What You Can Learn from International Comics

Posted by No_name_here (1247 posts) - - Show Bio
Much can be learned from Mr. Dredd    
So I’ve gotten private messages asking for some advice about writing for comics. The best advice I’ve gotten - - the best I can give - - is that you need to look beyond what’s right in front of your face. Don't stick to just what's on the new releases shelf. Look for inspiration in older comics, in obscure comics and in foreign comics... because there's a lot to be learned from them. 

A while back, I was looking at a lot of my favorite comics writers - - Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, to name a few - - and realized they all had something in common. All of them cut their teeth in 2000 AD, which is the UK’s premier comics anthology (and home to likes of Judge Dredd.) So I picked up some trades - - my favorite being DREDD VS. DEATH - - and quickly found out why. The creators have to tell their stories in increments of eight pages or less, so there's a much greater onus on tight storytelling. That whole magazine's basically a textbook on pacing for comics. 

Hopping over the pond, I checked out some titles from another famous Euro comics mag, Heavy Metal, and its associated titles under the Humanoids umbrella. My favorite out of the lot was definitely METABARONS - - the magnum opus of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Juan Gimenez which has earned accolades from the likes of Warren Ellis and Mark Millar. The pace on this is similarly frenetic, with far-out ideas coming at you at an absolutely delirious clip. Seriously, this series doesn't have that many volumes, but it feels like an epic because of the pacing. I was so impressed by this psychotic space opera epic that it got me thinking about just how it was different from the American comics I've been used to. 
So what did I realize? == TEASER ==          
 Find some volumes of this on eBay. Seriously, it'll blow your mind.
I remember there was a lot of commentary years ago after many American creators were following Ellis' AUTHORITY run by consciously adopting manga-style “decompressed storytelling." There’s always been plenty of international creative cross-pollination  - - Frank Miller famously took inspiration from LONE WOLF & CUB and Moebius to make RONIN - - but this was a case of storytelling preferences becoming an industry trend. Sometimes it led to comics being more "cinematic," sometimes it led to padding - - it depended on how much the followers understood the larger context, I think. After reading some manga, myself, I cobbled my own theory of the East/West comics exchange (taking a lot from things Scott McCloud said in UNDERSTANDING COMICS.) I think American comics lie between two poles of compression. On one end, manga’s "super-decompressed," with a lot more space afforded per volume to give the story breathing room, to focus on individual moments, et cetera. On the other end,  Euro comics are "super-compressed," whether they're limited by space in anthologies (like 2000 AD) or because of they've got bigger album pages with more room for more panels (like METABARONS.)  Hence,  the pacing usually comes across a lot faster, especially when the pages are shrunken to American sizes.
One is not necessarily better than other, just different - -  but it's important to know the significance of the difference. This is a bigger topic to get into than we really have room to here. Suffice it to say, exploring beyond familiar borders has definitely benefited me, both as a reader and a creator. Not only has it given given me a broader understanding of the medium, it's also made me appreciate homegrown comics with a better perspective. Even if you aren't necessarily interested in making comics yourself, I'd still highly recommend you all reach out of any comfort zone you're in and try some "foreign" work. Trust me.

Tom Pinchuk’s the writer of  HYBRID BASTARDS! &UNIMAGINABLE. Order them on Amazonhere  & here.

#1 Posted by sora_thekey (8637 posts) - - Show Bio

Great article Tom!
I have noticed that a lot of aspiring comic book writers tend to follow a pattern of trying to be very much like those in Marvel and DC, but don't broaden their "Style" of writing, when there's so much creativity out there and there's new things that have yet to be told in comics...  I can't say from personal experience because my comic book reading limits itself to mostly Marvel and DC but some of my favorite series are out of those companies... and those horizons could even be broaden more if people were to take a look into the storytelling in chapter books

#2 Posted by longbowhunter (8484 posts) - - Show Bio

Dredd vs. Death huh. Cool, I've been looking to get into some Judge Dredd for a while.

#3 Posted by doordoor123 (3810 posts) - - Show Bio

I totally agree with you. 
As an aspiring comic book writer, i not only read comic books, but anything i could get my hands on. Be it Manga, newspapers, Biographys, scripts. Any kind of reading material you could think of.   
I think what youre talking about is researching. Researching IS writing. If a writer cant research, he isnt a writer. As a writer, you must learn flexibility. And fleixiility can only be learned from research,

#4 Posted by Count_ZeroOR (109 posts) - - Show Bio

I totally agree with you. This idea is partially what spurred me to start working my way through old issues of Heavy Metal Magazine - well, that and the dearth of space opera comics in the West, outside of licensed works and works in the Marvel & DC Universes.

#5 Posted by Krakoa (815 posts) - - Show Bio

Metabarons is one of the best comics ever!

#6 Posted by DarkSyde79 (213 posts) - - Show Bio

The lack of restrictions and the seriousness that the international cats take is definitely are "teachable moments". LOL!!! 

#7 Posted by Silkcuts (6040 posts) - - Show Bio

great article!  I remember Alan Moore's stories about learning too write with short page counts.

#8 Edited by antiterra (175 posts) - - Show Bio

I feel for you Americans because many of the best European comics come from France and don't get translated to English.

It really is a shame because Le Tendre & Loisel's "La quête de l'oiseau du temps" (The Quest of the Time Bird) would blow the mind of any fantasy fan.

Loisel's "Peter Pan" is simply the best version of the story bar none. His Tinkerbell is unforgettable, his settings and characters are suitably Dickensian and dark, yet without ever losing the playfulness and rambunctiousness of childhood.

Yslaire's "Sambre" is an artistic and narrative masterpiece and the best expression of Romanticism (the 19th c. artistic movement, not the sappy Hollywood definition) that you'll ever find in comic book form.

"Je suis Légion" by Fabien Nury and John Cassaday... and I could go on for ages.

These comics have the distinct advantage of having no editorial mandate weighing on them. The creators can do anything they want with the characters, they can tell the story they had in mind and then it's "the end", and heroes are much harder to come by. 

American, European, Japanese comics... it truly is a never-ending pleasure to be able to enjoy all of them.

And of course, if you are an aspiring comic book writer looking for inspiration, one of the first things you should do is search outside of comics. This goes for every artistic endeavour, really: you'd be doing yourself a great disservice by limiting yourself to the confines of your field.

#9 Posted by Ban_Dark (23 posts) - - Show Bio

So what is the best European comics out there?..Any recommendations?

#10 Posted by Spider Django Heraclitus J (7 posts) - - Show Bio

I found meta barons visually brilliant but thought the dialouge was a bit poor. mabye it was poorly translated from the original. Some of it was as weird as hell but thats expected of the director of El Topo.
#11 Edited by BADJEREMIE (106 posts) - - Show Bio

Juan Solo by Alejandro Jodorowsky is a good read  and Red Ketchup(from Quebec) by Real Goubout and Pierre Fournier.

#12 Posted by BKole (560 posts) - - Show Bio

'SFunny, you know, reading comics is a lot like making love to a beautiful woman... 
I think it's odd that when you got to a comic book convention over here (Last one I went to was in Birmingham) It's mind blowing to see the variety of different types of comic that are presented. Surely, it's the same at some of the conventions in America, but the size and type of convention in Birmingham made it feel almost intimate. It wasn't a very big space, and there were more indie people there than anything else. I spent so much money on comics of all genre's it made my girlfriend's face drain of blood. 
Anyway, back on the task at hand - Comics from England, and Europe are *actually* amazing. There are so many beautifully scripted, and drawn and just perfectly crafted comics out there in France that it's hard to not come across one that you enjoy, or like, even if you can't speak French.  So, do yourself a favour, and if you're not reading something French, Italian, or Spanish, grab something undeniably British. You won't be disappointed.

#13 Edited by jonasLighter (90 posts) - - Show Bio

I've enjoyed such titles as Metabarons, the Incal, and Heavy Metal magazine for years.  You can see that the creators of the movie the Fifth Element enjoyed these titles as well.  The comics industry does use outlandish ideas, but these are stail now.  european comics use outlandish ideas and twist them on their asses.  The only comics I've read from the states that were different were: swamp thing, planetary, the monarchy, hellblazer, and preacher. By the way, most of those titles were written by guys from across the pond.

#14 Posted by Precise (21947 posts) - - Show Bio

I loved Storm (not the Marvel one) and The Trigan Empire.

#15 Edited by jonasLighter (90 posts) - - Show Bio
There is another french comic called Requiem, Le Chevalier Vampire .  If you like vampires, werewolves, zombies, reincarnation, the afterlife set in the future;etc you would love that.  there are some things in those books that will blow your mind.

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