marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

philosophical observations about webcomics

Inspired by reading Flash Gordon: The Alex Raymond Sunday Strips Vol. 1.

It definitely has its historical interest going for it.It explains well why E. E. "Doc" Smith, talking about the balance of action, characterization, and thought, is at pains to explain how the others slow down the action, and lament the action writers who don't bother with characterization to keep their heroes in peril.  He wrote in this era.  The rule appears to be that every strip must end, not with a turn to reward the reader, but with a full blown cliff-hanger.  Indeed, at one point the river bearing them to a monster's maw just happens to sweep them on instead, and at another, Dale and Flash, tangled in a prehensile tree's vines, are saved by a chance lightning stroke.

How break-neck the action is, is shown by how we learn nothing of Dale's past, and of Flash's only that he's a Yale student and a polo player.  And that they are madly in love is shown only by Flash's fighting for her and Dale's heroically offering herself to his captors to spare him.  (To be sure, since everyone male lusts after her, and female after him, they are clearly very attractive.)  The opening is particularly absurd, with a mad scientist pushing them into a rocket to go and deflect Mungo from crashing into earth.  (Yes, it's Dr. Zarahov.  No explanation is given for his change in character when he reappears many strips in.)

Now in action and adventure webcomics, the genre's picked up a few more tricks.  Order of the Stick and Rusty & Co may be bad comparisons, since in the opening comics at least, the point could be the gag, even though as they went on, they gave more:  a plot twist, or a revelation, or a change of mood.  Even on occasion, a cliff-hanger.  Impure Blood and Girl Genius are better examples, though, as they don't go for the punch line (except perhaps as comic relief occasionally), so you have a pure action and adventure tale.  But while something happens every strip -- and it's a good thing for a prose writer to analyze, about  how quickly you can keep things going with twists and turns -- it's not always a cliffhanger.  Indeed, it seldom is.  And as a consequence, the writers can marshal their menaces.  Flash needed to have the planet filled with monstrous plants and animals so they could challenge our characters when logically nothing else would.  When Agatha Heterodyne lands in the wilderness, she can go plugging her way out, observing the landscape, and not fighting anything irrelevant to the main plot.  When the band in Impure Blood takes a cart from one town to the next, they can talk instead of having a dramatic fight -- and even talk in a way that advances the plot but not with stark twists.

To be sure, it probably helps that on a webcomic, the reader can always go on an archive binge and get caught up.
Tags: fiction reviews: comic strips, plot twist, setting (whole story), webcomics

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