Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Analog Dilemma

I think every burgeoning creator who cut their teeth on superhero comics faces the analog dilemma. Simply put, we all want to add our own spin to the classic themes that prevail over superhero storytelling. While certain creators have managed to work their way into the pantheons of the big two and tell the kind of groundbreaking stories they wanted with established characters (Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, Mark Waid's Kingdom Come), most creators had to branch out and form their own worlds and their own characters to really come at superheroes the way they wanted (The Authority, Watchmen, etc.).

It's beyond argument that many of those superhero analog books rank amongst the most important work in the realm of comics. Watchmen, perhaps the best example of an analog story, is widely considered the greatest comic ever created. So there's definitely a precedence there. The issue, at this point, isn't whether analog stories are a worthy use of panel space, but whether there are still enough original stories to be told in that particular vein.

This is what I'm struggling with right now. I have different projects which I try to divide my time evenly between. There's the horror/Western with elements of classic mythology, the homage/critique of the pulp/adventure genre, the space opera. Lately though, I find myself devoting more and more time to my own superhero analog. The question I pose to you, readers, is this; is it worth it? Should I continue to pump so much of my time and effort into something that many people will likely disregard with a simple, "Eh, it's been done before,"?

I think I have original things to say with these stories and I believe that I've come up with a very interesting and original way to tell the stories while still fleshing out the history of the universe that surrounds them. Aside from that, I've put a lot of myself into these characters, both good and bad, and I find that I like them and the story that surrounds them better than anything I've done yet.

So what do you think, friends and fans? Has this horse been beaten, dumped in a Lazarus pit and beaten again so many times that it's hardly worth it? Or should I soldier ahead, steely in my resolve, determined to put my own personal stamp on the genre that has meant so much to me and to the industry as a whole?

Up, up and away?


  1. I tend to believe it's a waste of time. I also tend to believe that everything awesome with capes has already been done, and then here comes Return of Bruce Wayne, or Civil War, or Superman Red Son, or Frankencastle, or Incredible Herc/Amadeus Cho...

    I wouldn't do it, but I'm not a genius, either. You might be. I dunno.

  2. Actually, I didn't really address your question, I guess. I don't know if things like Watchmen are necessary anymore. The Big Two have actually shown themselves to be willing to analyze their own characters in their own titles, so making up new characters in order to do that isn't really as necessary as it used to be. Look at Fraction's Iron Man run, or Bendis's Daredevil run, or Morrison's Batman, etc. etc. etc.

  3. I get the sense from your post that your self-doubt might be placing an over-emphasis on the nebulous concept of "originality." When places like the SFMOMA can draw big crowds by putting on special exhibitions of traditional Amish quilts without even inspiring the slightest murmur about how appropriate it is for a modern art museum to make an exhibit of 19th c. Amish crafts, I think distinctions like old v. new, traditional v. revolutionary, or classic v. modern are becoming increasingly outmoded. The only real measure of the value of a work that I apply is whether it is thematically consistent, effective in telling a nuanced story around that theme, and ultimately entertaining.

    In general, I think comic fans have carried the baggage of Watchmen and its ilk a little too far, and convinced themselves that for a work to be "great" or "transcendent," it needs to inspire some kind of revolution into the medium. I couldn't disagree more. There's nothing wrong with just telling a good comic story. As a parallel, do you really hold it against an essay if it doesn't somehow radically break the general form since George Orwell was writing them in the 1940s, or do you simply judge it on the merit of its ideas?

    If a comic is thematically consistent, artistically interesting, and just plain well told, I have no idea why you would doubt it. I'll admit I'm not the biggest pulp reader in the world, so I'm not some kind of seasoned critic, but it seems to me that Ed Brubaker's Criminal doesn't really "break any rules" or "raise the bar" in any super standout fashion, but they're still great comics that I love to read and see real storytelling value in. Greg Rucka's Queen & Country is one of my favorite comics ever, and it's a spy genre piece that doesn't break many rules at all -- are female spies really that big of a revolution? -- but it manages to stand out because Rucka is a confident writer with coherent (but appropriately subtle) thematic content in his tightly plotted stories.

    All to say, I think doubting a superhero story because it isn't "revolutionary" or "groundbreaking" is just another phantom of creative doubt. You just need to ask yourself if it's entertaining, if it's interesting, and if you're confident that you actually have something to say in its telling.

    Now, if we frame the conversation around the terms of commercial success...

  4. oh wait ... I just remembered I saw the Amish Quilts at the de Young Museum (the classical art one) ... but I stand by the rest!

  5. Good question, and I think it's an issue a lot of creators can relate to. Originality is a good thing, but don't let that become the only thing. I'm sure if you looked hard enough you could find stories out there that resemble your other ideas, but that alone should not stifle your progress on those endeavors.
    I don't think there's anything wrong with juggling multiple projects at once but if you're feeling creatively monogamous, I say just do it. If the story is inside you itching to get out, then scratch that itch. Because it sounds to me like you're basically asking "Does anybody want to read my story," when the real question is "Do I need to tell this story" - Trying to anticipate the audience reaction too early in the process is kind of a trap door, I think. One I fall through on a regular basis.
    So, in short... just do it. Those other ideas will still be there when you're ready to tackle them again. If your passion right now is superheroes, then tell the best superhero story you possibly can. If it's good enough, the reader may forget he's ever read one before.

  6. Tieg, your entire argument is rendered ineffective because it rested on the location of quilts, a location that turned out to be LIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES

  7. But the interesting thing about the quilts, in the context of the de Young, is that they pointed out that these 1850s-1880s traditional Amish quilts were basically working within the paradigm that the modernists of the 1930s invented for themselves (creating the most "pure" art by reducing it to its most basic elements -- lines, shape, and color) amidst a jumble of hoity toity philosophy and whatever else, and sure enough, within the museum, you could walk through the modernist section with all their solid blocks of colors and geometric arrangements from the 1930s, then walk into a section with a bunch of quilts hanging on the wall, and you were looking at basically the same thing.

    So I mean, it's totes relevant, I think, but yeah -- it's a way better point with the lie in it.

  8. Wow, great discussion. This is the most comments I've ever received on a post. Thanks so much to all of you for getting involved.

    Just out of curiosity, how'd you come across this? I know James personally, but the other identities are a mystery. However you found it, thanks for reading and thanks for advice.

  9. Interesting that Tieg brings up Queen & Country, as it is an irredeemable ripoff of the British TV series "Sandbaggers." It's too bad, really, as I was enjoying the comics until I stumbled onto the little known but awfully influential TV series. On the bright side, however, the show is even better than the comic and is truly one of the best things ever put on TV.