Sunday, March 26, 2006

Cronin Theory of Comics - It Is a Lot Harder To Move From Another Media To Comics Than Is Given Credit

I did a bit on this in 2004 before I started doing the "Theory of Comics" shtick, so I thought it would be nice to rewrite it as a "Theory of Comics" bit. In any event, , I believe that, if you're a good writer, you're just a good writer, no matter what the genre is. However, I think people totally underestimate the difficulties of moving from one medium to another. For instance, we do not automatically think each good screenwriter will be a good novelist, do we? Or vice-versa. Yet there seems to be this belief WITHIN THE INDUSTRY ITSELF that any good writer from another medium can just come in and write a good comic book.

Which I do not think is the case.

The inspiration for this particular version is the writing of Reginald Hudlin. His first few issues of Black Panther, I believe, were pretty poor. Forgetting his use of Black Panther continuity (as it would not be sporting to judge him on that level), the stories themselves just weren't all that good. Not awful or anything, but not good. However, as he has progressed on the title, I believe that Hudlin's writing has greatly improved. It reminds me of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who I think had a bit of a problem adjusting to comic writing, but developed into one of the better mainstream comic book writers.

This belief that being a good TV/Film/Play writer means you will be a good comic book writer is just so silly, and almost makes me think of it as a self-esteem issue (if he's good enough to write for TV, he MUST be good enough to write for comics!!) of the industry.

The big difference, really, is that TV/Film/Plays have actors, and therefore, the writer can always depend on the actors to deliver tone and feeling. In a comic, it is pretty much all on the writer (yes, the artst helps a good deal, but in terms of dialogue, it is alll writer).

There ARE those that don't have trouble making the transition, like Joss Whedon (who, even if you dislike his work, it is not for his inability to tell a story in comic format) Damon Lindelof and JMS, but for the most part, it seems to be a long transition before the writer is comfortable writing comics, and I guess I'd just like to see an understanding of that besides the current approach of "if you can write for TV, you can write a comic book!" Because, from the perspective of the industry, it gives us too many bad comics as the writer adjusts and from the perspective of the readers, it gives too many writers a poor reputation in comics which I do not think is deserved, as when the adjustment period ends, most of the writers are pretty good (for instance, I think Ron Zimmerman's last comic book project was really quite good, but by that point in time, he had already been written off as a comic writer because he was one of the biggest examples of 'not adjusting to the change in media').

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Blogger T. said...

Read my response to this post over here.

I just thought it was too lengthy to be read in a comments section.

3/26/2006 02:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Iron Lungfish said...

I actually think the dialogue thing cuts the other way. TV and movie writers typically have to write more naturalistic dialogue because their dialogue is going to come out of an actual person; human beings can't get away with saying half the stuff that comes out of superheroes, if only because there's a higher suspension of disbelief to begin with (you've already accepted the cartoon universe of superpowered people in tights with sildly distorted physiques).

Where TV and movie writers have a disadvantage is in having to adjust to reliance on the artist. The artist is far more influential in setting the tone, mood, and pacing, and a good writer needs to give an artist space to do that (instead of, say, filling the page with word bubbles, or writing material that doesn't use the artist's strengths well).

3/26/2006 03:54:00 PM  
Anonymous evan waters said...

JMS actually has a column on Newsarama where, in one entry, he did touch on this- he says the hardest thing to remember when making the transition is that comics are non-moving pictures. In a movie or TV script you can write "Bob goes to the table and picks up an ashtray", but in comics any number of panels could be used to represent that action, including just one where Bob is suddenly standing next to the table and holding an ashtray. You have to think more in terms of images than actions. (I've come to this realization myself writing a fanfic-in-comic-script-form piece for another forum.)

3/26/2006 04:10:00 PM  
Blogger RAB said...

My theory of comics is that they have no staples on one end, staples in the middle, and no staples on the other end. Or, when they're folded, all the staples are on one side and none are on the other side. No, wait...that's Anne Elk's theory of the brontosaurus, isn't it? My bad.

One thing to bear in mind about Joss Whedon being relatively good at comics -- I find his work considerably less stilted and self-conscious than most other writers who've made the leap from another medium, though admittedly his comics plotting isn't quite as good as it should be -- is that he was writing television using the storytelling values he got from comics in the first place. So it's no surprise if his style feels a little more natural in the comics medium. Successful prose writers tend to have a lot more trouble making the jump...especially since they all seem to look at Alan Moore and figure comics can be that verbally dense, not recognizing that Moore's work isn't really as dense as it seems to be.

Johnny Triangles continues this topic rather brilliantly in his post, I might add, and makes points I plan to file away for future reference!

3/27/2006 01:39:00 AM  
Blogger Loren said...

I've been a pretty vocal critic of Hudlin's over the past year, but there is one thing about him that is distinguishable from most of the other writers from other media. Namely, that Hudlin, unlike the other examples, does not have a history as a writer.

He has a decent resume as a director, both in television and film. But prior to BP, his actual *writing* resume was limited to "Bebe's Kids" (based on Robin Harris' comedy) and the first "House Party." Before BP, his last writing credit was in 1992.

And I think his BP work reflects this. He seems to have an eye for the scope and look of the story he's trying to tell, and some of his ideas have been good as broad concepts. These are things expected of a director. But he suffers when it comes to the work of being a writer, such as dialogue, character, or just trying to script a storyline. (Heck, he still can't make up his mind whether he's writing a T'Challa who just became king, or who's been on the throne for years.) He'd be better off as a plotter with someone else scripting over his ideas.

3/28/2006 01:06:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Have you read his last few issues, Loren?

Marked improvement.

3/28/2006 01:18:00 AM  
Blogger Loren said...

The last BP issue I got a look at was #10. And from what I read of it, I thought it was just as stilted and problematic as his early issues.

3/28/2006 02:21:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

#11 was the greatest issue in the history of comic books.

And yes, I'm just being difficult.

3/28/2006 07:04:00 PM  

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