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Must comics be set in the US/England?


#1

Okay, the obvious answer is “no” because comics mustn’t be anything.

But the fact remains that most comics created for the american market are set in the United States, with periodic trips to exotified and caricatured locales, with little more purpose than novel background options. Protagonists and supporting characters are all american. The countries, and the people within them, little more than props. Big Ben looms above one from every possible vantage in London, if comics are to be believed, and the Taj Mahal is either impossibly ubiquitous and self replicating, unmoored from the earth & migratory, or has some special & personal gravity that draws any and all comers to it with an inevitable trajectory.

That’s all well and good, but what I’m wondering is; why? Is this because american readers - american culture a notoriously solipsistic one, understandable given our cultural isolation and sprawl - less inclined to read a story set in Russia or France or China, less likely to feel immersed without those recognizable cues? Or this more down to the research that it requires of the writer and the artist?

Genuinely curious of your opinions here, for admittedly practical reasons.


#2

I would like to see series set in different cities and countries. I think it would provide a fresh perspective and new storytelling opportunities.

I would saw that the artist should do their homework as that visuals will help the feel of the story. A generic cityscape with the Eiffel Tower does not Paris make.


#3

It requires a lot more work from both members of the creative team, I think. You hear ‘write what you know’ a lot, and for a reason, but you can ‘know’ things through copious research, or personal experience.

The only recent examples in mainstream american comics that really comes through for me as having captured the complexity of a culture, a people, a region, were WINTER MEN, which was COPIOUSLY researched by the guy who wrote it (I know, because he’s a friend!) and the currently running SHERIFF OF BAGHDAD, which is reflective of the writer’s own personal experiences and is, again, copiously researched by the artist, who has a lot of respect for the armed forces and wants to get it right. But even Sheriff – you know, it relies to a certain extent on an american protagonist. I’m not knocking it, but it’s also a little bit of a crutch.

Of course, for any given project you can always try to choose artists from the area that you’re working with, and that very much appeals to me.

But it struck me that part of the reason you don’t see more of them is because the audience might just not be there – for the same reason that people aren’t very inclined to pick up books not centered on earth. A country too foreign, so to speak.

Especially these days, I’m seeing all these 80s nostalgia pieces of fiction. And I’m not knocking it, because a lot of them are really excellent. But 80s americana…so much seems to be hearkening back to that right now, and part of that is the creators, but part of that is the audience.

Anyway, just some ramblings. Would love to hear more opinions!


#4

I think a lot of it is just the writers writing what they know. When they set comics overseas, they tend to screw up details more, like in International Iron Man #1 this week where Bendis seems to think Cambridge and London are the same place.

I was listening to House to Astonish’s review of Mystery Girl by Tobin and Alburquerque a few months ago, and they were talking about all the American terms (pavement v sidewalk, measuring distance in blocks, etc) used in a comic that’s supposed to be set in the UK.


#5

This would also explain why SF comics have mostly failed.

And yet mainstream movies set in foreign countries (not to mention SF and fantasy locales) do well. Why are movie audiences different from comic audiences?


#6

Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian ran from 1970 until 1993 and spawned additional titles (Kull, Red Sonja, King Conan, Savage Tales, Savage Sword of Conan, Kull and the Barbarians, to name a few); a decade later Dark Horse started publishing Conan comics in 2003 and are still doing it. As far as I recall, Cimmeria is not in the US and Aquilonia is not in the UK.


#7

Are you sure it’s not located in or around Detroit?


#8

No, definitely not Detroit.

Texas, maybe…


#9

Can’t be Texas. Not enough guns.


#10

As far as I know, those books aren’t burning up the charts anymore, nor are they making waves.


#11

Saga is though which is a sci-fi story, aligned to what David was discussing.

I tend to think it is more the creators than the audience as mentioned. If you think about Marvel comic back in the Bullpen days they’d rarely even leave New York where most of them lived, when Claremont moved the X-Men to Australia though I can’t recall any great desertion for the readership. Now you get more UK set stories because they are more UK born creators since the late 80s.

I have no intentions of becoming a writer but occasionally story ideas might come into my head and they are almost all set in the UK or Malaysia, places I know well. It’s not that I couldn’t set a story in South Africa or Denmark but it’s not the first thing to come to mind and would take a lot more research to get authentic (as with Paul’s Iron Man example).


#12

I;m not sure what point you a making here, Deniz. There are lots of comics set in the US or UK that don’t sell as well as the Conan books.


#13

Only that I think a number of older properties have a certain ‘grandfathered’ heat to them – Conan has been part of the popular culture for a very long time.

How many new, successful properties feature characters that are not from the United States or the UK, and aren’t set there?

Black Science, for instance – yes, a diverse range of alternate earths, but the characters are american.

Taken even further, and I look at John Constantine, and I can’t help but notice that recent iterations have placed him in NYC, or various parts of the US. There, even UK wasn’t a relatable enough grounding for the character?


#14

It depends. I mean, I don’t think American comics’ stories are set in the US any more than American Television shows and movies are set in the US. Most of them are, but not all of them. The first choice for most of them will be places that the audience will recognize - even if they are nothing like what the audience actually knows. Offices, schools and police in fiction are nothing like the reality, but they look like it.

Then you have the various fantasy and science fiction comics that are set in Middle Earth or alien worlds that still resemble things the audience is already familiar with (like everybody speaking English).


#15

I was listening to This American Life and a story on there made me think of this subject. A troubled teen loved the books of Piers Anthony and he ran away from his home in Buffalo to try and live with Anthony in his home in Florida.

He worked out which town in Florida he lived in by the location of the capital city in his fantasy novels. So even with a complete fantasy novel he was basing it on his local geography.


#16

In those specific books it’s part of the “joke”, though. Xanth is Florida, Anthony never pretended otherwise, and the books even have a map in the front that is unmistakably Florida with the place names changed(a bit).

And even so, I’m not sure you could work out Anthony’s home address just from the text of the stories. I think it helped that every book included length notes “from the author” which go into a fair bit of detail about Anthony’s private life.

Still, the account of the fan who ran away to find him is an interesting one. It’s amazing that it happened at all, it read more like a movie plot (probably starring Tom Hanks as the kindly writer).