Episode 92: Dissertation Proposal (New and Improved)

Still needs some editing and I need to add some critical sources but I have to say that this one is looking better than the old one by far. Any and all feedback is welcomed as I put the finishing touches before I send it out to my committee. And yes, it is supposed to be incredibly dense and filled with academic heavy language. My apologies if this is barely understandable.

Authorial Functions and Performances:

Exploring Notions of Authorship in Contemporary Serial Fiction across Print and Digital Media.

The term author often evokes outdated notions of literary reverence and just another facet for determining historical context. Literary criticism from every field has at least one of its tenets focused on the figure of the author, ranging from an outright dismissal to the cornerstone of their analytical methodology. The author as a person was diminished with the works of Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault alongside many other critics but the focus had shifted to authorial functions. These essays helped to highlight the notion of identity over any single individual. This dissertation expands the analysis of authorial functions to contemporary texts in order to outline how these have changed for modern writers and artists.

The purpose of this study is to analyze current forms of authorial functions within the context of contemporary serial fiction. This publishing format allows for narrative production, as well as readers’ reception, to be segmented; which makes the author a dynamic entity, rather than the static and almost frozen perception that one finds in more traditional storytelling. Linda Hughes and Michael Lund define the serial as “a continuing story over an extended period of time with enforced interruptions” (1). It is that enforced interruption that divides installments at the temporal level which allows readers to reflect and react to the narrative. One of the author functions that serialization allows is for a response to these critical and fan reactions to alter narrative production. Editorial theorists and textual critics already analyze this form of recursive feedback in the context of tracing different editions and the process of writing a manuscript and transforming it into a book for publication. These forms provide a familiarity and insight into author functions that I use these theories to construct my own methodology for this study.

The main theorists from textual criticism and editorial theory that I utilize for this study are George Thomas Tanselle and Peter Shillingsburg. The first of these two provides a central terminology that will serve as a base for my analysis of various works of serial fiction. The latter works directly through Tanselle’s terminology and focuses on, what he calls the different performances that take place while constructing a text. For the purposes of my analysis, I equate Shillingsburg’s authorial performances with Foucault’s author functions in order to fully explore the different notions of authorship. In addition, I draw on John Bryant’s The Fluid Text and his findings on the different stages a work goes through in its publication process; specifically, his concept of a “circulating draft”, and adapt them to the context of serial fiction. These theorists provide a strong base for my methodology for the analysis of authors as they are constructing their works, through the different stages of drafting as well as the publication of different installments, until the utmost conclusion of the text that other theoretical paradigms do not provide.

In order to further study different forms of authorship, this analysis will not limit itself to equating authors with writers. People create narratives outside of the traditional print format and their authorial performances provide further insight that is largely absent from these kinds of studies. To help fill this gap in the literature, I juxtapose traditional novels with those that fall under graphic narratives; which are defined by legendary cartoonist Will Eisner as “any story that employs image to transmit an idea” (Introduction to Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative). The most common forms of graphic narratives include films, television programs, and comics (which is the umbrella term for comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels). The first two contain a complexity in its author functions that make it almost impossible to distinguish who is responsible for the final narrative product. Even with a clear demarcation of roles such as writers, directors, actors, and editors (to name only a few), outside of having complete access to backstage production there is no definitive way to isolate individual authorial performances in these graphic narratives. Hence, film and television fall out of the purview of this study, though they are prominent features of my additional research endeavors.

The graphic narratives of comics consist of what Scott McCloud famously defined as “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or an aesthetic response in the viewer” (Understanding Comics 9). The author functions of the cartoonists, writers, and artists of those responsible for composing these comics follow the same format as those of traditional print. I extend my analysis of authorship to include the creators of serialized comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels because these men and women have helped to create some of the most iconic characters in literature and have extended their narratives for many years and even decades. In short, a proper analysis of author functions in serial fiction requires the inclusion of the writers and artists that produce comics.

Perhaps the most significant change to authorship that has come in recent years is the advent of the digital medium. The replacement of pens and typewriters for computers as the standard tool for writing, in addition to the later inclusion of the Internet as a method of publication, has readily altered our notions of author functions. Rather than adding a digital dimension to the study of contemporary serials, I analyze this medium on its own merits through authors whose work is primarily developed and distributed in this format. I focus on digital storytelling done primarily through webcomics, in addition to blogs and other narrative centered programs.

This dissertation will be divided into four chapters, each of which will be focused on a different medium of publication. Chapter one will serve as an overall introduction and literature review for my critical methodology. In order to properly analyze the differences between each medium, I utilize media specific analysis and comparative media studies, both of which were pioneered by new media critic N. Katherine Hayles. These different media contain their own limits and expectations for authorial performances, which serve as logical borders to separate this study.

This study focuses primarily on the authors of contemporary serials but this chronological category is difficult to objectively qualify. Since the cornerstone of this analysis is that of author functions, it seems fitting that the cutoff point should be the year 1969, when Foucault first outlined his ideas in his essay, “What is an Author?” This space of approximately 45 years allows for many works of serial fiction that have been published since then to be analyzed. I also include works that started before this temporal window but continued to be serialized beyond it, especially with works that maintained their production by passing on the author mantle and/or through a dynamic succession of authorship.

One particular author function that is worth discussing throughout each of the chapters of this study is that of ownership. The author is considered to be the owner of his/her literary work and contemporary copyright law generally makes this the case. However, ownership can be purchased through buying the rights for use and reproduction of a particular story or character through major publishing houses and other companies. The acquisition of specific characters is most commonly found within works of serial fiction or those that will become serialized in the near future. While the complexities of copyright law go beyond the critique of this dissertation, it is important to note how such legal issues appear to challenge author functions in specific cases which will be discussed accordingly in the next chapters.

Chapter 2: From Cover to Cover: Analyzing Traditional Print Publications

The model of serialization can be traced back to 19th century England when literary magazines were a popular source for distributing a variety of materials. These magazines are considered to be book length by today’s standards and would normally contain hundreds of pages. These magazines contained everything news about current events, advertisements, poems, drawings, short stories, and various installments of different serials throughout each of their issues. I draw on these historical molds through the writings of Victorian historians, especially Linda Hughes’s and Michael Lund’s excellent study of this area in their book The Victorian Serial. This historical context provides a base for all forms of serial storytelling that applies to all media but is incredibly helpful when understanding those found in traditional print.

The main author that I analyze in this chapter is a woman who recently reintroduced serialization at the global scale with the Harry Potter series of books. She continues to exercise her authorial functions through for this particular narrative through Pottermore, the digital fanbase where Rowling herself provides additional insight into the writing process of the Boy Who Lived.

Chapter 3: When Writer and Artist Collide: Reading Graphic Narratives

While serialization stemmed from the literary magazines that once featured Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, some of the most ongoing stories started and continue being published through graphic narratives. One of the first comic strips to appear in newspapers, The Katzenjammer Kids, has been published regularly for more than a century. Iconic super heroes have saved the day for decades in comic books with no end in sight. One of the most critically acclaimed graphic novels, Maus and its sequel by Art Spiegelman, are used in classrooms all over the country as a required reading for better understanding the events of the holocaust. In short, while graphic narratives in comics technically fall under the purview of the print medium, this format’s combination of images and dialogue is one that easily fits the serialization model.

Out of the many titles and characters portrayed in graphic narratives, I focus my analysis on the Man of Steel, better known as Superman. Originally created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, the iconic caped superhero first hit the stands in 1938. The concept of authorship in all works regarding this character is fairly complex and one that I will explore in detail in this chapter. Not only have multiple writers and artists been tasked by DC Comics to continue the tales of Superman for decades, but several lawsuits by the original creators, Siegel and Shuster, have challenged ownership and authorship of the multiple titles and adaptations. While there are many story arcs that span the decades of its serialization, I focus my analysis on what fans now refer to as “The Death and Return of Superman”. This event was recently anthologized in a recent omnibus edition (collection of relevant installments) that contains all pertinent issues which include multiple Superman and non-Superman titles and serves as my primary source. This story arc provides excellent examples of corporate authorship in the form of DC Comics Headquarters changing the narrative trajectory of Superman and then the collective authorship of many writers and artists that came together to collaborate on what would become a groundbreaking story. The significance of this story arc can be seen by the fact that the installment containing the actual death of the Man of Steel made national headlines as it came to print and the author function of reacting to controversy came to fruition.

Chapter 4: Of Bits and Code: Digital Authorship and Webcomics

The advent of digital technology facilitated would be artists and writers to become full fledged authors by bypassing many of the gatekeepers of traditional publishing. One no longer needed a network of editors, publishers, distributors, and many other personnel in order to reach your potential audience. However, these author functions that were handled by others are now just one of the many additional tasks that one person operations must take on in order to achieve a modicum of success. Authorship goes beyond narrative production as one is now required to have basic knowledge of website design and maintenance, business management, and marketing.  Several portals and services are currently not uncommon to assist in these endeavors but many of the early pioneers in these digital ventures were navigating uncharted waters, mostly alone. However, this sole authorship provides a level of accessibility to the material and the person creating it that was once unimaginable. Authors are now available through email and social networking and often provide insight into their narrative production and/or their everyday lives.

Digital storytelling can be done in many ways, but for the purposes of this study I will focus on webcomics, again because graphic narratives of this form are more commonly serialized for long periods of time. With very few outside sources existing on the analysis of digital authorship and webcomics, I focus on analyzing the direct comments that webcomic cartoonists provide about their craft. Such information can be found in the print compilations of their work, in addition to blog posts, podcasts, and interviews (some of which I have personally done over years of research in this area).

One of the more interesting aspects of webcomics is the fairly unique business model that involves building a readership for months or even years (while providing your narrative material in most instances for free) before any semblance of a profit can be made. However, once one has built a strong enough community, then you can pass along certain author functions to your readership. One such task is the ability to obtain starting capital before expansion or providing a new merchandise selection. Originally, such funds were obtained through pre-orders but crowd funding websites like Indiegogo or Kickstarter simplify the process and clearly show what one obtains for certain levels of pledging.

The webcomics I am focusing are two fantasy adventure stories with very contrasting levels of how vocal their authors are. In the first case, we have Rich Burlew, aka the Giant, and his webcomic The Order of the Stick (OOTS) which he has been producing for over a decade. Burlew rarely participates in the forums, only recently started using Twitter (mostly for announcing new installments), and only communicates directly to the majority of his readers for big announcements pertaining directly to the webcomic. One such communique occurred when he informed his readership that a car accident had injured his writing/drawing hand and that the already chaotic publishing schedule would be on indefinite hold. On the other hand, we have Tarol Hunt, aka Thunt, of Goblins. Tarol is very vocal through social media like Twitter and the blog of his webcomic about many topics. In the process of reading his work, I have come to learn many aspects of Thunt’s personal life, to the point that I and many of his readers feel a connection with him that author-reader relationships ten or twenty years could never imagine possible. He is aware of this connectivity and the very literal lifelines that the readership has given him in various manners. Thunt even goes so far as to call his readers his “E-maginary” friends and has a standing invitation for any fan to spend the night on the couch of his house (which Goblins fans helped pay for directly during a donation campaign).

Episode 91: Dissertation Proposal (old version)

Academic writing may just be the most tiring thing in the world if you have been out of the loop for a while. On Monday I decided to sit myself down and rewrite my dissertation proposal. It took me about six hours to write one paragraph, but damn that was the most finely crafted piece of academia centered writing I had done in over a year. I am still working on the new version, just need to properly outline what each of the four chapters will focus on. In the meantime, I figure I can treat my single digit readership to my previous draft so you can judge for yourselves how different both versions are.

To make it more interesting, I am adding in brackets the comments I made to myself after reading it after a couple of months since I sent the most recent iteration of that proposal to my committee. They have not given me much feedback on it but I can tell that knew something was missing. Hopefully, I’ve captured that in new version. But for now, here is the old version after I gutted the chapter overviews that would have dealt with film and television. While fun, they would have added unnecessarily complex dimensions to the whole thing that would have added an extra hundred pages or more on something in which I am far more fan than expert. Be gentle

Authorial Functions and Performances: Exploring Notions of Authorship in Contemporary Serial Fiction across Print and Digital Media.

The notion of an author is one that immediately brings to mind debates not just of persons but of entities[too soon]. The importance of this role over an authoritative voice, over the work, or even to its creation is one that scholars and academics have engaged in defining from its onset. Critical theorists like Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault have further advanced this debate for contemporary academia so much so that they are often the cornerstones by which any analysis on authorship can take place. Still, there is no clear answer when it comes to who or what is the author and what relevance should he/she have to the reader. These questions are often focused around the traditional printed text and rarely do they revolve around a diachronically published work. This dissertation explores the concept of authorship through a contemporary readership in the context of serialized literature published through the scope of print and digital media. [distinction of graphic narratives might need to be put around here]

I base my analysis of different kinds of authorial output through the lens of editorial theory and textual criticism. I utilize Peter Shillingsburg’s definitions of different types of texts and of textual performances, which include the creative performance where the literary work is first invented, the production performance where it is ready to be transmitted or published, and the reception performance where the reader interprets the text to help classify and distinguish the various facets of a literary work [Direct quote or at least an actual point for a works cited entry.]. Shillingsburg’s terminology provides a separation of authorial responsibilities and performances that in some circumstances are solely accomplished, clearly outlined and subdivided, or in some cases are the results of a communal undertaking. In addition, I modify John Bryant’s concept of textual fluidity (originally used to show the different stages a text will go through from idea, throughout editing, and finally to the finished product at the hands of the reader) [official quote here too] in order to apply it to the various parts of publication of each individual installment within a piece of serialized literature. I argue that the serialization process allows for a recursive cycle of feedback between each of Shillingsburg’s performances that continuously affect authorial output throughout a narrative’s production and publication. This process allows for the work to remain in narrative flux until the final installment is published but also makes it so that the author is a dynamic entity during that temporal window [process?].

To properly contextualize each part of narrative production through their medium of publication I use Media Specific Analysis [consider changing to comparative media studies, also a term by Hayles]. By using some of the parameters developed by N. Katherine Hayles, I wish to show how the author contends with the various options and limitations of their selected medium and how this ultimately helps shape their narrative output. Each of the following chapters are devoted to the analysis of a different medium, rather than by genre or specific authors, in order to better analyze the scope of each performance in the authorial cycle. While I outline these media in a chronological order [why was this a thing. consider removing.] as to when they first became a staple of serialized storytelling, this is not a historical analysis of each medium because I focus on contemporary works of serial fiction (spanning the last 45 years) [trying to find an elegant way of having Barthes’s “Death of the Author” date of publication as the cut off point of earliness; maybe by stating that this is when thinking about different notions of authorship hit the mainstream] in order to limit the scope of my study to a feasible fraction of literary works. Each chapter begins with an overview of how each medium contains its own challenges and limitations alongside close readings of different works to illustrate these points. [First chapter should be here. Introduction plus review of literature/lit theories.]

Chapter 2: From Cover to Cover and What Is Bound in between. Analyzing Print

Many of the intricacies revolving authorship in print media have not changed dramatically over the last thirty years or so [why did I put this time limit? if anything it’s closer to the last couple of centuries of not really changing. Post Steamboat Willy definitely]. Editors, publishing houses, literary agents, and various other figures still have varying but very important influences over the author. Perhaps the biggest difference between today’s works of serial literature and the classic Victorian era works is the format of the published text. Literary magazines [Regular books existed at the time too, not to mention pulps. This is the crib for serials but not the root of all literature.] in the 19th century like “Master Humphrey’s Clock” and “Household Words” contained various serials running simultaneously through each of its installments in additions to short stories, poems, advertisements, reports on current events, and various other materials. Modern authors do not have to worry about sharing literary space within the same covers, as literary magazines are the exception rather than the rule. Each author now has his/her own full length book [magazines still exist, mofo] and the freedom to determine how much content and what kind of publishing schedule would be used.

Contemporary print authors have a certain degree of freedom over other media in that there are no preset limits to the amount of content or word/page count. However, the length of any particular installment tends to be directly proportional to the amount of time until it becomes available, i.e. the longer the book the more you have to wait until it comes out. Although, the actual publication of a printed book is not mandated by any industry standard, so it is ultimately up to the author and the publishing house when to make the work available to the general public. Also, print is not restricted only to the traditional written word as illustrations, sheet music, and even modifications to spacing and orientation can provide a unique reading experience.

Consider the case of J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series [Don’t put as an example of how it works but rather the example you are using to prove that it works.]. She exercised complete creative control over her work ever since the first installment. As her work gained popularity, Harry Potter began to be distributed through various editions and languages at different moments. These variations in publishing schedules were eliminated through the use of worldwide release dates starting from its fifth installment. The freedom to determine quantity of pages is also apparent through the very visible increasing thickness of each installment. In addition, each book has its own cover art and illustrations for each chapter but these are done by different illustrators for each of the different national/language editions, thus providing a unique regional authorship in this dimension alongside Rowling’s place as author of the story itself.

Chapter 3: Navigating through Panels and Gutters: Comic books/strips

Comics as a medium are very regimented in their final product. While they do not have to share space with simultaneous narratives, comics share many of the strict outlines of early literary magazines. You have a set number of pages on a tightly knit schedule with content often being interrupted with advertisements. Installments are relatively short but due to minimal downtime between them there is very little temporal space during narrative production to incorporate feedback from readers. Long running serials also have the problem of changing writers and/or artists but the characters are already so well established that creativity is limited to the tradition of what the character was and making sure that the next potential author still has recognizable aspects of the narrative. [Too much is happening in this paragraph and we are only scratching the surface on each of them. Edit and alter]

Authorship within a graphic narrative is fairly difficult to establish due to the various components in its creation. In the case of one person operations, like Scott McCloud’s Zot!, one can see the person solely responsible for the literary output [Try to include some nice McCLoud and Eisner quotes here. See if other comics studies people might fit.]. However, most comics utilize a collaborative authorship through defined roles (writer, artist, penciller, inker, etc) with the writer often taking precedence of importance when determining the author (as evident through various formats for citations like MLA and APA [also add direct quote here] that indicate that the writer’s name be placed first).

What makes comics very interesting as a serial, especially in the cases of superhero comics, is that their publication can extend indefinitely should readers continue to find it interesting. Even with the exclusion of various adaptations, a particular character can be active for decades and appear in multiple publications, some even simultaneously, as is the case with Superman who appeared in six different comics at the same time during the 60s [find history of comics quote that is awesome and put here]. Under such an example, would the authors still be original co-creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, the individual writers and artists for each publication and installment, or would they all be funneled under the parent company of DC Comics? Sub divisions of authorship seem like a logical classification for particular runs of different writers/artists but these do not necessarily coincide with the narrative progression of a particular story arc. Consider the case of “The Death of Superman”, a crossover event that spanned eleven installments of four different publications whose compilation mentions twelve authors all together [Example is shallow, deliberately state that this is how communal/corporate authorship is unique here.].

Neil Gaiman’s attempt at a new story for DC provides an example of having limited narrative wiggle room because he wanted to use already established characters but his superiors would not let him place them into Gaiman’s plot or kill them off [example comes out of nowhere. Segue that bitch]. However, they did encourage him to make original characters and gave him the freedom to come up with the iconic Watchmen 12 part miniseries that was later republished as one of the most important graphic novels of all time.

Chapter 4: Bits and Pixels on the Digital Canvas: Webcomics

    Webcomics offer a platform where one person can realistically create, produce, and deliver a story with a regular publishing schedule that can reach a vast readership. Webcomic cartoonists are free to share their authorial duties with others (such as art or website hosting) but many of them are solely run by a lone author. He/she has the ability to provide new installments at his/her own pace, though most are encouraged to maintain a regular schedule whenever possible. Because webcomics are relatively small operations, the figurative distance between author and reader is incredibly shortened. The immediate [explain immediacy as both speed and lack of mediation] nature of the Web allows readers to provide feedback almost instantly to the author via forums, email, or other forms of social media after any new installment becomes available. From an editorial perspective, such quick communication allows for rapid changes to the digital product should someone find a typo or some other minor mistake. The author can also communicate directly with his/her readership through broadcast messages, like forum posts, blog entries, or mass emails that all readers can access, or microcasting through direct one on one exchanges via email, Twitter, Skype, or any other form of cyber communication. [sentence ran a marathon, divide appropriately]

Because the relationship between readership and author is more direct, there is a certain level of accessibility that is unique to this digital landscape. Authors are no longer distant entities or amalgamations of personnel but a real person. Beyond the narrative output of an ongoing story, readers obtain additional information from the author, mostly on a personal level. The rapport now becomes one akin to friendship. Consider the case of Rich Burlew, author of Order of the Stick who recently got his thumb injured in an accident and could not produce a new installment of his webcomic for months. Readers were rightfully frustrated that their serial narrative was now at an unexpected halt but were more genuinely concerned over Burlew’s well-being and focused on wishing him a proper recovery, rather than a speedy one. This type of outreach is not just emotional but financial as well. Webcomic cartoonist Tarol Hunt of Goblins established a donation drive solely so that he could buy his house and readers responded with monetary support. Because of this generosity, Hunt has extended an invitation to any and all readers in the area to come and stay at his home for a few days.

Rather than taking the risk of making new financial ventures, many webcomic cartoonists have taken to websites like Kickstarter [explain before hand what crowd sourcing/funding is. New form of authorial function/performance?] as a type of massive pre-order for endeavors ranging from creating new merchandise, to updating the website, or for the purchase of better computers and other technological needs. The Kickstarter system is one where readers pledge money during a 30 day period in order to achieve a financial goal. Money is not collected/charged until the end of the 30 days and only if the goal is met. If not, then the project is scrapped and no money is collected. Should the project be funded, pledgers obtain something in accordance to their financial donation which are clear during the Kickstarter campaign. These rewards serve as a pre-order, normally without a clear date of delivery of goods until they become available. While many of these items are simple pieces of merchandise, personal one of a kind drawings are available for the upper echelons of donations. One interesting example of such a pledge can be found in Rob Balder’s and Xin Ye’s Erfworld webcomic where Balder placed that for the price of $5,000 (five backers maximum for this reward, none were taken through the campaign) with the title of “Dance For Me, Author-Boy!” In it, Balder would personally fly to your hometown and hang out with you for a day and deliver merchandise and other surprises. This type of promise shows that webcomic authors have a personal rapport with their readership but also that they are available to make that connection with the reader even at a one-on-one basis [why is this important? spell it out every time].

[A little something extra that I couldn’t add nicely to here. Will exist properly in updated version]

Proof that no one can own plot:  “In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.” (section 102 of US Copyright Law 1976. page 8)


Episode 90: Primacy of Characters and Copyright

I’ve been talking about the primacy of characters in serial fiction for a while now but have never really gone too much into detail. Well details ahoy! Fair warning: while reading this you might think that I hate plot, think that all storytelling is contrived trope mixing, and that continuity must be followed religiously. Let me clarify, I love plot, am fascinated by different forms of storytelling, and have analyzed continuity to Hell and back in my Master’s thesis. Different focus but ultimately still looking at the same big picture. Time to go into the deep waters.

Authorship as a creative endeavor is a balancing act between what you believe to be original and creative with what your reader can recognize. If you go to any of the most popular forms of anything you might notice that very few of them really break the mold. There is an always will be a search for the familiar in what we read. Consider James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. That novel is huge, crazy, and no one can debate that it is original in many elements but damn that thing is near impossible to read. I’m an English major who has never really even tried to tackle it out of the fear that comes just from looking at it (to think I once wanted to become a master of Irish literature). People who have actually gone through it can’t even be unanimous into what the overall plot is, even the Wikipedia page is confused by it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finnegans_Wake

Joyce was highly original in his novel and even how to deliver it but if you are not whiling to dive into the strange and unfamiliar (and not most people are) the entire thing is going to look alien to you. Compare that with a random novel you buy at the discount bin at the super market. It might not be very good but you understand exactly what is going on. It might not do anything interesting or something you haven’t read before in countless other works but it makes sense. New and original (I hate to say it) needs to be tethered to an understandable reality for the reader. Most of this is done through language (standard vocabulary and syntax are a must) but it happens through plot just as much. You can do some pretty cool stuff even with the most basic tools of storytelling so don’t let the “dumbing down for the masses” way to get some sales get you down. Even the most creative thing you can imagine has its roots in something else that was probably written by people long before you could hold a pen. I remember during my awkward pre-teen and teen years I wanted to write an epic space adventure and some well intentioned adults heralded that I could be next Tolkien. Years later I looked back at my old scribblings and realized that I had just rewritten a large percentage of Dragon Ball Z with maybe a touch of Captain Bucky O’ Hare (if you do get the reference then bonus hipster/old dude points for you). That was the launch pad for me and I’m pretty sure that if I did want to artistically/professionally develop that story then I’m sure I could edit accordingly but the influence would be evident. Maybe I’m not a good writer but I understand that the same thing happens to a lot of people, sometimes without even noticing that you might be borrowing, stealing, and/or plagiarizing someone else’s work. My brother the musician once played for me a song he was working on, my first thought was that it was vaguely familiar to Ken’s theme from Street Fighter 2, I showed him the original http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-14W5XTqL5U, and he noticed that there were indeed similarities but he hadn’t played any of the games in years. To paraphrase Aristotle, there is nothing new under the sun, even is subconsciously you don’t realize it yet. Or maybe a more contemporary version of that statement is more appropriate: “Simpsons did it.”

Storytelling forms have evolved pretty much alongside human history so a truly original plot might be impossible. You can’t write about star crossed lovers without somehow evoking Romeo and Juliet and Shakespeare wasn’t even close to the first person to make a story about that. The good news is that even if a particular trope can be traced back, it’s probably now in the public domain so no one is going to sue you. What you can own is a specific form of language, which normally has to be something more than a few sentences and proving it is damn hard, of something a bit more iconic, the characters. Obviously you can’t claim copyright on certain kinds of characters like the orphaned hero, the greedy villain, the damsel in distress, or even something like the magical negro (it’s a thing, trust me). But what you can do is make them specific enough, through back story, physical details, personalities, and even a name. Think of every character in fantasy and comics whose whole shtick is that they can run really really fast. Somewhere between Quicksilver vs Flash (any of the 4) vs Professor Zoom (pretty much anti Flash) vs the Road Runner vs Speedy Gonzalez and so many other examples that you can imagine (again, just super speed) you see that you need something more to make a character stand out. Even with as much as a carbon copy as you can make them to each other (even with clones that are literal carbon copies) each character has enough information to make them unique even before you take into account all their crazy adventures over the years. Characters become iconic and recognizable even at their most basic points, so much so that readers can still recognize them even after a lot of time has elapsed and many events taken place (look at my previous post where I explain the whole issue with Robin when he died).

Now let’s put all this in the context of serialization. Let’s take your average character for example, for simplicity’s sake lets say its Superman. Supes is closest to a global iconic hero you can find and he’s been around since the 30s. He has gone through countless adventures during that time in different multiverses, realities, and timelines. Backstories have been retconned, movies have been rebooted, and we have seen him go through some craziness over the decades in several different media. But for the most part, Superman has remained pretty much the same person over the years (obviously not counting “post return Mullet Supes, or the time he was made out of electricity). Diehard readers can give me examples of how post crisis Superman can do X, while the Silver Age one could do Y, and his power levels are pretty variable but the character stays the same. Literary critic Umberto Eco explains pretty well in his Myth of Superman essay where he basically goes into saying that he and his world do not really change. Just imagine that in one issue from the good old days, Superman faces Lex Luthor who has some crazy “inator” like Doofenshmirtz creates in every Phineas and Ferb episode. Supes saves the day and the bad guy goes to jail, good times for all, and end of that comic. Next installment rolls around Lex has another crazy scheme. Keep in mind that this was while Lex was just a crazy scientist, he was changed into an evil CEO during the 80s because Reaganomics. Eco refers to this phenomenon of changes having no further effect beyond the current installment as “narrative redundancy” and it’s something that I love to quote in all my discussions about serial fiction. It’s pretty much a big reset button that paradoxically keeps the story from going forward but somehow still keeps it fresh. Narratively, I have discussed before that this has some interesting potential. From an authorial perspective, this makes it so that each installment is always freestanding, which makes it so that the cartoonist doesn’t have to extend any story for more than 22ish pages but also that he/she can’t extend the story beyond 22ish pages.

For corporate authorship, this means that you can have multiple Superman stories, done by different writers and artists, running simultaneously without having to even acknowledge the other ones (and yes, did this happen for a while in the 50s and 60s with six different titles going on at the same time where Supes was the protagonist or one of the big stars). Once maintaining an overall continuity became an issue, the entire mindset changed. With multiple authors on board, they now had to plan stories almost a year in advance with fancy meetings to make sure no one stepped on anyone’s creative toes. However, the key with all things is that the character had to remain mostly unchanged, which usually meant that other characters around him/her could not change either. The biggest exception and surprise came in 1993 when they did the Death of Superman, where everyone was shocked to think that the Big Blue Boy Scout was gone for good (I’ll do a future post about the omnibus edition of this but that Max Landis video that I posted a long time ago is still really good for understanding what happened).

So whether or not you prefer your serial fiction light on the continuity (often referred to as episodic) or paying more attention to detail than everyone working on How I Met Your Mother, characters are the central point of the narrative. The fact that DC had to rewrite their entire realities of their properties because the stories had become too complicated but wanted to keep most of their all star characters really says something. Sure, Supergirl and a few others phase in and out of existence every so often but that’s more of a character never really getting a stable enough identity. In a previous post I mentioned that Marvel has not had an event like Crisis but that they modify their existing characters depending on different contexts (like real life) so that it becomes like a play: “same characters, different actors, settings, etc.”

As much as I may toot the horn of the primacy of the primacy of characters over any other element, I am more than aware that a lot of other critics for years and right now have some damn good arguments that say I’m wrong. There are also several that have a similar viewpoint (and I need to quote the crap out of them for dissertating purposes.) It is a subjective academic endeavor, just like pretty much all of them, but I think I’ve got something interesting that can help my point of view at least get acknowledged before getting demolished by intellectuals at some point down the line. I’ve been looking into American Copyright Law over the last few days to try and figure a few things out. The basic thing that I am trying to explain is that one of the author functions/authorial performances is that of maintaining ownership over the narrative. However, Section 102 of the 1976 Copyright Law (pretty much the foundation for how we understand it today) states, and I quote: “In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.” I’m not an expert in legalese but it seems to me like you can’t really claim copyright on anything regarding plot. However, you can legally own a character, who has their own background and bio that you can sue other people over if they try to use it. Obviously, there are a few things you can’t do once you make a particular character. Perhaps the most egregious and humorous example I can think of comes from this one weird webcomic. I can’t find it for the life of me but I swear it once existed. Basically, some guy wanted to make a webcomic where his two main characters would be a single red pixel and a single blue pixel, which would converse about whatever. By making this webcomic and then copyrighting it, he could then claim that everything else in existence that used pixels was infringing in his intellectual property. Thus he could sue all of them and he would start with Penny Arcade. Obviously the whole thing was written as a joke but the potential for this kind of thing is scary to think about as an academic, authors and legal people will have their own issues to consider. (if anyone finds this comic and can put the link in the comments, then you win one Internets)

Episode 89: Time for a Story

My brain is currently trying to figure out a few more dissertation type ideas that should work eventually but haven’t been fully conceptualized into what you would call “language” just yet. In the meantime, I saw this cool thing via a friend’s twitter/tumblr that was worth writing about and passing forward. http://longhidden.com/submissions/

The tl:dr version of this: short story from 3,000-7,000 words for a work of speculative fiction dealing with people on the fringes of society, ie not your standard middle aged white guys in power that must be centered on mostly the real world, takes place between the years 1400-1900, and has some sci fi, fantasy, or horror element. When I saw this I immediately thought of an old Dungeons & Dragons campaign I made based on 1800s Puerto Rico. I already got permission from the three players whose characters I’m using for the main protagonists so let’s see how much sense of a first draft this will turn out to be. It’s been a long time since I’ve tried at writing an actual story so it’s fair to say that expectations should be moderate at best. Also, I’m trying to base my protagonists off the trope of the Freudian Trio, should be pretty easy to figure out who each one http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FreudianTrio

Working Title: A Bridge Too Far

The light of the half-moon is barely noticeable next to the campfire. Three figures come together over a makeshift table to plan that with a bit of ingenuity and luck might just qualify as a suicide mission rather than a waste of time.

Mikufu: We’ve been planning this for days and considering our options, we have the best chance of anything if we follow the plan.

Juan: I know a one in a million chance is better than nothing but you have to admit that this will probably get us all killed.

Inamoca: Agreed. However, at least this way we die fighting rather than running, hiding, and waiting to die.

M: On that cheery note, let’s go over everything once again. We need to make sure we haven’t missed anything. Juan, some magical visual aids, if you please.

J: You know I insist that you refer to me by my full title unless we are at a time of duress where syllable efficiency is required. Juan Antonio Vega de la Mancha, Sorcerer Extraordinaire. But, since you asked so nicely I will make an exception and let proper procedures of protocol lapse.

The table now fills with an incandescent light that aids in illuminating our protagonists. Juan’s clean-shaven face and well-kept golden locks shine brightly as his nimble hands shape the light into a model of the city’s bay with the bridge that connects it to the capitol tiny island. Inamoca’s eyes roll upwards momentarily as they usually do instinctively from many of Juan’s lines as she brushes the brown hair off her still muddy face. Mikufu surveys the illusionary model with care as his greasy dark hair almost reflect the additional illumination. He strokes the stubble of his chin for a few seconds before he gives his thumbs up and directs his attention to the other two.

M: I see you are still wearing camouflage even in the safest camp we can find.

I:  You didn’t mind it when it when it helped me evade and outflank those crazy bandits with those exotic weapons on our first mission as a team. Besides, Virgilio already told us that our recent fame has brought about unwanted attention.

J: Ugh. I still have nightmares about that ripsaw glaive echoing through the marsh. Besides, I think we are all forgetting that it was my Sleep spell that incapacitated half of them.

M: Let’s not turn into another night of the supposed “Amazing Adventures of Juan and friends”, as you like to call them, good buddy. Okay the bridge was finished a week ago but it does not become officially open for use by the public until after the ceremony with the governor. Who is still out of the island and in Spain.

J: Probably talking over with King Ferdinand how to impose more taxes and further limiting the financial growth of individual entrepreneurs.

I: Are you still mad about losing the gold mine? It was in my ancestral people’s homeland and I don’t even care that much about it.

J: The mine wasn’t that important but all the gold inside it was. Usually you go into the old abandoned caves, fight a few monsters, and maybe find a few things here and there but this was filled to the brim in that hidden chamber we uncovered. I was even going to do a fair split of 60/20/20 with you. Imminent domain laws don’t work like that.

M: Yeah, Bjorn Bjornson insisted there was at least 100,000 gold pieces worth of it down there. Not to mention that magical artifact that we never figured out how it worked. Getting closure on that is one of the reasons we are we even considering this mission.

I: Regardless, without the governor present it falls unto Lieutenant Governor Pepe to do a final inspection. Which he will be doing tomorrow.

M: Correct. If we want to be heard and make sure that real changes happen for the people of Puerto Rico, we need to talk to him, since he has power and he doesn’t have to grovel at Ferdinand’s table for a few more scraps. Normally, he only goes out with a small squadron of elite crossbow men and infantry.

I: None of which can outshoot me and my bow. And yet, enough of them can prove to be deadly.

J: I still have the scars to prove it from our last skirmish with a few of them.

M: I thought Ernesto healed you up with his divine powers or something.

J: First off, he did so reluctantly. He wanted to use all of his “lay on hands” powers on little miss archery over here. Secondly, magic healing can’t cover up a whole wound, there is always a freckle or blemish at minimum. My flawless skin is getting one step further from perfection after every outing we go on.

M: Honestly, I’d prefer the squadron over what we will be facing. Pepe has a private meeting with some advisor to the crown.

I: Any reconnaissance on the old guy?

J: He is either a nobody or someone who takes careful measures that no one find out anything. None of my contacts have a clue as to who he is.

M: He is an unknown threat to the plan but no worse than the one person whom we all have a grudge against. Elena and her giant bird are giving Pepe and the mystery man and aerial tour of the bridge before they land.

I: I thought it was a dire eagle.

J: No, this is definitely a roc. You can tell by the fact that it’s as big as a house and the shape of its talons.

M: Are you sure?

J: Come on! I’m the Juan man you can count on for all things about giant monsters.

I: Are you still trying to turn that into your catchphrase?

J: “Arrow” you going to stop asking that?

M: That’s enough “pun”ishment from both of you. Back to business. Rocs are big and bad but they aren’t invincible. Elena on the other hand might just be. I don’t have to remind you how lethal she can be.

I: She struck the ground and a column of fire appeared, killing Iñigo in one fell swoop.

J: Even if the guy was part devil or demon or whatever, that was certainly no way to go.

M: If nothing else, we go to avenge a fallen friend. We are all a lot stronger and much better equipped than when she took him out.

I: She has a lot to answer for. Killing Iñigo.

J: Taking my, I mean OUR gold.

M: Putting all those new laws that make it so that elves (looks to Inamoca) magic users (looks to Juan), and even freed slaves (looks down at the chains that make up his armor) are legally treated even worse than they are now.

J: Not to mention that she broke your heart, man.

M: Dude?!? That’s when she was undercover as a barmaid. Long before we knew she was an Imperial Hellknight who thinks that the only way to bring order to something is by setting fire to it and then building from scratch on top of the smoldering ruins of what once laid there.

I: Wait, I thought she was pretending to be a hooker?

J: A common misconception. We just assumed that who would want to voluntarily have sex with Mikufu expects to be paid for her services beforehand.

M: Anyway! We all have plenty of reasons for wanting to take her out. Tomorrow might be our only chance to make some good for the island and get some well deserved revenge in the process.

I: All we have to do is get to the middle of the bridge without alerting the forts at each end too soon and we will have a chance.

J: Right. One chance to catch them by surprise out in the open. All we have to do is kill a bitch with impenetrable armor and a super magical sword plus her monstrous feathered friend first. Explain to me again how we aren’t going to die horribly before the rounds of combat even start.

M: By taking your dad’s boat, which you have so graciously volunteered, and pretending to be fishing at the mouth of the bay until the right moment to strike, go across the river and ram directly into the bridge itself.

J: See, if you are going to describe sailing into our probable demise you need to say it with a bit more dramatic flair. It’s what separates the eccentric underdogs from the crazy idiots who won’t last six seconds.

I: Shame we can’t use Captain Correa’s boat. A galleon like that would cause some serious damage to the bridge and give us a fighting chance.

M: Maybe, but it’s size would also give us a way too quickly. The bigger the boat, the harder it is to be inconspicuous.

J: That’s right, buddy. Keep telling yourself that size is inversely proportional to performance. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more, say no more. (Even Inamoca can’t help but giggle at this comment).

M: We can get official confirmation about that from your mother later, right now we have a mission to plan. (Juan was going to respond but instead did a slow clap to acknowledge his friend’s zinger as Inamoca regained her usual stoic composure.

I: We’ll be going upstream to get there. We can’t count on natural wind. Good thing we still have those fan feather tokens from those pirates we stopped a while back.

J: Their magic is temporary but it will be more than enough for us to get some decent speed in no time.

M: Once we see that the eagle has landed we make our run for it. With any luck, the surprise and confusion will be enough for them to not fly off or give the forts a speedy counter attack opportunity.

I: Then we kill Elena and the bird.

J: And I use my gift of oratory to convince Pepe and the old man that we are on their side. He’ll then give the order for the soldiers to stand down and we can talk about reversing some laws over tea.

I: And if your silver tongue can’t do the job, we’ll just have an old fashioned hostage situation where we can escape with our lives.

J: Come on. Did I or did I not single handedly convince that girl to be bait for that masquerade party where we killed those vampires?

I: Please, stop referring to that poor girl as “bait”. Her name was Betty and she almost died in the process. Plus, I’m still convinced you used your abhorrent magic to do the job.

M: Everyone calm down. First off, I got to give it to Juan, that move was pretty sweet. Second, I know you have never really cared about the anti-magical sentiments of society but shouldn’t you be more worried about the whole “all magic is from devils and they should be jailed” mentality and laws that are coming out?

J: Hey, I can be naturally enchanting as much as I need to. Besides, magic comes up in a lot of ways in people. For most, they are born with it, having been descendants of something beyond the Material Plane that manifests itself through being able to use magic. My bloodline is particularly awesome and that is the root of all my powers.

M: That’s his story and he’s sticking to it. Trust me, I’ve known him since we were both kids.

I: Fine. So, we have a boat, the means to move it, the three of us, and some kind of plan. Any other resources, at our disposal?

M: Ernesto is still helping Ana at the cathedral. Even after we stopped that zombie outbreak the people are still close to a collective panic. At least, they sent their whole supply of healing potions. Were you able to convince any of your tribe’s people to join the cause?

I: No, they are now more entrenched than ever to make a stand at the mountains if any Spaniards are stupid enough to try to take away what little lands we have left. I heard Bjorn has offered his services to them. First time elves and dwarves have worked together since I can remember. Any news from Virgilio?

J: Not since he left the island with Carmen. Imperial soldiers already consider him a traitor for helping us out before so I don’t blame him for leaving. Besides, the man is on his honeymoon. I can’t in good faith ask him to fall short on his marital duties to help us.

M: And every mayor we helped is too scared to repay the favor after they signed those petition amendments to change the laws without bloodshed. It’s like gave the governor a list of everyone in power that he can’t trust.

I: So it’s settled. At dawn, we take the boat and begin our mission. We may die, but we’ll take as many of those Spanish bastards as we can.

J: Normally I’d take offense to that but I will make another rare exception. With wanted papers of us everywhere on the island, it’s only a matter of time before they catch us. And if we survive, we’ll be heroes to all. Classic case of high risk versus high rewards.

M: If we die, we will still be heroes and our example will inspire the people regardless. Let’s get some sleep. Tomorrow will be a long day.

The next day, our not so merry band of protagonists try their luck at feigning to fish as the noon tropical sun and humid air make it so that sitting in the shade is sweat inducing labor. Their small sailing vessel lies anchored at bay close hand to the river. Any captain worth his sea legs knows this is a horrible place to catch dinner, but these three are casting their hooks out for something far more important.

M: (he stares attentively at the horizon but takes a moment to relax his gaze and wipe the sweat off his brow) Anything on the lookout, Ina?

I: Bridge is clear and no activity on either side. (she takes her keen elven eye off the spyglass and looks back towards her shipmates, making sure not to lose her balance from the current position of almost being the figurehead) I still can’t believe you stole this boat.

J: Look, the boat is my dad’s, I just didn’t know that he used it as collateral for some card game and he lost it. (He adjusts his oversized sombrero, revealing his face and overly blinking eyes as he looks about) Temporarily, I may add. Besides I didn’t steal it, WE commandeered it in the name of the magnificent revolution that is soon to come.

M: Revolutions are built on a foundation of blood and destruction. We are not here to force feed nobles to the guillotine. Just taking some momentary extreme measures to get the hearts and minds of the people ready to make about their own change. (his grip on the wheel slackens as he notices that Juan has a mound of trash next to him) Please tell me those aren’t spell components.

J: No, I don’t even need those. This is just what I’ve caught today.

I: You’ve actually been fishing?!

J: What? You said to act casual. I am a method actor and take my roles seriously. Thus, I cast my hook and see what bounties the sea bestows upon me. Mostly it’s just old boots, some tin cans, and this shell. And yes, I detected magic on all of them just in case, no dice.

I: Look alive, boys. I think the bird has reached the nest. Juan, hoist that anchor. Miku, get those fan tokens ready. (she gives the orders, moving swiftly on deck and unfurling the sails as her nimble yet calloused hands effortlessly undo the knots)

M: Armor and weapons ready. (he pats the sheathes of daggers, potions in multiple pockets, and has his trusty flail at the ready. he pulls the tiny fan figurines from a bracelet murky bracelet) The second we hit the bridge it’s going to be a brawl.

J: (struggling to pull up the anchor, his soft grip barely holding on to the rope) Mage armor already up. Urgh. Screw this. (he lets go of the rope, and conjures some acid to splatter on the heavy bindings to burn them away) Like we really needed an anchor.

Mikufu turns the vessel into the river and throws the magical tokens upwards. The ship rapidly gathers speed as magical winds spur the sails onward. The natural movement of the water does little to impede their progress.

I: We probably won’t make it through this so I should say this quickly before I no longer have a chance. Juan, I hate you. Miku, you are tolerable. But you have been good when things get tough and dangerous. Gentlemen, it’s been an honor.

J: Awwww. Ditto, darling.

M: Save those last words for later. Everyone hang on this isn’t going to be pretty.

J: And here I thought you were gentle when it came to ramming maneuvers.

The ship barrels up the river. The three people on the bridge start realizing that something is about to go wrong. Even the gargantuan bird recognizes that danger is afoot as it starts taking flight. The impact from the boat shakes the foundation of the bridge, making all those standing lay flat on the ground. Elena, the woman in the heavily spiked plate armor, tumbles through the fall and is quickly on her feet. The bridge looks scratched and bruised as the boat crashes and becomes debris. Mikufu and Juan leap at the right moment and maneuver acrobatically through the air, the former landing awkwardly but without injury. Inamoca just hops off from the top of the mast right before the crash.

Elena: Stay behind me, gentlemen. This trio of criminals are here to hurt you. (She draws her greatsword with her right arm as she brings a bottle to her lips with her left. Having drunk its contents, she throws the bottle off the side of the bridge and adds to the flotsam of the wreckage.)

M: Actually, we just want to have a civil conversation. (He dusts himself off, adjusts the shield on his left forearm and readies his flail.

I: But only after we hurt you, Elena. Time to pay for what you have done to us.(As quickly as she says these words, she pulls two arrows from her longbow’s string and hits the roc.)

J: So, Mr. Lieutenant Governor Pepe and Mr. mysterious old man if you give us a moment, we will take care of this little situation post-haste and then we can speak in private. Please stick around in the meantime. Now, if you’ll excuse us this kind of reunion requires something to start a celebration. (With a snap of his fingers a minor explosion of confetti bursts in front of the bird and Elena. Colorful scraps fly through the air and get stuck to all those present.)

The roc is surprised and blinded by the chromatic explosion. It remains in flight, hovering off the bridge, but unsure of where her targets lie. She barely picks out the scent of the half orc as she lunges her massive beak at Mikufu. He barely dodges the attack but is able to counter with a heavy blow to the side of the beast’s head.

E: No one hurts Miss Pitirre. No one! (She grips the hilt of her large sword even tighter as the pitch of her voice drops several octaves. Her armor, sword, and herself swell and expand until in a matter of seconds the almost petite woman is now the size of a small giant.) Prepare to die. (She charges directly at Mikufu, the blade finds a gap in his chainmail from which he starts bleeding in his side) Burn! (The blade burns in a red light that explodes in a column of flames. Only Pepe and the mysterious old man are not caught in the area of effect. As quickly as the fire came it disappears. Mikufu’s wound has been cauterised but is now covered in burns. Juan seems to have also taken the full force of the flames but his body  barely shows any signs of damage. Elena shows similar singes but is mostly unhurt, an amazing sight considering that she was at the center of the blast. Miss Pitirre was also affected by the vertical dimensions of this flame strike and has taken some damage to its massive frame as well. Inamoca looks unscathed as she barely jumps out of the way at the last instant.)

I: Somebody enjoys a little too much collateral damage. (She sends a triple volley of arrows straight at her adversary but thy all bounce off her white enameled armor). I’ll get you for what you did to me, to my friends, and my people you ethnocentric imperial swine.

J: I cannot believe that you actually got a potion of enlarge bitch. That’s a pretty rare spell. Plus, you use the same tactic you used on Iñigo, that won’t work on me. So why don’t you just stay still and let’s just say you lost now. Deal? (He moves his hands as if to enrapture Elena’s mind and body. She shudders but is able to turn right at her magical aggressor and give him an intimidating glare even through her helm) Oops.

Pepe and the still unidentified man keep their distance from the melee as the younger of the two looks at the edge of the bridge as an invitation for a possible escape route. The other grabs his arm and motions him to stay still. The jovial old man in a barely audible whisper compels him to stick around just a little bit longer and not to worry. The roc flies into the river, for even in it s relatively shallow depths it can ease the burning and wash off whatever colorful fragments impede its vision.

E: You thought you could invade my mind and stop me! (Her booming voice makes Juan’s knees buckle with fear and his guileful grin now quivers with fear.) You mages once held so much power and you almost blew up half the planet in your quest for more. Your magic can let you resist fire, let’s see if you can resist steel as I smite your chaotic mind back to the hells your powers come from! (Completely ignoring Mikufu, Elena charges with towering blade overhand directly at Juan. Putting all her weight behind the strike, the edge cuts down from his right shoulder and halfway down his torso. Had the slash been a bit to either direction he would have lost his arm or his skull cleaved but Juan was lucky. He was injured grievously but he was still alive, for now.)

M: That was my best friend you slaving tease! (Mikufu was still reeling from his own wounds as he shouted in vain. He took a healing potion from his belt and drank it. The bleeding had stopped and the pain had dulled but he knew that one good enough strike from his armored adversary would leave him even worse than Juan.)

I:  You may kill all of us but I will take you down with me. (She focuses on her hated enemy with one arrow and is able to get a direct hit to a small armor gap in her right hip.) Why not try taking a stab at me? (Inamoca says this with defiance as she walks further back, stretching the distance between the two).

Juan coughs up blood, before falling to his knees, and eventually collapsing face first in silence. Pepe no longer cowers as he sees that this new bodyguard that the higher ups commissioned for him would get the job done. His mind wanders and he asks out loud what Elena said about blowing up half the planet. Again, the answer comes with a whisper. “This new generation is so quick to forget. You know how the lands of the gnomes and dwarves do not expand East for there is a vast wasteland of shadows and death. Thousands of years ago, the most powerful mages went there with a mystical artifact. Their experiment went horribly wrong and the arcane apocalypse almost killed everyone and left that land and neighboring ocean in ruins. If memory serves, they called that place, Asia.

E: And so “princess Inamoca of the natives” remains unhurt. You think your precious baira or whatever you call your archery can get you out of any trouble. (Elena shakes off Juan’s excess blood from the blade as she turns to face Inamoca) Why can’t you recognize that you should just stay down and accept that the colonizers now rule you no matter what you do? Time to exterminate another pest! (She charges recklessly once again but her blow misses any flesh as Inamoca barely dodges the blow). You can evade steel but do you have the same luck with talons?

Elena whistles an odd tune. Within seconds the roc flies up and snatches Inamoca from the ground. It continues its upward trajectory. She remembers when her father taught her how eagles eat tortoises. They pick them up, fly to the sky, and let them fall unto the sharp rocks, to then feast on the shattered remains. She believes that this is now her destiny.

M: Don’t think you’ve won just yet. (With Elena being distracted, Mikufu runs at her. Rather than strike her directly, he aims for large sword, and disarms her of it. He uses the momentum of the flail to swing the sword into the river.) Hope it doesn’t rust. (He starts to chuckle but immediately gets punched in the face. Several other blows rain down upon him but his armor absorbs most of the impact.)

E: You think that some cross breeding a few generations ago between your orc slave of a grandmother and some misguided human Spaniards makes you special? No matter how light a shade of green your skin may be, you are inferior and your whole race is meant to be subjugated. You might be able to buy your freedom, turn your old chains into your armor, and even change your name to rope or binds or chains or whatever Mikufu means in your accursed tongue. I know everything about you, even what your old master named you, Tobias. Once I kill you, I will make sure these new laws become permanent, just like how your people will stay forever under my heel. (she spews her hate filled speech without stopping to take a breath as furious blows are sent one after another at Mikufu).

The roc continues to take flight upwards with Inamoca still in tow. She has stopped struggling now that she realizes that even if she slips the bird’s grasp the fall would not be pleasant. Mikufu tries to measure a counter blow but Elena’s punches and kicks are so fast that he can only put his shield forward and hope for a miracle. The silence of accepting an imminent death is broken when a familiar whistle pierces through the sky, though not from Elena’s lips. With it, the roc begins to glide gently down.

J: After all we’ve been through you’d think to remember that I’m the Juan man you can’t count out of a fight.

E: You will fall! (Elena suddenly stops her vicious assault to realize that the tide of battle had suddenly shifted. She looks around to realize that the man she had almost cut in half was now standing there smiling and that her ravenous mount was now docile.) How did you…”

J: You mean the old, pretend to be dead, drink some healing potions, and then cast charm animal on the humongous beast? It’s one of my preferred tactics. Someone remind me to send Elena my manual/biography to her grave later. (The roc now floats close to the bridge and gingerly lets go of Inamoca. It then flies out into the bay at full speed.) Oh and I sent your pet out to sea for a vacation, figured she earned a break after carrying around your fat ass for so long.

E: I don’t care how many tricks you use, none of you will escape my wrath!

M: We’ll see about that. Team, focus fire on the target. (Mikufu, deftly maneuvers to place himself in front of Elena whenever she tries to go for his friends as he shifts towards defensive tactics.)

I: With pleasure. (Inamoca rubs her heavily bruised ribs, still hurting from the talon’s previous death grip.) I’m glad you are going down fighting. I hate to argue with Miku again as to whether or not enemies who surrender deserve some mercy. (She sends another volley of arrows towards her quarry.)

J: Your armor may block a bunch of things but can it deal with a barrage of magic missiles until I become bored of zapping you? Spoiler alert: it can’t and this is really fun. (He almost cackles as spheres of forces are evoked from his fingertips and hit Elena point blank every time.

The combination of the ancient skill of baira and the tried and true method of spamming unmissable attacks takes its toll and less than a half a minute later their giant enemy collapses and returns to normal size. Her wounds are numerous and too many for even this fierce warrior to survive. The trio turn their attention to the Lieutenant Governor and his elderly associate. The venerable man chuckles, applauds his hands, pulls out an envelope, waves goodbye, and then disappears to the surprise of all.

M: What just happened? Did he turn invisible or something?

I: No, we still have this weird confetti on us. It’s impossible to hide with this stuff on you.

J: I think he teleported.

M: I thought that involved a lot of arcane power, the kind the world hasn’t seen in millennia.

J: True. Maybe he had a scroll, they are rare but not unheard of. Regardless, whoever he was he probably had some spell power and could have hand picked the winner easily.

I: But he just stayed there, as if we were here to entertain him.

M: Well, that’s a mystery for another day. For now, we need to speak with you Pepe. We are going to be surrounded by an army in a couple of minutes and it’s in everyone’s best interest if we just had a nice chat together instead. Deal?

Pepe: Please don’t hurt me. (the middle aged man had already been sweating from being under the Caribbean sun for so long. Witnessing the intensity of the battle had let him drenched from head to toe and all those fancy clothes in between. He stumbles back upon realizing that his elderly companion really had left him alone. Being now surrounded by a fighter, an archer, and a sorcerer, his proud shoulders and chin of aristocratic origin fall.) I’ll do anything.

J: Good. Because we’ve got a small army coming on both sides that need those orders to kill us to be rescinded.

M: Exactly. There has to be at least a hundred infantry and dozens of elite warriors closing in on us.

I: And the glass cannons. They could incinerate all of us before we even got a good look at them.

J: You know, I really hate when you people use that term. They are just nerdy guys and girls who developed some magical talent and where pretty much chained to libraries. When they are not forced to throw fireballs at potential enemies, they make them craft magic items. A wizard is only allowed to sleep 8 hours a day because his magic would get all screwed up if he didn’t.

Mikufu and Inamoca almost simultaneously respond with: What do you mean, you people?

J: Non magical folk. You think it’s really easy for us to be around being able to reshape the building blocks of the universe but it’s really hard work. And a lot of us, not me because as you know I’m awesome incarnate, but other mages get treated like lepers or something.

P: It’s because you blew it up. (His voice had found some confidence, but his quivering body still betrays his frightened state.) That whole continent, and who knows what more of the world is gone because of you.

J: What is he blathering on about now?

I: The arcane apocalypse. Most of the life on the planet died that day.

M: Not to mention that the lands over Asia are now over linked with the Shadow Plane, the Indian and Pacific Ocean are a colossal maelstrom, and no one even knows what happened to Australia.

J: How is that even a thing? It happened thousands of years ago. Besides, I thought elves were the ones responsible for that.

I: Please! (she scoffs with disgust.) Everyone knows it was the gnomes that took us over the cliff. They kept using magic even when there was a moratorium right after the catastrophe.

M: Calm down, all of you. Wizards, clerics, sorcerers, druids, and every other type of mage from every race back then was part of the group that started the disaster. They got power hungry and the world paid the price. So, Pepe you see what happens when multi racial groups band together against powerful ignorant bigots. Care to enact some changes to the local government?

With his lips trembling, the Lieutenant Governor struggles to form an answer. Before he can say anything. A magically enhanced voice coming from the Western side of the bridge orders everyone to surrender before lethal force is used against them. The trio give each other a nod as they drop their weapons and raise their arms.

I: The soldiers hear you now, but the people are tired of listening.

J: Plus we are pretty much the local heroes of just about everywhere. Friend of a friend, and all that.

The armed guards rush over and quickly bind the hands of the attacker’s behind their respective backs and Juan is gagged to avoid any possible spellcasting. Crossbows are aimed at their faces with the invitation to give them a reason. They are shoved away until a voice of authority commands them to stop.

P: By the powers of my office as acting governor of the island, I declare that these three be released from custody and all charges against them dropped. (The air of leadership is once again clear in his voice and mannerisms. Several cries of doubt and resignation are heard amongst the soldiers.) Are you questioning a direct order?! These people are hereby pardoned from any so called crimes that have been attested by baseless claims and unjust laws. (A few grumbles of disdain are heard throughout the now disempowered military force. They put away their blade and crossbows as they give their former prisoners some space) Untie them at once.

M: Actually, we’ve got that covered. (With a loud grunt, Mikufu breaks the binding ropes with a burst of strength. The show of force is only matched by dexterous expertise of Inamoca slipping her hands out as if they were covered in grease. Juan takes a deep breath and summons some kind of spirit, to whom he gestures to undo the knot and remove the dirty handkerchief from his mouth.)

J: That will be all, Jeeves. (The unseen servant bows and then disappears.) And you guys said figuring out how to do cantrips without verbal or somatic components was a waste of time. So I assume, we will be having afternoon tea at your place then, Pepe.

P: Yes. You are all my guests. We have much to talk about.

I: Guys, I think we’re forgetting about something. (She walks over to the almost forsaken envelope left by the old man. She picks it up and hands it to Mikufu.) Care to read it for us o’ fearless leader.

M: Okay, there’s some really fancy parchment here. This is some really fancy handwriting and wait is that the King’s seal and signet?

J: Let me see that. It’s a royal proclamation, signed directly to us? Huh, it says that we are officially the new “Defenders of the Colony of Puerto Rico”. He’s relegating the entire island’s defense to us and that if we do a good job he will grant us a personal audience with him next month to discuss its political future. Guess your prayers have been answered, Miku, we just got a promotion in the hero business.

M: More like a death sentence. Take a look at this. (He pulls something else from the envelope, a note on fairly crude paper that read as follows: Thanks for the show kiddies. Let’s see if your luck holds out. As you may know, a hurricane is coming for the island in less than a week, and it’s a big one. What you may not know is that England’s star admiral, Sir Francis Drake, is sailing behind it with the purpose of capturing the island after it’s been thrown into a state of chaos. Stop him, and the King will be happy to hear your pleas. Fail and you will pray for Spanish rule after some time under British occupation.”

J: Please tell me this is a joke. There is no way that can be true.

I: That is a risk we can’t take. We need to check with some diviners, now.

A few days later, Inamoca and Mikufu are at port loading provisions into Captain Correa’s galley. Familiar and unfamiliar faces help them, as former teammates of previous adventures, a score of imperial soldiers, and another score of elven archers are preparing the vessel. Drake is only bringing a small elite fleet and they will answer with the same, hoping to stop him at sea, hoping to catch him by surprise. After all, no one would be crazy enough to cut through a hurricane to engage in naval combat. They all stop what they are doing once they notice that Juan is walking towards them with what can only be dozens of zombies and skeletons shambling behind him.

J: Good news everybody! I convinced the Spirits of San Juan to come help us.


Episode 88: Passing the Metaphorical Torch

One of the goals with this blog is to help organize my thoughts for upcoming dissertation construction. Since I need to have a chapter or two pretty well in the works before the end of the month, I am dedicating a lot of energy to get something close to 1,000 words a day and posting stuff as often as possible. Honestly, if I don’t keep short goals in front of me it just turns into a string of all nighters when my committee asks for a progress report. Here I may not have a finished and polished piece of writing but I do have some good building blocks for future assembly. Speaking of people talking about you, my good buddy Shaun Duke is doing his Week of Joy posts over at his blog and part of the celebrations involved sharing the good news of blogs interesting blogs, including mine, so I return the favor here. Go check him out for all things nerdy and sci fi at The World in the Satin Bag http://networkedblogs.com/N0eRa

Intro over, time for actual literary analysis. In my research about authorship, I keep reading about how the author is individual to be revered/ignored/acknowledged, but this is mostly done in the singular sense. Collaborative authorship is not uncommon but few people analyze since you can’t really determine what each person’s individual contributions were (unless you find some unabridged annotated version with track changes) or when the roles are very well delineated, like with writer and artist in comic books. We never really see authorship as something to be done in succession, wherein one writer would try to find a suitable heir or one worthy of taking the role would unsheathe the pen of Excalibur from the stone of authorial intention. There are examples who continue or expand upon certain ideas, like when Jacques Lacan decided to explain Sigmund Freud and make his ideas more in line with contemporary society, mostly by ignoring penis envy and making everything else far more complicated than what many can comprehend. But this is people picking up the baton and making it a relay race. It’s not so much a natural process of writing but rather the progression of ideas as they evolve over the ages. Authors of serial fiction get to the point where they choose to stop or other factors come in that make it so that someone else has to pick up the narrative reigns because the show must go on. Moreover, I have often argued that character has priority over other things in serial works but there are many cases when someone else needs to take the mantle. And so this post is dedicated to the passing of the metaphorical torch between authors to ensure that the story goes on or in characters because the legacy cannot end.

Let me start with the character part. I’m trying to think of some examples from Marvel but I’m having a hard time finding any. You get a few people in the rotating membership of groups like X-Men and Avengers, especially with who gets to be leader or who fills a particular role, like when Emma Frost took over telepath duties a couple of times. The one clear exception to this was when they killed Peter Parker but had a new teenager become the webslinger. Of course, that made more headlines because it was a biracial kid (half African American, half Hispanic), which was a pretty big deal but wasn’t that big a change to the actual narrative besides starting things over. They update the circumstances of several different characters with certain changes in setting that ends up making new versions of Spiderman. As Dr. Sheldon Cooper once said http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MkI_wixADLI Amazing, Ultimate, Spectacular, 2099, not to mention the different cartoons and films. As Brian Clevinger of Atomic Robo fame explained when discussing the concepts od continuity and Marvel: same actors different stages.

DC is a completely different story when it comes to new characters taking on old identities. Again, this does not count events like any iteration of Crisis where the universe was remade/updated. Let me go from order of the least popular ones.

Mr. Terrific

I barely know this guy from the Justice League Unlimited cartoon but a few Wikipedia searches later and he became one of my favorite dark horse characters that could save the day. So back in the olden times known as the Golden Age of comic books, there was this one character that was a modern day version of a Renaissance Man. Terry Sloane having achieved all his goals in life by his mid twenties (graduating college as a teenager, having several black belts, and being a successful businessman) decides to use his talents to clean up the streets of crime and be a good example for the community through his motto of “Fair Play”. No real super powers and a resume that reads like Batman’s but the character never really hit the main stream. In due time, old age or something led Mr. Terrific to retire the hero business but die at the hands of his nemesis. Flash forward a few years and we have another young man, this time Michael Holt African American decathlete plus scientist with 14 PhDs. Some kind of tragic accident leads to the loss of his pregnant wife, which leads to an incredible depression that was only shaken when a friend points him to follow the example of the original Mr. Terrific. He later adopts his name and a similar helpful disposition, he even becomes the chairman of the Justice Society of America. Holt took the torch and made it his own and thanks to the magic of time travel, he even met the original Mr. Terrific twice who goes on record as saying that he was proud of him as a successor. The link is very direct.

Green Lantern

Pop quiz: How many Green Lanterns are there? Take a guess. I’m not sure on the exact number but I am going to go with the round figure of infinity. Let me explain, in DCs continuity there exists hundreds of simultaneous/parallel universes, to the point that anything you can ever imagine in some combination or another exists out there. The Green Lantern Corps are a cosmic police force of sorts wherein each Green Lantern is tasked with defending a quadrant (which usually covers a few solar systems). So at 5 stars per person + way too many additional universes where GLs exist = too much math. Now if you want to go with just the main continuity of Earth 1, the total is a far more finite number.

First off, everyone forgets about the first ever Green Lantern, which has nothing to do with the GL Corps. Back in ye olden times of the Golden Age, Alan Scott found a magical ring that let him manipulate anything, so long as it wasn’t made out of wood. Seriously, that’s pretty much his entire back story. Beyond a run in the 40s, Alan Scott was not that important a character for the main storylines of DC or to much readers, though he was renamed Sentinel and his kids eventually got some powers as well, sans mystical artifacts. He recently resuscitated in public memory thanks to DC wanting to make one of their main characters gay, which was not something completely out of left field since they just did a reboot of everyone with The New 52, and it was revealed that their original Green Lantern’s back story had now taken this turn.

It’s not until the so called Silver Age of DC in the late 1950s that they decided to give Green Lantern a more cosmic sci fi feel to the whole thing. There is a very literal passing of the torch whenever a Green Lantern dies and the ring goes out to find a suitable person filled with courage and honor to become it’s replacement owner. Abin Sur was the alien creature in charge of quadrant 2814, which includes Earth. Having been badly injured, his ship crashes on our world and the ring picks fighter pilot Hal Jordan to become the new Green Lantern. While he is under the direct command of the Guardians of Oa, Hal pretty much has free control to handle situations as he sees fit in order to protect Earth and a many other planets. Depending on the version, Hal retires, is injured, gets a promotion, is fired, dies and they need a new Green Lantern, and the ring chooses Guy Gardner. This cocky guy goes with his own costume, refusing the mask, and somewhere down the line gets fired as well. A few years later, we get John Stewart (no, not the one from the Daily Show) who is a sharpshooter African American marine, who brings a clear discipline to the post. After that, we get Kyle Rayner an artist who is considered to be the most creative GL but because of his young age, people barely respect him, especially a lot of the GL fandom. Still, he is willing to learn and becomes a pretty good successor and worthy Green Lantern. It gets extra interesting once you consider that at several times all four of them had their own power ring and were defending the planet. Not so much succession as coexistence between characters that have the same job and super powers.

The Flash

Your first thought when hearing about this particular hero is a guy wearing a red full body costume with tiny lighting bolts on the sides of his head. The Scarlet Speedster is a classic hero but many forget his original incarnation, Jay Garrick from the Golden Age who wore blue pants, red shirt, a silvery hat, costume based on the Roman god Mercury. He became super fast thanks to a lab accident with weird chemicals that also unlocked a metagene. Years later, a new Flash with the iconic red attire came with Barry Allen but his powers were directly related to the Speed Force (kind of like an extra spatial dimension with subatomic particles, it barely makes sense even if you a hardcore fan so don’t worry about it. Then Wally West, his nephew or something, would become Kid Flash but would then become Flash. Then his Barry’s grandson from the future, Bart Allen, comes in as Impulse, who would then become Kid Flash, and then Flash. That’s right, four people have been Flash, the latter three having pretty much the same costume. Most of them actively took on this identity as the previous hero had perished in battle but thanks to comic book deaths, they have all actually run together simultaneously a few times. The decision to take on this identity was done to honor the service and memory of the fallen predecessor but with the knowledge that the world needs a Flash, and being able to run a half second mile is a pretty big requirement to get the job so only the former sidekicks can really take on the responsibilities, even as changing events make it so that none of them stay dead too long.


I talked about the fact there have been several sidekicks for the Dark Knight in a previous post. The torch in this case is not so much finding about finding a successor as it is Batman picking the other half of the dynamic duo when a cool enough kid comes along. While the Caped Crusader is the one that does the hiring, he doesn’t do any of the firing as different circumstances lead to each Robin leaving the post. Here is the abridged version of the Robins:

Dick Grayson the acrobat is the iconic Robin after many years of living under the wing of Bruce Wayne as his adopted son and sidekick. He leaves the shadow of his cowled mentor to become his own hero, Nigthwing and being the defender of Bludhaven. He also does a few stints with Teen Titans and Young Justice and still counts as part of the extended Bat family.

Jason Todd is often known as the hoodlum of the Robins. Being raised on the streets, he was a natural and cocky fighter more than anything else. He met Batman after he tried to steal the tires off the Batmobile, not kidding. In a mission to find his birth mother, Jason gets trapped by the Joker, gets the crap beaten out of him via crowbar and then dies in the ensuing explosion. He eventually comes back as the Red Hood, a villain with sometimes noble intensions.

Tim Drake is nicknamed the detective amongst the Robins. He actually figured out Batman’s identity and purposely seeks out the Caped Crusader to become Robin. Takes the job on for a few years before he becomes the Red Robin. Helps out the rest of the Bat family when necessary.

Stephanie Brown only kinda counts as Robin number 4, mostly since Batman refuses her help but she later became Batgirl. But then she was retconned out of existence. Calling her name out in a discussion about Robins might be trouble so tread cautiously my nerdy readers.

Damian Wayne is the assassin. The biological son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul, he was trained since birth by the League of Assassins. He is by far the deadliest and most dangerous of the Robins. Still, he is pretty young and gets into a lot of trouble so Bruce Wayne really needs to work as father and mentor to the son he didn’t know for so long. Damian actually died very recently in the current “New 52” continuity and there are no plans for a replacement.

Honorable mention: Carrie Kelly is an interesting case outside of the major continuity. Frank Miller redefined Batman in the 80s when he put him as a grizzled old man in The Dark Knight Returns. He then included 13 year old red headed Carrie Kelly as Robin. Her parents are actually both alive in this world so……. yeah. In the sequel she becomes Catwoman, but still works directly under the Dark Knight. Some of the romantic implications are kinda icky so this is another topic to avoid if possible.


Bruce Wayne is synonymous with Batman 99% of the time, even in the main continuity. But there have been some moments when the cowl had to be passed along, if only momentarily. The first big moment was during the Knightfall story arc. You probably know this one as the one when Bane breaks Batman’s back, which served as the inspiration for the recent Dark Knight Returns film. What a lot of people forget is that with Batman out of commission, a new Caped Crusader took on the mantle. Nightwing was the obvious choice but Bruce did not want to force him into the identity which he considers a curse more than anything else. So he passed it along to Jean-Paul Valley, a fairly new character that was unwitting assassin known as Azrael but was turned good. He turned into anti-hero Batman (nicknamed by the fandom “Azbats”) and he cleaned up the streets but with a lot more violence and guns. Suppossedly, DC wanted to officially make the replacement but fan reaction wasn’t going for it, making it so that Azbats went power hungry and had to be stopped by the real McCoy. A while later, Batman gets disintegrated by Apocalypse and his omega beams which started the Batman R.I.P. arc (spoiler alert: it actually means rot in purgatory). The first three Robins have some pretty epic fights, mostly against Jason Todd, to see who would take his place in Battle for the Cowl, and Dick eventually “won” and even made Damian his sidekick. In the cartoon version, there is this cool moment when Batman goes missing and Superman has to don the cape and cowl with Tim Drake as Robin to save him from Brainiac. Because Batman is very much aware of his mortality and limitations (mostly those that come with being human and mortal) he sets up Batman Inc. where he gets different heroes from all over the world to take up the cowl, and he would give them training and financial support. The different versions range from the campy to the amazing, an interesting example of which shows up briefly in the Brave and the Bold cartoon. Speaking, of they had a good “what if” episode called Knights of Tomorrow, that deals with being the heir of the cowl pretty well. Check it out here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6ReV9-xQbU
The one other moment worth mentioning about Batman is definitely Batman Beyond. A now geriatric Batman retires but reluctantly passes along the futuristic suit and identity to the young Terry McGinnis. The cartoon is one of my favorites and even made it to the comics, though some versions have Terry working under Damian rather than Bruce. Still, you get an interesting example of choice versus destiny on both ends, especially once it is revealed that due to Cadmus nano/bio engineering led to Terry being Bruce’s biological son.

Authorial explanations to come later.

Episode 87: Doctor Who Speculation from a non-Whovian

I have not seen more than two episodes of anything related to Doctor Who (I know, I’m losing a lot of nerd cred). Still, I have a vague enough understanding of the show through many friends and things the Internet keeps telling me mostly that David Tennant’s hair is to be envied by all). As a serial, it has achieved legendary status which will be cemented with the 50th anniversary special coming out in a few months, which I have no knowledge of how the plot will work for that. Besides dreaming of unruly marsupials, the idea came to me last night as to how to justify having all the different Doctors come together in a way doesn’t involve a chronological Rashomon and a billion flashbacks. While I’m not sure how the time space continuum works in the Whoverse, I’m pretty sure that having the same entity interact with himself is not recommended, so no we all came together to stop the most destructive force in the universe plot. It would be interesting in they came together in a nexus point outside of space-time, much in the same way that Atomic Robo did in Volume 3 The Shadow from Beyond Time. Still, that’s not the plot that came to me in a dream. This will probably sound horrible and make you facepalm repeatedly but give it a chance.

First off, I’m 90% sure the Tardis doesn’t have a voice over feature but a Mr. Feeny presence would provide something a little extra (he was the voice of KITT in the original Knight Rider, the fact that few people know this makes me feel old). Anyway, the Tardis picks up a weird reading that should not exist but has appeared once before. The Doctor should remember this specific moment but explains that it is all a blur, which is even stranger once he states that it is a specific blur that he can make out from different vantage points. Tardis goes on to explain using extreme technobabble (here is my version of it) that a disturbance created from a failed experiment by some ancient time-lord created a roving wave of anti-chronotope particles that create a disintegrating cascading resonance. Across the emptiness of space, this “wave of undoing” does very little but once it comes into matter it shreds it to the atomic level. Because it anti-chronotope particles, it disrupts a time-lord’s ability to regenerate, thus destroying one entirely. One of the older versions of the Doctor had tried to analyze it earlier on and was luckily only grazed by the effect. Not only was the Tardis heavily damaged, his molecules were in a state of dissonating frequency. It was enough to tear him apart but his regenerating abilities were not harmed. The unstable energies left a temporary moment were previous incarnations of the Doctor were present together, though not in pristine shape (which explains why they are older).

The Tardis pulls up videos of the previous team up, mostly done through reenactments by current actors and CGI. With the wave of undoing on track to hit Earth, the current Doctor flies out with instruction on how to divert it from his predecessors. As you can imagine, the plan fails but the Doctor is now a bunch of people. This now allows for all the previous actors to come together, bring some of the companions along for one last adventure and even team up with previous antagonists to stop this common threat. After this point my dream kind of degenerated into the New Doctor being Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson throwing Daleks at whatever was in his way, which is cool but kind of out of character and not a direction that the BBC would probably take.

Episode 86: Can There Be a Webcomic without an Author?

Thanks to one of the most recent installments of xkcd’s “what if” section, I have been including the term “gendankenexperiment” into my regular conversations. (check out how bouncy balls can be an instrument of death here http://what-if.xkcd.com/52/) This is the German word for thought experiments , as made famous by Albert Einstein when he would create hypothetical scenarios that would come to redefine our understanding of the universe. Today’s post fleshes out my most recent gendanken, in an attempt to further organize some ideas that have been ruminating for a while and to show people that some actual dissertation writing is taking place. My previous posts dealt with authorship and the author function, through Aristotle, Barthes, and Foucault and how they explained the presence/absence of the Author in our thinking around a text. This got me thinking about my own area of expertise, and how webcomics and other forms of digital publication use different kinds of author models, potentially even one without an author per se. Let’s put our thinking hats on and try, shall we?

First off, everything ever done has an author. Creator or point of origin are loaded terms that bring about more complicated concepts as to how nothing can exist without something beforehand making it possible. I am not fan of using the term emitter as per basic linguistics because I believe that the task of putting something into a particular form (in the case of my area of study, narrative) in a way that has a lot more effort than just conveying information. While a lot of the webcomic cartoonist do both the writing and the artwork, I hesitate to use the term artist (although I think all of them are) because this will always lead to an unnecessary debate as to what can be art. I’ve had my fair share of discussions as to whether webcomics fall under “art” or “literature” but most will at least accept that they fall under “narrative” so I analyze them as such.

For webcomics, the term author is a lot more encompassing than in other media. They are often one person operations, with the same individual being in charge or writing the story, drawing the panels, uploading them, creating and maintaining the website, marketing them through social media and conventions, and probably run the merchandise part of your sales as well. Only a handful of people get to claim that their webcomics are the sole source of their income, and many of the more professional ones employ some extra people to help with the workload. Most budding webcomic cartoonists that have to struggle with trying to lift off beyond the status of “hobby” or “side work”, barely have enough time and resources to fulfill all of these authorial responsibilities. In addition to all of these labors, your readers expect a presence from you. Let me go through the top webcomics in my feed and tell you how the author functions in each of them vary.


Order of the Stick by Rich Burlew http://www.giantitp.com/index.html

To say that I love this webcomic is an understatement of Xykon level proportions. This was my first foray into active digital serialization and large percentage of my master’s thesis is written about Burlew and his work. Still, Burlew the man is not a vocal figure in his work, especially over the second half of his now ten year webcomic endeavor. He rarely heads to conventions, has several moderators for the 70,000+ registered forumites (both for content and technical issues), blog points in the main page are spaced out in months, and the FAQ hasn’t been updated since 2005! The times when Burlew was most active directly towards the readership was during his epic Kickstarter drive that raked in over one million dollars (the original goal was 50k) where he provided almost daily updates and even mini comics in the process. His recent injury to his thumb on his drawing hand was another moment when he step in front of the curtain and explain that there would not be any updates for a while due to this occurrence. Burlew recently started a Twitter account but uses it mostly to indicate when new updates are published. Still, Burlew has been doing this for more than a decade and has a very well established and growing readership, so the added authorial job of creating and fostering a community is no longer necessary. A lot of the extra information and behind the scenes action towards his writing process can be found in a lot of the author commentaries that are in the print compilations and print only books out there.


Erfworld by Robert Balder with art Jaime Noguchi (book one) and Xin Ye (book two) http://www.erfworld.com/

Erfworld provides an interesting example of how collaborative authorship is strictly defined between writer and artist and what happens when new artists enter the fray. Starting in 2006, Rob Balder and Jaime Noguchi piggybacked off Burlew’s site for uploading installments until the end of book one. Rob is a very vocal author and will regularly go out to cons, participate in forum debates, and even sell his dignity through Kickstarter. I personally owe Balder a lot, as he was the one that first suggested that I study microserialization and how it affects narrative production during a forum discussion on how to use webcomics for my MA thesis. After book one, Jaime left and one of the fans, Xin Ye, became the new artist and the style change is very evident. One potential in story reasoning behind this is that Parson Gotti’s actions are literally reshaping the world. The two pronged approach to authorship has some issues. First off, Balder seems to have primacy of authorship, as blog updates for different installments are done by him, he is the one that mostly goes to conventions, and runs the text only updates.

Goblins by Tarol Hunt (Thunt) http://www.goblinscomic.org/

If there was ever a webcomic cartoonist that I could actively call friendly toward his readership it has to Thunt of Goblins. The man literally owes the roof over his head to his readership and he knows it full well. Due to Canadian border weirdness, he does not travel to many conventions but makes up for it in other ways. First off, he is quite active on Twitter and he keeps us informed and various things relating to his webcomic and to his everyday life. He has opened up on blogs and forums about his personal life (good stuff and bad). Hell, I cheered when I read that he was going to propose to his longtime girlfriend (who helps with coloring and shading). Through his Tempts Fate campaign and most recently with Kickstarter, Thunt has gained a lot of financial support directly from his readership, to the point that he got the down payment for his house this way. He refers to his fans as his “E-maginary” friends and wants to stay close to them. Thunt has even extended an open invitation to any of his readers to spend the night on his couch should they are ever in the area. No joke, a couple of people have already asked and did indeed have some Goblins hospitality, even if Thunt was preparing a new installment at the time. Thunt has upgraded the level of direct interactivity between author and reader by often live streaming his drawing and coloring sessions through a webcam and even participates in the conversations with his fans.

Darth and Droids by The Comic Irregulars (Andrew Coker, Andrew Shellshear, David Karlov, David McLeish, David Morgan-Mar, Steven Irrgang.)  http://www.darthsanddroids.net/

I honestly had no idea who were the actual authors of this webcomic until I took a look at their FAQ page. I knew it was a conglomeration of people but six of them to make a screencap comic seems a bit too much. They basically take the Star Wars movies and put dialog bubbles over the stills of each of the movies (mostly in chronological order) to tell a different story. This one I don’t follow too closely but I know they have been doing this for years. Not much when it comes to cons and merchandise, in large part because the legal issues and potential lawsuits would be horrific, so they keep it as a parody. I have not seen much of authorial voice in forums or other sources but they do provide some good commentary in each installment about the tropes of storytelling and role playing games. The aside comments also give some extra detail as to different elements pertaining to narrative construction.

Penny Arcade by Mike “Gabe” Krahulik and Jerry “Tycho” Holkins http://penny-arcade.com/

Perhaps the most famous webcomic out there and has been for a number of years, Penny Arcade pretty much invented the genre of two guys hanging around talking about video games. Their success is enough that they actually employ about a dozen people, which doesn’t even include all the extra work they do for the Child’s Play charity (they give toys video games to kids in hospitals) and PAX (their own video game and comic book convention). From the standpoint of authorship, Penny Arcade is an interesting exception to the examples that I showed before. First off, Mike and Jerry are often tapped as the webcomics  ambassadors for all things nerdy, almost like standard-bearers for the geeky community, and they have done a good job at this for over a decade. They were even in Time magazine’s person of the year issue under entertainers. They are vocal and public to stand up for gamers and webcomic enthusiasts when they are unfairly portrayed in the media. In the actual webcomic, you see something a little different. If you go to the site the first thing you see is the blog/comment page where they explain the issues of the day and what the current installment is referencing. All of this is done through their author-avatars Gabe and Tycho. They are the protagonists of the webcomic itself as well as the digital expies of the authors.  A lot of readers and fans will probably recognize them by Gabe and Tycho rather than their real names (and not just because they are hard to spell). This isn’t just a nickname, it’s almost like a completely different identity which happens to have some overlap. Now I’m the first to admit that basically only go through their comics every few months and just binge on a bunch of installments, often times missing the point of many of the references and rarely if ever do I check out the blog posts. If any of the more dedicated and informed readership wish to correct me on any of these things, I invite you to correct me.

Other ones that I love but don’t really add to the above argument: 8-bit Theatre and PhD Comics are definitely worth a read. There are thousands upon thousands of other webcomics worth mentioning but I only feel confident talking about the above. Any other ones that you feel I should add to my reading list, especially in the weird forms of authorship department, please send them my way. If you can add your own explanation and examples as to why they are cool I would be eternally grateful. Each of them show different forms of the author function beyond textual production. Time for the gendanken.

Let’s try and imagine a webcomic without any of the above factors. I’m not saying that they are done without being noticed or anonymously. None of these extra authorial features can exist. No twitter, no about me section, no contact link, no bio, nothing personal in the FAQ, no merchandise selling, no booths at the local comic con, nothing beyond a reader going to a website and reading the available installments. You could still get actual advertisement to grow your readership but you can never say when new installments are up besides the already established update section. You end up with a webcomic with no real reputation (which is actually pretty common once you take into consideration the amount of first time artists and writers that start out this way). Fans can potentially comment directly through forums but this information is going to be ignored, and once the readership figures this out they will feel disheartened. Financially speaking, unless you have anonymous donations or large amount of traffic that can be converted into advertising revenue, this endeavor will most likely be an economic disaster. You as an author have technically muted yourself towards everything that is not directly your text. The plus side is that your art is now your only voice and if you are really good, maybe that’s enough. Unless you are running a subscription service with no previews, that model is so outdated there is no feasible way for you to get a readership like that.

It’s one thing for Bruce Wayne and Batman to be entirely different people; it’s quite another to start your career as an artist by doing small paintings in dark alleys with no extra effort. Anonymity is pretty cool and sometimes necessary; Hell, my actual name is no where to be found on this blog and I keep it that way just in case I need to use the plausible deniability card. The author function goes way beyond narrative production and while webcomics may show these extra responsibilities done by individuals, just about every other form of publication involves other people providing these services, especially in the digital age. Authorship is now more extensive, some things you can do alone, others you can get help with, you can use your real name, a nom de plume, or whatever. Still, this extra work is there so that you can connect to your readership in a way that’s far more accessible and immediate (both in speed and separation due to medium of publication). To not perform these author functions means that you are only producing the text, which used to be enough, but now the job involves a lot more work. It’s not about making a port so that would be travelers can see the island which is your work but rather making a bridge almost directly up to the potential readership. At least, if you are lucky, you can get some readers to pitch in and do a lot of the work themselves.