Story VS Art

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

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3 Responses to Story VS Art

  1. jaygervais says:

    I believe, at least this is true for me, that one of the primary reasons people are drawn to comics is because it is an art form, which allows a great deal of self expression. Unlike standard literature, artists are able to convey meaning through images, which, at least in some cases, can reveal a great deal more than language can. I am a huge believer in existentialist philosophies that reveal the boundaries created by language, and in a sense, this can be overcome with the use of art as a form of expression. What the artist is trying to reveal may not coincide with the interpretations derived from their work, and a single work may be interpreted differently between readers, but it is this ambiguity that makes art so beautiful. Also, what the artist is trying to say may be different from the boundaries given to them by publishers, so subtle, unintended meanings may be present, which makes it even more enjoyable to read. Art is a form of communication, like literature, and comics are a unique form of expression that includes both of these formats.

    -Jay Gervais

  2. kpattemore says:

    I agree that everyone has preferences, for me I would have to have an equal balance- if the art is bad i cannot read it is it is too distracting, but if the art is decent and the story is good ill read it. Same vice versa, however the story means a little more to me, if i don’t like the story line my the 10th page, i have to drop it. (Its the same with me and novels as well) Even if i hear that its a good story if you reach the middle, i get turned off, and i know i have missed out on something good, but it was to start off good me to read

  3. bradynselin says:

    Personally I prefer a good story over a beautifully drawn comic. I have an appreciation for good story regardless of the appearance, if an epic story was drawn with stick men I would be just as happy as if the story was accompanied by Michaelangelo level art. But like you said that is an individual preference.

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