Reading Comics


I've been thinking a lot about the way I read comics, and about the way that other people read comics. What spawned this was some old Alex Toth Zorro comics. I could look at Toth line work forever. It's beautiful, perfect, but what's frustrating is that I feel that only people who read comics see it. If I were to hand Zorro to someone who doesn't read comics, it would not convince them to read any more. Yet this is one of the greats, one of the best there ever was. This is a guy I wish I could be like.

How is the way I am reading different from how they are reading?

I think readers of comics have to block out a lot of stuff. I can love these comics only by choosing not to see a lot of things. I'm looking at those brush strokes and those blacks. I ignore the story (awful), the dialogue (worse), and just about everything else.

It's a little like watching a movie only for the cinematography, which is something I never do, and I don't know anyone who does. There are lots of movies where all pieces come together, but with comics, it just doesn't feel like it happens that often.

What is the total package comic book?

And also, what am I looking for in a comic book?

Is it really just pretty pictures? Artistic prowess? And if so, why am I spending so much time worrying about the story of my own comics.

Comments

Dan said…
We make different allowances for different works, based on our understanding of their circumstances of production. We understand, for instance, that every commercial comic book ever made (at least up until Watchmen, American Flagg, Sandman, etc., and even then probably) is a stupid piece of crap, in terms of writing, so the story or dialogue in an Alex Toth Zorro comic is not even worth noticing. With a contemporary independent comic or graphic novel I'm much more bothered by weakly conceived or developed story/characters, bceause anyone who makes a gn today isn't limited by lowest-common-denominator, commercial editorial policies, punishing deadlines, the comics code, a juvenile target audience, etc. It may be that only artists, along with a few other "readers" of refined sensibility, can understand why Toth was one of the greatest comics creators, regardless of the fact that never drew anything but crappy stories. But I wouldn't say that analogy is watching a movie only for its cinematography, which sounds too specialized or technical; its more like appreciating a painting only for its painting.
Jesse Lonergan said…
That's true. When I look at old comics, I do make allowances, but I guess what I am wondering is whether I am consistently making more allowances for story, dialogue, etc. when I read comics.

Even with independent comics and graphic novels, to some extent I feel the same thing is happening. If it is drawn in a way that I like, I like it. With a lot of comics, I feel like I can tell whether I will like it or not with just a glance at the artwork, which would seem to suggest that I don't even need to read it.

So I guess, unless the writing is truly awful or offensive, I'm not sure how much it matters.

I think an example of this would be Chris Ware. If I think about it, I don't really like his writing. I'm not really interested in the subject matter. His stories are kind of monotone. But the artwork is so strong and so rich, the layouts, the colors, the different transitions and representations, the way he incorporates familiar design elements into the comic, all of it, it so exceptional that I don't really care about the narrative element.

And so it always seemed strange when I would give a Chris Ware book to someone, and they would simply respond, "It's depressing." To me, his work is never depressing because such care goes into the crafting of each page.
Dan said…
I feel pretty much the same way, as far as art coming first. But art encompasses a lot, as your list of what you like about Chris Ware says. So it's not like liking a movie only for the cinematography, it's more like liking a movie for the cinematography, acting, editing, music, costume and set design. But the comparison with film breaks down, too -- I think story and dialogue are more important in film, because they are much harder to ignore, you're trapped by them. Maybe it's more like liking a painting just for the painting.
Dan said…
Oh, I already said that about the painting -- oops!

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