One of the most common comments about the comic is that it’s going too slow. Get ready, we’re going into rant mode here.
One of the many differences I have with the “common” American comic book geek is that I’m not American, and I’m a kid of the eighties (born in 1979, sure, but at the end… October 4th to be precise… hey, that’s next Friday!). Sure enough, that sounds pretty irrelevant, until you think about what kind of books were available to me as a teenager in the nineties and the lack of Internet.
While most of my comic book friends grew up reading tons of comics from many different publishers, I grew up reading Manga, and only a few of them. I didn’t have comic book stores that would regularly stock monthly (or any other form of periodical entertainment) comics, so I didn’t really grow up checking out what Spiderman or lame old Superman were doing this month. When I got my hands on an American comic, it had to stand alone since I didn’t have any guarantees that I would get to see the next issue, and all through my adolescence I never got two American comic books that were part of the same continuity. The fact that Marvel spread their stories throughout several titles didn’t help, so when I tried – for example – to get into the “Onslaught” story the part at the ending where it said that the story continued in some other title only made things more difficult. The result of this is that all I know about Onslaught is that he looked cool (for the time), apparently killed a bunch of heroes and had what seemed to be an egg sack with a kid in it.
So I guess I’ve made it pretty clear that I didn’t get that “periodical” part of the comics experience growing up. But around the mid-nineties a comic book shop did open here (it closed a couple of years later), and I finally got the chance to read some stuff. Fortunately, they mostly packed books, compilations and graphic novels. Through them I got into Image Comics, which I believe is a perfect display of what happened to American superhero comics in the nineties. I became a Jim Lee fan, read WildC.A.T.S. and got my hands on a few other Image books.
Still, the store (unimaginatively called “The Batcave”) mostly stocked Manga, and this was because back in the nineties South America had easier access to printed entertainment from Japan than North America did – if you’ve ever wondered why it seems that Manga and anime influences run rampant all across the southern continent, there’s your answer. Some of these also came in the form of books and compilations, so I stayed away from periodical books I couldn’t count on for stability like DragonBall and went for finished stories I could read from start to finish. This is how I came across Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed and Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira.
Wondering what my point is? Here it goes.
Those books were all I had in the mid-nineties. That store closed because of poor management and all I was left with were a few books from Image Comics, Akira and Appleseed. And those were ALL the comics I read pretty much up until nine years ago when the internet made it possible for me to start reading webcomics. Until I actually got to read books that were about comics and how to make them, I learned everything I knew from those few comics I managed to acquire through the nineties.
And what did I learn?
First, the typical American superhero comic is always in a hurry. I guess it’s because of the whole publication rhythm and culture that they have to entertain an audience that’s easily distracted, but you can feel their urgent need to have something, anything happen within those 20-something pages and then leaving it on a cliffhanger to ensure they come back for more. There’s an obvious need for flashy things, spectacular things, and so the story is something that is written on top of the images. It’s not for nothing that American superheroes have incredibly long and profound conversations and internal monologues while they’re in the midst of the action. It’s very noticeable that there’s a struggle between artist and writer. You can almost feel the writer plotting out a book and then going “and there’s a fight here, the hero wins”, then moving on. The action is something that gets in the way of the story, like a door. You’re walking, then go through it and continue walking.
The artist, on the other hand, is constantly trying to show his stuff. You can see the boredom in the “calm” parts of the book, and then you can almost see them wagging their tails in excitement when the action comes. But since those scenes are basically just something that got in the writer’s way, the artist then compensates by trying to make it look as spectacular as possible, squeezing as much awesomeness as they can into the few panels they got for it. It always goes pretty much the same: everybody poses for battle, everybody poses for attack, losers pose for defeat and winners pose for victory. It’s the Jim Lee school of action, which he probably got from some other artists in Marvel.
The typical nineties American superhero comic loves the “what” and the “who”. What happened? Who did it? And they make it look awesome.
Manga was different. They didn’t seem to be in such a hurry. I guess (GUESS) it’s a cultural thing, coming from a place were patience is considered an essential virtue. Those books were written and drawn by the same person, so you could see them taking their time and dedicating equal measures of care and attention to all the parts of the story. They’d take their time to establish an environment, they’d go into insignificant aspects of the character’s everyday lives and when the time came for action scenes everything seemed to slow down as they went into details. In the Mangas I read, the action was not something that got in the way of the story, it was part of the story. It was just as important as any other part and the things that happened during the action sequences were every bit as relevant as any other thing that happened during the “calm” moments.
The Mangas I read were more concerned with the “how” and the “why”, they need to show us how things happened and why people did what they did.
This is why you’d always get intricate expositions on their techniques, on how they were fighting and why they were doing whatever they did. American superheroes got their powers through accidents, like birth. Japanese heroes got their powers through discipline and sacrifice, like training their entire lives. And when somebody did get their powers through chance and luck, like Testsuo, you could rest assured the power would make him go mad and he would have to be stopped. Uncle Ben told Spiderman that through power came responsibility, but the Manga heroes had been training their entire lives to deal with those responsibilities. These things say a lot about both cultures.
And so that brings us back to the initial argument here, pacing.
Please keep in mind that I’m not saying one comic world is better than the other. In the end, I consider myself to have resulted in a mixture of both. But one thing is obvious, and it’s that I like to take my time and focus on all the parts of the story. And the action is also part of the story. A fight is a story. Important things happen during a fight, as anybody that has been a table-top RPGer should know. Time slows down during a fight in a RPG, and we take hours and hours to develop a battle that was actually supposed to take minutes, maybe even seconds. But the characters grow through battle, they establish relationships between the party members. Combat is where RPG characters prove themselves, and a good role player knows how to role play a battle so that it’s not just rolling dice and determining results. A good player knows that a battle is part of the story.
In today’s comic, I could’ve just gone with a couple of panels. Maybe even one of just Dwarf punching the wall. But I wanted to show why and how. How did Dwarf come to the conclusion that hitting the wall was what he should do? Why is he hitting it?
Well, if you’ve been paying attention, you might have seen that he’s had some trouble approaching his target, because it seems she’s got this magic spell that allows her to toss him around. Weretiger is immobilized (and Dwarf thinks he’s useless, anyway) and Elf seems to have his hands full with Eagle. After getting thrown against the wall, Dwarf notices that it’s cracking, so he comes up with an idea and goes with it. It’s a desperate measure, but nothing else seems to be working.
Isn’t that way more interesting than just showing Dwarf punching the dam as if he always knew what to do in a battle, right from the beginning?
It is to me. And while the comic might go a lot slower this way, I believe that at the end, when it’s read as a whole, it will make for a story where the battles are just as interesting as everything else, and battles are given their proper time. You know, like in a RPG.
TLDR? Battles are part of the story.