Man, I didn’t even know stuff like this was a “controversy” in comics. Very interesting.
This is a really good post.
The “Western vs. Japanese” bent of the article bothers me a little, because “decompression” is something often found in Western independent work, and I somehow suspect it’s not something every single one of those creators derived from manga. Decompression is a style of panelling and writing that comes naturally to people who prioritize
particularcertain aspects of narrative over (or at least as much as) the plot elements described as endemic to “Western superhero comics” by the article.
Oh god, decompression. On the one hand, it leads to some really beautiful and haunting imagery that really gives a sense of time, and I really like that. But my first experience (and I guess at this point only) experience with actually making a comic was in the format of a one-page-a-week webcomic, and I found myself compressing the content more and more as time went along so that the plot and dialogue I wanted to communicate actually got across to people. I’ve since come to the conclusion that “which is better” isn’t really a viable question, since it depends so much on the media through which the comic’s distributed and the quantity of pages released at a time. For a big tpb with a lot of room to tell a story and what amounts to an assurance to the reader that there is always more to come in the pages they have yet to read and that they can read it all in one go if they so choose, compression is a great way to build suspense and drama. In a monthly 20-page floppy, at least some degree of compression is required in order for the reader to feel satisfied with the comic they hold in their hands and make them willing to wait for more. With that in mind, it’s hard to say either one is wrong. It’s like comparing apples to oranges.
I’ve always thought of it as storyboarding for animation. The reader has a “frames per second” count and I need to roughly match what is happening with the reading speed. If I were to be watching a scene in which something happens, and my attention is focused on a specific action or element, I have to “storyboard” that in comics.
I abandoned this view for the first time while composing Lycosa and Secretary Prime, where I started to learn about the efficiency of storytelling and how to compress data into the meaning I wanted to convey. The atmosphere is diminished, but a lot of time can be saved. In the case of commercial comics as the article focuses on, time and space are the reader’s money… so atmospheric visual storytelling might not be as accepted if the comic creators are peddling value on the dollar.
The article also focuses on how this compares to the Japanese style of storytelling, which features a lot of decompression. There are numerous possibilities with this… First and foremost, my mind goes to the poor, tired artist, who is trying to fill his or her page quota for the week. Second, I imagine the influence of Japanese animation in its homeland has given manga a more “televised” pacing… although one could argue which came first! Thirdly, the cultural differences. The United States are some 230 years old and composed almost entirely of immigrants; Japan is thousands of years old and composed almost entirely of natives. I don’t blame the hustle-and-bustle of the US in such a competition-laced environment. Japanese roots may allow more room to breathe, especially when watered with such a nature-focused philosophical past.
leans out of the way of conversation