Sunday, February 06, 2005

When Style Becomes Shtick

Our pal Alex wrote the following about the latest issue of New Avengers, "It’s an amazing phenomenon that he can stretch a mood and technique that is so successful in DAREDEVIL into AVENGERS, where it doesn’t work at all."

It's a very interesting what point exactly does a writer transcend from writing in a distinct style to writing shtick in his/her books?

What writers can you think of that you believe have made the movement from simply having a distinct style to just doing shtick (which I will define as "an entertainment routine or gimmick")?

I think that, based on the fact that New Avengers is vastly different in scope than every other book he writes but reads exactly the same, it is fairly safe to say that Brian Michael Bendis has crossed over into doing shtick on his books - the "talky" shtick (and in his Avengers work, he has even introduced a new trick, which is "reuse things I said in interviews about the comics verbatim in the comics themselves later).

Who else?

Christopher Priest is perilously close, I believe, as Captain America and the Falcon reads pretty damn similar to The Crew and Black Panther.

Mark Millar, I believe, is even slowly going past the realm of "style" and heading in the direction of "shtick." I do not believe that he is there yet, but when you can predict what will happen in his books not based on what is in the book itself, but rather, from what he has written on other books in the past, you are pretty close to having a routine.

What other writers can you think of that have gone over the edge into doing shtick?

Once you have thought of some writers that you feel have gone from having a style to having a shtick, the corollary question has to be shtick necessarily a bad thing?

Perhaps it may be cooler if a writer expanded his/her horizons...but if the product they are writing is still written well enough (and, like I've said before, I did like New Avengers #3), is shtick really all that bad?


Blogger David Welsh said...

I would say Geoff Johns is teetering on the edge of shtick, with his generational heroes themes and nostalgia/continuity-based storytelling. If you look at his DC titles, there's a strong thread of Dysfunctional Daddy running through (the whole Hourman thing in JSA, various examples in TT, and the ongoing "What Would Barry Do?" business in FLASH).

There are also plenty of examples in manga, but I don't think it's shtick quite as often as it is style. Creators come off (to me, at least) more like talented character actors who have their own distinct thing but can find enough subtle variations to make each story a fresh take on their familiar themes.

2/06/2005 03:59:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

What do you think, David, about the question of whether writing shtick is automatically a negative thing?

2/06/2005 04:29:00 AM  
Blogger David Welsh said...

I don't think it's automatically negative, but it varies greatly from creator to creator. Take Brian Bendis: initially, his particular shtick worked because he was applying it to a smaller range of titles. The staccato, therapist's-couch dialogue was applied appropriately to both "Powers" and, say, "Ultimate Spider-Man." But as his roster of titles expanded, the shtick seems more and more repetitive and one-size-fits-all. And it isn't; I think it's an awful fit in "New Avengers," though I know opinions vary widely on that.

Then look at Ed Brubaker, whose books have a consistently noirish influence. The difference is he manages to suit this underlying style to the specific story he's telling, whether it be "Catwoman" or "Sleeper" or "Captain America." They're all noirish, and Brubaker does it well, but it's noirish in specific, unique ways. That, to me, is shtick that works.

It's interesting to consider, because I've tried become a reader who follows creators more than characters or franchises. With a writer like Bendis (or Mark Millar), whose shtick overpowers the individuality of the title, that doesn't always pay off. With a writer like Brubaker (or Gail Simone, who can also modulate a consistent style in creative ways), it's more rewarding.

So, bottom line: shtick can work, even if some of the most obvious contemporary examples don't support that argument. ;-)

2/06/2005 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger David Welsh said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2/06/2005 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

I think "shtick" has too much of a negative connotation to ask if it's necessarily a bad thing, though it's secondary definition - one's special trait, interest, or activity - suggests it's not.

I think of Stephen King, someone who's written a bazillion novels, short stories, screenplays, etc. While he definitely has a shtick, I don't believe it's an inherently bad thing. Of course, he's stayed relatively focused in his choice of genre, and when he's strayed it's been with mixed results - ie: Tommyknockers, bad; Eyes of the Dragon, good.

With Bendis, I don't think his shtick is so much incompatible with something like the New Avengers as it is different from what most old-school Avengers fans are used to. As long as he can deliver the big action sequence every other issue, balanced with his signature character development, I think he'll be okay in the long run. A bit darker version of Johns' Teen Titans, perhaps

2/06/2005 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

I Guy, you would like it better if I were to restrict the use of the word "shtick" to just cases of writers who I feel that their routine is a negative to their work as a whole?

That seems to be a fair enough point.

Anyone else think that the term "shtick" is too overpowering (in a negative sense) of a word to be used in the context I was using it in?

2/06/2005 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger David Welsh said...

Sorry about the double-posting above.

I think you make fair use of "shtick," particularly in the way you distinguish it from "style." As I see it, shtick is like applying the same coat of stucco to every house you come across, whether it's a hacienda or a Greek Revival. Sometimes, it just doesn't work.

2/06/2005 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger alex said...

Some writers have a style, or a flavor. Every book they write has a hint of that personality.

Others have one way that they are able to write, and that's it.

You can always tell a Grant Morrison book, but his JLA is worlds away from THE FILTH. That's because he's a man with talent, and a handle on his craft.

Bendis can write POWERS and ALIAS and they're great. But they're all the same book in many ways. Now AVENGERS is the same thing again. I have to wnder if his default setting is "moody, talky, slow". I don't think he's without talent- ULTIMATE SPIDEY has had moments of greatness, and for my money, his DAREDEVIL is the best the book has ever been. But I think when he gets lazy, it's very apparent. Amd I thing AVENGERS, SECRET WAR, the last few years of USM, the PULSE.... not boding well.

2/06/2005 11:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frank Miller and Garth Ennis.

2/06/2005 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Bendis' DD the best the book has been?

Hmmm...I think you should write about that, Alex. That sounds like it would make for a very interesting discussion.

2/06/2005 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

I think Miller's work is not at "shtick" status. What examples are you thinking of otherwise?

As for know what's an interesting thing about Ennis? His OUTPUT has been smaller recently. I mean, we really do not have all that much to compare his work to nowadays.

In any event, I think his Hellblazer was a far stetch different from his Punisher.

2/06/2005 12:41:00 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

When I think of good schtick, I think of J.M. DeMatties. He's made a good career out of doing creepy, psychological thrillers disguised as superhero comics, and it worked, because he found a way to make it work with his characters.

When I think of bad schtick, I think of latter-day Claremont, who, if you'll notice, has written human slave trade stories and/or lesbians into almost every book he's written for the past 10 years or so.

2/06/2005 03:06:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

He DOES love him the human slave stuff.

Hmmm...I think we're getting into a totally different (and equally interesting) subject.

Which is "go-to ideas" that writers use.

I think there's an entry there...then again, I think there's an entry everywhere.

2/06/2005 03:15:00 PM  
Blogger Ali Choudhury said...

Schtick is what you call a writer's style when it no longer appeals to you

2/06/2005 07:12:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

So you, too, would agree that the word shtick carries too much of a negative connatation?

Because while I think he's basically using the same exact writing style on Captain America & The Falcon that he used on The Crew, I still enjoy Priest's work on the book.

2/07/2005 02:21:00 AM  
Blogger Joe Rice said...

Does Priest still do the "out of order story" thing? That got annoying REAL fast.

2/08/2005 01:56:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

At least the first arc on Cap & Falcon had the out of order thing.

And the more annoying thing (for that book, at least), is that the only indication he gave that it WAS out of order was these little captions that gave the time.

2/08/2005 03:42:00 PM  
Blogger Julio Oliveira said...

Jim Starlin. Is like every comic book he writes is a rethread from Dreadstar. Even Cosmic Guard, his most recent work is nothing but a teenage Dreadstar: he even use the same designs to the alien races, the robots. His shtick is even visible on his drawings. What as Lord Papal but a Thanos wannabe?

2/09/2005 07:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've got style and you've got shtick, and the two are different. Style has hard work behind it, an effort to get at something, a desire to use your voice to say something. Shtick is just laziness, it figures that repetition can be appealing all on its own. It's the act of buying your own bullshit, thinking what you do is cool just because it's you who's doing it. But without the writer being interested for himself in why Wally does this or that, what's the point in having him do anything at all? We all know he looks up to Barry. It's not enough to have him just look up to Barry. It's not enough to just have Cyclops and Marvel Girl and Wolverine in a love triangle, if no one cares what happens to them.

3/09/2005 03:04:00 AM  

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