I Need a Volunteer
Travis Hedge Coke
I want you to try these for me.
I am going to detail some ways to change up your comics enjoying experience and I want you, each of you, to give them a shot. Maybe you have done them before. Maybe you’re afraid to try some or assume it will be boring or worse – How is this worse? I will never understand, but our society says it is so. – it will be silly. Just go with it. I sell some of these in a few sentences, others with several paragraphs, but that’s probably my biases showing. Just try them, okeh? Do it this one (more) time, for me. For your country, your family, your love and your comics. Comics may thank you.
1 3D Glasses
“What kind of comics should you read wearing 3D glasses? All of them!”
Someone told me Mark Gruenwald said something like that and I am entirely for it. I love the depth a set of blue and red 3D lenses can give a color comics page, the way it makes a late 90s X-Men comic swim and reduces The Filth at times to weird not-black-and-white. Todd Parr books explode when you read them with the glasses on. Some comics will freak you out, when the colorist has included unannounced 3D effects, like when you discovered that puffy white skull on a cover glowed in the dark only because it leered up from the floor one 3 a.m.
Using 3D glasses adds a gloss of new stimuli, but it also can change what elements jump out at you, as the tint does not draw the whole into emphasis, but particular, often unintentional aspects. Embrace that. Let the comic be new for you.
2 Close Reading
Nobody can do close-readings of whole works every time. But it is the best technique I can think of to remind you not to underestimate the plethora of content in everything. If “shallow” is to mean anything in relation to art and entertainment, it is that the author is unaware of how much they are communicating with their work, not that the work is meaningless or irrelevant to all things.
Pick up a comic, a single issue, a collection, the Tuesday Marmaduke and don’t let anything go. Read every sign, every signal, every element and inference. Do not focus at all on whether the authors intended a meaning or confluence, do not let yourself think even once “this is just how it is” and then ignore the thing you discovered that you feel is “just how it is.” “Just how it is” is a myth, it is an expectation that may be repeated in entertainment, but it does not make it universal or true. Pay attention most, perhaps, to “just how it is.”
What does your comic say about finances? What financial level are the characters living at? What kind of work do the characters have? What sort of home and possessions? How about those around them? Do they dress, act, or live as you expect of someone in that financial situation?
What about nationality? Do characters have particular dialogue tics or dress to identify their nationality? All or only “foreign” characters? Are there any foreign characters?
What actions are presented on a small scale, in tiny panels or solitary panels, and what kinds of action are presented in splash pages, spreads, or five page sequences? What does that mean to you? What is being privileged in a panel? What’s at the front, what’s in the background. Why? What elements of this body are emphasized, which elements of this other body?
3 Study the Art
Don’t read the comic at the speed of the words as they work in your brain. Stop and consider the art of each panel, of every page as a whole, each figure, foreground, effect, and backdrop. Look at the lines outside of their representational capacity, but as shapes, as patterns. Give the colors some attention. Why are some colors prevalent? Why shade here, why hatch there? What does it feel like when you peer down deep into the twitchy jots, spiderwebs, and starbursts inside a knotted strand of Spider-Man’s web-line? How do the lines of Dick Tracy’s square jaw and squint eyes come together to be Tracy every time?
One thing I truly love with Carlos Pacheco is when he will mimic a pose form an earlier comic without at all changing his representational style. We have all seen a number of visual references, of mimicry and copying and stock arrangements, but most of them go unnoticed as we read because we are so used to them we began to think of them as natural. This is where you get brokeback T&A poses or pistols that have a barrel atop the other barrel, and why they can go generally unchecked. We got used to it. Get yourself unused to it.
Kia Asamiya has done so many comics, so many standalone images that I love, but when he drew a book for Marvel, the pacing was terrible, the costumes were awkward, and there seemed to be no conscious emphasis or inference to anything. The difference between that and Steam Detectives or Batman: Child of Dreams is that Asamiya was drawing someone else’s designs from their script and, apparently, sometimes from someone else’s layouts. The art matters. It isn’t there to service a script. It is not enough to be perfunctory and, anyway, aiming for perfunctory usually fails.
4 Read With Someone
Don’t be afraid to get close, to read at their speed. If they’re conscientious, they may be attempting to sync to your speed, as well. Do not ignore their presence, but read with and not only beside, respond to them, talk to them about the comic.
5 Don’t Ponder
So much is made of reflexively taking in entertainment, passively enjoying, and how terrible that is, but partly what is terrible is the idea that not ruminating deeply on every aspect is the same as being “passive.” I’m not suggesting you read a comic and intentionally avoid emotion or excitement, just don’t stop reading to work through anything. Keep reading. No reflection, only reaction. Crack open the comic to page one, then don’t stop reading until you are done.
6 Go In Ignorant
Buy yourself a new comic you know nothing about. Pick something for the cover or because it’s on sale, but pick something by talent you’re unfamiliar with, with characters you haven’t read about before. And, absolutely, do no research on it before you read. No search engines, no wikis, no guidebooks.
None of these techniques are about bringing in something false, or admitting a comic on its own is a failure. They should be bringing out for you more and more of the potential in the comic. Just as these readings are techniques, a comic is a tool, it should be used and used again as long as it ever proves useful.