July 6, 2012

The Compost Pile

Satisfying Story Progression – Decompression, part 3

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I have been a critic of decompression in storytelling quite a few times in the past. First, when I demonstrated how unnecessarily drawn out Justice League #1 was, and more recently when I showed what a terrible value modern comics are.

I mentioned last time that my views of decompressed storytelling have been evolving.

And they have. But first…

Review Session

If you read my previous articles, you might assume that I want comics to have as much crammed on the page as possible, at the expense of nuance and depth of storytelling. I think people could reasonably get the impression that I want a return to the good old days, where the villain robbed the bank, the hero swooped in to fight him, thwarted his plans, and dropped him off at the police station, all in one page (I’m sure there’s a page of silver age Spider-Man like that somewhere).

Today, that sequence would fill at least half of a comic book, if not the whole thing. That’s decompression in a nutshell.

Decompressed is the wrong word though. It assumes that comics were compressed in the first place, and they weren’t. They were just comics. Expanded is a much better term for what has happened in comics.

Authority 1 cover art

The Authority – Decompressed and Loving It

In the right hands, expanded storytelling allows for nuance to the emotional ride of the story, builds suspense, can show much more subtle character progression. One of my favorite comic book series of all time, Warren Ellis’s run on The Authority, was a poster child for decompression. The term pretty much had to be invented to describe what the creators were doing in that book. And it is awesome.

Nuance and Pages

To create that extra nuance, however, the story needs to be expanded, and takes up more page space. Comic book stories become longer, while still having the same number of story beats. As a result, less of the story is told in each issue.

I get it. I really do. This is the way things are now, and a modern comic is going to have less story than comics from decades past. I’m ok with that.

What I’ve found, more than anything, is that I am looking for forward story momentum in each issue. I want to feel like the story has moved forward in a satisfying way when I finish each issue. I don’t mind when certain parts of the story are expanded upon, as long as when I finish the issue, I feel like enough has taken place to move the story forward.

In a lot of comics I have tried out recently, I feel like not much happens in each issue. There isn’t enough there to tell me what the story is about, and what to look forward to in future issues.

Decompression, Expansion, whatever you want to call it, is fine. As long as we are given a chunk of story that moves things forward. That is what is really satisfying.

Is a little story too much to ask for?


  • blujay1524 comments:

    I don’t know if you’ve read the original Valiant trades recently, but they don’t work quite as well as individual issues. Hell trying to read Unity in one go isn’t such an easy task.

    The decompressed format (while bullshit to pay $3.99 for) definitely suits a trade reading better, because of the way it’s paced it keeps you wanting more story now. And when you’re reading a trade you want to keep going.

    I was just reading the Harbinger trade (the old one) and after issue #1 I had to stop. I felt like I ate a full meal with 1 issue (in fact I think I should get back to that), where as reading the Justice League trade feels like 1 satisfying reading session after knocking down the whole book.

    So when you actually think about it, more packed issues are still better but they’re more difficult for trade readers

  • You know, I just read the Harbinger Hardcover, and I sat down and steamrolled through all 8 issues in one sitting. It was a very satisfying read, but you are right, each issue was complete in and of itself, and could be enjoyed on its own.
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