Number One Rule to Writing Comics: Shut up.
If the blocking and acting within the art carries the story then there’s no need, other than dialogue, to say anything else. Large word balloons and boxes tax the integrity of the comic panel.
The main difference that I notice between cartoonists and writers in mainstream comics is that writers write more. A lot more. Note that this isn’t true of every writer (Matt Fraction does a great job of shutting up; I’ll touch more on that).
What happens when the writer doesn’t shut up? We are encumbered with an excess of words that command our attention by imposing on the space a panel needs to breath. Many readers focus on reading boxes and balloons instead of the art because of this; essentially, putting weeks of the artist’s work to waste and just the same we won’t notice that some artists just copy, zoom, and paste their ways through scenes.
If you look at the page from Christophe Blain’s Gus and His Gang above; it’s simple, it shows attraction, it has action and other than the sound effects, there’s only one word said twice, ‘evening’, which doesn’t engage the viewer as much as the energy of the sequence. This powerful cartooning. But even if a cartoonist were to write at a length for a panel, being the central creator of a story, they have the reigns of page and panel design to direct how the audience reads the story. For example, Glyn Dillon separates text and illustration for the portions of The Nao of Brown that are meant to be read as a prose within a comic in this page (He even gives you a few memoir pages to read towards the end).
Thoughts and narration are not of the external world and belong in the meta-space between panels. And maybe this is the problem that most comic collaborations face with serial publication being decentralized. With such collaboration on the level of a cartoonist, the work would come in conflict with the desire to make good comics opposed to the company’s need to put out a product on time.
And back to Matt Fraction, in this Robot 6 interview, David Aja says of their collaboration on Hawkeye, “Matt does the dialogue based on those thumbnails, then I finish the pages and Matt tightens up the dialogue at the very end.” If tightening up dialogue means editing out all the unnecessary stuff, keeping a beat, and holding the reader’s attention, then that’s an aspect of shutting up that more writers should employ: self-editing. Or you can just not give a fuck and let Dustin Harbin go crazy with “I hate this.”
(I love this.)
I tried reading the new run of Batman and the artist is great and the writer is all right, but with the way the pages are designed and how interesting Batman’s personality is (it’s not) vs. how bad ass Batman is (He is), I ended up slipping into “blah blah blah blah blah” and gave up on the book. That’s where shutting up should happen when we get too much inner Batman. Narration is a crutch in comics as much as it is in film. Batman thinks like Hemingway edits. Shut up Batman.
Maybe it’s a psychological need for the writer to show that they’re writing on the comic page; or maybe Marvel or DC editors are saying “It looks like you shut up. Don’t do that.” Maybe it’s just that the transition from prose to comics isn’t complete or necessarily a concern. I need to shut up.
To sum up, shut up.
Here’s a con sketch of Batman (presumably he has shut up) by Paul Pope.
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