Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Shooter Story: Beginning, Middle and End

Just a week or two after I make the comment on Jim Shooter's assertion that comic book storytelling should be done a certain way because "Its always someone's first comic." then this quyote shows up on the Comic Journal's Journalista site (as well as the Comic Book Guy site) :
"The art in comics is generally better than ever, the writing is often clever and glib, but in spite of that, far too many comics are utterly unreadable. Even hardcore fans find many comics daunting to follow! The craft of storytelling is all but lost. A who's who of industry big shots have privately agreed with me when we've discussed exactly this subject, but it's a tough problem to fix, given the often huge egos of the creators, general creative anarchy and lack of trained editorial people".

And he's right. I'm not going to argue with him on the main part of his message. However, I will make the case that there were plenty of hard as hell to follow '70's comics as well, when we had exceptionally talented editors and writers like Marv Wolfman overseeing the biz. The quextion is, what is a readable comic? Isn't a comic that a 7 year old can understand different from a comic that a 25 year old can understand? How about a literate, educatated woman of 38 who simply hasn't grown up with comic?

My focus group on comics generally comprises my almost-7 year old daughter, who is a voracious reader, and my wife, with a Masters in Journalism, who didn't grow up in a comic book world like many of us did. I keep a spinner rack in the TV room at home loaded with everything from '60's Marvel to Dodson's Wonder Woman and Cooke's New Frontier. And I've found poor storytelling in every era, regardless of editor, but obviously, different things jumped out at the 7 year old versus the 38 year old.

The panel to panel transitions on the modern Wonder Woman comic are clearer to the 7 year old than some of the transitions in the 60's and '70's, with their greater degree of story compression, as they depend on the captions to make certain elements of the story clear. Not fully understanding the vocabulary, she needs a greater degree of visual communication to make this work, and I'm not certain that Jim allow this degree of latitude with most of his artists. Certainly, Marvel in the 80's had the superstars who could experiment (it seemed like every issue Moon Knight was a Sienkiewicz experiment) regardless of the failure rate, and everyone else, who were ruled by an iron editorial hand. Perhaps if there is someone to who helped create the superstar system, it may have been Jim. Miller got to do what he wanted. Daredevil was either Frank's or Rogers, and as we saw, editorial went with Frank. As many times as I've seen Frank interviewed on the subject, I'm not sure I've ever run across a Roger McKenzie interview where he addresses it.

Having been around the comics for so long now, I see head editors that were editorial assistants or interns when i was inking books 10 years ago. If there is anything that comics doesn't have, its any sort of organized training system that addresses the twin disciplines that our medium encompasses, and that may be a huge failing point with comics direction. Some editors become traffic directors simply, some stamp their view point so strongly on the books that they may as well be a modern Mort Weisinger. Many fall in the middle, caught and pulled in many different directions, by the prevailing marketing conditions, the overall corporate direction, the whims of the writer or artist, the latest company crossover (Counting Down to the Crisis on Infinite Hulks), the modern editor might long for days of simply getting the writer and artist on the same page and turning out a nice monthly book. It can't be easy.

It will be fascinating to see if Jim's Legion harkens back to the '60's DC, '70's Marvel or 90's Defiant. Especially with editorial changes that pretty much everyone in comics is predicting will happen to at the DC offices.

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