Comics Workbook

An online magazine for Comic Book Makers

"Personally, I do think we have an advantage in that we do have a strong, core reading of mainstream comics to present stories in the most engaging way possible. Instead of the most indulgent. What I mean by indulgent is very close to the chest… that’s hard to explain. When somebody reads Love And Rockets, we just want them to read a comic book, not a kind of comic book. [laughs] You know? Just to read stories done in a comic book language."

- Gilbert Hernandez, talking to Tom Spurgeon

In his recent Comics Reporter interview, Gilbert Hernandez brings up an argument that he and others (Frank Santoro, for example) have made before: old school mainstream comics are important because even when they’re not great, or when the art is great and the writing is bad, they still teach you a straightforward, no-frills kind of storytelling. Cartoonists who haven’t read those kinds of comics don’t have a strong foundation in basic storytelling principles and their work is as a result less engaging, more difficult to follow — as Beto puts it above, more indulgent. At least that’s the argument as I understand it…and I don’t find it particularly convincing. Yes, having a strong understanding of basic storytelling, and being able to draw a comic where readers can follow what’s happening, is very important. There are certainly cartoonists, even very good ones, who could use a refresher in those basic storytelling techniques. But I enjoy Frank’s posts like that one he made today because he does the legwork of pointing out what is notable/interesting in those old comics for us, and there’s so much unequivocally great work out there today that the prospect of wading through good-but-flawed work just isn’t especially appealing to me.¬†Comics is very near a point, if we aren’t there already, where reading (let alone rereading!) all of the great works would take multiple lifetimes. Certainly there is value in reading bad work, identifying its failings, and finding those areas where it does succeed. But that’s not how I really want to spend my relatively limited reading time.

In other words, rather than read a John Buscema comic, you might be better off just looking at the work of, say, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez! Those are two cartoonists who offer excellent examples of strong panel-to-panel storytelling but also stories that are incredibly compelling, engaging, and complex. They’ve already distilled many of the best aspects of those old mainstream comics into something even better.

There’s also perhaps an implication here that North American comics offer the best example of straightforward, easy-to-understanding storytelling. Or at least when the argument is made by people like Gilbert Hernandez, whose own background happens to be in North American comics, it might be perceived that way. So, for instance, both the Hernandez Brothers and Frank are big fans of old Archie comics — Dan DeCarlo et al. But, to take the first examples that come to mind, Andre Franquin in the Franco-Belgian tradition and Akira Toriyama in Japan are quite similar to DeCarlo in that they make pretty straightforward but humorous kids comics that have excellent cartooning and very strong, eminently clear storytelling. I don’t really see how DeCarlo is a better or clearer storyteller than either Franquin or Toriyama. It’s just a different set of tropes and a different mode of expression.

Sorry, that’s a lot of writing to make a relatively simple point, and one that I probably haven’t articulated very well. But this idea has bothered me a little when I’ve read it before and it bothered me as I was reading this excellent interview today.

- Andrew White

  1. crinklesnsmudges reblogged this from comicsworkbook and added:
    comics chatter that matters
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  3. comicsworkbook reblogged this from comicsworkbook and added:
    This is interesting because when I read the same Beto interview I thought he was just talking about how stories are...
  4. kool-beanz reblogged this from comicsworkbook and added:
    I haven’t read much dc or marvel and that should be okay.
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