I Know They’re Called Graphic NOVELS, But…
February 10, 2011 1 Comment
In the middle of last year I once again answered the siren call of the Science Fiction Book Club. You know the drill: join up, get the ton of free books, fulfill the commitment, quit, rejoin, get the ton of free books, wash, rinse, repeat.
Then along came my Nook and the idea of being in a club to buy physical books lost a lot of its luster. Flash forward to last week when I burned through the rest of my commitment by indulging in a buy one get one free sale and some collected comics.
The last time I regularly bought a comic book series was in the mid-90s, back during the Image boom when I was waiting for something — anything — to happen in Spawn and waiting for half the other books to come out on time. Sticking with trades helps me avoid that problem. I wait to hear what’s good, wait until the story is over, then sit and read the whole thing in one sitting. No waiting, no delays, and no freakin’ plastic bags to worry about.
All of which is preamble to what I ran across as I was reading Blackest Night, one of the books I bought and one of the “hot” comics events from last year:
Granted, it’s a little hard to read the words, but it’s not what they say that’s significant, it’s their very existence. Look at all those damn word balloons. Two comic pages where the heroes are nearly muscled out of every panel by dull white blobs of exposition. Maybe I’m a little old-fashioned, but if your story requires that large an info dump simply to keep things going, you’re probably rushing your story because the publisher only gave you eight issues.
Of course, these big events don’t just have six or eight or twelve issues. There’s the obligatory prologue and epilogue, the #0 issue, the three or four tie-in mini-series, the one-shots, and the crossover issues of ongoing series, even if they’re so tangentially related that the only thing they have in common with the event is that their characters saw it happening out the window one day. And then comes the follow-up series the next year that goes through the whole routine all over again, undoing everything the last story did in the process.
When I think about the epic stories that I remember, like the Kree-Skrull War or the Judas Contract or the Dark Phoenix saga, the thing that sticks out is that their creators somehow managed to tell them within the near inhumane constraints of only having one monthly title in which to do it. And while any comic book story is designed to sell comic books, those stories were designed to sell just one, not every comic in the company’s line. Okay, maybe an annual or two along the way, but most annuals needed all the help they could get.
None of what’s happening today should come as a surprise though. Comics have become less and less about telling stories over the years, and more and more about the combination of selling merchandise and keeping the characters public for the inevitable movie/video game/theme park ride. They’ve become a promotional tool rather than the thing being promoted. We’re paying $3.99 a month for a full-color advertisement. That has advertisements in it. Now that’s a nefarious plot worth at least a six-issue mini-series.
And yes, I appreciate the irony of going on for almost 600 words about an overly verbose comic book. But at least I’m not crossing this over into six other WordPress blogs.