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Decompression in comics: a valid storytelling technique…?

In comics (or sequential art), ‘decompression’ is the technique of slowing down the pace of the story in order to reveal subtle details about the characters, mood or plot.

How can you spot a comic that uses decompression? Well, it might include sparse panels low on information. The panels may focus on one moment in time, or they may show one interaction or event from a number of perspectives. Decompressed comics are sometimes criticised for giving readers less story – though this only applies if you believe that the ‘story’ is merely a series of events or plot-points.

A waste of space?

Critics of decompression in comics complain that the technique delivers too little substance, stripping valuable action from their $3 comic. Some readers want action and events instead of the comparatively worthless reflection, introspection and consideration that decompression can provide.

Personally, I feel that if a comic doesn’t take the time to build an emotional connection, then I can’t give two shits about whether a hero wins or loses their next Epic Battle. Unless you slow a story down, you can’t speed it up. And unless you cause your readers to care about your characters, they can’t feel their pain, or fear their demise.

It seems that critics of decompression want their comics to be a moronic succession of significant plot-points, with little or no time spent establishing the characters, their moods or their motivations.

Here’s a page from Warren Ellis’  The Authority (claimed to be a popular example of decompression in American comics by Wikipedia):

authority#42

Compressing a decompressed comic

A blogger who doesn’t appreciate decompression (he interestingly equates his enjoyment of a comic with the time it takes him to read it, with a longer read being desirable) edited Justice League 1 to compress the story. This is a fascinating experiment and I applaud him for his efforts to compress a comic which I thought was quite densely packed to begin with. Unsurprisingly, his compressed pages of Justice League 1 lose their weight, their emotional power and their cinematic qualities.

Take a look:

Is decompression necessary? Justice League re-edited


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Research for fiction, but faster

Genghis Khan

Once upon a time, I wanted to write a story that revolved around Genghis Khan. It was a crap idea, but I was young and didn’t know better. The trouble was that before I could write a word, I had to read loads of stuff about Genghis Khan. And by the time I was half way through the first book my enthusiasm had vaporised and the story never happened. I’ve since discovered another way to research vital elements of a story, a method that’s quick enough to keep my ideas alive.

Resarch your story by talking to experts

When possible, talk to experts to find out what you need to know. Books offer great overviews and in-depth information on any subject, but the knowledge you need may be buried within hundreds of pages of unnecessary stuff. By asking the right questions of the right expert, you can get straight to the information you need. You can also ask hypothetical questions about scenarios specific to your story, uncovering insights you can never find in a book.

As well as exposing you to new ideas and bespoke advice, consulting experts is real and vital – and it’s always a treat to meet new people working in different fields.

 


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Cartoon County: Brighton’s own comics hub

 

Last night the Cartoon County group met in the Brighton’s Cricketers pub – and I went along to chat to other comics enthusiasts. As well as meeting the legendary David Lloyd, I got to chat to comics creators such as Joe Decie (check out his awesome web comic What I Drew), Karrie Fransman (creator of the beautiful graphic novel shown above: The House that Groaned) and loads of other people who make comics, study comics, and enthuse about comics!

The Cartoon County group was incredibly friendly and welcoming. It’s great that people in Brighton have a place to gather and meet likeminded folk.I’m already looking forward to the next one.

 


Decompression in comics: a valid storytelling technique…?

In comics (or sequential art), ‘decompression’ is...
article post

Research for fiction, but faster

Once upon a time, I wanted to write a story that revolved...
article post

Cartoon County: Brighton’s own comics hub

  Last night the Cartoon County group met in the...
article post