Where's the continuity?


I’ve recently resumed a childhood love affair with comics. In particular, I’m a fan of the Uncanny X-Men. While they’re not as edgy as the Dark Knight, and not as hip as a Dark Horse mini-series, they’re what got me started on comics, and what I continually go back to. (Besides that, they’re much more interesting and generally less sucky than the movies and cartoons of the same name.)

Of course, it’s been a while, so I hopped over to UncannyXMen.net to figure out what’s been going on. They have a nice primer to help you figure out how all the various titles intersect, which is non-trivial to keep track of in the X-Universe.

Interestingly, I ran across this:


This struck me: continuity. Readers loved the continuity of the story.

While it’s easy to chalk this up as a function of good fiction, I don’t think it’s that easy. Putting aside issues of story, I’m struck by how much looking back and forth I tend to do in reading a comic. I’m scanning a bit ahead, and reflecting back on what I just read and saw, even while reading the current panel. I’ve got this constant sense of context; I have a continuity in which what I’m learning (about a comic book character, about a love interest, about an island that’s about to be submerged by supersonic waves triggering earthquakes along fault lines, etc.) fits.

So why would we simply accept that in non-fiction–especially projects and products that purport to actually teach something–we can’t have continuity?

In many ways, this is the genius of visual series like Head First, and to a lesser degree in this specific case, the Missing Manuals. I’d also argue that this visual format does wonders for the Twitter Book and our new Best iPhone Apps book and site. Without having to re-read a page or flip ahead, you have a sense of visual context. You have a continuity that can be absorbed in a glance, even if you’re ready body text at the top of a right-hand page.

I could go on and on, but let’s stop the exposition. Here’s a simple question: in your reading, your writing, your speaking, your programming, what are you doing to create and absorb context and continuity? I believe there are ways to achieve this in almost every field, and I believe this is an important part of what sets the elite apart from the… well… non-elite, in terms of communication.

Where’s your continuity?

  • OTOH, disruptive discontinuity can gain you advantage. Whether in business with new processes, new technologies, or biology with new phenotypes.

    Continuity has it’s place, especially in stories, but not necessarily in the evolution of business and technology.

  • yes, thats is a good idea. Thanks a lot

  • I love the Uncanny X-Men too and agree with you on the value of continuity. This is true even for disruptive innovations, there has to be some underlying business capability that is carried through the discontinuity, i.e. the continuity is still there but it is not necessarily the one that we were following before. My favourite recent X-Men stories were the Warren Ellis off-shoots from his main Astonishing X-Men book. Here the stories were all set in different parallel worlds (hence much discontinuity) but it was the continuity with the original characters that gave the stories meaning. I may have said this better at http://hamlife.blogspot.com/2009/01/catching-up-with-x-men.html

  • I was just wondering, as somebody who wrote a direct response to this article, why you didn’t accept my trackback?

    Is it your (or the website’s) policy not to link to anything critical of what you’re saying?

    Or was approving the trackback just something you neglected to do over the last couple days?

  • Tad-

    Total mistake on my part. I actually read your article, and a colleague pointed it out to me, as well (after I’d read it). I misread my system email, though, thinking it was reporting an -accepted- trackback, not a pending one. I’ll be taking care of that seconds from now.
    Deepest apologies, man, not at all my intention.


  • BTW, Tad, your comments about Claremont are funny to me (I tend to agree). It’s interesting that what you’re noting is actually–in his quest for continuity–Claremont creating discontinuity.

    Good stuff, though.


  • Tad

    Hope I didn’t come off as too huffy, there. Earlier the same week, I actually had this weird issue about trackbacks the week before– deciding whether or not to accept one from a blog that I felt to be politically problematic and somewhat misreading what I was saying (though it used my post to support his argument, not to attack mine.)

    Got me thinking about the politics of the trackback, and whether they implied a sort of “seal of approval,” or if it was just common courtesy to accept trackbacks, provided they weren’t spam, even if you disagreed with the content or the blogger themselves.

    After wrestling with the question, I decided I fell in the “common courtesy” camp, and accepted the trackback.

    Fast forward a couple days, and not seeing mine accepted here after a couple days, and I sort of got worked up, due to that whole mini-drama of my own a couple days before.

    So yeah– hope my reaction didn’t come off as out of proportion, but in case it did, that’s why.