Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Plundering the '50s

Back at Comic Book Resources, Steven Grant thinks 1950s comics -- particularly, some of the non-superhero comics -- might have something to teach present-day creators about storytelling:

"Most comics today have no more than five panels per page, and many have fewer than four; a lot of current artists don't want to work at a smaller size than that, and the Big Fight Scenes that most comics revolve around now demand bigger and bigger chunks of real estate; it's probably only cost that has kept many superhero comics from running entire stories composed of four page fold-outs depicting a single scene. By contrast, many '50s stories had no fewer than six and often up to ten panels per page (the Toth 'Cinemascope' stories were a rare exception, anticipating the four-horizontal-panels-per-page 'widescreen' style by forty years). The stories often demanded staccato storytelling that constantly pushed stories to the next scene, unlike many modern stories that milk a single scene for eight or nine pages. Extended fight scenes were rare, often resulting in scarier characters who gave the impression they could do real damage; that was action with consequences. ...

"... Not that I want to see a wholesale return to '50s comics. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm not surprised where comics went. When you're raised in drought conditions and wake one morning to find yourself surrounded by an ocean, you don't think about continuing harsh conservation techniques, you drink as much water as you want (it's a fresh water ocean, okay?) and you go swimming. I'm suggesting, instead, sheer barbarism: it's time to pillage and plunder '50s comics like the Goths pillaging Rome. And it's time for a little of the inventiveness and creativity dark ages often mask, looting those storytelling techniques for elements that can be reapplying and adapted for modern comics. This goes back to the need for a new density of storytelling I was talking about a few columns back, because we've taken the current style as far as it can go. There's no need to reinvent the wheel if the wheel's already there for us to use; what we need now are better applications for it. '50s comics aren't the only signposts we can follow, of course, but all roads have something to offer."