It’s been a hectic few weeks as the semester winds down while at the same time I’m gearing up for summer research and travel. Its left little time for comics but reading lot of scientific journal articles has made me realize an interesting crossover between sequential and scientific literature: the annotation. There are basically two types of citations in comics, the editor’s note and the annotated appendix. Both serve distinct roles and seem to be used to provide very different types of information.
Footnotes aka Editor’s Notes:
Most fiction, even serialized fiction, eschews the footnote. At no point in any of the Harry Potter books does a character say something like “and then we went into the Chamber of Philosopher Hippogriffs*” where the asterisk refers you to the book of the page with a note reading, “* As seen in Harry Potter and the Unfortunate Incident about which he Complains.” (Not intended to be a factual reference.) I think it’s pretty obvious why that wouldn’t do much to forward the narrative, even a long epic where people might not remember exactly when each adventure occurs.
But comics evolved down a different path. To my knowledge footnotes, or as they’re know in comics editors notes, didn’t really exist before the 1960s. This is an opinion piece not a pieces of well-researched journalism, but do correct me in the comments below if I say something egregiously wrong. But the advent of the editor’s note seemed to come about alongside the shared universe.
Stan Lee was and is a shrewd business man. So it makes sense that him or someone working with him would realize to potential profits in subtly letting readers know what new book to read next. Spider-Man would be swinging through the city and see Thor fly by off in the distance. The thought balloon would then read, “Hey! That’s Thor! I wonder where he could be off to in such a hurry!*” and the editor’s note at the bottom of the panel would read, “*Thor is heading off to fight the Space Gorilla that attacked Asgard in last week’s issue of Thor #17!” (The used a lot of exclamation points back then.)
This doesn’t really seem to forward the story as much as the bottom line, the exception being when a foreign language was involved. But for a while it was a staple in the world of mainstream superheroes and then it kind of faded away. Now we get page long checklists at the back of the big event books, which can be equally frustrating to those that are miffed at the thought of buying every single book in an event, which seems to be something that comes up on this site a lot. All I can say is Civil War would have been pretty frustrating to read if every panel was packed with editor’s notes linking specific events to tie-in books.
But a few modern books are bringing the editor’s note back, Amazing Spider-Man being the first, ok the only, book that comes to mind. The editor’s notes in Spidey seem to only refer back to his own adventures. “*That’s right readers! Spidey lost his Spider-Sense in a recent adventure!” or something like that. The whole thing seems a bit tongue-in-cheek but it does help recapture some of what made those older comics great. And I’d say by and large it works. I’m not annoyed by them; I don’t feeling like I’m blatantly being told to buy more books and sometimes I even chuckle at them.
Like anything else in comics the editor’s note will continue to evolve, so it’ll be interesting to see if some upcoming genius finds a way to incorporate them into the story like never before and blow out collective minds. When that happens I’ll come back to this article and add a footnote.
Then there are annotations, which I’m actually a big fan of. Annotations, at least as I define them, are the thoughts of the creators at the end of the book hopefully done in an organized manner, organized enough that you could go back to the page in question and actually gain some insight into the creative process. I’m still not done with the notes in From Hell because it almost requires you to read the entire book again and half. Alan Moore has a page by page justification of every scene in that book, with his sources all cited. I think that’s just about the most extreme example of annotations I’ve ever seen in comics, and if that’s what you’re into it really can enhance the experience you get from the book.
More tame, but by no means less enjoyable examples, are books like The Nightly News and Phonogram. These are notes that are both informative but also a bit more insightful. They tell us how the creators felt while making certain scenes, what inspired them in that moment, what music they were listening to, or in some cases even what they where drinking (Kieron Gillen is a method drinker).
My only problem with annotations is I never know when to read them. Do I flip back to the appendix after every page to see what was up? I’ve tried this and for me it really hampered the flow of the story. I’ve also tried rereading the book and flipping back to the footnotes as I go, but that felt like rewatching a movie with the directory commentary on, which I know some people love but has never been my thing. So the technique I finally settled on was to read the notes straight through at the end, flipping back into the book as needed. It works ok. It’s kind of impossible with really long books like From Hell, but it does well with more reasonable trades.
Well that’s where my brain has been as I’ve buried myself in science and citation. I’ve actually had the idea to talk about annotations for a while so I’m glad I did. But it’s not just about me. What about you iFanbase? Did any of your books this Wednesday contain notes? Do you like it when they do? How do you read your annotations? Let us know in the comments!