I’ve been watching superhero movies lately, catching up on the blockbusters from the last few years.
Watching these movies—Ironman and Wolverine and the rest—takes me back to my formative years, when I was so into comics—particularly Marvel, but also independents like American Flagg and Warp and Cerebus. (I was never really a DC gal, not for lack of trying.)
I remember rambling down to Fat Jack’s Comicrypt every Friday and dropping ten, twenty, thirty bucks, which was a massive amount of money in those days. I loved it. I loved the serial nature of those books. I loved getting caught up in the ongoing plots, the soap opera conflicts and resolutions. But despite the soap opera drama, those comics didn’t have soap opera plotting: the conversation after conversation after conversation, with only the faces and settings changing. In comic books, things really do happen.
My first semester in grad school, I had the great privilege of studying under Kelly Link. One of the books she recommended was Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. There’s a lot in there that applies to this whole motion problem I’ve been thinking about lately.
A comic panel might show a hero on a diagonal, arms outthrust. Flying. The hair and costume might flap in the wind. There might be background images to suggest motion. One panel, one snap of the fingers, and the motion is fully developed. The concision is an art form.
Just as a novelist has to subtly insert the soundtrack into the text (ie, to signal tone, suspense, and so on), she also has to find ways to slip motion into the subtext. Plot events aside, the story has to breathe. It has to have a pulse. It has to be a living thing with a flow and ebb. Even when the plot is standing still for a rest (although, frankly, I’m not sure that’s a valid situation), the story needs a sense of motion, or it’s going to be boring. It’ll bore me, anyway. Even when characters have moved offstage, they need to be moving. (That was one of my earlier problems; characters would move offstage, and they’d sit there like puppets until I yanked them out again.)
Maybe I should re-read some of those comic books. There are still about five hundred of them in my basement, in acid-free bags, hopefully reasonably protected from the damp. Or maybe I won’t. Down that path lies the eventual rebooting of universes, the erasure of the magic that inspired me when I was twenty-something. Maybe I ought to keep thinking about novels, and know that the best part of my twenties is still alive down there, if only I were to open the covers.
Enough to watch the movies, I think: to see the action realized, to see some version of those heroes flying out of their frames.
(Originally posted on December 14, 2011 by Eljay)