Thursday, October 04, 2007

Stretching the Medium

Many people, my wife included, reject comics or animated cartoons as kid-stuff. And while shows like The Simpsons and The Family Guy have challenged that notion pretty well, the comics pages remain the domain of Garfield.

The first comic I know to truly try to change that was Doonesbury, which has been a constant companion of mine since Gary Trudeau relaunched the strip in the 1980s after a 5 year hiatus. Even in high school I remember friends (usually those with a more conservative political bent) arguing that the strip was misplaced on the comic pages and should instead be labeled as editorial.

Others have come along to push the notion of storytelling a bit. For Better or For Worse is a great example, in which the characters grow and change, giving it almost a soap opera feel (that comic is also on its way to dealing with the death of a major character). This is very different from the Peanuts, in which characters stayed unchanged by time for nearly 3 generations.

Today, Tom Batiuk killed off Lisa Moore in Funky Winkerbean (a good story on it is here.). I've been reading the comic for a while. I came back to it a couple of years ago to find that the characters had aged and were taking on more interesting rolls. In fact, they were all around my age, starting families and dealing with their own demons. Lisa had been a pregnant teen who gave up her child for adoption, married, had a baby and had been once a breast cancer survivor.

But this week the cancer took her in, what I think was a rather touching series of panels. A lot of people don't agree. A lot of comments out there criticize Batiuk for taking the fun out of the funnies, or just doing a lousy job.

They have to recognize that the form does not drive the content. Just because a story is told in a few drawn panels does not mean it can't provoke feelings, emotions or thoughts. Comics are a form of communication, and just because we've come to expect them to be humorous, doesn't mean we need to tie them to that.

The same goes for any medium.

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