It’s not a secret to anybody reading this blog that I’m a bit of a fan of the writer Alan Moore, so upon seeing an interview with him on Bleeding Cool about his forthcoming anthology comic for Avatar, Cinema Purgatorio, I had to point out a couple of things he said as it may have been missed in what is a pretty entertainingly informative interview.It’s seriously worth reading all of the interview but there’s lots of things for me that stood out.
The anthology title is of tremendous value, simply because it will contain a number of strips that vary in length from a half-page to perhaps six or eight pages. The importance of this necessary limitation, to fledgling comic writers and to the writing standards of the field as a whole, cannot be overestimated. For one thing, anthology titles were once the near-universal proving ground for new writers entering the industry, based on the sound commercial logic that if you give somebody a trial shot at writing a four page story and the results are less than riveting then it will be no great disaster and no great loss.
I grew up reading what used to be called ”boy’s adventure comics”, so that’s stuff like Lion, Tiger, then later, Action, Battle and then 2000AD, Warrior & Heavy Metal/Metal Hurlant. All my formative, and often, best comic reading experiences were of anthology titles which wasn’t restricted to just British comics but American comics like Adventure Comics, and DC Comics 100 Page Giants managed to introduce me to new characters I’d not really seen or reprint older stories from the 1960’s back to the 1930’s that I’d never have considered reading.
In short in taught me to vary my reading habits and not settle on one genre in particular even though I preferred reading SF/action/superhero, I would also enjoy war, or even sport comics as well. I was being trained as it were as a reader. The problem now is that you see a lack of good anthology titles because creators have maybe one or two good ideas and rather than using 4-6 page stories to refine their craft before exploring those ideas they’ll leap in and spin them out for issues and issues of 20-24 pages comic books that never get to the point because they can’t close.
That clip is from the brilliant Glengarry Glen Ross. It’s also relevant in that if you can’t close a 4-6 page comic then you’ll never close that 70 issue blockbuster you’ve got planned in your head. Look back at all the classic writers of comics in the UK and US: they all learned their trade in pulp fiction so had to get to the point. If you’re not closing a story then you don’t give the reader an satisfying ending be that sad, happy, cheerful, uplifting, etc. You just end up drifting.
They’re Not Like Us was a comic I initially enjoyed, but this suffers from what I’m talking about. It’s brilliantly drawn and the writing is good, but it’s meandering on and on and on and on never getting to a point so it’s constantly establishing the groundwork for the series so I bailed from reading it around #9. I gave it a chance because I loved the art not to mention the references to British music but as Moore says:
For a lot of comic book writers it seems like the idea of resolving a storyline ever is an anathema, let alone resolving it within eight pages or less.
The other thing Moore mentioned that set me off was part of his comments upon being asked about the risk involved with the creation of something new, or as it means nowadays unrelated to an existing property.
Seriously, if the struggle for the new is over, then I wish someone would tell the forces of history, which seem to be
propelling our world towards an anxious and uncertain future at an ever-accelerating pace. I’m sure that some of you might have noticed that this isn’t the same planet as it was last year, or even last week. The truth of our situation is that we are being washed away by a tsunami of the new, and by the very nature of its unprecedented novelty we don’t have a clue how to handle it. Thus we stand, gaping, pretending it isn’t happening, engrossed in the exploits of a character we remember from when we were twelve, humming a tune that was popular in the mid to late Seventies. Traditionally, this is what art and culture are meant to instruct us in, and if they have a purpose it is to help us assimilate and deal with our changing worlds, both external and internal.
In the search for a middle ground in comics, publishers play it safe. DC Comics has settled into a rut of dismal identikit titles which have of late showed some attempt at diversity haven’t done anything new or exciting in years. Marvel Comics have been better trying to cater to a more varied market and should be applauded for having more female centred comics or titles with non-white characters as their main character, it’s still not creating the new that reflects the art of our age in the way Moore is talking about.
For every Wicked and the Divine, there’s a dozen Batman/X-Men/Avengers titles that sell boatloads doing the same stuff they did last month. Now as someone that was involved in the day-to-day running of comics shops for a long, long time I appreciate these are what pays the bills, but this retardation of culture (Geek/Nerd Culture) and the commodification of that culture isn’t driving it forward. It’s pushing it sideways.
Also if the new or radical isn’t attempted or supported the medium stagnates which is what’s been happening in American comics for too long. to illustrate what I mean, here’s a Wings Over Scotland article about politics, in particular the idea of a ‘political centre’. The point is the ‘centre’ is something that’s flexible. It can change depending upon the politics of the day, and this applies to comics in the same way. What is ‘risky’ now can be the new norm if it’s supported and if it’s of a good quality so I’ll be talking about the Wicked and the Divine in decades to come but I won’t be doing that with Generic Avengers Title #146.
Right now there’s a massive amount of people reading comics for in some cases, for the first time, so push the new, the risky and the different. That may well be the norm one day.This isn’t to say nostalgia isn’t fun or useful. I enjoy that myself and write about it but that’s not the only part of my diet, because it’s like just eating McDonald’s. Eventually you’ll turn your liver into fois gras but if you try something new once in a while you’ll not get bloated or old before your time.
And this for me is Moore’s point. As a culture the mainstream comics culture is stagnant. It needs the shock of the new to propel it onto the next stage while inspiring a new generation of creators who may read a 4-6 story in Cinema Purgatorio and think ‘hang on, I can do this’. Then they learn their craft, do something new and gloriously magnificent and we’ve moved on. That for me is the hope: that with all the access to new methods of developing the medium in digital, or anthology titles like Moore’s that the medium of comics moves on in ways I can’t imagine, and that the culture around it isn’t about selling crap to people.
And on that bright, happy, cheery note, I recommend chucking a few quid to Alan Moore’s Kickstarter campaign to help things on their wee way a bit…