Spurred by a 2007 article by Jesse Hamm, “8 Things I’d Like to See More of in Comics,” [which was brought to my attention by the dude, Brandon Graham], I feel like it’s time to update that list with my own comics POV.
1. SLICE-OF-LIFE COMICS THAT AREN’T AUTOBIOS
All too often now, a new comic is released domestically that depicts a superhero or criminal doing heroic and/or criminal stuff…but wait, there’s a twist, I assure you! They’re all sponging from the same bucket. All of them. In any medium, as certain genres become emergent standouts, the genre medley begins to shorten, because everyone has their antihero or sci-fi story to tell or what not. To combat this, I suggest slice-of-life comics, but there’s a problem with this solution; domestically, at least.
In the States, slice-of-life is seen automatically as Chris-Waresque depressing, pretentious tales or Harvey-Pekaresque autobiographies. Actually, most US slice-of-life comics are autobios, for good reason: creativity-blocked artists think their real life is interesting enough to make a comic about it– that whole “write what you know” crap Elmore Leonard advocates. The problem with autobios, and the problem with US slice-of-life comics, is that the real world isn’t interesting enough to move a title. That’s why crime comics are so popular– they’re realistic to a fault…a fault where people get murdered.
But I’m telling you, it doesn’t have to be this way. If 2013 comics have taught you anything, it’s that A) Game of Thrones style multicharacter POVs works in a static narrative [like Saga], and B) a comic where someone kind of super does incredibly mundane things is what people can most easily relate to [like Hawkeye]. The only thing a slice-of-life comic needs to sell itself is one completely unrealistic setpiece/character/dynamic.
Ex: Flying Witch is a wonderful slice-of-life comic from Ishizuka Chihiro about a regular girl [who just so happens to be a witch] living in a rural area. That’s it. She does magic sometimes, but it’s not really bombastic and it doesn’t need to be. Here’s a scene where a messenger spirit comes to the house to say hi, but he scares the little sis.
If Hawkeye’s popularity is any indication of what the market likes [and there's really more to it than "sells out every month," but I don't need to explain to you how great Hawkeye is], then reading about some completely fictional character taking a breather is relatable on a deeper level than reading some god-alien punch things all the time.
2. FEMALE LEADS THAT AREN’T STRONG PHYSICALLY, BUT STILL STRONG
Most US comics with a female lead are about how badass the woman is. They are sold as a “girls can do what guys do too” kinda deal to balance the unfairly male-dominant titles every month. Most of these titles are written by men. Of these titles, most leads are written as male badasses, but drawn as ladies. While some can argue that there are ladies out there that talk & act like that, you’re right, but that doesn’t mean all ladies in comics should be sexy lamps with meatcleavers.
Takamichi has a comic called Ritou no Umi about this island girl doing island girl stuff. She’s not buff. She doesn’t have a sword. She’s not the most intelligent. But she’s not a damsel. But she has the agency to make her own decisions. But she never needs help.
There’s more than two types of women in the world, so why don’t comics reflect that more often?
3. LIMITED COLOR PALETTES
By far the easiest one-two punch of my tirade here, limit your fucking color palette. You hear it all the time, but it’s the one thing you should take away from any question asked of a professional comic artist [comic booker? comicker? cartoonist?]. We’re seeing an emergence of flat color comics and that’s– that’s just great. Reigning in the palette, slowing down on PS effects, gradients, and really forcing creative color use to enforce depth, value, and focus– that’s good coloring.
Better yet, just look at these pages from Dragonball by Akira Toriyama and Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson, respectively. Then listen to this Inkstuds where Sloane Leong and Joseph Bergin III just KILL IT talking about Coloring…an actual 21st century profession, Mom & Dad.
4. CONTEXTUAL HUMOR
When did comics stop being funny strips? Comics are still funny, but a lot of humor domestically stems from slapstick, puns, pop-cult refs, and clever retorts. Mainly, clever retorts. But what of contextual humor? Contextual humor is a visual joke fluent in humor fundamentals: setup, expansion, delivery. Comics being a visual form, surely contextual humor is the best kind of joke, right? Look, we can’t all be Calvin & Hobbes and get away with shit like this:
Humor is difficult, alright? It’s harder to make someone laugh than it is to cry, in my opinion. Here’s a talk where Anthony Burch explains why humor is so difficult [his talk is 15:00 then it devolves into let's-ask-him-everything-for-2-hrs]. Ok, if you didn’t watch that, then here’s me paraphrasing: a bad joke stands out more than repeated cliche lines like “reloading.” In a comic, an unintentionally bad joke [ie. not a pun] sticks out as something the writer/artist did bad. Jokes can also derail tone of a book too. I can see why so few make funny comics anymore, but peep this joke from Yotsuba by Kiyohiko Azuma and try hard not to relate/laugh/smile/whatever:
5. SFX USED TO FRAME THE PAGE
Artists often focus solely on the story, the costume design, the pacing, the colors, the linework, WHATEVER, and then they leave the sfx and lettering up to someone else. Or maybe they don’t and decide to tack on some sfx and balloons because that’s the easiest part, right?
The ENTIRE PAGE is a piece of art. I’ve talked about SFX on here before, and this is where comics can most easily be classified as a fine art: in the fine tuning of text, sfx, and images to create a cohesive story. Comics, a completely visual medium, must be read, but when some PS or Manga Studio sfx are slapped on, it fucks up the feng shui; fucks up the visual, fucks up how it’s read.
But then, there are artists like Kawai Juuzou who pretty much perfected the art of seamless sfx in his comic, Takamagahara.
One could say the sfx intrudes on the image, but like that 1 picture, 1000 different words crap, I’d say he turned sfx into something supplementary to the action. I’d say it makes for a better guideline than a gaudy arrow pointing at something. I don’t even understand the katakana used here, but I can sure as hell hear the sound this page makes; whether that’s a defect of the English language and a magnification of how the Japanese language is an art, I’ll never know.
If you should take ONE THING away from me ranting, it’s that sfx are a part of the comic page worth investing some time in. Hell, if a million curators can look at a Liechtenstein that literally says POP and speak of its ferocity, then, with time, they should be able to look at a piece like this from Yashiro Manabu’s one-shot, Murahagane, and speak volumes of its eyelines.
6. SFX USED AS ACTION
Same as before, not all punches need to be close-ups. Sometimes, it’s better to have the sfx be the primary focus in the action, y’know, to stand out amongst the sea of traditional action. Seen here are examples from Takamagahara, again.
7. WELL DESIGNED TITLES & LOGOS
Comics are a breaking ground for logos and brand establishment. More people can tell you that what brand that bat symbol is than the damn swoosh. Comics USED to have amazing logos, but now they’re hastily slapped on by some graphic design team that polled a billion people to understand the intricacies of what makes a logo the One Logo to Rule Them All. It shouldn’t be so difficult. Most people don’t know what they like until they’re forced to see it, so maybe polling logo designs [where the voters are cognizant of how important their decision is] isn’t the right way to do it?
Maybe the best method of doing it, is to learn from a master like Saul Bass, where he took the title of a film, figured what the fuck the thing was really about, and laid it out visually. It’s not even a comics thing, but really, comics should reflect more of the world around them than being so exclusive. Bruce Timm took some Saul Bass to heart when designing the BTAS title cards, so should you. Here’s some Saul Bass:
8. CONCEPT ESTABLISHING INFOGRAPHICS
The cheapest trick in the book. So fledgling a kid could do it.
Why spend five massive word balloons trying to explain the interesting thing your comic is entirely about when you can be more interesting and show me how it works? The world is very much a visual learning place. People learn to a fuller degree by seeing how it’s done and doing, than reading/being told how it all works. So why not spend a panel educating us on how your concept works? It’ll make for a helluva visual. Might even add something to the story.
To be clear, I’m not an advocate of the Jon Hickman infographics, that’s a whole other bag of graphic design that’s hit-or-miss with me– his ish is like reading a coursebook your syllabus tells you is worth 450 education dollars. Here, learn about remote controlling a robot on the moon from Miyokawa Masaru’s ST&RS:
Oh, here’s another cheap trick Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece definitely picked up from Akira Toriyama: when that panel meant to establish spatial location between characters and objects just isn’t working out on the page? Use an infographic.