Wednesday 15 June 2011

Bunch of Cults No.3: Monster

This post is in two parts. Firstly a look at one of the greatest stories in print, a truly masterful suspense thriller. And secondly a few thoughts on my new Kindle and how I think it could be utilised to great effect in the future.

Monster by Naoki  Urasawa is a manga (Japanese comic book). It weaves the riveting story of brilliant Dr. Kenzo Tenma, a Japanese surgeon with a promising career at a leading German hospital. It is a compelling thriller. No costumes or masks. No bulging biceps or heaving bosoms.

The Hook
A brilliant surgeon sacrifices his career to save the life of a child who’s been shot in the head, rather than operate on the Mayor of Dussledorf who needs a minor operation. The Mayor dies, the child survives... and grows up to be an incredibly evil psychotic killer. 

It’s a comic book, and comes in 18 volumes each around 200 pages.

Live up to the Hype?
Yes. A staggeringly complex plot. A thriller that incorporates suspense, mystery, romance, drama and action. It’s a stunning achievement.

The really amazing thing about this story is the villain, the ‘monster’ of the title, who is a charming, handsome young man who has the ability to talk people into doing whatever he wants,  no matter how heinous.

You may have read the advice of some writers who say when you have an exceptional ability in a character, or you have made a grand claim (the greatest magic trick, the  best chat-up line, the greatest treasure) never show it as the reader’s imagination will always be more powerful than anything you can come up with.

I believe this is true if you happen to be a bad to average writer. Good writers are able to show you what they mean, and they’re the only ones I’m interested in. Here, we see the ‘monster’ in action. The writer lives up to his claims. And seeing a child who has discovered the monster’s identity being talked into killing himself is horrific and dreadful like I can’t even verbalise. That should give you an idea of how dark this particular story gets.

My main reason for posting about this comic book is because of the ramifications this media has for e-readers. Having just purchased a Kindle I discovered (well, the Internets informed me) that the Kindle has a hidden mode for viewing comic books, specifically manga for the Japanese market.

I don’t know why this mode isn’t in the manual, but it does a very good job of displaying comic books, even Western ones (in black and white though).

The thing about manga is that it is not how we perceive comic books in the West.  Cheap, black and white, rarely about superheroes, and as complex as any movie or even novel — and very definitely aimed at adults —  they are hugely popular. They are serialised, so people buy them weekly the way they would newspapers or magazines, and are as addictive as soap operas, which means a constant revenue stream, not a one off purchase. 

The whole point is to get you hooked to keep buying so story is paramount, characters have to be intriguing and since so many get produced, competition is cutthroat. The thrilling pace, non-stop twists and unexpected story outcomes designed to keep the reader reading and rushing out to buy the next issue is a lesson in itself for any writer.

As e-readers become ever more ubiquitous, and magazines and newspapers become ever more redundant, the idea of an easy to download, serialised story that is mature enough to appeal to adults, but simple enough to read while jiggling around on a train to work, could really take off. Bear in mind this is the first generation of middle aged people (okay, men) that didn’t stop reading comics and playing video games.

What do you think about serialised content for e-readers? How interested would you be in reading an ongoing drama in the genre of your choice? How interested would you be in writing one?

This is post is part of an ongoing series that can be found here.


Laura Pauling said...

I think the future is open to just about anything we want to try! :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I think it has a lot of potential, especially with color eReaders. I have several comic book apps on my iPad and it's beyond cool to read them on the device. I think we are seeing the next step in media.

Stacey Donaldson said...

I don't own an eReader (I'm a little resistant, well stubborn is more like it), but I think that reading a series on a reader would be wonderful. I would think you could better keep up with it. Readers are here to stay for sure, I will eventually get on board (I think..LOL)

New follower, found you on Blog-a-licious. This is a great're a natural!


Jennifer Hillier said...

The premise of MONSTER sounds excellent - "a charming,handsome young man who has the ability to talk people into doing whatever he wants, no matter how heinous." The last comic I read was Archie (I know!) but I would read this. Wish I had an iPad!

Michael Di Gesu said...

Wow Mood,

Once again you came up with a really interesting post. Yes, I think this is an amazing marked to tap into. Reading this easy downloadable adult comics has definite appeal.

Something I might even consider since I am an illustrator.

Looking forward to the next installment.

mooderino said...

@Laura - yes, we can all certainly try.

@Alex - I don't think colour is the selling point. Smaller, cheaper, simpler is going to be more effective especially with the more basic e-readers. The e-ink was a major factor for me and for many others I think.

@Stacey - Hi. I don't know what blogalicious is must track it down, sounds like they have some good blogs (me for a start).

@Jennifer - you get quite a range of stories in Manga, romance, thrillers, horror. They're very inventive.

mooderino said...

@Michael - thanks. I've tried loading various comics and mangas on my Kindle and they look really good. easy to read, plus you can zoom in and pan around if you want. I think if someone can come up with something now they'd have the whole market to themselves.

Elizabeth Mueller said...

Interesting! I'd never thought to write something that was addicting like a serialised content. Hmmmm.... Maybe I could do my own manga-type graphic novel for my upcoming book? But how do the artists have such patience for that little boxed drawings? :/

Can Alex save Winter from the darkness that hunts her?
YA Paranormal Romance, Darkspell coming fall of 2011!

Suze said...

This makes me think of the serialized stories in magazines and periodicals of the 19th-century and the early 20th-century.

As for depicting the character with exceptional talent, I find your words interesting. I started to type about a manuscript of mine but then looped back and deleted it. Suffice it to say, I've written about the prodigious giftings of a musician and am now wondering if I have done the text justice. I feel I have, and had one highly-esteemed beta reader agree. But I don't know that this vouches for anything.

The character was a vocalist. And I described the sound of his song. I take great joy in recreating the sensory details of music-- aural-- and art-- visual. I don't know if I do it well enough to be called 'good' by a steadfastly objective reader, or not.

How can a writer, prior to publication, know?

dolorah said...

I haven't picked up any graphic novels, but I've been considering them for my 13 year old son. He's hooked on the online video games: Black Ops only the first that comes to mind. But he plays some games on PC, and I've seen some of the story lines on todays comic book venues.

I can't get him to read a paper book; but several times he's looked at my Kindle and asked if a title or two are available, and if I'd let him take it to his room at night when I've kicked him off the computer.

I like the subject matter here Moody; I like how you transitioned the graphic novel/comic book to the Kindle series. I own a Kindle, and have read about 70% of the manuel, and I still feel I don't know how to access all its features.

In answer to your question; yeah, I wouldn't mind a weekly subscription to my Kindle for a serial. I know there are magazine subscriptions, but they seem kinda expensive to me; especially since I don't always read the free e-zine subscriptions I have on my e-mail.

Would you be willing to discuss this topic in a guest post on my blog sometime in July? How you discovered the feature and what benefits you get from it? Difficulty - or not - in set up, subscription, monthly vs yearly payment, overall satisfaction of paper mailing/purchasing vs portable electronic reading.

I think the subject of graphic novels, and illustrated publications in general, are an under-represented topic in the e-reader/paper copy controversies.

I doubt I'd be the only one educated in this subject matter, and I'm betting, if properly advertised (my specialty) there'd be lots of bloggers with opinions for a discussion topic. So if you agree to a guest post, make it a day you can be available for consistent response, as I know NOTHING about the subject, and expect to be as educated as my readers.

Thanks for your consideration Moody. Hope to see an e-mail from you soon.


Ted Cross said...

It makes me wonder if serializing standard fiction might ever work. I bet it might for very famous writers, such as Stephen King. If I tried doing it, I'd be lucky to have one or two people purchase the episodes.

mooderino said...

@Elizabeth - you ca do th epictures bigger and then shrink them on the computer, and you can keep the very simple, like in Calvin and Hobbes.

@Suze - the Dickens model of serialised chapters could be reborn with the right kind of story.

As for the talent thing, describing something like music or painting is quite tricky in print. But whatever the 'thing' is I think a writer should wrote about it because they had a cool idea which sparks the story, not because they think it would be cool to come up with a good idea and then act like they have without ever mentioning it. That's just annoying.

mooderino said...

@Donna - from what I've seen of magazines I don't think they work on e-readers, it's all too small and over-detailed. iPad and tablets probably suit it better. I think whatever the idea it would have to be designed with the e-reader in mind, comics just happent to be naturally suited to the machine.

I've only just got the Kindle so am still learning how to use it. Am thinking about 'jailbreaking' it so I can change the screensaver and use whatever font I want. There's a whole bunch of stuff you can do if you hack the software, aparently. So I'm not really ready to do a post about it at the moment, but would be interested once I've got to grips with it.

mooderino said...

@Ted - I think serialised fiction could work, especially if you start off offering it for free. The main thing is to have a premise that immediately attracts attention. The quandry in Monster is only the start of a very long story, but the idea of doing the noble thing and it be wholly disastrous is compelling, and then each issue tightens the screw.

But if you can come up with something that's as engaging as an episode of Lost, or Sporanos or The Wire, or whatever, I think there'd be an audience for it. Maybe.

Suze said...

'... not because they think it would be cool to come up with a good idea and then act like they have without ever mentioning it.'

I've read this several times and I don't get it. Can you explain this another way?

mooderino said...

@Suze - i can try. Let's say i have an idea for a story about a guy who has discovered a line he whispers into women's ears that without fail makes them jump into bed with him. Thing is, I don't actually know what that line is but if I just show women falling at his feet after he (inaudible to us) says the line then the reader gets the idea. I say that is weak kung fu.

Thing is, for all the claims that there is no line that would satisfy everyone into thinking, oh yes, that would work, a good writer wouldn't just leave it to the reader's imagination, he would come up with something or not write the story.

Personally I have read stories where there is an outrageous claim and the writer has never revealed it, and stories where he has put something forward. And when what he puts forward lives up to the hype, it's brilliant. But even if he doesn't pull it off, i would still rather that than the pussy-hearted approach of the writer who never shows his hand.

I have no idea if that's clearer or not.

Suze said...


Ben said...

It will have to be a revolution that starts from the ground up. Indie artists and writers will have to create them and market them. Big executives are dead scared of change and originality. They want to cash in on each other's success.

But yeah, this has amazing potential.

Arlee Bird said...

Sounds like an interesting story.

Serialized content for E-readers makes perhaps more sense than in book form. I would not probably read them, but I don't follow this type of thing anyway. But if a series has many installments and there are more to come, the ereader would be better for storage.

Tossing It Out

mooderino said...

@Suze - cool.

@Ben - exactly, but I think the emphasis needs to be on story, as in manga, rather than on art, as is more the case over this side of the world.

@Lee - it would also be easy to download wirelessly so you wouldn't even need to go shopping for the latest issue.

Alleged Author said...

I am so going to get that for my husband. He's been on a comic craze lately (The Watchmen, Final Crisis, etc.). Thank you so much for sharing your analysis with us!

Brent Wescott said...

I for one get bored with stories that go on forever. I can't read many series of novels without abandoning them on the third book. I read comic books but enjoy the most the ones that are complete stories: Bone, Y the Last Man, for instance.

I haven't read comics on my Kindle. Do you really get the full effect of a comic book page on a small, black and white device? Do you see full splash pages or just parts at a time? Just curious.

Alexis Bass said...

I like stories to have an end. Pretty sure the only reason I stuck with Harry for so long was because i knew his fate would be decided by book eight.

But this is really interesting e-reader comic book info that I hadn't heard before. Thanks for keeping me 'in the know'.

mooderino said...

@Alleged - you're welcome.

@Brent @Alexis - I think an end point is important too and this story has a very definite one it builds towards throughout, although I have read soem that over-extend the story once they get popular. I think that is always going to be a risk, as with tv series.

Stina said...

They have those in YA. I hate them. My attention lasts for 3-5 books, but then I want the series to end. I think I used to read a few adult crime suspenses like that too.

Okay, that hook sounded really cool. Bummer that it's not a novel. :(

Misha Gerrick said...

Monster sounds like an incredible ride. :-D

I think serialized books are an intriguing idea, although I don't think I'm brave enough to write one.

Christa Desir said...

I am in love with my e-reader for all content. It's become truly addicting and with the exception of the difficulty of reading it in direct sun because of the glare, I have few problems with it.
My kids are also very savvy on it and prefer to read their books on it. I just discovered the Curious George books are available for e-reading and my 4 year old loves it.
Whatever people think about it, this is the way the tide is turning so it's time to get on the bus.

Hektor Karl said...

I do find the idea of serialized fiction intriguing.

On the other hand, I've moved in the other direction when it comes to TV shows -- I only watch when an entire season (if not more) has been released.

So I'd like to see the idea gain traction, but I don't know if I'd buy in practice.

mooderino said...

@stina - i think with the japanese model, there are all sorts of genres,and there are longterma nd short terms series.

@misha - I expect it would take an established writer to relaly get the ball rolling. i think Stephen King tried something like this a few years ago, but that was before the internets really took offf. Can't remember what it was called.

@Christa - I think it's inevitable, especially once kids start using them at school (at least school bags will be lighter). Updating text books will be a lot easier too. And once a generation of kids grow up with them...

@HK - it's early days so I don't now if it will go in this direction, but some kind of weekly downloadable content would seem to be an obvious way to generate steady revenue.

I could see something like Gaiman's Sandman series appealing to a large swathe of the online audience. Mind you who the hell knows what the kids will be into next? (not me)

Rebecca Bradley said...

That's a fantastic premise for a story, saving someone who then turns into a serial killer.

I'm not sure I could read a serial in comic book format, but would probably be able to read a serial without the pictures.

J.A. Beard said...

Ah, Monster. I always meant to watch the anime adaptation but somehow always kept pushing it off.

The other day I reviewed a serial novel segment (self-published). It surprised me because that model somewhat make senses, but I haven't seen it much. Then again, I think given the price pressures on e-books, it might be hard to convince people that the value relative to what they are receiving is worth it on a wide-scale.

The closest wide-scale example I can think of off-hand is the subscription model used by Harlequin, but that was still for full works (category romances) rather than serial fiction and preceded even the e-readers.

mooderino said...

@Rebecca - I think it could work in either format. I think it would need a hook of some kind though, famous name, high concept, clever marketing... something.

@JA - 74 episodes is a bit of a time committment.

I think you could start off for free to see if it would work as a concept. The art could be quite basic. Maybe I'll have a go myself. All I need is a really good idea, and then learn how to draw...

Margo Berendsen said...

Believe it or not, I've never heard this advice before, and its good, thank you: "You may have read the advice of some writers who say when you have an exceptional ability in a character, or you have made a grand claim (the greatest magic trick, the best chat-up line, the greatest treasure) never show it as the reader’s imagination will always be more powerful than anything you can come up with."

Fascinating article on Manga. To answer your question, I could definitely see myself getting sucked into a serial story (though maybe not one so dark!) But writing one... right now it's too unfamiliar to me.

John Wiswell said...

A useful backlog post for me! I'm considering picking up the first few volumes after hearing so much praise over the years.

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