Know Your Role

(Soundtrack: Bikini Kill w/Joan Jett– The Singles: “DemiRep” is one of the greatest songs of all time!)

I really like
this piece on creators & audiences at Trickle of Consciousness. Basically, Jason argues that “pure self-expression” is impossible–and not even desirable, because you always create for an “other”, even if that other is shacked up with your creative ego inside your own skull. Whether you think you do or not, you always have an audience in mind when you write/draw/sing/etc., otherwise you would just let it all happen inside your head… The point that I was trying to make (and I realize that I went about it in the wrong way–because I misjudged my audience!) at Ninth Art was that I can easily imagine a scenario in which an intelligent (and genuine!) creator gets an idea that is uniquely oriented toward the particular audience that, say, a comic book which takes place in the DC universe attracts… (Whether it succeeds or not is a completely different story, of course.)

The example I introduced was Animal Man, but there are many others (Flex Mentallo, it seems, is an even better one, but I’m ashamed to say that I have not read it yet…) Say what you will about them, but Roy Thomas’ retcons could only exist in the form in which he chose to present them. The same goes for a lot of Gruenwald’s stuff. And Stern’s. Not to mention my beloved Gwen Stacy-clone saga. Again, I’m not saying that it’s all good–I’m just saying that there are very particular reasons why these creators might have no problem accepting a paycheque instead of working for themselves… In all of these cases, the original ideas actually derive much of their power from participation in a world that is “created by committee”, in which nothing is ever stable. Hell, a no-prize winning letter to “Strange Mails” (or, now, on the web) might assume more importance in the minds of the readers than the text it comments upon, and a Marvel/DC superhero writer ought to be working with this eventuality in mind!

I’ve never had an idea like that–but if I did get one, I would have no qualms about trying to make it happen, even if it meant signing away the rights to my own stories and agreeing to work with an editor. It’s all part of the deal!

Also–I’ve posted the revised first chapter of Longing For Catastrophe here, if you’ve got some time on your hands…

Good Day Friends!



  1. Hmm. Not quite following you here. I can think of a couple of different examples where comic-book-style retcons have taken place–Dave Duncan’s “King’s Swords” fantasy trilogy, Terry Pratchett’s later Discworld novels. And there have certainly been enough large fictional universes–Balzac’s Comedie Humaine, Dumas pere’s work–that could have sustained the kind of retcons you’re talking about. In fact, I think retcons in those universes are inherently more powerful, because the universe is otherwise stable; it’s more shocking when the past is (as Moore’s Joker once had it) multiple choice when you haven’t been prepared for that. Or am I misunderstanding your point? jess

  2. oh no question Jess–in fact I’d agree with T.S. Eliot that any work in a given tradition is something of a “retcon”…

    this little piece was just me musing out loud in response to a particular aspect of the Ninth Art discussion–i.e. that Morrison got his “idea” for the Animal Man arc and then mashed it up into a form that suited the DC universe, and that character in particular…

    Personally, unless I hear differently, I assume that the “idea” is consubstantial with the form in which it will be expressed, and the audience to whom it will be addressed… In the case of Thomas, Gruenwald, and Stern I don’t think there’s any question that this is the case!


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