ASH Wednesday: Pandora’s Box

This is part 5 of my weekly series on Dave Van Domelen’s Academy of Super-Heroes universe, a collection of musings, interviews, writerly insights and historical notes about the free super-hero serials (which started on the newsgroup rec.arts.comics.creative back in ’94 and recently released as Omnibus editions.)

This week features Dave Van Domelen’s first twelve issues of Academy of Super-Heroes. I’d like to discuss the text comic form in this article.

The text comic is a blend of short story and a comic book. Here are some fun features of the form:

The Cover. A text comic is meant to be the short story equivalent of a paper comic book. In the ASH series this is represented by a text description of a cover in the author’s imagination. Like with an actual comic book, the author is able to tease about the contents, highlight a character or scene from the get-go, or just go wild with description (since it’s highly unlikely that someone will actually draw the fantastic cover you have in your head). It’s also a handy way to indicate what part of a series the story belongs to.

The Roll Call. Specific to the superhero genre, the roll call summarizes the cast of main characters and their status during the issue. In addition to being a handy reference, it allows some fun variations when the mood strikes the author. In ASH in particular, the posting format is 80 character monospace, which allowed Dave to make neat ASCII art. However, when I was converting the issues to ePub format, the lack of monospace font (or rather to accommodate people who set their own fonts) turned out to be the most frustrating, as I had to do away with the ASCII art and change formatting in every issue. For Pandora’s Box I took a screenshot and posted the Roll Call as a picture, but that was time consuming too. I hereby request that Dave simplifies his roll calls for easier ePub conversions in the future 🙂

Breaking Arcs into Issues: The text comic makes full advantage of the structure of serials – a long story arc can be broken down into smaller chunks of story, often ending with cliffhangers. Next Issue Boxes are related to these, as they allow for authors to write teasers about the next issue. I think the advantage of writing serials is that you start thinking in terms of arc structure: where to put in breaks, how do you end on a cliffhanger so that the readers will want to read the next issue. Often an issue is published before work is started on the next; it allows time for the author to make a change to the storyline (or longer arc) midstream (sometimes based on feedback from readers or other authors in the writing collective).
Author’s Notes: One thing I found immensely helpful were the Author’s Notes that sometimes appeared at the end of an issue. It allowed the authors to refer to their inspirations, talk about how they did research, where and why they veered from their initial plans, and other interesting things that strike their fancy. I enjoyed peeking behind the curtain.
Anyway, enjoy the first arcs of Academy of Super-Heroes. 
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