Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Inkhat Discusses Comics as Poetry!

While I consider posting my poetry here, let me ruminate on the concept for a moment. I have heard several professional comic artists compare poetry and sequential art. The relationship is not difficult to see. Both deal with a restriction of space. Both need to express a massive amount of information in a short period of time and very few words. So, if the relationship involves production, does it also extend to product? Why, yes. It does.

Comics, like poetry or music, has a set of clichés and expectations which must be broken down if any progress can be made. In order to do this criticism should be focused more on language; on the choice of every word in every panel. To that end, I have chosen a group of bad examples, just at random, off the internet. It took me about 10 minutes to find a dozen terrible pages. Let’s take a look.

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Okay…let’s ignore the larger problem with the theme here. I don’t really care about Superman being…un…re…dead. Let’s look at the language as poetry. “As well as anyone,” seems a fairly useless idea, as does “to make sense of it all.” It’s not necessarily cliché, but it is trite, as is ‘mirroring’ death. ‘Mirroring’ is a fairly overly used concept, especially in dark, psychological concepts. I have a hard time buying someone actually saying this conversationally. There’s a lot of repeated terms as well. Death. Science. I got it. Overall, this whole thing should be more conversational. I can’t imagine these two having this conversation, or anyone not attempting to explain the concept of undeath. This is a hard example since the actual theme of the conversation is so…stupid.

Okay this one suffers from the same thing as a lot of Wonder Woman monologues. It’s dark, but falsely so. It calls on the gothic language without doing anything original or honest with it, so it falls flat. War calling to blood is shallow. I would like to have some actual imagery built up. In poetry we often say we want to ‘see’ what the author is talking about. That may seem like a redundant movement in a comic, but I think it’s needed. The point is not to replace a picture, but to create a sense of synesthesia. Something that gives us the sense of the brutality of the moment. “What have you done?” may have had force the first or 50th time it was used, but now it’s just a filler. Same thing with “Nightmare Future.” Is this really the best you can come up with?

Oh Deadpool, you just keep doing what you do.
Okay, death scenes. No one yells “Nooooo!” It never happens. People try to fix things. They act as if the person is injured. They are panicked and confused. The real sorrow of seeing another human die is from the inability to act; the not knowing. It comes from the fear that the next choice will be the wrong one. When we see really convincing death scenes the actual passing away of the person is not mentioned. It is the loss that shakes us. It is the people who are still alive. They do not yell ‘No.’ By using this cliché; this easy dialogue, the scene is immediately and completely cheapened.

Okay this one is different. In this one it’s the sound of the language that bothers me. The multiple ‘r’ sound one after the other just seems awkward. Try saying it outloud. I don’t think anyone would even say it that way. It simply won’t roll off the tongue.

This is a rather quick overview of the comics as poetry idea. If I happen across a few more I will discuss those as well. I will keep my eyes out for particularly good examples, as well. The basic idea, however, is that more attention needs to be paid to the intricacies of thought, language, and communication. I believe my professor, Mr Ryan Claytor, once expressed an indifference to theme in deference to interpersonal relationships. I have to agree with him. I would like to suggest, however, that these relationships exist in the dialogue and word choice. This is as important as the position of a hand, a word bubble; a frame.

I hear ya, buddy. I hear ya.


  1. A couple of things to consider. Remember that, unfortunately, comics are still pop culture and as such are part of a consumer driven industry - more concerned about bottom line than writing. This means 1) that poor material gets churned out quickly just to make deadline and 2) in terms of market comics are still viewed as the purview of the male adolescent, more concerned with the "biff" and "pow" then a turn of phrase. Combine these two forces and you get escapist scripts that really don't do much more than drive the action forward or hammer concepts like, as you said, "DEATH" or "SCIENCE", over the reader's head.

    Tangentially, I really hate when market forces screw over creativity. Having read several interviews with comics writers they really are thoughtful, cogent individuals - capable of putting honest emotion on the page. They usually can't though for the above reasons. As soon as Marvel and DC realize that a good chunk of their market are literate, older, individuals we'll hopefully see a paradigm shift towards better writing. I yearn for this day :)

    The other thing of course is your dealing solely with superhero comics - who by nature live as cliches. There are very few autuers in the industry - but the few that are Moore, Gaiman, Willingham do more with the confluence of art and word in a single issue of Sandman or Fables, than a whole run of Fantastic Four. Webcomics and small print are also doing a lot in terms of developing stronger, deeper word choice. Of course Moore and Gaiman were writers first comic writers second...

    Also, Deadpool is the closest I've seen to stream of conscious writing on a comic page. This is why I love him.

  2. Oh, I don't expect to change the way professional, mainstream comics are done. I do think it's an interesting way to look at comics, and it might help some independent creators to approach critique or creation this way. I picked, simply, what most people think of as mainstream comics. I might have done the same with poetry and Frost or Where the Sidewalk Ends.