressed storytelling may be "kind of silly," but it IS a factor, and a symptom of many bigger problems.
Decompression to me is a valid term because the issue is not with art but with script. Many of today's writers — as comfirmed in a number of con panels — produce stories with the expectation (theirs or the publishers) that the material will automatically be collected into a trade, or "graphic novel."
But looking over reams of these collections at my local comic shop, I recall most of them (as the monthly issues I foolishly bought) are not thick with plots, rich in characters, or fast in pacing. Rather, many feel stretched out and flabby, esp when I have several decades of reading with which to compare.
[I don't say my years make my view more valid than today's readers but it does shape what I like and don't like.]
Art is art, and the number of panels "required" for each story has to do with the respective artist and his/her ability to illustrate it. Some can successfully do it with many panels, some with fewer. Depends on the what their artistic strengths are. But at the end of the issue it's still the same number of pages.
But script-wise, when I compare a trade collection of, say, some modern X-men "epic" with a collection of older 80s X-men with the same number of issues, I inevitably feel the latter gives me more story, more STORIES, for my money.
Years ago I read an excellent critique of science fiction that discussed how many of the early writers learned to write their material to a certain length in order to compete in the pulp magazines and digests. But when the paperback market came along a lot of those same writers had difficulty writing to that longer length, unable to successfully EXPAND their plots with additional ideas and characters. That it took time and effort and talent to successfully write a plot to different lengths depending on the outlet.
I don't think many of today's writers are really skilled to write what's essentially a "graphic novel" that's published across 5-6 issues. Rather, I see them taking a relatively simple plot that could be done in 1-2 issues and decompressing or stretching it across 6 issues. But without a lot of additional ideas or interesting subplots to fill the void.
Some of that is lack of skill, some of it lack of experience. But also probably a degree of laziness as well.
After all, why produce 6 well-plotted stories when you can get paid exactly the same for writing just 1 story done in 6 issues?
Again, I see exceptions the rules among today's writers but always too damn few.
Reviewing the post through the fog of my New Year's Day hangover, don't think I'm quoting someone else's article, I just have an inordinate love of the hackneyed phrase. The information would have come from articles in that infamous lawsuit issue of the Journal, and the Don Simpson interview in CBA. And the Cerebus photo feature with Harlan's face in the pudding. Pretty funny.
Should mention further, in response to Anonymous's original post, that nobody got to work on Marvel characters without signing the dreaded work-for-hire contract – not Harlan Ellison, not Neal Adams, not anyone. Adams started drawing an X-Men graphic novel on the understanding that he wouldn't have to sign one, but Shooter, despite his best efforts, ultimately couldn't make it happen with the higher-ups and the project was spiked. Printed in CBA, the pencilled pages are oddly lacklustre.
Thank you, ja, and Happy New Year.
Aaron Scott Johnson
One issue I continue to have when reading many of the comments on this blog is the automatic dismissal of decompressed stories. I don't see decompression as an inherent flaw in a story and think it's a fallacy to use the word 'decompressed' as if it's an insult.
I understand and agree with the argument that comics are simply more expensive than they should be, but I would still think that if in those 22 pages each month, each page had 14 tiny George Perez panels vs. the 3-4 "widescreen" panels made popular by Hitch and Ellis on the Authority. Number of pages and amount of story packed into each page, to me at least, means very little to the "value" of a comic. I willingly pay the same amount for a 350 page novel as I do for a 750 page novel; there is simply an acceptable price point for an item in my eyes and comics have breached it (not to mention what a hindrance the high price is to new readers).
I truly don't believe the "amount" of story a buyer gets per issue is a consideration for new readers, anyway; good stories are good stories. There just simply aren't enough good stories being told right now…but I think using the catch-all argument against decompression is kind of silly.
I don't care if Marco quoted from an article or not. He made his point quite well.
Can't tell if those are your words or if you are quoting someone else's article.
Nice that people are "willing" to broach the Harlan Ellison subject.
Is that the same Harlan Ellison who tried to coerce the waitress into going to bed with him by smashing his face into the chocolate pudding? Might have been Dave Sim who wrote that one up. What was that Ellison story about tricking a girl into bed with the valuable coin?
Re. Harlan Ellison etc.
This is a pretty interesting topic. Year's only a couple hours old, and I probably shouldn't be posting after a few glasses of champagne, but we are close now to the whole bogus dog 'n' pony show that made Jim Shooter the industry pariah. Remember the Journal's Donald Simpson cover? Magnificent, absolutely magnificent. Maybe the greatest cover never drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz. As a comic book reader back in the day, this image seemed to define Jim Shooter; he was the megalomaniacal monster who was villainously depriving Jack Kirby of his original art, and repressing the genius artists perishing under his jackboot. As a matter of fact, Jim Shooter had been very considerate and sensitive with Donald Simpson on at least two occasions. After rejecting some beautiful but naive Simpson samples featuring Doctor Doom, with some encouraging words of advice, there was the matter of a cease-and desist order over gratuitous use of the Fantastic Four in Megaton Man. That Journal cover very irresponsibly recast Jim Shooter as Mussolini, transforming a decent man into the world's most despicable despot for the Journal's own nefarious purposes. As for Jim Shooter's courtroom testimony – was there ever a credible rebuttal? (c.f John Byrne's deplorable behaviour in Marv's Blade lawsuit.) Were publishers worldwide clamoring to employ Michael Fleisher? Those Spectre stories were, like Harlan said, pretty fucking bugfuck or whatever. But you go ahead and trawl through every damn post Jim Shooter ever made on his website, and come back to us when you find any lies or mistruths of any kind. And that Daredevil story was a piece of shit anyway, notable only for the artwork of David Mazzucchelli. And if you disagree with me, I'm going to dive into this chocolate pudding.
I also would like to wish Jim and JayJay and all the readers of this wonderful blog a Happy New Year!
Well said Ole M. Olsen.
And as an orrible year concludes I am ready to declare my cultural highlights of 2011. In reverse order;
3. The Shadow Line, Hugo Blick's labyrinthine police thriller starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and tv's Doctor Who, Christopher Ecclestone.
2. All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace, Adam Curtis's mind-bending documentary. Particularly good first episode, about Spider-Man co-creator Ayn Rand.
1. Shooter's Blog. The encyclopaedic knowledge of comics we take for granted; the sublime, masterful prose is a revelation.
Thank you Jim Shooter, thank you JayJay Jackson. I wish you more success in 2012 than you could even bear.
Ole M. Olsen
Please forgive me for this off topic comment, but I would like to take this opportunity to wish Jim and JayJay in particular, and all participants and readers of this blog in general, a very, very happy new year!
Jim and JayJay: My sincere thanks to you both for a lot of informative, educational and entertaining posts in 2011. I'm looking forward to what I'm sure will be lots more in 2012. And let's all hope that the state of the comic book industry that we all love takes a turn for the better in 2012. 🙂
Larry Hama is indeed a damn good writer. He's one of my favorite comic book writers. In the latest issue of G.I. JOE:A REAL AMERICAN HERO (#173), there's a 2 page scene that shows Sneak Peak visiting his mother at a nursing home and was apologizing and trying to explain to her (without divulging top secret info) where he had been for the last year (he had faked his death and was on a secret undercover mission). What made that scene so powerful and sad was that Sneak Peak's mother turned to him and said "Do I know you". That one line of dialogue immediately told the readers that SP's mother is now suffering from Alheimers (sp) and illustrates the sacrifice that he had to make in order to accomplish his heroic mission.
"Agree. Larry Hama is a master storyteller and the search for the new Cobra Commander is one of the most compelling sagas I read in comic book format."
Larry Hama didn't write that. That's Chuck Dixon (and Mike Costa on "Cobra"). Larry does the "Real American Hero" comic which continues the original Marvel series.
That's kinda funny. I've always deemed corporate rules to be "insensitive" to employees no matter where you work. That's just one of the compromises an employee has to accept in exchange for their paycheck.
A quick search reveals that Harlan won the lawsuit. Comic creator cliques (eyes roll). Perhaps that's why I have no interest in the CBG or TCJ.
Here's my prediction for the New Year (well, the next few years).
I don't think we're going to see the death of comics, instead we're going to see them evolve into different formats from the traditional pamphlet – we're already seeing the physical graphic novel in many different shapes and sizes – but mostly take that leap in to the digital realm. I think this will be an exciting time over the coming years, as creators experiment with format and content to find a defining style.
I think what we will see is the death of the Superhero, or at least the restriction of it to an ever declining corner of the comics industry. Eventually It will become the bizarre minority genre within a wide and varied new artform.
The superhero will still continue to sell for a few years, until the changeover is completed, and then it will gradually die out, as it's diehard audience does. It will become unsustainable, as it's affordability increases.
I think the European standard is the way forward, with multiple genres and styles, combined with quality art and writing. The British comics scene is sort of reinventing itself at the moment, with a lot of self publishing, and new publishers entering the market.
I think the American industry needs to reassess itself and follow suit. Already most of the interesting stuff is being published by small press, and companies outwith the big two. IDW & Image have an eclectic range of comics, Dark Horse has always played outside the edges of the superhero norm.
Will Marvel & DC throw in the towel as the superhero film fad starts to fade?
They're not my heroes anymore.
Here's to 2012.
A Guid New Year tae yez!
Jim. I willing to hear your side of the Harlan Ellison story. Here is his below.
In a interview with Harlan Ellison he said you that are two reasons he is upset with you. The first was Denny O'Neil asked Harlan to write a issue for him because he was having surgery that month. This would be Daredevil 208 which he wrote with Arthur Byron Cover. He said that at first he would not sign Marvel's work for hire contract. O'neil called him up telling him that you said that if Harlan did not sign the contract then O'neil would have to write the issue himself for that month. Harlan said
that he then signed the work for hire contract so Denny would not have to write that month and then you accepted the story. He found that insensitive to O'neil.
The second reason is he claimed that you testified aganist him in the Michael Fleisher lawsuit against him. This was the libel lawsuit that also involved Gary Groth of the Comics Journal.
Is this true?
"The art in the current Wonder Woman series makes me happier than any art I've ever seen for her."
[MikeAnon:] No freakin' way you can say that if you've read the 1985 George Perez series that he wrote and drew. That's the gold standard, baby. [–MikeAnon]
"…she's finally being taken seriously—not just treated as eye candy."
[MikeAnon:] OMG can you not see that her being eye candy is part of the freakin' point? No one is supposed to think that slender, gorgeous package is carrying that much whoop-ass! She's in Man's World to preach peace, not kick ass — the ass-kicking she does only because she has to. [–MikeAnon]
I always liked a few wink, wink, nudge, nudge moments thrown into the stories and characters by the creators. The problem with modern comics is that they are blatant; takes all the fun out of it. One of my favorites is "Paste Pot Pete". Trapsters original name was Paste Pot Pete which is an obvious reference to "Piss Pot Pete"; if you aren't familiar with that little limerick, I can assure you it would not get passed the code. Here's a link, but it's very Blue humor http://www.unwind.com/jokes-funnies/sexjokes/pisspot.shtml
I'm sure Jim knows of a few others that were slipped in.
Years ago any good writer could easily make a wonderful single issue story (see "Roulette", by Frank Miller, or Silent Interlude, by Larry Hama). Now we have these fanboys like Kevin Smith who thinks is cool to have Batman saying one time he peed his pants because the Bat-suit didn't have a zip. And DC is paying good money this clown! Jeeeeeezzzzzzzzz… And the less say about Brian "6 issue arc and nothing is happening" Bendis, the better. This man makes James Joyce's Ulysses seems like a rollercoaster.
I think what Shooter is saying with "fanfic" is addressing the lack of CRAFT in comic writing today. Too many posters remain hung up on the word "professional" when it's really about craft. (Getting paid doesn't make you "professional," not to other professionals. It's about doing a "professional" job, and that means higher standards of craft.)
Speaking of craft… I told John Byrne in Detroit that his FF #232 was my example of a perfect comic book. He kinda groaned (either in disagreement or humility, I dunno).
But it's perfect because it's the best intro to a set of characters in the middle of a series I've ever read. It told us everything in short order as part of a genuine story (with plot and everything). It clearly demonstrated their basic personalities, powers, and environment. No reader could read that and say they didn't understand what the series was about.
Today, even 6 issue arcs (trades) leave many basic questions unanswered.
I assume Larry Hama doesn't get the praise he's due because many people dismiss his name-making run on G.I. Joe in the 80s as "just a toy comic". Given those humble origins, though, he made it into much, much more than just a "toy comic": we had reprints of his stories as back-up in the Marvel UK "Action Force" comic, and it's something I wouldn't mind reading the entire run of some time…always enjoyed the plots and characterisation.
Larry Hama knows what he's doing. He is one of the best ever. Like Archie Goodwin, another best-ever, he doesn't get nearly enough recognition.
Agree. Larry Hama is a master storyteller and the search for the new Cobra Commander is one of the most compelling sagas I read in comic book format.
Mr. Shooter you should do a review of Larry Hama's G.I. JOE"A REAL AMERICAN HERO series from IDW. That series has got to be one of the most accessible new reader friendly books currently being published today. Every character that appears in each issue has their names stated and we are brought up to speed on what's been happening through both the dialogue and a brief (but informative) 2 paragraph recap on the inside of the front cover. The book is also (IMO) pretty damn good.
I'm sure Jim was happy to have those stupendous Sienkiewicz covers on his Dazzler comics! (Insert grinning-winking emoticon here.)
Jim, I wonder what your opinion is on having a cover artist who is dramatically different from the interior penciller. The reason I ask, I was just looking at the preview pages for the upcoming Lone Ranger #1. Alex Ross has a nice-looking cover. Then inside, Esteve Polls not only is a vastly different artist – but is also somewhat inept (one panel a rider is facing a man on foot, the very next panel the man on foot is shooting that rider from behind!)
Steven R. Stahl
"How many series (Flash, Wonder Woman, Young Avengers, etc) were delayed or simply withered on the vine because the big-name writer concentrated on his/her television or movie job first?"
YOUNG AVENGERS and CHILDREN'S CRUSADE happen to be perfect examples of a writer who produces pages without actually saying anything. If you'll look back at YOUNG AVENGERS, Heinberg spent the series going through the backgrounds of his characters and then resorted to filler and a non-ending for YA #12 because he had no material.
In CHILDREN'S CRUSADE, there's no continuing plot. It appears that Heinberg flailed about for some villain to bring in and finally settled on Dr. Doom. The material that's appeared so far (thru CC #7; I have CC #8 but haven't read it yet) isn't fit for publication.
The premise for the series hasn't worked since the first issue, and can't work.
Sergio Leone certainly used Asian imagery and made something new and groundbreaking.
It's interesting you used the "whatever-stuck-to-the-wall" analogy. I use it all the time. I will always tell a new vendor: If I get a hint that you are using the "throw it against the wall and see what sticks" approach, our business dealings are over. And believe me, like you Jim, I've lost friendships over it.
I never met Alfred Bester. I'm reasonably friendly with Larry Niven, though I haven't seen him for a while. I've been to his home and hung around with him here and there, mostly at the San Diego Con. I know Orson Scott Card, Cory Doctorow and Harlan Ellison, but I'm not Harlan's favorite person. I've met Edward Bryant, Keith Laumer and a slew of others.
My last sentence was supposed to read: "…kids can get way more story for their buck IN COMICS THAN THEY'RE GETTING NOW." Sorry.
I always read the character intros at the top of splash pages as a kid…until years went by and they didn't change. So then I only occassionally scanned them for changes.
I read them because I was looking for any kind of new information, plus it gave me a bit of a thrill like the scrawl in Star Wars.
I don't find them useful at all today. If I don't already know the character, I won't buy the book to begin with. It's hard enough to understand decompressed stories about 70 year old characters, so forget deciphering something new. ( I only buy new characters if it's an indy title.)
The problem of identifying what's going on is (1) dialogue doesn't inform us, (2) the visuals don't inform us, (3) and dammit nobody gets addressed BY THEIR NAME! You can read an entire scene without any reference to who the characters are. Not. Worth. My. Time.
I have about 20 unread (and about 40 read) Marvel Essentials and DC Showcases on my bookshelf. When I want to read comics, I usually dig into those… because I can UNDERSTAND them without having to reread or go online to get backstory.
I don't recommend new comics to kids. I buy $60 worth of comics material a month and I'm done in one afternoon. I bought Skyrim for $60 and I'm already over 100 hours in–100 hours of action and story–and I'm only half done with the main quest. I hear there is between 400 and 1200 hours of story-based gameplay in Skyrim. Somebody explain to me how modern comics–fat on cost, thin on story–can compete with that?
By comparison, the first three Savage Sword phonebook TPBs cost $60 and they're dense enough to take weeks to read. (So my point isn't that video games are better, just that kids can get way more story for their buck elsewhere.)
Reading your post on writing, words, and letters somehow resulted in me thinking of Alfred Bester.
My understanding is that his comics work with DC ended well before you were there, maybe before you were born even.
But did you ever have any interactions with him in any of your travels?
Or any of the greats of science fiction writing?
Read Incredible Hulk #1 as a freebie on the marvel.com app the other night, and tried to think of how many issues a 'writer' today would stretch that content into. Stan wrote a tight 20-some pages. Plenty of nine-panel pages. Same goes for all the early 60s Marvel content: it is great material where form and function work together. When Scott McCloud wrote Destroy!!! he should have done it as an all splash page book.
For whatever it's worth, I don't have a degree related to writing or anything else. I do have what amounts to a total of ten years in apprenticeship with two of the pillars of the industry, one ornery and one likable. I also have lots of input by other experts in various creative industries. And a great deal of study on my own.
The trouble with being a writer is that everyone thinks they can do what you do. Most people grok that they can't draw like John Buscema, but most people can write words and sentences in English (or whatever language), and therefore think that they have the equipment and qualifications necessary to be writers.
They use the same words as I do, the same words as Hemingway did. At a glance, a page that I painfully type, or Chris Claremont deftly types, or you type, or Hemingway typed looks pretty much the same. Same 26 letters, same words. Only the organization of those letters, meaningless on their own (except for morphemes), and the organization of those words into larger and larger units of language makes the difference. I have spent 47 years learning what I know about the craft of writing. There is a craft, as surely as there is a craft to drawing, no matter how invisible it is to the ignorant, no matter how much a Hemingway page looks the same as your page from ten feet away. Some who do not know the craft at all make a living by stringing together words that skate by incompetent bosses, or by trumping up "shocking" shtick, or by lucking out and having Wolverine to play with, or by being cronies with the boss. Whatever. A writer knows the architecture, has command of the language (whatever it may be) and has the art in his heart. Something to say and the ability to say it.
You are correct that some cultures have different standards than others. Western works tend to be goal-oriented. It's built into our languages — Basic structure: Actor or subject/action or state of being/acted upon or status. In terms of plot, that's: What the status quo was/what disrupted it/the decision point, and how it turned out. That simple structure is hard-wired into your brain if you think in an Indo-European language. Asian works tend to be less plot driven and more imagery-driven. Asian creators like Kurosowa incorporated Western plotting into their works. Western creators like Spielberg incorporate Asian imagery into their works and a literal "best of both worlds" has emerged.
But there are reasons Shakespeare was Shakespeare, Hemingway was Hemingway, Twain was Twain, Vonnegut was Vonnegut, and good comic book writers, God help us, are good comic book writers. Sorting out which comic book writers skate by because of the vagaries of the system and which ones actually have a clue is a legitimate exercise. The whatever-stuck-to-the-wall argument is specious. Any fool can win the lottery.
Bobby P. said:
"…I say it's demeaning to call paid professionals "fanfic" writers. "
I agree it's demeaning and I agree that it's a perfect description of what Marvel and DC are delivering. Between the subpar art and the poor quality writing, I find modern comics to be essentially unreadable. I guess a better way to describe them is that they are a complete waste of my time and my money.
This wikipedia article gives an example of how fanfic writing can be shallow.
I would rather describe modern comics writing as pathetic… miserably inadequate.
I sat through a writer's forum at Dragon Con. Essentially they said that to get published, all you really need to do is complete a story. Most writers fail at completing a story one they start it. Fanfic writers don't have that problem. It does not make their work good. Alan Moore leveled the same criticism at modern comic writers in an article that was linked to yesterday. At what point do Marvel & DC understand that they are pawning off crap?
Yes, I'm being demeaning. I'd like Marvel & DC to resolve their delusions of adequacy. If the writer's can't deliver better work, I'd like them to go find an occupation which is more suitable to their talents. Maybe that is flipping hamburgers. I don't really know what they are good at. Writing isn't it.
The art in the current Wonder Woman series makes me happier than any art I've ever seen for her. It makes Wonder Woman seem both mythical and strong. It has a muscular quality that moves me along in the book. I've been looking at Wonder Woman art for many, many years (40-plus): this is the best that I've seen. Don't get the fugly thing at all. As far as I'm concerned, she's finally being taken seriously—not just treated as eye candy. I love that. I've been waiting for it a long time.
re: [MikeAnon:] The only comment I wanted to make about the current WONDER WOMAN series is that the art is *fugly*.
I completely disagree. The art is heavily stylized but not ugly. There is a difference. There was a time when I considered Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko's art ugly because I was not accustomed to their particular style which was quite different from George Perez's and other hot artists of the eighties.
Joe Quesada turned Marvel into something that was all about him. He killed the career of many established comic writers in favor of his pals, who were not qualified to be writing about these characters. Even fanfic writers understand the characters better! I'm about two pissed off situations away from taking some kind of action to get somebody at Disney to understand how important having somebody like Jim Shooter back in charge of Marvel would benefit everyone!
"How many series (Flash, Wonder Woman, Young Avengers, etc) were delayed or simply withered on the vine because the big-name writer concentrated on his/her television or movie job first?"
[MikeAnon:] Worst offender of recent memory: Damon Lindeloff on ULTIMATE WOLVERINE VS. HULK. [–MikeAnon]
I don't know about professional fanfic writers but yet another thing that has turned me off on mainstream comics has been the proliferation of writers over the last 6-7 years who have credentials outside the medium.
Why? Because most seem to treat the work as some sort of part-time job for extra cash. How many series (Flash, Wonder Woman, Young Avengers, etc) were delayed or simply withered on the vine because the big-name writer concentrated on his/her television or movie job first?
While I don't blame them (or anyone) for concentrating on what yields the most revenue, the fact that said series would be simply "back-burnered" and everyone expected to accept that situation really infuriated me.
What happened to Editors and especially Editors-in-Chief who would threaten to fire writers over deliberate delays or at least have the cajones to deny future writing assignments? Instead, I cringed whenever Didio or Quesada announced HA HA that a high-profile comic would be launched/relaunched/continued when there were "a few issues in the can." Instead of the writer accommodating the schedules, the schedules were stretched to accommodate them.
There ARE some writers like Brad Meltzer who will take a comic assignment only when he has the time, and then will block out his time and really concentrate on the comic until the job is done. Damn few though.
I realize the sub-topic of professional fanfic writers is really aimed at writing skill, but to me there also has to be a degree of professionalism in writers to accept comic books as a legitimate job, not a hobby. That means making the deadlines as agreed and rearranging whatever other assignments they have on their plates to do so.
Otherwise writers like Kevin Smith or JMS or whomever demean the readers by giving comic books the lowest priority on their schedules.
If they can't make deadlines, then give the writing assignments to established comic book writers like Len Wein, Mike Barr, Marv Wolfman, or (GASP) Jim Shooter.
The latter especially knows how to write and has never shirked a deadline to my knowledge.
Sorry. Ranting finished now.
Without needing to mention his name, It could be easily argued that Marvel's current head writer has been churning out nothing except fanfic hidden behind (mostly) talented A-List artists.
Must every comic book writer have a degree in professional writing (outside of comics) for you to think their worthy of writing comics?
I'm sure if you look in the Golden and Silver Age, few if any had such degrees?
I don't think a degree in necessarily needed to write comics. Comic writing and art are not a respected literary or art form, much less taken seriously by Most others outside of this field.
They'll talk about "real" artists or writers. Though IMO Warhol sure did "swipe" a lot of art. But that was okay cause he was a real artist. (A comic artist would have the mobs against them if they did some of what Warhol did to some others work.)
Anyway that's another topic. Back to writing.
You label it as truth, I say it's demeaning to call paid professionals "fanfic" writers. Our opinions will be different. So I got no need to discuss it with you as we'd never agree. Pointless to go further with it.
And who is a better judge of ones ability to write. You or me? The comic fans? Or the editors and people actually hiring and paying a person to write and to write regularly. I'd say their judgement and opinion matters a lot more.
And to name a few, guys like Jeph Loeb, Joss Whedon and JMS have done Hollywood work. Some real writing outside this small comics field.
Thanks for clearing that up. 🙂
I actually think this whole: the story must all be relevant and every detail should be their and lead to the end.
Well that's a very American style of writing.
And in America it's a "don't waste my time" type of attitude. And the audience grew up and are conditioned to "get on with it". They want it and they want it now type of writing.
Not every other culture or country thinks like that, and in America it's taken for granted that if we think like that, then everyone else must as well.
And when you think on it, is it not a formula writing? I mean if every story point must be their for a reason, and nothing that's is deemed not necessary shouldn't be their, I think it could lead to a formula in and of itself.
But stories told in other countries and art forms like manga for example. Well the writing is different. Stories can drift and scenes can expand.
I really don't adhere to the whole every story must be lean attitude. And scenes that are not seen as relevant, actually might have a purpose in building character. Or demonstrating how a relationship in going. It just depends on the viewpoint.
Scenes like Family Guy where the gags reference something else, but have no story point are actually some of the funniest parts of the show.
They make me laugh and without them I'd laugh less. And if anything I appreciate those laughs more then I would a fancy, lean writing where every plot point made sense. So cut out those scenes that don't further the plot type writing.
And as Mr. Shooter said recently something to the regard of, what people like and are entertained by is up to them. It's no one's right to judge what one buys or likes. Their is no right or wrong. Each individual likes what they like and their is no reason to justify or defend what one likes or does not like.
[MikeAnon:] The only comment I wanted to make about the current WONDER WOMAN series is that the art is *fugly*. I mean, seriously, WONDER WOMAN should be a beautiful book. It's not. I mean, the art is so ugly I would rather WONDER WOMAN and HAWK & DOVE trade art teams — and I can't *stand* Liefield's amateurish "who needs backgrounds" art, but at least it's way prettier than the dreck that's coating WONDER WOMAN's pages right now. (My only caveat is that DC would have to get someone to be Liefield's "Gerhard" on the book to draw adequate backgrounds for Liefield's foregrounds.) [–MikeAnon]
No one's denying that professional fanfic writers are professional in the sense that they are being paid. The problem is that their work is not up to professional standards. They're paid to write stories. They write fiction, but are they really writing stories? Sex, violence, and references might be "good" enough for someone's website, but is it "good" enough for DC? Apparently it is. It shouldn't be.
For the record, I'm not envious of "professional fanfic writers." Nor is the friend who taught me the term. Neither my friend nor I have ever had any serious intention of scripting other people's characters. We want to create our own characters.
There's nothing wrong with using other people's characters, but abusing them to get "that little personal fantasy into print" as Jim put it is a violation of continuity — a storytelling principle — and is a form of parasitism. Does the Batman in Widening Gyre behave like Batman from the last 70 years? Would his behavior even be noticed if it weren't associated with the magic name Batman? When bad fanfic is stripped of trademarks the author doesn't own, what remains isn't pretty.
David in SLC,
Thank you for clarifying the situation with TV. On those rare occasions when I do see it, I tune it at some random point and miss the "What Has Come Before" clips at the beginning, and a lot probably does go over my head. Nonetheless, I still have some idea of what's going on even without looking up the show or movie on Wikipedia.
I can't judge the ___ Movie series at all, but I can say that it is possible to write a parody that's amusing to an audience who doesn't know the source material. In the 70s and 80s, I read a lot of Mad and Cracked parodies of movies and TV shows I had never seen and I was still entertained. Family Guy tosses out references at random, seemingly in hopes of amusing the audience with one thing if another fails. I'd prefer a systematic Mad/Cracked-style parody of one thing or self-contained humor. Either would be a story, not a jumble of items.
Professional fanfic writers basically means guys who do not understand the craft of writing, or even have an understanding of some of the fundamentals of storytelling.
Can you refute that those kind of people are currently writing comics for the big 2?? Can you methodically demonstrate that they do have writing credentials , beyond just claiming that "well, they're popular", "well, Marvel must be happy with them because they keep them employed and they sell"
Stop labeling truth as "demeaning"
Steven R. Stahl
For example the 90s Batman animated series. And the current Avengers Earth's Mightiest Heroes cartoons both portrayed their heroes BETTER then their comic book versions.
I've read favorable comments about Marvel's all-ages material, Marvel cartoons, and the like, but I have no interest in reading or in seeing them because I'm under the impression that they're written largely for children.
That might be the case generally for stories which don't require exposition or other types of explanations to inform the reader what's going on. The story is based on a formula, or has a plot so familiar to genre fans that no explanations are required.
The best stories, to me, are those which surprise me. I love being surprised by a development which was, in retrospect, logical but still unexpected. The last issue of the VISION & SCARLET WITCH maxiseries, for instance, had Wanda giving birth to twin boys, one of which had some of the Vision's attributes. That might have seemed to come out of nowhere, but if the reader goes back to V & SW #3 and notes that Vizh was holding Wanda and in the energy flow: her fertility spell captured some of Vizh's attributes — genetic analogues.
So, the outcome of the pregnancy made perfect sense to an SF/fantasy reader used to exploration of ideas, but how many readers (and Marvel editors) realized that?
David in SLC
Marc – nice follow thru with what Jim said and for the most part I agree.
However, I take exception to your comment regarding TV shows. It is extremely common in serialized TV to have clips showing what has come before at the beginning of the episode. The reasons vary but usually it is because there is an extended story in progress or there are references to previous actions that will be relevant to the story unfolding.
That being said, it is also possible to not resort to this tool and still get the point across but as someone who has watched way too much TV and read way too many comics, I can say as a viewer/reader, it can sometimes be taxing (i.e. take me out of the story because I have to analyze what's happening as it happens) to try to place the appropriate gravitas on events/people. Is Person A reacting in or out of character? How important is Object B to the story, is it a MacGuffin or an allusion?
As with most things, an intro or 'what has gone before' is a tool. It can work if handled correctly, as well it's absence can sometimes take away from the story. I recently read Morning Glories starting with #8 (currently on #14) and I was totally freakin lost about what was happening or why because the story lacked the proper disclosures and there was no intro (good characterizations tho and interesting if cloudy story). I had to go back to issue #1 to get the full story. Likewise I dove into Uncanny X-force at #11 (currently on #18) and was lost even tho it had a (poorly written) intro page.
However, on both titles I went back and read them from #1 and found out that, as a whole, the stories were really good and I found them compelling. Did the writers fail in making the monthly stories inaccessible? Or did they accomplish the overarching story goal they were shooting for? Dunno, depends on how you look at it.
As for your comment on parody – it's very nature requires that you know the source material. Today, people too often confuse parody and sarcasm.
Actually the term "professional fanfic writers" sounds very demeaning to me. (Maybe termed by someone who is envious of them?)
By the very nature that they are writing a comic book, published by a professional company, means that they ARE a professional comic book writer.
No if, and or maybe about it.
They are no longer a "fan" or writing "fanfic" as both are unprofessional terms.
Now the quality of the writing, that's a whole other matter.
And as far as the writers, writing for the already established audience and not new readers?
I think we are at the point where this is common knowledge and accepted practice. Whether it's good or not, that is what is going on.
Look at Marvel and DC the past few years and their crossovers that span multi books that seem to go on forever.
Dark Reign, Secret Invasion, Fear Itself, Blackest Night, Brightest Day, New 52, etc.
Do they really expect a new reader to pay $2.99 an issue to read them all? (Or to read most of them?)
No it's the established readers who will collect all of those expensive storylines. And it's these big crossovers that have guaranteed big sales the last few years, and that's why they keep producing them.
Comic book price points is what I think is really affecting the growth of the industry.
How do they expect new readers to pay $3 or even $4 an issue.
For the same amount of pages and thus reading experience as that of the past thirty plus years?
In a few decades it went from .75 an issue to now $2.99 or more.
As with just about any industry when prices raise, less people buy.
And in today's digital age, young readers have a lot more to choose from for their buying dollars.
And for a different last point, it's also sad in a way when the comic book spin off material is better written and more true to the character then the comic book.
For example the 90s Batman animated series. And the current Avengers Earth's Mightiest Heroes cartoons both portrayed their heroes BETTER then their comic book versions.
When I read your work, I don't need any outside knowledge. It's all self-explanatory. Ditto for early Marvel. Anybody could become an MMMS member in spirit just by reading the comic in front of them. But Kevin Smith's "Widening Gyre" relies on external knowledge:
Smith is so enamored with his own knowledge of super-hero comics — and his own desire to make sure we all know he's read a lot of super-hero comics — that his writing slips into the "_____ Movie" style of just reminding you that other things exist.
Aside from the fact that there's no reason to riff on — sorry, homage one Alan Moore comic when you can get three at the same time, there's no reason for this to take place at the Fortress of Solitude other than hey, it'd be kinda neat to see a picture of the Fortress of Solitude. That, in the world of this book, is a valid storytelling purpose.
But that's stimulating, not storytelling.
This kind of reference-dropping isn't just in comics. The reviewer mentioned the ___ Movie parody series. I've never seen any of those, and I wouldn't understand them because I haven't seen the original movies. Another example is the TV show Family Guy which is full of non sequitur references to pop culture. I think audiences find this engaging in a "cool, I recognize this!" way. But I also think a strong writer shouldn't be so dependent on others' work. Easter egg references are one thing; making a "story" out of references is another.
Intro texts exemplify how hard it is to write efficiently.
As I mentioned earlier, I barely watch TV. Yet on those rare occasions when I do see it, I generally grok what's going on right away. As you said earlier,
Turn on the TV. Watch a show you've never seen before. You'll figure it out. In the first couple of minutes you kind of find out who everybody is and what's going on.
If TV shows don't need a narrator telling us what happened before, do comics?
As a kid, I don't think I ever read the tiny text blurbs on the front pages of comics. Did others here read them? I do read all text in comics now as an adult. When I pay $3.99 for something, I want to squeeze every bit of value out of it. I'm not opposed to text in comics. I'm opposed to excessive reliance on it.
the main problem with those intros is that too often the writer of the story relies on it to provide all the information necessary
That makes me wonder: do the writers even know what's in the intros? Is there any kind of coordination between the writers and the intro writers (whom I assume are editorial staff)? Should writers write their own intros? Maybe they sometimes (always?) do. I have no idea.
I was the one who used the term "professional fanfic" here. I got it from a friend years ago. This comic sounds like the textbook example of pro fanfic:
Let's face it: Kevin Smith is a comics fan.
And if you're a fan and DC Comics comes to you and says "Hey, write us a comic, you can do whatever you want," of course he's going to do it. That's what every fan dreams of.
Unfortunately, a creator — any creator, in any creative field — has to recognize his or her limits, and if he can't, that's what an editor's for. And you eventually come to a point where either the editor has to look at something and decide that it's an unpublishable mess or the creator has to take a step back and ask himself if he really wants his contribution to a 70-year legacy be a story where [read the article to see what Smith made Batman do!].
[Kevin Smith's] "Widening Gyre" is the most compelling argument I've seen for the distinction between fan-fiction and "legitimate" comics writing being purely monetary, because there is no qualitative distinction whatsoever between what Smith's doing here and what JokerScarz666 puts up on his LiveJournal.
The reviewer explains how Widening Gyre is stuffed with stimuli: sex, drugs, and
the idea that trivia and minutiae, the things that every kid obsesses over, are a substitute for storytelling and that all will be forgiven if you throw some old Catwoman costumes and draw the Batcave with some stuff from the TV show in the background. And underneath it all is the idea that someone actually thinks this is good, and it's just sad.
Such stimuli may be entertaining for some, but it shouldn't be confused with storytelling.
On behalf of real writers, everywhere, Happy New Year, Mr. Shooter.