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  1. #1
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    Default Writing: Past and Present

    For those of you born in a decade that you are familiar with:

    What makes present-day writing of comic books different/better than what has come before?

  2. #2
    Astonishing Member BatmanJones's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by boltmonster View Post
    For those of you born in a decade that you are familiar with:

    What makes present-day writing of comic books different/better than what has come before?
    I'm more interested in hearing from those of you who are born in a decade you're not familiar with. I mean, what's that like?

  3. #3
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    The audience has changed, so the writing has changed with it.

    In the 30s & 40s, the audience was largely pre-pubescent kids and the stories reflected that in terms of sophistication. However, during WW2, a lot of soldiers got hooked, so more and more comics started appealing to a more adult audience with higher levels of horror, sex and violence, which caused the Comics Code to clamp down on all that.

    As a result, the audience for comics went back to pre-pubescent kids in the 1950s, but with a growing segment of hardcore fans. Meanwhile, European comics could appeal fully to adult audiences and was able to outpace American comics by leaps and bounds in terms of craft and sophistication.

    By the 60s, Marvel's deeper characterization and ongoing sopa opera with its more interconnected continuity had managed to retain those pre-pubescent kids into their teens and college years, which led to even more sophisticated writing and subject matter.

    By the 70s & 80s, these former fans had now become the creators and writers themselves, so the comics became even more obsessed with past continuity and dealing with mature subject matter. However, it often dealt with that mature subject matter in a less than mature or sophisticated manner because these comics were based upon a foundation designed primarily for children. DC then started recruiting more and more British creators, who brought with them the greater sophistication of the European comics to the American superhero mainstream.

    Once the direct market allowed comics to more fully embrace adult content, the one-two punch of Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns blew the lid off the concept of comics being for kids and both DC & Marvel's output has been a mixed bag of comics aimed at everyone from kids to teens to adults with wildly varying degrees of quality and success. However, it's undeniable that both companies have devoted most of their comics over the last few decades to appealing to their most hardcore readers, most of whom are men in the 40s.

    Are the comics better or worse? That's all subjective.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bored at 3:00AM View Post
    The audience has changed, so the writing has changed with it.

    In the 30s & 40s, the audience was largely pre-pubescent kids and the stories reflected that in terms of sophistication. However, during WW2, a lot of soldiers got hooked, so more and more comics started appealing to a more adult audience with higher levels of horror, sex and violence, which caused the Comics Code to clamp down on all that.

    As a result, the audience for comics went back to pre-pubescent kids in the 1950s, but with a growing segment of hardcore fans. Meanwhile, European comics could appeal fully to adult audiences and was able to outpace American comics by leaps and bounds in terms of craft and sophistication.

    By the 60s, Marvel's deeper characterization and ongoing sopa opera with its more interconnected continuity had managed to retain those pre-pubescent kids into their teens and college years, which led to even more sophisticated writing and subject matter.

    By the 70s & 80s, these former fans had now become the creators and writers themselves, so the comics became even more obsessed with past continuity and dealing with mature subject matter. However, it often dealt with that mature subject matter in a less than mature or sophisticated manner because these comics were based upon a foundation designed primarily for children. DC then started recruiting more and more British creators, who brought with them the greater sophistication of the European comics to the American superhero mainstream.

    Once the direct market allowed comics to more fully embrace adult content, the one-two punch of Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns blew the lid off the concept of comics being for kids and both DC & Marvel's output has been a mixed bag of comics aimed at everyone from kids to teens to adults with wildly varying degrees of quality and success. However, it's undeniable that both companies have devoted most of their comics over the last few decades to appealing to their most hardcore readers, most of whom are men in the 40s.

    Are the comics better or worse? That's all subjective.
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    Astonishing Member Restingvoice's Avatar
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    As a kid, I like the simplistic story of Golden and Silver Age
    As an adult, I like the more complex storytelling in today's comic... and I still enjoy the more simplistic story because they're just fun and relaxing.

    I only rolled my eyes when it got too ridiculous, such as Joker stitching together dead bodies of Arkham prison guards in Death of The Family to make a map, the number of martial arts Batman can master, how he can just climb out of a jet turbine, and just Batjerk and Batgod in general.

    Also, having random sci-fi and magic shenanigans work when they're just making simple one-shot stories to make you laugh. It doesn't work when they're trying to be serious, or when they try to fit the more silly stuff in a more serious setting.

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    I very much doubt European comics in 50s outstripped their USA counterparts given usa was biggest engine of sci fi and westerns in the decade and their work would be a fundamental influence across the rest of the world through Wally wood, Alex raymond etc.

    In the UK we barely had any underground / comix / indie press while USA was producing Robert crumb, Gilbert Shelton etc in 60s and 70s who would again be pivotal figures in Europe.

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    Artist-writers like Will Eisner and Gil Kane in the 1970s and 1980s wanted comics to be sequential art. If there was actual text they wanted less of it and not on their panels of art. But I found this dumb. It might be clever to show a sequence of art panels, but it's hard to figure out a story just from that. As much as I like PRINCE VALIANT by Hal Foster, with the beautiful panels that he did all the way back in the 1930s and 1940s, the fact that the text was outside the art took away from the dynamic story telling experience.

    I understand why folks who are really proud of their artistic abilities want their compositions to be shown off and nothing to get in the way of that image--but that's not comics. Comics are story telling shorthand. The image is there as a kind of elaborate pictogram to help tell the story and so are the words inside the panel. The goal is the story and the best means to deliver that in an economic fashion to the readers brain. Putting words inside the panel forces the reader to engage with the panel of art and not just stare at it passively.

    Whenever I pick up a comic book that is mostly just panels of art and little actual writing, I'm lost. What am I supposed to do with that? All I do is skim through the panels quickly and it only takes a couple of minutes to get through a twenty page story. And I've wasted four dollars on a cheap experience.

    Add to that if comics really were told through sequential art alone, like Eisner promoted, then you would need a lot more panels of art to tell the same story that can be told through a combination of words and pictures. Why do I have to struggle to figure out that this panel happens a day after the previous sequence, when a caption could tell me that by simply stating "a day later . . ." A lot in life is boring--we don't need to see every stage of how someone got from A to B--that can all be addressed through captions or descriptive dialogue.

    Also this art as a show off of composition is a very classical idea of art, where art is supposed to be this beautifully rendered image. But modern artists broke down those conventions. The artists I hung out with at university were doing all kinds of innovative things with images, including plastering words and logos over their art. The cartoonists of the 1930s were ahead of the curve. They used the line to go outside of conventional imagery and create something that's tangental to photo-realistic art.

    Artists like George Carlson, Sheldon Mayer, Dick Sprang, Jack Cole, Alex Toth, Harvey Kurtzman, Dan DeCarlo, Ernie Colón, Robert Crumb, Matt Groening, Lynda Barry and Mike Parobeck--they weren't about drawing the world as static photo-realistic images; they were about cutting through all that gloss to the raw essential lines of form. And they certainly didn't need their art over-embellished with painterly colours until it becomes this muted piece of 19th century gallery art.
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  8. #8
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    I'm other way. I enjoy a wordless comic - I find them harder to read and require lot more concentration but very rewarding too. Jim woodring is absolute beast at it.

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    I agree that Bored gave a superb summary of the history of writing in American comics. The other stream feeding into that in the last thirty years has been anime-style decompression. Frank Miller popularized multi-page wordless duels in Daredevil and the Wolverine mini-series, contributing to the low words-per-page count of books today compared to then. Writing-for-the-trade and every-page-a-sellable-pinup philosophies also affect the writing. Speaking of which:

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Kelly View Post
    Artist-writers like Will Eisner and Gil Kane in the 1970s and 1980s wanted comics to be sequential art. If there was actual text they wanted less of it and not on their panels of art. But I found this dumb. It might be clever to show a sequence of art panels, but it's hard to figure out a story just from that. As much as I like PRINCE VALIANT by Hal Foster, with the beautiful panels that he did all the way back in the 1930s and 1940s, the fact that the text was outside the art took away from the dynamic story telling experience.

    I understand why folks who are really proud of their artistic abilities want their compositions to be shown off and nothing to get in the way of that image--but that's not comics. Comics are story telling shorthand. The image is there as a kind of elaborate pictogram to help tell the story and so are the words inside the panel. The goal is the story and the best means to deliver that in an economic fashion to the readers brain. Putting words inside the panel forces the reader to engage with the panel of art and not just stare at it passively.

    Whenever I pick up a comic book that is mostly just panels of art and little actual writing, I'm lost. What am I supposed to do with that? All I do is skim through the panels quickly and it only takes a couple of minutes to get through a twenty page story. And I've wasted four dollars on a cheap experience.
    This is why manga is B&W so that they can afford to sell low-word-count works in volumes that are two hundred pages long rather than twenty. Wordless stories can be interesting and take a while to digest if done well; the wordless G.I. Joe issue and Morrison's "Nuff Said" issue of New X-Men come to mind. Or "Spy vs Spy." Or Wile E Coyote cartoons, for that matter. But it takes practice to do well.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by iron chimp View Post
    I very much doubt European comics in 50s outstripped their USA counterparts given usa was biggest engine of sci fi and westerns in the decade and their work would be a fundamental influence across the rest of the world through Wally wood, Alex raymond etc.

    In the UK we barely had any underground / comix / indie press while USA was producing Robert crumb, Gilbert Shelton etc in 60s and 70s who would again be pivotal figures in Europe.
    I agree that American comics were certainly full of talent and continued to be a huge influence upon European comics. However, I think comics were allowed to flourish as an artform and explore all kinds of different genres as mainstream entertainment in Europe, while the Comics Code in America kept the more experimental stuff as an underground/indie niche.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by RBerman View Post
    I agree that Bored gave a superb summary of the history of writing in American comics. The other stream feeding into that in the last thirty years has been anime-style decompression. Frank Miller popularized multi-page wordless duels in Daredevil and the Wolverine mini-series, contributing to the low words-per-page count of books today compared to then. Writing-for-the-trade and every-page-a-sellable-pinup philosophies also affect the writing. Speaking of which:



    This is why manga is B&W so that they can afford to sell low-word-count works in volumes that are two hundred pages long rather than twenty. Wordless stories can be interesting and take a while to digest if done well; the wordless G.I. Joe issue and Morrison's "Nuff Said" issue of New X-Men come to mind. Or "Spy vs Spy." Or Wile E Coyote cartoons, for that matter. But it takes practice to do well.
    Absolutely, the influence of manga cannot be understated.

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bored at 3:00AM View Post
    Absolutely, the influence of manga cannot be understated.
    Do you mean overstated?
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  13. #13
    Astonishing Member kjn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by iron chimp View Post
    I very much doubt European comics in 50s outstripped their USA counterparts given usa was biggest engine of sci fi and westerns in the decade and their work would be a fundamental influence across the rest of the world through Wally wood, Alex raymond etc.

    In the UK we barely had any underground / comix / indie press while USA was producing Robert crumb, Gilbert Shelton etc in 60s and 70s who would again be pivotal figures in Europe.
    Comics-wise, the UK is pretty much a backwater of Europe, even if they have developed masters like Alan Moore or Bryan Talbot. Instead, I'd say that the Francophone comics is the third major centre of comics culture besides the US and Japanese comics. Which one has been the most influential and most "progressive" one has varied, but there is no doubt that you can't write a serious history of comics as an art form without mentioning Hergé, Mœbius, Bourgeon, Morris, Goscinny, Uderzo, Mézičres, Christin, or Tardi.
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  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bored at 3:00AM View Post
    I agree that American comics were certainly full of talent and continued to be a huge influence upon European comics. However, I think comics were allowed to flourish as an artform and explore all kinds of different genres as mainstream entertainment in Europe, while the Comics Code in America kept the more experimental stuff as an underground/indie niche.
    The USA had two distro channels tho - the comics code newsstand and an alt. non comics code channel. UK only really had the newsstand and was equally if not more censor heavy than its USA equivalent. That alt. distro channel allowed people like Robert crumb et al to appear in USA. Compare that to the oz magazine obscenity trial in UK at the same time.

  15. #15
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    I can only comment on the mainstream comics I've come to enjoy myself, and mostly the differences I've seen in terms of what the "ideal" comic ends up being writing wise.

    The earliest comics I got to know were from the 90's, right when writers started a concerted effort to eliminate thought bubbles entirely from the format: the "journal of your thoughts" method started becoming a lot more prevalent, as did trying to convey characterization and thoughts strictly through artwork and dialogue. Both of those have become even more of a factor in comics today, with I think a general belief that the best comic probably shouldn't need anything more than dialogue and artwork for everything, or if there are going to be thought boxes, that they get used more creatively, either fulling embracing a noir-style past-tense examination of events, or even just straight up flow of consciousness writing that can even display a character's disorientation and confusion more realistically.

    One odd quirk of this is that if I see thought balloons in a comic, it's usually a warning sign to me... especially if it ends up in a comic with narration boxes as well. That's one of the reasons I wound up bailing so entirely on New 52 Teen Titans; the appearance of both types of narration heralded the book going down the toilet.

    One really big difference in all books, though, is the greater focus on serilaization and long term storytelling. Guys in the 90's *did* long term storytelling , but usually on the back-burner. Nowadays, it's all about the next multi-part arc. This is a mixed bag to me: it seems to yield both greater payoff in the hands of a good writer, but can conceal a bad writer longer than simple focus on one-and-done issues can.
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