I love comic books. There's something endlessly fascinating about combining engrossing stories with engaging images to draw the reader in. I've never been able to draw well (think a 4-year-old only having learned how to do a straight line a week ago), so the realism in the artwork in comic books from Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and others leaves me in awe.
However, we're not talking about art here. We're talking about writing and what comic books can teach us as writers about effective storytelling. You'll recall of course that I've written similar posts about video games, so I tend to take lessons about storytelling from nontraditional sources.
Comic books are an interesting storytelling medium in that they hearken back to the days of serialization during the 19th Century. If you were an English language writer during Victorian times, chances were your novel would first appear chapter by chapter in a weekly magazine before it got collected into its own volume. To be entirely fair, I can't speak for every novel that was published between 1800 and 1900, but I know that British writers such as Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Arthur Conan Doyle serialized their novels prior to collecting them into single volumes.
Thus we see comic books going through the same process. Serialization of stories n monthly installments, only to have bound volumes of the entire storyline eventually come together. I suppose you could chalk this up to marketing -- if your installments work out then you know that the single volume released at the end of things will result in higher sales.
However the storytelling aspect is important too. Imagine having to sustain a story throughout weeks upon weeks of the telling, in installments, rather than working on the piece all at once. The same thing rings true for comic books. Maintaining a story through monthly installments and still keeping it intriguing and engrossing is hard to do. People wait an entire month to read the next section of the tale in a comic book storyline. That's the sort of engagement we should all strive for -- making our stories strong enough that they can last even when the reader has to put the novel down for any reason.
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