The Primordial Soup: What makes comics special

Welcome to the first Friday post of The Primordial Soup.  This is going to be the website’s weekly blog where we talk about things that make comic books interesting and help foster creative and personal interest in the medium as a whole.  Enjoy!

Let’s say you have an amazing idea for a story.  You’ve got a killer setting, amazing characters, and a plot that will leave the reader breathless in awe.  But do you know how you will make this story come to life?  Are you going to write a novel?  Make a movie?  A comic book?  Well believe it or not, each one of those mediums has a specific set of strengths and weaknesses that change the way people see and think about your story and we are going to talk about it now.

Let’s start with writing a novel or even just putting words down on a page.  This one of the oldest forms of story telling and thanks to the internet and low cost printing, one of the cheapest and most accessible.  When you are writing something down you are requiring the audience to use their imagination.  You provide the basic framework in the story while the reader takes it the rest of the way.  Let’s use the passage below as an example:

“John stumbled out of the bar piss drunk and angry.  His wife had left him, his kids wouldn’t talk to him, and the bill collectors had been hounding him for weeks.  He wanted to get in his car and drive somewhere far away, somewhere where all those problems didn’t matter but it was no use, he had forgotten his keys”.

What can we tell about John?  We know he’s drunk, we know his life has been a mess for a while now, and we know he is very upset.  One of the greatest strengths of the written word is that it makes a lot of subtext and back story very accessible very quickly.  We know where John is, we know about his past, and we know what John is thinking about.  What we don’t know are the physical details of this scene.  Where does John live?  What kind of car does he drive?  What does John look like?  While one reader may see John as a formerly successful business man stumbling towards his soon to be repossessed Mercedes in the middle of the day another may see John as a redneck attempting to drive his beat up pickup truck at midnight.   Writing something like a novel or a short story is very good if you want to make your story personal and internalize someone’s innermost thoughts but it leaves a lot to the imagination when describing the environment and story setting.

Now let’s look at the opposite end of the story telling spectrum: film.  In keeping with the passage above here’s a video of a very drunk man walking down the street.

If you watch the video a couple of things become immediately apparent.  We know exactly what the man looks like, we know exactly what he is doing, and if we apply some thought to it we can make some very well educated guesses about the man’s age, where he is, and when the video is taking place.  But here’s the question: why is this man stumbling around in the middle of the day stone drunk?  Was he thrown out of a bar?  Is he upset over his life like John is?  What is he thinking about right now?  Granted, if you write a script that includes a man wandering around town drunk you can insert clues and pieces of story that give the audience a clue but that requires something like a voice over or subtle clues placed in the film that some audience members might not pick up on.

So now we have these two options: the written word which allows you to easily describe a character’s internal thoughts and worries but makes exposition and story setting a bit difficult or you have visual media which allows you to easily describe the setting but makes internal struggle and personal thoughts difficult.  Which brings us to comics.  Take a good look at the image below.drunk

Here we have a drunk man stumbling home.  We know he is drunk because of the bottle he’s holding, his nose, and the beads of sweat floating around his head.  We also know what’s going on in his head thanks to the text inside the thought bubble.  We know he’s married, that he is not happy with said marriage, and we know his wife is lying in wait for him and she is not happy.   The medium of comics can help an author provide the best of both the written word and film: a clearly defined setting and access to personal feelings and thoughts.

We hope you enjoyed the inaugural post of The Primordial Soup.  If you have any thoughts or comments please feel free to leave them either on our website, Facebook page, or Twitter (@Cabriancomics).  If you didn’t like the post then we hope it made you think at the very least.

One thought on “The Primordial Soup: What makes comics special

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