Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Making a meal out of snacks

Okay, so I just finished watching the “Misfits” and so I got thinking: How could it have been done better? “Misfits” is a show where some kids doing community service get powers by being out in a storm. They get some pretty powerful abilities, but by the end of the second season those powers have been downgraded. It ends up being one of those gritty teen dramas where they explore powers and their various uses and abuses. It being gritty means that there is plenty of sex and swearing.

And then it hit me: The sex and swearing. One of those things that’s sort of amusing is how much people think that sex and swearing are getting a bit out of hand. At one point they actually five character refer to male genitalia as another word for “rooster” a few dozen times in a few minutes in a story arc about one man’s quest to find a missing appendage. What got interesting was how many times sex featured in a story arc during the four seasons; they have some fun with it, don’t get me wrong, but it gets sort of boring after a bit.

This is not to make me sound like a prude or anything, but it’s really amazing when you realize that just how much writers depend on shock value to sell their product. More to the point, it’s weird when you realize just how much it takes to shock people any more. The problem is that too many shows, movies, or especially comics rely on straight shock value in order to sell it rather than the story or the artwork. It’s almost as if they didn’t listen to the people who actually have a successful product and just went, “What can we get the characters to do?”

The catch here is that you need to really debate just how dependent on sex, swearing, and even violence your comic. You don’t need to make an all ages comic; you can still have plenty R-rated elements in your comic. The only question is are you putting too many of them in? Are they slowing your comic down? When I’m watching “Misfits” it’s sort of great how many of those elements they had, but they had to skimp on some story and it showed. They decided on the sex and all that, but that limited them in terms of story. Because of that dependence on sex and, um…sex-based powers it’s going to be a well-remembered series, but hardly a classic.

It’s going to be forgotten within months of its last show at this rate. If it had been a comic, it would have been forgotten a lot sooner. It would have to get more shocking in order to survive, and it’s lease on life wouldn’t last much longer; there’s only so shocking it can get before people get bored with it. More successful comics may start with some shocks, but they quickly get over it, and throwing more story, more characterizing, and generally more world-building. They may still have a measure of the shocking elements, but they learn to leaven them with denser stuff. By doing so they become a better read, more filling as it were, and so people gravitate towards that. As people prefer meals to snacks, they’ll prefer the more filling comics.

Well, it’s time to listen to the successful people. Have all the sex, nudity, swearing, and violence you want, just make sure that they serve the story not some perverse desire. If you want you strip to get beyond its niche, you’re going to need to make some basic decisions. Note that I’m not asking you to sell out; what I’m asking is to what degree do you really need the shock value? If you’re doing the comic for yourself, then do whatever you want. But if you want to the comic to really take off, you may have to discard some of the garbage in order to make a decent run of it.