My Comics Manifesto

By | Monday, August 24, 2009 2 comments
You know, for all the writing I've been doing here over the past few years, and all the comics reading I've done over the past few decades, I've never come up with a concise document of what it is that I like and want to see in comics. You can, I think, get a sense of that in a vague/nebulous way if you read through everything I've written, but I'm going to try to clear the table a bit by spelling it out here. (Though, please keep in mind that I banged this out fairly quickly and may have missed something. I might have to write an addendum later.)

Sean Kleefeld's Comic Manifesto
How To Read & Appreciate Comics the Same Way I Do

  1. Comics, as a medium, are inherently interesting and every variation of comics (graphic novels, comic strips, illustrated instruction manuals, cave paintings, etc.) is worth studying.
  2. The culture that surrounds comics and comics creation is inherently interesting and worth studying.
    • A subset of Rules 1-2 is that comics and comic fandom do not need to be defended or justified.
  3. Every comic should be approached as free from preconceptions as possible; any given work should stand or fall on its own merits, or lack thereof.
  4. Comics created by Jack Kirby, Will Eisner or Windsor McCay are sheer genius.
  5. Except when they aren't.
  6. There is no Rule 6.
  7. Don't read comics out of habit; an ongoing comic that fails to live up to its promise (whether to entertain, educate, inform, whatever...) should be ignored.
  8. Every individual reader has their own preferences and, while a critical eye can be used to critique any given work, there are good odds that there will always be somebody who appreciates it.
  9. Critical analysis of a comic should not include personal attacks or judgments against their creator(s).
  10. Be honest and own up to any statement you make as if you made it on a legally-binding, public document.
  11. As a reader, you have no stakeholder claim whatsoever in any comic created by another individual; they are free to do whatever they wish with their creations.
  12. Lend whatever support you can to those creators whose work you do appreciate and enjoy, even if it's only to tell other people about the quality of work they're doing.
  13. Don't argue with idiots.
  14. The future of comics is online.
  15. But there's still absolutely nothing wrong with creating your own comics using a #2 pencil and some spare typing paper.
  16. The "next big thing" in comics will come from someone you've never heard of before.
  17. Xeric-winning comics are worth reading.
  18. A gorilla or a monkey on the cover of any given comic makes it better. (Pirates are pretty cool, too.)
  19. The key to really understanding and appreciating comics is to understand as much of comics as a whole as possible -- that means studying the history of the medium and its creators; influential works and cultural references both within and outside comicdom; the creation, production and distribution processes; contemporaneous as well as current reactions to works; etc.
  20. Comics are the Alpha and the Omega; all things can relate back to a discussion of comics.
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Mike Leung said...

My only comments here so far have been to give you a hard time for defending Ayn Rand, but my appreciation of your thoughtful comments on comics has otherwise kept me reading. There's been an observation on comics I haven't heard anyone else make that I've been taking every opportunity to share. I think you might be open to it, given the sincerity of your appreciation of the medium:

After George Carlin died, tons of broadcast hours of interviews with him were rereleased. One comment that recurred in them was what a wonder it was how he challenged his audience to think. Carlin always denied challenging his audiences to think, saying that he instead showed the audience that he was thinking.

As performers can nurture laughter while displaying a lack of thought, this gap between the thought being presented and the challenge to an audience to think isn't necessarily a best practice in performing comedy, but it does seem to be a best practice in comics. Comics are hostile to subplots (heavy subplots are still a barrier to accessing Alan Moore’s work to some who I try to introduce his work to). And in comics any cropping of the figure disproportionately risks losing the reader, since each panel represents a substantial proportion of storytelling "time."

The choices of a cartoonist, or an intimate collaboration of creators, in minimizing and bypassing inefficiencies that fit comfortably in other media, and leveraging plot and character, is right there on the comic page. This is in addition to the labor in manufacturing the art in which the art is a prominent feature for the reader.

Thanks for soldiering on with me, Mike.

I think I'd seen one of those Carlin interviews years ago. Or at least one in which he said something similar. Although it's certainly not an idea that's top of mind while I'm blogging, the notion isn't alien here. :)

I agree with your general idea, but only with some caveats. Mainly if you define "comics" as subset of the medium on the whole, limiting it to a rather "mainstream" idea of what comics are. I personally hold to a definition closer to Scott McCloud's which incorporates a broad range of implementations, including such things as diverse as illustrated instruction manuals and the works of William Hogarth. While certain implementations may be hostile to subplots and other elements that may work in other media, I don't think that necessarily holds for ALL variations that I would consider "comics." Lost Girls (to pull out a Moore example) has subplots that are perfectly workable and understandable in the context of the work, since it's entirely self-contained. His work on Swamp Thing, though, I would agree would be difficult barrier to overcome for many.

I also completely agree that some things are more efficient in other media than comics, but would also point out that comics too have efficiencies that other media lack.