Comics Creators

What non-comics are you reading these days?


I feel like, given what you’ve said about Morrison, that makes sense?

Cat’s Cradle is his most straightforward thing, I think. Narratively one of his best, but for me less interesting because of it.

Love me Slaughterhouse, Breakfast of Champions, etc. All the weird formal stuff.

But I think anything he does is pretty readable because he has great soul, great heart, great characters, and a striped back prose that you can lay around with. He once gave the advice, or put forward the philosophy, that it’s the job of the writer to simplify language, sentence structure, etc down as much as possible without losing any meaning – that this clarification and simplification is precisely what separates a writer from a reader. Otherwise you’re just offloading the work onto your readership.

I don’t agree, and many of my favorite writers are impenetrable almost to the point of antagonism, but I love that approach, and I think there’s something to that; so many memorable lines and passages are simple, a kind of poetry.

Maybe one day I’ll be good enough to try it out.


That may be where our departure is. I believe the most intelligent writers can explain an idea to where anyone can understand it. To me, saying a reader didn’t understand something because they weren’t intelligent enough is a crutch of a writer who is not very good at getting their ideas across. It’s OK to have some nebulous ideas that you then allow the reader to play with in their mind but insisting that there is an underlying meaning that is not clear and being antagonistic about that relationship is dishonest.

I didn’t care for Breakfast of Champions because of it’s meandering, bizarre and mostly self indulgent nature. The parts I remember most were Vonnegut talking about beavers and the girth of his penis.


But you remembered them!

I do think “you weren’t smart enough to understand this” is a poor argument, but I see that more from super fans than from the artists themselves. What I’d say is that just because you didn’t enjoy something doesn’t mean it wasn’t good or even effective? I think good work can be intentionally alienating, because a certain segment of the readership likes that sense of alienation. For some, that’s part of the joy.

Having said that, I do think there are purposes – real, artistic purposes – to the ‘weirdness’ in the formal stuff that Vonnegut does. Slaughterhouse 5 would not have been as effective a work if it was told in any kind of straightforward manner. In fact, Vonnegut frequently talked about all the different ways he tried to write his books before settling on whichever version came out. His first impulse always seemed to be, tell it in the most straightforward way possible. But he, quite rightly in my view, reached the conclusion that there was a better, more emotionally effective way of presenting the information.

Maybe it alienated some, I have no doubt in fact. But to me it was the right artistic decision. And just as some of Picasso’s later work might seem ‘simple’ to many, there was a method, a reasoning, a decision that was being made there. It was not a lack of facility, but an intention.


I agree and there are works that I think were stellar because of how uncomfortable they made me. It tends to be more in the film world though. I think I’m more tolerant of uncomfortable art in that realm because I’m not required to wallow in it as long. It’s a conscious choice on my part more due to my own temperament and predisposition to depression.

Requiem for a Dream is probably the best example I can give of that. I will never watch that film again because of how uncomfortable and almost suicidal it made me. However, I recognize how brilliant Aronofsky was to evoke that response in me.

I do like Slaughterhouse-Five and thought it was another work that handled this effectively. I really enjoyed the non-linear nature of it and think it would not be the same work told in a linear fashion in the way Memento and Irreversible would not be the same works without that structure.

It’s one of the reasons Breakfast of Champions disappointed me. It came off as Vonnegut trying to tell sophisticated dick and fart jokes. I love dick and fart jokes but you have to embrace that milieu wholeheartedly to make it work in my mind. :wink:


Hah, it definitely WAS that! It all goes back to Vonnegut’s main thesis, which is that humanity is beautiful and wonderful and worth celebrating, and that it’s all our weird and disgusting and idiosyncratic habits and needs that make us that way.

Fucking and farting and falling are, in his eyes, as worthy of attention as kissing and kindness. In fact the very sort of almost alien, blunt way he describes things like kissing whatever - completely unromantic - puts everything on a level playing field. Man is an odd, flawed creature, nothing in human behavior is any less or more romantic than anything else. To be romantic you gotta smile when you sniff those Silent-But-Deadlys.

Seen from that perspective, there’s only one conclusion: God dammit, you’ve got to be kind.


I hear you about the different mediums allowing for different things, or wanting different things from them.

What I like about the novel and the comic is precisely that I can read and re-read and decode. Film is very much an experience, television too. There’s only so much I can get out of a frame, a shot, a cut.

But I can sit and think and re-read a passage of a novel or a comic. So for me, more intricate, formally innovative techniques actually work better – or at least, I can intellectualize them. The best filmic stuff is all felt, immediately.


This is similar to how people feel when they watch a movie/TV adaptation, and consider the novel version to be superior.

With a visual medium you get direct access to the brain. Sure, there’s usually some closer inspection or interpretaion required, but it’s all direct feed. Reading novels, on the other hand, has an indirect route to the brain. The novel’s text is semiotic, so the brain has to create the meaning to enable interpretation. The result is a personal reading based on your current knowledge base and experiences, with the bonus that you’ve been a co-creator. Far more satisfying than a mere observer.

Also, a revisit to the same text years later can reveal a new reading because the reader-translator has changed substantially. This works for more complex texts; not so much for pulp.

The stylistic choice can have a huge impact on the reader. Stripped back, ‘neutral’ styles are easily accessible, and allow most people to get stuck in straight away. Stylised texts need to be given time to percolate. The brain is adaptable enough to cope with most styles, but it can take 20, 50 or even 100 pages to become ‘fluent’. If the reader is not prepared to be patient, it may feel that the book impenetrable (although some novels are deliberately so - all the way through).

I didn’t enjoy Dickens at high school, and read none for 30 years. When I picked up ‘Hard Times’ I had to check it was actually in English, but I got into it eventually. Even with ‘The Book Thief’, it took me 30-40 pages before I was comfortable.

(What was the question again?)


So, would you like fries with that?


I’ve always thought of Dickens as a very simple writer. He’s all substance, not style, telling straightforward stories without ever trying to be ambiguous or knowingly clever in his prose.

There’s the hurdle of Dickens being 150 years old, and yes literary style was different then, but it wasn’t that different, it’s not like trying to read Shakespeare. And even among other writers of his time Dickens seems to be one of the most simplistic.


With all this talk of Vonnegut, I have to bring up One Big Damn Puzzler, which I don’t think is particularly famous but deserves more love. It’s not actually like Vonnegut, but it’s obvious Vonnegut had a big influence.


True. It’s the ridiculous number of coincidences that does me in.

I was brought up in the West Midlands - I can barely speak proppa English, so Dickens was tough to start with for me. :wink:

And my big regret is that I find poetry (and Shakespeare) fully impenetrable. All the way through. I even find Margaret Atwood’s metaphors lying at the bottom of a deep, silted-up well that’s been bricked up and a multi-storey car park built over the top of it at times (actually I’m reading Oryx and Crake, and it’s manageble). I am most envious of literary types.


The big problem with Shakespeare is you are forced to experience it in the format it was never meant to be presented. I read Twelfth Night for GCSE, found it tedious. The teachers took us to Stratford to see it performed by the RSC, it was genuinely funny. I really enjoyed it.

Tastes vary but I hate reading screenplays and comic scripts for much the same reason. I had to bite the bullet for our competition here but I fully understand why publishers in comics really just want to read finished comics and not scripts.


There’s that, but also the fact that language has evolved quite a lot since the time his plays were written, and while they were originally written for the masses more or less we’ve come to enshrine the original language in a way that wouldn’t be understood back at the time, making it pretty hard for modern audiences to click with the material.


I can’t deny the language is an issue but it is an enormous difference when you see it performed. Nobody is meant to read ‘Mercutio enters stage left’, nobody in comics is meant to read ‘panel pulls out to show car from above’. Nobody is meant to enjoy Jaws with ‘cello sound in background’.

It’s a horrible reading experience because it isn’t meant to be a reading experience and takes you out of what the product is meant to be. Of course with screenplays someone has to get the gold from that bad experience, you can’t film Thor: Ragnarok on an iPhone in advance but it’s probably a large part of why so many films fail despite the crazy money thrown at them.


My English teacher in high school made Shakespear interesting by explaining all the dirty jokes to us.


My appreciation for Shakespeare written really increased dramatically after I started actually writing. I had previously found it very difficult to enjoy/decode.

But I’ve always been able to enjoy it when staged correctly. Something like Branagh’s Henry V or the recent Macbeth…those are so brilliant performed, I think even many skeptics must have enjoyed them.

But Shakespeare was, in terms of language, inescapably brilliant. I don’t know when it happened, but it was like a veil being removed when I started appreciating just how amazing it was/is.

(It’s not an intellectual thing, just a taste thing – Tolstoy thought he sucked!)


How many Shakespeare plays can you name off the top of your head?

Now, how many Tolstoy novels can you name?

How do you like them apples, Leo?! :wink:


Dude became his own Jim-Jones Jesus* towards the end, he got busy with other things!

*I reserve the right to use this name in some future thing


Did anyone know that William Gibson has a new book coming??? It’s unclear whether it comes out December 2017 or April 2018 (though I would lean toward the later).


Actually my first Gibson (and only to date) was the relatively recent Zero History. I found him engaging.

As far as intellectual material goes, I’ve found that it has to have another hook, like the visuals of Inception, for a wide audience to really care. Like seeing Shakespeare performed versus reading him (uh, no offense). Although it’s worth noting that we only think of Shakespeare as intellectual because of his reputation. He was a court guy, writing stuff his royal audience wanted to see, and his instincts (think of all the people who die in his plays, like the bloodbath of Hamlet, or the classic Greek tragedy of Romeo and Juliet) were popular instincts. The intimidating Shakespeare we tend to think of didn’t exist in his lifetime. That’s what makes him so fascinating. That’s why Marlowe is said to be such an “obvious” “real” Shakespeare, because they shared instincts, language. The Shakespeare we know emerged in the Folio, a printed version, that had to be read. Seeing his legacy like that was likely a novelty, everything he’d accomplished over the breadth of his career. It seemed a lot more impressive in hindsight. Today it’d be like not having any clue that one writer was responsible for all your favorite TV episodes, or movies. I mean, we focus on the stories, the actors, the directors, and it’s really industry insiders and nerds who care about the writers.

But even going back to Vonnegut, to Slaughterhouse-Five, when I read that in college I was seriously impressed. But when I saw the nonstarter of a movie that was adapted from it…Listen, I’m not someone who generally thinks,”Books automatically better than movies; book automatically better than movie that does not understand the appeal of book it cannot possibly do justice to.” But this was an exception. Seeing the shoddy, uninspired movie that this book suggested…It was like seeing the hamfisted manner in which Vonnegut had conceived the book itself. I don’t know, suddenly I don’t see the appeal of juxtaposing the firebombing of Dresden with trying to explain your life to a bunch of aliens. It just seems so incredibly artless, like Vonnegut trying desperately to explain how terrible war so that aliens would be able to understand its senselessness because of the randomness of Billy Pilgrim’s experiences…Listen, I appreciate knowing that something terrible like the firebombing of Dresden happened, but Hiroshima happened, and that was a million times worse, and then Nagasaki…

But these have been my thoughts for a decade and more, since I decided I was no longer impressed with the book. Vonnegut himself seemed to become as close a 20th Century Mark Twain as they came, a true charismatic literary cynic, and I can appreciate that, and let other people enjoy him, enjoy that book.

But there’s plenty intellectual material that the common man will never understand, and it’s a mistake to think our best writers ought to condescend to this level, or that it’s even possible for the best writers to succeed, always, in finding an approach for these readers. There are realms of intellectualism that will always be difficult to understand, and it’s really down to apathy, disinterest, and because of the different ways brains are wired.