Saturday, June 21, 2008

Controlled Tension in Cloverfield

A fan's rendition of the Cloverfield monster. See
how much they vary at Cloverfield Blog.

Many of you will have already seen the movie Cloverfield, which I caught this afternoon.

The monster, which demolishes Manhattan and in the process comes perilously close to disrupting my internet connection, is enormous. Godzilla is an overgrown carpet mite by comparison, even if he (she?) is more noble.

The beauty of the film is that the monster is mostly glimpsed, with tumbling skyscrapers and shadows thwarting a sustained study. This understatement should be studied and understood by all writers, especially comics writers striving for controlled tension.

Controlled tension was a hallmark of the best Dick Tracy, mostly in the 1930s and 40s. It's more nuanced than suspense, which merely keeps you dangling. Think of it as a volume control knob turned abruptly in directions and increments we least expect.

Not just the monster's physique is kept vague, but also its motive.  Meanwhile, a small party is on a quest into the heart of the carnage. They learn a few things, to be sure, but our imaginations get a workout. Write your comics with these lessons in mind and they will be much better.