Roger’s Comic Ramblings: The More Things Change

Roger Ash

Roger Ash

by Roger Ash

I started reading comics back in the late 1970s. Since then, a lot has changed both is comics themselves as well as in the comics industry. I was reflecting on some of these changes recently and thought I’d share some of my thinking with you.

Batman thinks before he leaps on this classic page.

Batman thinks before he leaps on this classic page.

Things I miss: Thought balloons.

Thought balloons are pretty much a thing of the past as far as most publishers are concerned, but I miss them. Yes, sometimes captions are used to convey character’s thoughts, but that’s not the same. In most cases that means the entire story is told from that person’s point of view, but you get no clue as to what other people in the story are thinking. Also, in many cases, these captions feature a color associated with the character’s costume which can make them hard to read. Thought balloons can add to the story. For example, imagine a panel of two people kissing. One of them thinks, “I love her so much.” The other thinks “Blech. I can’t believe I have to put up with this.” That speaks volumes about their relationship to each other in one panel. I understand that the move in comics has been towards making them more like movies or video games and since there are not thought balloons there, that’s a big reason why they’ve disappeared in comics. But here’s the thing: comics aren’t movies or video games. While there are similarities, comics can do things they can’t and getting rid of everything that separates them also gets rid of things that make comics unique. And that can lessen the comic reader’s experience.

Gorgeous colors by Laura Martin on the Amanda Conner drawn cover for Marvel's  Girl Comics #1.

Gorgeous colors by Laura Martin on the Amanda Conner drawn cover for Marvel’s Girl Comics #1.

Things I like: Modern coloring

Advances in the coloring of comics has come a long, long way. There are many factors behind this such as improved paper stock, advances in printing, and new technology that allows for coloring on computers. The bottom line is that you can do amazing things with color now that would have been nearly impossible years ago. When this new technology first arrived, people tended to overdo it just to show off what could be done. While there are still cases of that happening, many have learned how to make the most of it.

A classic Daredevil letter page.

A classic Daredevil letter page.

Things I miss: Letter columns

Firstly, yes I know they haven’t disappeared completely. I still see them in a few comics. However, they are a vanishing species. Secondly, I understand that the internet was pretty much the letter column’s doom. With blogs, message boards, and social media where people can comment on comics as soon as they’ve read them (or while they’re reading them), letter columns no longer have them impact they once did. But I don’t read many comments about comics online as it doesn’t take long for someone to be a jerk and have the thread devolve into name calling. In letter columns, editors could choose not to print letters that basically said “you suck” and not say why the letter writer didn’t like the story or how it could have been improved. Online, those types of people seem to make up a majority of those commenting.

Fantastic Four #588 written by Jonathan Hickman with art by Nick Dragotta. Cover art by Alan Davis.

Fantastic Four #588 written by Jonathan Hickman with art by Nick Dragotta. Cover art by Alan Davis.

Things I like: More sophisticated storytelling

As much as I enjoy the purple prose of a Stan Lee written comic, if that was the way comics were still written, I wouldn’t be reading them much anymore. And I guess that many others wouldn’t either as storytelling has changed a lot over the years. Comics today can tell very complex stories with writers tackling issues and storylines that resonate with a modern audience. Jonathan Hickman’s work is a great example of this. The way he structured his stories in Fantastic Four for example, was different than what I had seen in the book before, but the characters still rang true.

Jeff Smith's Bone.

Jeff Smith’s Bone.

Many stories these days are geared towards older readers, but if you just do that, you’re limiting your audience. You can tell complex and sophisticated stories that appeal to a wide variety of readers, including young readers. Jeff Smith’s Bone is a good example of this as I’ve met a number of teen and younger readers who encountered these books through the Scholastic editions and love them.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other things I miss in comics as well as things I enjoy in modern comics, but I’m going to save those for upcoming columns. How about you? What do you miss in comics? What has improved in modern comics? Join the conversation in the comment section!

Now, go read a comic!


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