The Ennis Smirk, the Miller Syncopation, and Kingese: Writer Tics
Plowing through the third trade paperback of Preacher, I started to quietly hum along with the Garth Ennis Smirk Rhythm. If you’ve read his work, you know what I mean.
Open up an issue of Preacher, Hellblazer, or Hitman. Look for a scene where the hero is talking to a buddy. Probably over beers. It'll go like this:
Panel 1: dramatic dialogue.
Panel 2: more dramatic dialogue, fraught with portent.
Panels 3-6: dialogue, growing drama, sense of danger.
Panel 7: Hero makes a wry comment, smirks, and lights a cigarette.
He sometimes wrote more than one of these per issue. That’s a lot of smug cigarette lighting.
Ennis lives for the wry smirking panel. Take that away from him, and he’d likely give up comics and write crossword puzzles. Sardonic, cigarette-smoking crossword puzzles.
Then there’s the Frank Miller Syncopation. The best use of it came in The Dark Knight Strikes Again, in Batman’s internal monologue.
Caption 1: This is bad.
Caption 2: Jerry says they’re gone.
Caption 3: Ran out of jerky.
Caption 4: Hope they still have peanuts.
You know that he sounds just like this in his own head. Tough-guy dialogue in short snippets with an emphasis on the last word: “I wake up. The city is a pit of sin. My fists ache to crush bone. Hey, where are my socks?”
And of course, there’s the famous Jack ”King” Kirby style: Kingese.
Kingese is overheated prose, every verb in boldface, and every damn sentence ending in an exclamation point. Plus, of course, Kirby's patented bizarro terminology. The Fourth World titles were written in fluent Kingese:
Caption: Trogdor tears down the steel door! Metal shreds beneath his power!
Trogdor: This day must not end with a Fire Penguin crushed by Strongbad!
Sookie: Hurry! The song of battle calls! I need a lozenge!
Caption: The Positron Lozenge cures the evils of hay fever!
Like beatnik poetry, Kingese has charm, but it reads like the work of a man for whom English was a fifth language, striving for eloquence after drinking two bottles of cough syrup.
...God, I love comics.
I’ve been working on my own stories lately. As I revise again and again to scrub out my repetitive wordings and rehashed dialogue, I take comfort that even the icons of the field fall victim to it.*
“A psychic hamster? Again? And why do half of your damn sentences begin with a gerund? Or split in the middle with a conjunctive ‘but?’”
Writing, she is hard.
Let me amend that: writing well, she is hard.
*I’m avoiding mention of Chris Claremont, longtime writer of X-Men. He was and remains the master of the writing tic. But I’ve never been a fan of Claremont or the X-Men, and I can’t bring myself to list out the Claremont Clichés. Anybody here want to take a crack at it?