With no small sense of sarcasm, I found myself making a list of comic books that had ruined western comics recently; I had been considering the many traditions that have disappeared across the past few decades, because that is something that I do simply because that’s how my brain works — I mean, it’s also my job, technically, which isn’t nothing in the grand scheme of things — and the list just popped into my head: Watchmen, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Chris Claremont’s X-Men…
Like I said, there’s certainly some sarcasm at play here, but it’s not an entirely sarcastic idea. The whole thing came from my thinking about an increasing need to over-explain and set the scene from writers in recent decades, and what that does for the speed of storytelling. I’d been reading old British comics again, and marveling at how blunt and brutal they were in establishing the story and stakes: with anywhere between three and five pages per chapter, there’s a speed and economy in deciding what’s actually important that feels entirely alien to contemporary US comics.
I’m old enough to remember “decompressed storytelling” as a selling point for comics at the turn of the century or just after — I guess we were still talking about “widescreen comics” at the actual time the 20th century fell apart — but the decision of slowing a story down to ensure it fills a collected edition was soon taken out of creative hands and transformed into a publishing manifesto but multiple companies chasing a market. Single issues switched from being complete units in and of themselves to chapters of a larger hole, and a skill of getting to the point was lost, it seems.
Maybe this is just me being old. Or maybe this is something I should give more thought to, and write up that list properly. We’ll see.