Monday, March 21, 2005

Creator-Passion Content

Back at my old blog, I recently wrote a piece I'm fairly happy with about factors that many great comics share. I'd like to follow up on it here. Specifically, I want to talk about Creator-Passion Content. In short, it is the idea that the content of the work is something about which the creator feels passionate. This can range from genre (Frank Miller or Ed Brubaker and noir) to the kind of life that some folks stuff in their work like a delicious burrito (all the science and metaphysics Morrison tends to put in his work). I also want to talk about the dangers of going Too Far with this sort of thing.

First: genre love. Let me start off by saying genre love Isn't Enough. Sure, Miller and Brubaker pull it off with aplomb, but think of all the fanboy-cum-creators that LOVE the hell out of superheroes and then write utter Cape Crap Comics. I've no doubt that Geoff Johns loves 80s Roy Thomas books like a father (non-abusive). But that love alone hasn't saved his comics from retread boringocity. Brad Meltzer recently wrote a "love letter" to DC comics which centered around, yet never dealt with a graphic rape scene. Loving a genre is great, but it's not a free pass. You've got to bring your "A" game and be worthy of the genre you love. The man or woman you love, you don't half-ass everything with them. You try a bit harder. Same with the genre you love. A perfect example of this are the War Stories by Garth Ennis and various artists. Garth's obvious love for war comics (and cinema) infuses these books with a vitality that comes off the page and lovingly pokes your eyeballs. Ennis didn't slack either. Ennis is a great writer but when he writes a stinker, dear GOD is it foul. (One gets the feeling his "C" work is a joke at a bar we weren't around to hear.) Anyway, read these comics and I dare you not to see how great they are. Smart, crafted, human characters, and plots that punch you in the jaw. Genre love, when mixed with skill and bust-ass hard work, can make some great comics.

On the other hand, any genre can work if the creators stuff enough things they love into it. Witness, for instance, Street Angel. Did the world need another superhero comic? Before I read it, I'd have definitely said "No." But superhero comics rarely get the level of personal involvement Steet Angel has. Martial arts (and NINJAS!) mixed with some out-there sci-fi, superheroes, street life, blaxploitation cinema . . .all of this topped by some pretty art and characters with actual emotional depth. Sure, the blog world has already shat their pants over Street Angel a few times, but it's worth repeating that it's a damn good book. On a more corporate side, check out The Question by Rick Veitch and Tommy Lee Edwards. Normally, The Question has just been a cool design with little to say unless filtered through his progeny Rorschach. But mix in some personal stuff from Veitch (sprituality, shamanism, chi philosophy, poetry) and FREAKING BEAUTIFUL art by Edwards and you've got a fresh voice within a corporate system mostly mired in retreads and rapes. When a good creator infuses the corporate with the personal, some magic can happen. Reminds me of an old Grant Morrison interview (I googled for a good hour before giving up on finding it). He talked about how he wished the corporate and indie comics boundries would fade. Get some autobio comics from Liefeld, I remember being a stand-out idea. But it works, folks. Check out the freshest, funnest corporate comics: they're the ones where the creators throw things from outside of comics in with reckless abandon. They're the ones that work.

But it doesn't always work. Sometimes you can overplay the personal interest card. Foremost example of this would be the Robinson/Harris Starman epic. When this book started, man, I loved it. It was fresh, fresh, fresh. A lot of this was what I was talking about above. Robinson mixed a lot of things he was personally interested in with the DCU megastory and came out with some brilliant stuff. But, as time went on, and people kept loving the personal twists, Starman became more and more navel-gazing and self-important. It took on the worst attributes of indie comics. Robinson put less emphasis on telling stories and more on blathering on about bakelite or fifties tattoos. Don't forget to tell a story, or you may as well be making a "List of Things I Like" and wiping your ass with it.

To sum up-- War Stories: great because of skill combined with genre love; The Question and Street Angel: great because of a mix of the corporate and the personal; Starman: once great but lost balance and fell into the trap of egotism.

5 Love Letters:

Anonymous Shade said...

I recently read throgh STARMAN from start to finish. Whole series. You can for sure see where Robinson started to lose his way but for me it didn't last long. He got back on track quickly and you can really see how it needs to be read as a whole and flows like a novel (with a few breaks here and there) from start to finish.

12:36 PM

Blogger Joe Rice said...

Huh. When he lost me, he lost me for good. I never went back. It was just hard to take the whole self-important thing seriously anymore.

12:56 PM

Anonymous Brad Curran said...

"Huh. When he lost me, he lost me for good. I never went back. It was just hard to take the whole self-important thing seriously anymore."

The perils of serlization, I guess. Or self idulgence.

As far as the War Story one-shots go, I'm right there with you on that. Good to see someone giving the their due. I may like a couple of them more than Preacher as far as Ennis' work goes. You can tell that they're stories he really wants to tell, and as such, they're a lot better than his Marvel work (at least that I've read), even the better end of it like Welcome Back Frank and Born.

10:52 PM

Blogger Kitty said...

For me, my issues with Starman were less about fifties kitsch and more about James Robinson's obsession with Golden Age stuff. I loved all the earlier stuff about Jack's junk dealing. I lost interest when he got more into exploring old DC history. Mother boxes and Space Cabbie? No thanks.

3:38 PM

Blogger Joe Rice said...

That's the thing, Kitty. When the book started, it was a great balance of both factors: DCU ephemera and Robinson personal interests. As time went on, he started going a bit too far with one, the other, and sometimes both.

3:53 PM


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