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Action/Fight scenes in American and Japanese comics

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Sibersk Esto

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Action and fighting in general is a very large part of comic books, both in American superhero comics and Japanese manga. But from my experience there's a significant difference in how that action is portrayed.

Now keep in mind I'm aware that there are differences based on artist preferences, but even so there are definitely trends that I see crop up across multiple titles.

The first word I think of with American comic book action is "clean". Full, diagrammatic, rectangle/ square style layout work. Fluid readable line-work, and respect to the page's grid-lines.


American comic book fight scenes are, for like of a better word, static. They are called graphic novels because we are meant to "read" them, like observers. Comic book fights are also very condensed, beginning and ending over the course of a few pages or even just one in order to get on with the story.





Manga on the other hand has different priorities. Manga is paced far more slowly, so a fight in a manga can take several issues, which is something I almost never see in American comics.

Scott McCloud has a decent summation of the strengths of the medium.

The real secret of Manga's success is a matter of technology. The technology of storytelling! Manga creators use a toolbox of techniques that can enhance the power of any story. And nearly all of these techniques focus on one goal: to stimulate involvement. Take motion for example: In America, when I started my own career, motion lines were the only game in town. Using motion lines can produce some exciting effects, but their diagrammatic qualities can seem to illustrate the action, while not necessarily making the reader feel like a participant. But when a camera moves with a moving object it produces quite a different image. Although the object may remain in clear focus, the background is streaked and blurry. This was the effect that manga artists began adapting for their comics a few decades ago. As it turns out, even a simple abstraction of this effect like straight parallel lines can indicate motion.

In contrast to western comic book action scenes, manga will routinely employ motion lines in the background, stretch the panels out, and focus each panel on the subsequent motion.


What do you think? Do you have any comic book action scenes you like that follow or reject these observations? I'd love to read about/see them.
 

Kelsdesu

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Can't have a thread about action panels without ya boy David Aja.

Not a rejection of typical U.S. style panels, but he ads little details that would probably spread multiple pages in manga form.
 

kswiston

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I think Manga manages action scenes/fighting A LOT better.

Being sold in anthologies or as longer works, they can afford to use 10-15 pages on what are basically half page and full page spreads convering one fight. American comics cant get away with the same when they are $3-4 a pop.
 

Ishida

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Being sold in anthologies or as longer works, they can afford to use 10-15 pages on what are basically half page and full page spreads convering one fight. American comics cant get away with the same when they are $3-4 a pop.

Ah of course, I'm well aware of the limitations and advantages of each form, however, I'm mostly referring to the individual panels. I think Manga conveys movement and "weight" a lot better than comics. I'm generalizing, of course, I'm aware that there are plenty of comics with magnificent art styles and action scenes.
 

jett

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I've just now realized the action bits in American comic books are kinda uninteresting. Maybe that's why action sequences in comic book movies are nothing to write home about usually...?

Then again I'm not a big comic book reader.
 

.JayZii

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I generally prefer the way fight scenes are done in Manga because they feel more choreographed, visceral and thought out. That being said, there can be something quite pleasing about the abstraction of violence when handled well in American comics.

Thock Zubb Glom, indeed.
 

PsychBat!

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Aug 4, 2013
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I've just now realized the action bits in American comic books are kinda uninteresting. Maybe that's why action sequences in comic book movies are nothing to write home about usually...?

Then again I'm not a big comic book reader.
I don't see how one thing affects the other in this context.
 

Mael

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Despite all its faults the beginning of Bleach had really great fight sequence too.
For how hillarious Naruto ending was, always found that the artist really new how to convey fight sequence to the very end EVEN when it really shouldn't have made any sense like that Obito battle in the middle of a rock storm vs Naruto+Bee+Kakashi+Gai.
Really striking.
The pacing is absurdly slow but Hajime no Ippo is really giving great fight sequences if you read them after the fact lol

e: also guilty pleasure of mine, Rule of Cool Air Gear.
nothing ever made sense but for rule of cool.
In that regard it's Bleach done right.
 

ElBoxyBrown

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The first time Luffy learns how to physically hit Crocodile:



There's no lines or close zoom-ins on the punch. You can see just how hard Luffy's punch was just by Crocodile flying in the background and Luffy being off the ground. It's a single panel that is a pure "fuck yeah" moment.
 

Sibersk Esto

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Jan 19, 2014
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Something I notice about Jojo is that it takes most of the things I described about manga stylistically and cranks it up to eleven. Multiple closeups, closeups of the same element but closer, sometimes sacrificing readability for intensity. If you read parts 4-6 you will almost never find a simple, rectangular panel.
 

Red Frost

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Never found a fight scene in American comics that I actually cared for, and not for lack of trying. There's a few in European "manga" I've liked (Dreamland being the most prominent), but for the most part they're just incredibly dull imo.

Meanwhile, I can name several fights off the top of my head in manga (and Manwha to a lesser extent) that I loved, with several hundred (possibly even upwards of a thousand) stored in my mind somewhere. I don't know if it's the choreography, the higher reliance on strategy (sometimes) and dynamic positioning and how motion is depicted, or just the art in general, but it just blows western comics action out of the water for me.
 

chrisPjelly

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So good. There's just soo much energy put into every panel. American comics have also gotten better now that they've gotten out of that god awful stiffness and "denseness" you used to see.

On a side note, it's funny to see how different schedules and formats lead to different work arounds. Comics have the upper hand of looking cleaner generally but have to condense stories onto fewer pages, while manga are often better paced with the drawback being the lack of detail/colour in most cases.
 

Daingurse

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I've always found Toriyama's paneling to be really masterful. Love how he frames action, the fights flow so well in Dragon Ball. I find manga fights more engaging to read and follow than western comics, for the most part anyway lol. One Piece for example, has been kind of hard for me to follow at times. Sometimes the panels are just too dense, and the action becomes confusing to me.
 

Sibersk Esto

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So good. There's just soo much energy put into every panel. American comics have also gotten better now that they've gotten out of that god awful stiffness and "denseness" you used to see.

There's been some definite influence on both sides. Mark Bagley seems fond of speed lines.

 

mjc

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I definitely think the kinetics are better in manga fights, although some western comics have gotten close to them. What I do prefer about western comics is the speed of the fight though, things aren't drawn out too long.
 

Haly

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So to actually contribute, when I look at some of those superhero fight panels I'm reminded of this now-classic talk on the rise of "sakuga appreciation" among weeaboos.

In part 5 they talk about Mobile Suit Gundam and how, early on, the fights were just really static and dull. Someone shoots a laser towards the left. The camera moves to show the result. It's very a neat and orderly portrayal of cause and effect and it absolutely fails to convey the chaos of war. Anime eventually grew out of this phase and now you have stuff like this:


I mean for that scene in particular I can barely tell what's going on and it took me a few watches to parse everything, but the important thing is it really gets your blood pumping in the way a good action scene does in a film.

And the manga equivalent, to me, is this:
There are an infinite number of ways you can show one player passing another in football but only a handful with as much impact as this panel. Just a single image with such lavish attention that makes you go "holy shit!". There's a rich vocabulary in manga completely devoted to packing as much "motion" as possible into what is ultimately a still image and I don't really think there's a western equivalent.
 

beat

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I think most Western comics - esp before "decompression" - didn't have the page counts to spend a lot of panels on individual fights.

I like motion lines, but I think there's something admirable about how Frank Quitely refuses to use them, relying instead on posing and diegetic "particle effects" (clouds of dust, debris) as substitutes for motion lines.
 

Sibersk Esto

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Jan 19, 2014
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I think most Western comics - esp before "decompression" - didn't have the page counts to spend a lot of panels on individual fights.

I like motion lines, but I think there's something admirable about how Frank Quitely refuses to use them, relying instead on posing and diegetic "particle effects" (clouds of dust, debris) as substitutes for motion lines.

Same


 

BruceCLea

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That's why I like myself some Tradd Moore who kind of combines the two approaches. Short fights, but big focus on movement and speed.

Yeah, those books are worth it for the fights alone. Tradd Moore is insane. I would love to see his take on Batman, Spiderman or Captain America.
 

Goldrush

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Not sure if it's a recent trend, but love it when American comics break panels and use continuous detailed background to depict motion. First noticed it in Batwoman, but seems somewhat common now.
 

jett

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So to actually contribute, when I look at some of those superhero fight panels I'm reminded of this now-classic talk on the rise of "sakuga appreciation" among weeaboos.

In part 5 they talk about Mobile Suit Gundam and how, early on, the fights were just really static and dull. Someone shoots a laser towards the left. The camera moves to show the result. It's very a neat and orderly portrayal of cause and effect and it absolutely fails to convey the chaos of war. Anime eventually grew out of this phase and now you have stuff like this:



I mean for that scene in particular I can barely tell what's going on and it took me a few watches to parse everything, but the important thing is it really gets your blood pumping in the way a good action scene does in a film.

Where is that gif from btw?
 

Dr.Social

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Dec 2, 2015
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Not sure if it's a recent trend, but love it when American comics break panels and use continuous detailed background to depict motion. First noticed it in Batwoman, but seems somewhat common now.

That's been around for a while. Here's an example from Watchmen.



edit: Wait, did you mean breaking out of the bounds of the panel? I read your post as breaking up a continuous background into panels.
 
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