Friday, March 21, 2014

Animation gets it right

Like a lot of folk, I've been binging on Netflix (thanks to my lovely wife); in particular, I've  been watching a couple cartoons: Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes and Batman Brave and the Bold. I find both showcase the coolness of their comic book roots, but in a format that is more appealing than its source material.

Animation demands consistency. Characters always look on model, and stories tend to be self-contained (the Avengers is an exception with subplots spread throughout a season, but the effect isn't as confusing as a typical modern comic book). On account of time limits, plots must be concise and to the point, as well as breezy and entertaining. Characters are distilled to easy-to-understand versions, with dialogue serving to move the story forward while defining said characters.

Today's comic books are quite the opposite; plots drag on sluggishly, and individual issues act as story 'beats', part of a massive 'epic' (while ultimately could have been told better with less issues). Characters spend pages chatting, with witty, precious, hard-boiled dialogue that rarely advances the plot. I understand that by forcing readers to buy a series of issues in order to get the whole story the Big Two are trying to prop up stumbling sales. It does seem crass to me, and I miss the days when a typical issue had stories with a definite end (although sub-plots percolating behind the main tale were effectively left to be resolved at a future date).

I also wish comic books featured clearly defined, heroic characters who look roughly the same from issue to issue, like their animated counter-parts. On any given run, art teams constantly redesign characters (usually for no good reason, and mostly straying too far from clean, iconic designs) and writers peel back 'layers' in their characters with 'never-before-revealed' past events, leading to complex 'motivations'. The result is an inaccessible, pretentious mess, with new readers the casualty.

I realize that comic books are a fluid and creative field, unlike animation which requires tight 'regulation' to achieve the final product. Still, I can only observe that I have a lot more enjoyment watching a typical episode of the above mentioned series than trying to wade thru any recent comic book. Hopefully, comics will learn from their mistakes before the medium is damaged beyond repair.

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