I’ve been thinking about the trouble with writing beginnings. Crafting the exposition for a story has to be the most challenging feat that a writer must accomplish. All of your writerly might must be funneled into creating a beginning so compelling that the audience wants more. Considering the minimal amount of space a creator has in an comic book issue, I know that it takes a true team of craftsmen and craftswomen to make me want more.
October has been rich in new series. I’ve been giving a few new titles a shot. Here are my thoughts on three from different genres. All started this month.
Jughead #1 by Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson
Zdarsky and Henderson are lucky in certain respects. They have a beloved character and universe with which to play. Because I’m sure they expect that their readers have a passing understanding of the Archie universe, they jump right into conflict: Mr. Weatherbee is forced into retirement and the new principal makes some changes that bother Jughead Jones so much that he faints. During this fainting spell, we get to see his mind deal with the conflict as if it were Game of Thrones. It doesn’t get better than that. Except it actually does! At a point in the story, Chuck proclaims, “It was a ballet of ground beef.”
Jughead is a fun character to place in the protagonist position. I am very excited to read subsequent issues because of what I have already seen as Jughead’s penchant for fun dialogue.
Saints #1 by Sean Lewis and Benjamin Mackey
In the middle of Saints, I thought that I wouldn’t be back for issue 2. By the end, I was tentatively excited for what might come next. How did that happen?
Even though I loved the minimalist art by Mackey, I didn’t really like the primary characters, the Saints, for the bulk of this first issue. They were obviously incompletely rendered, but the pieces that I did see didn’t ping my empathy. I just didn’t like them. Furthermore, I felt that the writers were trying to create mystery to motivate me to continue on by holding back information, but too much mystery can confuse and alienate–especially if I don’t have a reason to care about the characters. I was ready to give up on the comic, but the end gave me pause. The character introduced at the end, the angel Michael, made me think that I might enjoy reading more about him because he is set up to cause our heroes some serious problems. Interesting villains are a must, but without intriguing protagonists, I’m not sure how much longer I can last. I might be back for Issue 2, but if the writers don’t make me care about the three titular saints, I don’t see myself continuing.
Codename Baboushka: The Conclave of Death #1 by Antony Johnson, Shari Chankhamma, and Simon Bowland
This particular issue checked off a lot of boxes for what I like in an opening story. We start in media res during an spy operation. We are not sure of who is narrating the panels until the reveal. There is a very bad dude, some arrogance, a slick move engendering an assassination. The narrator is revealed. Action ensues; we are unsure if our hero/narrator will survive when we are hit with flashback which goes back three weeks prior to explain the motivation for the opening moves of this story. The writers play well with transitions into and out of the flashback. The action continues. Spy gadgets appear. There seems to be a set up for an arc and a cliffhanger to come back to. I’m definitely on board for the next issue. The art has a lighthearted tone (despite the spy storyline) that I appreciate. Sometimes I want a fun little spy story; this delivers so far.
Concluding Thoughts on Beginnings
Whenever I struggle through an opening issue, I think about a few things: the opening four or five pages of The Great Gatsby, the stress I feel when having to write an opening to anything I write, and the problems with television pilots. Sometimes a story takes a while to get really, really good. One cannot determine how well an arc will be based on one issue alone.