There is a question that has been bugging me for a while: Why is it that certain kinds of stories are told mainly in the medium of comic books rather than in novels? This seems especially true for superhero stories. Particularly what might be considered the classic stories and characters like Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman. [Interestingly, it seems that while Superman arrived in comics in 1938, there was a novel (The Adventures of Superman) which was published in 1942 and contains the first presentation of many of the elements of the Clark Kent origin story.]
Even today, if you are a writer and you have a great idea for a superhero story, you are most likely going to try and tell it as a comic book or graphic novel. Possibly so you can get the film version financed (see Oblivion). But why is this? While there are a handful superhero stories told through novels, almost all of them are fairly recent. And several of them seem self conscious literary projects.
Back in the 30’s and 40’s there were the novel length pulp magazines which had superhero characters like Doc Savage, The Shadow, and the Spider, but I can’t quite figure out why some heroes ended up being drawn with a pen and colored ink while others were drawn with only words (although the pulps did have illustrations). Maybe it’s because the primary market for the stories was originally teen boys. But why would some of the stories for these boys be sold in novels and some in comics. Was it the complexity of the characters? I don’t think so. Batman and Superman have just as interesting back-stories and internal conflicts as Doc Savage.
As a kid, I never read comics. I suspect it might have been a subtle prejudice on the part of my father. He was a big reader. He always had a book near to hand. He seemed to alternate between classics and spy novels and history books. I never thought to ask my parents to buy me comic books, or to buy them with my allowance, because I was always reading my dad’s novels, which lead to buy my own. I did try reading a comics occasionally, but there was always one thing about them that left me dissatisfied (and which still does) – there aren’t enough words. The pictures are nice, sometimes amazing and beautiful in graphic novels these days, but I always feel like I’m getting the Weight Watchers version of the story when I want the seven course steak dinner version. It always feels far too superficial to me.
But superficiality isn’t an explanation for why some of the stories ended up in novels and some in comics.
I don’t have a good explanation. But I think that it should be a question for any writer today who is creating stories about superhero characters. Is that story best told in a graphic novel, or in a traditional novel. I have a story for a superhero like character that I am looking forward to writing one day. It’s my answer to what a modern Wonder Woman story would be. Oddly, I first started thinking that it should be told as a film first, but quickly realized that such films were usually adapted from other sources. So, I changed my mind to telling it as a novel. Now I’m hoping I can come up with a way to really blend the depth of the novel with the visual immersion of the graphic novel. By the time I get to it I can probably create it as an interactive meta-media story for tablets and ipads.
If I’m lucky I can write a way into an answer to my questions.