One Fan's Opinion: Issue #20

Thu, December 29th, 2005 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Erik Larsen, Columnist

If you decided to make a comic book or movie of your life, what would you include? What wouldn't make the cut? What would?

You can't include it all. Every meal. Every night of undisturbed slumber. Every time you visited the growler and made bears. It would all be too much, too repetitive, too boring. Who wants to read about somebody eating soup or watching TV or playing video games or buttering toast day after day?

So you'd have to cut and chop. What's essential? What's not? What's the story you're trying to tell? What's important? Is the girl that sat next to you in 6th grade and you only saw for the one year and thought was kind of cute but who moved away important? Yes? No?

Every day writers sit down and tell stories in comic books and in movies and for TV shows and in Novels and every day they have to wrestle with questions like that. What's important? What isn't? Not to spoil "Spider-Man 2" or anything but what did the "cake girl" add to the picture? Were we to believe she was a possible new love interest if MJ went through with her wedding plans? Was it just a random bit there to throw viewers off? What?

Is it enough that hey, crap like this happens, y'know? Does including a lot of dead end nonsense that goes nowhere add to the sense of realism or is it a waste of time and space? If the girl from 6th grade never resurfaces, was her inclusion necessary? What if she was responsible for your first woody? (At this point I'm assuming the person reading this is a dude-- if that's not the case, feel free to insert another example that might apply-- I don't mind, really).

It's interesting to read a variety of comics and see what various writers feel are important. I've been reading a lot of comics lately (frankly, that's pretty much never not the case) and it's interesting to see how different creators pace things.

"Powers" moves relatively slow, in the sense of a lot getting accomplished in the confines of a single issue. There are few scene changes and often a lot of dialogue. Generally, that dialogue is fun to read and it's engaging enough to keep me coming back for more. Something happens in every issue of note but it definitely isn't setting any land speed records. It's going somewhere and it will get there, often is a spectacular fashion but every issue is a piece of something bigger. There are few stories complete in one issue.

Chris Ware's comics are worth checking out. I know you've heard that before but if you're one of those sorts that need confirmation from some outside source, let me tell you-- there's entertainment to be found there. But it's a different sort. Chris is every bit as likely to include panels of guys eating soup, making bears or slumbering as he is of them involved in more visually engaging activities-- even more so, actually. Many a Chris Ware book features a guy sitting on the thunder mug or other mundane activities and it's fascinating to see what Chris opts to include or exclude in his narratives. And the stories don't often add up to a whole lot (which is not to say they aren't worthwhile). They can meander and flip back and forth from the past to the future with little notice and that can be jarring to an unenlightened reader. The stories are often tragic, heartfelt, touching, bleak and, frankly, a bit perplexing. It may be as close as you're likely to find of an actual person's actual life being relayed to you panel after panel.

Similarly, Seth's latest book, "Wimbledon Green: the Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World" is a bit unusual (at least for those of us raised on mainstream superhero comic books). For much of the book, stories are simple page strips and the entire collection wanders all over the place. Much of the book is interviews with various characters talking about the lead character and it's an enjoyable read. The format of the book is delightful. It's a handsome volume and it makes a person long for the glory days of golden aged comics. But it doesn't all come together in a nice, neat, coherent fashion. I did enjoy it, mind you, but I've got to admit that I'd have liked to have a few more questions answered along the way and a bit more closure. Still, it's well worth pursuing.

"Jack Staff" by Paul Grist follows its own rules as well. Mimicking characters and the format of certain British comics, "Jack Staff" is broken up into a number of short stories starring any number of characters and the whole book progresses an over all narrative that's both challenging and rewarding to follow.

I can't recommend the "Complete Calvin & Hobbes" highly enough. And, again, the storytelling technique utilized here is worth noting as stories must be chopped up into small bits that work on their own when isolated from each other in a daily newspaper. Bill Watterson's line work is awe-inspiring, his composition is inspired, his timing is impeccable and the gags are often laugh-out-loud funny. The stories are, by most standards, short. Few stories stretch out for more than a week or two and at six strips a week (which are part of that continued story) and three strips a page, the longest story runs a mere six pages in length.

I've been buying and reading a lot of old "Captain Marvel Adventures" comics (I'll be dead by the time DC ever gets around to printing the good stuff at the rate their going with their "Shazam Archives"). Those stories (most often written by comics legend Otto Binder) feature just the storytelling essentials. You get everything you need and a complete story is told in ten pages or less. They're always entertaining-- fun for the whole family and nifty examples of succinct storytelling.

And again, it makes a person think about the whole question of how much is too much and how much is necessary? Are the stories from "Captain Marvel Adventures" inherently inferior because of their succinctness or are Chris Ware's hopelessly padded because we get to see every meal that every character sits down to eat or is it somewhere in between? As a guy that writes and draws his own yarns from time to time, it gives a fellow pause.

Certainly the stories told in "Captain Marvel Adventures" and "Calvin & Hobbes" are far more coherent with far fewer random asides than in other comics. But the stories being told are simpler as well.

A lot of people aren't really writing stories.

Your day is not really a story. Sure there's are a beginning, middle and end but much of it is routine and the continuation of events set in motion from previous days.

Chris Ware's stuff in particular can be very much like life and that's where it can fall flat. As an interesting character study it may succeed in high form but as a story-- it fails. The latest issue of "Acme Novelty Library," for example, is a hardcover book costing a hefty $15.95. It's 64 pages, full color and measures 9" x 7" and as a package it's quite aesthetically pleasing. It looks terrific. As a read, however, it's a decent start that goes nowhere and simply stops. There aren't character arcs, there's no closure of any kind. It simply starts a thread, meanders about and ends. It's as though he was making a movie and ran out of film and decided to end it mid-scene. And while I do feel as though the pieces are well executed and impeccably drawn, I can't help but feel a little disappointed in not getting a finished thought for my $16. Over several issues I'm relatively sure that this narrative will go someplace and I don't feel ripped off, particularly-- just a tad let down, I guess.

"Fell," by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith has complete stories. There are bits and pieces, sure. There are character bits as well, but every issue is a complete read and at $1.99 a copy they're a bargain. The stories are dense and compelling and thrilling all at once. Like a number of comics these days they're told in a very stark, straight, realistic fashion. There are no captions or thought balloons but then, they're hardly necessary in the stories told.

Sitting down with those blank sheets to fill month after month makes me want to look around and see how others manage to pull it off. My problem has always been that I have far too much to say and far too little room to say it in. It's interesting to see how others cope.

Determining what to toss and what to include is a never-ending battle. Sometimes I'll opt for minutia other times I'll cut to the chase. There's no right answer, I suppose-no "right" way of doing things.

At this point, I've yet to draw a panel in a story of my hero on the throne. It may come to that but I kind of hope it doesn't.

One Fan's Opinion Home | One Fan's Opinion Archives

 
One Fan's Opinion

Send This Article to a Friend

Separate multiple email address with commas.

You must state your name.

You must enter your email address.