Comics Creators

A thread on storytelling...


Not today, probably. Because it would need to change this characters significantly for today’s audience, and yet, it’s impossible, because by modern standards, they would surely come as very rascist.


That gets to what I mean. James Bond was very racist by the standards just a few years after he was first published. There is no need to update him. Just come up with a new character.

The only strong reason to update is that someone - usually a corporation and not the original author - wants to sell their products from the copyright they own.


For a different, less controversial topic, I’d like to address the idea that research, realism and accuracy is important for writing or storytelling. Honestly, it’s not even important for documentaries. Just look to all the extremely popular shows and movies about the police and doctors. The most popular are absolute bull crap compared to the reality. I know a couple of retired police captains and a chief who can’t watch anything involving police work without leaving the room after a minute.

There is no intrinsic value to realism and accuracy. Being a doctor or cop in real life is just a job. It fills time about as much as being an accountant or janitor. It’s just that there is mythic value applied to those professions. Like the Wizard or the Knight in chivalric tales.


The key of course is not making your details real, but making them feel real. We all have a set of mental expectations of how things are “supposed” to work, mostly informed by popular fiction, and if the next piece of fiction lives up to those expectations we’re happy. Even if we’re smart enough to know “real cops don’t do that”, we’ve been conditioned to expect it in fiction so we’ll let it slide – and more than that, we’ll be dissatisfied if the fctional “truth” isn’t being followed.

So really, if you want to write bestselling crime fiction, you should be researching other crime fiction not the real world.


To me, everything has to be imbued in some realism, because I would feel I am either cheated or doing something wrong. I tried to write some cop story, but then ditched at the point where I thought “this is wrong and unnatural”. And I couldn’t figure out what comes next because I wanted circumstances and reactions to feel a bit plausible. So I brood “What the standard procedure at the crime scene, terminology etc”. I may return to this soon, completely re-written. One of the reasons why Ballistic film sucked is because petak people scowled at the idea that FBI HQ are out of US.


That’s what I’m getting at, though. Focusing on the realism or reality of any character’s profession to get the details right is likely to keep a writer from finding the story. From Sherlock Holmes to CSI, the fans of mystery and crime fiction weren’t into it to learn about police work and crime. They were into the puzzles and adventure of it - that’s the meat of the story. Even true crime stories or fiction based on actual events is usually stretched beyond plausibility. You’ll always see the magical fingerprint computer that can instantly recognize a print out of millions in databases that aren’t even connected or even scanned. No one wants to watch or know the real slog it is matching prints.

You still have to research, but not for realism. In mysteries, it’s important to have a good puzzle. The murder that has no obvious solution, and then you might have to do some research to figure out how it was committed and how it could be solved. However, that connects what you’re researching directly to the story and - from shows like HOUSE all the way back to BULLDOG DRUMMOND, stick with the story, not the reality. If it doesn’t really exist, make it up.


Yeah, I get it. You don’t need to go to painstaking details, but why I like when it’s more natural. I loved that in Batman Year One, that despite comic material there, it has that level of gritiness and sincerety. I think it’s important what storytelling devices you employ. If I have a guy who is escaping prison, I’ll have to calculate on several things. First, to figure his escape route, then prison security routine, what devices he uses for his escape (like explosive to blow out the wall), how did he sneaked them in, did he have some help, and so on. That way, I’ll probably escape Deus-Ex Machine, which can severely ruin the experience to me when I am reading (whether is a movie or book).


It’s like David points out though, there was no research needed for Batman Year One. All Frank Miller has to do was watch or read a bunch of crime novels from the 70’s.

My point really is that this sort of “method writing” that insists on realism can turn into a wall that robs a writer of the confidence and drive to tell a story or to stick with writing it.


I have to say that where the reader/audience gravitates to does affect the storytelling…

With comics like the Xmen, everyone gravitates to the character who steals the show like Wolverine, or DC has Batman and so on… TV is similar as the audience did gravitate to the Fonz character in Happy Days. the swindler character JR in Dallas, Fiona in Shameless, etc. and the writing from then on centers on that scene stealing character who stand out from the rest.

The pressure for ratings and sales prompt the powers that be to "give the people what they want… Just saying.

On another note, some of those TV sitcoms like Met your mother, Seinfeld, Friends, Martin, Big Bang, about a group of friends and their life come across to me like some exclusive clique that you can’t get into because you don’t know the secret handshake. :smile:


One thing that comics writers have to deal with that regular prose writers do not (except in the case of children’s books with illustrations or Japanese light novels) is that often the artist on a title will determine the characters you put in the books. Especially with Marvel and DC, but even independent work likes to give the audience something they will pay for. Wolverine became a big character from the fact that guys like John Byrne and Jim Lee loved to draw him and would do their best work compared to characters Claremont liked - like Storm and Colossus. If Dale Keown had been the artist on the X-men instead of Lee, maybe a massive hulking Colossus would be a bigger name with his own book today.

Same for villains that reappear as well as supporting characters in solo titles. The artist for a book is probably more important than the writer as far as grabbing attention and selling the titles at the store (or even online). So it’s in the writer’s interest to write to the artist’s strengths.

If you have a Spider-Man artist who likes drawing the Jackal, Shocker and Vulture, but really doesn’t care much for Green Goblin, Mysterio and Electro, then the writer would be more inclined to change the usual antagonists for the good of the book.


One thing that gets to me sometimes is taking a good story and milking it dry instead of leaving it and moving on.

Case in point: X-Men 117 (I believe) was a flashback story when Professor X was young man walking in Cairo. He was pickpocketed by Ororo when she was a little girl. He caught up with her, investigated her mind, then was psychically attacked by a fat Egyptian telepath. Long story short, Xavier spoke to him in the mind, challenged him in the psychic astral plane and won.

It was a nice self contained story, but later on it was retconned. The fat telepath was really a host for a psychic monster The Shadow King and so on.

Imho, it took away from the original story. I could go on to other examples like the Robocop “sequels”, etc.
I am just saying that some don’t know when to stop.


That is certainly a big facet of long running series. Eventually, everything goes back to what’s been published and reincorporated for various reasons, commercial and creative. The Sahdow King is a good example, for sure, but with the recent Legion TV series, it worked out. Not so much for Parallax in Green Lantern, though, but that revision in the story generated a lot of issues and sales.

At the same time, a writer has to decide what they really want to write and face what they are writing. If you’ve been lucky enough to be hired to write The X-men or Green Lantern, you can’t really say “I’m just gonna write what I want.” If what you really want to write is a movie or graphic novel, you should just do it with your own original material (unless you’ve been lucky enough to get hired to write and X-men or Green Lantern movie). The Uncanny X-men comic book is not a movie or even television show. Some writers, like Peter David, are good at bringing a sort of Whedonesque approach to his series, but a lot of that is because Whedon brought a comic book approach to his shows.

However, that’s really the closest medium superhero comics can be compared to - television. Specifically, though, superhero comics - as we grew up reading them - were not comparable to episodic prime time shows. Instead, they were soap operas. Shows that came out on such a quick schedule compared to the demands of production that there really was no time to craft a completely thought out story, correct mistakes or easily introduce new material.

Comics came out monthly rather than daily like the soaps, but considering everything involved in writing, drawing, inking, lettering, coloring and publishing a comic book, four to five weeks is not a lot of time. Before that, comics were more episodic and resembling pulp shorts for kids with a simple, full story told each issue. Today’s style of storytelling started in the 80’s with basically The New X-Men and Teen Titans leading the way to the soap opera continuing narratives while a few limited series ended up with the more novelistic formats like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.

Today, there is more of a mix. You don’t have too many writers and even fewer artists ready to devote even 10 years to a Marvel or DC series - even to their own original series - so you’ll get more of a novelistic approach to some books where they plan to tell a few full stories over a run of a few years that can be collected in trades. So, they you have to start thinking in arcs of 6 issues or so that will fill a collection. Understanding the format of the medium will have a big impact when plotting the story, but you’ll still have to put it out much faster than you’d want to.


Wasn’t Alan Moore the one who opposed the term graphic novel? Remember it started as comic book series, but in bigger format. In comparison with Miller’s nearly 50 pages in four issue TDKR.
I know that Howard Chaykin said he understands the term graphic novel as “convincing someone to buy a comic as otherwise probably wouldn’t”.


Yeah, those guys didn’t really see it the way it is today. I think Miller was probably familiar with Manga when he did Ronin, but they were all fans of short stories and genre novels - I mean, Watchmen and Marvelman both took elements from a novel called SuperFolks - so using those styles in comics was natural for them. But they were just writing comics - nothing special in their eyes.


A lot of chicken and egg there. Peter David was doing that quippy stuff in comics on The Hulk nearly a decade before Buffy. As a comics fan did Whedon utilise a Davidesque approach?

As to the ‘graphic novel’ part, I think they mainly objected to the marketing of it all. Those creators by the nature of their works thought comics could do many things, Moore was European, Miller heavily influenced by Japanese comics and not just ‘probably familiar’, places where there wasn’t an assumption they were for kids. (Miller’s manga knowledge can be seen in the essays and introductions he wrote for things like Lone Wolf and Cub).

The feeling was you didn’t have to re-brand it all as comics always could be as wide and complex as prose. The same came with their revolt when DC wanted a ratings system for their comics, books don’t have ratings systems. It’s a little forgotten now but that was the trigger (and not contracts or whatever) that drove Miller and Moore to leave DC at that time.


Chaykin too, but he returned quickly. Moore, however, was pissed more by his treatment over Watchmen.


All three of Miller, Moore and Chaykin spent different times apart and had different complaints but that was the red line that made them leave.

At that point I am not sure Moore had understood the change in publishing had meant his work on Watchmen was destined to remain at DC forever. It is actually a very standard prose contract that he and Gibbons (and Lloyd on V For Vendetta) signed, that rights revert when work goes out of print, nobody really could have predicted they’d start printing trade paperbacks of comics. Even at the time they protested at the ratings system if I wanted to read Elektra’s story or the death of Phoenix the only option was tracking down back issues. They were out of print.


For these, it was somewhere around ‘87/88 I guess. But I agree the rating system was the reason they quit (in Alan’ s case other reason we all know). I believe what pissed Alan more is that he was naive to let himself believe that Watchmen will return to him - as it never went out of the print. I don’t know what might happened if DC introduced then Vertigo line. Marvel had Epic Comics and they printed Elektra Assassin there as it denied CCA seal of approval.


Which is another thing. It might be easier for a writer to kill characters but get completely shut down if he tries to have them kiss. Sex and romance in comics is hard to do, and it seems like we see even less of it today than we did back when “Mature Readers” labels were something you’d see on the covers.

However, that is true of superhero and adventure movies in general - whether PG13 or R rated. Romance is usually portrayed on a very generic (and often childish) level only.


Alan Moore did romance and sex in his stories effectively I would say…

On another note: Then there is the retelling or remake of a story. I can remember MM himself objecting to remaking King Kong saying “Why bother?” and to an extent I agree. Now with movies on DVD and downloads etc. you can get the original movie and don’t have to get into the remake. If the remake of a given movie presents something new and modernizes the story, I can see that. I didn’t see the remake of Robocop and won’t either. Now Speilberg is working on a new West Side Story…