Comics, we know, are primarily a visual medium.
This is displayed in the fact that this site is utterly devoid of any comics that I have created, even though I…
1) Love them
2) Love telling stories in just about many other audio-visual media – eg movies, audio dramas, games, and so on
3) Actually have a bunch of stories that I have written or conceived of specifically for comics
Why haven’t I made any? Simple. I am not an artist. And though I know a few artists, I haven’t done any collaboration with them in the world of comics, though not for want of trying. (Come on, Josh, draw!)
And since I don’t really want to force my weak scratchings on anyone, I haven’t moved forward on any comic projects.
All of this is just to back up my first statement – in spite of the presence of both words and pictures, comics are primarily visual. (I know, the words are also visual, of course, but what I mean is that in my experience, the pictures in comics are something you look at, and then almost listen to in my mind, while straight prose writing is something you read and then interpret with my thoughts. OK, I’m rambling a bit.)
What I’m really getting at is that you can have comics without words and they can still be comics. But you can’t really have comics without pictures and call them comics. At least not for very long.
I’m thinking about wordless comics today, and I realize that overall, I’ve never been a big fan. Actually, I have a hard time seeing comic book art (or any art). I mean, I see it of course, but I don’t recognize the nuances involved, not most of the time. There are a few artists here and there who really stand out to me (Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Stuart Immonen, Jeff Smith, Darwyn Cooke are all examples), but more often than not, the art in a comic serves mostly a quick visual cue as to what is happening as I take in the story. When there are no words to read, I find that I breeze over the story too quickly, and a lot of the enjoyment is lost.
Examples? I can only think of a couple. I remember reading a Batman comic years ago – the first part of a arc called The Many Deaths of the Batman. That first issue was nearly wordless, and while it was fine, I didn’t find it more enjoyable or more meaningful because of the wordless quality. I also remember an early issue of Guy Gardner, which was an extended wordless fight scene. Similar to the Batman example, there was one speech bubble near the end, but that wasn’t enough to win me to the issue. It left me even more cold than the first example because the plot was sort of non-existent as well. I also recall an issue near the end of Kurt Busiek’s commendable run on The Avengers, during a multi-part Kang epic, which involved the Avengers surrendering the earth to the victorious Kang. That issue was quite good, but was probably most memorable thanks to the clever story title, which doesn’t show up until the end: “There Are No Words”.
There are some famous wordless comics that I’ve never read. The one I hear about the most is a GI Joe comic featuring Snake-Eyes, which seems very well regarded. Another one is a “lost” Manhunter story that was plotted by Archie Goodwin but never scripted, which artist Walt Simonson brought to life years later as a wordless comic, I guess to maintain the “purity” of the Goodwin / Simonson Manhunter run. Of course, that was such a great little run of comics, that I’d be happy to look at it as a sort-of bonus story. (But I haven’t yet, as it came out long after my little Manhunter collection was published, and I’ve been reluctant to upgrade since I’d already had it signed by Simonson.)
Why am I thinking about any of this? It’s because I want to write about a wordless comic story that I really like. And it is a wordless one. One in which the wordless quality enhanced the reading experience for me, rather than taking away from it. I’d say, my favorite wordless comic. Indeed, one of my favorite comics ever.
We’ll be here tomorrow to talk about it. And there will even be pictures.