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12/26 – Curious Cat Asks…

If all you knew about two comic writers was that one of the two was a longtime comic fan and the other was not much of a comic reader, which one do you think you would more likely prefer? Or do you think being a longtime fan and/or being new to comics does not affect how a person writes comics?

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32 Comments

As I think fandom demonstrates all the time having read comics all your life qualifies you not one bit for the assumption that you can write a good story.
There are benefits to both knowing a lot about comics in general, or a specific set of characters you may be writing, but there too are benefits to knowing very little.
Ultimately, though, it comes down to how great a storyteller the individual is and how good a job they’re trying for. I think someone who has good ideas can turn knowing little about a character into strengths on their run. And hopefully they’ll make good use of their editor . :-)

Kind of sounds like we’re talking about two writers who are not comics writers to begin with, but instead writers who usually do something else for a living. In which case I wouldn’t care either way.

But to go strict with the question: “if ALL you knew about two comics writers was…”

Given that restriction, I’d pick the longtime fan, because then there’s better odds that he or she is really Gilbert Hernandez or something.

I’d go with the longtime comic fan. Not because they’d be a total comic fanboy, but because it SHOULD mean they’d have a respect for the medium.

But as Prem said, it really just comes down to if they’re a good storyteller. I’m sure there’s thousands of comic fans out there who should NEVER be allowed near their own series (probably me included).

Depends on what kind of comic…

Creator Owned or independent type books, I’d like someone whos knows what’s already been done so they can build on it.

Superhero books.. honestly, I don’t give a crap about your childhood nostalgia. I’d rather see people looking at this material with fresh eyes instead of writin’ the same old same old.

I don’t know, Kal…they say everybody has a story in them…

It occurs to me that, given these terms, “fanboy” status need not enter into it at all. Consider: among fans of comics in general, fans of superhero comics may predominate…but among writers, it’s more likely not to be so. If all we know is that one writer is a comics fan, and the other is not, then we don’t know their preferred genre, their age, their country of origin, whether they’re a writer/artist or not, what language they speak, etc, etc. We don’t even know what kind of comics they’re a fan of. It could be manga they love; it could be bandes-desinee; it could be Dennis The Menace. It could be Crumb, Dan Clowes, Winsor McKay, Moebius, Joe Matt, Carl Barks. Given this, I think we can safely assume that the longtime-fan writer is far more likely to be a fan of Charles Schultz, than he/she is to be someone who’s ever even heard of Chris Claremont. I love Chris; but Sparky’s world-famous in a way writers of the X-Men can never touch.

So considering that (I think unavoidable) implication of the question above, I’ll say yes, definitely, much much much more likely to prefer the work of the longtime fan. After all, the odds are overwhelmingly against their current writing project being Batman — probably (just on the odds!) it’s something like a mini-comic we’re talking about here. Chances are, given these conditions, the writer is losing money on every script they produce, rather than making it. Or, if they’re not losing it, their publisher is. If they have a publisher.

So, on second though: absolutely I would prefer the writer who’s a fan. Because if talent’s the thing, I would say it’s obvious that he/she stands an enormously greater chance than the non-fan writer does, of having it. I’d almost go so far as to liken it to a situation where you have two writers, one who’s read a thousand books (of whatever description you like), and one who’s read ten thousand — surely the one who’s read ten thousand is the person you’d expect to be the better gamble. This example of mine is quite within the parameters of the question posed by Curious Cat: we only know that one writer is a longtime comics fan, and that the other one isn’t. We don’t know anything else. We don’t even know if the non-fan writer has ever read a work of fiction for pleasure.

For me, that makes it an easy choice.

Sorry, went a bit nerdy there…

“On second thought“, damn it.

Maybe it all depends on what sort of story they’re trying to write. If you have a standard Batman story to write, you probbaly don’t need to have been schooled by Denny O’Neal from a young age to understand what he’s about. If you’re trying to shake up Batman’s life in your story, it’s probably better if you know his background before suggesting he go on a homicidal spree for a few issues/start carrying guns/kill himself/bang Robin/march in a parade.

Lets assume that the non-fan writer is professional enough to read-up on his subject material before attempting to write the story. He won’t be as knowledgeable as the true fan, but he’d have a grasp on the characters, histories, relationships, etc.

I’d go with the professional writer over the fan without hesitation. I only need three words to make my point: Orson Scott Card.

Before anyone jumps on me, I don’t know if OSC is a fan or not. What I DO know if that he’s an acomplished writer. Novelists have only words at their disposal as a storytelling medium. Therefore, they are (logically) significantly more accomplished at conveying their stories that professional comic writers, much less an untrained fan. Without pictures to fall back on, they muct paint the scenes in our mind using only words on paper. Likewise, they must convey the emotion through setting and dialogue, rather than illustration.

Now, armed with a rudimentary understanding of what a master storyteller has to work with, as well as a presumprion of his professional work ethic, there’s really no choice other than the professional writer.

Without the constraints of the printed text to tell his story, the novelist is free to tell an intricate story. Without the need to use words alone, he will be free to focus on the story rather than the description. His stories are MORE LIKELY to, not guaranteed to, have a more developed plot, better characterization, better motivation, etc.

Not being a regular comics fan OR comics writer has plenty of advantages. Not having read hundreds of comics at the rate of 3-5 per week for 5-20+ years like WE have, he doesn’t have any comic cliches ingrained in his thought process. He’s likely to think outside the box and present us with a story we wouldn’t have otherwise. A fan is far more likely to have a big surprise reveal or some unreasoning twist that a practiced writer would avoid.

I’ve never read OSC’s novels. I don’t know if he’s a comics fan. All I know is that he is an accomplished author who wrote Ultimate Iron Man. He tore that mutha up! DANG it was a great story! With this example in mind, along with what I just said, I’d take a writer over a fan any day.

Are we talking superhero comics, or sequential art in general? Because let’s face it, it wasn’t until Wolfman and Wein and company came in that there were any long-time comics readers writing the comics. Folks like Will Eisner, Joe Kubert, Harvey Kurtzman, Wally Wood, Jack Kirby and the other greats from the birth of the medium may have read some comic strips but they definitely weren’t long time comics readers.

Kind of a tricky question. Personally, I would lean towards the longtime fan, but with reservations. A longtime reader has the advantage of knowing the format and what’s expected of it, and there’s a good chance they’re already familiar with the characters that they’ll be taking over (assuming we aren’t talking creator-owned work here). At the same time, though, I’ve noticed that some longtime fans have a tendency to write from a nostalgic viewpoint, trying to redo the comics they loved in the past instead of doing something new. Not that some reverence for a comic’s past is a bad thing, but it’s hard to move a story forward if you’re always looking back.

Rob and the others are right. The real issue here isn’t “comics fans,” it’s SUPERHERO fans.

So I’m going to pretend the cat actually asked THAT question. I went on about this at some length a couple of weeks ago, so I’ll just say I’ve seen it both ways. And overall I liked C.J. Cherryh’s Lois and Clark novel and Andrew Vachss’ Batman: The Ultimate Evil much, MUCH better than anything by Kevin Smith or Brad Meltzer or any of the other Big Names dropping by superheroes to indulge their inner fanboy.

Open it up to JUST comics and you get to include people like Don Rosa and a lot of the underground guys who grew up on EC and Mad, and they might swing it the other way. But on the whole I don’t think you can say the prevalence of the fan fiction mentality has really done comics any good, and certainly not superhero comics. Good work tends to happen IN SPITE OF the author’s fandom, never BECAUSE of it. I liked the comics industry better when they were going after a GENERAL audience, I think the overall level of craft was higher.

For instance, let’s take a look at two guys who are BOTH unabashed long-time superhero geeks, Mark Waid and Kevin Smith. Mark Waid writes well, uses sharp dialogue that captures personality and never overdoes it, understands story structure and how to pace a comic, and usually only uses his freaky-vast knowledge of the DC universe if it makes the story better.

Kevin Smith writes like Kevin Smith.

I also think that I’d prefer someone who can actually write well who has been a STUDENT of the form for a long time. Someone who not only reads comics, but reads them to learn about writing them. I don’t give a crap if they know that Triplicate Girl’s name is Luornu (well, I’m a Legion dork, so I kind of do, but that’s irrelevant), what I do care about is if they’re able to write a great sequence of Triplicate Girl in action using her powers.

A long-time reader and someone who has never read comics MAY be able to do that well, but someone who has been studying the form for years and has been honing their craft WILL be able to do that well (hopefully).

I think the biggest problem that Millar has as a writer, other than lack of restraint, is that he doesn’t seem to have read most Marvel comics after 1960.

But that’s just me. I know who I am as a reader.

If their history of comic reading was all I had to go on, I’d pick the comic fan. I can’t make any presumptions about what kind of art either writer has exposed himself to (the non-comic writer could be a fan of trashy romance novels as easily as the comic-fan writer could be a superhero fanboy), so they’re a wash on any substantive comparisons of their literary influences or the quality of their writing.

But the comic fan has one advantage, and that’s at least an implicit understanding of how the medium of sequential art works, and how it’s different from prose. There have been plenty of good prose authors who have written lousy comic books, simply because they don’t know how to write for the illustrated page. There’s a learning curve for them that the comic fan doesn’t need to go through.

As a long time fan, I would prefer to read a fan. I think that there’s a “local boy does good” aspect that comes into play.

The ideal writer should know nothing about comics, and should not try to write “a comic” – that way we get something fresh.

And the ideal editor should be a comics expert, and have a great working relationship with the writer.

Editing is underrated.

For instance, let’s take a look at two guys who are BOTH unabashed long-time superhero geeks, Mark Waid and Kevin Smith. Mark Waid writes well, uses sharp dialogue that captures personality and never overdoes it, understands story structure and how to pace a comic, and usually only uses his freaky-vast knowledge of the DC universe if it makes the story better.

Very charitable view. To me Waid is just someone who writes like an awful DC Silver Age writer, just with more updated dialogue.

Agreed: It’s important to specify whether we mean corporate superhero comics or just, like, any comics at all. They’re separate (but related) questions.

I think a good writer of comics at all needs a certain amount of familiarity with comics in order to write well in that medium. That is to say. If you saw a bunch of movies when you were a kid, but stopped watching films more or less completely at around twelve, you probably won’t make for the best screenwriter at thirty-five. And not because you’ve missed out on the evolution of the form over the last quarter of a century — though that may hurt, too — but because you’re just not that familiar with how movies work. It’s been too long since you really paid attention to one. And the same applies to comics. If your sole (grownup) interaction with the medium is reading “Opus” every Sunday, you are not equipped to write a comic book. If the only thing you’ve watched in years is “Scrubs,” you are not equipped to write a feature film. Same difference. It’s not a question of content — you may be an excellent writer overall, but if you don’t understand the mechanics of the form that you’re working in, the results will suffer for it.

You at least know that a comics fan has read enough comics that writing in the medium should not in itself present an overwhelming challenge. As to whether what they write will be any good…well…

I would go for the non-fan here. Somewhat reluctantly, as I do feel it’s a classic case of “not enough information”; would the non-fan do any research (which any good writer would do)? Is it going to be an “event” story (where the characterization tends to service the needs of the plot lately, even with fan writers?)

But ultimately, I go with “non-fan” here, because fan stories tend to be written to service fan agendas. Geoff Johns is a prime offender, here; he writes stories solely to bring back characters he thinks shouldn’t have been killed, retcon old stories, bump off characters he thinks are “stupid”, et cetera et cetera. Fan writers tend to get a little drunk on the power to actually control the fictional universe they’ve always had strong feelings about. Whether it’s John Byrne and Jeph Loeb’s dueling Krypton retcons, or Grant Morrison and his twenty-year long quest to bring back the multiverse, fan politics and professional writers make for a fairly explosive mix.

I’ll go with non-fan…who has done a whole lot of research into the unique parameters of the medium, natch.

My casual interest as opposed to hardcore fandom might come into play here; if all a comics author has to offer me is inside references I’m not liable to get, then why am I wasting time on their work? Whereas someone new to the material will be much more likely to provide a fresh, interesting take.

If what Hollywood has been giving us for decades with their SuperHero B Movies and un-aired TV Pilots (I’m looking at you Justice League); is an example of a comic writer who was not much of a comic reader…

Then I would go with the longtime fan any day of the week.

In other words, if I had to chose between Jodi Picoult and Gail Simone; I guess I would chose Scrungie Simone.

‘Fan’ seems to be the obvious answer, not because of any particular hang-up with continuity, but because they know how the form works. That seems like kind of an obvious requirement- the ideal writer would at least be an observer of the form’s development, if not an out-and-out fan.

But then I think of all the stories that sprang from the minds of SF writers with time on their hands in the Golden and Silver Ages, and the question doesn’t seem so cut and dry. There’s definitely an advantage to coming in fresh, or to possessing skills from other fields.

I’d still go with ‘fan’, because I think the ideal scenario would be that the writer is knowledgeable and passionate about comics and cartooning, and then brings in enough knowledge from other fields (like animation or journalism or screenwriting) on top of that to add something to the medium.

I’d go non-fan, if only because I hate, hate reading a story and realizing it’s just what John Seavey mentioned… an exercise in altering continuity, and not really any sort of proper story at all.

But what does “non-fan” mean? Are there any examples of non-fans writing comics, past the Silver Age?

Harlan Ellison was a longtime fan.

Roy Thomas was a longtime fan.

Gerry Conway was a longtime fan.

Joss Whedon is a longtime fan.

JMS is a longtime fan.

Even Stephen King is in all likelihood a longtime fan.

Matt Fraction is a longtime fan.

Bill Watterston is a longtime fan (I’m just saying).

Brian K. Vaughan is a longtime fan.

Jeff Smith is a longtime fan.

Grant Morrison is a longtime fan.

Darwyn Cooke is a longtime fan.

Jonathan Lethem is a longtime fan.

Seth is a longtime fan.

Quentin Tarantino is a longtime fan.

Robert Rodriguez is a longtime fan.

Umberto Eco is a longtime fan…!

I am probably being stupid, and forgetting many names of non-fan comics writers. I admit that. But, please…refresh my memory.

Who are the non-fans working in comics? If you tell me who they are, I’ll go out and buy their books and then report back.

Frank Miller and Guillermo del Toro are lifelong fans, too.

I could not swear that Johnny Depp isn’t a lifelong fan. I mean, I don’t know that he is, but I don’t know that he isn’t.

Has anyone even asked a non-fan to write comics? If they did, who would they ask? Woody Allen?

And if they write a comic for ten years, should we still consider them “non-fans” at the end of that time?

But if they only write two issues…

As to the Golden and Silver Ages, let’s define this up: at a guess, was Bill Finger a non-fan? A modern example (although artist instead of writer) that springs to mind is John Buscema: he thought superheroes were dumb. Non-fan?

Just trying to get things straight.

But, of course, I’ve come off as a strident loony-tune instead.

Oh well.

Plok,

That’s a really good point. Because we’re not really talking about all ‘fans’, are we? This is about a specific subset of fans of superhero comics that are obsessed, and not just casual users. People who read comics to the exclusion of other forms of entertainment. I would imagine that those people are more likely to repeat the cliches of the genre. On the other hand, it may be about those who were childhood fans, and want to bring comics back to that era. I think that these terms need to be clarified.

Being a longtime fan and/or being new to comics can certainly affect how a person writes comics. It usually strongly does so. But it’s not an indicator I could use to form a preference. If all other things (ability) truly are equal, it makes no difference.

If both guys in question are indeed “writers” and worthy of that title…..I’ll have to go with the long time fan option. Don’t want a fan who can’t write. Don’t want a writer that doesn’t respect the material that came before him….even if it’s undoing a previous storyline he didn’t care for but in a professional manner.

Creating 52 new versions of Earth each with a “new” history doesn’t fit into this catergory.

I’d go with the long-time fan. That way, they will be less likely to come in a deconstruct the medium and piss on it all as silly and frivolous and say that cursing and sex sell. Although, I guess Brad Meltzer said he was a longtime fan, so there goes that assumption…
Also, the longtime fan might include more obscure characters, who I prefer to the likes of Wolverine and Batman.

I don’t think people stumble into the comics industry the way they used to. In the Golden and Silver ages, you might get work in comics as a way to pay the bills while you waited to write the Great American Novel, and then look up forty years later to discover it had become your career. (Even then, especially in the Golden Age, it’s unlikely that someone wouldn’t have at least passing familiarity with comic strips.)

Nowadays, I’d wonder about the motives of a non-fan writer who wanted to write comics. What would the draw be–the money? The prestige? Trying to create a property they could develop for the movies? (Not counting writers who’ve been lured into helping with adaptations of their own work, as with the Dabel Brothers–that’s an extension of the existing work.)

For that reason alone, I’d go for the fan. Also, Neil Gaiman once noted that whenever an established writer tries their hand at SF and made a big point of not being SF fans, they tend to produce work with problems that could have been avoided through a basic knowledge of the genre (such as thinking that a time travel predestination paradox was an original idea, rather than one that was played out 60 years ago). Same principle here.

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