The Indisputable Matt Maxwell Presents:
I won’t make you look it up. It’s “Blue Thunder” from Galaxie 500’s ON FIRE, which is a heart-rending classic for a quiet Sunday afternoon, tentative guitar and Dean Wareham’s yearning, unsure vocals. Sad, regret burnt into the notes and far too much thinking about what could’ve been or should’ve, if the past truly was a piece of clay that you could bend and flex with mere thought. Which is no more true than the future is something that you get to exert exact control over, no matter how much you’ve deluded yourself into believing that the case.
Because it’s never that way. We manufacture the present, and try to shape the past with that in mind.
It’s been a week here, it indeed has. So pardon the outward introspection. Indulge me, if you will. You’ve been kind enough to do so for the last thirty nine episodes, so please, don’t spare me further kindnesses.
I recently had an opportunity to write what might best be called fanfic. And by “opportunity” I mean to say “Hey, Blizzard entertainment was having a writing contest and I was sap enough to write up some short stories for it.” There was no money involved. I mean, why should I break up my perfect record of writing for no money whatsoever, right? This isn’t the streak that you break lightly.
So I went on ahead and wrote a couple shorts. One, just to make sure that I really could actually write a prose story anymore. I used to be okay at it, but scripting comics has demanded a totally different set of tools. Sure, at its core, the story has to work, no matter which form you choose to tell it in. That much is transferable. Nearly everything past that, however, is not.
For instance, if a scene needs to roll on, it can. I don’t have to worry about an artist drawing the same talking heads for three pages or more (hint: if you’re doing it for more than two, you need to examine it very very closely. Yes there’s exceptions to that; we all know that.) I can get away with that in prose because I don’t have to worry about how some poor slob is going to have to make this visually interesting. Of course, I’m not in the habit of writing characters that like to hear themselves speak, so I don’t have overlong café conversations where the only image you get besides the talking head is someone stirring coffee.
I save that for columns.
Of course, writing prose involves a hell of a lot more physical writing. But at least I don’t have to pay someone to illustrate all of it that way, right? But once you get started (or at least once I get started), the pages flow pretty easily. Whether or not they’re actually any good is another issue, I suppose.
The weirdest thing, I suppose, is actually needing to have a narrator at all. Comics have basically obliterated that, expunged the concept from their pages. In comics we get dialogue and sound effects and that’s basically it in terms of text. Narration used to be a major component of comic storytelling. Granted, it was often over-narration and sometimes bad when it wasn’t unnecessary. But the good stuff, and there’s plenty of it, just read Alan Moore’s SWAMP THING to see it in action, was left to the wayside along with the bad and mediocre. I still haven’t figured out if this is because of an “evolution” of the comics form or if most comic writers are just plain not very good writers and would prefer only to generate plots and dialogue. Different causes, but the same end result.
Oh, and I won’t even get into the complete abandonment of first-person narrative in comics. Yes, it got overdone and overdone plenty, but to my mind, it’s like leaving the color green out of your paintings because you think that “Green’s been done, man.”
Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure I used that exact metaphor previously. Still doesn’t change its accuracy.
Who knows. Maybe the reliance on narrative captioning to move the story along in an efficient manner was one of the factors that allowed for “Done-in-one” stories to thrive and be the dominant form of story delivery in mainstream comics for a long, long time. Decompression allowed for stories to breathe, sure, but that means that you’re taking several pages to cover something that used to be handled in pretty short order. Still trying to find that balance myself. Keeping dialogue and plot moving along on a comics page means that you have to be pretty tight and have condensed, almost clipped dialogue. Or just a few large panels a page, I suppose.
And I have to say, describing objects and settings and characters in a way that’s interesting, but not distracting and overwhelming is its own challenge. I opt for perhaps a more “literary” and less literal manner of description, primarily because it’s more interesting and it’s something that I never, ever get to do in comics. Why describe something that’s being drawn? Sure, you can for the sake of introducing ironic or contradictory elements or themes. But when you slap “The Chevy was glossy, the color of candied blood in the hard sunlight” on top of a picture of a red car, well, you’ve just given birth to redundancy. Hooray!
But that’s not an issue in prose, since you don’t have a choice to make it all up with words. So that’s kind of a nice break from comic scripting, where the only descriptions are those that are given to artists and not to readers. And in case you were wondering, most artists that I’ve worked with don’t really want a bunch of literary and interesting descriptions. I try to go with straightforward and uncomplicated, particularly since I’m working with guys whose first language isn’t English.
Oh, and let me get back to the ‘fanfic’ part of the equation. I joke, just a little, when I refer to the stuff I wrote as fanfic. Sure, it’s set in a world that I didn’t create (though one might argue how much worldbuilding goes on in Blizzard’s games, which are interesting, but are largely syncretic, put together with pieces of all kinds of fantasy literature mixed with a dose of pop culture references etc) but they’re about characters that I came up with.
For instance, STAR WARS fanfic would concern itself with the major characters, or perhaps dally in the Vader/Solo/Chewbacca love triangle that the movies only dared to hint at. There’s only a handful of real, memorable characters in Blizzard’s fictional worlds, so it’s much more satisfying to use the settings and tone to create new characters and have them run around in that pre-made world. In case you haven’t tried it, world-building is a fairly exhausting process. I try to catch the major details and try not to construct the world’s largest ball of yarn, woolgathered details all clumped together in a strangulating mass that overwhelms the story. When it comes to background stuff, less is more. If it doesn’t impact the story at hand, then it probably really isn’t that important, no matter how cool you feel it to be.
But sometimes it’s refreshing just to jump into a place where the rules are already set and you can just get to the story.
That and when you’re writing something like this, you can shorthand a lot that you’d have to otherwise explain to new readers. I suppose that makes me lazy. I can cop to that.
Does this make those recent stories any less fanfic? Probably not. No amount of equivocation on the issue will change that. So I won’t bother protesting it. And to be honest, there’s comic fanfic that I wouldn’t mind writing someday, but it’s best not to hold your breath about ever seeing it. At age 13, I’d have loved to write the X-MEN. Hell, I’d probably loved it when I hit 23. Not sure about it now. I mean, I could do interesting things with it, like point out that they’re not Children of the Atom anymore, rather they’re Our Children, and we have to look into their eyes, whether they’re cat-pupiled or dull and empty yellow, and tell them that we love them in spite of the fact that their very presence means an end to our world. We look at them and know that we can’t fight change, but can’t stop ourselves from doing so anyways.
Oh. I’ll let you read the fanfic so above referenced. It’s right over here.
See you in two weeks.
Copyright 2006- 2010 Marc Mason/Comics Waiting Room. All rights reserved