<opinion> I remember Virginia Woolf said something about novels being a hybrid medium into which you threw everything but the kitchen sink. Comics are even more of one.
While comics and movies are graphic media and books and radio plays verbal while stage plays are between the two, the movie, while free in many ways, is the most constrained of all the media. Seriously. Everything is supposed to happen in "real time" therefore everyone experiences it with the same duration. There is relatively little of the stylized language which characterizes great plays by people like Shakespeare, Pinter or Williams. Even a major writer like William Goldman will turn out language he intends to sound as prosaic or unpoetic as possible. It goes beyond saying that movies are a visual medium. A New York Times review of William Kotzwinkle's adaptation of E. T., the Extraterrestrial, said "Books can tell you what is happening. Movies can only tell you what is going on."
While in one sense it is proper to discuss comic books and comic strips as one medium, the truth is that comic strips developed out of profusely illustrated serials which used to run in newspapers. Charles Dickens was originally serialized in newspapers and Thornton W. Burgess, who my family used to read to me back in the sixties. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote for the early pulps but the Tarzan Comic Strip began as a serialized story profusely illustrated by first Hal Foster then Rex Maxon, before evolving.
Three very important comic strips from the 1930's on, in terms of storytelling, which have influenced everybody whether they know it or not, are Harold Gray's Little Orphan Annie, a sustained meditation on Conservatism voiced by a variety of heavily textured characters based on cartooning until the creator's death in 1968, E. C. Segar's Thimble Theater Starring Popeye, which combined Jazz Age cynicism with Romantic Sea Stories and George Herriman's Krazy Kat which used a surreal southwest as a basis for visual and verbal puns which even influenced Picasso. These three models have always given comic books considerably more freedom in defining their scripts than Movies have had.
Another element that fed into comic strips and graphic novels were the Works Progress Administration, where Golden Age artists like Lou Fine and Mac Raboy got their first jobs, and which spread visual culture around this nation like nothing else until television. A woodcut artist named Lynd Ward did a series of novels entirely in woodcuts with titles like Gods Man and Madman's Drum. I met, during my brief Con-going period of the seventies a LOT of old timers who knew those books very very well, and they were as much an influence on silver age artists, at least (some of whom like Kirby, Infantino and Toth had helped make the Golden Age great). Even today, the artists on the new Flash Gordon Comic book and the Quake and Doom games owe more to him than they realize.
Now most of the "modern" techniques you see in commercial comic books, graphic novels and manga were pioneered back in the Golden Age. Two of the biggest innovators, who owned their own comics companies for a while, were Will Eisner and Jack Kirby.
Eisner did a lot of stuff, including PS Magazine for the Army for decades after his mainstream career. He was most famous for the Spirit, which used a lot of techniques from film. At the same time he was well aware of exactly what he was doing. The series was a mix of humor which was called big foot in those days and what we call action today, with fights being mixed with pratfalls which gave a very ironic twist to some of the tragedies which happened in it (I am not looking forward to Frank Miller's movie. He's never handled comedy that well). Its stylized background was heavily influenced by Expressionist directors such as Fritz Lang and Murnau (watch the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,, which Lang worked on the script for). Its exaggerated lighting is arguably as influenced by Noel Sickles and Milton Caniff, who were more influenced by newspaper photography, but Eisner was very aware of the light in Expressionist films and the film noirs which they developed (the Big Heat was a Lang film), and used that. At the same time he REALLY understood that when you read or look at ANYTHING duration is a highly personal thing. We all read at different rates, and he was completely free to chop action up into smaller blocks than movies were because until we were trained to fast cuts too much visual motion in a film would cause a lot of the audience to not pick up on important details. His dense pages provide a prototype for modern storytelling.
Jack Kirby always wanted to do movies. His first job was at Fleischer Studios who were making Popeye and Betty Boop cartoons in New York. One of his last jobs was designing for a production of Lord of Light which never got off the ground. He was a huge comic strip fan and took his job seriously enough. And since he wanted to do big budget films, created comics which presented an exaggerated scale and scope they really set the pace for the industry at several points in his career (while Walter Simonson had his own classic run on the Kirby-designed Thor, I'm not the only person I've met who felt that Andy Kubert's version was literally too intimate). Kirby LIKED the dark imagery of those Noir films I mentioned, and the work he seems to have been proudest of was generally darker than the most popular work, which was generally inked by people like Vince Colletta or Joe Sinnott who exactly tried to lighten it up. He exaggerated everything -- figures, actions and poses, perspective. Movies could NOT duplicate this even with modern technologies, though George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have had some success adapting these techniques into their movies.
One thing I've left out is the influence of humor. I'm not ALL that familiar with John Stanley and the other great comic book humorists since they were before my time. When I read the Bob Hope comic, which was important for many years, Bob Oskner was doing it in a style not that different from his romance work. Early Joe Kubert and Alex Toth especially mixed realistic and humorous (specifically big foot) characters the way Eisner did in strips like Hawkman and Green Lantern. Anime and Manga continue this tradition today. Lighting has never been as important to Japanese art as it has been in the West, so the traditional Caniffian style which both Kirby and Eisner worked in is dead. Nevertheless, you will find that even many series which appear as both manga and anime will exploit the difference in understanding duration to stage their work differently, and the scripts of the manga will be slightly less literal.
The only thing I've left out is Underground Comix, which influenced the commercial model of Graphic Novels more, unfortunately, than they have the artistic approach. Conservative big foot cartoonists like Robert Crumb (who used a lot of sex) and Gilbert Shelton (ditto drugs) were the most popular, but among big foot strips S. Clay Wilson mixed blatant obscenity and surrealism in a toxic brew that was certainly as unique as Krazy Kat, Vaughan Bode was Vaughan Bode ("Mom, you MADE me a transvestite") and Victor Moscoso, who was an Art Professor, was just surreal while satisfying many curious teenagers. In more realistic strips, Corben and Tom Veitch got their start there, while Greg Irons had a short and beautiful career trying to update the Caniffian style, George Metzger explored reality skeptically in Moondog and a variety of short SF/Fantasy strips which were often wordless and Spain Rodriguez created the classic Kirbyesqe Trashman of the Sixth International which couldn't be published in the Mainstream because of its blatant Trotskyist Socialism.
I've left out Mad Magazine, Asterix Le Gaulois, which despite its French bias was the result of a team who reportedly first met while working in Mad's mailroom, and the arguably Fascist-inspired Tintin, among many others.
I frankly have a LOW opinion of graphic novels, based on most of what I've read. Bone's great. A dyke to watch out for and Sylvia are two marvellous strips which understand the freedom comics offer. Neil Gaiman is most readable when he's writing prose and Alan Moore isn't readable at all. But the truth is even experimental movies which I've seen have to have a simpler focus than comics (there is ONE special effects shot in Murnau's Nosferatu: when Harker is taking his ride through the forest you suddenly see the negative image, not the positive one. Van Hellsing, of course, seems to have been created for special effects, and that's just Dracula who Gene Colan, Neal Adams and many other cartoonists have done unique takes on).
The medium remains incredible.
Answered By: jplatt39 - 6/28/2008