RARA-AVIS: Pretty Pictures

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 30 Oct 2007

Mark wrote:

> Kevin,
> Are there other graphic novels and/or comic books that you do think
> would hold up as prose pieces? Which? Can't imagine many of my
> favorite Batman comics holding up as prose pieces, for instance.

I think I tried to answer this in a previous post (I've got a new computer -- stuff keeps bouncing back because I keep forgetting to ramafram my frigulition tidbit or something).

I love comics too, and when the story and pictures mesh and reinforce each other, it can be a powerful and effective narrative medium. But I don't think they mesh particularly well in SIN CITY.

There's hardly any story to reinforce, no there there -- just a lot of bleating and chest-pounding and over-boiled cliches with no emotional hook, the graphic wing of the neo-nah movement. I'm getting tired of "artistes" trying to justify and excuse weak, self- indulgent and often just sloppy storytelling by playing the "parody" card.

Or is it "satire" this week?

Anyway, I just wish Miller had spent as much time on those stories as he apparently did filling in all those pages with black ink.

Or Rodriguez spent on getting the look of the rain in the film just right.

SIN CITY is less a tribute to the genre than a visually stunning but empty sneer.

> Your whole "judging comics without the visuals" theory smacks of the
> "rock lyrics can/should be poetry" argument. No, rock lyrics were not
> meant to be heard without the music partly drowning them out (and the
> most poetic lyrics usually read like pompous high school lit class
> whining on their own). And visuals were supposed to carry a stripped
> down story in comics and films. Just look at the best film
> adaptations.
> Almost without exception, they strip down the novels they are based
> on.
> Isn't that what you just praised Gone Baby Gone for? They are
> different
> media with different requirements. Yes, Sin City stripped it down to a
> skeleton, but that's what I enjoyed about it.

Well, at least we both agree there's not much meat left on dem SIN CITY bones.

Thing is, I like my comics to have both great story AND pictures, just like I want my rock'n'roll to have both great music AND lyrics.

For me, the pretty pictures of SIN CITY failed to compensate for its ultimate shallowness and lack of soul. Or even wit.

And John wrote:

> Lapham (who did SILVERFISH, a recent crime comic which I thought
> would make a swell prose novel) is a terrific writer, but a very
> mediocre graphic artist

Mediocre? Nah... he's just got a clean, straightforward style that serves the story. Sort of like Terry Beatty, another artist who doesn't get his props, who did Ms. Tree with Max Allan Collins.

Their work is reminiscent of a sort of fifties-style black-and-white advertising/comic strip style, a sort of no-nonsense, unflinching hard-boiled clarity that has no need of lots of visual chicanery to carry the story. It's the cartoon equivalent of Hammett's prose: taut and terse.

Bold, clean-cut lines, an almost retro simplicity about it that builds upon the story without interfering with it. Artists whose work constantly draws you out of the story are usually trying too hard. Or trying to over-compensatie for a weak story.

Isn't that what Elmore Leonard was saying -- that the writer should be invisible. Comic illustrators should be the same way -- their work should pull you along, make you keep flipping pages -- not make you stop constantly to ooh and aah.

But you're right -- Lapham is a terrific writer. There are some great crime comic writers out there (Ed Brubaker, Chuck Dixon when he wants to be, Max Allan Collins, the 100 BULLETS guy) but STRAY BULLETS is possibly the best (and certainly the most ambitious) crime comic currently being published in North America. It's sorta like THE WIRE, but even more wide-ranging.

Assuming it's still being published... now that SILVERFISH is done, let's hope Lapham will be heading back to the STRAY BULLETS drawing board very soon.


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