Movies are incredible. The combination of light, sound, acting, cinematography and so many other pieces that have been honed over the course of more than a century of film making added to mass market appeal yields an unparalleled storytelling medium. There are movies that will make you laugh, cry, cringe or gaze in wonder. But, come to think of it, there are some things that really aren’t suited for film.
Let’s take video games for example. The concept of choice in a game gives the player worlds full of cooperative storytelling in a way that is structured but fun. Decisions, collections, challenges and triumphs. All of these things add more to a story medium that is so much more malleable than film, and far more entertaining and accessible than a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel.
I have, for a long time, been stunned by stories that use their medium to the fullest potential. A movie that has a soundtrack and editing that will leave me in awe. A game where decision making is key and challenges abound. Or a good old-fashioned novel, where the narrative and setting are conveyed in such a way that no amount of acting or sfx could do it justice.
My intent with this page is to explore the world of storytelling in comic books, from sci-fi to superheroes to real-world drama. Now, I understand that comics don’t have the same wide appeal as the other three mediums I listed, in part because they’ve been pushed aside for more ‘adult’ pursuits. And that’s perfectly fine. I’m not here to tell you how you need to call every collection of Swamp Thing a ‘Graphic Novel’ because of it’s complexity and sophistication, or even that superheroes are the best and most relevant genre. Like any other medium, there are good and bad entries here. I would, however, like to illustrate four things that I think comic books are able to do better than any other medium and then outline what I intend to write here on The Unmoving Picture Company.
Comics are told in sequential images, each individual image contained in a panel. Comic book panels range from simple and straightforward to psychedelic and dynamic, but both help tell the story. Paneling can add to the art and narrative in a way that you won’t see done anywhere else, and innovative paneling always catches my eye. In fact, it’s the reason I started reading comics! This is a feature you will not find in any other medium, and there’s a long list of artists who have honed the craft. Below are two of my favorite examples:
From Sandman: Overture #4 by Neil Gaiman, art by JH Williams III
From Trinity #1 by Francis Manapul, art by Manapul and Chris Mann
A large part of the appeal in comics is that it is a serial medium, meaning that most titles are more analogous to T.V. shows than movies. What makes a comic series better, however, is that it runs for much, much longer and is able to showcase so much talent over the course of several years or even decades. Do you like Daredevil? Well you’re in luck, there’s more than 50 years of blind justice for you to explore! Are you a fan of The Walking Dead? Issue 171 just came out on September 6th. Whether you want to do some catching up, or you just want to follow a new series, the comic book format allows a long-term story to be told over the course of several years, with no problems from actor changes or contract conflicts.
Ok, you knew this one was coming. A large appeal in the comics medium is the breadth and depth with which superhero stories have been told. Trust me, The Dark Knight and Captain America: Civil War are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to hard-hitting moral dilemmas and superhuman action. And frankly, many movies don’t do the genre justice. Which brings me to. . .
Comic books more than any other medium have a finger on the pulse of American popular culture and heritage. When it comes to commentary on the 20th century, look no further than titles like Watchmen, Kingdom Come and Maus. The three reasons listed previously tell the story of why I started reading comic books, but this last one is why I stayed. Superhero stories show us, as humans, what we would like to accomplish and become. Biographies and historical dramas show us where we came from and why we should never forget. There’s plenty of entertainment mediums everywhere for whatever kind of story wants to be told, but comic creators are, by and large, a patriotic and nostalgic bunch, and they continue to tell real and relevant stories that help us all become a little better. So I suppose, in that sense, comics are “for children” not in the sense that they are juvenile, but in the sense that they are hopeful and idealistic.
The purpose of The Unmoving Picture Company is to talk about comic books: their themes, their characters and their execution (I am also going to be talking about comic book movies occasionally). Many of my posts will be reviews of recent comics (2016 and forward) or character analysis. I will also do a Book-of-the-Month where I will talk about a comic or graphic novel that I read recently and what it did that I liked. It will be a sort of book club/recommended reading list. I’m excited to talk about comic book movies, new and old, by comparing them to the source material and commenting on the transition to the big screen because, again, each medium is very different in what it does well. Thanks for reading through this, and I hope you enjoy The Unmoving Picture Co.