Saturday, November 05, 2011

Greg Capullo Batman (and digital comic reading)

"There are times when I have closed a Marvel comic, and then I've opened the bible and read the Book of Job, and I've thought: "Job, you really have nothing on the Marvel reader." - Andy Ihnatko.

Andy Ihnatko talks about DC Comics' big "52" reset in his inaugural episode of his new podcast Ihnatko's Almanac (recommended. Ihnatko is bright and funny, and talks fast but thinks twice as fast). So I decided to check out a couple more of the titles. (I bought a couple of titles last month but they didn't stick with me.)  What I decided on was Batman and Superman, which were the two biggest superheroes when I was a kid in the sixties. Isn't it interesting how that really has not changed? There's something about a really iconic character which makes it stick, I guess. Everything about Batman and Superman screams "the yin and yang of superheroes". The dark avenger, and the shining power-hero.

So far I like Batman, it's written well by Scott Snyder, and drawn by Greg Capullo, who did a good job on Spawn many years ago, and it doing a great job now on Batman. It is clearly "comic booky" art, it doesn't try to be photo-realistic (a big mistake in my book) but yet it is advanced and dynamic, with a controlled complexity which I'm sure is not easy to achieve. (Many early Image artists for example drew complexly, but the result was usually messy, like much complex art tends to be.)

Here's a panel from issue one. Quite Frank Miller-inspired, I think (The Dark Knight Returns), but evolved and independent.

Ihnatko points out that the whole idea behind the "52" reset was to get new readers, and re-acquire the readers which have fell off the wagon years ago. I've been agin' it, thinking it stupid and reckless to just ditch 60 years of history, but... I must admit that it got me back for now. The regular titles had simply become so dragged down with supplots and history that a new reader had a very hard time getting into it, and for years I hadn't even tried.

It is not a "year zero" reset as it were, for example all three (or four, I can't keep up) young men who are or have been Robin in the past are still around. But they will apparently try to do it at a level where new readers won't just throw the book (or their iPad) into the fireplace in confused frustration. I hope they can keep it up, but I ain't holding my breath, knowing human nature and the nature of writers, publishers, and editors. Once they have new readers, they will probably try to keep them around by building up fresh layers of never-ending subplots (god, X-men, sigh) and history. We'll see.

... Re Batman (2011-), I really like the new logo too. That's also not an easy job, making something fresh with something with such a history.

(See the detail in the texture, click for bigger.) 

Above, a really well designed page from issue two. I like that they have not ruined the overall look of the page with white text fields. It has long been a pet peeve of mine that text and speech ballons are almost never designed into a comic page, they usually just sh*t all over it.

It is funny, by the way: I never intended to stop buying and reading comics, and I'm not totally sure how it happened because until about... 2006? I had been to the comics shop every durn week for 25 years or so. But after that my stack on my bedstand was gathering dust. So after a while I put it into the top drawer instead. And three years later I finally realized: frig, I'm probably never gonna get around to reading these issues, lets put them in the stack in the closet.

If there are really good new comics in the future, the iPad may keep me around them again. Though like Ihnatko points out and like I've been saying: the screen on the iPad 1 and 2 is juuuust two small (and relatively low-res) to be really comfortable reading comics on. If you have the whole page on the screen, most comics are hard to read, both regarding the text and the art. What I want is a 12-inch iPad with twice the pixel pitch.

What I do, currently, by the way, is reading the comics with the iPad in landscape orientation, and then first read the top half of the page and then the bottom half. The auto-panel-navigation that they have seems clever at first, but then it starts to suck. In comics, the relationship between the panels is as important as the single panels. I don't know why, but it is. (Thanks to the book/comic Understanding Comics for this insight.)


Davy Jones said...

The idea will probably fail, as Marvel's Ultimate line did, even though they were in my opinion very good. Especially The Ultimates which had some amazing art. It fizzled out. The industry is sustained by a relatively small adult base, kids can't afford them anymore. Comic books really should have died the way that the pulps did - killed by video games the way the pulps were killed by comic books. But comics have been on life support for years. Without the socially awkard, they wouldn't exist anymore.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Yes, the Ultimates had a very strong first year.

Thing is, comics don't have to be superheroes. And I don't see why the combination of pictures of text should be a *weaker* medium than text and pictures separately. Defies all logic.

Maybe it's just that you need so much more talent there. Just to write a good story is rare, and then to make it really work in picture telling, by somebody who can draw too, you're stretching it.

Anonymous said...

And I don't see why the combination of pictures of text should be a *weaker* medium than text and pictures separately. Defies all logic.

Comics, even if not about superheroes, rewards weak writers. You don't have to describe anything. And you often don't have to give us the characters thoughts, either, and if you do it's at the expense of dialog. And pictures usually don't have the same impact as a scene drawn with words where you have the reader's imagination added to it.

Nothing illogical about it after all.

ganesha games said...

Davy Jones,
your comment is American-centric , I think. There are lots of countries where comics sell well and the average comic reader is just a person, not a geek. Go to an Italian, French or Japanese comic convention to see what I mean. Sure you have the socially inept, fat adult geek types (to which I admittedly belong) in the crowd, but there are a lot of kids, young girls, families, etc. Google pictures of Lucca comics and Games to see what I mean (it is a huge Italian convention).

Also given that comics are an important source of today's best grossing movies, TV series, videogames, I think they deserved that life support, didn't they? It's just that the money that supports the industry comes from their ancillary uses, and not from the funny books themselves. Ask Amazn why they bought DC comics recently :-)

you probably haven't been reading comics in the last 20 years if you think that. Some of the most innovative writing comes from comics and TV. Ever heard of Morrison? Gaiman?
That comment of yours was old when I was 20something. Again -- look at the whole picture, not just USA/Anglo comics.

Anonymous said...

you probably haven't been reading comics in the last 20 years if you think that.

I have read some of the big names, and found them lacking. Those you mention and others. The ones whose names you find fans drooling over. I've given modern comics a fair shake. I stand by what I said about comic book writers being weak. Even Eisner admitted to having been a mediocre writer and a mediocre artist who found a home in comics. And that's Eisner. To quote Bill Waterson, “You can make your superhero a psychopath, you can draw gut-splattering violence, and you can call it a "graphic novel," but comic books are still incredibly stupid.” I do enjoy some of the classic stuff, but modern comics are just shit.

Ever heard of Morrison? Gaiman?

Those are two of the worst! I mean, really, Morrison? Are you kidding me? And if you doubt Gaiman's a weak writer, try one of his novels. They are two examples of writers who are maybe good comic book writers (due to the low overall standard) but who aren't good writers. I'm surprised you didn't mention Alan Moore. I liked Watchmen as an entertaining piece of trash, but the writing in that is very bad, I just kind of enjoyed the badness - same as I do when I read an old pulp novel. Just because I enjoy a Doc Savage story doesn't mean I'd want them to still be publishing it.

Also given that comics are an important source of today's best grossing movies, TV series, videogames, I think they deserved that life support, didn't they?

The sources for those movies are the old comics. They haven't made a Spider-Man movie based on material more recent than the late 60s (or, if they do Gwen Stacy in this newest movie, that might be from the 70s). The Batman movies have all been based on the earliest material, with the sensibility of more recent stuff but not directly drawn from it as far as plot. Superman, Green Lantern, X-Men...same.

Ask Amazn why they bought DC comics recently :-)

Mainly because of the movies. Look at sales figures for comics now compared to the glory days. Sales figures for what is a successful comic today would have been considered a flop in the 30s, 40s, or 50s.

Google pictures of Lucca comics and Games to see what I mean

You will find attractive people at the big conventions. It's not that they don't exist, but are definitely in the minority. Go to any comic book shop in any city, what will you see? Those fat, ugly, lonely male nerds - and that's both customers and owners.

Anonymous said...

The price of them these days is partly what keeps me away. The thing is, Gaiman, Morrison, and a few others are worth reading but just buy them in trade paperback. The regular shlubs writing the monthly comics aren't very good and the art is generic. Maybe Japanese and European stuff is better, but American comics are well past their prime.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Lucca Comics & Games - yum! Daddy like!

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Dave, I must admit sometimes I feel the same way about the great bulk of the monthly comics.
But perhaps it has always been that way, and the problem is that Moore and Gaiman are doing other things now.

Anonymous said...

That could be.

Anonymous said...

Why would anyone write or buy a book on understanding comics? They're not exactly challenging.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Depends on the comic.

But the book is not about understanding the stories, but the medium. And there's a lot more to it than one might think. It's an excellent book.

Anonymous said...

That kind of thing seems the wrong approach, and diminishes the experience. It's like analyzing a Bugs Bunny cartoon to see why it's funny. As Stephen Fry said of P.G. Wodehouse, you don't analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendour.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

He's not analysing a story, but how the medium works. Like the relationship between panels and time, for example.
Masters of the medium like Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, and Alan Moore have all praised the book highly. Take a look in it next time you're in a well-equipped book store.

Anonymous said...

From an Amazon review:

It is a simple matter to discern when a Golden Age has ended by the sort of heavy analysis which immediately ensues; heavy, as in "by-the-boatload," not in terms of enlightening consequence. With no more real wheat to delight in, academics and born-too-late types busy themselves with the chaff of review and dissection.

'Nuff said?

Books like this are for idiots. Anyone not an idiot can figure it out.

Anonymous said...

From another review:

This is a justification, a plea to be taken serious, to those that consider themselves too good for comics.

This I think sums up my impression of people that analyze this kind of thing. They want to elevate a cartoon or a comic book to something more than what it is because they think it can't just be enjoyed. To put it another way, analyzing every aspect of an orgasm doesn't add anything to the experience of having one.