Welcome to SBC’s The Panel, a chance for you toput your burning questions – comics-related or otherwise – to a group of comics professionals.
The Panel lives or dies by your contributions; please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add them to the list…
This week’s question comes from Jason S. Ridler and is as follows:-
“In an interview for Prisoners of Gravity back in the 1990s, Neil Gaiman said the Sandman series had to end because “all good stories MUST end.”
Since most comics feature characters that appear regularly could The Panel discuss the highs and lows in writing interesting, daring, and creative stories for titles that never plan to end, and how they avoid the mundane, recurring, storytelling that occurs in soap operas, another world of never ending characters.”
On a panel with Neil, he said he couldn’t use all the real-world stuff because it was too weird, nobody would believe it.
I said that I had found out that Rommel had, as a cadet — in the sort of theatrics that the military and boys’ schools are always getting up because they have no females to take the female roles — played a ballerina in “La belle Helene.” And I was going to make it impossible for his brother to embarrass him because, as he proudly remembered — “I was the only cadet who could stay up on point!”
This got big yucks.
Drag humor always has done (they call it drag humor because it gets dragged in by the short hairs, y’see).
As far as interesting, daring, creative — just go see people. Use the words that come out of your unwilling and horrified friends’ mouths. Dive into history. Go to a party. Nobody can make up this crazy crap. Humans continue to be utterly insane. If you run out a lot, walk down the street or go to the bar, or go fishing or ride a bus, or buy a plane ticket. You will run into more goofball, serene, noble, horrifying, tragic, and downright gut-wrenching funny plots in a week than you’ll be able to use in a year.
And for God’s sake, do NOT try to reproduce milk-and-water middle-class crap like OUR TOWN (I had to watch that mucky watered-down garbage 3 times in school, and I still resent it). People don’t talk like that! People talk in ways you can’t possibly imagine. They come up with the screwiest ideas, the weirdest logic, and the most — in your opinion — uneducated person — has a deep well of words or at least construction you’ve never heard before. Hell, I just found out what a “day-troller” is. It took a bum on the street to hear about a huge outlay of money on a hurt pet, and shrug, with great and noble resignation, “It’s a morality.” What he covered in three words — I couldn’t have done it. I don’t think I would have dared the conversion of the form of the words. In the long run, I’m just a reporter.
How can you live on the planet earth and not write amazing stuff?
And as for a story ending — how can a story end, when there are kids, grandkids, friends’ kids, people that have interacted for a lifetime, buildings, mountains, trees, and none of it gone, yet? Undiscovered bones in the earth can be waiting to ruin somebody’s life…
The stories end when everybody’s dead, the earth is crumbled to a knot of dirt, and has joined the universe in one big black hole in the middle of nowhere. And then it all starts over again…
(Of course, Roberta will now remind everybody that if anything weird is going to happen, it will happen to me. Or even cliches. I actually HAVE been asked — perfectly seriously — “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?” I as a sergeant at the time — and the person who asked me was a red-headed prostitute in a leopard leotard. We got to talking about her kids — and how you never order pickles at the local deli, not with what it does to your digestion, and so if I didn’t want pickles, always ask for a “pro’s special.” This came in handy.
Hey, Roberta! Remember the rottweiler at midnight in the German woods? And the rat-fan in Glasgow?).
Donna Barr has books and original art at www.stinz.com, webcomics at www.moderntales.com, www.girlamatic.com, and has POD at www.booksurge.com Nothing she won’t try, at least once.
Have all the stories been told? How many times can you write a Superman tale where he saves a Lois from a death trap, where Batman defeats the Joker again?
Does it matter?
Let’s look at this another way:
Recently I’ve heard 5 different versions of Man Of Constant Sorrow (In O Brother Where Art Thou & Cold Mountain, by Johnny Cash, Eve Cassidy and -oh dear god NO- Rod Stewart). It’s the same song performed in individual ways– I’m not saying that comics creators are just singing the same song but they are taking elements of the mythos they work with and at least humming along with an old melody. There’s the whole ‘illusion of change’ ethos used in comic books. Rarely do major characters stay dead -Magneto and Aunt May come to mind- they have roles to play within the telling.
Movies have done this too- it’s now called ‘re-imagining’ a phrase someone deserves being basted in a nice honey glaze in the Third Circle of Hell for inventing- everyone’s getting excited about the Batman Begins movie -me too- but it’s STILL the story we’ve know for years just being retold. Smallville is a great piece of TV but we cheer when Clark refers to ‘Kara’ as his cousin because we love that old tune we used to sing, or get goosepimples when we saw the red cape flutter briefly because it’s like a snatch of a favourite hit.
The comics audience changes (well, used to change) every few years. It’s the task of the creators working on these iconic characters to make these stories -these tunes- vital to the audience of the day.
So long as Rod Stewart isn’t involved.
Mike Collins is currently artist on ‘American Gothic’ for 2000AD, and producing a crime fiction graphic novel for Westwind in Norway, as well as providing regular illustrations for Future Publications and Doctor Who Monthly.
I find it hard to support the idea that stories have to have an end. While individual lives end, the grand drama of life itself does not. Plus an individual’s life is filled with many stories. So creating continuing fictions is a way of reflecting that truth. Moreso than the idea some writers have that there is really only one great story in a character’s life that leaves them irrevocably changed. I don’t think that one grand story view is true to life. That may be why so many people are attracted to continuing series, whether they be superhero books or daily comic strip continuities. To experience characters living lives much like their own. Lives that never appear to end until the end actually comes, much to one’s surprise. Again, true to life itself.
That being said, I think the first wrong idea is to try to make continuing stories interesting, daring, and creative. What that gets you is an exciting beginning of a series or a writer’s run on a series, followed by the long drag once the initial fire has burned out. One way of looking at a continuing series to understand that many times the solution to one problem or set of problems can contain the seeds of a new set of problems. To be a bit topical for a second, the initial solution to Saddam Hussein applied by the US government, that of overthrowing him, has led to many more problems: the creation of a new government, the winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, the constant struggle against the insurgents/rebels, etc., etc.
So the real key, in my opinion, to writing a continuing series is to be very observant of one’s own life and the lives of others.
I don’t think you can fully avoid the routine or mundane or recurring aspects of storytelling that can happen in a continuing series. I don’t think you should even try. What a writer should try to do is work with those elements, to see how often in life repetition of the same events or even the same kinds of people occur, and to use that as a way to comment on life itself. Which is often the goal of art anyway. To illuminate life in such a way as to increase our understanding of it. At least, that’s what I feel.
Plus a writer can always blend old and new, the fresh and the recurring together anyway. That may be the best way to go. To not resist using the old while striving to use the new at the same time. In my previous answer about fans and change, I mentioned that in many ways humans want certainty and variety at the same time. That holds most true in continuing series. The certainty of the characters mixed with the variety of their adventures and circumstances.
If a writer does his job correctly, using his imagination to the fullest, then even telling the same kind of story over and over again (which I’ve noticed most writers do anyway, so why fight it?) can be fresh and fun to both read and to write.
Vince Moore is the writer of Platinum Publishing’s upcoming book, Kid Victory & The Funky Hammer.
All good stories must certainly end and the trick to writing in a Universe where stories might never end is to write several ways.
First, I like to write in clearly defined arcs. Arcs is a term I first head in TV that refers to a story in an ongoing universe that has a definite beginning, middle and end. The characters and the story may go on beyond the arc, but the arc is purposefully written to come to a satisfying conclusion.
The second way I like to keep things from getting stale is by using generational tools. I inject new blood into the scene, whether that’s a new host of secondary characters, a new setting, or even a new hero/heroine picking up the mantle of the old and carrying on.
I guess my last tool is to treat the story as something that’s never just in limbo, but to create chapters. Chapters are slightly different than arcs, in that they are really about the evolution of the main character. If the main character doesn’t grow, then there’s no reason to read the book. So even with an ongoing storyline there must always be some way for the character to achieve inner growth.
Fiona Avery created No Honor at Top Cow, and currently writes Amazing Fantasy for Marvel, issue #1 available this week.
To be honest, I’ve never considered this question, except for the odd, mischievous, slightly drunken conversation with a fellow comics reader in a bar.
I already have a career I’m inordinately fond of, and it doesn’t involve finding myself in the awkward position of writing for a company on characters they own, knowing full well that they have the legitimate legal (if artistically unethical) right to change my words or whole direction at the nod of an accountant.
Some fantastic writers, fully aware of the potential vetoes, have done wonders in this restrictive environment: Ennis, Ellis, Millar, Bendis, Azzarello, Straczynski, Milligan, Miller etc.. They’ve also retained a laudable dignity when censored (the bigger the name, the less likelihood of censorship, but even Ellis had a whole Hellblazer story removed, and we all know what happened to Mark Millar on The Authority).
Coming back to the actual question, there was a recent, brilliant essay on just this subject: It’s A Bird… by Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen, published by DC Vertigo as an original h/c @ £16-99. Apart from being my single favourite graphic novel so far this year, Grant Morrison called it “about as mordantly accurate a description of what it feels like to write superhero comics for a living as anything I’ve ever read.”
If you have any interest in Superman as an icon or character, I can only describe it as mandatory reading. Similarly, if you do happen to harbour a secret desire to write corporate superhero comics.
You’ll also find yourself reading a gutting piece of semi-autobiography about how some genes don’t boost your body to metahuman perfection, but destroy it completely.
And it’s that sort of relevance to our everyday lives that I’d attempt to inject into the proceedings. Above all else, however, wit is the key, and all the creators above have the enviable knack of being both intelligent (its original definition) and funny.
Stephen Holland runs Page 45, a comic shop in Nottingham, with Mark Simpson and Tom Rosin. He has also appears monthly in Comics International.
As far as the drunken conversation is concerned, he’ll give you this much: it begins in a nightclub where Dazzler’s showing off, delivering the best trippy lighting legally available, whilst flirting with everyone in sight. After a searing climax, she freezes, crumples, and dies. It’s called “Total Eclipse of the Tart”.
I write to entertain myself. Being a pretty harsh critic of all things labeled “entertainment,” I figure if my work entertains me, it won’t be mundane to others.
Jesse Leon McCann is a New York Times Best-selling Author. He’s currently editing the fourth Simpsons TV Episode Guide for Bongo Comics/Harper Perennial, and writing stories for DC Comics’ Looney Tunes and Cartoon Cartoons.
I get asked about writing established characters fairly often, which is weird considering my experience, but understandable considering my output. I always tell those that want to break in, “The character, X, has to leave your story the same way he came in. In between, you can do anything you want (within reason, of course).”
This would be my approach. In comics, there are always parallels to reality, but reality rarely crosses past that. In some ways, I would bring the characters to MY world, instead of visiting theirs. While they are here, I’d give them anything from a stubbed toe to an aunt with cancer…whatever. The important thing is to not rehash that which has gone on before.
However, I’m a real sucker for continuity, so I’d use established villains in this new capacity.
This is, of course, supposition. I’m sure I’d do whatever Editorial dictated. But I’d fight for a lot of my own ideas. The most important thing I would do is try to write stories that I, as a fan, would want to read. That’s a cop out, sure, but it’s the truth.
Vito Delsante’s creator owned mini-series, “The Mercury Chronicles”, with artist Jim Muniz, is now in development with Image Comics and will hit stands late this year. “Batman Adventures Vol 2: Shadows and Masks” (DC Comics) is out now! He will next be seen in Reflux Comics #3 (August) and in X-Men Unlimited #5 (October).
Oh man, real tough question, especially considering that a large factor in making any notable mark within a never-ending title, is going to rely on just how much rope the publisher is willing to provide you. This’ll largely depend on two things. One, if the character that you’re working on is one that the company doesn’t have an incredibly large investment behind, or is struggling chronically in the sales department, that’ll probably give you some room to work. The other situation is if you’re a “name” writer, and because of the work and hustle often involved in becoming a “name” writer, that allows you certain flexibility in altering the status quo. You think anyone but Brian Michael Bendis would’ve been allowed to “out” Daredevil, or knock off Avengers? You get that respect, you get the chance to rock the boat a bit.
I think the best way to approach and then leave a title is to endorse a scorched earth policy, to say almost everything that can possibly be said about the character/s, and supply not only the company, but any successor they might find, with frequent panic attacks on the prospect of following your run. Entirely dependent on those two factors above, but if you get the chance, go for broke and hope that no one tries to stop you. The greatest compliment I think a company could pay a writer is to re-write, unwrite, or in any other way, consciously ignore the work that was just completed. Perhaps this is me being immature, but personally, I’d get a kick out of a publisher running kicking and screaming from the stuff I just did. That’s respecting the game right there.
Brandon Thomas is one of the writers of Spider-Man Unlimited #3, scripter of Youngblood, creator of Cross and long-time Ambidextrous columnist.