Robot 6

Stephen King talks comics, the dangerous undead and American Vampire

From "American Vampire" #5

From "American Vampire" #5

At The Daily Beast, Shannon Donnelly speaks with Stephen King about American Vampire, his collaboration with Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque that debuts this week from Vertigo, and offers a three-page preview of the first issue.

In the interview, King admits to the challenges of his comics-writing debut, and confesses his disappointment after learning that thought balloons have fallen out of vogue: “I got this kind of embarrassed call from the editors saying, ‘Ah, Steve, we don’t do that anymore.’ ‘You don’t do that anymore?’ I said. ‘No, when the characters speak, they speak. If they’re thinking, you try to put that across in the narration, in the little narration boxes.’ … I think it’s a shame to lose that arrow out of your quiver. One of the nice things about the written word as opposed to the spoken word in a movie is that you can go into a character’s thoughts. You do it in books all the time, right?”

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Wow….whatever editor is telling Stephen King not to use thought balloons is an idiot.

No shit. Imagine telling Stephen Spielberg “Ah, Stephen, we don’t do rotating camera shots anymore. It’s all quick cuts and zoom in and zoom out now.”

If Stephen Fucking King wants to tell his story a certain way, let Stephen Fucking King tell his story that way. He’s only the best-selling author of all time.

Jesus, the comic book industry just seems like it wants to fail sometimes. Asinine.

That said, I will point out that King seems to be missing the fact that the characters’ thoughts can still be conveyed through narration boxes. It doesn’t matter with regard to this idiot move on the part of the editors, but I hope this doesn’t turn him off of writing more comics.

Years ago, when I realized that comic books (not just super-hero comics) had lost the thought balloon, it really bummed me out. King is right: Thought balloons are one the few things that differentiate comic books from movies or television. Replacing them with “voice over” narration boxes just highlights the areas where comic books are lacking in comparison to those other media.

Having said that, when I discovered thought balloons were gone, they had already BEEN gone for years, and I hadn’t noticed.

Wesley, my experience was the same as yours. One time it just occurred to me that I wasn’t reading thought balloons in comic books. I hadn’t missed them myself. So I’m not really a big advocate of thought balloons (though I think they are being used well in “Amazing Spider-Man” right now). Like any storytelling device available to a writer, they don’t work for every story.

However, I am a big advocate of editors not getting in the way of the world’s best-selling author doing pretty much whatever the hell he wants to do when writing his comic book. If it’s a good experience, he may do more. If not, he may not bother. Why not get out of his way and let him have creative freedom, thus making the experience more likely to be positive and the possibility of his writing future comics more likely?

Steven R. Stahl

March 15, 2010 at 1:22 pm

One time it just occurred to me that I wasn’t reading thought balloons in comic books. I hadn’t missed them myself.

As long as the characters only reacted to situations, thoughts wouldn’t be missed. However, thoughts were a great way of transitioning into subplots and foreshadowing developments. Someone might think, I hope Jim is doing okay. All those deaths yesterday really shook him up. A writer might also have two people talk about Jim. I think that the silent worrying is more effective foreshadowing of Jim dong something drastic than the conversation is.

Thinking about things not directly related to the current situation also makes characters more realistic. No hero is a hero 24/7, in his actions or in his thoughts.

The key words, IMO are King’s You do it in books all the time, right? Yes, they do. Absurd arguments such as “Was the Scarlet Witch insane prior to “Avengers Disassembled”? wouldn’t exist, if writers described thoughts and used foreshadowing instead of relying on reveals that requires a reader to either accept the reveal, regardless of its flaws, or reject it.

SRS

However, I am a big advocate of editors not getting in the way of the world’s best-selling author doing pretty much whatever the hell he wants to do when writing his comic book. If it’s a good experience, he may do more. If not, he may not bother. Why not get out of his way and let him have creative freedom, thus making the experience more likely to be positive and the possibility of his writing future comics more likely?

Matt, I think one of the major problems with the entire publishing industry is that “superstars” are given too much leeway in their later works. Fantasy, science fiction are especially heinous in this regard. I can’t tell you the number of 500, 600 700+ page novels that could have had hundreds of pages of sanctimonious pontificating or subplots that went nowhere cut from there. The worst example I can think of off the top of my head is Robert Jordan and the Wheel of Time series, where 1,000 page novels made exactly zero movement with the greater plot. But I’m sure there are others.

I don’t necessarily think that King is one of those writers (although Hearts in Atlantis felt padded and I’m still slogging through Under the Dome). I’m just saying.

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