Other, related stories:
Comics and social relevance
Howard the Duck
A few comics that really bugged me
Cerebus and sentimentality
Statistics
A review of the TV show Smallville (In which I look at death in the comic books)
Technical problem
Love, sex and romance
Desert Peach and literary characters
Mary Marvel and economic systems
Valkyrie and feminism
Turning a paper page into a virtual one
Update on sex in comics
Mars - Not a brilliant work, but an interesting one
A funny, but it needs explaining
A really sweet, romantic meeting after an absence and some adventures
An update on Mary Jane
All of the images I use in these visual essays are copywrited to whatever publication I got them out of. I produced none of them and have no rights to any of them.

Why I like comics


I'm currently taking all of my pre-1980 comic books, scanning them and consolidating the resulting JPGs into the CBE format. After creating about 30 such digital comic books, I've been giving some thought as to why I collected them in the first place. Money was never a great motivation. I liked the comic book artist who claimed she read her comics while taking her baths because she just wasn't all that concerned about the money she'd get from selling off her back issues. She was more interested in the reading experience than in the potential future money.

Does one automatically get money for old comics? According to Comic Price Guide, a mint condition Swamp Thing #19 sells for only $6. A Swamp Thing #20, published only one month later, goes for $25. Why is that? Different writer. That was the month Alan Moore took over the writing on Swampy and he wrote some really terrifically awesome stuff. So no, for a comic to just be old doesn't mean that it's automatically valuable.

As to what makes for a good comic, I can't add a whole lot to Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. McCloud was the writer/artist for Zot!, a Japanese manga-inspired superhero series. I also read The Comics Journal from the late 1970s until the late 1980s and still pick up an issue now and then.

Do I like the handsome guys
Conan
Captainn Marvel
Dr. Strange

and the beautiful gals?
Bev
Brunnhilde
Starling

Well, of course I do.  I think someone defined the main appeal of watching movies and TV shows is that you get to see people who look better than you do dealing with problems that are nevertheless very similar to yours.

Do I like it when the problems of the chracters I'm reading about are really similar to mine? Actually, no. I prefer it when there's a good deal of distance between the problems they deal with and the problems that I deal with. In the TV series Vampire Diaries, they feature a blond vampire who's going out with a Latino werewolf and where the younger brother of the heroine has to choose between his former girlfriend who's now a ghost and the current girlfriend who's a witch. Cool stuff! Now, in Bridesmaids, the heroine of the movie has to deal with a serious lack of money. As I have that very same problem, this was not a very pleasant film to watch. It hit too close to home to be amusing.

I really enjoy it when the comic heroes and heroines deal with their problems in an understandably human way, but of course the characters I read about can use things like zap rays and super-strength and the ability to fly, so that again, establishes a good deal of distance between what they deal with and what I deal with during my much more ordinary life.

Do I like a good fight scene?

Angel
Valkyrie
 
Oh, heck yeah! That's a big part of the appeal of comics. But there's a lot of stuff I read and enjoy where fights don't occur for pages at a time and somtimes not even in that particular issue, so that's not a major draw for me, either.

No, the part of comics I really enjoy is the story-telling, the getting the story across in a combination of both words and pictures. In this scene (Journey Into Mystery 632), we can see that Loki is a very youthful and impatient sort and that he's shocked and taken aback when his actions don't yield the expected results.

Loki & Leah
Thoris

Neither the words nor the pictures tell the full story by themselves. If you just read the words, you wouldn't get Loki's brash impatience, nor Leah's aggravated annoyance. Loki's feeling of "OMG! What have I done?" is shown by his shocked expression and Leah's fear of the fire-breathing dog is shown by her turning away from it.

Matt (Daredevil) Murdock's father (Daredevil 164) has to get back into the boxing ring. We see his resigned determination, his sagging shoulders when he asks for his old job back, the annoying and obnoxious cigar smoke being breathed directly into his face and Jack's look of resignation amid still more cigar smoke.

exposition
Fixer

The Fixer really grinds it in and humiliates Jack as he accepts Jack's re-registration. Words aren't even necessary for us to see how depressed Jack is and how little choice he feels he has in the matter.

This, to me, is the really main draw of comics, the telling of a story with both words and pictures working together. Neither of them works by themselves. Yeah, it's really cool when the art is highly realistic, but for it to be of a high caliber, the realism and even the dynamism of the drawing isn't the quality that really draws me to it. It's the story-telling, the narrative flow, how the writing/drawing team get their ideas across, how they get across the action and the details of the story to the reader that I really like.

Here's a story fragment from 2013, Fairest 9 (A spin-off of Fables) that's probably possible to do in other mediums, but it's hard to see how a reader could so easily keep track of the two elements in any other format.
bar

karaoke
There are two conversations here, the two women, Nara and Rapunzel carry on a very serious dialogue that's central to the plot of the comic. The two guys, Jack and Joel, do yer guys-in-a-bar thing with some attractive females who work there. The two conversations begin with Joel being part of the women's conversation, then the guys run off and do their own thing while the women continue with their more serious conversation. We follow each one without losing track of either.


Does this combinatin ever approach true, awesome, capital-A Art? Hmm, well, if it did, I'd say the following pages certainly qualify. Here's the context of a page from Wonder Woman (Issue 97 in 1995):
sprayed

Diana has been sprayed with some white stuff by the Joker and thereby paralyzed. Yes, that's a different costume than her usual red and blue one.

secret negotiation

The writer explains that Diana, being a creature of myth and legend who's closely linked to the Greek gods and goddesses isn't bound by the same rules that would keep everyone else frozen and immobile. After the Joker gets smacked around a bit by the revived Diana:

eek!

I've always particularly liked this page (Strange Tales 180 in 1975), too. Adam Warlock flies above the city, on his way to meet The Matriarch.
Warlock travels

This is definitely one of the better fight pages I've seen. From X-Men 109 in 1978.
Colussus
And the answer to that burning question "Just how quickly does Peter Rasputin change into Colossus?" is, well, pretty darn quickly.

Here's an example a few pages earlier of the artist's fight scenes.
Ya gotta feel for Wolverine here as the artist demonstrates just how the "costumed one" throws his entire weight behind his punch.
Wolverine

Here's another X-Men page I've always liked.
Magneto
Magneto travels, in a very short time, from his satellite all the way to the molten entrance to his other base where the X-Men are imprisoned.

charge!
And this is a pretty classic "Charge!" picture.

Killraven
Whoa-ho! Like cosmic and trippy, man! From Killraven in 1975.

dancing
Some dancing from the 1940s.

machinery
Jack Kirby does awesome machinery!  From New Gods 4 in 1971.

Darkseid
This page is really interesting for Darkseid's body language, posture and attitude. From New Gods 7 (1972), Darkseid scolds Metron and appears powerful and in command while being unthreatening.