Art is Eternal
Chip Made Me Do This
We’re back with the second part of Hail Thanos, where things continue to unfold. More deviants, more of the political movements, more of the extended cast and even a little cultural history, in the mighty marvel manner. Last issue went down amazingly well – I talk about it in the interview linked later, but when writing it part of me was thinking “Is a double-page text spread about gerrymanding an election really as exciting as I think it is?” and I’m relieved to discover, yes, there’s folks who think like me. Also, a couple of my favourite members of Kirby’s supporting cast appear here, which makes me smile a lot. Hope you enjoy it, as we certainly enjoyed putting it together.
Here’s one page of the preview which the internet particularly liked…
A few folk have asked about Once & Future’s schedule, and I checked out with Boom to get specifics.
We’re having a gap after issue 24 drops again, and we’ll be back in May for the next arc.
It’s a good week if you want to hear me yap.
David Harper had me on Off Panel to talk about everything, at length. This is the first time I talk at all about Immortal, and so you can hear me try and work out what I actually want to say real-time. It is early, but I do say some significant things. There’s also at least one bit where a penny audibly drops as I realise something, plus a lot about how I feel about myself now. In some ways, this feels like the first post WicDiv post DIE interview, and I think it’s a good one.
Meanwhile… at Coventry have put their con panel coverage online. I’m on the Star Wars panel, which is lots of fun, but the one I think you’d be interested is what is abstractly the Marvel Panel, but is really Al Ewing and me interviewing each other about everything. I mean, mainly Marvel but this is a broad picking over of everything comics, work for hire and creativity. I can’t remember if this was the day I had my worst hangover of the year, but we definitely had a plan that I’d take lead in trying to organise it which I do, mainly by asking “Hands up if you have no idea who Al and me are?”
Also, what on earth is going on with how I’m holding the microphone?
THE FIVE SCRIPT CHOICES IN PROFESSIONAL COMICS WHICH MAKE ME MOST REGULARLY TUT
These have been scrawled in one of my notepads for a while, but I haven’t written them up, as I figured making half the industry think I’m subtweeting them would be bad. Thankfully, Chip has slapped me around the head and told me to do it, despite the fact I was mainly thinking about Chip when writing the list. I’m not even joking.
So, in no particularly order…
1) EXCESS SPEECH OVER A SPLASH
Or heaven help us, a double-page splash.
The more text you put on an image, the more you distract from the image. There’s two main things a splash does – hyper-stress a single moment of the story (as space = meaning) or create a complicated visual space which the reader is meant to explore.
In the case of the former, more speech distracts from that moment. In the case of the latter, the speech will lead a reader through and past the image with undue haste, because you have signaled that text is more important than the image by writing so much of it.
Worth noting: I am saying speech here rather than captions. You’re usually best cutting your captions to the bone on a splash to avoid distraction, but captions can be placed peripherally, framing the image. Speech over an image is almost always central – and always central if there’s a whole chain of it.
In short: if you’ve asked your bandmate to do a solo, don’t try and do a solo at the same time.
2) NON-LINKING SCENE-LINKING DIALOGUE CAPTIONS
This one actively bemuses me. I can absolutely understand why a writer would do the rest of the list. This one I actively don’t even understand why people think it achieves the aesthetic effect it’s aiming for.
A classic old school Dialogue Caption would be something like…
LAST PANEL OF PREVIOUS PAGE.
Hero McBifface nodding.
HERO: Don’t worry…
FIRST PANEL OF NEW PAGE…
Elsewhere, in a darkened alley, we see Sidekick Sidekickson getting kicked in the face by Captain Punchy.
HERO CAPTION: “… I’m sure Sidekick Sidekickson is fine.”
There’s lots of versions of this, of various levels of wankiness – early Alan Moore was very into visual transitions and so on. The idea is to ease a scene transition, and connect two scenes in some way – thematically, emotionally, narratively, whatever. This is a great goal.
But there’s a weird trend at the moment of. just taking dialogue from the end of a scene and having it as a dialogue caption on the first panel of the next scene for NO REASON AT ALL. It’s not even makes no sense comic juxtaposition. It’s just… lines, trailing off, stuck on the next scene, in an attempt to connect them.
It undermines the panel you’re linking from, by removing the line from the context of its speaker - and also undermines that scene’s aesthetic unity. It undermines the panel you’re linking to by guiding the readers’ eye to a caption which has nothing to do with the scene you’re entering, and so distracting from the art and any other writing in that panel.
It’s almost as if people remember that linking captions ease transitions, but have forgot that it takes more than than just cutting the line off and lobbing a chunk a page forward. I am absolutely bemused by this.
3) EXCESS TALKING IN FIGHT SCENES
Conversely, this one I absolutely get. 20-page American comics is a compression-heavy medium, which means you want everything to do the narrative lifting. Whether character work or basic exposition or anything, you want to cram it in.
For me, it comes back to the juxtaposition ideas earlier. The more the image is doing, the less the text can do and feel like an aesthetic whole. A punch with a single, short line is always more kinetic than a speech and a punch. If we’re doing a fight and it’s not feeling kinetic and you’re working in any kind of serious mode action genre, something’s gone amiss.
You can tell by the number of “ifs” in there that I want to talk at length about the push and pull in this one, but I’ll resist. It’s complicated.
4) ILL-CHOSEN BACK AND FORTH DIALOGUE IN A SINGLE PANEL
CHARACTER 1: Blahblahblahblah.
CHARACTER 2: Blahblahblahblah!
CHARACTER 1: Blahblahblahblah?
CHARACTER 2: Blahblahblahblah!!!!
The problem of back and forth dialogue is increasing dissonance between the image and the dialogue. If there is any change of emotional timbre in one speaker’s lines, the artist has to choose an expression which matches one of the lines (so rendering all the other lines off) or choose a middling emotion (and so rendering the whole panel flat).
This works nest with snark, noir or His-Girl-Friday-esque Screwball, all of which involve very short lines, and very little change in emotional timbre. Two deadpan characters talking to each other is ideal. It works least well with longer-than-usual lines of dialogue, characters having big serious emotions or – linking to the above – fight scenes, as it breaks the kineticism of the fight in a whole new way.
If only one character as two lines, hiding their expression by focusing on the other character can paste over it. Equally, you can make it work by taking a middle distance shot, ideally where you can’t see any character’s face in close up. Ironically by not showing the expression, juxtaposition isn’t off – the dialogue can stand on its own.
Take that too far and you’re tripping onto 1 on this list.
Most of the above four are extrapolations of McCloud’s observation that the more complicated a piece of writing is, the further it is away from pictures, and the more direct (and short) a piece of dialogue is, the closer it is to being interpreted like a picture (and alongside) the picture it’s in. A single word by a single image (whether it’s an expression, an action, a landscape) creates a cohesive single THING. For me, that’s some of my fave stuff in comics. Jamie finding the perfect expression to go with a one liner. Esad drawing a city burning next to a single caption. Comics!
That said, it’s not just words/pictures juxtaposition things…
5) PARALLEL CAPTIONS AND DIALOGUE
Oh, this is one us pretentious writers fall into all the time. Here’s me doing it.
There’s two separate stories for the reader to follow – one in the dialogue of Emily, the other in Kohl’s captions. The two threads are only distantly in conversation with one another. In practise, you have to read the page twice to get everything – once with Emily’s lines, once with Kohl’s, and then put it together in your head. As written, it seemingly thinks a reading equivalent of patting your head and rubbing your belly is a good idea.
This was basically Vertigo’s house style in the 1990s, and yes, that’s absolutely why a strand of wanky writer gravitate towards it, despite the fact it actively undermines their own material.
If you want someone to be able to actually read it, either the captions or the dialogue needs to take the lead. If you make the dialogue being glorified sound effects to the scene, narrate it however you wish. If you have a full dramatic scene, the captions have to find another supporting role. If you’re clever, you can pass the ball of narrative attention between the two streams of information, but you need to treat each bit as atomic and separate. Each burst of captions are its own thing, not just a continuation of the last bit of captions, and ideally in response to what has just been said in the action, etc.
(You’ll see I manage that in the first panel above, and then give up.)
As said, the captions/dialogue duelling here is an interesting exception on the list. The rest are the writing taking up the reader’s attention in a way which minimises or neutralises the effect of the art. This is one where the writer is actively fighting themselves. Writers are their own worst enemies.
That’ll do. Love you, Chip! Love you comic chums!
Despite the chaos and horror in the world, I feel happy, and I feel like that’s jinxing it. Happiness is fragile, and can be snatched away. I’m also aware that the things that can snatch it way are worrying about its fragility, so I’m trying to not to let it, and appreciate feeling like this.
A lot of it is personal (For example, my mum visited this weekend, which I feel lucky for – clearly it’s unlikely we’ll see each other for a while now, with Omnicron) but there’s professional joy too. The work I’m doing is all exciting. Perhaps weirdest, is that I feel unlocked and am having new ideas again. As in, whole new big, sprawling, messy ideas. Far too many. One of the things in Covid was that I was aware that I “should” do a new Creator Owned book after DIE, but I was also aware that I just didn’t want to. There wasn’t enough space in my brain. Instead, I’ve put energies into some WFH things (Immortal and Eternals) and a few other media things, as they involve different muscles.
Since the earliest crush of the pandemic, I’m aware those parts have woken up a bit. I have another, smaller CO project plotted out, for example, and scratching away at something else, as well as a bunch of smaller game things… but in the last few weeks, frankly it’s become ludicrously febrile. I’ve had enough firm “this has legs” ideas to basically cover multiple years of creation, as well as god knows how much crap I can dissect for parts. Even bad ideas are like twitches of a dowsing rod, pointing towards where your interests are.
Why so much stuff? Some of this is just being a bit more refreshed, some is being in an interesting place emotionally, but others is that I am actively looking for ideas. I said I’d write an issue’s worth of material for a project, and that’s coming up to being needed… which means I need an idea for that. Which means I’ve been actively thinking about “is that an idea? Is that interesting?” and when you’re looking at everything through that filter, a lot ferments. I may be looking for something that’ll work for 24-32 pages, but it doesn’t mean that’s what I’m going to find. After a few years where I was looking at quite old project ideas and deciding whether it was time to finally do them, to have another bunch of shining new ones is enormously satisfying. Also, a damn sight easier than writing the bastard things.