A glimspe at the golden aged comics and today’s will give you a pretty good idea of how much they’ve changed. Most will argue they’ve changed for the better, as today’s art is infinitely sharper, more detailed, and contain a wider range of colors. Older comics contain more words, in the form of story boxes, dialogue balloons, and word bubbles. A single page of 50s era superman contains 200 words. A page chosen at random from a more recent issue of Superman contains 54 words.
The first to go were the boxes containing exposition. In the late eighties, Alan Moore and Frank Miller brought an end to those. Thought bubbles lasted for a few more years, but now are noticeably absent from new books. The main reason why these have been cut is because it allows the visuals to be more apparent, no longer hidden behind words.
While comics are faster paced now than they ever were in the fifties, it currently takes more issues to tell a story. With a lot of words per page, stories can be wrapped up in a single issue (most fifties comics were one-shots). In the eighties they found a happy medium; stories could be wrapped up nicely in two issues, and those were stories where a lot happened too. Frequently now, comics take three-to-five issues to tell weak stories. If you’re a subscriber, that can be an aggravating couple of months.
I for one liked thought bubbles. As a young reader, it made me feel like I had a special privilege to know the heroes thoughts. In old Spiderman comics, Peter Parker was thinking all the time. Verbally, he’d be wisecracking, but internally he’d be worrying about Aunt May and Mary Jane. When Spidey’s just hopping around wisecracking, he seems cartoonish.
With Watchman, we were given a comic that frequently featured nine panels a page. Finishing Watchmen feels more like finishing a novel than a graphic novel. Despite taking longer to read, Watchmen managed to pack some big excitement, and it had enough comment to make people talk about it for years.