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:
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:
And like this:
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!
Let’s take a look at how I feel “real” writers write:
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 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.
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?
Hello everyone this is Kay G. coming at you.
I have been introduced to something new and fascinating, something that fits my fad very well. (FYI: huge Film Noir lover) What I’m talking about is The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker. A classic “who done it” Hollywood tale set in the 1940’s. The story opens up just like a late Hollywood film, in the era of beauty, entertainment and great discovery; a place where stars are born. It is also the era of mystery and murder so from screen to page, a classic Film Noir.
Brubaker did a great job with his research team; he got the look and feel of this era just right. Brubaker got it down to the lingo, wardrobe, cars, war and the chain smoking. The story also mentions blacklisting, the Hollywood Ten, and even the communist party which during this time period in entertainment was a big deal. This story is written so well that it reads like a book, better yet it reads like a film, and Sean Phillips does a beautiful job showing how much visual plays an important part. The coloring is vivid and bold; Sean even does black and white shots when in the characters are in filming.
Fade out starts off with Charlie Parish a big shot Hollywood screenwriter, who still has nightmares of the war passed out drunk in an unknown bathtub. When Charlie awakes he finds Val Sommers raped and murdered with no recollection of what’s happened. Val is a hot and new coming actress who’s starting in a film Charlie is writing…well she was an actress. The whole night becomes a blur of images while Charlie attempts to put pieces together that he just can’t quiet figure out.
During the set of production, there is no mercy, re-shoots must be taken a new actress must be found and replaced. In the terms of show business, “the show must go on” and surprisingly enough there’s already been a new actress hired for the part. (Hmm…suspicious much?)
Sex and drugs play a big role in old Hollywood films. Women would do ANYTHING to make their dreams of being an actress come true, and the men producing and casting very much knew this. The scene where Maya Silver is introduced to take over Val’s role, is very fishy and makes the murder mystery that much more mysterious. At this point in the story, anybody could have killed Val.
The second act starts off with scandal and mystery as much as the first. Gil starts up by getting into some trouble once again. Gil’s a blacklisted screenwriter, and Charlie’s best friend along with being his working partner. Gil finds out information about Al Kamp; an old dirty man with a taste for young woman and co-founder of Victory Street Productions. Gil finds out about Kamp’s lifestyle and how the possibility of his past and fondness of young women might have a connection with Val’s murder. Gil gets stopped by Brodsky who is the head of security, the man who’s payed to clean up messes and bury them into the ground.
Maya and Charlie also become very cozy, very soon. One night at movie premiere, Charlie was asked to escort Maya and after some heated debate with a man that had to do with her ex-husband and her past, it let up to a very hot night. Charlie and Maya were glued together much after this, with sneak peek glances on set, and a weekend away. Charlie and Maya’s relationship took on steamy fire that led to sex and more sex every time. Yet, like everything else in Charlie’s life, nothing ever good seems to last for him. We find out a little more into whom Maya was and what her past was, a Mexican girl who was made to look like a star with the rest of her past washed and threatened away. All the while, Gil continues to dig up as much information about the conspiracy with Val’s death as he can with threat notes and stake outs.
The final act, act III is more complex, crazy, and everything just spills out. Charlie recollects about an evening he found Val lying on the floor, sick and drunk. This night secrets of each other’s past are told. Val tells Charlie about when she was a kid, and what she had to do to satisfy the needs of producers to help her career. Charlie reveals his past in the war and what it did to him, along with him fronting for Gil to help both their jobs and survival.
Secrets get deeper and truth gets told, this act is the most compelling of them all. In the middle of all this mess we find out about an affair Charlie has with Gil’s wife, which causes him to be more of drunk then he already was. Gil gets caught too deep into the truth and drags Charlie along with him to Kamp’s home trying to get the old man to talk, all to find him dead in the bathtub. Both men get caught and try to escape, but with guns blazing Gil gets shot and Charlie run’s to Maya’s for help. Charlie wakes up the next morning with Gil dead in the car and Brodsky ready to clean up the mess.
Everything becomes buried again once more. Brodsky made Gil’s death look like a poker game gone wrong. Maya is back with the Hollywood heartthrob Ty, now engaged for PR purposes and Charlie is even a bigger mess then he was before. In the end he finds out the truth to what happened. Charlie goes to Brodsky on the night of the big movie premiere and asks for the truth. That Drake Miller, an undercover agent looking for communist got too caught up in his pretend role of a producer. Miller enjoyed the life style he was pretending to be in, got caught up the parties, liquor and loose women. In his quest one night to find out the truth he goes to Val, with her not saying anything, anger rises in him and he chokes her to death. This truth as Brodsky tells Charlie, is full of maybe’s and speculation.
The story ends with Charlie a drunken mess, who has all of what happened to him and the people he knew swept under the rug. Charlie has to live this eating at him for the rest of his life; the truth about Val, Gil, Maya, and even himself. The ending had me feeling dirty and disappointed, everything getting swept under, no justice nor glorification, just darkness and another day. The Fade Out, is a gripping story of mystery and excitement that had me begging for more, just too bad it ended the way it did. In this ending, as sad as it was, spoke the truth of Old Hollywood and what really used to happen.
This is Kay G. over and out.