Broken Rules: Show, Don’t Tell

This blog usually limits itself to making fun of specific works. However, every now and again I feel like critiquing specific storytelling rules that often get broken, in various mediums. When I say ‘rules,’ I don’t mean anything like societal norms that should be upheld- I mean rules of storytelling that need to be followed because not following them actively makes the story suffer. So, with that out of the way, let’s move on.

I’m not a big reader of comics. I mean, I’ve got most of the Bone books, a Sam & Max collection, some newspaper comic anthologies, but I don’t really read comic books so much (Except Ambush Bug. Ambush Bug is awesome.).
Despite that, I happen to be quite fond of sites making fun of stupid comics, such as Superdickery (warning: some language) and this place (also some language). I was working my way through the latter link when I came across a stupid little story about superpowered dogs. No, really. I came across a particular segment and I noticed something that I’ve seen in other comics, particularly silver age comics, and I decided to do this. So, here’s the page:

One of the fundamental rules of comic books and other visual arts is Show, Don’t Tell. The first panel completely ignores the rule, and the result is some incredibly clunky dialog. I’ve seen this other places, and I’m sure you have, too.
So, what’s up with this? Why do they feel the need to put in all this unnecessary crap? For the answers, we’ll need to look at individual aspects of the exchange.

1. “Tusky Husky dug this moat with his long tusk-tooth!”
I’m going to ignore what an incredibly stupid name ‘Tusky Husky’ is. I’m going to ignore the utter stupidity of the phrase ‘tusk-tooth.’ I’m not going to question why the stampede of fleas (that’s what they are, by the way- giant fleas that are menacing sentient dogs) doesn’t just go around the ditch. It’s well known that silver age comics, especially the ones targeted at children (AKA: All of them) were really —-ing stupid.
So, why is this here? Well, it’s one of the least useless pieces of dialog on this page. I couldn’t have figured out that’s what happened on my own, at least, partly because there is no way in hell that tooth could dig a moat that big quickly enough to be practical. That said, it really isn’t that necessary. How hard could it have been to just throw in a panel showing the ditch being dug? I can only assume they didn’t want to have to make any more artwork for this, so we can chalk this one up to being cheap.
2. “And Paw Pooch is kicking any escaping fleas back in the ditch!”
Thank you, talking dog. I could never have figured out that the dog kicking fleas into a ditch was kicking fleas into a ditch.
Why is this here? Can’t we see it for ourselves? Why go out of the way to tell us this? I can only assume that the writers think that viewers are morons. (Man, I love that site.)
3. “You’re doing all right yourself, Tail Terrier, using your elastic tail as a ‘broom’ to sweep them back in!”
Once again, we can see this thank you very much. And what’s with the quotation marks on “broom?”
What makes it even worse is that this is a particularly stupid and mangled bit of dialog. It’s just so forced, it’s not clever, it’s a massive As You Know, Bob (“Why thank you, stupidly named talking dog, for making sure I know what it is that I am doing right this very second”)… I could go on, but it’s just stupid, okay?
4. We’ve blocked the flea invasion!
It was that easy, huh?
To be honest, I don’t have too much of a problem with this. It ensures that we all know that this maneuver did, in fact, manage to stop the flow. It’s well enough.
5. But who started it?
This is getting out of our jurisdiction, so I’ll just say that this is very obviously tacked on with the sole intent of setting up the narration box in the next panel. And also that this plot is stupid, but you knew that already.

As for the question, it’s actually all society’s fault.  It’s a crazy, crazy world.

You’ll probably see more of this sporadically when I’ve got something I want to write about.


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