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  1. #1
    Mighty Member JackDaw's Avatar
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    Default When did mainstream super hero comics become "story-lite"?

    From time to time in library or book store I pick up modern DC and Marvel super hero trade paper-backs.

    For various reasons I often feel like throwing them through the air.

    The biggest single reason is that you tell at a glance they are almost story free. Flick quickly a few pages of a typical modern offering. Big splash page, next page maybe two panels, naff all dialogue. Next page 3 panels, naff all dialogue. Next page...time for a full page splash, no dialogue at all. And so it goes on...I think there's some sort of new union rule that says no page must use more than 5 panels and 20 words of dialogue.

    And the art is so static...there's a lot of drawings of good looking men and women. But mostly they don't seem to have any "character", and there's no real sense of movement.

    Seriously compare a typical modern super hero comic with the artwork on the Frank Miller/ Klaus Janson Daredevil run. The classic Daredevil run averages out to about 8 panels per page, and the artwork conjures up a marvellous image of exactly how Daredevil moves...especially in the fight scenes. The modern stuff (being generous) maybe has about half the number of panels per page...the story content is way down.

    Roughly when did the move take place to having so little story on each page??
    Last edited by JackDaw; 04-13-2016 at 10:39 AM.

  2. #2
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    Pretty much:
    91sn32Q.jpg

  3. #3
    Veteran Member Dayle88's Avatar
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    Depends what you're reading. There would of been just as much crap at the time Miller's DD was coming out.

  4. #4
    Mighty Member JackDaw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dayle88 View Post
    Depends what you're reading. There would of been just as much crap at the time Miller's DD was coming out.
    Yes, of course. But the crap stories back then at least had more content....eight panel per page was average.

    That average is way down. I really do wonder how many pages of script a modern successful super hero writer...say Geoff Johns....needs to produce a 22 page comic.

    I know Stan Lee simplified writers job by getting the artists to do more of the work. A lot of recent stuff seems to have moved beyond to not bothering with much story at all.
    Last edited by JackDaw; 04-13-2016 at 12:32 PM.

  5. #5
    Rad to the Max Canucked's Avatar
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    I can see where you're coming from, but I can also see why comics are the way they are. Sometimes I don't need text or four panels telling me what's going on. When you read comics from different eras there are different storytelling styles. Sometimes they're drawn out more and maybe take a few issues to tell a story that used to happen in one issue. Sometimes I prefer it, and sometimes it bores me. But there are also cases where they're letting the picture tell the story more intuitively than a six or eight panel page that spells every detail out.

    Modern comics may have issues but they aren't all in the same style. Sometimes I read old comics and the rushed pacing of events happening in four panels feels either pedantic or patronizing. Sometimes I love it. I love how wordy iron fist gets in the 70s, but that doesn't work for every comic.
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  6. #6
    Mighty Member JackDaw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Canucked View Post
    I can see where you're coming from, but I can also see why comics are the way they are. Sometimes I don't need text or four panels telling me what's going on. When you read comics from different eras there are different storytelling styles. Sometimes they're drawn out more and maybe take a few issues to tell a story that used to happen in one issue. Sometimes I prefer it, and sometimes it bores me. But there are also cases where they're letting the picture tell the story more intuitively than a six or eight panel page that spells every detail out.

    Modern comics may have issues but they aren't all in the same style. Sometimes I read old comics and the rushed pacing of events happening in four panels feels either pedantic or patronizing. Sometimes I love it. I love how wordy iron fist gets in the 70s, but that doesn't work for every comic.
    You're right..of course...to argue that it's great to have a wider variety of styles in modern era.

    But...gut feeling...predominant trend has been to towards spreading less story over more issues.

    I really hope that trend has been pushed to limit...and average number of panels per page increases. I'm not for a second arguing arguing that there's a magic number of panels per page that should be used regardless of story content or artistic style.

    But yes...I am suggesting...when average content drifts down to three per page in typical super hero comics that nine times out of ten reader is being short changed. It's not as if there's a mass of subtle and nuanced detail crowded into those three panels...the characters are oft just drawn bigger.

  7. #7
    Fantastic Member mike1981's Avatar
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    More != Better

  8. #8
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    The problem isn't the number of panels per page or anything like that. The problem is in the writing itself. You could have a book with 8 panels per page or a book with nothing but splash pages and still tell a story with the same amount of nothingness to it.

    The obvious culprit here is the trade paperback market. Creators/companies have to be able to sell a book with 4-8 issues in it. It's easier to sell that book when it's generally the same story. So generally the story gets stretched out over however many issues are going to be in that book. People call it decompression of stories. Maybe it could have been one and done. Maybe just a 2 or 3 parter. But when your editor tells you that you that the trade is expected to have six issues and you've got 3 other books to write and this title falls more on the "paycheck" side of things than life's ambition, then you're going to stretch that story out.

    One thing to consider is that generally, these Big 2 stories aren't often meant to be challenging on a literary level. Many of them are literally written for kids and adults who like to see spandex people punch each other in the face over deeper themes. This stuff is most often disposable popcorn entertainment. Of course there are comic books that are better written, explore deeper themes, have more literary value, etc. But that's not a lot of these mainstream books. That's not a bad thing necessarily. Plenty of prose books are just as empty in the story department. Many films and TV shows are just as empty too. Not everything has to be something deep, because again, this is entertainment. So I think that aspect of Big 2 stories is why these trades are particularly empty feeling. (And to be fair a lot of other writers bring this same approach to books outside of the Big 2, but generally on creator owned works writers seem to be a little tighter with their stories because of greater freedom to do what they think is natural or best for the story. Though the problem of writing for trade still lingers.)

    I think if someone sat down and broke down individual issues as well as trade collections to see if they follow a basic literary story flow, they would see that they really don't. I'm finding that it takes 2 or 3 trade collections to get a complete story with a concrete beginning, middle and end. I think that's rather ridiculous, but I get my books ultra cheap and tend to binge read my titles, so it doesn't put me off from reading all together. But I don't understand how people read single issues each month because so little happens and then you're not going to remember what happened when the next issues hits.

    Older comics have their own issues as others have brought up.

    But in short I think the tl;dr of the issue today is writing for trade.

  9. #9
    Incredible Member LifeIsILL's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JackDaw View Post
    From time to time in library or book store I pick up modern DC and Marvel super hero trade paper-backs.

    For various reasons I often feel like throwing them through the air.

    The biggest single reason is that you tell at a glance they are almost story free. Flick quickly a few pages of a typical modern offering. Big splash page, next page maybe two panels, naff all dialogue. Next page 3 panels, naff all dialogue. Next page...time for a full page splash, no dialogue at all. And so it goes on...I think there's some sort of new union rule that says no page must use more than 5 panels and 20 words of dialogue.
    I'd rather have it like this than the Claremont dialogue-heavy way. Reading the Claremont X-Men or Simonson's Thor run was a chore simply because the excessive amount of unnecessary CRAP (not exposition, crap) the characters would spout. It adds nothing to the story and is an insult to readers.

  10. #10
    Ultimate Member t hedge coke's Avatar
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    There's a suggestion in Beautiful Fighting Girl, which is about ten years ago now, that the American/English-language superhero comics market has an anxiety over perceived lack of content, where content equals plot points or wordiness, and not experiential quality. I'm not sure that it's provable, but it does seem to still hold up for some superhero comics fans.

    I think there's more information in Frank Miller comics from recent years than there was in all of his Daredevil run, issue for issue or story for story. I can't imagine Walt Simonson doing anything that's "an insult to readers," but he has, also, changed his tactics making comics, from comic to comic. Simonson doesn't pace everything the same (and why would he?)

    But, then, I think that's because we're almost trained to skim comics. Nearly any time I see someone say a new comic can't be read on its own, it needs research or annotations or a bunch of tie-ins, it's because someone didn't actually read all the words or really look at the pictures, they just slid their eyes over the page. And, Claremont's tendency to repeating information in dialogue and reiterating information that's in the visuals as well, that mode of comics-making does seem to be part of that training.

    There are many perfectly fine modes of comics storytelling, it just depends on what you're looking for, or what you're looking for at that moment.
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  11. #11
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    Very much the Bendis era when "Ultimate Marvel" launched, if you ask me. I enjoyed Ultimate Spider-man for much of its run but good god, 5-6 issues could go by with the amount of actual story Stan & Jack would've crammed into a single issue. I know it's common to say "things aren't as good as back in my day" but the Bendis and Millar school of storytelling did a lot of harm to comics providing value for their buck. When I find a writer like Nick Spencer say or Grant Morrison at his best who can really pack a 30-page issue with ideas and story, it stands out.

  12. #12
    Veteran Member Dayle88's Avatar
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    I have a fundamental issue with the notion that a comic has to have a certain number of panels or a certain amount of plot. What a boring form of entertainment it would be if everything followed the same pattern. It's storytelling, it should be done however the creators want. It's fine not to like something of course but I don't understand this view of comics having to fit a form. Same reason for my disliking of the word 'decompression'.

    The only form a comic book should take is along the lines of how they've developed. Films are 90-120 minutes long, TV is 20 or 40 minutes and comics between 22 and 28 pages because there has to be a line somewhere.

  13. #13

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    IMO it started back when Image launched & the original series (Spawn, Wildcats, Cyberforce, Youngblood) had the art be more important than the writing. As this began to fade then trades started & writers started "writing for the trade" instead of making each monthly chapter important.

  14. #14
    Mighty Member JackDaw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mike1981 View Post
    More != Better
    Up to a point it is. I start with a bias that the thing that super hero comics should concentrate on is telling an exciting escapist yarn...that's more important than producing pretty static pictures that don't get the yarn jumping along.

    I don't expect high quality literary story in average super hero comic...but I would like more story in average issue.

    Take an example from recent years DC output...found average Jonathan Hex comic far more satisfying than large majority of their super hero output. A fair chunk of that was down to a lot of JH issues "feeling" like they had more story.

    I think kodave analysed problem more intelligently than I have...which doesn't surprise me.

  15. #15
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    There are always been some authors and artists who fit a lot of plot into a few pages, and others who did not. With less plot per page, you can have more detailed figures, or more cinematic pacing. Here's a Bill Everett page from 1972 that spends a page on internal monologue:

    everett-submariner50.jpg

    And here's one from Whedon/Cassaday's Astonishing X-Men (2004) that has large panels for dramatic effect and facial close-ups, and even ends with a completely black panel for cinematic effect:

    axm-4-7.jpg
    Last edited by RBerman; 02-12-2018 at 03:50 PM.

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