Spandexless Reads | 06-21-2012 / by Alec Berry

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We're about to drop a bomb on your head. Welcome back, you internet scoundrels. New column. New writing. Same comics. Kind of.

This week, I break down Jonathan Hickman's masterpiece, The Nightly News. Shawn Starr rips off Chad Nevett's Random Thoughts, and Rick Vance takes us through Shonen manga, explaining the use of violence. I also have a short interview with cartoonist J.T. Yost in which he discusses the upcoming Digestate anthology.

Take a deep breath, reader.

- - - and The Voice says . . . 

The Nightly News / Jonathan Hickman / Image

Alec Berry / perpetrator

“If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.”

-          Benjamin Franklin

Funny that comes from him, though: a guy who had no trouble suggesting lifestyles to people as well as hinting at how they should treat the money they earn. But, hey, hypocrisy’s everything, and no matter the source, the point of the quote does fit the point of the comicbook, as Jonathan Hickman’s masterpiece certainly chases individuality in spades. It lives and breathes the quest. And while Hickman denounces all theories of cathartic involvement, it’s hard to read this work without seeing a guy chasing something.

Because past the rage you may or may not feel necessary to explore, the controversial subject matter, and the facetious subtitle “A Lie Told in Six Parts,” The Nightly News is still very much a part of its creator; a book which clearly suggests an artist cutting his own path and not giving a fuck what anyone thinks.

It spells out everything that Hickman is – from the design to the choice in storytelling. And at a time in mainstream comics when the writer spit unquestionable dominance while the artist became sort of a cast off, this book came to and broke many of the standards set. All the way from the blunt impact of a quick glance, to the actual reading process – tearing the traditional comicbook page apart and rebuilding it, The Nightly News wants nothing to do with the majority.

It is, in essence, the true individual, and I think in a day an age when we’re so quick to label the new thing “brilliant” or a “game changer,” this comicbook might actually live up to the labels. Yet, no matter its place in the grand ol’ scheme, Hickman clearly crafted a comicbook without any peers and did so without holding himself to any predisposed expectation. As Hickman notes in the trade paper back’s afterword ...

“ ... I’m telling a story.

And it’s one I expected more of you would hate.”

Yet he told it anyway.

As the afterword continues, he then goes on to list the book’s unmistakable qualities as reason for a potential backlash, and ends his authorial footnote by summing up his completed work.

“Concerning The Nightly News, for me it’s about believing in something so much you have to do it regardless of the cost.”

That “something” would be storytelling – his way; the “cost” is an unreceptive audience.

This may be a very “in-head” reading too closely associated with the author, but as for my personal stance on the work, the author cannot be removed from the picture. Know that.

Plus, Hickman says ...

“Enjoy The Nightly News for what it is to you. That’s how it should be – it’s yours now.”

By those words, I’m OK with where I stand.

Jonathan Hickman claims to have been reborn in March of 2006. As he words it on his website ...

“After a certain amount of time you get tired of wasting talent. Of being part of a fraudulent profession — or actually being a fraud. And, most importantly, not living the life you are capable of having.”

Now, while it’s debatable he ever really escaped the “fraudulent profession” (Kirby supporters, unite!), the quote simply suggests Hickman didn’t enjoy his career previous to breaking into comics. And when you take the entirety of the bio on his website into consideration,  it’s clear that by being “reborn” a comics writer, his life now is more suitable and in line with his actual desires.

He also states in the afterword of The Nightly News’ trade paper back that, “All I’ve ever wanted to do is tell stories – it’s what I was meant to do (emphasis his). I know this because I spent ten years trying to convince myself I’d be happy doing other things.”

While the biography on his site comes off as romanticized and somewhat story-like, it works well enough to paint the usual picture of someone discovering themselves. The claim of “rebirth” may be a tad dramatic, but the adoption of a creative lifestyle that truly fits you after years of a soul-sucking job, I guess, would probably incite such a feeling of anew purpose. Because you’re going in an entirely different direction than you once previously were, and with the critical response that The Nightly News garnered,  you would have to suddenly feel at home. As if the community you’d been searching for all along just opened its arms to you and drew you in.

The same year as his apparent rebirth, The Nightly News saw publication. The book marked Hickman’s first major work in the medium, and it detailed a plot centered around a mistreated individual who seeks revenge on journalists and the media because he cites them as the source of his misfortune. It’s a very sardonic work, riffing on things such as Network and the story of Richard Jewell, the Olympic bomber.

If you’ve ever been on the comics internet, you know all of this already.

You probably even know The Nightly News as a unique piece of fiction – something that changed the idea of comics – and know it for its unorthodox visual style. But in this age of hyperbolic comicbook “journalism,” well, do you really know all the arguments behind these praises? Or that they even exist? Because the comics internet’s not wrong, but neither has it really broken down this work. And it should be broken down because The Nightly News isn’t just another Image comic that excited some diehard DC reader because he finally read something “indie.” No. It’s an actual machine complete with all the necessary gears, yet gears in need of a new inspection.

In this world of multimedia and visual mandates, it makes sense for Hickman to display this comicbook the way he does. If anything, he’s riffing on the state of things and bleeding into the info-graphic culture we inhabit. You could even say he’s using the weapon usually aimed for us and turning it back on its handler, subverting the norm as well as casting his own brand of spicy propaganda. This mindset works to the book’s cynical attitude as it furthers its point about the hypocritical cult, that no matter what side you choose, conformity’s on your mind and the same tactics are in use, all leading you no further from your enemy.

The entire visual layout is a representative piece, and while it livens up the overall style and contributes to the subtext, it also roots itself in the very foundation of the actual pages and transforms the reading experience. Because by doing what Hickman does he must rearrange the typical components. From word balloons, to gutters to the overall layout, things have to shift, but Hickman’s smart enough to not let these fundamental comicbook elements suffer because of a desire for a standout look. Not a sacrifice is made, and everything comes together for sort of a new reading experience.

As Hickman describes it ...

“One of the things I’m able to do is make a cohesive page instead of a panel a page with the whole spread working together. Now even though the pages are presented as two-page spreads, there’s enough stuff going on in the pages and there’s even panels in certain pages that makes it work like separate pages.”

Or as I would describe it ...

“His pages ignore the typical grid expected of a comicbook page, and instead, a viewer’s eyes just flow to the appropriate moments or where the dialogue rests. Rather than the typical left-to-right, top-to-bottom, it’s more a top-to-bottom reading order, and your eyes just leap from scenario to scenario. All the while, extra tidbits work their way into the picture, offering these optional side thoughts within the narrative.  The Nightly News’ pages work more like advertisements than comics, giving it that extra splash of media ties.”

There’s a functionality here, but you can also see these pages as complete images, as if Hickman’s work carries Steranko’s love of a stylish and bold appearance but ignores the obsession of the image and doesn’t loose sight of the story. It’s really more J.H. Williams III that way, or even Sienkiewicz, when you consider the sense of atmosphere. I’m not so sure Hickman’s an excellent draftsman, though. While his layout and pure design appears top notch, I feel once you would take away the dressing, his line work wouldn’t impress. The artwork is so dependent on what decorates the surface. Although, it could be Hickman laid down a weak base intentionally, knowing for this particular project things would work out.

I guess you’d have to ask him.

It’s a very impression effort, overall, but that’s one large reason I’m upset with Hickman because he never continued this train of thought past Pax Romana. It’s something that, with proper time and energy given to it, could have really progressed into something. I hate to jump up and be the guy crying “why’d you ‘sell out’,” but man, “why’d you ‘sell out’?” Or even past “selling out,” why not illustrate another project? You’re burning the creator-owned torch once again.

I assume the guy may have, like Brian Michael Bendis, fallen into a train of thought in which he’s convinced himself he’s more comfortable as a writer, but I say fuck comfort. Go back to this. You were on to something.

. . . . .

So let’s consider Hickman, the writer. How’s he fare here? I’d say well.

From start to finish, The Nightly News already exemplifies the traits that now rest synonymous with Jonathan Hickman. Between the fascination of men in power, down to characters as embodiments of concepts, you’ll read this comicbook and distinctly know who penned it, but opposite works like The Red Wing, The Nightly News doesn’t find itself caught up in a weak cast or ill-used environment. In fact, things work very differently, and Hickman’s ticks as an author come together and perform here. And I think it’s all because of the actual passion in the work as well as the cultural zeitgeist anchored to it.

But let’s break down some stuff.

First, we have John Guyton (who oddly resembles Hickman, as well as shares a first name – interpret at will), our neither good guy nor bad guy who instead acts more as a puppet, up until the climax. Then there’s Alexander Jones, another puppet, but one who doesn’t escape. Both men are Hands of The Voice, an invisible messiah who encourages the rebellion, but they are entirely different people. Because both John and Alex are us – the reader – but they represent separate choices. Our potentials. John and Alex serve the The Voice, but only Alex falls completely into the cult while John realizes the hypocrisy of it and, in the end, breaks away by choosing for himself (although, you could debate this) in a final fiery gun fight.

No matter the fictional details, John and Alex break down to a core. John’s the individual who breaks away while Alex represents the man who went with the crowd. From the get go, Hickman zip ties these two together and weaves his larger narrative around them. It’s a smart way to construct the story because the structure allows a reader to peak into and read both sides of the argument evenly. We spend time here and there and see just how John and Alex differ while relate. Hickman even throws the audience into the boardroom and places you with the men in suits, and while you’ll quickly denounce them, he does represent their side and let you sneer into their thought process.

But while the back-and-forth covers all grounds of the plot, I would suggest it’s really about putting you into a place of making a decision. Especially with John and Alex. Do you act as Hand to The Voice and lead the revolution? Does it seem the thing to do? Or can you spot the hole in the cause?

The whole work begs you to ask questions, as all good journalism should.

But even though concepts, those characters are actually characterized by Hickman from a simple showcase of actions and decisions. Even consider the use of dialogue. Each character has their own tone, but John sort of fluctuates throughout the piece. In service of The Voice, his speech reads a little more stern and programmed because he mostly speaks from a position of being the PR man, but once he’s out of the trap, thinking for himself, a more personable tone resides with the character. These details from Hickman just go to show the concept of humanity, and that when you live by someone else’s rule, you sort of lose it.

You also have to consider Hickman’s use of the setting and how he builds it. The Nightly News resides in New York City, the media capital of the world, and while that’s obviously coherent with the subject matter, Hickman really uses setting to suggest a tone and fuel his characters’ motivations. By just implementing a caption that reads “News Capitol of the world” at the start of each issue, Hickman automatically creates the pulse of the world. You’re not reading from some safe distance; you’re at the fucking heart of it, and that should tell you how wired this cast will be. Because as characters they’re living there, fully exposed to what occurs in the “Capitol.”

From there, Hickman earns a little of the leeway to work in the info-graphics and graphs that he does, because with New York City as the setting, let allow a “News Capitol” New York City, you’re expecting it. The factoids and flashy signs complete the picture as well as flesh out the overall identity and none of it feels inappropriate. And the use of orange, a searing orange, ties it all off and shouts every ounce of frustration exerted by the grinding gears and minds existing in that space.

It’s an angry, busy body city, and in Hickman’s portrayal, the environment’s inescapable just like the media.

Which, we can’t forget, is a subject of this piece.

“The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.”

-          Noam Chomsky & Edward S. Herman

Could I sit here and express my own personal opinions on the matter? Sure I could, but in the end, it wouldn’t add much to this essay about a comicbook, even if the subject of the book is journalism – my chosen field of study while in college.

No, what I think is more important to understand is why this book focuses on such a topic. Or why any story of this type – be it Network, Serpico or anything else – tackles some large subject of corruption. It’s about the questions asked, not the next step offered. Because our society’s so bent on taking anything that’s fed to it. We’ve unlearned critical thinking and instead look toward the multiple choice test for an answer. Narratives like these, though, wake us back up and put doubt in our minds, and that’s why they’re valuable. No matter their place as fiction, they still cause doubt.

And doubt is good.

Because like the Franklin quote up top suggests, a society of like minds is a mindless one at that.

Along with his subject, Hickman takes The Nightly News and uses the experience of creating it as his own chance to break away from the crowd and think for himself. It’s a tale of individualism fully realized  both by fictional character and author, who just happen to both share a first name.

As a comicbook, through craft and voice, it stands as a new favorite of mine, and while I left most of my own personal connection to the book aside – out of this essay – I can say it’s anger and bold personality do find a home in my own, lanky frame.

I was a little riled after setting it down, and to me, that’s the sign of a great comicbook.

- - - thirty-three shots from twin glocks

Shawn Starr / true mom

- Ripping off Random Thoughts this week.

- That Catwoman cover reminds me of that one time when all those comic artists didn't know how to draw.

- That cover is especially heinous because Guilem March draws pornography on the side, which requires a certain understanding of proportionality and the ability to draw an attractively posed female. None of which were on display on that cover.

- Secret Invasion is the worst event comic of all time; it's baffling that it ever saw print. There is literally a scene in the first issue where Ares says that the Skrulls in the Savage Lands are meant as a distraction and they should leave. Four issues later, and they finally say fuck it and leave to go punch the space armada away.

- Judd Winick is a sexist ass clown who's last relevant work died with Bill Clinton's hollow promise to end AIDS.

- Top three comics of the year (so far): Incinerator, Lincoln Washington, Prophet. All three are perfect representations of their authors artistic vision and redefine their respective genres.

- Superman: Truth Justice and the American Way (along with Alex Ross's body of work) illustrates the major problem with fanboy critiques; the book simply dismisses and mocks the idea of The Authority without properly countering it intellectually or showing why its way is better. All Star Superman was a twelve issue rebuke. Superman #775 was twenty two pages of incessant whining. They're both creative and ideological failures. Instead of showing why their way is better, they recap past moments of "glory" and expect nostalgia to win the day. Nostalgia is a killer though.

- The best comic podcast is now Comic Books Are Burning in Hell. Sorry, repeats of old Splash Page episodes, but your reign had to come to an end sometime.

- Alternatively, the best comics interview podcast is Inkstuds. Word Balloon can eat a dick.

- Favorite line of the week: "I learned in cases such as these that ejaculation was the legal point of no return" - Bret Easton Ellis, Lunar Park

- Girls ended its first season perfectly. Understated, yet poignant and devoid of cliche.

- Something amazing happened on Johnny Ryan's Twitter feed this week.

- Note to retailers, if your shop is full of flies and does not feature a spectacular back issue bin, don't expect my return.

- What I've been listening to: Sage Francis - Got Up This Morning and Eyedea & Abilities - Smile

- Prometheus represents the first major conflict of film's auteur theory (director centered) and television's show runner/writer. Aaron Sorkin may have been the first to cross over, but he's white-bread. Inoffensive. Lost resulted in a giant bag of pissed off snakes when it ended, so what you get is one of the biggest directors of all time, returning to one of the biggest sci-fi franchises,written by the screenwriter of one of the biggest shows of all time, and no one knows who to assign credit and blame to. Five years ago, no one would have mentioned the writer (except in the case of Charlie Kaufman), but with the progression of TV and its spillover, in this case, the writer is taking center stage in the discussion.

- Ryan Sands was interviewed about his and Michael Deforge's porn anthology Thickness, whose third and final issue is debuting at CAKE this week, on Inkstuds. The first two issues of Thickness were phenomenal, particularly the 2nd issue which featured the best short story of the year in DeForge's College Girls By Night along with a stunning Angie Wang short. I'm pretty excited for that third issue.

- "Ether" is the hardest dis' track ever recorded (Hit 'em Up is #2)

- This week in Amazon orders: Joe Sacco's Journalism and Josh Simmons The Furry Trap. There may be a theme to be found, but I'm just not sure what it is.

- Watched Lost Boys for the first time. What a goddamn weird ass movie.

- Just started reading Lunar Park after finishing Imperial Bedroom last week. I’ve been on a big Bret Easton Ellis kick for the past two months, following Chad Nevett and Joey Allusio's recommendations. Imperial Bedroom was billed as a sequel to Less Than Zero, but it's more so a culmination of Ellis's entire body of work, interweaving themes from his previous novels into one single book.

- One of the best Horror documentaries ever made is Never Sleep Again, a 4 hour long retrospective of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. It's fascinating both if you're a fan of the franchise or simply interested in how a indie horror film about dreams captured the cultural zeitgeist.

- The Comics Journal reprinted an old Alan Moore interview just in time for the release of Scab: The Book.

- Although, that interview paled in comparison to the Michel Fiffe three part Tony Salmons interview over at The Factual Opinion, which can only be described as a Groth-ian.

- Morrison was awarded a medal by the queen. Between that, Rags Morales, and Matt Seneca's All Star Superman review, dude's had a tough year.

- Judd Apatow's involvement in Girls is a perfect thematic progression in the context of his television work. Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared and now Girls center around the struggle to find ones identity between major life changes (high school, college, and post-college).

- I remember growing up and Hellraiser being one of the few movies my parents barred me from watching. I re-watched it a few days ago and can see why, although I’m fairly certain they thought it was just too scary for a twelve year old, and not because the film is a dissection of fetishism and power play. The films popularity is really unsettling.

- I'd like to thank everyone for spoiling League of Extraordinary Gentleman: Centuries 2009 for me two weeks before its release. Really appreciate that.

- If the new Aesop Rock single is anything to go by, his new album is going to be ridiculous.

- I tend to dump title ideas in a word document and use them when applicable. Here is one that won't be applicable for a while: "I just want to be inside you, like up in your vagina with my dick. Exploring that moist cavern like Captain Nemo and The Nautilus. And then, after due diligence (like 3 minutes?) inseminating your pussy with my sea-men. AKA DON'T STOP BELIEVING "

- A great way to waste two hours.

- I'm tempted to try and read the entirety of The Death of Superman, although I'm hesitant to open my collectors edition polybag.

- Did you guys read Rick Vance's review of MW in last week's column? Every time we get a new contributor they make me look like a punk ass bitch. God damn them.

- - - interview: j.t. yost on digestate

Alec Berry / perpetrator

I first came across J.T. Yost a few years ago after reading his book, Old Man Winter and Other Sordid Tales. As one of my first forays into alternative comics, it seemed I got lucky. J.T. was a great place to start. Currently, J.T. is in the process of editing a new anthology comic titled Digestate, a comic anthology centered around the theme of food. The project is now up for funding on Kickstarter (click here to view it).

What follows is a brief interview with J.T. about the project.

AB: You mentioned in another interview that this idea originated from other cartoonists you knew being vegan and wanting to illustrate the two extremes of eating - vegan to the total carnivore. Does the project still fit that original idea or has it morphed into something else?

J.T.: Yes, I started with the idea of Digestate being a flip-book. One side would be comics by vegan artists, and the other would be comics by carnivores (I think 'omnivore' is technically correct, but 'carnivore' sounds better). Once I'd made a list of artists I hoped would contribute, I realized that the requirements would have to be loosened in order to include everyone. There are about a dozen vegans contributing, but we are far outnumbered by the carnivores (as in real life, I suppose).

The anthology is now open to the artists' interpretation of the theme "food & eating". I'm hoping for a huge variety of viewpoints to be expressed.

AB: What can food say about a person's identity? Does the phrase "you are what you eat" really fit?

J.T.: There seems to be a huge range in how people relate to food. I am personally very interested in food politics, but I've come to realize that I'm probably in the minority. To demonstrate that diverse range you could take someone like myself who has the luxury of choosing specific dietary restrictions (veganism) and a starving person who just wants sustenance - ANY sustenance - to survive. I'm pretty certain the latter has more pressing matters than drawing a comic for this anthology, but I think the other contributing artists may have vastly different comics than what I'm submitting. I'm hoping for a wide range in subject and tone.

AB: You've been a contributor to anthologies before. What's it like now being the editor?

J.T.: I love it. I love anthologies in general, especially well edited ones like Papercutter. Ideally, they have some well-loved artists balanced with relative unknowns. That way, the reader is drawn in by the bigger names but discovers some new talent. Editing an anthology with this many contributors (over 50!) is a lot of work, but I get reinvigorated each time someone sends me their finished comic.

AB: Have you been very involved with each strip or is this more a case of letting the artists go off and return with what they want? Or is there a middle ground?

J.T.: Other than picking the artists and supplying the theme, I've had very little input into the comics being contributed.  As an artist, I prefer a lot of freedom, so I only make suggestions if asked. The only exception is the cover image. I came up with a general idea that I thought was suited to Cha's (the artist) temperament, but I'm pretty much letting her run with it.

AB: What's a good rule of thumb for an anthology comic in your opinion?

J.T.: There are no rules, that's what's great about them. An artist who has cultivated a certain style or tone of work can try something new if they'd like.

AB: What's your take on the whole idea of "cartoonists should use anthologies to learn"?

J.T.: Who can say? There have certainly been cartoonists who deliver incredible fully-formed graphic novels right out of the gate with no previous mini-comics or anthology work under their belts. Personally, I'm fairly embarrassed of my earlier anthology contributions, but they taught me valuable lessons. Anthologies can be a great learning tool, but sometimes the anthology reader can suffer while that artist learns!

AB: Other than Digestate, anything else in the works?

J.T.: Appropriately enough, I'm working on a ten page comic for the upcoming Hic & Hoc anthology of Unsolved Mysteries and a piece for an anthology about cringe-worthy experiences edited by Peter S. Conrad. I have notes for Losers Weepers #4 (LW is an ongoing narrative based on and including actual found letters, notes and other detritus), but haven't had the time to sit down and write/draw it. I'm a full time dad to my daughter Lulu/freelance illustrator/pet portraitist/small press comic publisher/etc., so there's not a whole lot of free time!

AB: What will people take away from Digestate?

J.T.: Ideally, I'd love for the readers to learn something or expand their viewpoints about food. Hopefully be entertained. If not, Digestate's pages can be easily removed to be used as napkins.

For more on J.T., visit his blog.

- - - america, you are not the world

Rick Vance / like Shawn Starr, has a blog

Shonen is defined as a "class of manga for an audience of young boys."Think back to when you were young. What interested you? People in comics often cry out for a lessening of the violence to make books more appropriate for kids, yet for myself and anyone I have talked to, as kids, they wanted the stuff that is violent, dramatic and, for lack of a better word, "real." Wolverine was the most popular comic character of the 80s not because of his personality but because of the six knives he had on, ready to eviscerate people.

Shonen manga are, at their core, more formulaic than most superhero comics. Establish a protagonist, throw him/her into a crazy situation, let them fight out of it, introduce allies, bonding time, and repeat with new villain. Yet even if the plots are, at their core static, the way in which the creators play with the characters and the moving pieces within those formulaic structures is what gives them their dynamism. That also comes back to the action and violence; the characters in these series have two modes of operation: there is the relaxing mode with their gang of friends in which jokes are made, insights are given and interesting places / side characters are introduced.

The other mode is  the instant the threat of the current story begins to throw weight around, in which everyone flips into 110% action. There are still the odd jokes made, but it is game time, and the goal has changed to beating the other person to the point where they can't continue. There isn't any blood thirst or malice in this action (well sometimes depending on the character). It is closer to that scene at the end of JLU when Superman makes the world of cardboard speech before REALLY cutting into Darkseid, only that is how the characters in these series act for every fight they are in. There is no holding back because at the point the villains are put into that direct line of sight, they have already been revealed to be malicious monsters whom need to be taken out.

Now you are probably thinking, if the series are based on formulaic structure and each action scene is played to the max, how does the momentum continue? Part of it is having the most magnetic main cast as possible. Also, the quality of the villains and the supporting cast plays into that, yet the main reason comes back to the fact that these are series primarily written and drawn by the same person. The art reflects the cast of characters created, the abilities they have and the interesting ways those can be put to use in action sequences. Toriko, one of the series currently running in Shonen Jump Alpha, is a strange beast because it's a manga that combines cooking with fighting to a level that I have not seen them blended.

 

Which is another part of it. While the action is also brutal, it' s fun, entertaining and always a fantasy. It is an impossibility, and so it isn't mistaken for real violence, yet it still carries all the stakes to provide the proper dramatic weight. These series are written for younger readers, yet they understand what they want, so the violence is kept in. People bleed in these comics, they die and they fight with all their will to survive, and that drive, that desire, of every character adds a layer to the ridiculousness that makes you want to partake in that struggle.

I am going to finish this with the best example of this at work that I have seen: twenty five volumes into One Piece, after the crew has fought off an entire civil war and the forces behind the scenes controlling it. In much the same way as the opening image I had, Luffy and Zoro the captain and first mate are insulted and beat up by thugs in a bar. Later, they befriend some of the residents of the island who have lofty goals that sound insane. While our main cast is out on an errand to propel them to the next stage of their journey, the friends and the thugs from earlier meet, leaving the treasure stolen and everything in ruins, which sets up the need for some violence.

This whole scene is playing with a level of dramatic irony. We the audience know from other facts shown that Luffy is stronger than all the thugs. That in the earlier scene it wasn't cowardice that got him beat up more just indifference.

The stakes have now changed. Bellamy has taken from friends of the main character and hurt them for basically having dreams. Bellamy, a man who ate a Devil Fruit that gave him the power to turn his body into springs, gets some time to show of his abilities.

You build great main characters, you build great supporting characters, and you build great superpowers to make them distinct and interesting.

You then crank the melodrama up to eleven, and let it build and build and build.

Violence for the sake of goals and ideals that are just are gratifying and powerful to read, watch, or to commit in video games. When the hero is forced into a corner and acts because he must, whether it be Yojimbo or Die Hard or any other great action movie you can think of, we cheer for his victory and the defeat / death of his enemies. If you (the author) have done it right, we are right in the palm of your hand, anticipating the end.

However, if you can infuse that violence with real heart, passion, emotion and weight when that crescendo strikes, you will have your audience at the edge of their seat wanting to devour whatever you give them.

- - - exit

Go get some rest.