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What You Can Learn from International Comics

Heavy Metal, 2000 AD, Metabarons...

    Much can be learned from Mr. Dredd    
Much can be learned from Mr. Dredd    
So I’ve gotten private messages asking for some advice about writing for comics. The best advice I’ve gotten - - the best I can give - - is that you need to look beyond what’s right in front of your face. Don't stick to just what's on the new releases shelf. Look for inspiration in older comics, in obscure comics and in foreign comics... because there's a lot to be learned from them. 

A while back, I was looking at a lot of my favorite comics writers - - Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, to name a few - - and realized they all had something in common. All of them cut their teeth in 2000 AD, which is the UK’s premier comics anthology (and home to likes of Judge Dredd.) So I picked up some trades - - my favorite being DREDD VS. DEATH - - and quickly found out why. The creators have to tell their stories in increments of eight pages or less, so there's a much greater onus on tight storytelling. That whole magazine's basically a textbook on pacing for comics. 

Hopping over the pond, I checked out some titles from another famous Euro comics mag, Heavy Metal, and its associated titles under the Humanoids umbrella. My favorite out of the lot was definitely METABARONS - - the magnum opus of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Juan Gimenez which has earned accolades from the likes of Warren Ellis and Mark Millar. The pace on this is similarly frenetic, with far-out ideas coming at you at an absolutely delirious clip. Seriously, this series doesn't have that many volumes, but it feels like an epic because of the pacing. I was so impressed by this psychotic space opera epic that it got me thinking about just how it was different from the American comics I've been used to. 
So what did I realize? == TEASER ==          
    Find some volumes of this on eBay. Seriously, it'll blow your mind.
 Find some volumes of this on eBay. Seriously, it'll blow your mind.
I remember there was a lot of commentary years ago after many American creators were following Ellis' AUTHORITY run by consciously adopting manga-style “decompressed storytelling." There’s always been plenty of international creative cross-pollination  - - Frank Miller famously took inspiration from LONE WOLF & CUB and Moebius to make RONIN - - but this was a case of storytelling preferences becoming an industry trend. Sometimes it led to comics being more "cinematic," sometimes it led to padding - - it depended on how much the followers understood the larger context, I think. After reading some manga, myself, I cobbled my own theory of the East/West comics exchange (taking a lot from things Scott McCloud said in UNDERSTANDING COMICS.) I think American comics lie between two poles of compression. On one end, manga’s "super-decompressed," with a lot more space afforded per volume to give the story breathing room, to focus on individual moments, et cetera. On the other end,  Euro comics are "super-compressed," whether they're limited by space in anthologies (like 2000 AD) or because of they've got bigger album pages with more room for more panels (like METABARONS.)  Hence,  the pacing usually comes across a lot faster, especially when the pages are shrunken to American sizes.
One is not necessarily better than other, just different - -  but it's important to know the significance of the difference. This is a bigger topic to get into than we really have room to here. Suffice it to say, exploring beyond familiar borders has definitely benefited me, both as a reader and a creator. Not only has it given given me a broader understanding of the medium, it's also made me appreciate homegrown comics with a better perspective. Even if you aren't necessarily interested in making comics yourself, I'd still highly recommend you all reach out of any comfort zone you're in and try some "foreign" work. Trust me.

Tom Pinchuk’s the writer of  HYBRID BASTARDS! & UNIMAGINABLE. Order them on Amazon here  & here.