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Books with Pictures
by Branden Hart
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how excited I was to start reading Bone, Jeff Smith's epic comic that has recently been captured in a single volume. I've always been a fan of big books, so I was pleased when I opened the box the book was shipped in and found the tome to be over 1000 pages and about the size of a large-print Bible that includes the Book of Mormon (though, in my estimation, it's a much better read).
I'm about 900 pages into this riveting book, and thought it would be a great time to talk about good stories and comics. I've always been a fan of stories with mysteries. The kind of story where both you and the main character start out with little to no knowledge of what is happening in the fictitious world being described. Stories where you join the main character as a hapless adventurer, where you release yourself to a world that slowly reveals its deepest secrets to you page by page. I've found so many of these stories in my life—Brian Jaques' Redwall series, Twin Peaks, and most recently, the TV series Lost. I love all of them. As I read through Bone, I find the same kind of storytelling at play. Old questions are answered, but in a way that brings up even more mystery than you first thought was there. Stories that contain dynamic characters who change from the way you first saw them. Ancient rituals and powers, and forces strong enough to bring the "regular" world to its knees. And Bone has it all, mixed in with a light-hearted comedic aspect that would thrill children of all ages. This book has me thinking about two things right now.
1. Comic books. I doubt there is anyone who writes for or reads FTTW that hasn't picked up a comic book and read it. I'd be willing to be that there are even people here who counted themselves as avid collectors at one point or another. When I was twelve, I started collecting comic books with my dad. We read everything we could get our hands on. This was during the early nineties, when comic books entered what many have called a second golden age. New publishers popped up every week. The land of comics became even darker, with companies like DC spawning off lines like Vertigo, which were expressly created to explore this dark subject matter. There were new, dark heroes, who defied the expectations of what a hero was in the first place (John Constantine, The Sandman). Things had changed for the world of comics (except, thankfully, female characters with boobs the size of cantaloupes—they're still around). Finally, people began to think of comics as literature. With Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, subject matter such as the true authorship of Shakespeare's plays—which has so long be one of the greatest mysteries of literature—found its way onto those pulpy pages. Besides the stories, the art became more legitimate, and you couldn't go to a comic convention in the early nineties without finding booth after booth of 'original prints' from your favorite books.
2. The serial mystery. This is a type of story that transcends genre definition, because it can be done well by a successful storyteller in any genre. There are serial murder mysteries, science fiction mysteries, or fantasy mysteries. They can happen in any time, or any place, because in the end, it's only the storytelling that matters for these works of art. The reason I use the word serial is because that defines part of the storytelling process. There are other works of storytelling art that contain the same elements. The Hyperion chronicles by Dan Simmons are an excellent example. But those weren't told in a serial manner. You didn't read ten pages and then have to wait another week to find out what was going on. You could just plow through the books. Serial storytelling, however, is something different entirely, and is indeed one of the most important aspects of engaging storytelling. We've all heard the legend of Scheherazade telling her tales over the course of 1,001 nights. Many of us probably had parents who engaged in serial storytelling every night before we went to bed. It's the anticipation that's created in the waiting for the next installment that is so important to serial storytelling, and it's that anticipation that paves the road for success in serial mysteries. We all know about these—Carnivale on HBO was a great serial mystery (FUCK YOU HBO FOR CANCELLING). Twin Peaks was the same way. And while I personally think Keiffer Sutherland sucks donkey balls, many of the writers (and perhaps the founders) of this website find the serial mystery 24 one of the greatest shows of all time.
Combine both of these elements, and you have Bone. And though the serial aspect of it is somewhat marred since it can now be had in a single volume to satisfy the consumer's need for instant gratification, it doesn't make it any less exciting to experience the adventure.
Writing this article was entirely selfish, and I'll tell you why: I wrote this in hopes that all of you can share with me two things:
1. Your favorite comic books—comics you think everyone should read at least once in their life.
2. Your favorite serial mysteries. I already have the old TV series The Prisoner on my list of serial mysteries I need to experience.
Because hey, we all need to have a couple of good books, comics, or series waiting in the wings for when we finish our current infatuation. After all, the anticipation of starting the next great adventure is sometimes as exciting as the adventure itself.