The last few years of X-titles have used prose with great graphic design to great effect, a tactic that other comics should be liberally borrowing.
Comic books have a long history of prefacing their stories with a bit of prose. These blocks of text provide context and catch up the reader before the first panel. In a world of word bubbles floating over fantastic art, prose can play a larger role still.
The last few years of X-Men titles have used prose with as a graphic design tool to great effect, a tactic that other comics should be liberally borrowing.
Prose, traditionally the realm of books without pictures, is by no means a new form to grace the glossies. Nearly every comic book ever has begun with a paragraph or two to introduce the characters, give a quick recap of recent events, and generally welcome in the reader. There have even been special issues that relied heavily on prose alongside art. The Daily Bugle Civil War Newspaper Special or the Desire chapter of The Sandman: Endless Nights chose this technique instead of the standard comic book presentation. Those are fun one-offs but aren’t what readers want all the time in comic books.
With Jonathan Hickman’s complete revamping of Marvel’s mutants, he didn’t just give them their own island nation and bring heroes and villains together in an uneasy alliance. I have started using prose pages scattered throughout the books. Some of them provided more context or world-building, like the pages describing the various Otherworld realms during the “X of Swords” event. Other prose pages were reports written by members of the Quiet Council or intercepted communications from mutant friends and foes alike.
Comic books, particularly single issues, are a master class in economy. The writer and artist have 22 pages. That’s it. Each word bubble and panel must carry as much denotative and connotative meaning as possible. The panel layouts and even the cover have work to do in such a small format. Worldbuilding must be done with stunning views, maybe a few internal thoughts, and comments from the characters on the page, but never at the expense of the story at hand. This is why those prose pages are so effective.
Otherworld is expansive, covering numerous realms with their own cultures, backgrounds, and prominent players. Most of these realms also barely factored into “X of Swords,” but characters from many of those realms appeared in the final, climactic battle. Did readers need to know where they came from and the forces that made them who they were before they stepped into the ring? Not necessarily, but that information from those prose pages made each of those characters leap off the page in three dimensions more than they would have otherwise.
These prose pages allowed the various writers and artists throughout the “X of Swords” titles to focus on the journeys of our familiar X-Men, Hellions, and other merry mutant characters. They, too, had to seek out their swords for the battle, and these are the characters that readers have invested in for years or even decades. Those prose pages allowed comic creators to focus on their story while the mythos of Otherworld was built up along the way.
This is the case for more comics incorporating prose into their oh-so-valuable pages. Imagine a one-page Arkham Asylum dossier appearing after an obscure villain like Calendar Man appears on the page. Venturing to a strange planet in the Marvel Universe? The Shi’ar or Nova Corps probably have notes on it. Whether it is to provide context for long-time readers or to break down barriers for new readers, prose pages can do so much heavy lifting without interrupting the narrative flow. Comic creators everywhere should take note.
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