Given that I’ll be in one way or another seemingly forever immersed in the world of comics, I think it’s important to share the good, the bad and sometimes the ugly issues that arise in the evolution of the medium. Arguably, there is a pesky thing called point of view, but then again the fun of creating and comprehending art is just that: FUN. Discussion and debate, especially when given merit and under the guiding principle of constructive criticism, can provide an invaluable tool for the authors and the readers, where the first can approach their subject matter and readership better, while the latter can understand their favorite authors and comics from many more angles and can (dare I say) read between the panels better.
The topics will be chosen randomly and will gradually be developed more in-depth, if the need for more discussion arises or just for shits and giggles.
ISSUE #1: PAGE NUMBERS
For most people, this probably doesn’t rank high on the problems list, let alone it being an issue, but this has been bothering me for a long time now. Page numbers or rather lack thereof may not seem important when you’re immersed in a story (of any kind of sequential format), but I started viewing this as a problem when I began analyzing comics (for the most the Anglo-American comics tradition).
In the world of academia, references rule that often too self-righteous kingdom full of rehashing. Nevertheless, there’s really no way around it, because if you want to analyze anything, you have to point to a particular panel on a particular page for example, otherwise your observation can verge on oversimplification and generalization of the I-like-it-because-it’s-pretty kind, even if you’re actually making a valid point.
Page number may seem arbitrary for most readers who just want to enjoy a comic. We can extend this to literature as well, since they share the book format as a tool for dissemination, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a literary work of any kind without page numbers … or rather, if you do find one, its omission of numbering will signify a special feature rather than editorial forgetfulness or just a postmodern phase for example. That’s not to say that literature is treated more seriously than comics (and not just in the academic sphere), but as a researcher of comics you can get discouraged or even somewhat angry, if you have to count the page numbers by hand, when the thing you wanted to point out just to happens to be at the end of a let’s say 400-pageish graphic novel. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mentally traversed back into my childhood, as I was sitting behind my desk, thumbing the pages of a thick comic, remembering my kindergarten years, counting the pages of a coloring book. But I guess that’s the charm of comics as well.
The easy (if not almost a cliché) answer to the lack of page numbers is that their exclusion gives the reader a sense of timelessness and offers a greater immersion into the story. That was at least a small part of my quasi-enlightening remarks during my Hellboy analysis for my diploma. Arguably, this works well in the context of the canon’s first trade paperback Seed of Destruction, but generally speaking I’d prefer page numbers, even if some of them are left out due to bleeds, splash pages, double page spreads and the like, as the norm seems to be in graphic novels like McCloud’s Sculptor for example.
To a great extent, this becomes a question of format as well. Single instalments of a given comic (especially of a comics series) are generally collected in trade paperbacks, deluxe editions and other collections. While all of these different formats and reprints can definitely be adorably wicked marketing tools for the sake of regurgitating the same comic and spreading the flame of fandom, this is also a means for the authors to be rightfully compensated for their hard work, since the effort of creating comics is still undervalued. Further, different formats of a comic can be distinguished by flipping some odd-numbered pages to even-numbered, thus somewhat changing the climax before the turn of a page (as in later instalments of Lucifer) or numbering can occur only in future collections (Absolute Sandman).
Numbers rule the world and not just in science, or dare I say nature. In comics, numbering is an underwhelming analytical tool that adds formalistic depth to a medium where thinking outside the box and pure artistry have been the driving forces of endless possibilities. A cheesy concluding sentence that should have been omitted for a witty pun, but, hell, I like it. Personally, comics shouldn’t stray away from a tool that takes away far less than it gives. Page numbers are essentially invisible to the reader, especially when the story gets you hooked, but they add volumes to the researcher. Plus, as silly as it may sound, you can get a sense of accomplishment when you see that you’re already on page 200 as opposed to just roaming around the pages. Maybe I take comics too seriously, but that doesn’t take the slightest panel away from being able to enjoy their entertainment value, creativity and technical prowess.
All I’m saying is that the equation in this case is simple: numbering in comics equals two birds, one stone. So book it!
In the next issue: Graphic novel?
For reasons of extreme prejudice, the author of this blog wishes to remain anonymous …