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Scott’s Classic Comics Corner: The Lost Art of the 8-Pager

It’s been a long, twisted road from the first JLA/JSA team-up in the early 60s to the Infinite Crises and Secret Invasions of today. It’s hard to believe that once upon a time, writers and artists were able to put together a compelling and entertaining story using a mere handful of pages. As a father of two kids under the age of 3, I can truly appreciate comic goodness that comes in a small package. I’ve assembled a few examples of some of the finest self-contained short stories of all-time (ok, those that came to mind on my streetcar ride this morning) to share with you today. If you take the time to seek these out, you will see just how much work and care goes into telling an effective tale in 8-pages.

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I’ll start with Charlie Droople, because I always start with Charlie Droople. On-line friends must be seriously sick and tired of me pimping Charlie Droople at this stage, but for those of you who haven’t heard of him – you’re in for a treat. Charlie Droople is the hero of “The Best of All Possible Worlds” from The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves #5. It’s a masterful collaboration by the team of Steve Skeates and Jim Aparo and I’ve always found it sad that it has been hidden in the back of an obscure Charlton book for 40 years. It smashes all conventions as the leads are sucked into a comic book story with very funny results. Anyone who has debated the merits of comic books with a significant other should read this story – available in its entirety chez Fred Hembeck – ‘Best of All Possible Worlds’.

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Stan Lee and Steve Ditko collaborate on so many short morality plays that it’s difficult to pick just one. For my money, “The Missing Link” (which happens to be a 5 pager) is one of the best. Originally appearing in Tales of Suspense #31, it can be found for much less money in Where Monsters Dwell #36. It’s a story of a man allegedly from Earth’s past who may just be able to warn mankind about its future. Stan Lee’s twist ending pays homage to both EC and Rod Serling. For more great Lee/Ditko stories – I highly recommend the Amazing Adult Fantasy Omnibus. It’s not cheap – but it’s worth every penny.

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Atlas-Seaboard published a lot of crap during the mid 70s (but that’s another column altogether), but one of their great hidden gems is “Who Toys With Terror?” from Weird Tales of the Macabre #2. This mag is a bit tough to track down but it is worth it! This story by George Kashdan is about a boy who loves his Aurora Model Monsters. In the end, they reciprocate his love very nicely. Kashdan never wrote a story this fun his whole time at DC. The real highlight, however, is John Severin’s amazing artwork. This is as good as it gets, and it’s too bad that this story wasn’t published by one of the Big Two as it would have been reprinted a million times by now.

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My final selection is what I consider to be one of the finest comic book tales of all time. “Is a Snerl Human?” by Sheldon Mayer and Alex Toth (a wonderful collaboration of legends) is the back-up story to Adventure Comics #431, a book best known as the initial installment of the wrathful Spectre stories. It’s unbelievable how Mayer and Toth can comment on the impact of mankind’s cruelty and bloodlust in so few pages. This story is both touching and terrifying. To the best of my knowledge, this has never been reprinted, which is a real shame. Where is the Best Stories of the 70s TPB?

These are just a few examples of great stories that entertain a reader without dragging a thin plot over multiple issues. It’s too bad that comics have trended away from the 8-pagers, but there’s still a lot of hidden gold in the back issue bins waiting to be discovered. Happy Hunting!

For more random talk about old comics and other such nonsense, check out my blog: Seduction of the Indifferent

16 Comments

It’s so cool seeing Steve Ditko draw Michael Chiklis. Or is that Daniel Craig?

Pardon me while I drool over that Severin panel. As you well know, he’s my favorite artist of all time, & while I know I bought that ish of WEIRD TALES OF THE MACABRE back when it was new, I haven’t owned a copy in well over a quarter-century & don’t remember the story at all.

Did Charlton never reprint the Charlie Droople story? I know I went online & bought a comic containing it after you (I’m sure it was you …) picked it as one of your all-time favorites for the Classics Forum Christmas list back in, I guess, ’05, & I sure don’t recall having to go all the way back to DR GRAVES #5 to obtain it.

Ah, I see from one of your blog entries that it was apparently reprinted in DR GRAVES #66, which undoubtedly is the one I found for cheap … so it’s sort of misleading to say that “it’s been hidden in the back of an obscure Charlton book for 40 years,” since it’s also been hidden in the back of an obscure Charlton book for a mere, uh, 27 years.

A good 8-page story wasn’t average. Sure a handful of great writers can do a great story in 8 pages, but others need more space. Either that or very heavy serialization.

Dan – I came close to selling my copy of WTOM on ebay – but I re-read that story and held on. I also should have mentioned #66. I’m kind of surprised they didn’t make it their cover story at that stage – as I’m sure it have gain a bit of notoreity by ’81.

Dal – While I’m not disagreeing with you, I’d like to see if more of today’s writers could write an 8-page masterpiece. DC’s Solo books were pretty good for that. Personally, I steer clear of ‘events’ as it is too much of an investment. A nice anthology title or two would be great. John Severin’s still around to lend a hand!

To add to my previous comment, not every story can be every size. A short story like that needs a limited number of characters and a finite event that the are about. You don’t have the space to tell something with a large scope. Alan Moore’s back-up stories from the ’80s are all fantastic examples of what works well as an 8-pager, but to go into any more depth you need more pages. Mogo Doesn’t Socialize is a great little story, but it doesn’t have much emotional content because it only has the space for the events. Conversely, there isn’t much plot to The Prophesy, but it has a fantastic sense of doom that really hits emotionally. It is very, very hard to do much with a single, isolated 8-pager. I wouldn’t want comics to go back to primarily 8-pager anthologies. But I do love the idea of back-ups to provide a little spotlight on some side aspect that isn’t being dealt with in the main story. For instance, those backups in the early issues of Brand New Day.

Charlie Droople really is Grant Morrison’s entire oeuvre boiled down to eight pages, isn’t it?

Personally, I find 8 pagers to be much better written than most modern, full-length stories. There is just a lot more story in a 50′s/60/s era 8 pager than in 8 ISSUES of today’s comics. Indeed, with few exceptions, the industry has been trending away from the dense story format ever since the Comics Code. Witness the evolution from Lee/Ditko 8 page monster stories to full issue Spider-Man stories to 3 issue Fantastic 4 arcs. Give me 9 panels per page over today’s anemic 4 panel lameness!

I completely disagree that ancient 8-pagers are somehow superior to the longer stories of today. Let’s take off the rose-colored glasses folks. The examples here come from the cream of the crop. But there are tons of 8-pagers that sucked – full of too many 2-dimensional emotionless panels, talky talky characters, and one-note tricks that repreated themselves over and over again. More panels and lack of character development do not a good story make.

Eisner is the champ of the short story by the way, had to get that in here somewhere. But as poignant as his stories were they contained one maybe two themes each and rarely more than 3-4 characters of any depth. People today not only want more in their stories, they want a sense that the stories matter in a greater context; a context that can only be achieved through a longer story.

Dalarsco hit the nail on the head – such stories do have a place and a function to play in comics but they are not by any stretch of the imagination the consummate form of the art. I also agree that being able to write a decent 8-pager is a good skill for a comic writer to have to force them to stay on point. That said, you won’t find me up in arms to defend the current trend towards padded 6-issue story arcs either but that isn’t to say that there aren’t great examples of good 6-issue arcs because they do exist.

You know, that Charlie Droople comic reminds me a lot of the TOM STRONG issue where Tom visits the cartoon world. “Everything’s brighter, bouncier here…” or something like that.

I can’t comment completely, as all the images are blocked (here at work), but there is an art ot telling a story within an eight-page limit… or eight-page chunk… 2000AD is a prime showcase for this. Some of the “Future Shocks”-style stories are even shorter. The main weekly stories have to be structured to read well in eight- or nine-page chunks, with decent cliffhangers for each story every week.
Alan Grant, Alan Moore and so many more British writers started out in this format before moving “across the pond”, and I think that actually helped them immensely… Suddenly they had four times the page number to play with! So what they might consider a “decompressed” story might be considered “compressed” by Marvel/DC standards…
Let’s face it…. HULK 1-6 could probably have been told in 2 issues…

Yes, there are some BRILLIANT six- or twelve-issue arcs out there, but can you imagine, for example, a decompressed Watchmen?? 60 issues….

Scott’s Classic Comics Corner is my favorite section of this website!
I had to get this out of my chest.

I just love anthology comics and miss them very much. In litterature the short story is my favorite format as well, and the art of telling a good story with as few pages as possible IS a lost art indeed.

I too can only highly recommend the AMAZING FANTASY OMNIBUS. It contains some of the best short stories ever published at Marvel. It was by far their best sci-fi/fantast anthology (and they did a lot of those in the 50′s and 60′).

Another recommandation, if you liked the WEIRD TALES OF THE MACABRE magazine, Atlas/Seabord also put out a great adventure anthology magazine called THRILLING ADVENTURE STORIES (only two issues as well). There is mostly only great stuff in them (especially # 2), with art by the greats Russ Heath, Alex Toth, John Severin, Walter Simonson…

I have to disagree with you on the Atlas/Seabord line Scott. I own a complete set of their output and it’s not worst than the average stuff that came out in the late Bronze Age (around 1974-75). And they are quite a few gems in there. With a good and stable editorial direction (without the incompetants Goodmans to mess things up), who knows what may have become of them? They certainly had the creative talents to potentially take on DC and Marvel (Archie Goodwin, Steve Ditko, Howard Chaykin, Mike Ploog, Russ Heath, and so many more, plus Neal Adams on many covers!)

Sorry, David, but I’m not convinced. I think the work by Golden Age greats such as Kreigstein, Kurtzman, Eisner, Craig, Biro, Toth, Tuska, Baker, and others is far, far superior to the idiotic superhero nonsense that stretches a single issue story over 12 issues. If you’re not Alan Moore or Kenji N (Barefoot Gen), you simply do not need a year’s worth of comics to tell one (usually lame) story.

Sure, there are exceptions. And, sure, many of the old 8 pagers sucked. When all is said and done, however, I think the collected works of Lev Gleason (Crime Does Not Pay) and EC (Sci/Fi, War and Horror ) are far more innovative and better crafted than the junk Marvel has been spewing out for years. I’m pretty sure that if you collected one issue of every sucky Marvel comic and dumped them all in the ocean, there would be a new continent rivaling Australia in size.

That being said, I guess my real complaint is the lack of density in today’s story telling. And, heck, for all it’s goofiness, the original single-issue “Death of Superman” is way more moving than the modern trainwreck of Doomsday. And I’m not even mentioning that ish w/ one panel per page!!!!!

Couple more recent good short-shorts:

Dalarsco mentioned Moore’s “Mogo Doesn’t Socialize”. Moore did a couple other Green Lantern back-ups in that time frame. I think they’re all reprinted in that “Across The Universe” collection. The one with the F-sharp bell (maybe it’s titled “In Darkest Night”?) is delightful, kind of Silver Age-y. But my absolute favorite is the one which begins “Years later, he died.” It fills in a hole you never realized was in the Green Lantern origin: explains why Abin Sur was flying a space ship.

There was a beautiful backup story in an issue of Dr Strange 20-25 yrs ago, Michael Golden did the artwork.

Also Peter Gillis did a serial of shorts after Doc Strange got cancelled, an enjoyable storyline.

Tales of Asgard!

[...] (Above: sequence from The Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves #5, ©1968 Charlton Comics. Link via Comics Should Be Good!) [...]

I don’t care much about the length of a story as long as its good. And I have to be honest, all the stories mentioned above are a lot better than just about any super-hero title currently being published by the big two.

Charlie Droople has always been one of my favorites, by the way. There are a lot of hidden gems to be found in those old Charlton Comics.

(And if you substitute Charlie for Peter Parker, you’ve essentially got One More Day in eight pages!)

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