So here's a question I've been pondering a lot and it seems like a good time to ponder it. What makes a good comic book or better yet, what can't be told in a comic book format?
The question is an increasingly hard one to answer. We're all quite familiar with the Super Hero book at the wheelhouse for "comics" and "graphic novels". Second to the superheroes is the genre story. Mystery, Sci-Fi, Adventure: these were all part of the comic book form before the "Super Hero book" as we know it today was established. Batman gliding from "Detective Comics", Spider-Man from "Amazing Fantasy", and Superman from "Action Comics". The question is: is there still room for the genre fiction in the modern comic marketplace?
The answer seems to be "Yes, as long as it's character based". Conan, Red Sonya, Zorro, The Lone Ranger, and even Sgt. Rock have all made more or less triumphant returns to the world of comics. Even Stephen King is writing horror/action stuff right into the comic form. Great!
Add to that the so called "graphic lit" you get in Love and Rockets, Strangers In Paradise, and I would even throw in DMZ (which is pretending to be action, but is something far more insidious); and you have a whole new world of illustrated works of fiction.
What then, can we not turn into comics? Is there a special class which should be confined only to text? Marvel seems ready to say no as they have serialized The Illiad, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and (for God's sake) Pride and Prejudice. Is this Marvel trying to be open minded and make comic books for a wider audience or is this Marvel admitting that they don't know how to write books for a non-traditional audience and so attempting to fain "branching out" by just adapting works of fiction that they think that elusive audience already wants? I would have thought Pride and Prejudice in comic form was a joke if I hadn't seen it myself. Does that sell? I haven't seen a copy leave my local store yet.
I could easily get off topic on Marvel's inability to create for a non-traditional audience, but this is a post about what can and can't be a comic. Among other books I've seen and thought, "Never thought I'd see that!" are the amazing Muppet Show books, Cars, the less amazing Models Inc., and (the best) Air.
I guess it's been made clear that anything "can" be a comic book, if the right people want it enough, but how do we do that successfully? For instance, I'm working on a script for a book right now that's a comedy/fantasy that would ideally be for young and early teen girls. But how will they ever find out about it? The temptation is to go the simpler, more traveled, and admittedly still difficult route of just making an illustrated book. I mean, really, what's the difference?
What I'd father do is create a genre, create a niche for the sort of books I think people would like, then help to make that niche visible. I'm a firm believer that girls need heroes (not models, but heroes) just as much as boys do. If the product is good, if the audience is brought to the product, then the product will sell and it that niche will have a chance to widen. Don't believe me? Look at the Buffy comic. A story and a hero that a lot of people (a lot of them female people) loved moved from a show to a comic and the audience magically moved right along with it.
So, what can be a comic? Anything that your create with both word and picture and have the love and courage to make into something. Find your audience or make your audience.