Monday, April 04, 2005

The age-old question: Art versus story in comics

Both Scott Esposito of Conversational Reading and Jessa Crispin of Bookslut have entries up right now, examining the relationship between visual art and narrative storytelling in comic books, and especially in the case of Frank Miller's Sin City series (which, unless you've been living under a rock, you know was recently made into a movie). This is an age-old debate that's been going on in the comics world, frankly, one that doesn't necessarily have a "correct" answer. I'm a big fan, for example, of Sin City, and actually own most of the original comics off which the movie is based. But I'll be the first to admit that, as a literary project, it's horrifically bad - the dialogue is laughably corny, the characters little more than cardboard cutouts. But in the specific case of Sin City, that was actually Miller's point - his entire desire was to create a project that was visually stunning, and purposely didn't want something like a complex story to hamper that enjoyment.

There are certain comics out there I can't stand (like 100 Bullets, for example), despite gorgeous artwork, because the writing itself is so inane. There are certain comics I love for their storylines (like Watchmen), despite the artwork producing not much more than an indifferent "eh" from me. There are certain comics which pretty much lack a storyline at all, but I love anyway because the visuals are just so damn entertaining. ("We are Milk and Cheese! We hate you!!!!!!") And then there are those rare projects - the Sandmans, the Optic Nerves, the Eightballs - where everything magically comes together, and we're treated to a story that is as much a delight to read as it is a delight to look at. This schism is always going to exist, because of the dual nature of comics - much like poetry slams, the creators have to be good at two different pursuits in order to be a true success, pursuits that sometimes are at complete odds with each other. It's something you either learn to live with as a comics reader, or something that drives you away from comics for good - there's not much of a middle ground, unfortunately.