1. Everyone's really good looking. And fit. And young. Older characters are wizened old villains/villainesses or kindly elders.
2. No one ages. In comics, you just keep drawing someone the same, decade after decade. In soaps, everyone's somewhere between 21 and 35 (or at least dyed and made up to appear so), except for babies, who jump to toddlerhood overnight and zip up to 19 years old in a year.
3. Characters change appearance. On soaps, a new actor will replace a familiar one as the same character. And no one seems to notice. In comics, characters look different depending on who draws them. And the characters around them never comment on it.
4. There are Good Guys and Bad Guys. And you know who's who. Soap Opera Digest acknowledges this by giving awards for Best Villain and Best Villainess. In comics, which side of good and evil do you think Dr. Doom falls on? Or the Sinister Six? Or Darkseid? How about Captain America? Superman? Tom Strong?
5. Heroic/Dramatic Character Names. The blog Mentalfloss.com provides a quiz to see if you can identify a set of names as belonging to a soap power couple or superheroes. I took it and failed. Here are a few combos: Belle Black and Shawn Brady, Robin Scorpio and Patrick Drake, Karla Sofen and Robert Reynolds, Colleen Carlton and J.T. Hellstrom.
6. People come back from the dead. If a character died outside the scene, don't trust it. It only looks like they died. If they're popular enough, they'll be back. If they absolutely and finally kicked the bucket, and everyone saw it, don't trust it. If they're popular enough, they'll be back. There might be a plausible explanation, a ridiculous explanation, or no explanation.
7. Everyone has a significant and previously unmentioned sibling/parent/child/twin. With comics, add clones and aliens to that list. If the viewer/reader isn't aware of every second of a character's backstory, there's someone they're related to waiting in the wings to stir up a storm.
8. Both tell ongoing stories, indefinitely. There's no resolution in sight, folks. Batman will never retire, nor will he clean up all of the crime ridden streets of Gotham City. If he dies (and doesn't come back to life) someone else will become Batman (and then the original Batman will come back to life). The people on The Young and the Restless will never solve their differences and live happily ever after. Unless the show gets cancelled. Even then, probably not.
9. Time doesn't really pass. It'll commonly take a six issue story arc to cover a few days of superhero action. They might reference who's in the Whitehouse in a given issue, but that can be swept under the rug as the years go by to cover up the fact that even powerless heroes never age. In soaps, there's no indication that the seasons are changing, or that even a week has passed. But then suddenly in December, it's Christmas.
10. They give the audience what they expect but still surprise them. The format is set. But suspense is a must. Heroes battle their familiar rogue's gallery, and win, but with new moves, new tricks, new devices, new twists, new quips. Soap characters enact their machinations to sabotage each others relationships and/or preserve their own relationships, but it can't be exactly like it happened last season, or last month, or last week. But it can't be too different either.
11. Both employ huge creative teams. Think of the tremendous task of creating forty-four minutes of television drama, five days a week, all year. Actors, writers, directors, crew members, story editors, making a couple of movies a week. Imagine cranking out twenty-two pages of original art every month. Another person inks it, another colours, another letters, another writes. The editor's actively participating at every step. Putting out two novels worth of output a year, per title. And most people involved work multiple titles.
12. Both are losing ground to cheaper art forms. Sales on physical books are down, and that trend won't turn around, like it didn't for LPs or CDs. Electronic books are easy to file share, so there goes the revenue. Soaps battle cheap reality TV in the ratings, and it's tough. All My Children was just cancelled after forty-one years. One Life to Live debuted in 1968 and will air its final episode in January 2012.
13. Neither gets enough credit. Sketch and improv actors frequently spoof soaps, playing up a melodramatic style. But TV requires subtlety. If the soap actors actually arched their eyebrows villainously or smashed their wrists against their foreheads in angst, they'd never have gotten cast. Comics get associated with old, bad Saturday morning cartoons and the 60s Batman TV show. Pow! Biff! Splat! But read Brian Michael Bendis's
run on Daredevil, or Alan Moore's Promethea, Grant Morrison's All Star Superman. The dialogue! The ideas! The unorthodox yet accessible storytelling! The artwork that draws your eye right in! And not a Pow, Biff or Splat in sight.
In the Kosmic Consciousness interviews, Ken Wilber talks about masculine and feminine types, saying the masculine has an inclination for autonomy, justice and rights. The feminine inclines toward care, connection and relationship. There are millions, if not tens or hundreds of millions of exceptions to a generalization like this, of course. But think of those two themes refracted into these two forms of popular art. Provided by hard working artists, striving to innovate and enthral, disregarded and dismissed by non-fans, or named as a guilty pleasure by many actively who like them.