Recently, there has been much speculation around Nick Bostrom’s paper, “Are You Living In A Comic Book?”, which argued that given how easily comic books can be created, and the number of characters that appear in them, it is more likely that any given individual is a character in a comic book rather than a ‘real’ person in ‘reality’ (if such a thing as an objective reality even exists, which Tegmark et. al. give us ample grounds for disbelieving).
Certainly, Bostrom’s hypothesis would give us an explanation for some of the more inexplicable phenomena we see every day. People’s appearances changing, as they do every so often, could be down to a new artist coming on to the book – or perhaps to a guest appearance in another title. The occasional inconsistencies one sees in the world, such as the recent tragic destruction of Starlight City, when for three weeks people from Megapolis could enter and leave the city and from their point of view everyone there was alive and well, while from the point of view of anyone in Starlight the city was devastated and a million people were killed, could be the result of an issue of a crossover coming out out of sequence. I am sure similar examples will occur to the reader.
So, accepting Bostrom’s claims, what should be our response? How is one to live, in a universe where one is at the mercy of many capricious gods (writers, editors, artists, readers and so forth)? The higher one sets the probability that one is living in a comic book, the more important this question is. What we might call the four-colour problem could simply be stated as – “How can one maximise one’s healthy lifespan in a universe created for entertainment purposes?”
Firstly, one must make the assumption that one only has an existence when in a panel of the comic – or when performing actions that it is heavily implied must happen between panels. For example, I am a college professor. I very much doubt that my current actions (writing this paper) are happening on panel, and my life is not interesting enough to read about. It is entirely possible, though, that one of my students is the star of the comic – possibly mild-mannered young Billy Bradshaw in my class has some connection with the new moth-powered vigilante who turned up in town at the same time he did. Or maybe my colleague in the physics department, Dr Hermann Von Mörder, has some sort of double life.
Of course, that is an absurdity – I deliberately chose Billy and Hermann because they, like myself, lead uninteresting lives. But nonetheless, it is almost certain that my only appearances on-panel will be a brief picture of me in the middle distance giving a lecture, while something more interesting happens in the foreground. However, as I am a professor it is implied that I write research papers, and hence this paper gets written off-panel.
Hanson, among others, suggests that in this case one should try to live as exciting and interesting a life as possible, so one maximises one’s on-panel appearances, and also minimises the likelihood of the comic getting cancelled. However, examining cases where this strategy has been attempted tends to show that this is at best a flawed strategy. One would have considered the life of Urania, The Nuclear Woman, to be entertaining enough for even the most jaded palates, with her day-job as a lion tamer, her love triangle with the prince of the K’zaan Intergalactic Empire and Dinoman The Human Dinosaur, and her role in defending the earth against no less than twenty-seven alien invasions. Nonetheless, Ms Urania was last seen in a rocket-ship whose controls had become jammed, heading straight into a black hole.
In fact, if one looks at the people who have had the most exciting lives, one can see that with the exception of The Big Three, they have a tendency to die young. Many, of course, come back from death, but this is by no means guaranteed.
However, the fates of our heroes are as nothing to the fates of those we could call, for want of a better term, supporting cast. At least five times, the entire staff of a major Metropolitan newspaper with connections to Hyperman have been wiped from existence and replaced with an entirely different staff, none of whom seem aware of the previous people to have done their jobs (this seems to happen at roughly the same frequency which Hyperman gets a new hairstyle). Only two reporters seem immune to this, and one of those is constantly getting dropped off tall buildings, kidnapped by arms smugglers, and otherwise inconvenienced.
So the solution would seem to be that one should aim to be a bystander at as many important events as possible, whilst avoiding being in any way involved in them. Probably the optimal strategy would be to invest in several wigs, false moustaches etc, and try to be in as many crowds as possible. Attend events such as exhibitions of mummified Egyptian cats, lectures on riddles in Anglo-Saxon poetry, public displays of skill involving superheroes along with easily-replaceable dangerous-looking-but-harmless objects, and so forth. Maybe take on multiple part-time jobs – working as a cleaner, one could easily get work at a major Metropolitan newspaper, a nuclear test site *and* the offices of a corporation belonging to a mysterious reclusive billionaire.
But on no account should you speak at these events, and nor should you appear vulnerable or in need of rescue. Remember the case of B. B was a bystander who seemed to have a long, healthy life ahead of him in crowd scenes. But on being rescued once, he made the mistake of saying “Gee, t’anks, you’re my fav’rit”. B quickly moved from being a bystander to being comic relief, getting involved in hair-brained money-making schemes, irritating aliens who kidnapped him by mistake, and generally having an exciting life. But then, all of a sudden, B disappeared. It is conjectured that the writer(s?) grew tired of him.
If you wish a long life, spend as much as you can in the gutters, and the remainder looking at the stars, but from afar.