Sunday, 16 September 2007


This has been bugging me, so please forgive me if I make a meal over what should be a couple of bites.

In Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 issue 6, Brian K Vaughan and Georges Jeanty drop in a couple of references to external fictions, not in the usual pop geek dialogue way, but as if they were real in Buffy’s world.*

Yes, for the moment, I’m going to treat the idea of Alan Moore as a wizard as fictional, even if he believes it himself. (See Scans Daily for an example.)

Now, the first panel posted above doesn’t bother me at all. I scan the image, take in the Doctor and Rose, smile internally, and move on. But the second panel stalls the comic’s engine.

Why the difference?

At first, I thought it might be because one reference is done in pictures and the other in words. And there might be something in that. It’s easy to make an element of a picture unobtrusive. It is much harder with words – unless there is some kind of set-up, common in American Flagg, for example, in which word balloons are used to indicate the fact of background chatter, rather than to carry meaning in the words themselves.

The type of picture and the type of words matter too. The first panel is an establishing shot: the narrative has already slowed down to show the new location, and, in such low gear, it is easy to take in the side reference without juddering to a halt. The second panel is in the middle of a run of dialogue in which Giles explains the plot to Faith: when the need occurs to stop to take in the reference, it’s like slamming on the brakes while still in third.

And you do need to stop. The phrase “the great bearded wizard of Northampton” is not natural speech, and jolts the reader out of the word balloon to wonder why. That it is shaped as a puzzle – albeit a simple one for comics fans – means that you can’t simply drive on into the story until you’ve solved it. Worse, while it doesn't greatly matter if you don't recognise the Doctor and Rose, as you would just think of them as passers-by added to populate the London street and not know that you'd missed anything, if you didn't know who “the great bearded wizard of Northampton” was, you'd still be aware that there was a puzzle that you'd failed to solve.

So that’s that explained. OK, down to neutral, turn the ignition, up into first, and away.

Oh, heck, he said "fall" instead of "autumn". This thing just isn't destined to run smoothly.

*That was rare on the TV show, wasn’t it? The only example I can think of was Dracula’s appearance in one episode.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight issue 6, “No Future For You” part 1, by Brian K Vaughan (script), Georges Jeanty (puzzle), Andy Owens (inks), Dave Stewart (colours), Richard Starkings & Comicraft’s Jimmy (letters), Scott Allie (editor) and Joss Whedon (executive producer – whatever that means)


Richard said...

but maybe Vaughn's just softening us up for the crossover of the century - Buffy / The Doctor / Alan Moore.
Only one shall survive etc etc.

Time for the pills.

Bruno Porto said...

Dude, great blog, and brilliant argument!