The later years of X-titles used prose with excellent graphic design to good effect, a tactic other comics should borrow liberally.
Comics have a long history of prefacing their stories with a bit of prose. These blocks of text provide context and catch the reader before the first panel. In a world of word bubbles floating above fantasy art, prose can play an even bigger role.
The last few years of X-Men titles have used prose as a graphic design tool to great effect, a tactic other comics should borrow liberally.
Prose, traditionally the domain of pictureless books, is by no means a new form to adorn glosses. Almost all comics have started with a paragraph or two to introduce the characters, give a brief recap of recent events, and generally welcome the reader. There were even special issues that relied heavily on prose alongside art. The Daily Bugle’s Civil War special or the Desire to The Sandman: Endless Nights chose this technique instead of the standard comic book layout. They’re fun one-offs, but they’re not what readers want in comics all the time.
With Jonathan Hickman’s complete overhaul of Marvel’s mutants, he didn’t just give them their own island nation and bring heroes and villains together in an uneasy alliance. He began to use prose pages scattered throughout books. Some of these provided more context or world-building, such as the pages describing the various kingdoms of Otherworld during the “X of Swords” event. Other prose pages were reports written by silent Council members or intercepted communications from mutant friends and enemies.
Comics, especially single issues, are a master class in economics. The writer and the artist have 22 pages. That’s it. Each word bubble and panel should have 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 should be done with stunning vistas, maybe some internal musings and on-page character commentary, but never at the expense of the ongoing story. That’s why these prose pages are so effective.
Otherworld is vast, spanning many areas with their own cultures, backgrounds, and prominent players. Most of these realms were also barely considered in “X of Swords”, but characters from many of these realms appeared in the final and climactic battle. Did readers need to know where they came from and the forces that made them who they were before stepping into the ring? Not necessarily, but this information from these prose pages made each of these characters jump off the three-dimensional page more than they otherwise would have.
These prose pages allowed the various writers and artists of 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 battle, and these are the characters readers have invested in for years, if not decades. These prose pages allowed the comic creators to focus on their story while the Otherworld mythos were built along the way.
This is the case with more comics incorporating prose into their treasured pages. Imagine a folder of an Arkham Asylum page appearing after an obscure villain like Calendar Man appears on the page. Are you venturing on a strange planet in the Marvel universe? The Shi’ar or Nova Corps probably have notes on it. From providing context for long-time readers to breaking down barriers for new readers, prose pages can do a lot of work without interrupting the narrative flow. Comic book creators around the world should take note.
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