What makes a great comic? The perfect blending of scripting and artwork!
WHY DO I ENJOY READING COMICS?
I often get asked this question, especially around the upcoming Free Comic Book Day on the first Saturday in May—what is it about comics that makes me want to read them? Well, there’s something special when a great story is told through beautiful art. It’s unlike other storytelling—it just grabs me in ways other kinds of books and tales just don’t!
I mean, I enjoy text-only novels at times. I also like listening to audiobooks! But when I sit down to read a comic, that combination of writing and visuals engages me on levels I like to experience!
When I was younger, I didn’t understand what it took to put a comic book together. It takes someone writing a script, then an artist portraying that story in visuals on the page. To me as a young person, it was just magic! Somehow, someway, it all just appeared on the page in ways I couldn’t understand.
Now that my understanding of printing has progressed, I understand the whole process better. Granted, not all comics are created in exactly the same ways, but the best books to me are the ones that I like to call “the marriage of writing and art.”
When writers and artists work together to bring out the best in each other, what I get to read is simply terrific! As Frank Miller once said when he read a Batman comic, “I just fall in!” I lose track of time and place, and I’m just inside the story being told!
WHEN IT WORKS
Along the same lines, I often get asked what I would recommend to a new reader.
If you are into superheroes, I generally recommend the Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo run on Batman. There was all kinds of experimentation going on, including an issue in which you had to turn the book completely around to experience the story being told. I loved that! We don’t see enough of that in comics, I think!
Currently, I’m truly enjoying Unstoppable Doom Patrol by Dennis Culver and Chris Burnham. I would drop “Unstoppable” from the title, but other than that, it’s a high-power comic out right now, in my opinion!
Not into “longjohns” characters? Then I suggest reading The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Siegelman. It gives a lot of insight into what happened in World War II by converting people into animals, so it’s still a great telling of what happened, but like much of Star Trek, it makes the point in a less blatant/potentially painful way.
It’s different if we are talking kids/younger readers. Right now, there are literally entire sections of books for this group in stores like Target and Walmart. The Dog Man series of books are very popular right now, and that includes the Cat Kid books as well. Personally, I like the Wings of Fire comic translation of the Tui Sutherland novels, but that may be for a slightly older group. Maybe if we get younger readers into these books, we can introduce them to comics soon!
Of course, there are literally tons of collected editions of comics that are great for new readers. Many films and TV shows have been created that are based on comics—so many that I couldn’t possibly list them all here! As is so popular to say these days, just google it!
Getting back to “mainstream” comics, Saga is one that appeals to a wide audience. It’s written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. The series is based on ideas Vaughan conceived both as a child and as a parent. It’s described as “Star Wars meets Game of Thrones.” If you like that one, check out other creations of Mr. Vaughan!
WHEN IT DOESN’T WORK
There have been many times when I’ve bought comics when either one or the other part of the storytelling works for me, but the other does not.
I always point back to the Justice League of America titles written by Gerry Conway with art by George Pérez back in the 1990s. I absolutely LOVED George’s artwork, but Mr. Conway’s writing—often laced with the “finding the strength within yourself” theme—left me cold. Superman dying from Kryptonite poisoning could overcome that by “finding the strength within himself” and just ignoring it. Yeah, right! I still bought them because of the gorgeous art!
On the other hand, there have often been terrific stories that I wish had been told through better art. Not every comic can have the very best (and often most expensive) art team on it, so they have to do the best they can!
An example of this is the current The Riddler: Year One series from DC. I am into the Paul Dano story, but I am struggling to get through the Stevan Subic art, which I find muddy and muddled at the same time. Maybe it will grow on me in the final issues!
When neither aspect of the storytelling works at all, I often don’t buy the book, so it’s tough for me to point out any of them! Somehow, I bet you as a reader have already picked out comics that immediately jump to mind in this category!
I knew a fan who ran a comics shop I would go to often. He had a theory he called the “ka-ka” factor. If more than 50 percent of a comics company’s output was, well, garbage (I’m being nice here), he would only buy enough to fill requests from that company. Better than that earned that company a spot near the front of the store. Sadly, many of the folks with high “ka-ka” factors are no longer with us today.
Of course, sometimes even the highest-quality comic needs help! I do remember another comics shop owner who didn’t listen to his customers. Back when Batman: The Dark Knight Returns was about to be released, he invited my brother and I to go with him to a Diamond Comics Preview Meeting. We were both smitten by the preview pages of that Batman book, so we told him to buy at least five for each of us. Instead, he ordered the number of Batman comics he regularly ordered each month, which was a grand total of three.
Luckily, I went to another comics shop in the area as well, and they had ordered plenty! I bought all I wanted there! Later, when I went to the other guy’s shop, he was on the phone with Diamond, frantically begging them for more copies of that Batman book. “I’ll go under if you don’t get me more!” I heard him say. He ended up putting the three copies he had into a raffle with everyone who wanted one included. Needless to say, I was glad I already had my copies, so I wasn’t disappointed when I didn’t win one.
As far as the comics industry goes, we need every fan we can get right now! If you know someone interested in comics, be sure to recommend the best you can to that person!