Thursday, June 21, 2012

Six capital sins of writing and how BEFORE WATCHMEN commits them all.

1) Never insult writing, neither yours or anyone’s.

“I’ll just have to face the facts, girl, I’m no Tolstoi. Going for a philosophical end there isn’t going to work”  Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1 p.3

You may think this gives your writing humility, or in-universe it gives an excuse for a character to not demonstrate the exceptional writing skills he’s famous for, however it just shows poor penmanship. Disrespecting your own or a character’s literary voice weakens the author’s authority. The first page of any literary work is the opportunity for the author to establish authority, to convince the reader to stay and enjoy the story and this is achieved through two methods; be empathetic and appeal to the reader’s emotions or appeal to the intellect and hand out provoking thoughts. By saying: “This is terrible” (Op. cit p. 2) you just lose everything you gained.

2)You shall not hang lampshades


Writing, as any other craft, has conventions, these conventions are the unwritten contract you and the reader sign when the work is purchased or acquired, “I am going to tell you this story and here are the tools of the trade I am going to use” In visual arts, such as the comic-book, monologuing is accepted. Steve Ditko and John Romita Sr.’s Spider-Man continually monologues as he spins his web around New York City, John Byrne’s Superman monologues as he fights his way through War Machines in The Man of Steel miniseries, we have come to accept it. The original Watchmen always had an explanation in-universe for monologuing. Rorschach’s Journal, he was dictating to his own head and later sat down to write it, Doctor Manhattan’s watching the past and the future happen at the same time, Alan Moore used these conventions but somehow skipped the thought balloons relying on expressions drawn by Dave Gibbons,  both the words and visuals perfectly married.
In the hands of a much inferior writer whose only trick is: “look how aware I am of how ludicrous comic book conventions are” this becomes just that, a cheap trick for a quick laugh, that undermines the unspoken contract between creators and readers, made worse by the fact that monologuing is used in a straight way throughout the rest of the book.

3) Alternate Character interpretations belong to fanfiction, not in official releases (Brian Herbert’s Syndrome)

Derivative works have a very tough job, they come after a established property and while carrying their own goals they must still follow the original. The biggest perpetrators of this is Marvel and DC Comics, their properties have gone through dozens of creators while still trying to be recognizable. Chris Claremont's run on X-men for many has been the definitive interpretation of the characters, but after Claremont came much inferior writers who killed off the characters they didn’t like and resurrected the ones they liked., you cannot read Uncanny X-men as a novel, plots contradict themselves, characterization becomes poor and twists and turns are hard to keep track.
An inferior writer will always try to establish credibility by correcting or “improving” a character, he has always wanted or always though something and when given the writer’s reins, feels free to explore. This just weakens the character, The Silk Spectre is a respected superheroine with equal footing to the rest of the Minutemen and according to Darwyn Cooke she is just a “pretty face” throwing publicity stunts while her “kike ass”  (sic) husband and agent charges for her appearances.

4)You shall not use “Dark and Gritty”

The Dark Age of Comic Books, brought upon Watchmen and Frank Miller’s Daredevil and The Dark Knight Returns began because artists wanted to copy that “Dark and Gritty” feel to the original works without understanding that it was a result of the deconstruction process. Deconstruction, in the case of Watchmen, meant exploring the consequences of having costumed adventurers running around. Before Watchmen not only feels like ANY other comic book, playing the superheroics straight, it gives The Comedian an artificial troubled past as a justification for his latter fall, while the original novel guides through that process and lets us gaze into what he has seen, and lets us in his gradual descent, Here, The Comedian was born broken and just recites psych-sounding nonsense. You never tell dark and gritty stories, you just tell stories.

5) Never give in to the temptation to justify one aspect of the source material that wasn’t intended to have any further explanation.

The original narrative of “Under The Hood” provides a laconic ending to the heyday of the Minutemen, every one of the smiling heroes who seemed larger-than-life (Except the too human Edward Blake, but that’s the central theme of the novel) have sad endings. In the case of Mothman he ends up in a mental asylum and is not given additional details, a moth unceremoniously burned to a crisp by a candle.
Before Watchmen provides a backstory and a justification to Mothman’s fall, he starts damaged and fragile, the process of rise and fall subverted entirely. It removes the counterpoint and the whole reason to have him as a character, these are details that, while expanding to the existing mythos, add nothing and detract from the overall mood of the piece. What you do not show is as important as to what you show, and sometimes, when showing monsters, the less you show the biggest and foreboding they are in the mind of the reader, details just dilute that effect.

6)Never rely in the power of words themselves, specially for shock value.

Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson’s Millenium series is a bisexual as a thematic convention to show her detachment to humanity itself and spiraling alienation, characters in Alison Bechdel’s stories are lesbians because Bechdel herself is a lesbian and it is an exploration of her own life, trying to make sense of it, Why is the Silhouette a lesbian?
It’s part of the overall theme of the Minutemen in general, they really are mystery men. we know nothing about their personal lives, their public personas are empty masks, filled by no-ones, it’s because their deaths that we got to peek a little into their lives. The idea that the comic book reader is intimate with the masked hero’s real identity is subverted for the first time in the extracts of Under The Hood, the revolutionary ideas is that not even a fellow hero knew anything about these men and women of mystery.
For Darwin Cooke The Silhouette is a lesbian because she was in the source material, and doesn’t show it, gives some kind of pseudoexistential question, he fails to do a basic writer’s workshop's advice: Show, don’t tell. And overall, he speaks about a “Child pornography ring” (for the year of the story a child prostitution ring is more accurate, the child pornography is a more contemporary fear) that we see nothing about. It’s more than lazy storytelling, it just becomes name-dropping, a divorce or the words and images and that is the ultimate sin in sequential art