Generating genuine emotion in comics

Published On April 28, 2011 | By Joe Gordon | Comics

Over on the Too Busy Thinking About Comics blog Colin Smith has an extremely well-written, well thought out post on generating some genuine emotional response from comics characters. His example? Scotland’s long, long-running favourite, The Broons (still going in DC Thomson’s Sunday Post every weekend, showing no sign of ever losing favour with readers), which Colin argues – quite effectively – takes the reader and generates that concern and emotion in a way that better known, bigger, brighter, brasher superhero comics simply can’t manage, with their overblown, overly dramatic scenes and relationships, to say nothing of the fact we rarely feel real peril for our characters in the capes and tights comics because we know full well even if they die, they get better (and ain’t that the truth? As Whedon once had Angel put it “death isn’t the end, not for people like us”). From Colin’s post:

Superhero comics tend to have a debilitating problem where the creation of a convincing sense of jeopardy is concerned, because the actions of superheroes rarely lead to serious and lasting consequences. Put simply, nothing really matters. The dead will rise again, lost limbs and wounded organs will be regrown or replaced with superior alternatives, and soon-to-be forgotten slaughtered love ones will be replaced over time with a new generation of prospective offerings to the gods of angst and vengeance.


It’s surely not a problem which can be solved by constantly inflating the scale and the stakes of each new conflict, though decades of creators have chosen to attempt to do this. The mind and heart soon weary of yet another universe-threatening menace in which thousands of costumed hyperpeople slug it out with each other all over again. But perhaps something of a solution might be found in the work of creators which stand far outside of the superhero sub-genre.”

(The Broons celebrate New Year and the return of the boys from the war in this scene by Dudley Watkins, (c) DC Thomson)

One example Colin uses is a wartime Broons tale, with that family celebrating New Year. A lot of real life from that period – poverty, privation, lack of health care for the masses etc – don’t really make it into the Broons, as Colin notes, but everyone but everyone ‘did their bit’ during the dark days of the Second World War, including the comics, and the great Dudley Watkins had the boys sign up for the war effort. Look at the scene, Colin says, look closely, look especially at the very, very simple yet incredibly emotional and touching scene in the middle between Hen Broon in his uniform, home to his family, safe and sound from war, his mother looking fairly steady but her hand gripping his lightly in maternal love and concern and her other hand tightly grasping a hankie speaks volumes on the emotional front. Incredibly touching and sensitive, probably far more so back when it was first printed too, I would imagine, when many a mother must have ached to likewise have her wee boy (because you are always your mum’s wee boy, no matter what age you grow to) home from the perils of battle and back in her home, safe and sound.

I hadn’t come across Colin’s site before until Kenny noticed it on Tom Spurgeon’s always excellent Comic Reporter and pointed me towards it, but I think it is one we should all be bookmarking for future reference.

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About The Author

Joe Gordon
Joe Gordon is ForbiddenPlanet.co.uk's chief blogger, which he set up in 2005. Previously, he was professional bookseller for over 12 years as well as a lifelong reader and reviewer, especially of comics and science fiction works.

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