Thursday, June 2, 2011

Why Comics?

After mulling over where to really start with this blog, I've finally separated the various topics in my mind. Many of the topics I want to hit on require an amount of research that means I need to spread them out and not hit them all in a row. So I'm going to start in a logical place:

Why comics?

What's the point? Why do they matter? Most importantly, why should you care about comics?

Overall, these are fairly simple things to tackle on the surface. That, however, would be too easy, short, and boring. This place exists for me to rant, ramble, and never shut up, so I'm going to go in more detail than is likely necessary. Yes, all of this has been covered before. Hell, it's all been covered by people much wiser than I (Just to name two: Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics and pretty much anything from Will Eisner's Comics and Sequential Art books). In no way do I claim to be more knowledgeable on the subject of comics than these two greats, but I'd like to think that I:

a) have a different, and much smaller, audience to talk to about the subject. Namely, well hopefully, former art teachers and working artists
b) maybe, just maybe, I might have something slightly different to say.

So, that's quite a bit of rambling already. What's the point, then? Why do comics exist at all? That one is simple: comics are simply a way to tell a story. Of course, unlike movies and even books, a very strong argument could be made that comics are one of the oldest ways to tell a story, right behind oral history. The idea of still pictures to tell some story has been around since man painted on cave walls, but today it is thought of, instead, as either something for kids, or just for nerds that sit in their basements arguing about whether Superman could beat Thor over the internet.

This dives straight into the real thrust of this post: Why should you care about comics? Yes, there are comics for kids and, yes, there are people that argue those topics on the internet, but the medium itself should not be judged on those things anymore than all novels should be judged by the large section of generally horrid romance novels in any bookstore. Comics are as diverse in subject matter as any form of entertainment, and while that's a plainly obvious statement to some, it is a shocking revelation to many of the people I went to college with. In many ways, this is not their fault at all, thus one of the reasons why I'm writing this right now.

So I circle around again to the why. What do comics brings to entertainment that movies and books can't? The answer isn't superheroes, because while that concept thrives in American comics, it is doable in any form of storytelling. Superheroes is a genre, not a medium. On the most basic level, comics run a middle ground between books and movies. But that is, again, too easy.

The real key to what comics bring is reader control. With panels on a page, no matter the layout, the reader may take as much time as they like lingering on an image. While it may seem that books achieve this, I would argue they don't. To hold a moment in a book, the reader must back up and re-read a passage, arguably turning back time in the story. Obviously, on the other side of things, movies just keep on moving whether the viewer wants them to or not. The presence of the series of still images in comics, however, freezes time in a sense. The story won't move forward or backwards as long as the reader stares at one single panel. It just sits. The best writers and artists learn to manipulate this sense of time, finding techniques to slow the eye and cause a reader to linger longer on a page, or quickly fly through a series of panels in faster paced sections. But even with strong techniques, it's up to the reader to determine how the story is read.

But a less wordy explanation to the question of "Why Comics?" that likely means more to people that don't care about the craft is something I've already touched on. Comics are a medium, just like books, movies, or any other form of entrainment to tell a story. Many times I've been told by people that they just don't read comics because they don't like comics, and I stare baffled. To me, such a statement is as absurd as someone saying they don't like movies or books or any kind of stories.

Just as there is a book for everyone, there is a comic for everyone. So I'm going to end this long, circuitous rambling post with just a few examples that run the gamut.

There are war stories (Sgt. Rock, Captain America, The Other Side), Science Fiction (2000AD, Astro Boy, Flash Gordon, Silver Surfer), Horror (The Walking Dead, 30 Days of Night, Swamp Thing, Hellbazer), Romance (Young Romance, Fruits Basket), Fantasy (Bone, Conan the Barbarian, Fables), Crime (Sin City, Gotham Central, Criminal, 100 Bullets), Humor (Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts), and, of course, Superheroes (Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, The X-Men, and the thousand others you can name).

That's a tiny list of just quick bullet points. That's not even including the explosion of webcomics. There is definitely a comic for everyone, if the person is willing to look.

So why comics? Well, why books? Why movies? Why stories of any kind? Comics matter for the same reason everything else does. There is no reason to write comics off, and hopefully this rambling can expand some thoughts on the subject. I'll likely get more specific soon.