Born Again Hellfire 02

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!


  1. So did Brian Bendis. So did Ed Brubaker, and actually both were more regularly published as artists than their British counterparts, I think? I like Moore and Morrison best too, but, pff.

    I think the essay is kind of… embarrassingly terrible, to tell the truth. A load of rudimentarily, if anything, supported assertions to buttress the (fairly agreeable) point that artists are presently undercredited for their work. But so’s David Gibbons for his monumental effort on Watchmen? I haven’t seen any pithy insights into Chris Weston’s horrible Captain Scarlet stylings on The Filth?

    Not so much a sharp axe as a really… er, one of them wooden knives? It’s also true comics critics are generally – like 95%+ of them – rubbish on art, even mentioning it (I know I am,) but then you get guys like this or Noah Berlatsky’s frequently hilarious readings, with no grounding terminology, no real explication and… hey, it’s hard to write words about pictures, I guess. I’d like to see a page turned on that, too, and the recent spate of enthusiasm (Abhay/O’Neil, at least) for the ‘3 Jacks’ bit in Daredevil #500 does more for it, and more impressively, without so much starchy sneers as this bit.

  2. i don’t think it’s wrong to expect the biggest writers in the mainstream industry to fully understand the medium and how to do it well, especially when they choose to approach it in collaboration.
    i enjoyed the op/ed piece quite a bit, as heavy handed as it was.

    and anyone who didn’t know that Bendis and Brubaker where celebrated cartoonists before getting “the call” from Marvel by way of Image are missing their best work.

  3. Jacob: Really? You think Brubaker’s early cartooning is his best work? “Lowlife”, “At the Seams” and “Detour” are better than “Criminal”? I know it’s cool to say “I knew him when…” and with Bendis you might have a point, but Brubaker is pretty much doing his best work RIGHT NOW, though YMMV of course.

  4. I wasn’t a huge fan of Tong’s piece either. Not every writer strives to put as much symbolism or “meaning,” or whatever jargon you want to use, into every single panel as Moore or Morrison, but does that really make them worse writers? Do they really have to explain every panel change in the script? There’s a lot that Tong is just assuming that I just don’t particularly agree with. With the availability of such high-speed communication like cell phones and the internet, maybe less needs to be said in the script and more can be communicated directly. Maybe Bendis and Brubaker trust the artists more than Moore and Morrison. Or maybe they are less talented in how comics “work” and the scripts show it. I’m not going to assume.

    But I will say this: I’d rather read a Brubaker comic in the style of Brubaker than a Brubaker comic in the style of Moore.