The Pop-Drama Manifesto – A Call To Arms
This blog started out as primarily a comics blog, but over the last few months there’ve been fewer and fewer posts about comics. There’s a reason for that.
I’ve been reading as many comics as ever for the last few months, but aside from Grant Morrison’s comics and League: Century, none of them have been about anything. Detective and Wednesday Comics and Strange Tales and so on have all been enjoyable, but there’s not been a new idea in the stories of any of them. (Williams puts new ideas into almost every panel as far as the art goes, but I simply don’t have the critical vocabulary to talk about art sensibly).
We’ve not got any drama in comics at the moment – and precious little in genre fiction as a whole.
I’m using ‘drama’ here as the closest term I could come up with for a concept I’ve never seen defined before. Most genre fiction at the moment is soap opera – the impact is entirely based on one’s feelings about the characters and one’s wish for them to be happy or otherwise. Whether that be wanting Supergirl to bring her father’s murderer to justice, or hoping the Welsh Doctor and Wose will find their true wuv together at long last, or hoping the Order will defeat Xykon, it’s all about one’s attachment to the characters.
Soap opera isn’t necessarily a bad thing (I’m currently reading all the Superman/girl titles, and regularly read Order Of The Stick too) but it’s very hard to find anything to say about it. Most Doctor Who, most superhero stories, a good chunk of SF, have all been soap opera.
Drama (my definition) on the other hand, is what happens when you couple concern for the characters (as above) with actual ideas, and make them work together. Watchmen is drama – it’s full of ideas (about power, morality, free will, humanity, the comics form itself) while Blackest Night is soap opera. Doctor Who And The Silurians is drama while the Welsh series is soap opera.
Drama in this sense is not necessarily superior to soap opera, but I think on the whole it’s more worthwhile. Marv Wolfman and George Perez’ Teen Titans sold something like ten times more copies in the 80s than Alan Moore (and Totelben, Bissette, Veitch, Alcala etc)’s Swamp Thing, but the latter had ten times more ideas and is what has lasted. The latter is certainly easier to talk about.
Increasingly in genre fiction we’re given a choice between soap operatics, full of sound & fury, signifying nothing, on one side (most current superhero comics, Star Wars, the Star Trek film, most of the Welsh series) and on the other hand people who think they’re rather cleverer than they actually are, who think ideas are a substitute for good storytelling (many of the New Adventures people, Warren Ellis much of the time he’s on autopilot, Steven Moffatt).
Given a choice, I will choose the second group, because they have ambition, even if it fails (I’ve written about Joe Lidster’s Master in my Big Finish A Week series over many more enjoyable stories because even though it descends into the most unbearable fanwank, it’s still more interesting than the bulk of BF’s output, which is enjoyable but conservative), but I don’t *like* the second group, who often seem to have a near-sociopathic contempt of humanity, which shows in their characterisations.
(I read both groups, and enjoy work from both – I can enjoy the work of, say, Gail Simone, who falls squarely in the ‘soap opera’ group, because she’s *good* at characterisation).
VERY rarely, we see something that contains both ideas and a concern for the characters as human beings – something that couples the characters to theme in a way that qualifies it as true art. But as far as genre fiction goes, I can list *all* of the new work I’ve seen from the last year that does that in a few words – Seaguy, LOEG: Century, Batman & Robin, Anathem, Moon, Up, Unseen Academicals. Throw in Detective for the ideas in the art, and that’s about it. I’m sure there’s about that much again that I’ve not read or seen – but that’s it.
And frankly, that’s not good enough. I’m sick of laziness in SF, fantasy, horror and superhero stuff. It was justifiable when these were niche things for tiny audiences that could only attract hacks to them, but those genres now make billions upon billions of dollars a year, and have literally millions of people wanting to create work in them. We shouldn’t have to put up with incompetent, incoherent dreck like Countdown To Final Crisis or the New Earth episode of the Welsh series, or the new Star Trek film (which had some fine performances and effects, but forgot to pack a script).
At this point, highlights of the genres, like the two Nolan Batman films, or The Prisoner, or Watchmen, should be the minimum standards we look for.
“But could you do better?”
Yes. I think I could.
So for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to post what I would do with various ‘big franchise’ characters – Doctor Who, Superman, James Bond, Tarzan, Star Trek, one or two others. I have no doubt that I’ll probably fall with most of these into the ‘thinks he’s cleverer than he is’ side I mention above, but I’ll be *trying* not to.
And I want you to do the same. Yes, YOU. This is a ‘meme’ for which I’m ‘tagging’ every one of the seven-to-ten-thousand people who read my blog in the average month. These pieces of modern-day mythology aren’t being treated right, so let’s take them back. I’m not talking about ‘fanfic’, which too often is concerned with continuity or wish-fulfillment (though I’d love to be pointed to examples where it isn’t). I’m talking about stripping these things down to their essence, tying them to new ideas, and seeing what they can do. More like the Mindless Ones’ Rogues Reviews.
But we also need new characters to tell new stories.
Once issue 1 of PEP is out, I’ll be starting up a second website along with this, for a thing I call the ‘Newniverse’, which will be a shared universe for storytelling. I’ve talked about this before on here, and got an enthusiastic enough response that now various other projects have either faltered or taken off, I’ll get it done. That site will be opening on January 1st. Ideally, we’ll do a POD book of stories from it every six months or year, depending how many people get involved.
I’m through being BORED with superheroes and spaceships – I’m ANGRY now. And I’m going to do something about it.