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Artsy works vs. Straight-ahead storytelling
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Greg Stephens
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 04, 2004 1:30 pm    Post subject: Artsy works vs. Straight-ahead storytelling Reply with quote

OK, I have a question about something. Today, on his Morning Im-Blog, Scott wrote a little something that goes like this:
scott mccloud wrote:
I'm a strong supporter of experimental comics, so much so that I've often been blamed for a lot of the more artsy incomprehensable fringe works that have come out in the last decade. But as a culture, we clearly need more straight ahead storytelling. Yet another reason Blankets will prove a pivotal work for the generation just emerging?and why I'm really looking forward to Flight.

My question is: Why do we, as a culture, clearly need more straight-ahead storytelling? I didn't think there was a lack of this. Maybe my question arises out of the use of the word "clearly," since something that seems to be plainly obvious to one person, isn't (or hasn't been) obvious to me.

Secondly, I'm not sure that Blankets is the best example of straight-ahead storytelling. It seems to me to be one of the best recent examples of a triumph of form over substance. It's a beautiful comic- no doubts there- and is a very easy read (which, I suppose, puts it under the banner of straight-ahead storytelling), but where it succeeds in visual beauty, comic craft and layered metaphors, really only masks the fact that the story isn't all that involving. The pleasure of Blankets comes from reading a comic that is well done as a comic, not from the story it has to tell.
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Kris Lachowski
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 04, 2004 2:02 pm    Post subject: Re: Artsy works vs. Straight-ahead storytelling Reply with quote

Okay first off a small side note for scott:
The entry for today's blog says "03/03"

Okay now to get into this bear of a topic

Greg Stephens wrote:

My question is: Why do we, as a culture, clearly need more straight-ahead storytelling? I didn't think there was a lack of this. Maybe my question arises out of the use of the word "clearly," since something that seems to be plainly obvious to one person, isn't (or hasn't been) obvious to me.

Yeah I think I'm with you on that.

Greg Stephens wrote:
Secondly, I'm not sure that Blankets is the best example of straight-ahead storytelling. It seems to me to be one of the best recent examples of a triumph of form over substance. It's a beautiful comic- no doubts there- and is a very easy read (which, I suppose, puts it under the banner of straight-ahead storytelling), but where it succeeds in visual beauty, comic craft and layered metaphors, really only masks the fact that the story isn't all that involving. The pleasure of Blankets comes from reading a comic that is well done as a comic, not from the story it has to tell.

I don't know about that... I don't have a copy of Blankets around (and I'm glad I don't because this would probably give me an excuse to read it again for the fifth time even though I have no time) but I seem to recall being very involved in the story I identified with alot of the issues of a long distance relationship, and first loves, and qualms with Christianity and not particularly liking to be at parties or around people doing drugs, and I don't know I can just keep going on and on. i just know I was very involved in the story. I maybe almost sort of could see your point about the visual beauty and comic craft masking what the story actually was, but visual beauty and comic craft are completely intertwined with the story. The same way vocabulary and sentance structure make the story in prose. I don't think there are very many storys that are all that interesting when they are just an outline that has not been crafted.
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William G
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 04, 2004 4:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Since humanity has crawled up from the mud, we have told stories. Stories have always been an important form of social cohesion. Everything from a shared mythology to a form of entertainment tells us about us why things are the way they are.

The thing about stories is that they follow the "And then...and then...and then...as a result..." pattern. "Herakles killed the Nemian Lion, and then he put on it's skin, and then no one could hurt him, and then he beat up a bunch of guys, and then he made friends with Xena: Warrior Princess. As a result, we now have Andromeda"

I don't know if it's simply conditioning, but this is what we respond to, and not appealing to that is a bit silly.

Now, I've come out against webcomics being too experimental because we're not at the point where we can afford to alienate the causal audience yet, but I see the need for experimentation. If we didn't have it, then we wouldn't know what does and doesn't work.

To use one of my wacky metaphors- A experimental guy sticks a fork in a light socket, he gets elctrocuted, we go, "Dude, I guess I better not do that myself."

The experimental guy sticks a watermelon in a light socket, gets electrocuted while cleaning it out, we go "Dude, I better not do that myself."

And after thousands of stupid mistakes, experimental guy sticks a bulb with a good amount of light with low electrical useage, and we go, "Dude, great! I decided to patent your idea and release it to the general public for lots of money. Thanks a bunch. Go see what you can do with that wall plug over there."

That's what expimenters are for- to do the dumb stuff so we dont have to. And when they finally get it right, we can steal it from them.

The End.
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Rip Tanion
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 04, 2004 6:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think there's plenty of room for both straight ahead story telling, and experimental comics. Experimental comics don't always succeed, but I commend the efforts of anybody who tries something new, even if it fails.

Beckerson's view on those who experiment seems a bit cynical to me. He seems to think that those who experiment are not the ones who get rewarded, but I have to disagree. Sure, a lot of innovators do get ripped off, but many others reap the fruits of their labors. And it's not just fame and fortune that matter when you sweat and slave to create something entirely new. There's a certain personal satifaction that comes with creating something original, especially after you've toiled and wracked your brain to get it right. Fame and fortune are great, but it's the gravy, not the meal.

Of course, if someone else get rich and famous off of your work, it can be a real ass burner.

To quote Willy Wonka (quoting Arthur William Edgar O'Shaughnessy), "We are the music makers, /And we are the dreamer of dreams."

To be continued...
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William G
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 04, 2004 7:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Rip Tanion wrote:
Beckerson's view on those who experiment seems a bit cynical to me.

In my corner of town, we call it "Realistic"

Quote:
And it's not just fame and fortune that matter when you sweat and slave to create something entirely new. There's a certain personal satifaction that comes with creating something original, especially after you've toiled and wracked your brain to get it right. Fame and fortune are great, but it's the gravy, not the meal.

Funny you should mention meals. The soup kitchen loves idealist artists.
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Rip Tanion
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 04, 2004 8:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Don't get me wrong, Becks. I'm not saying artists should starve for their art. I'm a "dyed in the wool" capitalist. I believe if someone is willing to pay you a nice chunk of change for doing what you do (so long as they don't make you turn your product "vanilla"), you're a fool not to take it. I'm not opposed to commercial endorsments, either. I think, if you do it right, you can find the right balance between integrity and the commercial.

I was basicaly trying to defend those whose try to do something different artisticly; that's all. I think such people should be admired.
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Connor Moran
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 05, 2004 5:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I would tend to agree with William's take on experimentation, although I'd like to mention that the idea of "experimentation" in comics is a little different than in other media simply because comics as we know them are so very new. With other media, there is usually some actual tradition that experimental works are going off away from. With comics, what "rules" exist are so new that they really don't have the power of tradition over rule-breakers.

But I do think it's clear that the kind of artist or writer that we would call an "experimenter" probably doesn't do it with fame and fortune in mind. In the arts, the guy who invents the lightbulb and then gets it stolen wouldn't see that as getting screwed, because theoretically that's exactly what he was going for to begin with. The experimenter wants his or her particular theory of art to become dominant.
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Greg Stephens
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 05, 2004 5:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Connor Moran wrote:
...because comics as we know them are so very new.

You mean "webcomics" here, surely?
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kaos_de_moria
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 07, 2004 8:14 am    Post subject: comics and webcomics Reply with quote

Greg Stephens wrote:
Connor Moran wrote:
...because comics as we know them are so very new.

You mean "webcomics" here, surely?


for webcomics this obviously does apply. but i think it also applies in some ways to comics. of course comics are not new in a simple matter of counting years. but if you have a look on how many people developed the media of comics, how much mainstream and art is published, etc. comics are far back, even compared to another 'new' media, the movie. therefor the realized boundaries of comics are still small and there is a lot more space to explore. i think to do something really new in the media of comic is still easier than in medias like movie or even literature. therefor you can call comics new, even if you count old-egyptian paintings as comics.

kaos
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Connor Moran
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 07, 2004 4:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Greg Stephens wrote:
Connor Moran wrote:
...because comics as we know them are so very new.

You mean "webcomics" here, surely?


No, I mean print comics. At the oldest they are only as old as, well, printing. And the conventions of the American print comic book are really less than a hundred years old. Compared to the traditions of, say, poetry or drama, that's hardly a drop in the bucket. Even prose fiction , which is itself a newcomer to the western cannonof literature, is far older.

Another thing I forgot to mention in my post is that I think it's silly to see formal experimentation and "clear storytelling" as mutually exclusive. I don't think that this is true at all, particularly in something like webcomics where a radical form is not neccesarily harder to read than a traditional form. Think of Scott's long scrolling comics. I would qualify these as "experimental," but most of them tell a pretty clear story.
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CleverUserName01
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 12, 2004 3:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Connor Moran wrote:
Another thing I forgot to mention in my post is that I think it's silly to see formal experimentation and "clear storytelling" as mutually exclusive.


An excellent point. Experimentation can take a lot of forms. To use the cited example of this thread, Thompson's Blankets, there's a quality to it that might be described as experimental, or at least risky. It has been rare, to say the least, in the history of the medium to create a long-form novel of the sort that Blankets is. There have been many long, dense stories (e.g. Moore's Watchmen and From Hell), but most of them have been originally published in standard, serialized comic book format and then later collected. Even the godfather of the form, Eisner, hasn't created something of that size; beautiful and absorbing as his work is, his books are all fairly slender volumes. Thompson's work is probably the first of that size to be created in book format first to break through to a wide comics-reading audience. It was an experiment on the part of both Thompson and Top Shelf to see if something like that could work - and it's paid off quite nicely for them, obviously. Everyone's read it - even the readers who live on a diet of "Ultimate Whosiwhatsis" and "Wizard" hot-picks have read Blankets.

As for whether it works as a story...well, that's a judgment call on the part of the reader, isn't it? "One man's trash" and all that. Some people get really wrapped up in Gone With the Wind, others wonder why Rhett doesn't give that uppity bitch Scarlett a good smack and do the whole "I don't give a damn" thing from the get-go. Some readers really dig on Ultimate Spider-man, others wonder what the big deal is about rehashing stuff that Lee, Ditko and Romita did 40 years ago (with more style and panache, to boot). To say that Blankets "isn't all that involving" as a story is true - but only for certain readers.
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DecafSilicon
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2004 7:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Indeed. It certainly involved me, a 19-year-old Christian who grew up struggling with his faith in much the same way Thompson did. I noticed that some of the symbols and the narration distanced me, though, especially when my interpretation of the story differed from Thompson's. But that's a difference of the just-the-facts narrator of realism vs. the interpretive narrator of the memoir.
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