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Words & Pictures: The Introductory Bit

Welcome, gentle readers (and the not so gentle ones too, I suppose), to Words & Pictures, a modest little corner of SF SIGNAL devoted to talking about comics and graphic novels. Comics and graphic novels of a broadly sfnal sort, as you might expect. Before we get to the serious business – the first ‘proper’ post won’t be along for a day or three – I thought a little scene-setting might be in order.

Back in the distant past, i.e. the 1980s, I read a lot of comics. And I really do mean a lot. Even after having disposed of boxloads of them, I’ve still got hundreds upon hundreds in a cupboard, occupying storage space I could really do with freeing up. As the 1990s got underway, for a variety of reasons that need not detain us here, I went cold turkey on comics. I paid absolutely no attention to the medium for something approaching fifteen years, and to be honest I didn’t miss the comics-reading habit one little bit. Then, somewhere around 2005/6, I cautiously dipped my toes back into the water. And lo, I got myself hooked all over again.

That’s all jolly nice for me, of course – though my bank balance regrets this unexpected turn of events – but what am I doing here, proposing to talk about the things? Well, there’s not much more to it than: I think comics are worth talking about, I enjoy doing so, and SF SIGNAL seems an entirely sensible venue.

Sensible, because of all the media by which stories reach our brains – books, TV, film, mime, whatever – I strongly suspect, based on no quantitative analysis whatsoever, that comics and graphic novels have a higher proportion of speculative and fantastical content than any other. Yes, of all media in the whole wide world, I think comics might just be the most enamoured of those things which SF SIGNAL and its readers care about.

You might think comics tend toward literalness and transparency. And you’d not be entirely wrong; they’re often first published in relatively brief monthly chunks, which militates against depth and structural experimentation to some extent, and because they’re illustrated much is made explicit that in prose might be implied, or hidden beneath layers of potential interpretation. There’s nothing wrong with all of that. At their best, even the simplest of comics can have invigorating urgency, excitement and beauty, and the very fact that they’re illustrated opens up opportunities for storytelling craftsmanship and subtlety. But there are, also, many comics that make a mockery of such blanket statements and exhibit kinds of depth, sophistication and complexity that are unique to the medium.

I plan to touch on at least some of the things that make comics a distinctive storytelling medium, but also treat them as just another channel offering up the science fiction, fantasy or horror we crave. If they have tropes and techniques and themes all their own (which they do), they share at least as many with the rest of the speculative fiction universe, and it’s as part of that universe that I think of them.

A handful of ground rules follow, so we can all adjust expectations accordingly.

I’ll mostly be talking about US comics, with some manga now and again (because boy, does it offer fertile ground for discussion). I might get to some European material at some point, but no promises. Oh, and probably some webcomics, since I’ve heard a rumour that this internet thing could turn out to be a big deal someday.

I’ll be doing all this talking at whatever sort of frequency I can reasonably manage, which probably means a post every 2-4 weeks for now. We’ll see how that (and the feedback, if any) goes.

What I won’t be discussing as much as you might expect, though they’ll certainly show up now and again, are the superhero comics that dominate the US industry. There’re various reasons for that – which I may or may not get into once I do talk about some – but the most inescapable is: despite a deep and abiding affection for the genre, I don’t read all that many of them.

Most comics, at least of the US variety, begin their existence as 20-plus page monthly periodicals. Many are also available as digital downloads for the electronic reading device of your choice. Always keen to keep my finger on the up-to-the-minute pulse I’ll be talking about … neither of these formats. I get my comics fix from the trade paperback collections (or occasionally hardcovers) that assemble multiple issues of a title in a single volume – or from stand-alone graphic novels – so those are what I’ll be working from.

And finally, although I’ll be making most of this up as I go along (what could possibly go wrong with a plan like that, right?), I can say with some confidence that there’ll be a mix of reviewing and … other stuff taking place, usually all at the same time. Thinking aloud, musing, things like that. Hopefully, it’ll amount to a celebration of the diversity of speculative storytelling as it’s displayed in comics. Complete gibberish is also a possible outcome, however.

That’s more than enough by way of introduction, I should think. Next time around we’ll get down to Words & Pictures business, and tackle the subject of walking, talking animals. With guns.

2 Comments on Words & Pictures: The Introductory Bit

  1. Sounds like a great column!

    I, too, stopped collecting in the 90’s – late 90’s for me. And I went cold turkey.

    Though I have picked up a few graphic novels here and there, Infinite Crisis cured me of whatever lingering comic book addictions I might have had.

    Good luck!


  2. As far as I can tell, by more or less stopping at the start of the 90s rather than the late 90s, I successfully avoided some of the more … questionable excesses of the comics industry during that decade (not to mention its near total collapse).

    Its definitely true that what’s drawn me back in is not so much the superhero stuff from Marvel and DC – peppered as it is with continuity-dense crossovers like Infinite Crisis, which I got out of the library a year or two back and now can’t remember a single thing about, to be honest – but the amazing wealth of material being put out by other companies.

    That said, there is some decent stuff coming out from Marvel and DC too, some of which I’ll hopefully get to here in due course.

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