There is one scene in all of comics that is more pervasive than any other scene. It is repetitive, it is boring, and it takes up precious space in a medium that strains at the limits of its panels. As it happens, it is also the most common scene in crappy television and movies.
What scene, you ask?
Picture this: Two people (usually men) are hitting each other (usually in the face).
Does this scene sound familiar? A little too familiar, perhaps? Almost as if you’ve seen it in almost every comic book? That’s because you have.
Let me be clear. I’m not against violence in comics. All artistic mediums are, in the end, reflections of life. And whether we wish it were otherwise or not, violence is inherent in life. The thing is, while violence may be a part of life, it is not the only part of life, and for the majority of comic readers, it is not the main part of life.
Why then, is violence so omnipresent in comics?
While there are a number of reasons (reader preference, graphic advantage of the medium, emotional venting… we will address these issues at a later date), the main reason seems to be laziness.
There is no scene so easy to write, so basically engaging to readers, as a fight scene. It is the ultimate filler. It is exactly as long or as short as you need it to be, with no required explanation. Where debate is too tedious, where real story is too much of a chore, enter the fist.
Again, let me be clear, I am not against violence in general, nor against fight scenes. I am simply against them being used in the place of real story. Violence does occur in real life. But in the vast majority of cases it occurs as the result of overwhelming emotion. Too often writers try to use backwards implication: people are being violent, so the stakes must be high. This is just a cheap way of justifying both motivations (if a character is willing to fight over something, it must be important), and future violence (if violence has been engaged in once, then it is regarded as the only future means of solution). This bypasses the main duty of storytelling, which is to impart upon the reader the weight and importance of the conflict at hand. When this is done well, small acts of violence can carry great weight. A punch can end a dream. A harsh word can end a relationship.
When this is done badly, the end of the world is meant to make us care about both characters and causes that are otherwise unjustified.
It has long been my rule of thumb that the less violence in a story, the better. This is not to exclude excellent works where violence in necessary (Maus, I Kill Giants, 3 Shadows, etc.), but to say that when looking for good storytelling, avoiding violence is probably the best place to start. Comics are such an amazing medium to use for storytelling. Emotions, backdrops and actions suddenly fall from the verbiage. Story is reduced to dialogue and images. Worlds of interpretation are opened up.
And yet, when watching someone punch someone else in the face, what is there to think, but: “He punched him very hard.”