Beauology 101: Comic Books: Simple Complications

Beau Smith-The Simple Life.

Beau Smith-The Simple Life.

by Beau Smith

Can things be simple? Please notice that I didn’t say “Can things be simple again?” Once you pass something, it’s gone. We all pass things every day, never to return. Yes, we can turn around and recreate that moment…say…passing the same car on the road, but even though you’re in your car and the other car is the same car as it was a few minutes ago, the moment is not the same.

The key word in what I just said was “Recreate”.

Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t say or write to me, “I wish comic books were simple like they used to be.” The phrasing may not be exact as each person posed it, but the meaning is the same. I believe that readers want less weight in continuity to have to haul around when they read comic books.

Aquaman: “I don’t ride a sea horse anymore.”

Aquaman: “I don’t ride a sea horse anymore.”

Comic books can sometimes become like a casserole gone bad. I don’t mean by an expiration date, I mean that you add so much in to the dish that you can no longer taste the core of what made you place it on your plate to begin with.

When I was a kid and we’d go to a church dinner, it would be advertised that they were serving Ham, potato salad, and baked beans. Pretty simple and tasty, yes? Well…We would get there, sit down with our feast before us, and find that they had, what my brothers and I would call “Churched It Up.”

“Churched It Up” meant that the kind, older ladies (Everyone over 30 seemed older to us) that had made the food, by design or to mess with us, added “extra” things to the afore mentioned simple meal. We found that the ham was now slathered in some sort of sticky jelly/jam coating. As a kid, I liked my jelly with my peanut butter, not my ham. The potato salad now had things like nuts and grapes added to it taking away that picnic style taste that potato salad is so known for. We discovered the baked beans (always a counted on taste of stability) had been laced with a sweet pickle juice that puckered your face like a raw lemon.

"Daredevil has been “Churched Up.”

“Daredevil has been “Churched Up.”

Why were these things done?

I’m not much of a cook. In fact, I’m no cook at all. I’m a simple eater. I’m good at simple. Perhaps because I am simple.

Were the ladies bored when they were making these dishes and decided that they would “spruce the goose” a little? Did they have leftover ingredients and thought, “Aww, heck , toss ‘em in…why not?” Or were they in a heated competition with each other to create the Picasso of potato salad? I’m not sure.

Now that I’ve taken you on the long way around the barn, let me bring this back to comic books. Are you finding the same true for the creation of comic books? Is there too much weight in continuity being layered upon us as readers? If so, is it taking away some of reading pleasure because we can’t just jump into a story, even a stand alone story? I personally wonder because there have been some recent comic book purchases I’ve made where I thought I was gonna get a a story about some characters I thought I knew pretty well, only to find out, like the young Smith brothers in church…The menu has been changed.

“It’s too complicated. Superman doesn’t seem to know either.”

“It’s too complicated. Superman doesn’t seem to know either.”

I had picked up a small stack of comic books, with characters I’ve known for decades and some that were brand new to me. One of the lead characters I’ve been reading since I was 7 years old (The 1960s) and had continued to read through decades of various changes. I was somewhat prepared for a few twists and turns since it had been a couple of years since I had read the character’s book in a steady stream. What I got…was grapes and nuts in my potato salad.

Through my own fault, I didn’t do my research. (I didn’t know I was supposed to do extensive research before reading a comic book, but I guess I am.) Since I had last read this character, they have been “reborn” in a major motion picture. They don’t look the same, their origin(s) have changed yet again, and I was dropped in the middle of an “event” I knew nothing about.

I didn’t do my research. Shame on me.

So there was $4.00 …not wasted…but misguided, that I was semi-out of. I gave the comic book to another reader in hopes they would enjoy it and get more out of it than I did, hence, $4.00 well spent.

Fantastic Four Issue 100

Fantastic Four Issue 100

I’ve said this for years both as a writer, marketing executive and creative content director, there needs to be tiers of comic book lines where you can choose if you want your books “churched up” as we used to say. I’m not talking about “Kid’s Line” and “Adult Line.” I’m talking about one where you have, I will use broad stroke words, Original Line, where it deals with the character continuity of —EXAMPLE: Fantastic Four issues #1 through #100. Then you have another line that deals with the ever-changing origins, re-imagined versions thereafter. (And there were a LOT of them.)

“Sometimes even Batman doesn’t know.”

“Sometimes even Batman doesn’t know.”

I know so many people, of so many age groups, not just Baby Boomers, that want simplification in their comic book continuity. I’m not just talking about Marvel and DC Comics, they want to have character investment, and not indentured readership to an event.

It’s an adjustment of storytelling that editors used to teach to writers and artists on work for hire books, and suggest to creators on creator owned projects. Editorial workings have changed more than anything in the last three decades, but that’s another column for another time.

The craft of creating comic books needs to change. That’s not saying that they are being done wrong and they need to change, it’s that they always need to be changing to be compelling. Sometimes that change means to simplify in one part to advance in another. Complication is not always the better answer in creativity. Sometimes simple is the purest form of a great story and character.

"Wonder Woman seems to get it.”

“Wonder Woman seems to get it.”

Your simple friend,

Beau Smith

The Flying Fist Ranch

Find me at BeauSmithRanch on Instagram and Twitter


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