Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

September 11, 2007

Go, Read: Jim Shooter at Wizard on Today’s “Utterly Unreadable” Comics

imageThe first half of the last graph of this interview at Wizard on longtime, intermittently controversial industry figure Jim Shooter's return to comics via a writing gig on Legion of Super-Heroes will likely raise a few eyebrows among people who think about these things.
"The art in comics is generally better than ever, the writing is often clever and glib, but in spite of that, far too many comics are utterly unreadable. Even hardcore fans find many comics daunting to follow! The craft of comics storytelling is all but lost. A who's who of industry big shots have privately agreed with me when we've discussed exactly this subject, but it's a tough problem to fix, given the often huge egos of the creators, general creative anarchy and lack of trained editorial people."
If there's any commentary about this, I imagine it will focus on that wonderful, casually nasty run of tossed-off insults at the end. I actually find the broader issue more compelling, at least on a formal level -- not so much as a descriptive/prescriptive, but as a study in historical contrasts.

If you read comics like Jim Shooter used to write, particularly those Legion of Super-Heroes, but also things like Secret Wars, there always seems to be a great deal of explaining going on. In some sequences, including in equal fashion those with less than inspired art where some explaining might be helpful and those where everything is seemingly in the art already, you're not so much experiencing a narrative as having it reported to you. On the one hand, this is likely an editorial mandate that one supposes exists to keep comics accessible and understandable. It could also be a way that writers dealt with art created in the early days of comics that lacked the ability to communicate a story through picture and movement. This strikes me as resulting in a very different way of looking at what the form does, kind of lashing the visuals to the text element in order to achieve greater consistency. It's also that element, I believe, that people are focusing on when they think of older comics stories as quaint or old-fashioned. I would love to see Shooter try to tell modern comics stories using these principles.
posted 4:18 am PST | Permalink

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