Comics I Read Aren’t Sh*t

Seduction of the Innocent

My first thought on Champ’s love letter to the Django Unchained Comic was “geez Danny, get a room”, but his sledgehammer to open a walnut approach to titling columns has generated a good deal of discussion. And that is a good thing. The overarching premise of his article is that mainstream comic books would benefit from following the Tarantino masterpiece because it is about something. That is, real emotional investment has been made in the characters and their actions. Whereas in the majority of comic books a real story isn’t told but a series of things just happen and are put together in an slapdash fashion.

Thinking that comic books are a lesser art form, or pedestrian, or childish and stupid is a very old, and tired, opinion. And one that you actually have to back up. You can get away with saying that something is great without much supporting evidence, but if you say that “a large chunk of what’s being printed right now is amateurish and lazy” you need to back that up with examples, evidence, and proof.

It’s easy to say that superhero comics are garbage. That they are trite, sad stories told by flatulent man-children trying to vainly recreate their joyful youth. And some comics are. Some comics are bad just like some movies or books or songs are bad. But we rarely say things like “music is sh*t” because we don’t like pop music.

I’ve written quite a bit before on how comic books are a medium and within any creative medium there are several genres. And within each genre there will be works of varying quality. If you find that mainstream superhero books don’t do it for you and you dislike the garish costuming and formulaic prose then by all means try some of the other offerings comic books provide. But if you think that you can’t generally find a good story in mainstream comics, well, I’m sorry, you’re just wrong.

I’m not even going to point to Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns or any of the seminal works to prove my point. That would be lazy on my part. Instead I’m going to show you my pull list (some of these I just grab in a collected format).

  • Thor: God of Thunder
  • Captain America
  • Flash
  • Saga
  • G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero
  • Star Wars
  • Uncanny Avengers
  • Superior Spider-Man
  • Action Comics
  • 47 Ronin
  • Punisher War Zone
  • Winter Soldier
  • Avengers Arena
  • Chew
  • Fables
  • Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror

This is what I am reading right now. And I’m barely scratching the surface of good books.  I can’t read everything and so I pick and choose based on my own tastes and what I need to cover for this website. Some of what I’m buying isn’t great so I’ll drop them, but I am enjoying comics more now than I have in years. Is everything that I read great? No, of course not. But some are. Thor is a perfect blend of myth and modern superhero storytelling. The situation is compelling, and we are concerned for the safety of the Thunder God as he battles a relentless and powerful foe. Flash is currently enjoying its best run in years and is one of the gems of the New 52. Each story arc is a compelling character drama, and the reader is shown what it means to be a hero and why Barry fights for Central City. Saga is an epic page-turner with a groundbreaking visual design that is ultimately a story about love and family. Avengers Arena is coming of age story woven into the complex tapestry of the Marvel Universe. How are any of these not good stories?  And I only mentioned some of the Image, Marvel, and DC works. If you take stock of the industry as a whole with Dark Horse, IDW, Fantagraphics, D&Q, and Humanoids there are several works which will appeal to even the most discerning of readers looking for good, intelligent stories.

And what if you aren’t looking for a good, intelligent story that tugs on your heart strings and waxes eloquently about the human condition? What if you just want a book that’s good and fun? A book can still have a great and well told story even if it doesn’t challenge the reader. Drama gets all the kudos at the Oscars but there is an art to crafting a well told story full of dick and fart jokes.

There is a general sense that the majority of comic books are sh*t but the reality is that the majority of books are good. A minority are trash, and a minority are great, but mostly comics are solid, entertaining reads. Publishing companies aren’t taping pencils to monkeys and telling them to draw for bananas, and there are a lot of hard working creative people that think long and hard about story structure and character progression before anything goes on a page.

If you approach comic books with outdated, preconceived notions that they are literary filth then you’ll probably get what you expect. If Inglorious Basterds is held aloft as the pinnacle of human creativity and a master blueprint for character motivation and storytelling then you will probably need to broaden your horizons a bit.

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Anthony Falcone
Anthony Falcone is a freelance writer living in Toronto and he is the Ayatollah of Rocknrolla. You should definitely follow him on Twitter.
Articles: 216

19 Comments

  1. It’s funny. We get into a lot of discussion here at CBD about comics being crap. Or comics being great. I have stated my case that I think comics are great reading material, awesome and important. Others have described comics as literary junk food.

    My big question is why are we so critical about comics?

    Is it because we are passionate about them. As you state in your article we don’t brand one type of music sh*t, because we don’t like the style. Why do we do it with comics?

    There are some who will read this who think “capes and tights” fare are garbage. Silly stories about testosterone fueled behemoths who punch stuff until the problem is solved. I will admit it… heck I’ll shout it, I LOVE SUPERHERO STORIES. Does that make me any less of a comic book fan? Nope!

    There are some who like critically acclaimed artistic sequential art novels. Because they like something that is more “intelligent” than a Super Hero story, does that make them a more devoted and intelligent comic book fan? Nope!

    As I’ve said many times before. We are all part of this hobby. I just wish we would stop being so judgemental about what’s great and what is sh*t. And just relax and enjoy the read.

  2. Speaking of being “lazy on your part”… “love letter”? I can’t believe you used this phrase… and “Sledgehammer”? Well… at least you’re not one to exaggerate.

    Does anyone else get the sense that Anthony is trying to tell us how we should feel about comics, thinly veiled as commentary here… again. So basically we’re asked to prove our position while Anthony gets to wax on about how great comics are without any evidence of his own.

    So the message here is, the world is asleep while Anthony is wide awake. I for one am happy for you.

  3. My big question is, why can’t you guys accept the fact that other people have differing view points. The discussion about comics being crap primarily stems from the fact that you guys keep trying to convince people like me that that comics are an “artistic medium” and how great it is. No is saying that comics aren’t fun but why do you need it to be anything more than that? Anytime someone is critical… you guys are all over it. This post is a perfect example of the retaliatory nature. Geez!

  4. OK here’s how I read this;

    Blogger picks up a comic, he reads it and loves it. He’s so inspired by it that he writes a post about it. Blogger would like more comics to be able to engage him as this one did. To convey his frustrations the blogger picks a title for his blog in the heat of that moment that I’m guessing even he does not believe.

    Readers take offense, basically defending their love for the genre, justifying their appreciation for the medium. How can comics be sh*t if I like them!!?

    I remember as a kid hating the Bee Gees but my older brother loved them. “That music is sh*t” I’d say. Now I realize the Bee Gees were never sh*t, I just never liked them! As I get older though I’m starting to like a few of their tunes (pre SNF of course).

    I don’t share Danny’s views on comics but I do grant him his opinion.

  5. One person’s crap is another’s gold. Ultimately people like what they like, and everyone approaches comics on their own terms — it’s one of the great things about the medium. Do we judge all movies the same way? All television programs? All novels?

  6. It is not my view that a superhero story always equals “not intelligent”. And not for one moment am I suggesting that capes are inferior to other forms of fiction.

    What I am interested in debating is the available space for potential brilliance and – Is that being wasted?

    This is an interesting debate and long may it continue 🙂 It’s a lot of fun when people are compelled to say out loud, what they actively believe in.

  7. Let’s just get one thing straight real quick. I love comics. Of course I love comics or… what on earth are we all doing here? 🙂

    I AM one of the hard working creative people whom spend a long time planning before executing. All be it on a smaller scale.

    I spend literally ALL of my ‘spare’ time creating my own comics and attempting to break into the industry. My most recent 6 pages can be found here… read it if you like: http://www.candyapplefox.com/CandyAppleFox_The%20Start.htm
    I’m currently working on the following 9 pages (and the site in general) and will post them weekly when they’re finished.
    You’ll also find a link to CBD on the HomePage and the ‘Stuff we like’ page so, quite clearly I’m extremely proud to be a vocal part of comicCulture, specifically CBD.

    This is where I live.

    Art and story is my blood and bones and comics is the best place to find that. Sometimes, they are frustrating. Just like when your favourite sports team mess up, you hate them and love them all at once. It’s healthy to feel so strongly about the things you feel strongly about.

    I’m not saying that Django is the right way to do it… or even the best way to do it OR that my personal view is gospel. It was simply refreshing to find a piece of material in comics that felt superior to my expectations. The aggressive and intentionally flippant title had to make its way through the editor before it landed (with a thud) inside the Internet. It fulfilled its requirements too with an abundance of shared thoughts and seemingly, a second reactive post.

    I didn’t say I couldn’t find a decent comic… the post was inspired by one that I found! (as realised by Walt, above).

    As previously stated, my horizons need not broadening any further and are not restricted. My horizon is continuously moving. I approach comics with a creative brain that’s projecting my expectations into a futuristic land where things aren’t so “formulaic”. I want (and expect) to be challenged emotionally by fiction and that’s hard to come by. In the meantime, I’m constantly in awe of the visual endeavours occurring in comics every week.

    Side note: Music wasn’t hijacked by one genre 70 years ago… and now all sounds very similar as a result. Jazz is loved just as fiercely as hip-hop or country or classical.
    If you say comics to a civilian, they will see superheroes in their mind. And that’s no bad thing. It’s actually quite wonderful.

    “I’m not even going to point to Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns.”

    No, clearly 🙂 2 great books though for sure.

    ‘Fun’ in comics is a different conversation all together.

  8. Comic books are an artistic medium. To suggest otherwise is incorrect. I also have provided enough evidence throughout my articles on this site to justify my position. And yes, you do need to prove your position when you take up a “the majority of comics are crap” point of view.

    Your view that comic books are literary junk food has been well documented throughout your postings on this website. It seems to be an opinion that, despite evidence to the contrary, you continue to hold dear.

    Your suggestion seems to be that comics books are just mindless fun and should just be enjoyed for what they are and we should all stop making a big deal of things. I agree that some comic books are just mindless fun, but even so they are still part of an artistic medium.

    Apparently you feel that important discussion around comic books centres solely on whether or not you or Walt picked up a good deal on a 9.6 at an auction.

  9. No one, ever, in any of the comments suggested that Champ doesn’t get his opinion. I think that several of us, Walt included, disagree and would try to sway Danny’s current point of view.

  10. “Comic books are an artistic medium. To suggest otherwise is incorrect.”

    Well, this pretty much sums up point and I rest my case.

  11. Rest your case on what? Do you not know what an artistic medium is? You might feel that comic books don’t have artistic merit, but that is different than saying that they aren’t an artistic medium. Do you feel that films, novels, music, or operas aren’t artistic media?

  12. The fact that you resort to using cliches, as an aspiring writer puts your understanding of the term “artistic” into question.

    The fact that you like to exaggerate the truth makes your account of my past statements less credible. Luckily for me, it’s all on record.

    The fact that you continually make reference to Watchmen and DKR as the default exemplar of “artistry” suggest you’re unappreciative of the context that spawned these two books, and you don’t realize that it actually reinforces my argument… but you’re scratching your head right now, wondering… how?

    I suspect that you may believe, the fact that these 2 great books were produced back to back is just a coincidence. Just like you probably think the fact that Steve Jobs, Bill Joy, Eric Schmidt and Bill Gates all being born in the same year is yet another coincidence.

    The fact that you’re trying to bring Walt into our debate suggests that you insecurity goes beyond wanting comics to be more then what they are.

    But most of all, you miss the point. This is not yet another debate about an “artistic medium”. It’s about poor sportsmanship. Believe it or not, I’ve never been upset about anything said CBD before, but this particular post does annoy me… because your comments suggest a narrowness of mind. As an aspiring writer, you more than anyone else should be able to find the words to better communicate you beliefs while being inclusive. If your write ups had style, your exaggerations could be attributed to artistic flare. But instead, the inconsistencies and contradictions makes you appear to be just stumbling around.

  13. Just out of curiosity what seems more of a narrowness of mind? Thinking that comic books are a vast medium that creates both garbage and high quality works of artistic merit? Or being unwilling to acknowledge or really discuss that comic books are an artistic medium?

    However your criticisms of my style and writing ability are well taken. Personal improvement is one of my passions. Perhaps I’ll re-read all of your posts to see how it’s done.

  14. My big question is to Charlie, why can’t you accept the fact that other people have differing view points. The discussion about comics being an artistic medium stems from the fact that you keep trying to convince people like me that comics are “crap” and how terrible they are. No one is saying comics aren’t fun but why do you not want it to be more than that? Anytime someone is critical… you are all over it. This post is a perfect example of the retaliatory nature. Geez!

  15. Again Anthony, you continue to misrepresent me. We’ve already had plenty of discussions about comics as an “artistic medium”, there is no unwillingness here, if anything… quite the opposite. But what more is there to be said? When you re-read my post, pay particular attention to the discussions we’ve had on:

    • Commercialism and what constitutes art
    • Photoshop and how digital art is not recognized
    • My analogies and comparison to other forms of art
    • Personal expression or the lack their of
    • The 80/20 rule, which also exists in other markets like food
    • Technique versus meaning
    • Creators and deadlines (i.e.: video of John Romita Jr. telling it like it is)
    • Also, have a look at my reading recommendations. Books like Boom, Bust and Echo, No Logo (free video also posted).
    • Other videos I recommend were the Corporation and the Persuaders on PBS
    • We also discussed, copyright, digital versus print and demographics
    • Our discussions on “taste”

    It’s all been discussed before. The evidence is all there and it’s overwhelming. However, you have to keep the discussion logical, otherwise how can anyone understand what you are saying? For example…

    “…the reality is that the majority of books are good.”

    There is NO WAY this is possible by the shear scale of production volume, even if this statement is base on your preference alone. This is an ill rational statement and makes no sense. If you can’t see that, then you are speaking a different language.

    SENTRYXI says… “Anthony is my friend. You leave him alone you bad guy you. You’re different because you can think for yourself, and you’re not on our Facebook so you don’t belong here.” You seem to be having trouble coming up with your own words so I hope you don’t mind me helping you out . And thanks for the effort…

  16. Hey Charlie, I couldn’t find your discussions between you and Anthony. Could you please post links to all of them.

  17. No, the majority (so, at least 51% let’s say) of books are good. Not great, not earth shattering, but good. The minority are great or total trash. You don’t feel that way and I am sorry that I could not convince you otherwise.

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