Comic books might be competing with more mediums than ever, but they have several unique traits that set them apart in storytelling potential.
Comic books have been around for nearly a century, though their impact transcends generations. From superheroes to other genres, the medium is a great venue for storytelling. Unfortunately, it's definitely seen better days, with the industry currently in a bit of a tailspin.
Despite the setbacks currently faced by the comic book industry, the medium has several strengths which it can use to separate itself from all others. The combination of breathtaking art with unique forms of writing make comics different from movies, novels and other forms of entertainment. Amid a litany of competition, embracing these strengths and remembering how best to use them is the best way to potentially "save" comic books as readers know them.
One trait in comic books that's sadly become less frequent is the use of inner dialogue within characters' heads. Perhaps the best example of this is the character Spider-Man, who's somewhat associated with the writing practice. This method of fleshing out characterization can allow a more succinct way of literally getting inside a character's head. Their thoughts, desires and inner struggles can be fleshed out in a matter of fact way, making it clear what their ambitions and goals are. Likewise, while narration might not be nearly as common in comics nowadays, its use can actually be more organic than in the pages of a novel, where it might seemingly clog up the storytelling.
Of course, comic books are instantly recognized for their use of sound effects, which are synonymous with the medium. This can showcase action or set the mood in the same manner as sound on film, but in a way that's readily accessible for those who might be hearing impaired. This visual storytelling is a big source of separation from novels and graphic novels, and it is one of things that made comics so popular in the 1990s.
Just as important to storytelling in comic books is the art, which has to astound viewers in different ways. For instance, the majesty of superheroes and their powers is a key part to the storyline Kingdom Come, which is just as well known for Alex Ross' magnificent art as it is Mark Waid's writing. The realistic art illustrates the power behind these heroes, as well as their many times fractured humanity. Likewise, a book such as the noir series 100 Bullets has moodier and much more stylized art, evocative of the noir crime films it was based on. In this capacity, it's very much a noir TV series or movie in published form, accomplishing this goal in a way that a mere novel couldn't.
A similar tone is brought to life in Matt Fraction and David Aja's Hawkeye series, which was a much more down to Earth take on the archer Avenger. Instead of a bombastic, over the top art style with matching character designs, the series had more subdued storytelling, including a Hawkeye who traded in the circus uniform for a simple shirt. The art in general had its own sense of style, but for the most part created the aura of the adventures of a man who was, at the end of the day, just a man.
There's also the collectability of comic books due to their cover and even interior art. While judging a book by its cover is typically frowned upon, doing so with a comic book is part of the buying process. Alternate specialty covers done by different artists has become the norm, potentially attracting those who otherwise might not have read a title. This is something fairly unique to comics, as the concept is relatively unheard of with DVD, video game or book covers. These other mediums all vy for the attention of comic book readers, but comics at their best work in tandem with them.
In an era in which even independent superhero comic books are being adapted into big-time TV shows and movies, it's clear that other industries can't live without comics. This may seem almost parasitic, but the reality is that these industries are all symbiotic – and have been for decades. The original superhero film serials came out in the Golden Age of Comics, proving that Hollywood always had faith in capes and tights. Likewise, big budget science fiction classics such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Planet of the Apes franchise would receive comic book adaptations in the past and even in the present. In the case of the latter, it's a way for an older franchise, or at least an older iteration of it, to live on beyond what shows up on the big and small screen.
Similarly, some of the older Star Wars comic books from the 2000s are considered by fans to be the franchise's height, making the loss of the Expanded Universe even more regretful. Other film franchises such as John Wick have even made the jump to comic books, proving that the industry can't be dead when major film corporations are expanding their properties within it. Said expansion comes in forms that movies and TV shows can't offer, though these methods are fairly similar. By embracing these industry-specific traits, comic books can become more than just content to be adapted, standing proud as a medium to be respected as much as any other.
Timothy Blake Donohoo is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where he majored in Communication and minored in Creative Writing. A professional freelance writer and marketing expert, he’s written marketing copy and retail listings for companies such as Viatek. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, playing video games, watching documentaries and catching up on the latest Vaporwave and Electro-Swing musical releases.