Monday, August 24, 2009

Keepin' It Real 2: Realing Harder

reprinted from

Last week, we talked about realism in comics. Today, via the Newsarama Blog and Heidi MacDonald over at The Beat, here are some articles discussing newer comic releases that focus on deeper political, historical and philosophical issues. For example, one of Vertigo's latest releases, Unknown Soldier, paints a portrait of civil war in Uganda:

Not many monthly comic books come with a glossary, but not many comics are like Unknown Soldier. [...] The series, written by Joshua Dysart and illustrated by Alberto Ponticelli, is set in Uganda and includes a reference guide with more than 20 entries, including background on the brutal rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army; the peace activist Abdulkadir Yahya Ali, who was killed; and the Acholi, an ethnic group from the northern part of the country. [...]

This hardly seems like the stuff of traditional comic books, but Unknown Soldier is a regular series.

Unknown Soldier has received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics, particularly for writer Joshua Dysart's meticulous research and relevance. However, the title is number 237 of the top 300 comics sales for month of July. Topping the charts were books like Captain America: Reborn (which involves mind control and time travel), Blackest Night and Green Lantern (which involve reviving the dead, space battles, and power rings).

Perhaps this does suggest that, on a whole, readers prefer their books with a healthy dose of the fantastic. Of course, it could be issues of marketing and awareness. No one really expected Unknown Soldier to sell better than Blackest Night, but I am a bit surprised it is as low on the list as it is.

Maybe we just don't have a long enough sample period yet. Perhaps once the trade is released and in the wake of this new press, Unknown Soldier will climb the ranks.

What do the readers think?


Tom said...

I prefer heavily fictionalized material in my comic books. When treating war as a subject I prefer a fictionalized setting/characters/etc, DMZ, for example.

Same with police procedurals: Powers; Top 10.

The more "real" the comics are the less I enjoy them, and the less I seek them out.

Case in point: Bendis on DD - I didn't enjoy the themeatic content of almost his entire run, because it was too real. (Probably a bad example, DD is the most real hero in the Marvel universe and I do love the books for that) BUT the most enjoyable read, for me, was the DD Ninja trade, because it's ridiculous, and unreal.

To sum up, I will not be purchasing Unkonwn Soldier.

Will said...

The realism thing is always a problem for me. If the comic becomes too "unreal," I become disengaged and lose interest (I never could enjoy Superman because of his, basically, godlike status, same with Wolverine and his immortality). On the other hand, when it becomes too real and is no longer an escape to a fictional world, than it loses its appeal for me. Historical comics, especially ones about truly horrific events, don't appeal to me and I would imagine that I am not alone, which means that Unknown Soldiers is already swimming upstream.

I am not an expert, but I think, outside of religious books (which I will not categorize as fact or fiction since that is not a fight I want to enter into), fiction outsells nonfiction with books. Unknown Soldier is as close to a "nonfiction" comic as you will get, so I would think it will struggle in sales.

ShadowBanker said...

Tom - I understand where you're coming from. It's an important issue with the medium (although I must confess to being a huge fan of Bendis on DD). Did you read the iFanboy article that sparked this post?

Will - You're right about Unknown Soldier. I think that, like in any other medium, there is a place for both fantasy and "realistic" works. The comic medium has become linked with fantasy so that when a writer attempts something new, it often performs poorly. Nevertheless, I love Superman books and I love the historical books (such as Garth Ennis's Battlefields).

Tom said...

Right, just to clarify my hastily written opinion:

Comics should (and do, and should continue) tackle every genre of storytelling. Fiction or nonfiction. I firmly believe the best writing being done today is being done in the comics field (slash graphic novel field).

Unknown Soldier, if well written, engaging, visually captivating, etc etc should do very well. Same for any of the well written fantasy/superhero books.

The real driving force should be (and I believe is) the quality of the story telling, regardless of the story being told.

And, as far as Unknown Soldier goes, it's not my cup of tea, and I'm sticking with DMZ or BRPD or [some other acronym] because that's the direction my favor turns, and not as a judgement on the content or nature of the work.


CRwM said...

Oddly, as vital as this question might be for the comics biz, Unknown is actually a bad case study. While the setting is meticulously researched, the central character resembles Moon Knight or Grendel (the Wagner character, not the epic poem monster) in that he's possessed by a sort of roaming battle spirit.

Your definition of "realistic" has to be pretty flexible before Unknown Soldier would fall into it.

Full disclosure, I was a fan of WWII Unknown so I picked up the new series. It is, for my money, the best superhero (and he is very much a superhero) comic going today.

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