Genre Fiction? Again?

Looking for new comics is a pain in my ass. Every week, there are countless books released into the wild. I read through the lists and check out new things, like #1 issues, and always have an eye out for something I might like. But more often than not, I don’t find too much. I’ll always try something by a creator I like, but when it’s an unknown team, I go with my instincts. However, in comics, it seems like every new series that comes out has to be some twist on convention, so it can be sold with a sentence rather than with craft. So many of the new books are either science fiction, wacky, surreal, supernatural, horror, licensed property or superhero. I’d say 90% of the submissions we get at iFanboy are these kinds of crossed genre work. So many zombies and vampires all the time, but so few stories about real people. It’s so hard to find anything on a weekly basis that is just a regular story with no fantastic elements. Why is that?

Let’s look at the new comics from this week and last. I didn’t include anything in the list from Marvel or DC, because, well, we know what they’ve got.

Viking #1 – I’m actually looking forward to this. It’s still a mix of genre, with vikings and crime, but there doesn’t seem to be a supernatural or fantastic element, so this is definitely on my radar. Now, I just hope it’s good.

Fall of Cthulhu Nemesis #1 – Yeah right. Moving on.

Overlook #1 – This one actually seems to be period mobster crime, which would seem to be what I’m looking for, but to tell you the truth, I flipped through this in the store, and I saw a lot of words that looked a lot like things I’ve read before. Anger, revenge, shooting, etc. But I’ll be keeping an eye on this one for the trade. Maybe I’m just still feeling the sting from the abandonment of Pretty Baby Machine last year.

Strange Adventures of HP Lovecraft #1 – I’m familiar with the term “Lovecraftian,” which I take to mean as a kind of fantasy and horror. So not this one either.

Farscape Strange Detractors #1 – Licensed property.

Living Corpse Hack Slash Ann #1 – I’m familiar with this little creator owned series, but again, it’s horror, and I’m just not a horror fan.

Phantom Generations #1 – Licensed property of a classic character. That’s right, back to the well! Next.

American Mcgee’s Grimm #1 – Licensed property of a video game that seems to be an unholy combination of all the things I don’t like besides that.


I’ve said many times that comics are just another way to tell a story. Television networks don’t rely on one type of programming. There are family dramas, and occasional fantasy, and period pieces, and every type of programming. But the cold fact of the matter is that comic book fans don’t buy those books. when they do hit the shelves. As a result, publishers won’t put them out. Is there a preconceived notion that readers have that they won’t like something that doesn’t feature something otherworldly? Comics that aren’t about magic and monsters don’t necessarily have to be woeful tales of self-absorption, just like the public seems to have finally learned that indie movies don’t have to be slow and pseudo poetic.

My favorite narrative TV shows are things like The Wire, Band of Brothers, Oz, Freaks and Geeks, Mad Men, West Wing, and ER. Why can’t there be comic books that tell stories in worlds like those? Can illustration not capture the reality of life like actors can? Must every piece of popular sequential art be genre, genre, genre?

You know, it’s not even superheroes that bug me. I actually don’t have a problem with superheroes. Perhaps that’s because I’ve just gotten used to it, and accept the caped monolith as a fact of life. But when I think of some of my favorite comics, I wonder where is the next Box Office Poison? Where is the next Strangers in Paradise? Why don’t people buy Garth Ennis’ World War 2 books? Am I the only one who wants this?  There is real drama in the lives of actual people.  Readers can relate to experiences like their own, and be made to feel something with the lives of fictional who are just regular people.  My first attempt at writing comics has nothing to do with any fantasy, and to be honest, I’m worried that it will never go over in today’s market.

There are all sorts of stories that can be told through comics. Comics can be used as documentary (Alan’s War). They can be action/adventure (The Losers). They can be used as human drama (Local). They can be the humor of real life (Fortune and Glory). Genre fiction is not the only kind of thing comics can do. I feel like the more diversity in material that exists on the shelves increases the number of people who could be reading them. Of course, then it’s up to the buying public, and I have a slightly rocky relationship with their tastes as well.

Oh well, I’ll keep looking.

Comments

  1. Check out Fun Home!

     

  2. I completely feel you on this.  Local is my favorite comic because it’s non-genre and just so dang well written.  Freaks and Geeks is my all-time favorite show as well because it is so real and so relatable to me. 

    I’m writing my second comic script right now, and it’s non-genre.  Hopefully I can find a good artist (who is also starting out and not charging much, since I’m about 5 weeks from unemployment) and get my comic out there to a market that isn’t oversaturated yet with non-genre comics…

  3. People are boring, Josh. But people with capes? Now you’re talking…

  4. Maybe all the real-life writers are in tv/movies where the real money is.

  5. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I guess it’s just easier to sell a slice of life or memoir story as a standalone graphic novel. It’s an interesting question. Are the people more likely to buy monthly installments in a comic shop just naturally more interested in genre fiction, and the people who go for trades and OGN’s more interested in the other? Is that the cause or is that the effect?  

  6. You state that "the cold fact of the matter is that comic book fans don’t buy those books. When they do hit the shelves."  That may be true, but it may be a supply issue rather than a demand one.  For example, you point out that there are a number of strong TV shows (my favorite being Freaks and Geeks) that excel at conveying "life".  Perhaps comic book creators feel that they cannot compete directly in an area that has been mastered (debatable) in another arena and are simply choosing to grab at genres in order to attempt something that hasn’t been mastered elsewhere in the hopes of grabbing a little slice of our attention.

    I would highlight something like Y: The Last Man that used the apocalyptic hook and then become a book about life (literally and figuratively).  (I think this is true of The Walking Dead as well, but I have only read up through the third hardcover.)  Essentially, it appears that comic book writers may feel they need the genre hook to attract attention away from TV, etc and after grabbing you make the book what they want it to be.

  7. personally? i WOULD rather have a super hero/pirate/zombie/unicorn book. it’s the combination of these unreal/surreal/hyperreal elements with the dramas and conflicts of everyday life that makes a lot of art today so vibrant.

    the fact is, i’ve SEEN so many stories that are just about people and relationships, and i’ve seen ridiculous flights of fancy and the unreal as well. it seems like the places where these intersect – the many different ways these tropes can de overlaid – is where the most dynamic storytelling takes place

    i suppose the real problem for me is finding a book that can really do this in a new and/or compelling way.

  8. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Also, do you think this has anything to do with art sensibilities? Is it less sexy a prospect to draw a Freaks and Geeks or West Wing story than a Buffy or Heroes style story? Would that make it harder to pitch non-genre?

  9. Here’s a perspective I’ve never heard brought up on this matter: Why do you think the ancient Greeks or the medieval bards sung about heroes and monsters rather than everyday people? Because fantasy’s more exciting. Okay…so why have movies and television more often than not shown us stories of everyday people? Because fantasy is expensive to film. It didn’t take any money for poets hundreds of years ago to tell stories around the campfire, so they could include fantastic elements which would cost wheelbarrows of money to realize visually in a Hollywood movie. Likewise, the productions for a comic book (costs of paper, ink, colors) aren’t any higher whether the book is about big fantasy battles or whether it shows average people sitting around in an apartment discussing what tv shows they like. As a medium, what comic books do best is show brightly-colored fantasy. That doesn’t mean that all superhero comics are inherently superior to comics about regular people, but the medium is basically designed to tilt that way. You may as well wonder why people in the Middle Ages didn’t want to hear more oral epics about the daily lives of peasants–because the bards could just as easily sing about big battles and dragons and magic, which are inherently more interesting, on average.

  10. Wait, don’t you have the pick this week?  How the hell are you going to have time to respond the roughly 1,000 well thought out and exceedingly long (at least in my case) responses you are going to receive?  Must be a light week.

  11. I know it’s sacrilegous to mention the word "Manga" but one thing that impresses me about the Japanese comic scene is that there are comics that take place in every imaginable setting. Granted most of these aren’t brought here, but the larger point is that they have been able to expand comics to tell stories in almost any settting. I saw a manga about two bakeries in competition with one another. Thing is, I don’t want to read the Japanese version. I would love to read an american comic about a group of people starting a bakery or some other small business…

  12. Would you consider Scott Pilgrim more on the real-life side or the genre fiction side?

  13. P.S. Of course I’m simplifying things a little. But there’s the influence of Romanticism as well, which has influenced the last few centuries of art. It’s at least debatable whether more novels concerned with ordinary people have outsold all novels concerned with fantasy and/or sci-fi and/or war. (The point is that the written word can just as easily tell of ordinary people as it can tell of things that are fantastic/hard-to-film.) Art tends to tell of the underlying "myths" of culture. For a hundred years or more, everyday pop culture (the matters of "ordinary people") have in a sense been as much a revered culture "myth" as have fantasy elements. So there are competing influences, even though certain mediums have skewed toward telling one sort of story or the other (fantastic vs. everyday). I think another interesting question would be: Why haven’t there been more religious comics? Are there any? (I’ve heard of the "Budda" one.) There’ve been many big religious films, religious-themed novels. Did churches ever sponsor religious comics? In Japan are there religious comics? It seemed a huge area that’s almost empty in the comics medium.

  14. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Before I continue further, I should state:

    I love both sides of the spectrum. I’m a huge fan of all those shows Josh listed (aside from the Wire and Oz, which I haven’t seen yet). But I’m also a genre guy. Hellboy, Conan, Buffy. It’s why i’m the resident Dark Horse guy.  

    But I’d also argue that, Josh, you like genre too. Just not the crap, which I don’t like either.  I wouldn’t call it a matter of exception to the rule either. Because there’s garbage in any branch of fiction and non-fiction. No matter how little genre there is to it.  You like League of Extraordinary Gentleman. Genre. You like From Hell and Hellboy. Horror. You like Battlestar Galactica and Ender’s Game and Echo and Nova. Hard SF. Bone and Fables are fantasy.  

    I think what you don’t like is crap. For me, it’s not about any one genre being better than the other. It’s about telling a great story, and using the elements of the genre well.     

  15. I can see where you’re coming from, but this is kind of a glass half empty approach. It’s true you have to look a little harder and longer to find the kinds of stories you’re looking for, but they are out there. My store has an indie section that includes some locally produced comics. And isn’t it rewarding when you do find something good? It makes it a little more personal, more precious.

    You also have to remember that genre fiction is in the roots of the industry. Westerns, Science Fiction, and Horror (plus Detective Stories and Sexy Romance) were the mainstay of early pulp publishers and were largely carried over into comics until superheroes hit it big. But over the years we’ve had a good share of interesting stories about fairly ordinary people. Love and Rockets comes to mind as an early example. (Nice work on your comic, by the way.)

    Keep looking for those awesome stories, Josh! In the meantime, check out:

    http://shortpantspress.com/ 

  16. Here’s the thing – over time I’ve come to believe stories about people are just another genre, usually called “literary” (hate the label or not). I’ve devoted my schooling and the large percentage of my life’s free time to reading and understanding stories, and frankly my evolution as a reader has led me to read a larger percentage of the genres you mention, and less literature – and for the inverse of the same argument you make:

     

    I’m mostly tired of  dysfunctional families and semi-autobiographical coming-of-age stories. Stories about people fall into the same ruts, and the same "cross" formulas: rehab diary meets quirky love story etc.

     

    Stating the obvious, but it’s all about the execution in the end – genre fiction can be just as fertile ground for exploring the human condition and the search for meaning as more “people-ish” stories. I know you’ve read Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, as an example in comics. A great prose example of people crossed with multiple genres would be David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.

     

    Sorry if this is rant-y, but it’s (obviously) something I’ve given thought to. Thanks for posting the thoughts and starting the discussion.

     

  17. There’s only so many times you can read a book that should’ve been titled: My Depressing Life. I read comics (and books, and watch movies and tv) so I can have an escape from my depressing life.

  18. I tell you this, I would read an ongoing prequel of the west wing showing the first campaign. Thats the kinda book i wanna see

  19. Rapid fire:

    Too often I’ve read "real life" books that used it’s "realism" to excuse it’s absolute mundanity. I am hard pressed to give a flying fig and usually don’t. Espcially not $4 worth.

    I’m in the middle some creating some comic book supplementals for a web series and I’m learning just a fantastic amount with each mini-issue. The latest lesson?; nothing but talking, for me at least, takes twice as long to "Get through" as solid action panels. It’s a lot more micromanaging each person’s face, movement, position in the room, and I honestly can’t imagine doing a series when it’s mostly that. I’m far from a pro, of course, but man, I was exhausted by the end of it. It’s just more difficult to draw talking heads and make it compelling.

    If you flip through any of the Eureka previews that they pass out, the first six pages are usually people walking around and expositioning and honestly, it couldn’t look like a more boring comic (I’m sure the build and climax are cool, but the previews have never tempted me to pick it up).

    I generally agree, though. I’d like more realism and maybe similar stories to what sells so well on The Tube would translate to comics (though I’d have to point out that Freaks and Geeks and The Wire were both canceled). But in that realistic setting, I still need to see something that I wouldn’t normally get in my day-to-day life. Whether it’s arresting artwork, poignant observation (that’s where most street-view sequential fiction puts all it’s chips and loses, based on my meager observation alone), or just compelling freaking stories. That can’t be too much to ask. And two outta three would be great.

  20. I think it is about availability.

    You listed off the narrative TV shows, and there are many more good ones that fit in that category. Now what about genre TV shows?

    Cop shows? Check (way too many).

    Law shows? Check.

    Hospital Shows? Check.

    Horror shows? They die in the first season usually.

    Superhero shows? Smallville and Heroes.

    I think it is about the availability of these stories. We get plenty of the narrative stuff from television but we have to go to comics, especially before the last few years or so, to get our genre fix.

    Also, a lot of the shows you listed are very wordy. That comes off great when listening to it, but when trying to read it with pictures it can be very daunting. I know we’ve all gotten a little disheartened when we turn to the first page of a book and the word ballon takes up the entire right hand side of the page. Trying to put a single episode of the West Wing into a comic would proabably take two trades just because of the amount of space on a page.

  21. I think it takes a more skilled creator to get people interested in a book without a crazy hook.  It works better for tv shows because you don’t have to buy them so you’re willing to give most anything a chance.  On the other hand when I go into the store to buy a comic I’m looking for something that really jumps out and grabs my attention which normally involves explosions.  They don’t have to be genre books but they need to be exciting otherwise I’ll get to them after I’ve read all the books containing explosions.  

  22. @stuchlach – Anecdotally, it’s my understanding that there’s a lack of supply because of the lack of demand.  People don’t buy them from shops, so shops don’t order them, so publishers don’t make them.

    @AlexG – Manga’s a good point where there’s a lot more, but it’s almost a different product in this instance, where I’m talking about western comics shying away from non-genre stuff.

    @Paul – I like genre too.  I’m not insinuating that I don’t.  I’m happy with a mix.  It’s hard to get that mix when there aren’t many alternatives available to the standard fare.  But yes, crap is crap, and I don’t want that.

    @Jerichobp – The very notion that all comics that aren’t genre are despressing sad sack stories about the haunted creator is exactly the problem I’m up against.  None of the stories I listed in here would be described as "My Depressing Life" and that’s not at all what I’m talking about.  Are you saying you don’t watch movies or TV shows about the non-fantastical?  I you acheive some level of escapism from that I assume?

    @Parker – Yes, some shows are wordy, and wouldn’t translate directly.  But that’s where craft comes in.  There’s got to be a way to do it.  Comics/TV/Movies: none of them would advise a good course of action as "people standing around talking constantly," because all are visual media.  The creators must make it work.  Say it can’t be done is simply not true, as again, I’d point to some of the examples of non-genre stuff that works.

  23. Also consider the fly-or-die nature of the biz. Comics are commissioned one at a time as opposed to orders of 8-12 for TV shows. A high-concept/genre-twist is way easier to sell then "stick as we get to know 5 young doctors as they grapple with the man’s mortality and the limits of science and it’ll be reeeeally rewarding long-term to watch them change and grow and God we hope we don’t get cancelled before then."

    Webcomics may be the best bet for slice-of-life everyman stories. At least the overhead is so low you can afford to lose money while you build a readership & your readers build relationships with the characters.

  24. @josh – Thank you for the response.  I have to wonder if people aren’t buying them because of quality concerns?  If solid creators don’t work in that genre then you won’t see solid sales numbers, but if you don’t see solid sales numbers you may not see creators interested in working in that area.  It is the old chicken vs. egg arguement.  (In economics we call this endogeneity, and it is a bitch to model/correct.)

  25. I do think it’s quality concerns.  You get a lot of pre-conceived notions like the "My Depressing Life" joke.  And that’s somewhat valid, because there is a lot of that.  It’s hard to tell the good from the bad, and I think people mostly settle for something they know is going to be *OK*, than risk the money on an unknown.  And I understand and practice that from time to time.

  26. There is certainly a risk return tradeoff.  If I am going to risk my $4 on a new (unproven) book, then I need to have a relatively high expected return (i.e. quality).  That is why I think we need to see some big creators dip their toe into the "genre free" water.  That would give us a solid gauge of what kind of demand is present in the market for books of that nature. 

    Meanwhile, I eagerly await "Low Level" aka "My Depressing Life Set to Music" by JA Flanagan (not that my dinky little comic shop would ever carry it for me).

  27. It’s definitely about the mix. The irony of this is that authors like Michael Chabon have been dealing with the exact OPPOSITE problem in the literary world. For a long time, the literary section of the book store meant non-genre stories, and all genre was crowded into a few small rows. Chabon and other like him seem to have been trying to bring a love of genre back to "serious literature" rather than see it ghettoized.

    Comics are overrun by super-heroes, but in recent years we’ve seen other genres gain (or regain) a strong foothold. That’s good. That’s a start. But it’d be nice to have a better mix, it’s true.

    Of course, they ARE out there. Jason Lutes’ Berlin. Seth’s Palookaville. Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve (which I know you don’t care for but if that ain’t "people" I don’t know what is).  Unfortunately, all of those examples RARELY come out because the writers have to do other work since the demand for these types of books is so low.

    Comics gained their reputation as genre works. Genre fans have flocked to the medium. So the demand is unbalanced. The problem is that comics need to attract folks who like the slice-of-life, non-genre ‘people’ stories from other mediums. But most of those folks tend to assume that comics are about super-heroes, and there’s a lot of evidence to support that. By content alone, but even if you ignore the content — picture your favorite comic shop. What’s hanging in the window? Picture the graphic novel section at Borders. What’s next to it? Fantasy gaming? Horror and Sci-fi? And any non-genre works in there are lumped next to Preacher and Batman and the X-men. We make it awfully damn hard for a "literary" fan to discover that comics can be that way.

    (Note: To be fair, I just went to Amazon, and lo and behold, genre has really taken hold in book sales (along with non-fiction/self-help type of stuff. Maybe we’re escaping into fantasy because we live in shitty times? That’s a whole different argument.)

  28. Mr. Accampo may have a point.  During economic downturns people often turn to escapist persuits.  Drug usage rises and entertainment industries generally survive or thrive.  Gone with the Wind, which was released during the early stages of the Great Depression is still the highest grossing movie of all time [adjusting for inflation].

  29. "Here’s the thing – over time I’ve come to believe stories about people are just another genre, usually called “literary” (hate the label or not). I’ve devoted my schooling and the large percentage of my life’s free time to reading and understanding stories, and frankly my evolution as a reader has led me to read a larger percentage of the genres you mention, and less literature – and for the inverse of the same argument you make:

    I’m mostly tired of  dysfunctional families and semi-autobiographical coming-of-age stories. Stories about people fall into the same ruts, and the same "cross" formulas: rehab diary meets quirky love story etc.

    Stating the obvious, but it’s all about the execution in the end – genre fiction can be just as fertile ground for exploring the human condition and the search for meaning as more “people-ish” stories. I know you’ve read Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, as an example in comics. A great prose example of people crossed with multiple genres would be David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas."

    This.

    Everything is a genre. Some are just better written than others. You’re not lamenting genre so much as stories that aren’t skillfully executed.

  30. What I find interesting, too, is the prevalence of the oppossite in TV. It seems easier to pitch and sell a human or "reality" concept, then say a Buffy, Heroes, or a Firefly. That is why we have an influx of procedural shows, and to my own disdain. I think the marriage of the "human" and genre are always going to be the best things that come out either of the mediums. I like having my cake and eating it, too. I think there’s room for one or the other having really good stories and coming out, just as long as someone thinks about us who like the marriage. I think Y: The Last Man in comics, or BSG are among the tops in their medium because of this.

  31. @stuclach – but it’s hard to say we’re in shitty times. I think we’re in good times and we have enough time to lounge about and get bored.

    About the fantastical – maybe it’s partly due to the innovative nature of fantastical things. Reading about a file clerk might not seem that interesting unless that file clerk has something new to say.

  32. @psyguy411 – it would make sense because you can switch quickly between stories in your television if you’re losing interest. It’s like your comic book guy throwing issues at you once he sees you look at your watch. You can switch between the latest part of the story, a part you already saw, a one and done part or a documentary of some sort.

  33. While it’s not exactly on a monthly release, Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor falls under the non-genre category is is definitely worth a flip through it’s 20+ years of material. Though, you know, I assume you’ve probably read at least some of it already.

  34. Major thumbs up for Freaks and Geeks

  35. This is something I’ve been looking for since Local finished. It kinda gets overwhelmingly monotonous when every book you read has giant gorilla fighting a robo-cat, in SPACE!

  36. @chlop – I certainly agree that the times are not nearly as shitty as we have been lead to believe, but I am not talking about the actual, it is about perception.  People are being told that things are shitty and a number believe it, so they may wish to escape.  (I teach an intro econ class and people are shocked when I tell them the economy grew by 1.1% last year [roughly $150 Billion in growth] and that despite all the horrible crap we hear on the news we are still doing relatively [compared to the rest of the world] well as a nation.)

    I will also agree that innovation is at play, but will argue that innovation can certainly be present in the "genre free" work Josh is discussing.  Using your clerk as an example I would cite the movie Clerks that, regardless of your opinion concerning quality, certainly had an effect on people and the industry despite essentially being a "genre free" movie about people being people.

  37. @Josh

    You’re right, I shouldn’t generalize, not all of these stories have to be My Depressing Life (even if a lot of them are). But I think that Stuclach hit the nail on the head. "Non-genre" stories (like Local or Box Office Poison) have a hard time soliciting, because they don’t have a hook. And with the serialized nature of comics, if you can’t get me to buy issue #1, then it doesn’t matter how great the story is, I won’t be reading it. That’s why there are so many more "non-genre" stories in prose books or OGNs or movies vs. serialzed medium, like comics or tv (if you think about it, all the TV shows you mentioned are genre stories (Cops, war, prison, high school, etc.))

  38. @jericho What would you The Wire? It’s not a cop show.

  39. Genre is  a vaguely subjective term that mostly fit what i was trying to say.  I’m using it to indicate fantastical stories, as opposed to "real life" types of stories.

  40. @stuclach – but people being people has a limited amount of appeal – unlike people being in fantastical settings and situations.
    It seems like working with that limited range of options is hard – even stretching reality like Clerks did. The characters being somewhat like you and me and the settings being familiar to our settings (although they can vary widely and allow for a wide variety of stories to be told)  isn’t very exciting, so sticking with it on an uncertain release schedule and fate (probably) is a hard thing for people to do.

    It’s also probably hard to get people interested in the story in one issue. I doubt I would have read Box Office Poison if it wasn’t in a phone-book sized edition and had interesting art.

    With fantasy you increase the range of stories you can tell. You can just make things up and have great liberty, where in a story about normal people it seems that you’ll have to rely more on what you see, and humans don’t see that much in their lifetime, or just write it as it is like This Boy’s Life or My Family and Other Animals – changing small details. I doubt I could have come up with Concrete and the people in it without having a similair experience, or come up with Corfu without being there. There are great stories to be told there, but it’s easier to invent a planet in some galaxy, add aliens and superheroes etc.

    There are great stories to be told using real looking settings and people, while stretching reality a bit – like in Chocolat, but it seems hard to come up with them in such a confined space. Also add to it the fact that people will most likely grow up on superheroes and if they want to write comics they’ll probably want to play in that sandbox, and the fact that comics aren’t widespread and that translating comics isn’t profitable – meaning that people that could have told interesting stories about different settings (because they’re there) won’t get to, and that the people that already told interesting and new stories in comic form and went through all the hurdles, might not reach a reader that’s interested in them because of a language barrier – more so in comics because the lettering shows emotion, so when translating you need someone that knows his job.

    There are too many comics that get translated using some regular font in the same size and that takes away from it and ruins it a bit. People are still translating comics to different languages like they are books, because they don’t know what to do with them. 

    You want a story about the last thoughts of a dying man? I’ve got that comic but you’ll have to learn Hebrew. It will probably never get translated. It’s the same with fantasy stories – you want a story set in biblical times? I’ve got it but you’ll have to learn Hebrew… You want a story about a child superhero that mocks Superhero and provides interesting life lessons and commentary on life? I’ve got that comics buy you’ll have to learn Hebrew. They will probably never get translated.

    Even the comics that do get translated get translated to langauges like french etc. Also some creators publish straight away to a different language because the local market sucks. Stories about you and me are out there, but you’ll need a babel fish.

  41. *that mocks Superman

  42. Ok this threads discussion of genre vs. non-genre is giving me serious Fiction 403 flashbacks. 

    I agree   that comics are weighted towards genre, but i don’t really mind; A. because i love genre fiction and B.  because the literary world is so heavily weighted against it.  If you walk into any literary circle with something that has even the faintest whiff of genre on it, the tweed jacket crowd falls all over themselves telling you how such works are childish and creatively bereft. Argue that Shakespeare produced many genre pieces all you want (as i have)  it doesn’t change the general academic stigma. 

    so i like having a format that contains an incredibly talented field of creators where genre is the favored son rather then the red-headed stepchild.

        

  43. Sorry if I’m retreading topics others have discussed I don’t have the time right now to read through all of the lengthy comments, but I will!

    Josh, I think the problem is you’re conflating Genre and Setting. Something like Battlestar Galactica takes place in a Sci-Fi setting, but is really more akin to the "human narrative" you’re looking for. There are no ray guns, no hard attempts to seek out alien life or discover new worlds, no real "genre" hallmarks. It’s character study… in space. Essentially the same story could be told about today’s world, with selective re distribution of story elements. (Technically Jericho?) The same is true of this week’s Thor #601. (Yes, I know, I bring the wrath upon myself!) JMS is using the setting of High Fantasy and Myth to explore what it is like to be a god in a world that you can see from your ivory tower. THis past issue, not a sword was drawn, not a fist thrown… it was all character study. And a very human character is used to tell a side-story.

    Which isn’t to say you don’t have a point, but that I feel the things you’re looking for do exist, you’re just letting the story prompts get in the way. I’m not a big fan of The Wire, West Wing or ER but I understand the appeal. My entertainment choices reflect more upon modern fantasy (Heroes) and Science Fiction. I couldn’t tell you the last time I read a novel that just featured people doing people-things. (THis is why I don’t like Jane Austen, good writer, but not at all suited to my interests.) I like character studies and seeing how Personality A will respond to stimulus B, but sometimes I want to scream "I don’t care if you vacillate for 18 issues just do it!"

  44. @Prax – I think you’re getting into an tricky area — defining "genre." I would argue that BSG is VERY MUCH sci-fi. After all, ALL fiction is an examination of the human condition. And while BSG was a character study, it still has the hallmarks of speculative fiction: using the alien setting to shine a spotlight on human nature. BSG’s larger themes were about god and religion and the definition of humanity — but the nature of the discourse isn’t really relevant as much as the setting used within. I don’t think "Sci-Fi" is defined by ray guns.

    Note: I also see Y: The Last Man as Sci-Fi.

  45. Been thinking about this, and it really seems to me that what Josh is talking about is just the balance.

    And you know what industry seems to have the best balance to me? The film industry.

    Because EVERYONE watches movies. Whether you only like arthouse dramas or direct-to-dvd horror flicks, there is a MARKET for you. There is, generally speaking, a great balance for consumers because there is every type of consumer out there. 

    Books probably have the next best balance. About 20 years ago, it was heavily balanced on the side of the non-genre "literary" works. But in recent years, genres made a resurgence (largely in YA fiction, too), and that has people going into bookstore for everything from political thrillers to horror to fantasy. 

    Comics have the worst balance at this point. AS I said above: while comics have been much more mainstream, it’s really the SUPER-HERO stories (and maybe a few crime and horror books) that are getting out there. So while Hollywood knows how to appeal to the "Oscar-movie watcher" and the "raucous-teen-comedy watcher" , the comics industry does NOT know how to get non-genre works out there to the general public that likes them. This is partially because of the distribution system, and partially because comics has spent years catering to a specialized fanbase that is looking for niche entertainment. 

    So even though super-heroes are more maintstream than ever, and even though comics are coming to be known as a medium and not a genre, I do think there’s a lot of work to do to get Box Office Poison into the hands of someone who likes, say, Nick Hornby novels.

  46. Dave’s got it I think.

    And yes, BSG and YTLM are both very much textbook sci-fi.

  47. With a film or tv show you have a budget and other restrictions.

    With a comic you have essentially a unlimited budget. As long as the artist can draw, you can make anything. So with the unlimited budget, what do you dream of as a kid? Sci-fi battles, gods punching each other with each punch causing worlds to crumble, supernatural takes on our own world etc. 

    That’s the reason. That said I don’t care if it’s genre or realistic human stories. I just care if it’s good. I bought Local, I bought Garth Ennis’ World War II stuff. I enjoyed them. I didn’t really enjoy Box Office Poison (gave up after page 50). I did enjoy Low Level. But every book I picked this week is not something that could happen today. For me it’s a supply issue. And the main publishers need to get this stuff out to the public, not just the comics enthusiast. I can’t hold up sales of Battlefields all by myself.

     

  48. i haven’t had a chance to read the comments on this thread yet (i should be working now) but the topic looks really interesting and i enjoyed the article.

    and here’s my initial thoughts: i love the fact Josh was totally dismissive of certian titles. That’s the way it should be. Some comics just don’t need to exist

  49. @daccampo I definitely see your point, but I feel that "using the alien setting to shine a spotlight on human nature" is not a hallmark of just Sci-Fi/Speculative fiction, but that any and all fiction can use this. Moby Dick? Robin Crusoe? I’m not so much concerned with defining genre as pointing out that there is a difference between something being made in a certain mold or just being set against. In a very weird case, my local B&N stocks Michael Chricton novels in the Fiction section but none in the Sci-Fi section. I would argue Chrichton’s novels have more to do with SCIENCE fiction then Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere does, and yet, Gaiman’s works are no where near the Fiction Section. (Well, Graveyard Book is in Children’s Fiction.) I think as a culture, we’re too dependent on pigeonholing things. Genre is a very loaded term that, really, has no meaning. The word just means "kind" and, so far as I know, most genres are so open as to be meaningless.

    While BSG is probably more Sci-Fi then not, I would not consider Y:The Last Man Sci-Fi. I consider it to be survivalist fiction. In much the same vein as a Walking Dead or the aforementioned Crusoe. Are there Sci-Fi plots mixed in? Yes. But if I were to classify the book, it would be as survival/apocalyptic fiction. Until today, I would never have thought of it as SciFi. (Not because it doesn’t use Science, but because it’s not important ot the story. The "science" of how the men die is a backdrop for the larger story. Again setting over genre.) Granted, this is a subjective thing as well.

  50. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Dracula and Frankenstein are in the literature section of my local Barnes and Noble while Tarzan of the Apes is in the SF/Fantasy section. Add that to Prax’s examples and you’re left, not with a better understanding of the categories, but a better understanding of just how inconsistent the system is. 

  51. @ Josh

    I completely agree with what you are saying, I just think those are some of the reasons why more aren’t being made.

  52. @Paul: Really? Cause Tarzan is in my literature section at work (Borders).

    I’m like the 100th person to state but I dont have time to read all of these wonderful comments for now….I will eventually! But if I read josh’s article, and he’s wondering why comics in the vein of what shows he was mentioning…..They work better on film (whether theater or television) and not comics. Today, most comic book readers are an impatient lot. So while we can advertise all we want about a character study WWII book by Garth Ennis is fantastic to read. The average comic book reader is gonna want more action in a war book then talking heads.

    I dont know where we’re going with this genre stuff….But I just have a distinct feeling that ‘normal’ setting comics just arent a draw like they should be. Hence why we dont see much of them being that popular.

  53. @Paul Exactly! 

  54. It seems that Vertigo is doing a decent amount of "Non-Genre" stuff. DMZ may not be a slice of life book, but it’s definitely set in a reality not too far from our own. Scalped is a crime book set in a very realistic world. There seem to be some very spiritual events in it (I’m only on the third trade) but spirituality and religion are a huge part of many people’s lives. You mentioned Viking, and it made me wonder if you’d ever tried out Northlanders. I’m only a couple of issues in, but Brian Wood is doing a historical Viking book where each arc is a completely different story. The next issue that drops is a fresh arc.

  55. I like the idea of more real life based books that readers can relate to. This was a very insightful article and Josh seems to always have something interesting to say. I think Josh should fill a bit of the void, I would most certainly buy that book!

  56. I wright both comics and short storys as a hobby and found that the stuff I put into comic form tend to be more wacky outthere stuff.  My short storys tend to be about real life.  I tryed to swich a few times and found the wacky scy fi stuff was much less injoyable and good in short story form and that the real life stuff seemed inappropriate in the comic formate.  I can see why comics seem to fallow the "zombies and monsters and mutant bears oh my" formate.  I do like the real world stuff in comic books but I like the crazy stuff more.     

  57. I’m all about some slice-of-life comics.  Good ones are hard to come by.  Just read what you have posted of Low Level and I’d say that I’d buy that in a monthly book or an OGN.  Well done.  When can we see the rest?

  58. For this ailment Dr. JumpingJupiter recommends Troy Hickman.

  59.             I can’t help but wonder if the leaning towards genre fiction in comics is but a symptom of the medium itself. This is not to say that comics can not tell non genre stories with incredible power and effectiveness. But even more the slice of life comics often ‘succumb’ to some twist or turn eventually. For example you mention Strangers in Paradise and I know at least three people who wouldn’t read it after trying a few volumes because they said it was "too unrealistic and fantasy" for there taste.  And as much as I enjoy Strangers I could see there point. Another example would be Blue Monday. Also if you were to ask me my favorite currently in production dealing with the lives of characters? Scott Pilgrim. My point, and opinion, is that comics as a medium are not naturally suited for non genre stories. Can they do them? Yes but as medium comics are not more naturally tuned for more character driven pieces than any other medium like TV, movies, books, plays, musicals, songs… I think you get my point.

                While genre fiction is often a medium that can be most freely captured in comics where there is not the wall of budget issues to overcome. Or the need for paragraph upon paragraph to describe something. By their very nature they lend themselves to visually driven storytelling. Look at some of the earliest modern examples like Little Nemo or Krazy Kat. The way in which comics can bridge the mediums of print and TV/movies is one of the mediums greatest strengths. Yet along with these strengths come weakness as well. Non-genre novels cannot allow access into a characters head and follow a breadth of time that is difficult for anything but long form comic books to match. Conversely film/TV can rely on such devices as strong acting and effective scoring to make non genre pieces either more exiting or compelling for an audience.  Plus anyone wanting to tell the kind a non genre story in comic form must overcome the unfortunate prejudices that the general public has. These limitations can be over come by a sufficiently skilled writer of course but they must be acknowledged.

                By the way, and just for the record, there is a genre of comics that is filled to the brim with non genre stories. It is called Shojo Manga. I’m serious. For every three books about magical girls and living cupcakes there is four more about ordinary people (admittly often kids but there are plenty of exceptions) dealing with ordinary problems. Books like Nana, Kare Kano (aka His and Her Circumstances), and Train Man are powerful examples of realistic and slice of life stories about a variety (i.e. not just high school kids) of people dealing with a variety of things. And there are plenty others out there. So there are plenty of International books out there available to scratch that itch if you are willing to give them a chance.

  60. Twilight Guardian is the closest thing to a story about real people as I’ve read in a long time. In fact it is exactly that. Just a story about a person.

  61. It occurs to me now… After 9/11 Marvel released three mini-series called the Call of Duty. Each one was about real heroes in the Marvel universe: Firemen, Policemen, Paramedics. As I recall, they were pretty much "slice of life stories" about the days of these workers, set in the 616 MU, with the occasional bump with Marvel heroes and villains. I have them all sitting in my basement in NJ… but anyway… all three series bombed, as I recall, and Marvel more or less nixed doing a follow up project about the four armed forces that was being tossed around. I just don’t think there’s a market for it, in all honesty. 

  62. The premise of this discussion seems a bit off to me.  WW2 stories are genre fiction.  So are cop stories and medical dramas.  Seems like you what you are really saying is that you don’t appreciate the current crop of popular genre.  Ahh, the terrible tyranny of the majority.  Is dynamo 5 a capes and tights genre book or a book about inter-personal interactions – its both i think?  I would say the personal relationships in Invincible are what drives the story there too.

    I wonder about the comic medium being a good ‘host’ for stories exclusively about inter-personal conflict – as you seem to desire.  Prose writing seems to me a more natural couch for internal stream of consciousness exploration or external dialog.  Its just tough to convey an internal debate with large panels and little dialog.  It can be done, but how often do you hear comic readers complain about the prose heavy style of comics of old?  
    When inter-personal conflict is interesting it is rarely mundane (even in shojo, imo).
  63. @ Josh- Best opening line to an article EVER!

  64. I’ll definitely feel the same way, and that’s one of the reasons I want to get into comic book writing. There are so many untold stories that could be well adapted to the style of comics.

    It’s funny, I was trying to think about other comics that were not very genre, and I accidentally thought of Gotham Central. If it wasn’t for batman and the supervillains, that comic would’ve pretty much been just like Law & Order or The Wire.

    I already have a few non-genre ideas.

  65. @Prax – Just to quickly touch on this: my definition was meant to focus on the word "alien." Moby Dick is still set in an approximation of the reality we know/knew. Same with Robinson Crusoe. Good Sci-Fi takes an alien setting — and by that I mean an unkown or foreign setting, often a future or alternate  history — and uses it to examine the human condition. BSG uses a particular setting. Y the Last Man uses a different type of alien setting — a world with no men — and extrapolates its character study from there.

    But this is a tricky path, and I think we can get too caught up in definitions. Yeah, we can start breaking things down into "survivalist fiction", but that just becomes a test of seeing how small we can slice the pie. I think for the sake of Josh’s original point, I’m mostly talking about the standard genres that one finds in a bookstore (horror, sci-fi, fantasy, etc.).

  66. @daccampo Interesting, but I think you are selectively applying your qualifier. Isn’t the life aboard a whaling ship alien to Ishmael? Isn’t the Island alien to Crusoe? Certainly Kipling thought India was an alien culture when he wrote Gungadin and The Jungle Book. They are meditations on the human condition (Kipling and Crusoe) juxtaposed against a backdrop of an alien setting. You’re focusing alien on different to you the reader and not necessarily different to the character, which is just as important a distinction. I’ll give you that BSG take’s it a step further, but Y The Last Man is generated from the "world of today" as it were. I would still maintain that it’s science is incidental and ultimately has no bearing on the plot, thus relegating the sci-fi aspect (world with no men) to a setting for exploration over telling a Sci-Fi genre story.

    And while I agree the term Survivalist takes the argument down into murky water, but again, I never thought of Y The Last Man as anything more than a fictional story about a lone man surviving in a world without men. I would bet you that were the book to come out, and it was set currently, it would be sitting on the Fiction shelves and not Science Fiction. Now, to a certain extent, genre is subjective. You choose how your frame the books. And publishers and book stores do as well. They’ve systematically reinforced a system whereby a setting has become synonymous with a genre, and it’s not true. I’m over simplifying the argument in claiming the presence of a ray gun is or isn’t Sci-Fi genre, certainly that’s not how I define it academically, but that’s what people know. You say Sci-Fi and people think Lighsabers, spaceships and guns. They don’t think of the finer aspects of the story. Because really a story about science gone awry could, possibly, be told in a noir novel, or a romantic novel, etc. They’re not, but they could be. Collectively it was decided that if it has spaceships it can never be regarded as Fiction or Noir, it has to be something else. Same with mystery novels, they are not X & Y. There’s a saying "The past is another country." Well, in this case "Genres are different countries."

    But thank you, this has proven to be quite the interesting discussion. And a reasoned one, which you don’t always get online. Yay, iFanboy Community! 

  67. I will second PraxJarvin’s "Yay, iFanboy Community!" and also express my amazement that you guys stayed up until 3am writing about this.  Impressive.

  68. Using Josh’s example of "West Wing," it would be hard to get that across in a comic.  While I would love to read that, how would you get across Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue without having word balloons crowd over each other?  Or the sense of movement as characters talk?  Or tone of voice?  Toby and Josh have distinct sounds and tones when they are aggravated or deadpan or laughing and written words wouldn’t get across what the actors do.  It’s like why people say not to have an argument or get across a point in email- without inflection of voice or body language, the reader is left to interpret meaning and doesn’t always perceive what the writer intended (are they angry or upset?  Is this serious?  Can’t tell).

    Also, this can be done in genre work.  Bendis has done a good job of it, even though some folks blast him for it *cough*11’oclock comics*cough*.  Abnett and Lanning do a good job of it too; "Guardians of the Galaxy" wouldn’t be half as fun as it is if it weren’t for the way characters play off each other, even a talking tree who only says "I am Groot".  It’s hard to sustain it over a long period, especially in genre work, but it can be done.

  69. @BC1 – That would be up to the creators. They’d have to do a very good job, but to think that it can’t be done, or it would be too hard is very limiting to the medium. Anything should be possible with the right kind of talent working on it.

  70. @Prax – Sorry, late nights and I don’t think I’m explaining myself well. By "alien" I mean "does not exist in OUR reality" NOT the world of the character. The future of Terminator. The future of Blade Runner. The future of Star Trek. The "present" of Y: The Last Man. These are all dreamed-up worlds that do not exist in our present, but writers used science as a jumping off point to "speculate" on that environment. All of those stories are about the human condition, but they use the speculative environment to do it.

    Now, I fully admit that these are somewhat arbitrary definitions and they can all be broken down to some extent. And yeah, I do see your point about defining genres by public perception of the elements (ray guns, etc.), but I think in the case of Sci-Fi there’s been a lot written about it. There are plenty of folks who will point out that, say,  Star Wars is actually "fantasy" rather than "sci-fi" because it doesn’t use science to create a speculative environment. It’s got more in common with Lord of the Rings than with Star Trek (note: I’m not saying this to start a new debate, just pointing out that these types of discussions exist 😉 ).

    But, I think for Josh’s original point, we need to just look at non-genre/literary works as works that have none of the earmarks of a particular genre, whether they be elements of crime, horror, or sci-fi.

  71. New monkey’s paw wish: "The West Wing: Season 8 by Brian Michael Bendis"

     

     

  72. @Josh- I totally agree, and I would hope that more creators would be willing to tackle the challenge.  But it is a challenge to write that kind of story, both from a creative aspect as well as a marketing aspect, so wouldn’t that go to the "why don’t we see more stories like this" portion of your question?  Similarly, why don’t we see more shows like "West Wing" or "Freaks and Geeks"?  It takes a special talent and the right mix of circumstances to make a show, or a comic, like that successful.  Again, look at Sorkin- "Sports Night" was on life support for the whole second season and "Studio 60" didn’t even get a full-year run.  Even "West Wing" eventually petered out.  And yet,"Sports Night" and "West Wing" were genius television shows; I could take in reruns of both until my eyes melted and my eardrums burst.  So why aren’t there more shows like those on TV?  Or are there, but not on network TV? Likewise with comics- why aren’t there more people-based stories?  Or are there, just not from the big publishers?  At least with non-network T.V. we have iTunes and DVD’s to generate sales and keep things alive- what do we have for creators who need to generate lots of money off of one or two books and aren’t signed to a major label?  Solve that problem and you might see more stories that you (and many others) like.  

     

  73. @Diabhol- get Aaron Sorkin to help with script and you’ve got my dollars.  Would it be a prequel or set in the Santos administration? 

  74. @Josh-  no one wants to watch a show a Ford assembly line worker or a file clerk no matter how batshit crazy they may be or how well written they are.  film and literature are popular cheifly for escapism.  West Wing, Studio 60, Sports Night is all escapism because 90% of the populace would love to be involved in careers like those depicted and never will.  Band of Brothers and Freaks and Geeks are nostalgic escapists trips that bring people back to "the greatest generation" or shared experiences in puberty.

     Now go read Secret Six!

  75. @0and18: ROSEANNE, one of the most popular sit-coms of its time, was about a factory worker and a mechanic.  LAVERENE & SHIRLEY worked on the assembly line.  Ralph Kramden was a bus driver.  It’s not about escapism, it’s about how compelling the characters are and the story is.

  76. @Conor – Damn straight.

  77. @ Conor AGGHH you may have swayed me!  The Roseanne drop is right on the money your are correct sir.  And I do know some get rich quick idea men like the the Honeymooners.  But you must concede now being is as bizzaro and annoying as Squiggy thus the show must be both fiction and escapism.

  78. But there were no zombies, robots, aliens (well, one alien…), etc.

  79. @conor @stuclach  Great writing puts words into the mouths of people who could never be as clever, succinct, or forthright if they actually lived in our world.  Sure, the premise of "Roseanne" and "Laverne & Shirley" seem ‘slice of life’.  But I’m just not buyin’ it.  And sorry, but are we forgetting the entire lottery dream season in ROSEANNE?  Fantasy! 

    @josh  Absolutely correct.  Thanks for refocusing the discussion. I digressed.

     

  80. Wow, I’m not touching that with a ten foot pole.

  81. @ Conor :No Sir on second thought I do not concede. In fact I retort, all be it fueled on by 3 more Labatt Blue cans, that Roseanne is the exception to the rule. I really feel that serialized television and even film in should tell primarily fiction based stories. I think telling non fiction on the screen is best done by documentary. I will use Aaron Sorkin’s “Charlie Wilson’s War” as an example. I love the book and the film but the best version of that story is told in 2 hour History Channel documentary. It is perfect because it tells the story only as a Documentary film can. With all the primary sources right there on film for the viewer. You have men and women who lived the story telling you how things occurred, you have archive footage of events showing the viewer what really happened. You cannot tell a better story that because it is living history.

    What really portrays World War 2 better? “Band of Brothers” with actors acting out and describing what they see as combat or watching Ken Burn’s “The War”? In which real life vets describe all the horror and awe and footage depicting the carnage and human reactions instead of sets and CGI.

    That is why “Alan’s War” will always be a better story than any thing Garth Ennis thinks World War 2 was like. And I would love to see more Docu comics like “Alan’s War” or “Pedro and Me” because they ring genuine while stuff like “Night Witches” always seems sensationalized and an escapist version of history, which isn‘t wrong, but it still fiction and a bit sensational yet grounded in real life.

    Fiction can be just as biting as “real life” stories, Science Fiction for example is an awesome way to convey allegories and parables that can run parallel to any social, cultural or political event. I am not saying trying tell a fictionalized historic story is bad or less than I just think it is very hard to do right and glares when not.

    BTW thanks for the site it is fun to have a place where I get responses to my Half Drunken diatribes from folks that run it

  82. @BigE – I have never heard of the lottery dream season.  I assume it popped up late in the series when they ran out of "nongenre" ideas and had to resort to Fantasy to pull in views.  I stopped watching Roseanne when they replaced Becky with future Scrubs girl.  (Wasn’t Roseanne the primary writer for her show [at least initially] meaning that she [of the white trash variety] was putting the words in her own mouth?)

    Other examples of popular (if not critically acclaimed) "genre free" shows: Friends, Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development. They are all "comedies", but the comedy is essentially derived by individuals interacting in a "real" setting.  Not Fantasy or Sci-Fi (though you could argue that Matt LaBlac is a zombie).

    I LOVE my genre comics, but I must second Josh’s inital request for more "genre free" books.

  83. @0and18- One of the points of Sorkin’s shows, though, is to show how unglamorous and unattractive these kinds of jobs really are.  Here are people who got their wish and are going nuts living in it.  In other words, the psychosis of power and position.  Hey wait a minute, that sounds familiar…

    Also, people like to watch a show about a paper company in a small city in Pennsylvania (or England).  Same with "Dilbert" and "Office Space" – it’s funny because it’s true, albeit taken to the nth degree of hyperbole.  It’s a matter of content and presentation.

    @BigE- that’s a little stereotypical.  And "Roseanne" went to some very real places that today would be really frightening for many people.  Not answering the phone to avoid bill collectors, starting a small business only to have it ripped out from underneath by shady dealings, spousal abuse, the reality of a crappy job, dysfunctional relationship between daughters and mothers- that’s when the show was best and most popular.  

    This gets back to my earlier point, though, that it’s hard to pull off this kind of story.  The audience has to be in a place to want to see/read that story, and it has to be done well.  That’s a daunting challenge, and while I’d love to see more creators take it on, we should admit that it is a challenge. 

  84. Alright, I now see how my last comment may have come off as a bit offensive.  I wasn’t trying to make a dig at people’s socio-economic status.  Maybe I should have put it this way: 

    Even on my best days, I don’t have conversations like they do on TV or in the movies.  And that’s why the characters are compelling.  They say what I can’t.  Maybe I’m just not that smart.  Okay, I’m definitely not that smart.