Stories End, a Ramble
Warning! Long unstructured post without links to provide context! Read at your own risk!
I started thinking about this while reading The Stiff by Jason Thompson over
at Girlamatic. The Stiff is a webcomic telling a story of high school
romance and (apparently, possibly) zombies. It’s weird and disturbing with art that’s
a mix of cartoony and highly detailed. My only complaint with the story is
the names of the characters. They are in-jokes. Most (if not all) the names
are references to horror writers. Not modern big-name authors that the more
general public with immediately know; these authors are old school and
obscure modern; the authors that a horror geek would recognize.
And I’m a horror geek. Rather I was. The trivia and history of the genre is
all muddy in my memory banks these days. I remember that Dennis Etchison is
a well regarded author but I can’t remember what he’s written. Every time a
new character pops up with a familiar name the banks start trying to pull
out the accompanying data. The names all stick out like neon in the desert.
And, for a moment, I’m no longer in the story. And that’s a little annoying.
After getting pulled out the story a few times I decided that I would avoid
in-jokes in my writing. Deciding that I would avoid in-jokes in the future
prompted me to wonder why I’d included them in the past. I read a piece
harping that writers often included in-jokes to show how smart they were,
how much a part of a scene.
I don’t think that applies in my case. I’ve never run an in-joke, an
unauthorized character or a plot riff that required the reader knowing it to
understand the story. So why have the Scooby gang, Betty and Veronica,
Charlie and Sally Brown, Daniel Rivers, John Gerboth, Jonathan Grossman,
Eric Hanni and a variety of Lovecraftian horrors made appearances in my
It varies. When I’ve turned people I know into characters it’s usually been
because I liked them and thought they were striking, iconic enough to take
life in fiction. I’ve made fun of friends but never with cruelty intended.
Some of them were flattered, some amused, some didn’t think much of the idea
but have been good enough to remain my friends.
The Lovecraftian entities and aliens? H.P. Lovecraft, his circle and their
successors have created a dynamic “mythos”. Large parts of it are in public
domain. It seems a shame not to see what kind of use I can make of it.
The Scoobies? The Peanuts Gang? The Archie Crew? Why them? Sure, it’s been
fun when someone noticed the gag but that wasn’t the prime reason I’d use
I wanted them to grow up. I wanted to give them lives outside the static
loop in which they’d they’d been trapped. Archie Andrews has been a teenager for sixty
years. Charlie Brown never reached puberty. Nancy and Sluggo, Richie Rich,
the Katzenjammer Kids, Lisa Simpson, Lil’ Orphan Annie and thousands more
are stuck in endless childhoods. I put them in Misspent Youths (mostly in
cameos, but some front and center) in order to move their stories forward,
in order to give their stories the possibility of an end.
What a really frickin’ odd reason.
It is the limits of a story that give it life.
Arthur pulls the sword from the stone as boy, becomes King of England,
creates the round table, marries Guinevere (sp?), sends his knights to find
the grail, and sees his kingdom collapse because of adultery and family
Robin of Locksley and his band of merry men defy King John and the Sheriff of
Nottingham, rob the rich to give to the poor, until the return of good King
Beowulf fights Grendel, fights Grendel’s Ma and then gets killed by a
dragon. I think.
Sherlock Holmes spends a lot of time being smarter than everyone else and
his buddy Watson tells us all about it. Holmes gets himself killed by
Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls. Except he doesn’t.
Calvin and Hobbes have ridden off into the sunset. The strip lasted, what, slightly over a decade? And then it was done. Bill Watterson decided that all the good stories were told.
And that’s for the best. Because there really are only so many good stories to tell for any character. Why go on beyond that point?
In many cases, once you’ve gone beyond the basic premise, you’ve got a different story –
Peanuts doesn’t work if Snoopy is a real dog and Charlie Brown gets older. How many dozens of times did Lucy snatch away that football?
If Calvin is still talking to Hobbes when he’s a teenager then he’s no longer a little boy with a big imagination he’s a head case who needs therapy.
Does anyone care whether Archie marries Betty or Veronica or Jughead? Whether Little Dot parlays her fashion sense into a glamorous career in the textile design? Whether Tintin slowed down with age?
I care about these things. Because these characters are people to me. Real people? Puh-leez. But certainly as real as any of those people who read the news on Fox.
And they’re trapped. Frozen in time and kept there by corporate interests that need them to stay frozen so they can license their lives.
This isn’t a rant for the Public Domain. That’s a different one. I support many aspects of copyright laws, disagree strongly with other parts. It’s an exploration. It’s starting to answer a question to myself.
The good news is: Tintin has escaped.