The Graphic Principle #1: Storytelling Symphony

The Graphic Principle is a CBU column by Michael Tennant. In this installment he addresses the proliferation of long story arcs in modern comic book storytelling.

Decompressed Storytelling.

Some readers love it, for others it is almost a bad word. It absolutely has its uses, but like anything overuse exposes its flaws.

There are those who champion it. They will say that it gives writers and artists room to work, the story room to breathe. It can set a mood so perfectly that it can truly pull you into these imaginary worlds we immerse ourselves in.

On the other hand, it often unnaturally lengthens story arcs. There was a time when every comic story was contained in one issue, maybe two if it was a real blockbuster. The comics were like a nightly TV show with a villain of the week. The heroes lived their lives, storylines moved forward, but for the most part the meat of the issue – hero vs villain – was contained in that single issue. That is in the past. Now it seems every story arc must fit nicely into an easily marketed trade paperback. Stories that could be told in two or three issues are dragged out into five or six issues to fit that very format.

I believe the monthly comic suffers for this. So many times reading a decompressed story I get to the end of an issue and I think, “That’s it??” Three, four, sometimes five dollars for a book that takes slightly ten minutes to read can be frustrating.

It is not the only way to tell stories in comics. When DC Comics was rolling out new series in the summer of 2015, they released short 8-10 page ‘sneak peeks’ of the upcoming books. These were more prologues than previews.

400509_20170506061518_largeThis year Marvel Comics did the same on Free Comic Book Day, giving fans two short, self-contained stories featuring the All-New Guardians of the Galaxy in the front with The Defenders in the back. Both were highly anticipated titles on the verge of release. They were essentially prologues but they were wonderful. They gave fans just a taste of what would be coming from these new series far better than any solicitation text and promo art ever could.

The Defenders prologue actually makes my point better than anything else. I read that and I was genuinely excited. The story was concise and exciting. It gave me enough detail to know what was going on without overwhelming me. So I checked out the first issue and frankly I was underwhelmed. Not that it was bad, it was simply that one had me jacked and the other, not so much.013_000

For me, at some point, putting all parts of the story together is like music. Sometimes I want a melodious symphony, other times I want some punk rock to get my juices flowing. All of one or the other is a little too much. I need those changes to round out that composition.

So maybe a little less decompressed storytelling, maybe a little more punk rock. Just a thought.

Oh and by the way Marvel and DC, if you want to put out some anthology books with three or four ‘compressed’ features in them, I will eat them up!

Michael Tennant
Michael Tennant

After discovering Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes #239 as a young man, Michael never looked back. Armed with a passion for journalism and a thirst for knowledge, he still talks to his imaginary friends.

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