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Authorship killed The Family Circus For Me

I will never look at Snoopy the same way again. Or Calvin and Hobbes, or even Garfield. They have all been ruined for me. Not ruined, but rather changed. Disfigured, you could say.

During my stint at film school, a screenwriting teacher told us that once you step behind the curtain and know the structure behind the movies, that you never see them the same way again, and you know what? It’s true. (That and the fact that most movies operate on something that you could barely call reality these days.) And with comic strips it’s the same thing, once you put pen to paper and have your own characters, you can’t help but second guess all of your favorite creators, as if you have reinvented the wheel:

“Why is Snoopy hugging Woodstock in the last panel? He should have thrown him into his water dish!”

“Why can’t Calvin’s parents have names? Why doesn’t he have a last name? From now on, in my head they’ll be Dolores and Heathrow Buckhout.”

“Why is Garfield...just...there? Why is there still a Garfield, anyway? Why don’t they put that swell comic about the girl and the sheep in my newspaper?” (Hey, a guy can dream.)

It’s a bit different with superhero comics, since no fan is a real fan if he (or she) isn’t second guessing and complaining about every single creative decision. (Organic webshooters? Are these people stupid?) But once you have your own comic strip, a lot of the enjoyment is gone, even the enjoyment of bad; instead of going: “that’s cool” and “that sucks”, your author mind goes “I would have done that differently” and “Holy Mother of Walt Disney, WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT?”

Luckily, even as an author you can sometimes look at something completely from the reader perspective while barely thinking about how you would do it differently, and why this comic is so good it depresses you to the point you never want to upgrade your photoshop because what’s the point, really? I have a few, Pogo is one, Mafalda is another, and The Perry Bible Fellowship too. (Those white blobish characters are creepishly real.) What are yours?


Re: Authorship killed The Family Circus For Me

I think it's inevitable that, as a creator, you will automatically - even unconsciously - deconstruct works as you read them. I can't even remember when I last read a book (or comic) without thinking "x" was done really well but "y" was done very poorly.

As long as the "things done well" outweigh the "things done poorly" I don't find it necessarily ruins the magic for me. I remember reading Identity Crisis and enjoying it enormously even though I was struck by several gaping plot-holes. The skill in the characterisation and general story-telling was enough to outweigh the flaws.

Conversely, I remember admiring the plotting of The Da Vinci Code but finding it a dreadful book to read, simply because the overall quality of the writing was so mediocre.

In both cases, being able to "see behind the curtain" and appreciate the constituent parts individually didn't affect my overall reaction to the work. It was the balance between those parts.

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Re: Authorship killed The Family Circus For Me

I agree with marvelous patric. Knowing "how it is done" may help, in certain cases, appreciate the art. Of course, it is in a more intellectual way; you no longer get that innocent, wonderful belief that makes the comic/painting/film/book work its magic.

And it also may help you feel more lenient to something that you did not like in a work of art. François Truffaut, one of the most renowned french film directors of all time, started out as a critic, and a truly scathing one at that; later in his life, after having actually directed films, he admitted that if he had known how difficult it was, he would not have been so harsh on some of the works he had reviewed.

And to add personal experience, I'm an amateur translator and I have found that this truly is an artistic work, in that you may never convey the whole thing you want to. Beautiful as a sunset may be, the painter's palette will not be as vibrant, nor the photograph's picture as alive, nor the poet's hymn as colorful. And the greatest sonnets of Shakespeare cannot be truly translated into another language: for verse is a balance between meaning, rhyme and meter, that cannot be equaled when translated. (Or then, chances are the translator just wrote a poem of his own, inspired by the original, but how is that translation?)

Mmmh, I'm rambling again. Back on the topic: I remember vividly a friend of mine decrying the french translation of a sentence in "The Hitch-Hiker's Gide to the Galaxy", describing a ship that "flied exactly as bricks don't" (quoted from memory, with apologies). "As bricks don't" is a turn of phrase that simply does not exist in French, so Jean Bonnefoy (kneel), the translator, turned the issue around by writing the ship "flied exactly like a brick, which, by the way, doesn't" (re-translated from memory to make the point for non-French speakers; I understand those are a majority nowadays). This, my friend expounded, was betrayal of the original text. My own opinion was less clear-cut, but I had to admit it wasn't perfect.

Several years later, I translated L5R stories for non-English speaking friends and found myself often at odds with the text. One fine day, something reminded me of those bricks that don't, and I admitted Mr. Bonnefoy had done the best job I could imagine on this sentence.

(One of these days, I'll broach the topic of comics translation: book translators have it comparatively easy since you have to fit the translated text into a balloon that was intended for a much more concise language ...)

Re: Authorship killed The Family Circus For Me

for me, having made comics for a while now, i've learned that i find new things to appreciate in old favorites. now when i reread old comics from my childhood, i find new things in them to love that i never could see before.

i don't think any magic is lost by knowing how the trick is done. you just gain a new appreciation for how skillfully the trick is done and for any personal touches the artist puts in.

Re: Authorship killed The Family Circus For Me

This is also true for writers. And software developers. ;-)

Th' wife is a writer and she was complaining recently about a novel - how, in order to reach the climax of the book, several characters went completely against how they'd been developed, and that their actions were totally "unrealistic" (given the circumstances in the book). Sadly, this ruined the book for her and turned a really enjoyable read into a "bad" novel for her.

I write software. I can't tell you the number of times I've wanted to rip someone's hair out over the lousy, inconsistent user interface (not mine - the other developers. Of course, they may feel that way about me, too!)

It's not easy writing a good comic, a good novel, or good software - but knowing what goes on "behind the curtain" certainly changes your perspective!

Steve G.

P.S. I love "Count your Sheep"!

Re: Authorship killed The Family Circus For Me

motty's picture

It's the same with music to a great degree - if you play a lot of music it gets to a stage where it's really hard to listen to a lot of stuff without automatically hearing each part individually instead of the whole. On the other hand, when you do find stuff which your head doesn't automatically break down into parts it's usually a very good sign and means something new (to you at least) is going on there; also it trains you in different ways of listening, as with concentration you can force yourself to put the parts back together if you really want to and try and listen like a non-musician would. Perhaps similar things apply in terms of comics.