Comics. Most western boys grow up with them. America gets excited over their superheroes. Kids in my youth were reading the Donald Duck magazine every week. One of my airport traditions as a child was buying a Donald Duck pocket volume for the flight. I cannot recall a time without comics. Even now I generally prefer manga to anime.
Disclaimer: I’m not as invested in European comics as I am in manga, so please forgive me any mistakes and please point out any wrong assumptions on my end.
The image above is a panel from the yuri short Infinite 20 Minutes and this simple technique immediately grabbed my attention. It features the blurry object of affection in front and our narrator in the back. The blur, probably applied digitally, helps to convey a sense of physical distance and hence an emotional one. It’s not like this is the first place I’ve ever seen this technique being used, but it did inspire me to write this post.
I recently got a comic through the mail (for free, as part of an anniversary). Willy Vandersteen’s Suske en Wiske: Het Eiland Amoras (localized in English as Spike and Suzy: An Island called Hoboken). This comic started the series and was first published as a newspaper comic in 1945-1946. You can kinda tell by the panels and the gag nature of the series. Suske and Wiske are known throughout the Netherlands and Belgium. I’ve read some of the comics, but the series never really grabbed me. It simply felt too stale and old for me. Compare that to the dynamics of the manga above and you can see the stunning difference. Keeping in mind that over 60 years divide these two works, so would it really be fair to compare the two?
Searching through my closets I managed to find another Suske and Wiske comic. This one’s from 2005, 5 years after Willy Vandersteen’s death. At first glance there’s little change to be found. A row still contains 2-4 boring rectangular panels. The art style looks the same. It still looks like a gag comic. The colours are a bit more outspoken, though that might be modern technology. The gags appear with less frequency, as a result of not being constrained to the limited newspaper format. It still reads like an old dusty Suske and Wiske though. Obviously a deliberate attempt to imitate Vandersteen, 60 years after the first appearances this particular style still prevails and is iconic to Suske and Wiske. At the very least amongst authors and fans, they seem intent on keeping this style. Again, I’m not a fan personally.
Related to all of this, a particular cover caught my attention in the stores. It was titled Amoras and the cover was quite dramatic for a series not exactly known for its serious nature. The two protagonists have grown up. Suske uses profanity, Wiske has grown some volume. The art style has also been overturned, this time resembling American comics more than anything. The angles are more dynamic, the panels flow like the pacing of the story and action. The colours are grim, the lighting adds more contrast.
I really enjoy spin-offs like these. Authors have more of their own input, freed from the constraints of the original. Thinking of other examples, Don Rosa’s The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck is the first series that comes to mind. Urasawa Naoki’s Pluto also falls under this category. Doujin typically have a lot of these, like Nanoha BetrayerS (hint: these are all excellent so why haven’t you read them yet?). Now, I will be the first to argue that constraints actually add to the creative process and results. It is why I prefer the chiptunes of the GameBoy over the rock orchestras of the 3DS. But when an artist chooses his constraints wisely is when the art truly shines.
Conclusions, conclusions. I don’t really have one, but my wish to see more of Amoras and comics alike should be pretty obvious. As disclaimed before, I’m actually not that familiar with European comics, aside from the classics I’ve read in my childhood, so I don’t know a lot of works like Amoras. This is less of a problem with manga simply because of doujin culture. Since I love having my childhood destroyed, I hope to come to know and read more European comics in the same vein as Amoras.