One of the industry’s recent tendencies will die a slow, painful death over the course of this year.
With the gift of hindsight, its demise will be labeled inevitable, a train of thought clearly impossible to sustain for great periods. Such is the natural way of things, as any trend that replicates uncontrollably, especially within a confined space, quickly loses its appeal. Even the freshest of approaches ceases to be, when adopted by any and all within earshot; simply a matter of time before it becomes an old thought, accessible only to those that had it in the first place. Ideas are like clothes anyway, fitting everyone differently, and we all know there’s nothing more embarrassing than a shirt that doesn’t quite fit. Take a very close look at the stands, ladies and gentlemen. Kind of looks like everyone wearing the same goddamn shirt, doesn’t it? Oh, some look better than others, but there’s a gentle push, an intellectual peer pressure, that’s resulting in everyone’s nearly identical wardrobes. This concern extends across genres, afflicting publishers both large and small, a strain of viral contagion within Ideaspace, attempting to rationalize itself through fear and doubt. “If I don’t wear this, than none of them will like me.” But that isn’t true, and very soon, when the infection diminishes to acceptable levels, we’ll see it firsthand. The unnecessary meandering will end, “padding” will become a thing of the past, and the age of “decompressed” storytelling will come crashing down.
And the industry will collectively thank God.
Though not completely sure where it all started, and realizing it probably doesn’t matter anyway; sometime in our recent history, a large number of the characters in our comics began talking to each other. When they finally finished, they talked a little more, just to be sure. This isn’t to insinuate that what they’re conversing so heavily about is not incredibly relevant, or emotionally valid, or whatever, but the problem has become that this guy is talking, and that guy’s talking, and she’s talking too. It’s become vogue to substitute the relentlessly flamboyant antics of sequential storytelling with a slower burning approach, which is ultimately deeper in scope, as positioning the dominos carefully before triggering the effect, makes for a much prettier pattern. But seriously, some of the patterns we’re getting aren’t that pretty.
A number of modern scribes excel at this approach, their meticulous attention to detail paying off further down the line, with an intensity and flair that completely justifies a somewhat longer journey. It’s in the finer details that your interest and investment remains peaked, a lack of “action” substituted with an incredible sense of dialogue, or some other distinct angle that keeps you fixated. You could argue that the “easier” approach would be to simply blow up a street and incinerate hundreds of fictional bystanders, or introduce some controversial character twist, but as visceral as this initially appears, anybody can grab your attention by putting a bullet through someone’s brain. The smart writer isn’t going to rely on shock tactics, until their story is so skillfully crafted, that the violence not only makes sense, but isn’t gratuitous in the least. They’ll make it hopelessly clear why they blew up that street.
This decompressed style clearly isn’t for everyone, but lately, the defining characteristic in a great number of our books, seems to be less about how a writer gets from point A to point C, and more about how uncomfortable some of them can look while getting there.
It’s probably not even their fault, because without warning, five or six issues became the stylistic benchmark for the stories in a large majority of our monthly titles. And unless you’re willing to accept the highly unlikely possibility that ninety percent of the professional comic writers just wants to write everything in extended arcs, this whole thing looks one part strange, and two parts artificial. The self-contained issue has officially been noted as one of the industry’s most endangered species, and its compatriots the two part story, and the three part story aren’t far behind. Naturally, the prevailing theory is to blame the trades, explaining and excusing our sluggish storylines on a need to pacify this new audience.
Problem is, that not only is “writing for the trade” incredibly detrimental to the diversification of the industry, but it ultimately limits the amount and depth of material to be collected. Launching a new series in this hostile womb of an industry is dangerous enough, but operating from the perspective that sales of a possible trade may provide a suitable lifeline is starting to look more and more irresponsible. The increased prominence of the graphic novel has created a backdoor in the consumer’s mind that any and everything can just be picked up in trade form, six months from now, and this effectively closes off a portion of your potential readership. Then your plodding six part story does the rest.
Watching a great number of these series launches is just deflating, when it becomes apparent that the writer and/or the company just isn’t desperate enough. Over the course of the first three issues, a creative team should be hitting you in the face with reason after reason after reason to continue supporting their book, and it makes absolutely no sense to demand that a reader invest six months and twenty bucks to learn just what the hell your point is. By the time the book hits issue four, even the most dedicated are losing hope, the numbers are falling, and guess what? The trade never comes out.
Make sure the damn book is hot, before getting all moist about how the graphic novel will look.
It’s too easy for the people to just sit back and wait for a trade, recently. These titles should be jumping with so much electricity that they DEMAND to be purchased in monthly form. Don’t take this the wrong way, but if you’re sitting back and waiting to read my book in trade form seven months down the line, I’m gonna make your comic buying existence miserable. My intent is to create such a noticeable buzz about what is going on in that book, that your friends, that your message boards, that your own mother, cannot stop talking about it. I will create a situation in which choosing to ignore this title implies that you do not like comics. You’re going to wait for the trade? That’s what the fuck you think.
This is the attitude that needs to accompany almost every new series hitting the stands, or any worthwhile creative shake-up, but instead we’re decompressing every single thing and helping to create weak comics that combine to form weak trades. If they even come out. Creators are writing anonymously, utilizing the same flow and tempo as everybody else, and this can’t be eliciting our greatest potential. The conception that trades are only to be sold with one long form story in them completely underestimates the audience, and handicaps writers more suited to another approach. Though I’m not exactly arithmetically inclined, even I’m aware that there’s more than one way to fill five or six issues, if that’s what the chief concern is, that transcends this tired rhythm we’ve fallen into.
What difference does it really make if your trade is composed of two three-part stories, or even six self-contained chapters, if the material is engaging and intelligent? This is not a call to “dumb-down” our stories, as decompression is often looked upon as a more mature, realistic method of storytelling, but even TV and the movies are required to move at a certain clip so the viewership doesn’t get bored. By attempting to adopt the styles of other media, we’re forgetting what the comic industry is…the smartest group of creative minds functioning within pop culture. But we have to move faster, we have to think faster, if only to encourage others to do so.
The graphic novel will continue to grow as an important part of the publishing scheme, but at this point, we can’t afford to become enslaved to it. Writers playing to their own strengths will drive the content, launching their new thoughts hard and fast, giving them the best chance of survival in an industry that needs to find more creative ways to broaden its influence. Decompressed storytelling will comprise a small segment of the larger whole, relegated to the writers that do it best. Everybody else will simply be doing what they do best. And isn’t that the entire point anyway?
We have to maximize the opportunities to change the way people think, which is what all great fiction accomplishes at some point. We just need to speed up a little to make sure they’re changing fast enough.