The Caption Reads..?

Hey, everyone. This is D.C. back for something I want to open up for discussion. I’ve not finished any comic reviews (adult life, you know), but I have several in the works, and just as many questions I want to ask the readers.

Let me state the obvious again: I have read comic books for most of my life. Since comic books have existed, there have been literary devices used in them as often as any other literary work. When my comic book addiction (yes, ADDICTION) was rekindled in full swing, I’ve picked up old and new books alike to indulge in my vice.

However, something started to nag at me as I read more modern books. It was an itch at the forefront of my brain that wouldn’t stop. What was bothering me about the comic books today that did not bother me before? When I came across Ed Brubaker’s The Fade Out (you can read Kay G.’s blog on The Fade Out HERE), that annoyance I felt about modern comics made itself known.

Modern comics have NO captions in their books.

Let me rephrase: the majority of modern comic books I’ve been reading have NO captions in their books, and the others aren’t using them effectively.

Now, for me, as a comic lover and a lover of reading (as any well-meaning adult should be), I like literary devices in my books. I like the writer to show me his/her skill in describing imagery while throwing out alliterations, similes, and metaphors. As I stated in my blog on Miracleman, literary devices give life to a book.

Why are writers these days shying away from captions? Let’s ask some questions:

Do writers just not prefer captions?

If that were the case, then I would hope writers would show how skillful they are at writing so readers can understand the nuances and idiosyncrasies that give each character their own identities. I’ve seen some lack in that. Case in point:

*SNIKT!*

From the onset, Laura Kinney, formerly X-23 and now Wolverine, was portrayed as a killing machine who struggles to understand emotions and to just be a girl. More importantly, Laura’s speech style was distinct. It was one you would expect of born-and-bred assassin: succinct, calculated, tactless, and completely devoid of social grace:

When I next see Laura Kinney, she’s in the company of the young, time-lost X-Men in All-New X-Men. Worse yet, she’s talking like this:

 

 

X-23 in  The Trial of Jean Grey

And like this:

 


Now, why in the nine circles of hell is Brian Michael Bendis writing X-23 like this? Did he never pick up any X-23 or New X-Men books she was featured in before taking the reins on her?

I’m very open to changes, and I can understand Laura trying to smoothen out her own edges to feel more normal, but this quickly? Why is she speaking so colloquially now? Where did Laura’s eloquence go? Why does she use contractions when it was something she never did? It goes against her entire character, her essence, and her upbringing, no matter how heinous it was. And like real life, we rarely, if ever, change the essential parts of what makes us, us.

Did Laura ever go through an evolution in which she made attempts to break her mold? Was she shown actively trying, and failing sometimes, to “normalize” herself? Was there a progression, or did this all happen spontaneously?

Not only do I feel X-23 lost her essential parts under Bendis (neglecting her standard hack-and-slash), but she lost what made Laura distinct. She sounds generic.

Hm. I went a little tangental there, so rant over on that.

Just kidding. Rant continues!

Real writing?

Let’s take a look at how I feel “real” writers write:

Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing

Alan Moore’s 1982 run of Miracleman

 

 

Brubaker’s 2015 book The Fade Out

 

Looking at the top three examples…need I really explain what makes the captions satisfying? They delve beyond the characters’ words or thoughts. They give life to the worlds in which they live and to the situations in which they find themselves.

 

Jim Zub’s Wayward

Jim Zaub uses captions in Wayward, but they serve little more than thoughts rattling in the characters’ heads. If you’re using captions as thought bubbles without ever going beyond simple thoughts, why bother? You’re doing NOTHING special.

Even simple captioning is effective. Charles Soule’s Death of Wolverine is proof of that. Throughout the book, Soule wrote captions with simple words or phrases that, to me, conveyed primal emotions and perceptions characteristic of what an animal might perceive.

Death of Wolverine by Charles Soule

Are writers inept at caption-writing?

I will enjoy comics unto my death, but honestly? Yes. I believe the majority of today’s writers are showing that they’re inept at their expertise. If they ARE adept at caption-writing, then why isn’t it being used? It’s not enough to just show a character speaking or thinking (if they can even muster that anymore).

How about telling us what the characters feel? What do they see and think?

No, scratch that. We KNOW what the characters see and think. Better yet, how about you tell me what the characters perceive from their actions, choices, and their environments? That requires skill.

As Zaub’s Wayward proved, there’s nothing skillful about replacing thought bubbles with captions. That does not suffice for one hungry for literary skill.

Is there some stigma around caption-writing, or is it because writers believe the readers don’t want it?

On the latter point: I hope we as readers are not being taken for fools. I would hope, too, that my fellow readers are smarter than this, and are looking critically at the quality of their comics in every facet.

On the former point…We can see that that simply can’t be so, given how modern writers like Ed Brubaker, Mark Waid, and Charles Soule employ captions effectively. If they prove that it can still be done to this day, then what is the silent, apparent aversion?

Recap and reflection

Can we get more from the books we read? Can we get more quality and more skill from those who claim to be writers? I am assuming that they don’t polish their skills through lessons and workshops, which is an admittedly gross stretch on my part, but let’s consider the possibility: If those of us who work in the professional world are expected to remain up-to-date in our profession via training and workshops, is it a stretch to expect writers to be held to the same standard?

Comics are still good to me, and some writers have gotten away with writing and selling well without using captions (or with little literary skill in general, I suspect), but if you can do better, why not?

I ask again once more: Is it really too much to ask our comic writers to be writers?

END THROWDOWN.

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One response

  1. […] is a personal view, but I have a strong stance that captions can enhance a story in many ways. It may be seen as an archaic and dying practice, but captions can aid in the reader understanding […]

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