Dating Comics

I've been thinking about ways that comics, and comics set in the future in particular, keep from seeming dated. There are several things to take into account. Not all my examples will be from comics, so please bear with me.

Clothing can be handled in many ways that work well. Simple, ordinary clothes are commonly used, often with some subtle variations to distinguish them from contemporary clothing. These variations often make the clothes simpler, with cleaner lines, like Kane's shirt in Ocean. See Mek, Orbiter, V for Vendetta, most of the people in Hard Boiled, and some parts of 2020 Visions for more examples.

Clothes from definitive periods in the not-too-distant past work too. Skreemer's big 1920s/'30s suits and Gattaca's '50s look are great examples of that. Going back slightly further than that gives us the mid-to-late 1800s fashions that work well in space westerns. Any further and we get into powdered wigs, pantaloons, and all that foppish business. I'd love to see something that uses those, but I don't know of anything that already exists.

The last clothing option I can think of is the bugfuck insane look in such works as City of Silence, Lazarus Churchyard, Transmetropolitan, and some other parts of 2020 Visions. If it doesn't look like anything people wear, it won't look dated unless people actually start dressing like that.

Two of those examples bring to mind a couple incidental things that can date a story. In City of Silence, there's a lot of graffiti with names of bands that have already been forgotten. Fortunately, it now works just about as well as if they were made-up names. In Lazarus Churchyard, Lazarus looks a bit like Howard Stern. I have no idea how intentional (or otherwise) that is, but characters that look like celebrities could be a really bad idea, depending on how quickly the celebrity fades and/or becomes a joke.

One of the pitfalls for present-day comics is pop culture references. I'm sure it's possible to do such a thing in a universal way that will outlast the reference's target, but most of the time it's not, and sometimes it's quite painfully done using characters who weren't even born when the thing being referenced was big. I'm looking at you, Peter David's Young Justice.

Hey, Superboy was in Young Justice. Hairstyles can be very risky, and I'm sure we've all seen enough examples of that on our own. People will always have messy or simple hair, short or long, or shaved heads. If you've seen photographs from 50 or 100 years ago of a hairstyle that people still have today, that probably works too. Sculptured hairstyles like a mullet or a fade are always, always wrong. If you can come up with something original, hope it never catches on for a year.

Technology is another risky area. As soon as present-day tech bypasses what you use, people are going to notice. I hope Sarissa's phone implant in Mek was supposed to be cosmetic, because it was much larger than something like that would have to be. But a bone-implant phone isn't particularly visual.

In future stories, cars, like clothes, should be either plain (Mek, 2020 Visions), old with possible modifications or hugeness (Skreemer, Gattaca), or bugfuck insane (Hard Boiled). Most concept cars look dated really, really fast, so modeling something after them would be a bad idea. There are exceptions, of course; Chrysler's Pronto Cruiser concept was far more timeless and classical than the PT Cruiser it eventually turned into. But then, most contemporary American cars aren't old, plain, or bugfuck, so they wouldn't work well either. The Japanese and German cars have a certain uniformity to them, and Chrysler's Chronos concept and 300C are practically Skreemer cars to begin with. Brand names should be avoided, since no one's going to see a new Oldsmobile in 2010. They should probably be avoided for everything, in fact.

With all these great examples of What To Do, I'm having a hard time thinking of any for What Not To Do. I don't mind that one bit.

Personally, I'm a big fan of the bugfuck future idea, but plainer stuff would naturally work better for a near-future story. I think the worst thing to do would be to take ideas from a Popular Science-style "we predict the future" thing. If they're not completely ridiculous and ever actually happen, they'll come to pass much sooner than you think (like the "car of the future" in my 1972 dictionary, which looks like a mid-'70s Lamborghini), leaving your future-thing looking like a relic compared to what the reader can see outside their window.