Sunday, February 06, 2005


In the course of a review of The Thing: Night Falls on Yancy Street, by Evan Dorkin and Dean Haspiel, in The Comics Journal #265, Tom Spurgeon makes an insightful observation:

"The real-world elements which [Dorkin and Haspiel] put into play end up being judged not on their usefulness in exploring an issue or theme, but in terms of their appropriateness for marching these characters around a while. Like many Marvel comics, even something halfway evocative about the human condition quickly becomes a servant of the license and the larger story that has accured around it. Dorkin and Haspiel have hit on an unfortunate truth: Marvel Comics are mostly about themselves, the way long-running television shows nearly always lurch away from their original concepts and adopt the characteristics of soap opera." (p. 185)

Spurgeon's insight here is even more widely applicable than he suggests. The same thing happened to Peanuts in its final three decades: it changed from a strip about childhood to a strip about icons named Charlie Brown, Lucy, Peppermint Patty, etc. (R. Fiore said something similar once, though I can't remember it exactly now.) But it's not just commercial long-running narratives to which this happens. A year or two ago, I decided to stop buying individual issues of Los Bros. Hernandez's titles, and wait for the trades. At the time, I said that it was because the wait between issues, and the complexity of the plots, meant that it was impossible for me to follow the new issues without going back and rereading all the preceding ones. While this was true, I later recognized that it was only part of the reason; in fact, Bros' two main sagas no longer excited me as they once had. And reading Spurgeon, I realized why this was: like Marvel Comics and late Peanuts, "Locas," and the saga of Luba and her family, had become mostly about themselves when I stopped reading. In the case of Los Bros. Hernandez, it's clearly not a case of franchises being kept artificially alive for commercial reasons. Rather, it seems to be that Jaime and Beto have fallen in love with their characters and can't bear to let them go.

I can't say how prevalent this is generally, because I haven't read that many long-running comics. I stopped reading Cerebus early in "Reads" (before the infamous #186); at least up to that point, Sim had avoided having Cerebus be only about itself by shoehorning his real-world concerns into it, whether they fit the characters or not. As for manga, the longest run I've read is eighteen volumes of Kare Kano (in Japanese). So far Masami Tsuda has done a good job of keeping her characters real, though it must be admitted that there's a good deal less story in those eighteen volumes of Kare Kano than in the first 160 or so issues of Cerebus, though the page counts are approximately the same.

And to preempt the objection Dave Fiore is probably poised to make, for a narrative to be primarily about itself isn't necessarily terrible -- Krazy Kat, one of the greatest strips ever, was about little more than itself throughout its run. But both Peanuts and Los Bros. Hernandez's work were damaged by it.


In case anyone cares to read more of my opinions on comics, I have two reviews in this issue, a one-page review of Prophecy Anthology vol. 1 and a "bullet" review of Soap Opera, by Emily Blair. (For the record, I did not choose the panels which illustrate the Soap Opera review.) The issue also contains a bunch of other stuff, naturally, including two appreciations of William Steig, thirty color pages of 1950s crime comics drawn by Harry Anderson, and an interview with Eric Shanower.


I just finished watching the first disc of Gantz, a new anime that just hit the shelves of my local video store. And I may have been too pessimistic a few days ago about the possibility of Inu getting licensed.

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