10/14/12

What makes for a "good comic"?

"Reading Comics" reminded me of another book, recommended by Brian Michael Bendis as an essential reference for his comics class at Portland State University.  Although it's not specifically about comics, David Mamet's book "On Directing" explores the requirements that a visual medium puts on a story.  In one lecture Mamet builds a story based solely on the essential image of each scene, cutting away the dialogue to the bare essentials.

Incidentally, I recently started reading some older Golden Age comics. I found some of these comics, such as Will Eisner's The Spirit, or Captain Marvel Adventures interesting, regardless of nostalgia.

But other comics, while interesting, just weren't as engaging.  For example, "Invisible Scarlet O'Neill" always seemed like a comic that should have been better than it was. I mean: here's an experienced, competent artist writing a story about a sexy detective who can turn invisible, fights crime, and occasionally gets her dress ripped.  The story should be pretty good. As an experiment, I decided to take a part of a page of the story and examine some potential problems.

The first panel shows Sandy describing his predicament, despite the gag.
His speech is surprisingly coherent considering the beating he just received -- it probably should've been a thought balloon.  Perhaps the oddest thing about this panel is the placement of the narrator's caption, which seems like it should be at the top of the panel:  "And downstairs..."

In the second panel the thug considerately explains why he's torturing Sandy.

The third panel is most egregious.  The boss Malignant explains the drama, while the stooge partakes in some maid & butler dialogue.
This thug must really like explaining his actions, since he's talking to himself in the fourth panel.

Sandy, meanwhile, despite his concussion, is surprisingly astute at identifying the sound of someone shoveling mixing cement.

And finally in the lower right we see Malignant returning to his "date" with Scarlet O'Neill and some classic 50's noir dialogue.

So, while I wouldn't say that "Invisible Scarlett O'Neil" is poorly done, it shows that more could have been done to bring out a purely visual style in the comic. It seems like the modern ethic is to drop thought balloons, captions, and anything that distracts from the imagery on the page.

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