For about two years now, I’ve enjoyed watching YouTube videos from a variety of readers, many of whom regularly discuss comics and graphic novels. Some are hardcore comics lovers while others read a mixture of traditional prose and comics. Among the readers who tend toward a fairly even mix of traditional prose and comics, I often hear the comment, “I’ve stopped reading X series because I don’t like the art,” or “I thought about picking up X series, but the illustrations weren’t my bag.”
These types of comments, and increasing instances of this “artwork turned me off so I bailed” attitude threw me into some serious reflection about my own preferences and the visceral reaction that can come along with reading comics. Unlike a prose selection, be it novel, short story, or something else with only-words-on-a-page, there’s a first-impression inherent in the comics reading experience that isn’t a part of the prose reading experience.
Despite that first impression that comics give, I have never turned down reading a comic because of the artwork. Am I in the minority on this one? I’d love to know what our Panels readers have to say.
I suppose when I pick up a comic, I’m open to what the creators have to say and show me and whatever methods they choose to employ. Whether you’re reading a novel or a graphic novel, part of the magic of storytelling is not only the plot, the words on the page, but the form the creator chooses to employ. The form has as much to say about the plot, characterization, setting, and imagery as the written text.
I mentioned in my first piece here at Panels, that the first graphic novel I ever picked up was Maus, by Art Spiegelman. To this day Spiegelman’s visual style is one of my least favorite. There is a ton of darkness on each page, an overwhelmingly claustrophobic feeling, uniformly-sized panels that march on and on through his Holocaust story. I like my art a little more free flowing and open: crazy, wild colors, dynamic panels with action oozing out of them. However, Maus would’ve been a completely different story if it was drawn in a different style. Spiegelman wouldn’t have been able to capitalize on the same plot points, re-emphasize the overarching themes in his work. If I had turned Maus aside because I didn’t like the art, I would’ve missed out on a great story.
A more recent experience was my romp through Sex Criminals, volume 1, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. In this particular case, somewhat opposite to Maus, I loved the first look at the art, but I was a little iffier on the premise. It seemed like it could be fairly kitschy and gimmicky, but with a similar outcome, the artwork enriched the story. The 60s psychedelic feel brought in a whole new set of connotations. Free love meets the Matrix, y’all, and what about those sex police? Yowza. Suddenly the artwork ushered me into a whole mental rabbit hole about morals then vs. now.
Every reader invests some trust in the author or creator of a book to take them somewhere, teach them something, or entertain them for a while. We all have our individual tastes and proclivities, but how many great literary journeys would we miss out on if we didn’t trust those creators?
When I open a comic whose artwork or plot summary doesn’t particularly blow my skirt up, I fall back on trust. I trust that the creators have chosen the best written text and the artwork best-suited to what they want me to experience because it all has something to say. The text itself, the pictures, and the relationship that happens somewhere in between. Even though the artwork may not be my favorite style, I can read a comic and if the text and the pictures jive in a way I find meaningful, I tend to feel satisfied by the experience.
Now it’s your turn to weigh in. Have you turned down a comic because of the art? What are some comics whose art you weren’t excited about but which made a great story?