Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Watching The Story In Your Head / BYOS

I've recently been engaged in conversation about Watching The Story In Your Head and When You Can't Watch Your Story Anymore. A recent comment by Heavy Armour made me realize that while I'd engaged in wrestling with and discussing television and movies, I hadn't applied any of that careful pinpointing to comics; that is I hadn't broken down why I continue to read some things and why I ran fleeing from others and I haven't put the question to anyone reading me here.

The whole conversation started around the realization for me that I could not deny the accusations of poor story telling, reliance on stereotypes and tropes and possibly cheap methods of getting viewers to connect with the protagonist in Memoirs of a Geisha. I struggled for a while trying to define the difference between "Watching The Story In Your Head" and privilege. Both involve not seeing what's happening to some extent.

What I realized as it was pointed out to me is that "Watching The Story In Your Head", even though it can happen simultaneously to viewing is often a response to things gone wrong and if someone points out the things that went wrong, I will have my alternate version but I won't deny they saw what they saw or that I see it too when they point the finger.

It took a while though, because it seemed so dangerous to be creating an alternate story on the fly - that is until I realized that such a creation/viewing/interpretation in itself was efense mechanism against the wrong. I'd have stopped enjoying what I was viewing if I couldn't change it. In some cases I'd even have walked away in disgust, story unfinished.

The flipside, "When You Can't Watch Your Story Anymore" was revealed as I thought about it and wrote about it, to be almost a two stage process. First there's the story, then there's the story I'm watching, this usually kicks in as things happen on screen/in the plotline that I disagree with, don't like or am offended by. Then there's the point in which I can no longer make a mental shift in order to enjoy what I'm viewing - there's just too much to change. I might as well make a clean break of it and find something fresh and original to wrap my mind around or write something my own damn self.

When I put these thoughts to comics now, it seems clear to me that comic readers do this ALL THE TIME. Readers follow their version of the canon; their version of a character's history; their version of a character's backstory. They make up reasons for certain actions by characters they love. They try to work around varied writers and artists who have different interpretations of said characters than what they themselves particularly love. Comic book readers are SKILLED at following 'their story'.

It makes me wonder if comic book executives don't take advantage of that fact to some extent. They're aware, especially in these days where they were fans themselves. The figure they may lose some, but eventually they'll get them back because something will hook into the story those fans like to see. But that immediately makes me think of Joe Quesada and BND. Hear me out, take a deep breath and hear me out *smile*, I know some of you are tired of this particular topic.

Joey Q has his story, the one he likes the best for Spiderman. And he's gained a position in order to make his story THE TRUE STORY. Except that in doing so, many many fans believe he's forgotten an intrinsict part of comic book reading which essentially is BRING YOUR OWN STORY. The readers who're upset with him? The fans darting his face in bars and basements? He just invalidated their stories in a media that's generally all about BRING YOUR OWN STORY. It's made the arguments "But there's nothing in the stories of BND that needed MJ gone" take on a new meaning for me. MJ could just as easily not be in panel for those who don't like her there, but be a presence that's on tour with a musical, or doing an indie movie shooting on location somewhere and contacting Peter primarily through email and phone. New incarnations of old enemies could still have happened etc...

In the end, Joey Q's personal need to have Aunt May around forever, because she's apprently such an intrinsict part of his Spiderman story, meant that everyone who isn't him (and isn't reliant on him for a paycheck) is now going "But what the fuck??!"

Which is kind of where I am when it comes to Characters of Colour now and the Big Two. It's been one thing to bring my own story when it comes to said characters, it's another to try to do so when the characters no longer look like they belong in my story. And comics being a visual art media, makes it impossible for me move on from that. It's one thing to view a show or a comic or a movie that has no characters of colour in it. That's a different gripe about say, The Devil Wears Prada existing in an NYC with no black people, no non American cab drivers, no Asian folk, no models of color, etc. But all comic artists have to do is draw the already existing characters - the battle for more is on another front.

Women who read comics? They can't bring their own story to the panels if they're forced to include moments for the heroines to pick their thongs out of their asses, or add more doublesided tape to their corset/bathing suits. And if they never get to see the characters being forces to be recconed with, then they can't Bring Their Own Super Hero Fantasy.

I realize I'm not saying anything that hasn't been said before. But it is new for me to realize that while I stumbled in understanding this when it came to live-action; it was all unconscious and absorbed and understood when it came to comics. How many times have I heard. "That's not my superheroX" followed by. "So I guess I have to wait for a better writer before I pick it up again.". How many times had I said it? Done it? And all the while I was fully aware of why.

I'm going to end with random (created) examples of such while my brain 'reintegrates'.

- That's not my Supergirl.

- He'd better be writing my Hal Jordon.

- Please, like that's Gotham?

- For the love of Peter, Paul, Mary & Joseph why can't anyone ever write an X-men book without writing a love story/triangle? I want action not a soap opera!!

- I don't know what's so hard about writing Wonder Woman. I've got her story clear in my head.

- Ex Machina, now there's a superhero story.

- Cosmic Marvel. I'm telling you! Lose Yourself In The Space Opera!!!

- If I wrote Civil War...

- If I were writing Final Crisis...

- The only person I'm following is X, his is the only story making any damn sense!

- In my story, Tigra cuts a bitch! WTH? What's wrong with Bendis???!

- TDK movie, finally someone told an actual BATMAN story on film.

PS: It might go without saying, but I'm not going to risk it, that I've realized my favourite stories in sequential art are the ones where the writer and artist are the ones doing all the work. I don't have to bring anything (not even store bought potato salad or humus). All I have to do is read, enjoy and be curious as to what happens next. So it leads me back to Shadowgirls and Claymore and HACK/SLASH etc...


  1. Oh god, yes.

    This is part of why I got into roleplaying- we spent so long either writing the story in our heads (only to see it shattered) or just not being represented at all, that my friends and I generally found it easier and more entertaining to create our own stories or alternate stories with us represented.

  2. Bankuei:

    I have found I enjoyed comics (the big two specifically) more when I was rping. Then I could do all sorts of AU's where people's races changed or their genders got switched around or I could help explore the depths of some aspect of one story or another and reinterpret.

    Moving away from rping in comicdom may very well have added a straw to my dissatisfaction. Then again being involved in rping and seeing how easy it was to create more (instead of more of the same) might have done that as well.

  3. The big issue with comics (at least US supers) is that they're treated as franchises- never ending.

    It's not a closed story where we can stop and either be happy or unhappy with the story and move on- they keep going back, keep ret-conning, reimagining, revising. We have to selectively pick which story arcs "fit" the story in our head and disregard the rest (on top of all the other stuff with comics).

    Like for me? Iron Man is 80's Iron Man, Tony Stark as someone constantly destroying his own life, and his friends trying to pull him out/acting as enablers until he burns them too far. X-men is early 80's X-men- Mutant Massacre, dividing up into X-Factor to work with the government etc.

    When it comes to Japanese, Euro, and US indie comics, at least the stories end- they're not passed on to a new set of writers, and a new set of artists all the time, with the desperate hope to pump up sales. We can safely fall in love or not, with any given story and not have to worry 6 months from now that they'll destroy everything that made you fall in love with the story in the first place.

  4. Bankuei:

    This exact topic came up in the first conversation in my private journal. And I mentioned that one of the things I have been enjoying about Anime and Manga is the finality.

    I also recently discovered that a series I'd liked now five years later did a season two. I've only seen one episode (not even the whole thing) and I'm not sure I like it. But that doesn't at all change the fact that I liked the first season; it had a ending and there's nothing uncomfortable with the thought that my interest could end there.

    I think what I've also enjoyed is the fact that there can be many similar manga series all with similar enough plots but one can choose a favourite due to how things are explored.

    It's as if someone said 'Yeah, but what if that didn't happen. I'm going to do my manga series with that possibility.' So you can have an original series you like, that ended and then you can have a similar series (similar themes, similar characters, sometimes even similar character descriptions) that you like or don't like.

    Instead of handing over the characters and the world to a new writer who'll interpret things differently or raise up their favourite character it could be a similar series in-house or a similar series at a different manga house exploring the same thing.

    That's how I discovered I can actually -like- harem shows. Some of it is incredibly well done story that caught my attention so much only belatedly did I realize "Hey... that was a ..."

    And I've also been enjoying how the anime of a manga can sometimes go in a different direction thus giving an AU.

    When I think about X-Men through a manga filter, all the retcons etc could be so many OTHER series. There could be the Jean Grey as Phoenix Series. The Teenage Mutant Highschool Series. The government conspiracy against the world saving group series. The alien invasion with mutant saviors series.

    Everyone gets a chance to have their story told somehow. And what's surprised me is that with it separated like that, I've found myself caught up in stories that I usually resent because they're taking time away from what I want to see; by themselves they've been pretty damn enjoyable.

    Do note I'm not calling Manga the unblemished virgin mother of sequential art story-telling. But it has offered me the chance to get excited about the art of telling the tale via pictures and of telling specific kinds of tales. It hasn't taken all that much to see certain groups of characters AS [ insert your favourite type of group here ]. Heck, everytime I read or watch Naruto I'm struck all over again with wondering what that world would be like if Xavier's school had existed and all those damaged children with amazing powers had found their way there or been sent.

    Speaking of Naruto; Naruto and Bleach are the only two manga/anime series where I've gotten bored precisely because they're so long. In Naruto's case I just stopped giving a damn, when the story I was interested in "Unlikely young men form fast friendship and then ego attacks" got halted and changed. In BLEACH's case, I don't enjoy the filler arcs (unless they're ones focusing on Ichigo's family or life in the town.) There's only so much of a damn I can give for the world of the Shinigami.

  5. I think manga's strongest point is that it is very much writer/artist studio owned- there's a creative vision that isn't being stepped on as much as the US (there's certainly pressure from magazine editors, but, at least seeing the person making money, they give more leeway as opposed to transferring them onto a dying title hoping to revive it.)

    As far as Naruto I figured out what made it boring- the story starts off with tons of characters you care about- who all have reasons and motivations beyond, "Gar! I am evil!" and all of that disappears when the Akatsuki enter the picture. At that point, all the cool backstory, tough choices, and friendship stuff falls away to usual power masturbation. (Not to mention, women characters being sidelined regardless of how awesome they are).

  6. Bankuei:

    With Naruto -

    and all of that disappears when the Akatsuki enter the picture.

    This. Yes.

    Saske's brother was the only one I gave a damn about - because of Saske. I was initially very curious as to where the story would go after Saske does end up leaving, because of how he ends up leaving. From anti-hero to hero to anti-hero with doubts, I was excited about him possibly realizing that he was growing up and his world view was changing.

    I was looking forward to comparing that to how Naruto would have grown in the interim and I wondered about concepts of family and clan building (possibly as other aspects of power).

    Didn't get that. I so didn't get that.

    (Not to mention, women characters being sidelined regardless of how awesome they are)

    One of the moments that says with me, is Sakura's blonde friend watching Sakura cut her hair in order to escape and continue to defend her team. I also loved the backstory between them and thought that this was a moment to show their rivalry as a different kind of female friendship and that seemed reinforced later when they had to fight against one another.

    But then nothing.


    If it didn't feel so complicated/complex/confusing, I'd so want to do my own version of do it right. Not fanfiction, but something to be published that would explore all the things I'd originally found so interesting.

    They held out this concept of team dynamics and how these unlikely teams and the interactions between them might be forming unconscious or unacknowledged bonds of alliance that would then be utilized against some common foe. That's what I originally thought Orochimaru represented; acknowledgement that those insular minded and alienated were being bound together through greed for power under one man and intended to take and own by force the current system.

    And then poof, bam gone.

    For a while I seriously wondered if this was just a reflection of an aspect of Japanese culture I was just never going to understand; that I was just missing the reasons for cultural cross purposes why the story I wanted couldn't be told.

  7. No, Kishimoto is just being lazy at this point- he's got his fanbase, now all he has to do is crap out a fight of the week and occassionally drop a "clue" to keep folks strung along.

    It's like George Lucas - include one white boy Jedi, one spaceship, and Yoda, have them all sit in a room= instant money.

  8. This is why I follow writers instead of characters. It's also why I like finite, creator-owned series like Y: The Last Man because, even though there are low points and high points, there's a single, overarching creative vision to it all.

    I've been wondering lately why I even bother getting attached to characters like Wonder Woman or Supergirl. The good point is that Gail Simone is the type of writer who can be relied upon to have a long, solid run that feels like its own self-contained story. The bad point is, Wonder Woman is (and Supergirl is becoming) too high-profile to have a neat, self-contained, character-driven story. She's always going to show up elsewhere, and it's always going to be different from the way GS is writing her. And now that I've started reading her title and getting invested, I'm going to care.

    I guess that's what really bothers me.

    Never mind, I have a cool version of both inside my head that I can always retreat to.

  9. I used to have a dream story for X-Men, then Grant Morrison went ahead and did it himself. That sweet wonderful man!

  10. I also recently discovered that a series I'd liked now five years later did a season two. I've only seen one episode (not even the whole thing) and I'm not sure I like it. But that doesn't at all change the fact that I liked the first season; it had a ending and there's nothing uncomfortable with the thought that my interest could end there.

    This is exactly why I pretend Alien 3 doesn't exist.