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March 31, 2004


Brian Nicholson

This is a simple point, but one it's hard for me to phrase perfectly:

Isn't getting rid of narrative captions really just allowing for more "show, don't tell," (i.e. good writing) and the decompression occurs as a natural extent of showing more because you're telling less?

That said, I think there is a case for narrative captions, and I don't think that Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol, for example, would've been the same without the narrative captions that stated all the cool ideas, because there was a lot going on there that couldn't be shown by just action.


"Show, don't tell" is one of those rules that provides great assistance to novice (or bad) writers but, quickly outgrown, becomes a straitjacket when applied to more accomplished ones. In other words, I don't consider it to sum up all good writing; it's hard to imagine a Borges or Calvino story that would be improved by converting its mathematical elaborations into tepid dramas.

Also, I don't think decompression is necessarily just a consequence of increased dramatization. That was Chris's idea, and it's an interesting one, but - let's look at Bendis's latest issue of Daredevil. It's your usual three-conversation issue (oh, wait, the scene with Sano and Driver - four conversations!) and it isn't showing much of anything. We don't see Urich tracking down the missing Murdock - he has an awfully easy time of it, in fact - and most of what information we get comes from the dialogue. It's all "tell."

Conversely, prose narrative captions aren't automatically "tell" either. (How do all those novels "show," if not through prose?) In fact, a Moore or Claremont caption usually works in lyric mode, describing scenes or emotions rather than summarizing them. The problem is that in comics, we also have the visual storytelling to do that - and all too often, panel and caption and dialogue end up telling the same thing. (With a mighty leap, the Bounder dodges the Captain's blow! "Great galaxies! He's dodging my blow!" Note: This passage is not evidence that superheroes are homoerotic. The Captain is a cocaine fiend.)

Also, a quick reply to Dave Intermittent - of course, most comics writers are incapable of crafting Alan Moore-like prose. Most comics writers are also incapable of coming up with an original idea to save their sorry lives, but their quality isn't the point; why limit the tools at their disposal? Yes, Todd MacFarlane's captions suck. But a captionless MacFarlane comic would suck just as badly.

Anyway, I'd rather set the standards by the best of the medium than draft up a list of dos and don'ts that plays down to the worst talents in the field.

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