In this month’s WEST COAST AVENGERS, my Mark’s Remarks featured some ramblings about comics as a medium of communication. Here are some more of the same only different. One of my contentions is that the nature of a given medium (be it radio, television, magazines or comics) determines to a real extent the nature of what one can express in that medium. For instance, while a radio play about a world where everyone was a mute is possible, it certainly isn’t desirable. Nor would a full-length film consisting of nothing but time-lapse photography of an inanimate object ever be much more than an oddity or an artfilm with pretentions.
There are certain things that by its very nature the comics medium does well, other things which it does not. (There is no such thing as the perfect medium which does everything well.) What comics do well is combine still pictures and printed words in a sequence in order to convey some sort of narrative, often a story or a work of fiction. If an author has an idea that is not particularly visual, does not require words, and does not tell some sort of coherent narrative, I question that idea being done in comics form. (I am aware that “silent” stories with virtually no words have been done, but such a self-imposed restriction severely limits the type of information a writer can express.) If an author has an idea that requires real movement in the pictures, long tracts of words to convey the idea, or tells a narrative that requires excessive length (for instance, the Bible), I would also question that idea being done in comic.
It’s not that I believe certain subject matter cannot be done in comics (other than that which is prescribed by the Comics Code in Code-approved publications), it’s that I believe certain subject matter cannot be done justice in comics. A story in comics form can be about a lot of things, including very serious and quite sophisticated subjects. In the superhero genre of the medium, of course, these serious or sophisticated subjects must relate in some way to the standards of that genre. But if that serious or sophisticated subject does not lend itself to being visually depicted, I feel it’s inappropriate for comics, and the author should save the idea for a medium better suited to it. So while comics may indeed be capable of clearly depicting the forty-odd year quest among physicists the find the Grand Unified Theory of Physics, personally I’d rather not read about it in a comic book. The content of comics should fit not fight the format.