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Thread: Week 59- Fantasy Overview

  1. StevenForbes Guest

    Week 59- Fantasy Overview

    Itís Tuesday! Iíve moved, and Iím on my new schedule. Iíll be going in to work tonight, but I have weekends off. Nice! I havenít had a full weekend off in years. Iím going to make the most of it. Yes, I saw football! I love it!

    Welcome back to Bolts & Nuts! Itís taken us some time to get here, but hereís what some of you have been clamoring for: CRIME FICTION! (AAAHHH!!!) Heh. Okay. Fine. Fantasy.

    Letís set some ground rules, as we do our overview. First, Iím talking about High Fantasy. The stuff of Dungeons and Dragons, JRR Tolkein, and Robert E. Howard. This just clarifies what weíll be talking about. I know some people think of superheroes as fantasy, and thatís fine. Thatís not what Iím talking about here. Here, weíre talking strictly swords and sorcery.

    Iím not going to belabor the point. Iím not the biggest fan of swords and sorcery. They have their place, and I like a good yarn like the rest, but I donít care for Dark Elves and trolls and such. Just not my cup of tea, so I donít read much of it. However, that doesnít mean I donít keep my eye on it. (You keep your eye on everything, donít you?) [Well, I try. Gone are the days when you could feasibly know everything there was to know in the worldÖ]

    Fantasy! Realms of fiction that do exceedingly well in the book market, but generally fall flat in comics. (Really? Then why are there such things like Conan from Dark Horse, and Barack the Barbarian, andÖ) Great question! Letís take a look at it for a while.

    Fantasy, to my mind, is really the realm of novels. You have people like Tolkein, who set the standard for modern fantasy, and writers have been doing riffs on it ever since. Something about it captured the imagination of readers, and there are lots of people still lost in it. Just take a look at the recent slate of movies based on Lord of the Rings. (And weíre about to get The Hobbit, too.) My point, exactly. Still lost in it.

    You can walk into any bookstore across the nation, and find a science fiction/fantasy section. Notice, these sections are combined. There are lots of books on the shelves, and no matter what happens, no matter what you may think, these books will never make the transition to comics in the droves weíd like them to. [Because, letís face it: if we could get the novel readers to also be comic book readersóthink of them as GRAPHIC novel readersóthat would be a coup and something to have all of us dancing in the street.]

    So, why hasnít fantasy really been embraced by comic book readers, despite what we find on the shelves? It has ALL of the earmarks of what should be great comics: unbridled imagination, strict rules, malleable characters, and a setting in which anything can and should happen. However, except for a few properties, there havenít been many comics that have been successful.

    Of course, Conan springs to mind. He did extremely well in Marvel comics. Those black and white, magazine sized comics were near and dear to my heart for a long time. [They also got Conan into the public mindset of him being overly muscled, leading to Schwarzenegger to be the ďpersonificationĒ of the character.] You also have Kull and Red Sonja [both REH creations, and movies with both, AND a new Red Sonja movie to start soon], and while they were all in the Marvel Comics house of characters, Conan is now held by Dark Horse, and Red Sonja by Dynamite. Kull? Heís not conquering anywhere I can recall recently. But for the rest? What other successful fantasy comics do you know of, currently in print? (UmmÖIím coming up blank.)

    Slacker. Hercules, by Radical Comics, Warlord by DC, and Iím sure there are others. Yes, we can talk about Barack the Barbarian, but really, thatís more parody than anything. And itís not selling in droves. How can it? Based on a sitting President who made history, Iím really not seeing this lasting too much longer.

    Anyway, weíll use Conan as a measuring stick, as well as the Tolkein view on most other fantasy creations, and look at the tropes of fantasy.

    Deep past: The time frame for high fantasy is almost always the deep past. Not necessarily prehistory, but weíre talking a few thousand years ago. The most technological things going are generally a working knowledge of how to make a sword and armor. This will generally be your setting when weíre talking fantasy.

    Fabled lands: While you donít need to create a map, you do need to create a fully realized world. I know that can be said of any genre, but I feel that it is especially true when it comes to high fantasy. Without that fully realized world, your stories will fall flat, and thatís not something you want.

    Magic: From magical beings to magical objects, itís not really high fantasy without them. Gods, demigods, demons, all types of magical objects, and just throwing lines of energy. Usually the realm of wizards and priests, donít forget your clerics. Theyíre in the mix, too.

    Characters: Weíre going to spend an entire column on characters, but just a brief overview here. Of course, you have your barbarians, but then you have the formalized characters, thanks to Dungeons and Dragons: your paladin, the thief, cleric, warrior/barbarian, and whatever else, not to mention your race types: human, elfin, orc, what have you. Again, weíll go over this in more detail soon.

    Quest: This doesnít have to be a big thing. It could be as simple as getting something from someone, or as involved as saving the world from eternal darkness before dinner. Yes, the quest is something of a basic staple in every genre of storytelling, but itís never more evident than it is in high fantasy.

    Yes, there are more, but these are your basic common tropes when dealing telling this type of story. But really, thatís not the story here. The story here is simply: why arenít there MORE high fantasy stories being told?

    My simple, unabashed answer is that I donít know. I can give some very good guesses, though, using myself as a prime example.

    My thought is that most of these comics just arenít done well. You can see the bones of Conan in a LOT of these comics, without enough of a change for them to be their own thing. So, we have bad creation tied neck and neck with a lack of originality. Once you step away from superheroes, whoíve arguably been doing the same thing for decades, and step into the realm of high fantasy, you find that creators are still doing the same things [for decades]. At least the rightsholders of REHís creations can work with the originals. Those writers who have grown up reading the same things but who arenít lucky enough to write Conan go off and make their own world, and it is generally one the Cimerrian would fit into seamlessly. For me, at least with superheroes, you get all kinds of stories and science fiction and pushing the limits of imagination. The same cannot be said for high fantasy.

    Your job as a writer is to try to do something new, but within the conventions of this subgenre of storytelling, there isnít a lot of room to grow. You have to do it with superior storytelling, you have to do it with superior character creation, you have to do it with superior worldbuilding. Generally speaking, you donít have the time to do that in comics.

    Take Robert Jordan, the modern master of high fantasy storytelling. I absolutely LOVE his Wheel of Time series. You have a TON of tropes being used to their best effect right there. How? Effective use of words, great characters, and a threat to the entire world, with more threats piled on one after the other. This is what a master novelist does, and there should be no doubt in anyoneís mind that Jordan was a master.

    Now, picture that as a comic book. (Sure! Easy peasy.) Yep. Sure is. But thatís an adaptation. Think of it as an original comic book. (ÖO-okayÖ) Harder, isnít it? You have to take the words, and then cut them into a script, and then try to hook the reader with only images and severely cut down dialogue. As an adaptation, people would flock to it, because the base has plainly good storytelling brought to it. As an original comic series? A much harder sell.

    This is the ring youíre throwing your hat into. High fantasy isnít a huge seller in todayís market. Yes, DC has started up Warlord again, but I donít think itís going to be a big seller, and thus, stay around long. If anything, itís a nostalgia title, and as such, is trying to recapture its former audience while still trying to garner a new readership. But DC has the pockets to do it. Marvel hasnít had those same pockets, and wonít until the sale to Disney is complete. That still doesnít mean that theyíre going to be in a position [or even want to] to restart any of their own high fantasy concepts, such as they are. Who cares about Arkon and Thundra?

    What are you going to do? Iím going to tell you. Youíre going to study what has come before, in order to make something new, and youíre going to make it readable. Easier said than done, I know, but thatís what youíre going to do. Training starts next week, where we start talking about characters and worldbuilding.

    Your homework for this week is to dust off your folder of high fantasy thoughts, and start looking at it to see if your tropes are there, why theyíre there, and if theyíre being used to best effect.

    See you in seven.



  2. Sliverbane Guest

    Weeeee! *cart-wheels*

    Why does high fantasy work in manga so well? What's wrong with the west!!? Maybe it's like you said 'lack of originality' so comic readers become used to the disappointment in fantasy comics and move on... I dunno.

    Nice start... I am eager to read and discuss more!

    Adding this fore my reference...

    The term high fantasy (also epic fantasy) generally refers to fantasy that depicts an epic struggle between good and evil in a fantasy world, parallel to ours. The moral concepts in such tales take on objective and absolute status, and are not relative to the one making the judgment. There tends to be few shades of gray; the heroes are unambiguously good and the villains are unambiguously evil.
    Last edited by Sliverbane; Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 12:40 AM. Reason: Reference added



  3. MartinBrandt Guest

    Wait what about Christianity? ...oops... That type of fantasy, my bad.

    Please, as people go forth to study, to pour over many a dusty volume, DO NOT forget where Tolkien came from.

    Sure most modern fantasy has roots here, but Tolkien's fantasy is based off something more fantastic. Religions and beliefs of cultures gone by. He was also writing what he knew, his fear of industry destroying the simple way of life.

    Strong fiction comes from writing what you know and feel. That is a lesson repeated over and over. It should not be forgot when writing fantasy.

    I don't think I agree that Howard is High Fantasy by the way, high fantasy was always explained to me elves and quests for the good of all mankind. Howard's heroes don't really quest for the good of all mankind. They exists in a very dark and grey world. Black of evil and the white of good are muddled.

    As for comics there was also the popular Elf Quest series, that ran on for ages. Also the Warlands series, but perhaps that is more manga?

    Okay Kendra, let's hear it. (LOL okay she beat me to it!)



  4. MartinBrandt Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by Sliverbane View Post
    Weeeee! *cart-wheels*

    Why does high fantasy work in manga so well? What's wrong with the west!!? Maybe it's like you said 'lack of originality' so comic readers become used to the disappointment in fantasy comics and move on... I dunno.

    Nice start... I am eager to read and discuss more!

    Adding this fore my reference...

    The term high fantasy (also epic fantasy) generally refers to fantasy that depicts an epic struggle between good and evil in a fantasy world, parallel to ours. The moral concepts in such tales take on objective and absolute status, and are not relative to the one making the judgment. There tends to be few shades of gray; the heroes are unambiguously good and the villains are unambiguously evil.
    Comics in the west have majority been a place of Super Heroes. A lot of the time, completely unoriginal heroes. We are grounded by the basis of faith that founded this youthful nation and whether you follow or not it does effect how you view the world. That is till you grow up and force your way into the world. (Though most like to turtle up and ask if it is over.)

    This way of thinking stifles all markets, all directions of acceptable creative endeavors. As much as we would like it not to, it is deeply rooted. Comics in korea, china, japan, and many other places over the world has been used to tell all kinds of stories. They are respected as much as books there as well.

    I think the comic market in the west tends to scare off the good fantasy writers. They cut their teeth in the novel market then cross over and let someone else adapt their works to graphic novel or the like.

    Perhaps though we may be approaching a more enlightened period for comics. The audience has broaden slightly and some few see more that comics are not just for nerdy kids in their parents basements.

    In japan business men read manga while riding the train to work. In america they read the ny times.

    Culture.. bah!




  5. Sliverbane Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by MartinBrandt View Post

    In japan business men read manga while riding the train to work. In america they read the ny times.

    Culture.. bah!

    This I know... I saw it myself. It was so refreshing to see people of all ages reading manga on their way to work/school, etc. I guess I needed someone else to 'say' it.

    Now I have to wonder where my writing would fit... novel or comic(manga)? Graphic Novel?


    Wikipedia has listed some very interesting sub-genres of fantasy. Fantasy Subgenres



  6. CalvinCamp Guest

    I believe the main reason fantasy isn't more common in comics is the same reason it wasn't more common in movies and television. Most of the attempts at it were pretty terrible, and earned the stigma of being low-brow geek fare (actually the novels had that too, for a long time), much like comics themselves. That changed for novels, it's changing for movies and television, and it will eventually change for comics.

    And don't ignore the non-traditional fantasy works. The exploding modern fantasy genre is making fantasy more accessible to the average reader than ever before. When fantasy novels are showing up in the book aisle at Walmart, can fantasy stories on the comic shelves really be far behind? It'll take time, and it'll take good stories, but it'll happen.

    And I've got to agree with Martin. Conan is not High Fantasy. Conan is Swords and Sorcery. And the two are not synonymous. Along with Modern Fantasy, they're fairly different subsets of the greater Fantasy genre. To claim they're all the same is akin to claiming Phil Foglio's Girl Genius , Star Wars, and Issac Asimov's Foundation are all the same thing.
    Last edited by CalvinCamp; Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 01:35 AM.



  7. Join Date
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    Robert Jordan, the modern master of Fantasy storytelling...!!??

    Wow, Forby. You just dropped several notches on my all-wise-and-knowing-o-meter.

    'Tis a sad sad day.

    Oh, and I think one of the main things that keeps High Fantasy from taking a stronger hold in comics is the art. Not the quality, though more often than not that is the case too, but the simple fact that Fantasy works better when your head makes your own pictures.

    I've managed several bookstores. Go stand in the Dorque Books section. People are always tearing into the cover art for flaws and failure to capture the characters as they are described and/or imagined.

    Taking fantasy (new or old) and adapting it to a comic book illustration takes out 95% of the wonder and appeal.
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5



  8. CalvinCamp Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by Sliverbane View Post
    Wikipedia has listed some very interesting sub-genres of fantasy. Fantasy Subgenres
    Interesting link.

    I don't know if I agree with the inclusion of Steampunk (I've always seen that as a subset of science fiction), but it's still a decent overview.



  9. CalvinCamp Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by SebastianPiccione View Post
    Robert Jordan, the modern master of Fantasy storytelling...!!??

    Wow, Forby. You just dropped several notches on my all-wise-and-knowing-o-meter.
    Thank you, Seb. I was sorely tempted to go there, but I've known other seemingly sane and intelligent people who liked Robert Jordan too, so I let it slide.

    And speaking of seemingly sane and intelligent people...
    the simple fact that Fantasy works better when your head makes your own pictures.

    Taking fantasy (new or old) and adapting it to a comic book illustration takes out 95% of the wonder and appeal.
    Based on the incredible volume of absolutely stunning fantasy art I've seen in my life (some of it adapted from novels) I think you're nuts.

    On the adaptations, I'll say I can understand your reasoning - it certainly can take out the wonder and appeal (most likely by contradicting what's in your head), but I don't believe it has to. And when it comes to original fantasy works... no way. Not as a "fact". Anyone can prefer words to pictures, but a preference is all it is. Fantasy works just fine as a visual art.



  10. Join Date
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    Oh, don't get me wrong, I LOVE me some Fantasy art. Heck, sometime this week Brom should be getting back to me on an interview I'm doing with him.

    I'm just saying that Fantasy put into the comic art format, loses something. Unless you can get it painted and wonderful, like Charles Vess' HORNS OF ELFLAND.

    Fantasy art is usally a single magical image that inspires the imagination, whereas Fantasy comics contains multiple images that (more often than not) limit the imagination.

    Ya know what I mean?

    And, again, I stress USUALLY. There are some FANTASTIC exceptions. Pun intended. Anybody remember the Hildebrandt brothers' THE HOBBIT trade from the 80s?
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5



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