What is it that draws us to comics? Is it the pages upon pages of beautiful (or perhaps not so beautiful) artwork? Is it the stories ranging from the twisted tales of gods, to tragic heroes, to simple everyday problems? Is it the combination?
This is an idea I have struggled with for a while. Do the stories in comics hold up on their own, without the visual aids? Is the art their to make up for mediocre story telling? I think in a lot of cases, especially those of mass produced major studio comics, i think the answer to the latter may be yes. But there are always exceptions, and therein lies the problem.
Could Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series story be told in novel form? Probably. Would it be as exciting? Doubtful. Even though the art found throughout Sandman is profoundly mediocre, it still adds to the wonder of the fantastic story telling. Similarly, the webcomic XKCD is generally incredibly basically drawn, using stick figures, allowing the stories and jokes to be the main focus. Similarly, I probably wouldn’t read XKCD in a text only format, it needs some form of image to maintain its charm, and its comedic value.
Other comics, however, are different. Nate Powell’s Swallow Me Whole is a beautifully illustrated comic, with a story that has confused the hell out of me, even after several readings, despite the fact that it deals with depression, something I am all too familiar with.
There are also comics that achieve a near perfect balance. I would read a novel version of Craig Thompson’s Blankets without a moment of hesitation, but it just so happens that he is an incredible cartoonist, and the combination of his words and images creates what is, to me, the epitome of the art form.
But what does this mean? Am I silly for enjoying Batman because he is cool, despite the fact that Batman art ranges from pretty good to decidedly poor? Does it hurt comics as an art form that people do continue to pay money for products that are lacking in one (or sometimes both) area(s)? I think in a way, perhaps, but in others, perhaps not.
If you enjoy reading an OK story, with OK pictures, that is also OK. If you are looking for beautiful images, with some semblance of plot thrown in as an afterthought, that is OK too. It just needs to be understood, that as a consumer, you vote with your dollars. Buy into the things you want to see, because that is the best way to get artist and publisher attention, and will have more effect than any rambling on the internet ever could.
– James Macrae