I remember reading in TCJ, a long time ago, that a good comics page was just as dense as a good page of prose, and that if you didn’t spend enough time on a page — if you just “skimmed for story,” you would miss out on most of what the comic was telling you. I believe Gary Groth may have written this (that’s how long ago it was!), or maybe Kim Thompson.
So I set to staring at my comics pages after the first “skim.” It didn’t help me any. I just felt stupid, staring.
When I was a kid, I used to read my comics over and over and over and over again, each re-read in rapid succession (as in: finish the comic, start over reading the comic). I was reading some pretty sophisticated — for a second-grader — comics back then, like Bob Haney’s Brave & the Bold. I believe that the re-reading was what allowed me to comprehend these comics.
I’m doing the same thing now with Starstruck by Elaine Lee and MW Kaluta (which, by the way, I read in the 80s for the first time, but had mostly forgotten): re-reading each chapter six or seven times before moving on. It’s a dense, dense book, one that actually could justify Groth’s statement that a comics page can contain as much information as a prose page, and should be read as slowly as one. Staring doesn’t help, though. Re-reading is the key. Each time I re-read a chapter, I definitely catch something I didn’t catch before, and these aren’t just little detail-schmetails, these are big story elements that I totally glossed over in my usual quick-read-the-word-balloons-and-glance-at-the-artwork manner. For example, I didn’t realize, the first few times I read the page above, that the dude who shot the android’s head off was the boy’s father, even though I had already met the father, a very distinct and memorable character, just a few pages before. A stupid thing to not realize, but there you go. There was a lot going on in addition to this plot thread, and I got distracted. Anyway.
Do you like dense, “difficult” comics that are also beautiful to look at? If so, you will like Starstruck. If not, you won’t. There’s an easy way to find out: you can give Starstruck a try for free. Creators Elaine Lee and MW Kaluta have been posting the pages of the original book online in low-rez webcomic form at starstruckcomics.com. Despite my past heralding of the webcomic form, though, I have to say that Starstruck, of all the graphic novels I’ve ever read, really suffers from web-based presentation. It really needs to be consumed in book form. Fortunately, IDW has put out a gorgeous collected edition for you to read, and re-read, and re-re-read, etc.
Elsewhere on the Web
Lee and Kaluta recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund production of a new Starstruck graphic novel. Yay!
The contemporary TCJ writer John Hilgart does a great job of close reading Starstruck:
As important, there are no explanatory boxes of narrative copy to be found in Starstruck, urging you along, making everything obvious. Anything that’s not dialogue in a speech bubble is either raw data (time, place) or a quotation from a notable figure or book from within the Starstruck universe, casting a provocative or oblique light on events. Together, Lee and Kaluta have engineered a comic book storytelling mode that approaches documentary. No one is in a rush here. As a reader, it’s easy to be a spectator, to step inside and linger.