Sunday, February 28, 2010

Splash Page Podcast 6.1: Stahlmaster, Humanization!

In the first of two episodes this week, Chad Nevett and I address some complaints about decompression, and what it means to humanize superheroes, and the comics stylings of Steve Englehart. We also talk about "Blackest Night," because that's what I think of when I think of humanized superheroes. Or the opposite.

Batman with a beer does not make an appearance, but he's with us in spirit. Moustachioed, creepy spirit.

LISTEN: Splash Page Episode 6.1!


Rick said...

All the talk of the balance between the Human and the Event first brings to mind at least for me, Hickman's Fantastic Four

He writes the family all so well and balances it with action, new ideas and adventure that its just the perfect mix and just on another level from a lot of the other comics out there.

Timothy Callahan said...

I concur! And I maybe say the same thing in Ep 6.2. (I was thinking it -- but I don't remember if we talked about FF this week.)

Chad Nevett said...

I don't think we did, but I think you mentioned it in passing at some point.

Anonymous said...

Currently half way through the podcast, and am happy to join the couple of hundred odd fans who follow and enjoy your discussions, but...

I have to disagree with your thoughts on the inability of the audience to process different types of entertainment/narrative in a relatively small time. For all that most comics readers experience their comics collectively the evening of purchase, how is that in any way different from watching television and going from one programme to another, from comedy to drama to documentary, for instance? And this ability isn't even a new one, and has been around since radio was the popular medium of delivery in the last century.

The problem, I think, comes from those who are only interested in one form of storytelling: in tv terms,the superhero fan is the equivalent of science fiction fan who believes Star Trek is the best template for television, and anything else is just soap, or intellectually unengaging.

I was also very interested in the discussion of storytelling techniques that become outdated, as it always reminds me of the shift in narrative technique in the novel around the turn of the last century after cinema (and in particular, Eisenstein experimented with montage) lead from information being revealed retrospectively, either by letter or conversation, to simultaneous events being 'edited' in one after another. Does the thought balloon belong with the serialised letter writing technique of Les Liaisons Dangereuses?

Finally, an interesting topic of debate: for all his potential faults as a writer, is Geoff Johns better at switching his narrative techniques than Brian Bendis? My personal favourite works by Johns are actually the slow, reflective character pieces he very rarely writes, such as his run on Superboy in Adventure, or the Ignition arc on Flash, both of which are very decompressed. Bendis, meanwhile, flounders when he attempts the big action adventure of Secret Invasion or the Siege, and seems far better suited for the more character based writing of Daredevil or Alias. For all that, though, I do like Johns' high octane comic work as it revels in the ridiculous inherent in the superhero genre that think Bendis finds more uncomfortable.

I hope my ramblings make sense. In the meantime, keep up the good work, both of you. I may not agree all the time, but it's always food for thought.


Timothy Callahan said...

Lee -- interesting point about Johns/Bendis. We'll have to talk about that. But Chad hasn't read any of the "quiet" Johns stuff, so it would be another one-sided conversation.

I can see the channel flipping comparison to reading a stack of comics, but when channel flipping you don't go action film, action film, action film, action film, slowly-paced foreign film, action film, action film, and find yourself emotionally invested in all of them. Do you?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kind words-- I see what you mean about the 'action adventure' domineering comics, but maybe it's because I live in the UK, so if I were to spend yesterday evening watching television I could have gone from the Simpsons to Dancing On Ice to Lark Rise to Candleford to 24 to Being Human within the space of three hours, and be able to cope with the vast changes of narrative within them (animated comedy, to celebrity competition to Victorian soap opera t high octane action adventure to more cerebral action adventure)-- and have no problems being emotionally invested in any of them were I to like that specific genre.

That said, I do understand Chad having little problems in adapting to radically different art styles because that was what he was used to growing up. Having grown up reading the 'classic' era of 2000ad, I was exposed, within the pages of the same comic, to art styles ranging from the formal realism of Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons to the manic expressionism of Mike McMahon and Kevin O'Neil with little to no problems.

I guess it's what you're used to gin your formative years: thanks to the wonders of the BBC I genuinely did spend an adolescence being able to watch an evenings tv that ranged from run of the mill soap operas to American action adventure series to showings of Luis Bunuel films, and was at exactly the right age to enjoy them all. I imagine that it was this atmosphere that lead the British creators of comics to have a far more varied approach to comics than the US born ones.


Anonymous said...

Good episode so far. The deep, targeted discussions you guys have are a welcome reprieve from other comics podcasts, which in comparison seem like overviews of a million comics a week. Err, I guess that's just a difference of TECHNIQUE, though.

On the Bendis/decompression stuff, I agree with you guys for the most part. In the interest of disclosure, I should say that I loved his Daredevil, really liked the first fifty issues or so of Ultimate Spidey, but then with his Avengers stuff I got very bored with his style of writing, and his dialogue in particular. That said, I don't think his choice of technique is anywhere close to synonymous with what makes him a good or bad writer in regard to any given comic he's done. It's all about how well the technique is used.

But I think there is another issue at work, though the criticism set up by this "Stahl" guy tends to blur the lines, and that's the EFFECTS of the decompression technique. We've all heard the axiom that "A technique is neither good nor bad, it's all in how it's used." That's true, but there's also the near-autonomy of the technique itself to consider, i.e. the self-propagating, ever-escalating nature of techniques. The French philosopher Jacques Ellul talked about how techniques are sort of "beyond good and evil", and how, because of this, techniques proceed without regard for their environments. To bring this back to comic books, I think there's a great case to be made for how the technique of decompression has dictated how the comics medium (and even industry) has operated lately. Decompression leads to more unfulfilled single-issue reading experiences, which in turn lead to more people waiting for the trade or being coerced into buying single issues AND collections. Decompression also leads to an increased emphasis on "cinematic" storytelling, whether a particular story would benefit from that or not. Are these sub-techniques "bad" or "good" in themselves? No, but their influences CAN lead to writers not thinking so much about characters' interiority (no thought balloons, focusing more on external movie-lens views). It can lead to "writing for the trade", stretching what would have been a good four-issue (already decompressed) story into six issues. It also repels new readers. My non-comic-reading friends think it's ridiculous to wait a month (or far, far longer) between installments that take 6 minutes to read.

Techniques are not good or bad, but because they take on a life of their own and operate "beyond good and evil" they can lead to many unwieldy reading/buying situations that people have to navigate through.

Anonymous said...

Lastly, I think the reason why people like this Stahl guy do what they do, proselytizing from board to board, is simply because they think theirs is a message that needs to get out. In short, though their approach may have become insular and off-putting, they're ultimately TRYING to HELP people. It's the same with a lot of the "Birthers". It may be hard for others to understand, but what they want is justice(!), even though they're going about it in a way that to most (myself included) seems misguided. Personally, I don't like Bendis much anymore, but if there's enough on a message board to hook me into a discussion (which is rare these days), then of course I'm going to explain as best I can why I feel the way I do, pointing to facts. That's what "arguments" have always been about. Isn't it odd that in our contemporary internet world we associate "argument" with wild, "crazy" emotion rather than competitions of facts? Facts are what arguments were based on, historically speaking. Philosopher duels were called "arguments". And while I'm not a "birther" either, I think it's prejudice in its own way to dismiss groups of people as universally "crazy", the way you guys sort of did. Are there "crazies" out there? Sure; OH YES there are. While I'm not a birther--I don't even think it even MATTERS where he was born anyway--if you take the time to investigate any of those organizations you see the questionable facts that cause them to question what they do question. I mean, I think I read that one of Obama's grandmothers is on tape speaking as if he was born outside of the U.S. That's one of the facts that the birthers seize upon. Me, I just put it down to a senile grandmother. But I see the questionable fact that others are coming from, even if many of them have extrapolated a lot of yelling from that dubious source. And I'm aware of how EVERY major politician has a lot of their personal records closed to the public. So to me it doesn't even matter. McCain was born on a ship near Panama, not on U.S. soil. This stuff doesn't matter. These are pedantic fights that people get obsessed with. But that said, again, I think it's important not to dismiss whole entire things like this as "crazy" through and through.

It's almost the same with the anti-Final Crisis people. There's something real there that caused them to think the way they do about Final Crisis. I loved FC (for the most part), but there's a level on which the story doesn't work well, and I think that's important to keep in mind. I can't dismiss all FC-detractors as "stupid" in the same way that I can't dismiss all birthers, or "truthers", or "tea partiers", as crazies, even though I don't share hardly any of the same beliefs or conclusions. And, likewise, FC-detractors shouldn't dismiss FC as "incomprehensible". Just as FC isn't really incomprehensible and MOST of these people from these various groups aren't really "crazy"; to dismiss things as such is in my opinion a bromide to make oneself feel more self-assured in the face of people whom one can't find much empathy with. "Oh, I didn't see anything great in FC; therefore it's a crazy mess."

Good podcast. Hope I didn't mix politics and comics too much; sorry if I stepped on any toes.

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