Saturday, June 07, 2008

Comic Books Part Deux

Once more I ventured into a comic book store. This makes the third time in a month and I’m amazed at myself. I bought Planet Hulk, which collects a dozen or so Hulk issues under one cover. I bought it because of a sword & planet connection. All these issues take place on a planet called Sakaar, where the Hulk is exiled, and it has quite a bit of the old sword & planet feel. Sakaar is ruled largely by a group of red-skinned humanoids who remind one of the red-skinned people of ERB’s Barsoom, but there are also many other races that have been brought there by what is essentially a wormhole.

The Hulk is weakened by passing through the wormhole and is captured, through the use of an “obedience disk,” and sent to a gladiator training school. He makes friends there and ends up fighting first in the arena, and then at the head of a rag-tag army to overthrow an evil emperor known as the Red King. From there the story takes the usual sword & planet route.

There are some good and bad things about the book. First, since it collects a bunch of issues it is a satisfying chunk of reading material. I hate sitting down for a read and finishing in three minutes, and this actually took me a while to get through. Second, the writer(s) also have a pretty good handle on the basic sword & planet concept and created some interesting background characters and an interesting world. Unfortunately, the weakest part of the story was pretty much the Hulk himself. I really liked the first part of the book where a weakened Hulk is, while still formidable, actually challenged by some of the characters he meets and fights. Later, as the Hulk grows stronger and stronger and stronger I just lost interest. When the continental plates are ruptured, the Hulk leaps down into the boiling magma and…restores them. Later, he goes into the vacuum of space without a spacesuit, and then returns to the planet by meteoring into the ground. There’s no challenge to the Hulk left. That means no conflict, only some pretty images. But pretty images do not a story make. As a result, while I enjoyed Planet Hulk at one level, it didn’t scratch my itch for some good old fashioned swashbuckling.

There is one thing I’ve noticed, however, in my few recent trips to the comic stores. And that is the absolute excitement of many comic book fans for these characters and stories. Each time I’ve gone there have been several other folks in the store, all young men (mostly in their twenties), who are talking excitedly and animatedly about this comic story or that. And by “excitedly” I mean with voices raised in passion. There has been no mean-spiritedness to it, only joyous and wild discussion. I thought to myself, it’s not true that men aren’t reading, only that men aren’t reading regular books. And then I thought, what is it that attracts them to comics instead?

The standard views on males and females are that males are more excited by visual stimuli than women, and I have to suspect that this is part of the attraction for young males to the comics. However, I’m wondering why they need to have these visuals ‘given’ to them? When I read a regular novel I’m seeing all kinds of things visually. They’re just in my head.

I also wish I could find a better way, or some way, to connect to these readers. It seems to me that the Taleran books have much in them that a reader of something like Planet Hulk could enjoy. But why aren’t they discovering this? Where is the disconnect? What can I do to bridge the gap? I don’t know.


Steve Malley said...

Comics are possibly the world's most visceral form of storytelling. THere's something about the push and pull of words and pictures that taps into primal parts of the human brain.

Sadly, for much of the last 50 years, (aome might argue the last 80-90 but I take issue), this powerful medium has chased adolescent male power fantasies about men in their underwear throwing cars at each other.

Those books are still alive and (quite evidently) well, and the Former Sole Publishers still slant their material very much toward that young male demographic.


Young 'Tween' girls are reading comics like nobody's business. They don't read that yucky boy stuff (why would they?) but rather gravitate to Manga, those Japanese-style comics where everyone's got the big eyes. In Japan, romance comics and humour comics and the like never died, so there's a huge backlog of material to translate.

Mostly, you find these books in Borders or B&N, that sort of place. A ten year old girl isn't comfortable in the average Android's Dungeon, and the average Comic Shop Guy doesn't know what to do with her.

Once mainstream publishers (Random House, Harper Collins, et al) saw the dollar signs, they jumped into original graphic novels with both feet. Now they're bringing out OGNs (graphic novels that aren't just collections of monthly pamphlets) that are science fiction, fantasy, cyberpunk, steampunk, romance, horror... you name it.

Everything's changing in comics, and nobody has any idea where it might go.

Actually, there's never been a better time to do a graphic adaptation of the Talera books!

Steve Malley said...

Yikes, that ran long!

Sorry. getting me on comics is like asking a grandmother if she has pictures of the little'uns...

Bernita said...

Steve may be right about a graphic version, but I know what you mean, one of the lovely things about the Talera books is that they are so very visual.

Mary Witzl said...

I'm not a huge comic book fan, but my kids -- largely raised in Japan -- are insane for manga.

When we lived in Japan, it drove me wild to see grown men and women devouring manga after manga -- on the trains, standing up in bookstores, in coffee shops. The Japanese are proud of their high literacy rate and the fact that more books are sold and read there than in many other countries (I can't remember the exact statistics, but they're high). But mangas skew the statistics, and I don't really consider them as books. I agree with you: I want to see readers graduate from manga to something more worthwhile. (God, do I sound pompous...)

While I'm at it, I could use one of those obedience disks. Wish I could find a Super-mom manga that featured an all-powerful mother who could do no wrong.

virtualjourney said...

Interesting - IT offspring browses masses of comic strips (xkcd etc) - reckons it gives the numerate side of his brain a break.

LoveRundle said...

I would like to collect a few some more comics. I'm not sure when was the last time I walked into a comic book store. I like the Hulk movies, a few of the Hulk television shows, but I'm not sure I'd get a comic book unless it was with League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

laughingwolf said...

no argument from me, charles...

can you hook up with an artist or two, and collaborate for graphic novels of your talera books?

christopher should know many...

if you can believe the 'news', rowling's potter series had many boys turned on to reading

if that's true, they should have graduated into 'mature' books by now, it's been more than seven years since the first

like most things these days, promotion seems the way to go, but who has the $$$?

Barbara Martin said...

There's your answer, Charles. A graphic novel for your book series. Go for it!

Lana Gramlich said...

Tell 'em about Capt. America!!!

Charles Gramlich said...

Steve, I've picked up a few manga in our local bookstore. I have no idea if they are typical or not but they surely seemed to be highly sexualized. Some were also pretty violent. As for a graphics adaptation I know next to nothing about the field. I'm completely out of my depth in comics.

Bernita, I also like my own visuals better than I imagine I would someone else's images. I like the visual aspect of writing a great deal, which is probably why I like description.

Mary Witzl, I don't see anything wrong with reading some comics or manga but I wonder why that's "all" folks read. And if someone is reading it because they can't visualize then that is definitely a weakness it seems to me.

Julie, I'm so out of the loop on comics that sometimes I'm not even sure how to read the panels, which direction things go in. In can be awkward.

Christina, did you like the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie? Great visuals in it but I didn't fall in love with it.

Laughingwolf, you're right about the money for promotion. There's so much product on the market it's hard for anything to rise above in the crowd.

Barbara Martin, I certainly wish I could draw myself. I've got great ideas for that sort of thing but no art technique worth a damn, and Lana's art is quite different from comic book art.

Lana, do you think they're ready?

Randy Johnson said...

Sometimes I think comics are strictly for the young male(the superhero aspect already discussed) and all the female characters seem to have-ahem-healthy lungs(that's what we used to say when I was young; I just barely remember)
You mentioned, Charles, how the Hulk became less interesting when he got powerful. I always had the same problem with Superman. I mean when a guy can change the orbit of a planet with only minimal effort, where's the risk that drives the story?
I don't buy comics anymore. The last was a Conan graphic novel six months ago, the first in years, and that was only because it was written by Joe Lansdale.
A Talera comic might work if you could sell it to a company. I'm not sure I would buy it though. I've already got my own images of Talera in my head, as has everyone who's read the books. I dougt any two of them will match.
The mind can do far greater graphic work than any other medium. We're not constrained by monetary costs, just the limits of our imaginations.

Randy Johnson said...

Doubt! Sorry about that.

the walking man said...

Sexualized Japanese comics..yep they are. One of the sons has spent months in Japan and his "bring backs" are not western romantic, but Japanese R rated erotic.

Charles Gramlich said...

Randy Johnson, you know, I'm not sure I'd even buy a Taleran graphic novel. If I couldn't draw the images myself I can't imagine that someone else would see what I see. A graphic novel would be much more of a collaborative work. I'm the same way about Superman as you. Unless a victory comes hard, then where is the conflict that drives the story?

Mark, yes, some of the stuff I've seen is really porn. But even many of the non-porn ones that I've seen put very young looking individuals into sexually charged positions and situations. And this is from just sort of randomly picking up manga's at Borders.

Monique said...

It's always humor I'm after and I have to go to Holland to find the 'Flater" comics I absolutely adore. This is set in a publishing house and Flater is the junior worker and whatever he does, always with the best intentions, will go wrong. His cat and laughing gull are also prominent in the stories. The drawings are funny, the writing is funny and I have now quite a collection.

I guess the old ones from the seventies are now quite collectable.

Sidney said...

Man I guess it's four or five years since I did some serious comic book reading. Gets expensive quick.

I read a pretty good sequence of Hulk stories back them and enjoyed them but haven't followed a lot of the more recent stories.

Our local comics shop recently had to move because of troubles with the shopping center where he was housed. Fortunately he found a similarly priced place and didn't have to go out of business.

Wowoi is a great source of comics non-Marvel and DC. They also have some classic science fiction now too, older stuff by Poul Anderson and others. I just got one called Druid's Planet.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

If you can do a graphic novel version of your series that would work great!

Erik Donald France said...

We had a great comic book and used records store in Chapel Hill. I hope it's still there.

There is one still battling for survival in Detroit, on Mack Ave, next to a mom and grocery store. They battle over their street signs in a most peculiar way. Makes one notice them, certainly.

Charles Gramlich said...

Monique, I've never heard of that one. Must be British, I guess.

Sidney, it's been much longer than that for me. I'm enjoying some of it but I don't think it's going to replace regular books anytime soon.

Ello, it would be kind of cool.

Erik, there are two not far from me that are both dedicated primarily to comics, though each has a section for gaming.

ivan said...

Steve Malley's onto something.

In the United States the manga market was $175–200 million;in Japan, billions upon billions.
No wonder the overground American publishers are salivating.

Chris Eldin said...

Interesting. I've never read a comic book, but just finished reading a novel written/illustrated in comic book style. It's called "Perseopolis." I may have the spelling wrong.
It's written in first person by an Iranian woman who went to high school in Austria, then returned to a fundamentalist Iran, then left again. It's a brilliant story, and I LOVED what the comic drawings added to the story.
I'm thinking this medium is under-utilized.

Sam said...

I love comics. I wish I kept the ones I had as a kid (we moved too much though to take them with us) and I wonder if my uncle still has his collection. We'd go to the drugstore every Saturday to get our weekly fix (I'm dating myself but...) My favorite was Captain America and Spiderman, my brother got Batman or The Phantom, and my sister liked the Silver Surfer or Superman. We'd read ours, then swap.

Heff said...

Visual stimuli. That pretty much said it all. Transform your books into comics, and reap the goldmine.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ivan, the story of my writing life. No ones reading what I'm dishing out.

Chris Eldin, for me, if the writing is good the images in a comic are distracting not helpful. If the writing is weak then them images are certainly important and I may spend more time studying them than the words.

Sam, I went through a very short face of getting comics and I liked The Fantastic Four and Silver Surfer. I loaned most of my collection to a fellow who absconded with them. Turns out I had some that later were worth decent money.

Heff, I'd have to find someone that could draw comics. Looks pretty tough to me.

writtenwyrdd said...

It's simple, Charles: Have the Talera Cycle done up as a series of graphic novels! Then some of these guys will read teh actual books!

The books would lend themselves to being done that way, too.

writtenwyrdd said...

PS, I used to work with a guy who drew comics on the side. He did a few Marvels. I talked with him about doing a comic book sometime, and he was willing back then. Needless to say, I got distracted by moving to Maine and never got around to finishing up the idea.

My (limited) understanding is that you have the pencil sketch guy, the inker, the colorist, the lettering person, the cover artist, and the writer. Not all the same people wear these hats. More labor and hands touch comics than it might seem.

The process might be to get someone interested in the story, then get them to publish it, doing the drawings and you do the script.

Charles Gramlich said...

Writtenwyrd, oh indeed, there would be a lot of folks involved in a graphic novel adaptation. It would be more like a movie, I guess, where a group of folks work on the same project. Could I give up that kind of control? I don't know.

writtenwyrdd said...

Then there is also the risk that they'll be horrible crap like the Anita Blake graphic tales are. *shudders* Wouldn't wish that on you, Charles!

Cheri said...

I guess some people just cannot picture some things in their minds. I think that with some things we have to be given a rough visualization of a thing, person or place- otherwise everything would be Raymond Carveresque, limited detail with a lot of imagination used to picture what was being written about. I'm not a fan of comics because I dislike reading things in pictures- I'd rather read and conceive my own picture. See the faces of the characters with my own mind. For others I suppose that comics books are the best books- they give you the pictures and leave less work for your brain to do!