“Drawing really cool stuff—like spaceships and outfits and glorious splash pages and stuff—that just isn’t very exciting. Making something look really cool isn’t my goal. It’s more about the technical stuff and the design; the technical storytelling, the general page design, the way things move on the page. And then making things look cool is maybe the least of my concerns.
This is really what I think: that if you can tell a really good story in basic panel-by-panel motions, that’s good technical form. And then if you can make a funny story, then it’s really rewarding—and it doesn’t have to be fun or funny, you know, but a good story. If it’s just a technical exercise for you, then it’s maybe not gonna be that interesting for the reader. Maybe it is, if you’re really good. But for me it’s not that interesting. But when there’s a real story, or a purpose to that story, and then there’s really good fundamental storytelling—that can empower an artist much more than an artist thinking that he has to do Marvel-style splashes, or manga-style expression? There’s too much expression built into that that’s not from yourself. Telling someone to go basic is really, really good, and I love that.”
“Fun” sci-fi can be just as crappy as “serious” — I wince at how self-conscious most of it is, on both sides — but S.F. has a unique voice and panache that transcends all obstacles and legitimizes even the lousiest puns.
A very fine essay, on reading comics while not ever being a collector, including a review of my newest S.F. mini-book.
“Come say hello to me at SPX! Wear the SF Lapel Pin Badge if you’re a scientist fighter, S.F. super fan, or a sequential-floppies semi-‘ficionado. Table K4, middle of the room, right across the aisle from Koyama Press.”—RCS, SPX 2014
Is there an attitude of dismissiveness towards literary comics in certain critical circles? Towards comics that tackle literary themes, mimic novelistic structures and storytelling, or indulge in very literary the-art-and-the-artist navel-gazing? I've heard and read people suggest that these comics try too hard for respectability, that they're primarily to be read by people who don't like comics. Some of this might be reading too much into superficial online comments. I'm unsure. Thoughts?
Sure, absolutely. But then, each of those circles probably has a somewhat different idea of what ‘literary’ comics are. It used to be simply comics with aspirations beyond exercising the qualities of genre - which replicated, I think, that quintessential latter-half-of-the-20th-century obsession with qualifying the division between High and Low art. And even then, there were disagreements over whether novelistic comics which hewed to generic strictures were correctly literary: always, the texture was a mix of intent, form and circumstance.
Harvey Pekar, for example, took great inspiration from realist fiction, but autobiographical comics both are and aren’t considered literary. Up until most of the way through the ’00s, they were sort of considered (by people who disliked them) as a dominant species of indie comics, and indicative of the inability of indie comics to succeed anywhere beyond their homogenous, self-centered cloister. Then Fun Home happened, and Persepolis happened, and now the knock is that these comics appeal too much in the wrong (i.e. boring) direction.
Similarly, as the ’00s stretched on, and venues like Kramers Ergot and publishers like PictureBox gained momentum, the values of small press comics arguably became less literary or confessional than visual, collapsing distinctions between reproduced comics and gallery art. (There were, obviously, many antecedents, ranging from RAW to Fort Thunder, but this is where the dialogue really seemed to shift.) In that light, to be ‘literary,’ arguably, was to gesture toward traditional narrative structure - but then, Kramers always had a number of very straightforward stories in it; Chris Ware was a contributor, and he’s frankly as prone to start talking about comics as musical composition as anything else in a book.
I suppose what I’m saying is that it’s quite easy to brandish the literary as a signal of what’s wrong in comics, because it casts a very broad beam. I don’t like many of the comics I see coming out of the generalist book publishers, because I don’t think a lot of them are especially interesting or adept as comics, but this is as much the result of the expectations of marketing to a certain demographic as it is a symptom of literary pursuit.
“Look, Kamala: When you throw a rock into the water, it will speed on the fastest course to the bottom of the water. This is how it is when Siddhartha has a goal, a resolution. Siddhartha does nothing, he waits, he thinks, he fasts, but he passes through the things of the world like a rock through water, without doing anything, without stirring; he is drawn, he lets himself fall. His goal attracts him, because he doesn’t let anything enter his soul which might oppose the goal. This is what Siddhartha has learned among the Samanas. This is what fools call magic and of which they think it would be effected by means of the daemons. Nothing is effected by daemons, there are no daemons. Everyone can perform magic, everyone can reach his goals, if he is able to think, if he is able to wait, if he is able to fast.”—Wisdom from Siddhartha.