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?