Reading Stories, not “Comics”

I don’t really read comics.

Strange, for a person who makes them? Maybe it shows, I don’t know.

Let me tell you why, and let me tell you what I do read in the “graphic novel” category, and why I think there’s a separation there.

I grew up in a country and a place inside that country about as far removed from superhero comics as can be. There was one place in the country that I knew carried a few comic books, and all the import services died shortly after their inception. Not to mention the price was quite high and my understanding of English quite low. All these factors combined to present a big barrier between me and any sort of comics.

My parents did own a modest collection of Peanuts, Cathy, Tin Tin, Asterix and Calvin and Hobbs. It didn’t help me learn English, but at least I had some exposure to those forms of comics. At least I saw the classics.

I did love superheroes, but I had to wait for TV to expose me to them. Shows like the old animated X-Men, Batman the animated series and Superman. I don’t think there were any others.

While I’ve been drawing for a long time, most of that was just fan art. A couple of multi-panel stories, but not really comics. I didn’t understand the language enough to draw my own. I had written fanfiction, as well. Oh, yes. Anyone looking at Fanfiction.net under LunarBlade Valentine can find some of the old abominations I wrote as a teen, as well as see the steady progression to more recent, more polished works.

When I moved to this country I suddenly was surrounded by geek culture and a lot of that involves comics. I tried getting into it a bit. I found wonderful, amazing works like Sandman and smaller works like Emiko Superstar. Then I tried to get into Batman through my favorite Batman character, Robin. I always like Robin, and I loved what they did with the 3rd one, where he’s actually an intelligent boy, but then…

No matter how hard I tried the… “soap”-iness of it all really got to me. It seemed like the only reason anything happens in the story in people consistently making poor, stupid decision. So rarely does anyone actually just talk to each other or be honest. Plotlines get so convoluted and silly, how can I take it seriously?! Jubilee is a vampire? I mean, seriously? It used to be about a metaphor of not-fitting-in. Is it still? It doesn’t look like it. Batman travels through time or something? What? Who? I might be getting it wrong, but this is what I’ve heard.

I don’t read trashy fiction, so why would I want to read poorly written, contrived comics? I know they’re really trying. I’ve read all sorts of interesting articles on how they’re trying to have heroes with different sexuality and personal challenges but the nature of the comics is that they need a plot every time. Why does it have to be so shallow, though? Even as a kid I didn’t read stuff like that. Am I too critical? Is it meant to be just simple entertainment?

I do love the medium, though. Watchmen, Sandman, Flight and many more can tell beautiful stories, but so few of them continue. You’ve read one story and that’s that. Nothing new is going to come out.

Can’t there be a middle ground? That why I love webcomics. It’s hard to sift through the sheer amount of content on the web, and I can’t say I always agree with the popular ones’ popularity, but I want to write the type of comics I would like to read. I don’t think I need a gag every page. I don’t think I need characters to be convoluted and shallow. There are so many good webcomics out there that I want to learn from. Some are just gag comics, but they do it well, some tell beautiful long stories that I am excited to read. I hope one day to make people want to create as well. I hope someone one day likes my characters enough to draw them, or write about them, or be inspired by them in some small way.

I learn so much from stories, be they comics or novels or even fanfiction. I want to give some back.

What do you guys think? Do I have the right impression of modern comic books? Most of this is hearsay. Do you have good webcomics to recommend? Let me know in the comments!

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5 Responses to Reading Stories, not “Comics”

  1. Karen Noll Stanger says:

    Hey Anat
    I see you are still into Speed Racer! If you have a story to tell – tell it! I am sure you will write a fantastic story. What do you care about the rest!
    LOVE karen

  2. Stig Hemmer says:

    Ted Sturgeon has said that (paraphrased) 90% of everything is crap. This is also true of comics.

    Unfortunately, this is especially true for brand-name comics.

    DC knows that having Superman on a cover is enough to sell a lot of copies. Why bother hiring good writers/artists when hacks are so much cheaper and sells almost as well? Marvel is not much better.

    There is also another problem that is usually mentioned for endless TV series, but is just as true for endless comic series. In an endless series, you cannot have character growth.

    Imagine you were writing this comic like that. You have a boss that tells you that Gilad, Clou and the rest must stay exactly as they are now, nothing you do in a single issue or mini-series is allowed to have any consequences afterwards.

    You don’t get good stories like that.

    Finding the 10% or less that is actually good is not easy. Listening to others peoples advice is the only way, but tastes differ. Some people are more than happy with reading soap about their favourite characters.

    That being said, here are a few recommendations:

    Girl Genius: http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/
    It might be a bit high on the scantly clad girl scale for you, but is otherwise a very good comic.

    Sunset Grill: http://sunsetgrillcomic.com
    Low town. The Sunset Grill is a hang-out for military veterans in an area full of street gangs. Surprisingly few shots are fired.

    This comic is made using 3D rendering software. I hope you don’t mind that because the writing is supreme!

    Well, I have hundreds of bookmarked comic and could have made a long list, but unfortunately I have to go now.

    Stig Hemmer

    • Anat says:

      Stig, thanks for the links! I will definitely take a look at these and tell you what I thought. Yeah, I can imagine what it must be like to have a boss telling you “Kids are really into Vampires/werewolves/love triangles/sushi/who knows these days. Put that in the comic in spades. I can understand that might have an impact on the writing…
      So I’m looking forward to hearing and seeing new stories I’ve never been exposed to before. Thanks again!

  3. Stig Hemmer says:

    Looking through my bookmarks, I realise that most of the comics I read aren’t very good. But I have a few more additions:

    Family Man: http://www.lutherlevy.com/
    A young scholar in Europe in 1768 is dismissed from his position for answering NO when asked if he was a Christian. He is quickly recruited by another university in a remote town.

    Strange things are happening in this town and in the forest around it…

    Namesake: http://namesakecomic.com/
    Alice really travelled to Wonderland. Dorothy really travelled to Oz. Other people have travelled to these and other worlds.

    One day Emma suddenly finds herself in a strange world, and things start to happen…

    This story spans our world and several fictional(?) worlds. It gives an interesting view of the Writer as partially creating and partially recording the adventures of their protagonists.

    Spindrift: http://www.spindrift-comic.com

    This one has an OK story, but I am primarily listing it because it is drop-dead gorgeous. The artist is just amazing.

    Stig Hemmer

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