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Jesse Hamm on “8 Things I’d Like to See More of in Comics”

Jesse Hamm has been working as a professional artist for many years now, with his first mainstream work being as artist on the recent Good As Lily graphic novel, with writer Derek Kirk Kim, for DC Comics’ Minx line of books. You can find out more about Jesse and his work at his website, www.jessehamm.com.

8 THINGS I’D LIKE TO SEE MORE OF IN COMICS

by Jesse Hamm

Comics should indeed be good. As a comics reader, I couldn’t agree more. But as a critic, when I call for better comics, I’m often tempted to prescribe solutions that are lofty and vague.

“Write believable characters!” comes to mind.

“Draw credible backgrounds!”

“Master anatomy!”

“Be clear!”

All noble goals; all lousy advice. Lousy because it substitutes destinations for directions. Might as well direct someone to the Fortress of Solitude by telling her to go to Superman’s hideout. The shortest route to better comics is, instead, concrete advice that any creator can put to use right now.

That said, here are 8 things I’d like to see more of in comics. These are suggestions that I think any creator can try out immediately; adjustments that don’t require new skills to implement. They aren’t all about quality; some are just intended to foster variety. But in every case I think they would add extra oomph to today’s comics — both alternative and mainstream.

1.) EXPANSIVE BACKGROUNDS

Most cartoonists are aware that well-drawn backgrounds add character and verisimilitude to a scene. But they often overlook one of the easiest ways to strengthen a background: grant it more space in the panel. Back your “camera” away from the figures, and include more of their surroundings. This doesn’t require a better-drawn environment — just a willingness to show the reader more of it, foregoing some of those juicy close-ups.

European cartoonists lack our kenophobia. They often include spaces which may be irrelevant to the action, but which enrich the world their characters occupy:

Thierry.Martin.jpg

American cartoonists should be similarly willing to push their characters farther back, or off to the side, to increase readers’ immersion in their imagined world.

2.) COLOR INDICATING DEPTH OF FIELD

The late, great Alex Toth’s favorite complaint about his colorists was that they failed to establish planes of depth in his drawings. He was partially colorblind himself, and therefore wasn’t the best person to ask whether colors matched, but one thing he did know about color is that light and dark colors can be used to indicate distances between objects. Simply put: coloring the foreground dark and the background light, or vice versa, will cause the foreground to pop forward and the background to recede.

Unfortunately, this simple, three-dimensional effect seldom appears in comics. For all the effort colorists spend on shading forms and balancing hues, there’s often a flat uniformity to their light & dark values. A uniformity which could easily be remedied with stronger contrasts between planes — such as in this panel, which Toth once praised for bailing out his murky drawing:

Alex.Toth_color.jpg

3.) NARROW VERTICAL GUTTERS

When the gutters between panels are all of uniform width, it’s tempting for readers to skip down to the next tier of panels, ahead of the narrative. A simple way to discourage this, focusing readers on the proper tier, is to make the vertical gutters much narrower than the horizontal gutters:

Tatsuya.Egawa_gutters.jpg

This approach is standard in manga, but I rarely see it in domestic comics. I think the Japanese have the right idea.

4.) FIXED POINT OF VIEW

It’s common wisdom that frequent changes of p.o.v. in a scene add variety and drama. But that approach is used so often lately that most comics read more like photo albums than fluid chains of events. By contrast, look at the fluidity of comics by cartoonists with an animation background, like Graham Annable or Jeff Smith. They know well that a static p.o.v. ties moments together, and casts the action in sharper relief. You don’t need a course in animation to follow their example; it’s a simple matter of leaving the background the same while the characters do their thing:

Jeff.Smith.jpg

5.) CAREFULLY DRAWN EYES

It’s easy for artists who draw for hours at a stretch to default to rendering every line with equal care. This approach makes sense most of the time, since an even pace aids productivity, and because shifting gears mid-drawing can result in stylistic inconsistencies. We’ve all chuckled at artists who lavish attention on the breasts while neglecting the feet, for example.

But the handling of pupils and eyelids is much more exacting and less forgiving than the handling of other parts. In fact, no mark in a drawing has more to do with its success than the marks which delineate the characters’ eyes. We rely heavily on those few, tiny marks to show us crucial story info, such as what the character is feeling, and where her attention lies. What compounds their importance at the drawing stage is that such small marks are easy to botch. A millimeter off, and the character becomes cross-eyed, or wall-eyed, or she looks too tired, or too surprised. Worse, characters may look past each other when they’re meant to address each other, making them appear vacuous, distracted, or incapable of intimacy.

I see such “eye” problems often in comics — more often than the artists’ skills should warrant. Simply taking more care with the eyes would make a world of difference. Note the significance of this tiny adjustment in Good As Lily, where I had to fix a character’s pupil placement:

Jesse.Hamm_eyes.jpg

Perfecting every line in a comic wouldn’t be worth the time, but a few extra minutes spent perfecting the eyes on each page could determine whether or not your characters resonate with readers.

6.) RURAL & SUBURBAN LIFE

Most cartoonists, both mainstream and alternative, have imprisoned their characters in cities — a setting which represents only a tiny fraction of the world.

I can accept that Spider-Man and Batman work best in New York and Gotham. I can accept that Harvey Pekar and Seth happen to live in Cleveland and Toronto. But I can’t accept that nearly EVERY comic book character HAS to occupy an urban environment. There’s a great big world out there to chronicle, folks. Send your characters on some field trips! Give your skills — and your readers — a broader field to graze in.

7.) THOUGHT BALLOONS

Thought balloons have come under fire in recent years. Some complain that thought balloons are cheating: that they explain what should instead be demonstrated through characters’ behavior. Others believe the intermittence of thought balloons is arbitrary: if we can read one thought, why not all of them?

I think both complaints prove too much. If we shouldn’t depict characters’ thoughts, why even use dialogue? Why not adopt the silence of sculpture and pantomime? And if displaying only relevant thoughts is arbitrary, how come displaying only relevant images is OK?

Thought balloons needn’t be more didactic or arbitrary than any other creative choice. And since they’re unique to our medium, we should allow them to give it distinction.

8.) CREATIVE DEPICTIONS OF VIRTUE

A common complaint is that comics have become too negative, and that virtue should be more celebrated. A common rejoinder is that villainy is more interesting to read about.

The truth is that creativity is interesting to read about, whether it’s villainous or not. The virtuous exploits of Golden Age heroes like Captain Marvel, Plastic Man and Powerhouse Pepper are fun to read not because those characters are virtuous, but because they’re virtuous in creative ways. Similarly, villains written by Moore, Miller, or Morrison are interesting not because they are villainous, but because they are creatively villainous. In the shadow of those writers’ success, many writers work overtime inventing creative ways to be villainous, while neglecting to invent creative ways to be virtuous. No wonder virtue appears boring! In JLA: Earth 2, I loved Morrison’s “good Luthor” granting bad Luthor’s surprised secretary an $80,000 bonus — out of bad Luthor’s ill-gotten funds. More of that, please.

This applies to alternative comics as well. Characters’ flaws and neuroses have been explored so well and so long in the undergrounds that alt’toonists have begun to mistake lowness for depth. Let’s see more characters who are creatively virtuous — more Oskar Shindlers, for example. They needn’t be perfect; just creatively virtuous. They don’t even have to operate on a grand scale. I know a guy who convinced the Cartoon Art Museum to hang a cartoon he drew of himself proposing to his unsuspecting girlfriend — whom he then brought on a tour of the museum, letting his drawn self pop the question. More of that too, please.

This approach wouldn’t require extra skill; only that we use our skills more optimistically.

So: eight simple ways to improve what’s on the shelves. Here’s hoping more creators will give these a try.

>>>>>>>>>>>>

Image info, in above order of appearance:

Thierry Martin’s art from “Le Roman de Renart” c. 2007 Guy Delcourt Productions
Alex Toth’s art from “White Devil…Yellow Devil” c. 1990 DC Comics
Tatsuya Egawa’s art from “Tokyo University Story” c. 1997 Tatsuya Egawa
Jeff Smith’s art from “Bone” c. 1994 Jeff Smith
Jesse Hamm’s art from “Good As Lily” c. 2007 Derek Kirk Kim and DC Comics

53 Comments

Excellent suggestions. As an aspiring comics artist, I’ll definitely keep these in mind. They’re some very sensible ideas. Especially bringing back thought bubbles and heroes who actually act…you know, heroic (unlike ‘The Ultimates’ where you get such delights as painfully self-righteous Thor…ugh).

An excellent article – especially 1) and 6) are things I (as someone who reads both a lot of European and American comics) have noticed myself in American Comics.

This was brilliant.

I don’t agree with the narrow gutter suggestion. All that manga example does for me is call unneccessary attention to what’s happening between the panels rather than what’s happening INSIDE them. When the gutters are a uniform width, as in Bone sequence, they’re virtually unnoticeable, which is what they should be.

The other suggestions are all excellent.

I think if you were just reading the comic, you might be less prone to notice. That is kind of an extreme example, though.

With regard to #7, it seems perfectly acceptable to write comics from whichever p.o.v. an author wishes. Third person objective? Great. Third person limited omniscient? Awesome. Third person omniscient? Super. First person? Rad. Just make sure that the story you’re writing works with the p.o.v. you’ve chosen and we’re jake.

It’s only when omniscience doesn’t add anything valuable to the story that I find it annoying.

I think the pupil placement and narrow gutter suggestions were really nitpicky and arbitrary, but the other suggestions were very good.

All hail #8! Someone should paint those words on the side of Dan DiDio’s car.

I am totally printing this out to use as a handout in cartooning class.

Not bad suggestions, per se, but like many art critiques they seem to overgeneralize, a bit. There’s a time and place for all of those elements, but there are also times and places where they don’t fit. What it really comes down to is a need fr greater variety in general, including (but in no way restricted to) these specific suggestions.

I agree with almost everything you said. I think there are many story-telling and art techniques that are left out of most mainstream comic books. Most of it is left up to how the story is written and the strengths to the artists.

While we’re on the subject of flaws in comics, Can anything be done about the ugly white UPC Bar codes boxes that often ruin the composition of gorgeous covers?

Yes! Death to the UPC Bar Codes!

How about spandex that wrinkles at least a little big
and doesn’t look spray painted on? At least a seam
line connecting sleeves to torsos. A bit of wrinkle
at a bent elbow, by an armpit when arms hang at the
side, behind bent knees, etc. And why is there always
a “U” suggesting the second breast in both cartoon and
realistic art? Never seen anything like that in real
life. Also, regarding suggestion #1–maybe a few extras
in the expanded background scenes. Sometimes it seems
like an entire issue of Spider-Man or Batman takes
place in an otherwise deserted N.Y. or Gotham. I’ve
been to New York; I never saw it deserted. Granted,
the rooftops are rarely crowded, but it seems like too
much is happening street level with nobody around to
see or react. Sometimes an entire issue is drawn with
virtually no one wearing normal civilian clothing. I
kind of miss “Kirby’s Kast of Kharacters.”

I don’t think the pupil placement one is nitpicky or arbitrary at all. It’s something that plays a big part in whether your characters look like creatures or drawings.

It’s something that the majority of the Image guys lack, that makes their art look extra flat.

Agree with most of these, but I’m curious as to how expansive backgrounds are a good thing if they’re irrelevant to the action. The characters drive the story; the setting just gives them somewhere to play. A better suggestion might be ” more interactive backgrounds “.

I don’t know the context of the image with the fox running across a creek, but the amount of set detail there seems a bit overkill.

I like how people accuse Hamm of being nitpicky but then pick nits with his 8 rules. I think every one is right on. If I remember correctly, I think Chris Ware uses a little extra space to set rows of panels off from each other. I’d also like to see this when creators jump from one scene to another within the same page. Also, it’s amazing how many pro colorists don’t seem to understand atmospheric perspective.

I’d expand the rural and suburban areas one to include the option not to portray them as dull, fascist hellholes in contrast to the exciting, free happyands of the city. But I’m probably asking too much of alt comics there.

]I don’t think the pupil placement one is nitpicky or arbitrary at all. It’s something that plays a big part in whether your characters look like creatures or drawings.
It’s something that the majority of the Image guys lack, that makes their art look extra flat.

i agree… small details like that can make a world of difference.

Joe:
I think only one person said any of the choices were nitpicky and he (T.) didn’t actually go on to nitpick :)

Anon:
You asked how expansive backgrounds might be a good thing if those backgrounds are irrelevant to the action.

Here’s one answer. Though this isn’t true for every story, a deeper sense of setting can add greater context to a story, thereby a greater depth of meaning to the story. Not all story is told through word or action and sometimes the best way to present a theme or direct a story’s flow is through something as simple as setting. I think we see a much greater reliance upon this technique in independent works, but it’s present in mainstream books as well.

Take for instance, Hellboy. Mignola goes to great pains to establish setting throughout his stories. Despite the fact that panels rarely forward the action, they do still forward story – and in some ways, it could be argued that these are among the most important panels in his books.

I said a moment ago that these scenes forward the story (and I think they do), but it might be even better to say that they inform the story. Scenes like the one Jesse Hamm points out can add loads to a story without actively altering the plot elements.

It’s when these scenes are superfluous and add nothing to the experience of the story beyond a pretty landscape that it becomes a problem. This was the over-riding problem of The English Patient, a movie filled with gorgeous cinematography that glorified settings that didn’t actually add to the story, but instead overwhelmed it (since the amazing landscapes were about eighteen times more interesting than the story).

a couple others, more specific and not as encompassing as the eight points given, but they’ve been bugging me.

9. CLOSE THE CIRCLE. The Hero’s Cycle
(http://www.eviltwincomics.com/action/images/poster-big.jpg)
is a full loop, not a broken record stuck halfway.
look at the diagram in that link. How long has Spiderman been stuck vacillating back and forth between “the road of trials(Yet Another Supervillain Slugfest),” “meeting the goddess(Mary Jane),” and “Atonement with the Father (Reconciling with Uncle Ben’s death)?” How often have they tried to blast his “meeting with the goddess” out of the water by killing off Gwen Stacy, killing off his daughter, trying to kill off Mary Jane—and (argh)bringing back Aunt May? How many times have the writers, rather than develop the character further, rewound to his origin story and started all over again? The closest they’ve come to advancement– the “ultimate boon”— is his recent discovery of his enhanced spider powers…. which in context represented a vast leap forward in his own self-awareness and maturity, and which therefore shall be retconned to oblivion at the first opportunity, thanks to the eternal adolescents clinging feverishly to his past.
Spiderman, Batman, Superman— ALL of them are stuck like this.
Finishing the epic cycle does not mean the end of the hero or of the hero’s story. If anything it means raising the next turn of the cycle to the next level, or at the most extreme, actually letting the character pass on the torch to a new generation— rather than trying to claim he’s been “reinvented for a whole new generation.”

10. LESS TITS. Yes, we get it, you’re all sexually virile American males behind the drawing board, thank you for sharing your post-natal breastfeeding issues with the rest of us for thirty years. And making Power Girl a self-referential joke about it doesn’t make it any less pathetic.

11. STOP TRYING TO BE “CURRENT.” You’re not hip, def, hype, phat, or any other just-starting-to-turn-stale lingo. You are a fat fortysomething PASTY WHITE bastard who draws COMIC BOOKS for a living, and you have NEVER had a clue about what “the kids” think is cool or hip, even back when you were a kid yourself. You’re as annoying as that damn fish with Fresh Prince’s voice. Stop it before we have to HURT you.

12. in that vein, STOP TRYING TO MAKE YOUR CHARACTERS “EDGIER” or MORE “REAL.” You know what all the characters in the “Ultimates” line have in common? THEY’RE JERKS. There isn’t a one of them, except with maybe the possible exception of teenage, Ultimate spiderman, who you wouldn’t want to hit in the face with a brick.
In that vein,

13. “SLUT” IS NOT CRUISE CONTROL FOR FEMALE CHARACTERS. Crap, did anyone even THINK before turning Gwen Stacy into a juvie hall biker tramp?

“Juvie hall biker tramp”?

The phrase “virgin-whore dichotomy” comes to mind.

I agree, can someone tattoo #8 onto the insides of Dan DiDio’s eyelids? Or for that matter, Joe Q’s? But at least Marvel has had more success in this area. I always get jumped on for trying to make a point about how bad DC is. I hope someone, sometime, somewhere will take back the control of DC and add more variety.

I liked all these, but #8 is something I’ve been dealing with for 5 years now by missing reading the monthly adventures of my favorite DC characters because of the so called “reality”.

I don’t mind boobs but I wanna also endorse the spandex being bigger idea. I have gotten tired of seeing every character have these abs that look like they were just spray painted. My favorite Superman remains the Fleischer one. Let’s get some of that back.

All worthy ideas to consider, although I’m not huge on the “vertical borders” one, but I can see where it might come in handy to try from time to time.

Jesse, we could have put up a barn you hit so many nails on the head here!

On the topic of manga panel design – I’ve been reading a lot of Tezuka lately, and my eyes are just spoiled rotten by his panel layouts.

The one that really stuck with me (and I think all of these are excellent) is thought balloons. I don’t think they are lazy at all, but, as Jesse said, one of the great tools unique to the medium. Thought balloons add depth to the characters by getting into their heads in the moment. Reread old Steve Englehart Batman stories and compare them to some of the books published in the last few years; you’ll find that Batman is a much more well rounded and compelling.

It seems to me that first person narration has taken over the role of thought balloons in many comics, and that’s the technique I think is really lazy.

First person narration seems to be as verboten as thought balloons in a lot of contemporary comics, though — and they’re both taboos that I think have only come into play since creators started trying to re-engineer comics into movie pitches. But why throw anything out of your toolbox? Thought balloons and narration are techniques that work, whether they’re fashionable right now or not.

“First person narration seems to be as verboten as thought balloons in a lot of contemporary comics, though — and they’re both taboos that I think have only come into play since creators started trying to re-engineer comics into movie pitches. But why throw anything out of your toolbox? Thought balloons and narration are techniques that work, whether they’re fashionable right now or not.”

what is wrong with comic books written like movie pitches?

what is wrong with comic books written like movie pitches?

I think Ken’s concern is more the possibility of negatively affecting the writing of the comic merely to appeal to movie buyers.

I was ( accidentally ) posting as ” Anonymous ” from the uni computer lab, so thank you for the explanation, Dane.

By the way, regarding this statement…

” 11. STOP TRYING TO BE “CURRENT.” You’re not hip, def, hype, phat, or any other just-starting-to-turn-stale lingo. You are a fat fortysomething PASTY WHITE bastard who draws COMIC BOOKS for a living, and you have NEVER had a clue about what “the kids” think is cool or hip, even back when you were a kid yourself. You’re as annoying as that damn fish with Fresh Prince’s voice. Stop it before we have to HURT you. ”

Getting through the obvious bile, I don’t see any real point. Who are you addressing, what exactly are they doing wrong, and how would you do things differently?

What’s wrong with a comic written like a movie pitch is that in the course of being a good movie pitch, it will probably fail to be a good comic.

“What’s wrong with a comic written like a movie pitch is that in the course of being a good movie pitch, it will probably fail to be a good comic.”

How is this so? If it is written like a movie, it will no doubt make plenty of since, because it is written to appeal to people who do not know much or anything about the property. If it makes since to the reader, that is not the only thing the story should do, but it is very important, in my opinion.

If it is written like a movie,

Being written like a movie and being written like a movie PITCH are two very different things. A movie pitch is where you sell the producers on all the marketable points of the film, and convince them to buy the property. Often times, the actual script is a minor part of the deal.

When we say a comic is written like a movie pitch, that means they’re using all their effort to sell the idea to someone, rather than focusing on making the idea good.

oh, yeah i see what you mean there. i was a little confused at first, but that totally makes since. thanks for clarifieing.

Although, like everyone else, I really enjoyed this article. However, I completely disagree with #7. Word balloons (unless there is some kind of internal logic for using them) are a total cop out. Just because they’re native to the medium is absolutely no excuse for lazily using them. They are from a time long gone, and I for one, am happy to not have to put up with them.
The skill of the average comic writer today is beyond comparison with bygone ages, and if you’re good enough to successfully be a writer today, you shouldn’t have to rely on such crutches.

Also, in reply to RHJunior’s rule #11. Maybe you’re speaking for yourself, because that doesn’t include myself or any of the pro’s that I follow. Maybe it’s time we realize that what you’ve said isn’t how the world perceives us anymore, and maybe it’s not how we should perceive ourselves. Let’s all climb out of cellars, folks.

Also in reply to RH, I haven’t stayed up with most of the ultimate line, but “The Ultimates” is the best superhero book I’ve read. Ever.

It’s you people that are the cockroaches that need to be taken care of. I’m sure you’d cream your pants for a return of Stan Lee to all your silly superhero schlock.

Sorry, man, I don’t mean to single you out but it seems like so many people who voice opinions like you only read out of a creepy sense of nostalgia while the other half of us are tugging like hell for comics to actually be relevant, grown-up, and on par with other mediums.

Kids comics are a great thing, but when was the last time you actually looked at the demographic of who’s buying and the potential demographic of who could be attracted to buy? Adults. With jobs. And little green pieces of paper.

on par with other mediums

What? Like literature, which regularly features examples of third person omniscient, limited or otherwise?* You might not personally care for the p.o.v., but it’s kinda hard to simply label it “a total cop out” or “lazy.” It’s like saying that writing a story with a protagonist is a cop out.

*note: thought balloons are the comic medium’s version of third person omniscient, in case you were wondering.

Sorry, bro, you’re (kind-of) right. I don’t want this to come off snarky, either, because I do appreciate your arguement…

I’ve read for a very long time, Dane. And you know what?- I actually think you’re right-in SOME cases.

You couldn’t have Harvey Pekar or Eddie Campbell without interior narratives.

Still, and I’m sorry if I went off on a rant, but thought bubbles are a shortcut and they have no intrinsic value.

So, yes, when properly used, the thought bubble can be used when it makes sense, but we don’t have any debt to it (and it was only SO good to begin with), but it’s really weak considering all the other choices you could make if it doesn’t serve the narrative.
Thanks all,
Tano

Yeah, you’re right. Serving the story is key and if your p.o.v. doesn’t serve the story then you ought to look at choosing a better one. Really, I can only think of a handful of books in which the employment of thought balloons was the right choice – but for those few, it really did elevate the story.

Gaitano, if these modern writers are so much better than the ones from the past, why are they making names for themselves endlessly recycling and remixing the ideas of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko? They are incapable of an original contribution that has a FRACTION of the impact as those three creators.

HOLD ON A SEC, T…your telling me that WE3, Fell, Black Summer,Preacher, The Invisibles, Mouse Guard, or, hell, let’s even throw in Watchmen, are a reworking of Lee/Kirby/Ditko work?

No. At best these people are FEEDING THEIR CHILDREN by playing with those guys toys. And it’s only because a segment of the market won’t pick up a book if it’s not from the Big Two’s mainstream lineup.

But if you really want to check out where the innovation is going on, it’s in the creator-owned stuff. And it’s sad that after this long that still need to be said.

And Thanks, Dane. I didn’t mean to come down too hard on thought bubbles, but unless they’re used with meaning they do kinda suck.

I’ll even add to that “Civil War” by Mark Millar. Say what you want, but I dare you to come up with something that had that kind of grandiosity in the good ol’ days.

Now, I’m not saying anything to besmirch these guy’s legacies. There’s a reason why they’re the greats.

However, you wouldn’t compare TV shows, movies, or any other medium of the present with it’s incarnation in the sixties, and I’m damn tired of hearing it done in my chosen medium.

Our Citizen Kane was Watchmen, and I think we’re even moving beyond that now. I just get so tired with the nostalgia camp.

“a couple others, more specific and not as encompassing as the eight points given, but they’ve been bugging me.”

How did we get from an affirmative, constructive list of suggestions where even the critical comments are phrased in positive terms (see #5 and #8, for example) to a hyper-negative list of personal grievances? It would at least help if the comments were phrased in such a way to fit with the article, but apparently RHJunior would like to see more of less tits. *sigh*

I would also like to see more of less tits. The Balent-beach ball-style of fakes are really boring and alien-looking to me.

However, you wouldn’t compare TV shows, movies, or any other medium of the present with it’s incarnation in the sixties, and I’m damn tired of hearing it done in my chosen medium…

But you WOULD, Tano. People do it all the time. Later on in your post, you invoke Citizen Kane…why? This movie is…what?…seventy years old? That was so long ago it’s a miracle that it even still exists in a form that’s watchable today. But it’s generally acknowledged (right or wrong, and probably mostly by people who’ve never actually seen it, but regardless) as the high water mark for film. What happens to any art form that people take seriously is the establishment of a canon. There is no art form with the possible exception of comics wherein the majority agrees that the best stuff ever done in that field is what’s happening right now. (Okay, maybe television, too. I actually think there’s a much better case to be made for television, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Good point, Mike. I totally contradicted myself. What I guess I was trying to say, is that comparison is completely fair, and should be welcomed, but comparison, through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia or some sense of “morality” that you’d like to impose on others doesn’t get us anywhere.

I’m only saying that ,IMHO, comics are better now than they’ve ever been. Their more clever, more polished and sexier than they’ve ever been.

No they’re not selling in the millions, but that doesn’t mean that artistically they’re not at a high-point.

Thanks Mike,
Tano

And don’t get me wrong, Mike. It’s certainly not like everything done today is better than everything done in the past.

It’s certainly a mix. But comics have matured. It took a century of guys like Lee/Kirby/Ditko testing the ropes for us. I do think that a lot of the guys today, however, learned the ropes from them and now their taking that new car out on the highway and really seeing what it can do.

I also really appreciate the diversity that we have today (at least in the creator-owned/controlled section of the market).

Thanks, Tano — and actually, yeah, I more or less agree with you. I don’t think the marketplace has ever before been as quality rich as it is right now. I don’t know that the best comics ever are being produced as we speak — I’m both inclined to think the medium’s best work is ahead of it and less than convinced that anything coming out now is really better than EC at its height, or Kirby at his best, or Palomar or Watchmen or From Hell or…well, you get the idea — but I am sure that there have never been as many really great comics all at once as there are now. (Not in the US, anyway; I seriously lack the grasp on manga, European comics, etc. to even start to make a larger judgment.)

As far as mainstream comics goes, though, I think there’s less danger of their being smothered by nostalgic fans than simply hamstrung by an industry that won’t stop recycling the characters and concepts of the past. I mean, how do you get away from comparisons to Kirby, Lee, Ditko, et al, when you spend your career playing with their toys? A lot of people have said that the superhero’s place in comics is equivalent to a film industry in which every director is expected to make westerns, but it’s actually even more insidious than that — mainstream comics is more like a place where you’re expected to, in 2007, carry on production of “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza,” and half a dozen other western TV shows that debuted forty-plus years ago. It’s kind of astonishing that anything that even seems new ever comes out of mainstream comics! But it’s hard to fault people who want those comics to fall in line with the ones they grew up with when, in fact, these are the same comics. I think the best solution for everyone involved is just to do something that really is original, but…well…

Um…wait. Didn’t this start out to be about thought balloons or something…?

.

Great list, Jesse. Very positive, very practical and applicable in concrete terms.

1.) EXPANSIVE BACKGROUNDS
4.) FIXED POINT OF VIEW
6.) RURAL & SUBURBAN LIFE
7.) THOUGHT BALLOONS
8.) CREATIVE DEPICTIONS OF VIRTUE

All deal wit POV in one way or another.

#1 deals w/POV wrt context.
By giving us a taste of the character’s milieu, we better see how he sees.

#4 deals w/POV wrt portraying a specific scene. Interesting that you mentioned animation wrt this, since the first page of comics that came to mind as I read #4 was page 13 of Paramount Animated Comics #3, very similar to the Bone example you gave.

#6 deals w/POV wrt setting, obviously. The first comics sequence I ever wrote and drew featured Namor the Sub-Mariner in a rural settting, a secluded lake in vast forest.

This is not an issue for jungle comics, westerns, or Indiana Jones -type adventures, all of which generally have plenty of rural action (along with pagan palaces and hidden cities, or saloons and town jails.)

#7 deals w/POV wrt actual POV as they speak of it in Creative Writing class. Sometimes thought baloons really add to a scene. (But when it is just used as a means of inserting exposition, it can become tiresome. One of the graet problems for writers is trying to figure out how to explain stuff without succumbing to tired expository text, in one form or another.)

#8 deals w/POV wrt writer’s attitude toward creating characters. You saved the best for last. Yay. CREATIVE DEPICTIONS OF VIRTUE
Yay!

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