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It’s Bleaker Than You Think, I’m Running Out of Ink

December 19, 2011

Good Morning, Mackronauts

Did I manage to ditch the spambots today? Good. Well, since it’s just us three, let’s get closer and a little more… hmmn, one of us needs a shower. Maybe we should stay where we are for now, and we’ll try getting closer after a shower, mmkay?

Right, so today, I figured I’d talk a little about one of my geeky storytelling passions that hasn’t quite abated, though the flames of ardour have largely waned for me as far as the type of stories I enjoy: comic books.

Now, this is 2011, so I’m hoping you may have noticed by now that not all comics are about superheroes in tight clothing kicking the crap out of each other. Frankly,if that’s all you think they are, I’ll understand why you’ve decided to head for the door. I would too, if I thought like that. But you see, I’ve read things like Starstruck, Maus, Sandman, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Fables, Strangers in Paradise, Strangehaven, Little Nemo, Lost Girls, Transmetropolitan, Queen and Country, 100 Bullets, and The Invisibles, so I know something that perhaps you don’t. (And if you already do know those titles, WELCOME, Stranger! Grab a seat!)

And that thing is, comics can tell ANY kind of story you can imagine. It’s only a slight perversion of the North American comics market that has confused things. In Europe and Asia, the kinds of comics people read are as diverse as the genres you find in bookstores, and they sell like hot cakes. In fact, as I understand it, in most of those markets, superhero comics sell rather poorly by comparison. So you see, it’s not all about capes and magic lassos.

So let’s start again. First of all, have you ever seen the movie Ghost World? Or how about Red? Road To Perdition? Wanted? Scott Pilgrim vs the World? V For Vendetta? Well, if you’ve even heard of a few of them, would it interest you to know that they originated as comic books, and that there isn’t one single superhero in any of them? Oh, I’ll grant you, some pretty ridiculous things happen in some of them, and in a few, unbelievable things. But on the whole, they’re about real people without a mutant healing factor or a cave with lots of bat paraphernalia in it.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But let’s not disparage our superhero books just yet. I’m also a card carrying fanboy for such past series as Promethea, Planetary, Astro City, Powers, The Authority, Top Ten, Ex Machina, Starman, newuniversal, and of course, Watchmen. All about superheroes. All wearing funny clothes and talking about things most of us would never catch ourselves talking about. And unlike what you might expect if you were looking through a rack of Spider-Man, Batman and X-Men, the stories and writing are anything but teenage power fantasies in drag.

So, you might ask, what do I get out of reading comics that I can’t get out of reading regular books, since reading about superheroes doesn’t seem to be my thing. Well, first off, I do read superhero books, periodically, if they’re written by someone I’m really interested in. I’m usually a shoe in for anything written by Warren Ellis, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison or Alan Moore, and I’m also a fan of anything written by Kurt Busiek or Mark Waid when they’re NOT writing for Marvel or DC. I’m developing an appreciation for Paul Cornell, and artist J.H. Williams III is currently writing my single most favourite superhero title at the moment: Batwoman.

So you see, it’s not impossible to find good comics about superheroes. But it does take some discrimination, because it’s a very slippery slope down into X-Hell, let me tell you, and once you’re down in that pit, there’s not much that can be done to save you.

The thing I like about the writers I follow is that they deliberately try to shake up the conventions and tell stories about things other than kicking heads through goalposts. Oh, they do that, too, sometimes, but they pace themselves and tell intriguing and mind-bending stories, and they rarely ever indulge in those ridiculous stories where one superhero team mistakes another for the bad guys and hilarity ensues.

There’s just something wonderful about reading a really well-written, well-drawn comic book that can’t be described properly until you’ve done ti for yourself. The pacing, the timing, the forethought, the gut instincts; comics leave no room for flab. They have between twenty and fifty pages to make their point, and even though a picture is supposed to be worth a thousand words, the best writers can actually make that a reality, without slowing you down and killing your groove with five pages of travelogue about riding to Dun Modir.

That’s not to say I prefer them to books. I regard them as another form of books. It’s all pretty much the same thing to me, except that I find comics can be more immediate and convey a story more quickly, which for me can be a blessing, as I don’t really give myself much time to read these days. You might think I’m lazy, but I DO read regular prose books. I just don’t turn my nose up at comics in the process.

The other thing I love about comics is that, when written and drawn by mavericks, they often do things that simply defy description. Things like this:

[NONE of these images are my work. They are presented here merely as educational material. No infringement of copyright is intended. Thank you.]

I’d tell you about them, but really, isn’t it just great that such things exist? I do. It makes the world seem just that little bit less crappy, knowing that work like this is being done by artists who are alive today. They may not be getting the accolades of the Big Name Artists of the last few centuries, but they’ve got skills and vision to spare.
And that’s what I love about comics: you can present a fantastic, unique vision of worlds in your mind in a fashion that just about anyone can appreciate and understand, if you try.

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