I love comics. I really do. I think it’s the most underrated of all art forms. Stories can be told in comics that can’t be told in any other medium, and that excites me. But a while back, after years of buying comics religiously every single week, I gave up on comics altogether. Here’s why.
1) Rising costs
It’s not really the fault of comic book publishers that the price tags keep going up. The cost of paper is higher than it’s ever been, and all that exclusive talent doesn’t come cheap. But I got to the point where it just couldn’t be justified in this economy.
On the plus side, the major publishers now have ereader apps available, allowing you to buy and read comics on your iPad or what have you, at cheaper prices than their printed counterparts. This certainly eases the wallet strain, but the selection of brand new weekly titles is usually horribly inadequate. It’s just not competitive with print rags if you want to keep up with the hottest titles — not yet.
Lecture me all you want about how superheroes are drawn in comics with artistic license, showing the kind of “perfection” that we all wish we could look like. I know all the arguments, I’m very familiar with the fraternity-like culture of comics and how depictions of exaggerated bodily features are part of the biz. But come on: gigantic men that even the world’s best bodybuilders can’t measure up to, with muscles rippling in their earlobes? And that’s nothing compared to the women: stiletto heels, stick-like legs, wildly-curved thighs (where usually a thong’s waistband is sticking out), a waist so narrow it’s practically nonexistent, and boobs that look like giant watermelons have been lashed to her chest. And don’t even get me started on what they wear.
Yeah yeah, I know. Revoke my geek cred for saying something so scandalous. I don’t care! I’m a happily married man and I not only love my wife, I respect her. Depictions of women in comics may have started as “appreciation for the female form” in a heightened, superhero kind of way, but they’ve become visual stimuli for the horny male. Comics artists are drawing hyper-exaggerated porn that’s made purely to get themselves hard. And guys, if you don’t respect women enough to be offended by that, then you don’t deserve to be with a woman.
3) Too much hype, not enough depth
Comic book solicitations are practically an artform all their own, albeit a pitiful one. “We promise you: this is the issue you CANNOT MISS!” “These events will have lasting consequences for years to come!” “This issue is going to crack the Internet in half!” (Hi there, Mr. Quesada.) That’s pretty much how every solicitation reads for every comic book released every month.
There’s this notion among more respected forms of storytelling that comics are “all middle,” that nothing ever really changes because comics publishers have to keep their characters basically the same in order to protect their brand. Comics publishers are trying so hard these days to refute this idea that they’re overcompensating with over-the-top hype and even worse, major change to the status quo after major change after major change. They’re causing comics to be the very “inconsequential fluff” that they want so desperately to avoid.
Things change so frequently in major titles nowadays that characters and situations have no room to live and breathe and grow organically. And “major changes” last as long as a 3- or 6- issue story arc, and then the next big thing comes along. Case in point: how often do superhero teams like the Avengers, the JLA, and the X-Men change their rosters? These teams are revolving doors, with a single line-up never lasting long enough to let the characters stretch their legs and see how the new mechanics work between heroes who are suddenly working side-by-side. If all you have is endless change, there’s no solid footing for anything in your story; it’s just one earthquake after another. If nothing is stable or sacred, then it’s hard for readers to find something worth caring about.
4) Throwing endless ideas at the reader is not storytelling
Some of my favorite storytellers work in comics. Ed Brubaker is a genius; what he did with Captain America and Daredevil is some of the best stuff either character has ever been through. Brian Michael Bendis is a storytelling factory of infinite, brilliant tales. Some of these writers are so good, it’s scary, and I have mad respect for them. But they’re the exception. The general rule is that comic writers ignore things like character development and emotional resonance in favor of throwing their latest big, crazy idea at the reader.
Introducing twenty new characters in a single story arc is not storytelling. Coming up with cool new ideas is not storytelling. Giving superheroes new powers is not storytelling. If characters don’t emote, if they don’t grow and change, if they don’t experience things that we as readers can relate to… then you don’t have a story. You have mind-blowing ideas and lots of cool imagery, sure, but there’s no substance.
It’s like the soil is fertilized with all these fantastic ideas… and never allowed to grow. Instead of stories, we have concepts. Nothing grows out of the ground; it’s just endless fertilizer.
Where’s the drama? Where’s the soul? Where’s the beating heart, the emotion, the marrow of life?
This is the biggest reason I grew weary with modern comics. I don’t mind fast food now and then; sometimes I even crave it. But if I want something satisfying, I want a meal. Most comics are content to feed us milkshakes and condiments.
Where’s the beef?