Friday, April 25, 2014

On Strips: Is It Really a Format Issue?

One of the common refrains among those criticizing newspaper strips these days is that the strips themselves are given so little room any more that the artists can't do much more than draw talking heads. There's no grandeur in the comic strip, as there was back when Winsor McCay and George Herriman were doing full pagers with wild layouts. Check out these examples from some arguably masters of the medium in the late 1950s...
Al Capp, Jack Kirby and Milton Caniff. All of them restrained down to a few square panels. The most innovative piece of panel structure among these three pieces is that Caniff doesn't use a solid border in one panel. And with only a few panels per day, how can they be expected to progress an ongoing narrative forward?

And yet, look at what they all do within those panels. They change up the viewer angles, there's a range of distances across the panels, there's a lot of depth to each panel. Not to mention that Kirby and Caniff have some excellent use of spotted blacks. (To be fair, the blacks in Sky Masters are more the work of inker Wally Wood, another master of the medium.) They're all absolutely gorgeous.

Furthermore, check how big these are showing up on your screen. They were originally printed much larger, but here, they're probably about the size that you'd find in many newspapers. (Maybe a scootch larger.) Sure, some of the detail gets lost, but there's no loss in the overall legibility. You have no problem following along. Plus, the increased effectiveness of newspaper printing means that they can be printed smaller and still read comfortably; there's not as much smudging or bleeding of the ink.

Comics that appear in newspapers have some big issues to deal with, one the most significant being the problems facing the newspaper industry as a whole. But I'm not entirely convinced that people can't do great, artistic comic strips because of formatting concerns. Yes, I'd love for comics to get more real estate in the newspaper and I wish they weren't facing the budget and formatting constraints the newspapers are placing on them. But I'm skeptical that a smaller final size is an entirely valid excuse for simplifying the illustrations to a level barely above stick figures.

3 comments:

Murdoch Matthew said...

Note that the bottom fifth of the Canyon strip is marked for cutting if the paper wants to run it in a different proportion. Now the first two panels of a Sunday strip are designed to be superfluous -- the bottom of daily strips used to contain no necessary detail.

Oscar Solis said...

Nice examples here. I have to say that the images on my ibooks screen are larger than they would appear in my local paper, where they are pretty small.

The examples that you've posted were from serial strips. While they are, for the most part, a dead end in newspaper, I'm curious how well they do as webcomics, especially in this age of binge viewing. Are audiences willing to wait to see a four panel installment everyday?

Oscar Solis said...

Nice examples here. I have to say that the images on my ibooks screen are larger than they would appear in my local paper, where they are pretty small.

The examples that you've posted were from serial strips. While they are, for the most part, a dead end in newspaper, I'm curious how well they do as webcomics, especially in this age of binge viewing. Are audiences willing to wait to see a four panel installment everyday?