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.

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41 Responses to The Pop-Drama Manifesto – A Call To Arms

  1. Wesley says:

    I find there’s still plenty of drama in literary genre storytelling. (By which I mean not just the kind of writing that gets classes as “literary,” but prose writing in general, including the straightforward pulp/adventure stuff.)

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Have you got any examples? Other than a few people (Neal Stephenson, Pratchett, one or two others) I tend to find much of it very dull, but I don’t follow literary SF the way I used to…

      • Madeley says:

        If we’re talking about “power, morality, free will, humanity” then the first thing that springs to my mind is Richard Morgan’s “Black Man”, although any of his books would do. The stuff Michael Marshall Smith wrote before he dropped his surname and started writing crime (well, a little bit skiffy, a little bit horror, a little bit crime) novels that sell well in Asda.

        Ooh, ooh, Alastair “Just Got a £1,000,000 Advance” Reynolds. Adam Roberts and Ken McLeod aren’t quite to my taste, but I know many folk who rate them highly.

      • Wesley says:

        One good way to find new authors is reading the various “best SF of the year” collections. (Which admittedly also contain stories that make me think “what is this doing in here?” Like anything by Greg Egan or Neal Asher.)

        As for novels, this is a completely random list, off the top of my head, and trying to focus on very recent writers. (A list of the specific SF books I most enjoyed in the past couple of years would include many older books I’ve only recently read, or reread–books by Guy Gavriel Kay and Iain M. Banks, for instance.)

        Jeff VanderMeer, City of Saints and Madmen, Shriek and Finch: a fantasy trilogy, which unlike most fantasy trilogies is three separate books written in totally different styles: a literary/postmodern short story collection, a small-scale drama about underachieving siblings, and a hard-boiled detective story.

        Peter Watts, Blindsight: An encounter with an alien species turns gradually scarier and scarier. The ending is apocalyptic and claustrophobic at the same time.

        Daniel Abraham, the Long Price Quartet: A fantasy series spanning sixty years, about people doing things that seem like good ideas at the time but have unexpected consequences.

        Lois McMaster Bujold, the Vorkosigan series: This is slightly less recent than the other books on the list–it began in the eighties–but it’s what I tend to think of when I think of SF adventure books with unexpectedly deep characters.

        Kage Baker, the Company series: These books have a strong soap opera thread running through them, but plenty of other stuff to balance it out. Baker has a knack for portraying historical people who are immediately relatable to modern readers yet still of their time.

        China Miéville: Actually, he might tip over into “ideas over storytelling” territory for you–he loves stuffing his invented-world books with Cool Things, and admitted in one interview to being influenced by D&D monster manuals. His most recent book is The City and the City, which is almost set in the real world and builds its story around one big idea.

        My personal impression is that there’s currently more good writing on the fantasy side of things than in science fiction.

  2. I hate to shill, but I am already on top of this to some extent, although to be fair, it was all pillock’s idea.

    And man, I hope you saying Tarzan wasn’t just a rhetorical, picked-out-of-a-hat example, because I am keen to see that.

    The one point on which I would argue is about the Nolan Batman films, plural. Batman Begins, a few years removed, just seems to me like that most tiresome of movies, the “faithful” adaptation; it’s quite fannish, actually, I think. Now The Dark Knight, on the other hand … that was a movie with some yarbles, because I actually walked out of the theatre the first time disliking it because it actually *offended* my fanboy sensibilities. It made me re-evaluate what I want out of a Batman movie (and comic book movies in general) once I realized that taking these properties and mixing them up and doing interesting things with them was significantly more worthwhile than watching a movie and spotting homages to comics I’ve already read.

    Very much enthusiastic about your whole project, in other words.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Oh,no, Tarzan’s definitely one of them. And yep, your Seven Soldiers stuff is good – I’m sure I’ve linked those before…

      As for Batman Begins, I think it’s a lot less fannish than you’re giving it credit for – just for a start, Batman’s motivation is fundamentally changed. Here, he wants to kill Joe Chill – and when someone else does it, he realises that revenge isn’t what he wanted at all. And only THEN does he become Batman – only *after* his parents’ murderer is already dead does he go out and start on his mission. That’s a big change to the whole feel of the character…

      • pillock says:

        That’s a good point!

      • That’s true, and I like that twist on Batman’s origin and motivation, as well as how thematically consistent the movie is about fear and all that. In the end, though, I think Dark Knight used Batman to talk about *things*, and Batman Begins used *things* to talk about Batman – I get now what Alan Moore is talking about in that bit where he says he doesn’t like the Killing Joke because it’s only relevant to Batman and the Joker.

        I felt all the explanation in Begins was sort of fannish in what I perceived as an attempt to justify these things that comics fans take for granted and maybe feel a tiny bit of embarrassment about – no, it’s not silly to dress as a bat because he’s becoming a symbol and owning his fear; no, it’s not goofy that he’s got pointy ears because they conceal radio receivers.

        Oog, veering into John Byrne territory here? I’ll just stop here and say Batman Begins and me, WE GOT ISSUES. It’s still necessary, I think, to set up Dark Knight to work the way it does, however.

  3. pillock says:

    Andrew, I think you’ve got it backwards — we used to have brilliant, creative people working on these things back when they were a “niche” market (in social terms, not in terms of sales, reach, or general influence) — now we have hacks.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      True to an extent. But what I meant was…

      Back when these things were small, there were two types of writers – those who were writing anything to make a little money, and those who were genuinely drawn to creating things in those genres. You’d have Jack Kirby or Fred Pohl or whoever, but also a ton of people just churning out whatever they could for money.

      Put it this way – Doctor Who in the 70s had Terrance Dicks (a cheerful hack) and Terry Nation, but also truly excellent writers like Douglas Adams and Robert Holmes.

      Now, the thing is, there’s an excuse for Terrance Dicks. He’s cheap, reliable, gets the script in on time, and the script he turns in will be tight and filmable. If you’re doing something for tuppence ha’penny, you can’t afford to hire the very best people in their field (though you sometimes get them by accident, usually when they’re starting out). But what excuse is there for Russel Davies?

  4. pillock says:

    Doctor Who, eh?

    And Superman, James Bond, Tarzan, Star Trek…?

    Harvey Jerkwater has a Phantom thing that’d fry your wires, by the way.

    Oh, how could I not be in.

  5. Zom says:

    People like Geoff Johns certainly don’t strike me as hacks, Pill. Actually, I don’t like that word very much full stop for all kinds of reasons, but that’s another discussion entirely.

    Andrew, I think we’re pretty much doing what you’ve got in mind, albeit not necessarily with an eye on what would sell (not sure that’s going to be your approach – probably isn’t – but thought it was worth highlighting). Rogue’s Reviews are a way of doing a multitude of things, from exploring particular comics and fictional landscapes, through to their primary aim of demonstrating that there are Other (capital O intentional) ways of looking at established characters. My usual approach is try and draw together disparate elements, be they fictional or in some sense real, and show how they can be used as lenses through which to view the subject in question. Often I attempt to decenter the subject – have a look at what the world looks like without it being the focus – so that I can learn a bit about how things could be. The review then becomes about reporting back on that. In the case of Nick O’ Teen that meant looking at the narratives (both personal and cultural) that swirl around the character and channeling them into the space left by the absence of his ludicrous form.

    The thing is, although the results of this approach are variable, it represents a refusal simply to let things be as they are, in fact in some sense it undermines the whole idea of as-it-isness, in that it insists on the presence of subtext everywhere, and demands that subtext at least be given a moment in the spotlight. I suppose what I’m saying is that I’ve started to really like deconstruction as a critical approach and therefore feel compelled to complicate the division you’ve set up between soap opera and drama, even if I kind of agree with you.

    By the way, if you want satisfying soap opera AND ideas AND atmosphere then I wonder why it is that you don’t make more time for contemporary American television drama. All the usual suspects possess the above in spades. Many, many, many spades.

    I do worry that you judge these things too quickly. They take real investment.

    • pillock says:

      Zom, I was actually talking about Warren Ellis…!

      Ha. No, I don’t usually like “hack” as a pejorative, myself…too imprecise. Though sometimes it’s the only word that fits. I wouldn’t mind having a conversation about this sometime, actually! The terms we use to dismiss writers we don’t care for can be complex too: sometimes, maybe, they’re even <i.too complex. I always say about writing that “only hacks and geniuses can do it for the money”, and what I mean by that is that those lines can blur, actually

      As to deconstruction, decentering, and the subtext getting its Big Break…yeah, those are sweet things. Part of the reason I, like Justin, am salivating at the prospect of a Tarzan treatment. And may have to do one myself…

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I agree with you that your Rogues Review stuff is VERY much what I have in mind.

      As for ‘hack’, I don’t mean it as a pejorative. There’s honour in being a hack (possibly for me, with my computer background, there’s a hint in the word of hack and hacker in the Jargon File sense of the words. To me, when I refer to someone as a ‘hack’, I mean they’ll do a job that meets at least a minimum standard of professionalism, do it quickly, fill in at a moment’s notice and get the job done, but never turn out anything inspiring except by accident.

      Hacks can be very solid writers though – Terrance Dicks (who at one point wrote one Doctor Who novel a month for a few years, as well as at various times writing for and script-editing the TV show) would be the first to call himself a hack. He’s also the first writer I have a conscious memory of recognising by name. Chuck Dixon is a hack. Most pre-Moore comic writers are hacks.

      But there’s a dignity in being a hack that there isn’t in being Geoff Johns. Johns seems to *want* to be a great artist, not have the ability to be one, and not recognise that he doesn’t have the ability. He’s occasionally capable of good work (usually in collaboration with others), but he’s not *professional* enough to be a hack.

      And like Pillock says, the line between genius and hack is a blurry one…

  6. Zom says:

    Yarp, that sounds good.

    Looks like our takes on “hack” are very similar indeed

  7. Madeley says:

    What do you mean by pop-drama manifesto? What rules are we talking about? I mean, I’d love all genre work to deal with ideas as big as Stephenson’s, or Morrison’s, but that’s one hell of a big ask. I’m not making excuses here- of course the least we should demand is art that is as good as it can be. But we’re explicitly talking about pop culture, and whether we like it or not there are practical constraints on what can and can’t be pulled off.

    It’s something of a truism that, considering how films and tv programs (or indeed superhero comic books) are made, the surprise isn’t so much that they’re mostly rubbish, or even that some of them are very good; it’s that they’re ever made at all.

    Oddly enough, if someone asked me for a recommendation for pop culture entertainment that merged SFish ideas with concern for character, New Who would be the very thing I’d point towards. Which makes me think perhaps I’ve got the wrong end of the stick as regards what you’re suggesting.

    If I take it that you mean New Who doesn’t get to grips with big crunchy concepts of where we are and where we’re going, then I think you might be asking for the impossible. How can any project consistently marry accessible, empathetic character work with boundary-shredding SF or morally complex multi-level drama, without dropping the ball all that often? In short, such a task is unimaginably hard work.

    The thing is, I think accessibility is the key to any concept we want to prefix with “pop”. Morrison’s Batman work is absolutely brillant, but frankly inaccessible to even a “good” reader unafraid of engaging with difficult work who doesn’t have a familiarity with the canon. Moore’s Swamp Thing is easy to engage with, but is Watchmen? Really? If you have no grounding in superhero fiction?

    To my mind, the closest Doctor Who ever came to the intellectual workout of substantial SF was something like Ghost Light. I love that story, but again it’s hardly accessible. I think that’s why New Who became the thing it is: Russell T. explicitly wanted to engage with an audience with different points of interest to New Adventurers- children in particular.

    I’m curious as to how you’d classify the last Torchwood series. I’d argue myself that while the soap operatics are present, they very much take a back seat to everything else, if anything making fan hysteria to a Certain Event look even more puerile than usual.

    Wow, this turned into a long comment. Regardless of what else I’ve said, this really was an excellent post. Thank you!

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      “What rules are we talking about?”

      Rules? We don’ need no steenkin rules!

      I think you’re letting things off far too lightly. What you’re saying is “Well, it’s only a multi-billion dollar industry which millions of the most creative people in the world want to work in – we can’t expect it to be good!”

      “Oddly enough, if someone asked me for a recommendation for pop culture entertainment that merged SFish ideas with concern for character, New Who would be the very thing I’d point towards. Which makes me think perhaps I’ve got the wrong end of the stick as regards what you’re suggesting.”

      The problems with the Welsh series as far as this goes are threefold. Firstly, as far as characterisation goes, it’s entirely tell, not show. We’re constantly told that the Doctor (or Rose) is the most specialest special person in the whole of specialdom, but we’re never actually shown *why*. Terrance Dicks gave the Doctor more characterisation in one line, in Robot, where he had the Doctor asked to speak to a Nobel Prize winning scientist and say “Oh yes, I’ll speak to *anyone*!” than Russel Terriblewriter Davies has given him in at least the entire three series I’ve seen of the Welsh series. And Robot was crap! (That’s not even getting on to the utter moral bankruptcy of the character when he *does* take action)

      Secondly, there’s simply no coherent plot in most of the Welsh series. Blink, Dalek, and the Human Nature two-parter had actual plots, where things happened for reasons. Possibly a couple of the others did, too, but stuff like New Earth or Daleks In Manhattan or Gridlock just doesn’t have any kind of internal logic – things just happen at random.

      And thirdly, it’s never really *about* anything, again with rare exceptions (Love & Monsters, for example).

      “How can any project consistently marry accessible, empathetic character work with boundary-shredding SF or morally complex multi-level drama, without dropping the ball all that often? ”

      Possibly it can’t. But it can do all those things *sometimes*, and at least *TRY* to do them all all the time. I’d FAR rather watch someone juggle and occasionally drop the odd ball than watch someone listlessly toss a single ball a few inches in the air and catch it in the same hand.

      I’ve not seen the new Torchwood series. The reviews suggested that I’d probably think it an interesting failure.

      As for Morrison’s work, all I can say there is that in my experience continuity references and so on matter *far* more to people like you or I, who know that there’s a reference there. I honestly don’t think anything he’s done has required one to know anything other than those things that EVERYONE knows about Batman. And as for Watchmen, I’d suspect that was less accessible, but being a constant best-seller for nearly 25 years suggests otherwise ;)

      And thanks for the thanks. Hope my disagreement hasn’t sounded too harsh here…

      • Madeley says:

        Not at all! Free and frank discussion is what it’s all about.

        >What you’re saying is “Well, it’s only a multi-billion dollar industry which millions of the most creative people in the world want to work in – we can’t expect it to be good!”

        I think what I’m getting at is that I honestly don’t believe that there’s hundreds of thousands of super-talented writers being shut out of the media just so a small handful of talentless jobsworths can rattle off hours and hours of dross. I think the majority of the most talented people *do* end up at the top of the pyramid- and we get the stuff we get anyway. Cynical and defeatist, perhaps, but I honestly believe Morrison-level talent is just that rare.

        [Although, perhaps I should modify the above to say the majority of the most talented white male middle-to-upper-class people end up at the top of the pyramid and hello writing team of New Who! ]

        But you’re right. We should TRY more. I just think that it’s not necessarily laziness or lack of will that’s the problem; it’s the scarcity of talent.

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          Right off the top of my head I can think of at least a dozen bloggers who are better ‘idea people’ than the vast majority of writers in TV or comics right now, and most of them also seem to be better *writers* (though you can never tell til you have a finished product to compare).

          I certainly don’t think there’s any kind of conspiracy or anything to keep good people out, but I think like with any other job, success is *far* more to do with who you know and whether you’re the right kind of person than anything else – people hire people they know and like.

          I also think that ‘geek culture’ actively fights against quality, in a million ways big and small, from the distaste for women to the obsession with trivia to the hatred for actual change.

          The Welsh Series don’t even use the most talented people *from among the pool of people they know*. I’m no huge fan of Lawrence Miles, but any reasonable producer would have given him at least an episode. Rob Shearman’s not been used since series 1. Jac Rayner’s stuck on the spin-off books.

          • Madeley says:

            Ack, the reply box is getting a little claustrophobic here.

            I once read a comment (on Neil Gaiman’s blog? Can’t remember) to the effect that anyone can be an ideas person. I’ve heard and read countless excellent “ideas” from many sources. Almost none of the people behind these ideas put their backsides in the seat and do the actual work.

            As for the New Who pool, Lawrence Miles’ blog suggests there’s a bit of acrimonious history there getting in the way of things. Plus, in a recent post he seems to think there’s nothing wrong with going up to a black guy in the street and asking if he’s a ‘real person’. I think I can do without his input in my Saturday night viewing.

            Not familiar with Jac Rayner, but as I understand it there was a bit of personal acrimony between Russell T. and Shearman, which is why he didn’t come back (although isn’t he doing one for Moffatt?)

            That aside, who else were the production team overlooking? In the early days in particular they would have needed telly vets (not the time to be trying out new talent when you don’t know your show’s going to be a hit), and the state of everything else British telly craps out suggest there isn’t exactly a huge stable of stellar scriptwriters.

            Don’t forget, plenty of high profile, highly talented folk turned them down. Stephen Fry was going to write one (and got quite far along in the process) but pulled out. Paul Abbott, maybe the most highly regarded British scriptwriter of the past ten years, wrote most of the script but couldn’t hit his deadline.

            Can I just echo your earlier comment and say I hope I don’t sound too harsh here myself. I’m honestly not trying to start an argument!

            • Andrew Hickey says:

              Anyone can be an ideas person – except apparently a lot of people employed as writers. Having an idea is only one stage in the process, but it’s a stage many writers appear not to have reached…

              And the rest of your comment proves my point – those people aren’t being excluded because they’re not talented, but because there’s personal animosity there. I suspect that the very talented are also more likely to be hard to work with…

            • pillock says:

              It’s probably good to consider, too, that as times change, so does institutional praxis — this changes what the “prize” is, and what’s required to get it. It’s like real estate: sometimes you can’t afford to live in the place you grew up, because it isn’t that place anymore. So you have to find someplace else instead.

              So I don’t think talent’s rare, I just think at some point much of the talent that might once have gone to movies, or TV, or comics, or any other of the production-machines that were once sharply on the lookout for it, even desperate for it, now gets turned off of that career-path a lot more easily. Maybe I’m being cynical now, but I think wherever there’s more money to be made, there’s more concern about what’s in fashion; and perhaps a lot of talented writers and artists simply suck at being fashionable, so they determine to go somewhere that concern’s not so overriding.

              I can see it happening like that: because the prize for going someplace else is that you can do what you want, and what’s required to get that prize is only that you give up on a fairly superhuman amount of money and prestige. Which everybody would like to have, of course…but what lengths are they prepared to go to, to get it?

              I didn’t find Torchwood very appealing; it seemed a misguided effort, to me.

  8. Zom says:

    Morrison’s Batman work is absolutely brillant, but frankly inaccessible to even a “good” reader unafraid of engaging with difficult work who doesn’t have a familiarity with the canon.

    The first three issues of B&R are very accessible, if you ask me, although obviously us canonites will get more from it.

    Also, I’m not really sold on the idea that you need a thorough skooling in Batman to enjoy any of it. As Amy often points out, he’s no Batman expert, but he loved the hell out of the pre-B&R run. Morrison’s work is only ever ostensibly about the canon – when you dig into it you invariably find a very private view of a given character and their history, that is only ever superficially tied to What Has Gone Before. So as far as I’m concerned all that Morrison demands is a willing and open readership, albeit probably one that has something invested in the idea of men in pants.

  9. Madeley says:

    I take your point about canon. But even if you don’t need an understanding of the character’s history, and at the risk of belabouring the “accessibility” part of “pop”, even the Quitely issues are, I think, difficult to read to the uninitiated.

    If you’re only familiarity of how comics work is in “traditional” comics, I think you’d have difficulty understanding what’s actually going on panel to panel. No motion lines, an idiosyncratic approach to sound effects, Morrisonian dialogue. You need a pretty good grounding in how modern superhero comics even work to understand what’s going on.

    Which isn’t to say it’s impossible to pick up. I’m sure an engaged reader would get the hang of things quick enough. But it’s a bit of a barrier to delivering the big concepts I think Andrew is writing about in a straightforward manner.

    Maybe what I’m trying to say is: the “pop” half of “pop-drama” may require a simplification that short-changed the “drama”. Likewise, the heavier the “drama”, the less “pop” it becomes.

    Then again, maybe I should give more credit to the audience: Morrison is hardly unpopular.

  10. Digital Imbecile says:

    Mostly in reply to the comment stack above that’s on the verge of going acrostic.

    Andrew: Did you ever read Lawrence Miles’ sample script, “The Book of the World”? It’s definitely ambitious, interesting and probably a failure; packed with ideas, but ones that don’t feel (to me) entirely compatible with Doctor Who, and with not much else beyond them. He’s still a better ideas man than anyone who’s working on the series at the moment, much as I hate to admit it.

    I suppose I’m one of the seven-to-ten-thousand that you called out, and I’m strongly considering starting a blog, although I’m getting the feeling that I may be in the company of people much more intelligent than I am. Nonetheless, this post is making my brain start to fizz.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Yep, I read that and thought it was pretty good. Definitely flawed – it was a first draft, after all – but the Doctor was recognisably the Doctor, the story held together, and there were some good ideas in there. That puts it ahead of 95% or so of the *finished* scripts used in the Welsh series.

      And yes, you are. Don’t worry about the ‘being in the company of people much more intelligent than I am’ thing – on the internet we’re *all* in the company of people who are more intelligent than we are, unless you happen to be the single brightest person in the entire Western (and, increasingly, developing) world. I’m certainly regularly amazed by the ideas many of the people I know on the net have. But you’re *also* in the company of a couple of billion people who are far stupider than you could ever be (go to Twitter and click on any ‘trending topic’ if you don’t believe me). So that means, just as you will always have an inferiority complex about *somebody*, you’ll also always find a few people who say “Wow, I never thought of that” about stuff you post.

      (I’m very, very lucky in that some of the people in the latter category are also the people about whom I have inferiority complexes, so I think I must be OK at this.)

  11. Prankster says:

    I’m not 100% sure I’m grasping your definition of “drama”, but I’d tentatively add The Umbrella Academy, Phonogram, Let the Right One In, Synecdoche NY (that maybe slides a little to the “detatched contempt” end of the scale, but ultimately I do think it tells a human story), and…maybe Scott Pilgrim (a soap opera, but I think its imagination and brilliant grasp of storytelling elevate it to what we’re talking about). Oh, and actually, I’d add Inglourious Basterds to that, too. Yeah, I count it as a genre story.

    To be fair to Star Trek, I think the writer’s strike hit it hard, and they were basically going on a first draft (if that). I do have some high hopes for the inevitable sequel, if they can find a way to make it about something. It’s a shame that what made it to theaters was such a mess, storytelling-wise.

  12. Kieran says:

    I haven’t read Anathem yet, but based on his previous Stephenson sticks out like a saw thumb from the rest of your “best of both worlds” authors as someone who is emphatically *not* interested in melding character and ideas. He sends the plot and story off in completely different directions, in which the plotlines eventually resolve themselves by an internal soap opera logic, with no regard for the thematic concerns of the narrative the readers have been following.

    Whereas Seaguy f’r’instance can be enjoyed as both a social/metafictional commentary and a Pixarified superhero story, Snow Crash only really *works* at the level of story. The sociopolitical commentary, and the speculative elements, are fragmented (and often ludicrous) to the point that they merely comment on the text, rather than forming a mappable subtext.

    Which is why I don’t like the idea that hackwork can only provide a sophisticated subtext by accident. Rather, I think hacks are well aware of the thematic component of their work, but regard their duty to provide a coherent story and character-arc as paramount, and if the text ends up rendering the subtext incoherent so be it. As opposed to the C.S. Lewis group who’ll tolerate any number of plotholes and character derailments in service of their precious allegory.

    As you mention there are the Alan Moore’s who’ll sync up both perfectly, but there’s a fourth option: to describe a soap opera in terms of the ideas underlying it (The Baroque Cycle, in particular the Liebniz-Newton feud) or write an allegory like it were a soap opera. Final Crisis is the clearest example of the latter, though The Invisibles contrasts better with Stephenson: same rug-pulled-out-from-under-ye ending, but in this case it’s the ideas that have raced on ahead, leaving the plot racing to catch up.

  13. Holly says:

    It’s “twoo wuv.” Peter Cook says so; do you want to argue with him?

    Also, since when do you read Order of the Stick?! God, after nearly four years of marriage you think you know a person… Really I should be grateful that it is one thing you are not subjecting me to hearing about when you read the internet every morning, shouldn’t I.

  14. Prankster says:

    By the way, this whole idea is very exciting, and I’d really love to be part of it–the Newniverse, I mean. Is there some particular way to get in touch with you to get on board? I’ve already got an idea I’d like to “pitch”…

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  16. malartart says:

    Sounds really interesting. Not too dissimilar to a conversation ive had with many people recently about how I fed up with a lack of imagination in comics/sf/horror films genre telly etc. when it is exactly that very thing ( a fired imagination; big ideas and strange new takes on past ) that should be fueling them.

    Id rather see something fall on it arse because its tried to do something different than churn out the usual formulaic stuff with the rules strictly adhered too. People seem to want their cake and eat it; they want sf or superheroes or doctor who or vampires or whatever it is but at the same time they don’t want to come away with anything more than the status quo remaining so they know where they are with their favourite characters or genre. These things that should be shocking, exciting and unpredictable have become as comfy as slipping into a cosy jumper or a nice cup of tea or ‘add in other metaphorical clichés to get my point across.’ (Im probably the only person who was disappointed Burton didn’t get too do his Superman film as it would have been excitingly different.) A it has been said before these ideas are indestructible (thyve been around a hell of a long time) so they can withstand a little bending.

    Since Final crisis (mark my words in the future comic historians will be picking this baby apart as classic in the way people do with watchmen now) ive found most comics ‘difficult’ to read as the more Morrison goes in new and unexpected directions with the dcu the harder I find it to read a ‘setup/fight/ win’ comic.

    Anyway, cheers for the blog big fan and enjoy following your opinions and where they go. You’ve also inspired me to watch dr who again and i will be following and interacting with the above ‘meme’ with great interest.

    Mal Art

  17. Lue Lyron says:

    Straight from my lucid dreams, I took a shot at a pastiche or fanfic that is more exploratory and a hell of a lot better than wish-fulfillment or continuity wall paper. I hope it’s both in-character and yet disturbing and wonderful, so I humbly submit “the vanishing wave” in ten parts on my site. Will you please comment if it entertains you, or pulls you near that edge you seek? I live to both enthrall and learn.

    With my own Integr8d Soul Productions I’m working out the fundamentals of something new, really trying to figure out how the “write-by-numbers” factors crop up and confound those expectations in the name of wonder and more challenging characterization. The nostalgia out there is for the verge of discovery, not just the warmth of old pictures.

    My ceaseill.blogspot contains some kernels of this, but as soon as I shed a present personal drama I am going to patiently work out how to incorporate my more daring ideas (some thoughtful soap opera) like better family representations, polyamory, and philosophically questing concepts (ideas category). There will be blood on the floor.

    Looking forward to walking these meme streets.

  18. Lue Lyron says:

    I agree that if an idea is not worked out through the story’s execution, it’s an essay. Dialog is a great place to explore implications of an idea, so long as the characterizations are strong; that especially applies in settings longer than one-off short stories.

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  20. pillock says:

    One year later! How about some Star Trek, Bond, what-have-you?

  21. pillock says:

    I can think of a couple others, too…

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