I keep coming back to this Warren Ellis post about the state of web comics, digital comics, and why they’re different things for different audiences, and feeling like there’s something I’m missing in it. Not that it’s badly written, because it’s not – It’s Ellis, after all – but it feels incomplete, somehow, and I can’t work out why. File under Food For Thought, definitely (Anyone interested in comics that aren’t just print, which should really be anyone interested in comics as a medium at this point, you should go and read it, if you haven’t already), but this part bears repeating:
Also, it’s a hell of a lot easier to take your time telling a story when you’re not charging people.
And, while there’s a smile in that comment, there’s also a degree of truth. Compressing comics down to twenty pages, nineteen pages, probably eight or ten or twelve pages when people get to producing original material through digital comics services… while it’ll certainly make a nice change for a lot of people, after a decade of spacious and airy commercial comics, I’m compelled to point out that the crushed-in nature of commercial comics in the 1970s was one of the driving forces behind the big changes to the commercial medium that came in the 80s. People were desperate for longer episodes and arcs that allowed them to tell stories more novelistically – and, in large part, they did that by using the then-new process of selling to the direct sales comics store market.
We’re all looking at compression techniques now, because we need them for commercial comics and we’re going to need them for digital comics.
It’s not just digital comics, I’d argue; with both DC and Marvel essentially formalizing “20 pages” as the length of a comic book now in the same way that 22 pages was the formalized length previously, comics in general are going to become more compressed in future.
Also, Ellis is totally right about American Flagg and how essential and overlooked it is.