As a creator, I believe it’s a good thing to look at where we came from every so often in order to get a better idea of where we’re going, or where we want to go.
I don’t mean it to be a navel-gazing exercise, or to try to nitpick and “fix” a continuity issue that’s bugged you for years. I mean it as an exercise to recapture some of the excitement you had when you picked up your first comic, synthesize that through the creation process, and try to bring some of that energy to your own project(s).
A non-comic reading friend of mine went on a trip recently, and saw some old Marvel comics. Now, I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that Marvel is my universe of choice. Knowing this, my friend got me a couple of comics from the late 70s: Micronauts and The Frankenstein Monster. I might already own the Micronauts, but I don’t own the latter. When I saw the comics, I felt instant, unabashed joy, and it was easy to see in my expression. So I told my friend about it, and they said they could see the excitement about how I talked about the comics and the characters and the creators and the process of making comics then versus making comics now. “Bubbling” was the term used.
I look at the old comics, and while the storytelling has evolved, some things remain the same. Pages haven’t gotten bigger (and with the advent of new technology, pages have arguably gotten smaller due to screen size, which is another conversation altogether), so the amount of panels per page haven’t really changed. Storytelling, in its evolution, has gotten less dense. A 20 minute read then is more like a 10 minute read now, even though the number of pages has largely remained the same. And although art reproduction and colors have gotten better and easier, something has been lost in the actual production of the art. Imagination? Passion? Desperation? And how many hand-lettered books are out on the shelves now? (Savage Dragon springs to mind.)
That’s all in looking back. What do we see when we look forward?
Desperation is gone. Creating comics is too expensive and non-essential to be much more than a niche product (but one that happens to drive a large segment of entertainment—just realize that that drive was built on the backs of Siegel and Schuster, Kane and Finger, and Lee and Kirby). Passion is there, but lot of technical skill has been lost. Imagination is dying, being sacrificed on the altar of “fixing” continuity, or revisiting things that happened 20-30 years ago, all in the name of sales.
Bleak outlook? Look at the lines that Marvel and DC produce, and then try to refute that. Imagination is coming out of Image and Dark Horse.
I don’t think we should continue to raid the past to create the future. The past should be looked at as inspiration to give us wonder, so we can create something new that will dazzle contemporary audiences. We should look back so we can try to capture that excitement, not to base the next wave of storylines off of.