The iFanboy Letter Column – 02.10.2012

I’m drug kingpin, Marlo Stanfield. You might know me from the fictional corners of West Baltimore, and the television series The Wire. You might also know me because my name is my name.

Friday be today. For some, Friday be one way. But it ain’t. Friday be the other way.

At iFanboy, Friday means it’s letter column time. I ain’t much for talking, so they gon’ take it.

You write. They answer. Very simple.

As always, if you want to have your e-mail read on the any of iFanboy’s shows or answered here, in the letter’s column keep them coming to

If you guys would have to chose between buying a comic book with an amazing story and a really crappy art or a comic with really insane art but awful story what would it be?


Ready for a cop out answer?

A comic book doesn’t work without both aspects being successful. If one or the other isn’t working, I’ll stop reading. It’s like asking if you’d like your food to be cooked, or to taste good. You really don’t want to eat something without both of those being in place.

In the past, I’d have said I’d be alright with a good story, but that doesn’t fly anymore. The more I’ve studied and thought about and learned about the craft of comics, a crack in the foundation on either side will spoil the whole thing. The thing is, there are actually so many talented people making comics right now that it’s starting to feel inexcusable to put out weak comics. That holds right down the the lettering. There are so many elements taking place in a comic book, and the key to the whole thing is all of those elements working together, like any artistic collaboration. One guy in the band can ruin the song.

One more metaphor could also ruin this response.

I want to tell you that if the story is bad, at least you have the option of pretty art to look at, but that’s really ignoring the primary job of comic book art. The comic book artist is supposed to tell the story above all. If they can’t do that, and it’s just pretty pictures, it’s really just bad comic book art.

Okay, one more metaphor! If you’re watching a movie, and there are awful actors, and a great script, do you want to watch that movie? Vice versa? The answer is no.

However, if you’re into making comics, or even just thinking about them critically, sometimes bad comics can be a wealth of information to show you what not to do and why.

Josh Flanagan

Thanks for another excellent show. There was one comment that intrigued me hugely, I think it was from Ron (apologies if not, I was running for the bus with my hood up and my earbuds were touching the cloth, as it were).

The comment was: “It’s hard to do a story in four issues, if there’s any meat to it.”

Now, I can roll off plenty of generally acknowledged classics, such as “Days of Future Past” (two issues), “Crisis on Earth One/Two” (two issues), the first Elektra story (one issue), “Lifedeath” (one issue) … heck, Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos presented a superb two-parter in the last two issues of The Amazing Spider-Man. We all could come up with a list. Focussed stories that get in, make their point, and get out.

By the same token, I can name stories whose extreme length merely emphasises their faults, making them seem bloated. Siege, Fear Itself, “The Trial of the Flash”, and what have you. Other longer arcs, such as The Dark Phoenix Saga and Watchmen, aren’t half bad. In Sandman, Neil Gaiman wrote some terrific tales varying from one to several issues, and others that didn’t work so well.

Surely a good creative team can make the best of however many pages they have to play with?

Mart from Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

I remember Ron Josh saying that quote and I remember at the time scrunching my face a bit but deciding to let it go because we had to move on to the next thing. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. When you’re doing the show it tough because you’ve got three people expressing their opinions and you’re not always going to agree with those opinions. But if we were all to challenge each other every time someone said something that they didn’t agree with the show would be 4 hours long and we would have probably killed each other a long time ago. You have to pick you battles.

So, I actually agree with you, Mart. For the most part.

Great stories can be told in just one issue and that means they can certainly be told in a two-parter or in a four parter or, hell, a great story can be told in just one page.

I guess the variable in the equation is “if there’s any meat to it.” I do think that it’s tougher to tell a good, meaty story in just a few issues, but it’s certainly not impossible. Obviously, the more pages you have the more room the writer has to add detail and nuance, and the more “meaty” the story can get. In these modern times as comics have been cut down from 22 pages to 20 (and sometimes less) it gets harder and harder to tell really impactful stories in just a few issues. Or one.

The stories you mentioned above are all great stories told in just a few issues, or even just in one. But then, many of them were written in a different time where comics were written in a much denser way than they are now. You got way more story on one page. But then you have books now like the recent The Brave and The Bold mini-series that did a great job of telling one issue stories. And you have Criminal: The Last of the Innocent, which told an incredibly meaty story in just four issues. It just takes an especially skilled writer to tell a great story with fewer pages. But it can certainly be done.

(It should be noted that Ron Josh didn’t say that it was impossible to do, just “hard”, which I agree with. It is hard.)

Conor Kilpatrick


  1. Reading the last response, my brain was screaming. “THE KILLING JOKE!!”

    • The Killing Joke is a great story, but it’s also longer than a standard 22 page comic, isn’t it? Although it certainly isn’t as long as the kind of 4-6 issue arcs people are used to today.

    • @JohnVFerrigno: Yeah, it’s 48 pages.

    • @Conor, thanks, I knew it was short, but didn’t think it was short enough to be like a single issue of Batman or something.

    • Good point. I was just saying there’s A LOT of “meat” in those 48 pages, so it can be done.

    • All comic creators hired for their first professional job should be required to read every issue of Busiek’s Astro City. Practically every issue, whether it was a one-in-done, multi-part, mini-series… was perfect. Damn we need that book back.

    • Thanks for the response, Conor, and the extra examples. I find that as time goes on I’m appreciating pithy done-in-ones more and more, whether it be a darkly entertaining issue of Jonah Hex or a frothy issue of the (just cancelled, dammit!), TV Brave and the Bold book.

    • @ryanwhoday absolutely. Most writers would have taken six issues to do that story and not been nearly as effective as Moore was.

  2. Marlo Stanfield: That’s my comic book.
    Omar Little: Man, comic books ain’t got no owners, only readers.

  3. “Ain’t nobody got nothing to say about a 40-degree day” —which is basically how i feel about today.

    I think i’m the same way with art vs story. I used to be art first, but if the story is lame, i’ll feel ripped off. I think i’m more forgiving of 3 star artwork with great story than the other way around. I read a few books where i think the art is good but not great. Its the story that keeps me coming back.

  4. Josh brings up some very excellent metaphors for the story/at question. It actually made me think of a complaint I have about certain movies: they seem like they were made just as an excuse to show amazing special effects. But if there isn’t a story that’s enjoyable, those special effects, no matter how amazing they might be, are, at the end of the day, pointless. I don’t care if computer technology has reached the point where any fantastical thing a person can imagine is able to be shown on screen. What good is it if some computer lab can show a realistic dragon on screen if that dragon has nothing interesting to do?

    It’s one of the reasons I love Pixar so much. Yes, their animation is always on the cutting edge of technology and their characters are beautifully designed and animated, but once you get past all the visuals, it’s the fantastic stories that make those visuals worthwhile.

    A comic book with great art and a bad story is just a waste of time for me. if i want to just look at pretty pictures, i would get an art book and look at that. I need a great story. But on the other hand, I have read some stories that were written very well, but bad art took me out of the story and made it less enjoyable. But as Josh pointed out, there are just so many talented people working in comics these days that it seems ridiculous to not have somebody at every stage of creation who is good at their respective craft.

    It also seems like the writer and penciller get most of the credit, but I have also read comics were the art was lessened by the inker. I have actually DROPPED books because the coloring was horrendous. Even a solid letterer can make you enjoy a book more in ways you probably won’t even notice at first.

    The thing is, comics are a collaborative effort. It isn’t one person who makes a comic, it’s a team of people. And like any other team or group of people, one person can bring everyone else down. If you have a great singer, great guitarist and great bass player, but your drummer can’t keep time and doesn’t know how to keep the rhthym going, you aren’t going to be very successful. Same thing with comics.

    • Coloring is the single thing that kills most unknown indie books. I’ve seen so many badly colored books that make me not even want to give them a shot.

    • i agree on the coloring and lettering. I think that i have a personal vendetta against contemporary comic coloring styles, as i tend to dislike a lot of it…too many gradients and rendering for my taste. My biggest issue is that some coloring takes away depth and i just get a headache trying to figure it out.

      Lettering and moreover type and design is a big thing for me too. I know there are very few who work in comics who really have any concern for this stuff, but when i see really amateur typesetting or blatant first year design student mistakes on a commercial publication i just get really annoyed that i paid for something thats not of professional quality.

    • @Josh I wish it was just indy books that had coloring issues. I have seen Marvel comics with such horrible coloring, I couldn’t even read it. On the other hand, I have seen Marvel comics with coloring that was breathtaking. It’s amazing that in this day and age there is that much disparity in the quality of the work being put out by one of the giants of the industry.

    • @john v—i very much agree with you. There was a DC book from the relaunch that i really liked, but couldn’t read it anymore do to the coloring. My eyes were overwhelmed. I felt like i was staring into the sun on each page, and there was no contrast or depth to anything. Just a visual mess.

    • Stormwatch?

    • That book reminded me of when someone would Photoshop together Wonder Woman and like Yasmine Bleeth in 1998.

    • I’m with you guys on the over rendered coloring. I immediately thought of Salvador Larroca on Invincible Iron Man. When I first saw that book I remember disliking aspects of the art and identifying it with Larroca. Then I flip to the back of the hardcover and see his penciled pages. They looked fine. It was the rendered, gradient heavy coloring that I didn’t like. I guess the guy was trying to add depth to the figures but wound up in the uncanny valley with all the faces.

    • @Wally I had the opposite experience with Dark Avengers. I liked the writing, I liked the pencilling, but the coloring was so dark and muddy it just ruined the book for me. I couldn’t look at it anymore and had to drop it.

  5. “It’s like asking if you’d like your food to be cooked, or to taste good.”

    I get your point. However, sushi.

  6. In regards to the second comment, when I was a kid, almost all comics were single issue stories, or 2-3 issues at the most. There were no real “story arcs” for the most part. A story would go on, and each issue a subplot from a previous issue would be promoted to the main plot as new subplots were developed. It was much more of a continuing each month kind of thing, where there was no real “starting” or “stopping” point to most stories. You just kept reading each month to see what happened next. It wasn’t until TPBs became more popular that more self contained stories became the industry standard.

    Just take a look at older comics from the 70s and 80s that are being packaged as TPBs today. They are clearly different than the ones being written today. I recently read the “Kree-Skrull War” story from the Avengers. A lot of the story from the earlier issues actually has nothing to do with the Krees and Skrulls. That is a sub plot to the main stories that becomes more prominent as the issues go on and takes center stage for the last few issues.

    If that story was written today, from beginning to end, it would deal exclusively with the Kree-Skrull War.

    I sometimes feel that stories today are actually being “padded” to make them longer. A prime example of this would be Hickman’s current run on FF/Fantastic Four. Now, I am really enjoying this run, but there are entire issues I didn’t need. There are issues of FF that the FF don’t even appear in. We are just told what was up with Black Bolt since the last time we saw him (for example) and really, i don’t care. When i read Fantastic Four, I expect the Fantastic four to be in it. The backstory stuff is nice to fill in some details and give it a little more depth, but it doesn’t move the story along and it’s not really essential to the plot. it easily could have been done as a one-shot or special or something and nobody would have missed anything important.

    Longer doesn’t necessarily mean meatier. Sometimes it just means longer.

    • aka McFarlane’s first five issues of Spider-man. Great art. Horrible story, horrible only because it was stretched into something that could have been told in one issue. It was like spending Thanksgiving dinner with my folks – it just NEVER ENDED! (doom doom doom doom doom doom…)

  7. The Wire, season 6! By Image Comics (penned by Jason Aaron).

  8. I was being facetious. I wouldn’t want to see The Wire story extended….the finale was a perfect bookend. To me, it’s the same sentiment expressed by those against Before Watchmen . – which I am completely ambivalent about. (But there were those 5 minute miniepisodes between the 4th and 5th season….. still nay..)

  9. One thing not mentioned is that with one-and-dones or short 2-4 issue minis that I have not seen mentioned – it’s a whole lot easier for there to be meat to the story if you are using pre-existing characters. Most readers will bring with them some knowledge about Batman, or whoever, when they read the story, so that takes some burden off the writer. With Jonah Hex, you knew who he was and what he was like. The one issue didn’t have to explain that. Same with most of the other stories mentioned. Plus, you can key in on specific character traits or history that readers will get. If you have an original character, it just takes more time to give them any depth. You can do a one-off of some cardboard trope, but it’s really hard to dig deeper without more book. I can’t think of many great, deep 4-issue minis that have original characters – they exist, but there aren’t many with depth. V for Vendetta comes to mind.

    • right, cause you have to basically introduce the characters, use their names early and often, and show us “what they do” without it seeming like an info dump….but you kinda have to info dump or else no one will follow. its a Challenge but i think its possible.

  10. Josh is the one who says the quote in question two around 35:30, while discussing the Planet of the Apes mini.

    • Allow me to clarify. Depending on the scope of a given story, it can be hard to fit into 4 issues. In some stories, you find that there’s more story than can fit in the pages allotted, and the story speeds up to accommodate that, and the reader notices it.

  11. i’m sure that some people will disagree, but i think that great artwork can sometimes distract from an average story. i think of arkham asylum, which might have the best artwork i’ve ever seen in a comic book — and dave mckean is probably my favorite artist — but i could care less about the story. in fact, whenever i pick it up it’s generally to flip through some of the pages just to look at the great art. i hardly read it anymore. then again, there are book like signals to noise where the writing is up to par with the incredible artwork. that is a book that i pick up to read AND look at the pretty pictures.

    • I seriously love the artwork in Arkham Asylum. And while the story has certain moments I like, it doesn’t live up to the standards of the art for me. I wish Dave McKean would do more comics work. I need to go read Mr. Punch again……And Cages.

  12. DKR is an oversized 4 issues but the economy of space in that thing is still incredible.

    • Yeah, I agree. Miller packs a LOT into every page. One of those interviews on a news show that Miller does in one page would have been an entire issue of Avengers if Bendis wrote it.