Miscellaneous Ramblings About Comic-Book Stuff, Part 2

Unlike Part 1, this rambling about comics will address something I’ve seen in comics as of late that personally annoy me. The two examples provided are from titles of pulp characters that deserved a better treatment.

Disclaimer: The following is just my opinion. If you happen to like these comics, don’t let me rain on your parade.

These days many comic-book colorists handle a lot of the shading, highlighting, and special-effects decisions because of the available digital tools. With respect to effects, I’ve seen some comics where the colorist took it upon himself to add effects independent of whatever the penciller or inker intended. Here are two examples below. See if you can guess what’s wrong with the following page from a Doc Savage comic:

Did you catch it? Here’s a similar example from a Spider-Man title:

In the first example, you’ll notice the penciller drew clouds. In the second example, the penciller drew smoke. However, in both cases the colorists decided to include their own clouds and smoke over, under, or around the drawn effects using Photoshop brushes.

So what’s my beef? Well, in the first place, the penciller already designed the page by indicating precisely where they wanted clouds and/or smoke. In the second place, graphically-drawn clouds and smoke clash with realistically rendered clouds/smoke. Now, it’s not that you can’t mix styles on an illustration, but doing so requires intentional planning which doesn’t involve different styles of the same objects. For example, you can have a figure designed in one style in front of a landscape rendered in a different style and that can look just peachy. But you probably wouldn’t want to see Wilma Flinstone with realistic hair. The thing is, in the examples above, the colorist made stylistic decisions that were an afterthought, and it shows. Now I’m not knocking the talent of the colorist as far as the application of coloring goes. I’m really just commenting on the editorial decisions that were made independent of what the penciller’s design seemed to indicate.

Okay, I have one more beef with something else I’ve seen in modern comics. The thing is, there are different genres of comics and that’s fine. But comic writers really should keep comic stories in their respective genres. Now, there’s something I like to call “white wig movies.” Those are the kind of movies catering mostly to women, which usually involve people two centuries past wearing white wigs who apparently have no jobs; they usually sit around all day, overdressed, drinking tea and talking about who is or is not good enough to marry so-and-so (ya know, girly relationship stuff). It seems that the sitting or standing around and having conversations (stuff that puts the average comic fan to sleep) has crept into comics in a bad way. These talking-head comics seem to use repetitive panels that feature nearly the same thing, over and over. It’s really a waste of ink and paper, in my opinion.

Continuing along those lines, I recently picked up a Shadow comic and flipped through it. The first red flag was that the Shadow, the main character, was only on a few pages in the entire issue. What was really conspicuous, however, was that it seemed like I was looking at the same panel over and over throughout the entire issue. Here are some of the pages, which I’ll show kind of small so as to not take up too much space and also so as not to bore you to death (these are not presented in any particular order, because it really doesn’t matter for the purpose of making my point):



























Just glancing at these pages this small allows you to grasp just how repetitive the pages and panels appear. Now I realize that the writer was trying to be clever and tell a story from the patient’s point of view, but that kind of story just doesn’t fly for a medium that has limited space, is dependent on visual design and appeal, and is consumed by persons who want to have some fun enjoying intellectual junk food. Personally, it would torture me to have to read this comic story, much less have to draw it.

A final example of this repetitive-panel practice is seen below: Because the characters are very well drawn, it’s difficult to know whether the boring repetitive panel design was the artist’s idea or if it was required by the script, but I suspect it’s the latter because writers seems to have more control over what the artist must draw. Plus, I’m assuming that an artist who can draw this well is a better designer than this.

So I can only conclude that this awful trend in comic design is really the fault of writers who have no idea how to write for a constrained visual medium like comics. A great character drawing isn’t enough to overcome a poorly written story or script. The story is king, and the art is simply a means to communicate the story. (Though, if the art is really great, I’ll buy a comic just for the art, but my idea of great art includes great layouts as well.)

So there’s my rant. If you agree or disagree or if you just think grown people shouldn’t be reading comics, feel free to comment.

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