23 July 2009

Why I like comics.

This post is provided to give a bit of insight into where I'm coming from as a reader and creator of comics - a potted history of my comic-reading background, and a brief exploration of why I think comics are worth examining in more detail.

I'll admit here and now that I don't really know much about what might be considered "mainstream" comics. I'm passingly familiar with the more prominent characters and events of the Marvel and DC universes, but have little knowledge of the ins and outs of their decades of backstory. My first introduction to comics came from reading my cousin's hand-me-down copies of Buster and, later, 2000 AD formed the backbone of my comicbook education - at least five hundred issues' worth, from Prog 500 in 1986 through to the early 1990s. Some stories I liked (most of the Judge Dredd stories, as well as Bad Company, Zenith and The Ballad of Halo Jones), others I didn't really get into at the time (Sláine, Nemesis the Warlock, A.B.C. Warriors) but should probably check out now that I'm older.

Since then I've mostly got my comicbooks in graphic novel format, with the exception of the excellent The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Favourites have included Nikolai Dante, Neil Gaiman's epic Sandman series, The Authority, Disraeli and Edgington's Scarlet Traces trilogy, and Mike Mignola's Hellboy (which has been a big influence on my own creative sensibilities).

Anyway, those're my comic-reading credentials.

So why do I like comics? I'm glad you asked!

I like the art - if a comic's well-drawn I'll forgive it many other shortcomings. Not everything, because if the storytelling's just plain awful or the characters unrepentantly unsympathetic, I probably won't like it. But even so, if the art is skilfully rendered I'll likely spend a fair chunk of time just looking at the pretty pictures.

I like the things that only comics can do, the interplay between words and pictures - a panel can contain as much information as a whole page of prose, and use composition, body-language, colour-theory, mood, environment and action that would be extremely difficult to convey with prose alone. The static-yet-sequential nature of the artform, the use of both words and pictures, allow stories to be told in a way that is not possible in other media.

A comic creator can choose from an immense range of tools, and not just brushes and pens - he can use literary techniques to improve his crafting of plot and narrative, he can incorporate influences from whichever branch of the visual arts he prefers, he can even take cues from the performing arts like cinema and theatre to help him convey the subtleties of gesture and expression to help him tell his story.

I like the versatility of the medium - it can be used to tell stories of fantastical adventures, or it can be turned to more thoughtful or serious subject matter (check out Maus and When the Wind Blows for a couple of examples).

These are the main things about comics that intrigue, delight and enthrall me, and part of why I'm aiming to turn my interest in comics into a career.

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