Over at TCR, Ng Suat Tong labors mightily and makes the startling and groundbreaking twin discoveries that cartoonists who write use the formal conventions of the comics medium more fluently than writer artist teams and — even more shockingly — that few comics writers are as inventive as Alan Moore and Grant Morrison.
While a number of comic writers claim to revere and admire Alan Moore, few if any have shown any interest in studying or emulating his works. Moore’s influence on comics writing virtually stops short at grimy, gritty realism. To be sure, I’m not asking writers today to develop an imagination on par with Moore’s but there are some skills which can be learned. For instance, his understanding of the formal properties and history of comics, a more complex interplay between text and drawing and the methods by which he layers structures and scripts. It is clear that Rick Veitch in his Swamp Thing run, which followed Moore’s, managed to pick up a number of these lessons and more.
I don’t think either of those particular points is not worth saying, but saying modern comics writers are crappy because they don’t use panel transitions as well as Frank Miller is like saying most people are crappy swimmers because they don’t have 8 gold medals like Michael Phelps. Accurate but not particularly useful.
I’m not sure how useful formalist criticism of comics writing is at this point. I think a lot of today’s hot shots fail because they don’t understand plot, theme and character, not because they don’t understand the proper use of the splash page ending. I think it’s pretty much the biggest given in all sequential art that cartoonists (writer/artists) make overall better comics than team-ups, and use comics as a more transparent transport medium for quality storytelling. (That said, the now-secret pasts of both Brubaker and Bendis as cartoonists is certainly an interesting avenue to explore.)
For what it’s worth, Sean T. Collins didn’t like the essay either. But at least there’s one more good sharp axe around now!