Friday, October 03, 2014

The Difference Between Pastiche and Parody

An interesting issue from a legal perspective is the question of pastiche versus parody. The problem, from a writer's perspective, is that a pastiche can be grounds for a legitimate lawsuit while a parody is protected by law. Knowing the difference between them and an actual standalone character can save a lot of potential frustration.

Let's pick on Superman, who is arguably the most copied character out there. While it's not exactly a unique set of powers, there are a number of other characteristics that identify him as "Superman": He is usually the alpha male in his universe, and represents that universe's perspective regarding what makes for a noble fighter. From the perspective of DC's perspective, there are a large number of different characters that could qualify as a trademark infringement on that particular character. Although DC has backed off a bit from their defense of the character, it is still within their right to defend their copyright.

Image's Supreme is arguably the best example for a straight parody, as is Marvel's Hyperion. A parody does not need to be funny; it just needs to be an honest exploration of what makes the character tick and how that character works within society as a whole. There is some allowance for critique within the definition of parody. Supreme explores Superman as if he was more divorced from his humanity, but was still interested in defending Earth from threats. Suffice to say that he is more violent and less likely to let the villains escape or merely let them return to jail; he acts as judge, jury, and executioner. Although Hyperion is now a bad guy, he was part of the social commentary that was the Squadron Supreme.

On the other hand, a pastiche is a loving tribute of the character in question, a celebration of what makes the character cool and an exploration of why the character is important. Astro City's Samaritan is a good example of this, and all of the details are there, from the job as a reporter to his heroics. As Astro City is look at superheroes and how we look at them, it is a fun look at the stories as they develop. It avoids being a commentary because it has some fun with the idea, developing a world that is unique on its own. Yeah, there is some carry-over, but in general the idea is to mimic the stories rather than make any sort of actual commentary, but to do so in such a way as to add to the mythology rather than merely mimicking it.

From a legal perspective, parodies are fair use and therefore acceptable, while pastiches can be legitimately prosecuted. The issue is that there is no social commentary in a pastiche; while it can be an otherwise fun exercise, the goal is to celebrate the concept while at the same time taking it in a different direction than the creators may have wished. Although comic book companies are less likely to go after pastiches, this should not be seen as permission; comic companies are just less likely to go after them as long as they don't threaten their trademarks and copyrights. There are some groups trying to include pastiches under protected speech, but they have yet to have any luck.

So where does this leave you as a comicker? Have fun, and try to include some social commentary. This may not really protect you, but at least it can make it harder to prosecute you. So get in there and get in some good licks while you can!

Wednesday, October 01, 2014


Every writer should be forced to deal directly the public at some point. Novel writers have a circuit of appearances; besides appearing on shows, they also show up in libraries and bookstores promoting their works. The same should apply to comic book writers as well, and illustrators as needed. If the idea of getting a little public attention appeals to you, you may want to try booking an appearance.

Ironically, comic book writers forget that people are visual-based, specifically that they prefer faces over names, and so they like it when they can associate a face with a name. If a book has a face associated with it, that book tends to sell more; this makes public appearances worth the time invested. Book lovers love a chance to meet writers; some just want to meet the people that write the books, other want to talk craft with someone that has been published. Either way, providing a chance o meet an author can be great for business.

Bookstores try to encourage this, as personal appearances also help sales of other books in the store where the author makes an appearance, so they rarely turn down an author looking for an appearance. It also gives them something to advertise as a happening, especially if the book is at all interesting or the author has any kind of reputation. Keep in mind that the same applies to comic book stores as well as regular book stores; either are usually extremely happy to see an author. Other venues can work as well, such as a restaurant, as long as they work for the work in question. Don't be afraid to try other venues; you never know what will work until you try it.

When you get something booked, work with the venue to maximize the advertising. Make sure that you let your readers know, both through your own website, any allied sites, and through any social media. When the day comes, make sure that you arrive early so that you can set up without crowd interference. Also make sure that you have extra books, especially if you are at a bookstore or comic book shop so you can leave some behind, assuming of course that the manager is copacetic with it.

Have a great day, and have fun. Remember to be reasonably polite, and you should have a great day!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Weapon Design 101

One of the fun things about fantasy comics is that you get to design some of the coolest weapons. However, I think I've gotten a little annoyed at the Final Fantasy school of weapon design; I really think that if you are going to design a weapon the phrase "Freudian compensation" should not come to mind. In order to help designers here are my thoughts:

1) Fit the weapon to the character. A sword should not be the default weapon for all characters, even if the series is about swordsmen. Every weapon has a history and an associated symbology associated with it, and you should take full advantage of that. A scythe, for example, is great for a scary character that you wish to associate with death, just as nunchucks are good for a martial arts character. A more pensive character is more likely to have a ranged weapon, while a more action-based character will have a melee weapon. A character who considers himself an artist will have a more exotic weapon. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are the best example of this: Noble Leonardo has a katana, scholarly Michaelangelo has a staff, aggressive Raphael has sais, and goofball Donatello has nunchuks. There are weapons associated with peasants (most martial arts weapons), military weapons (spears and pole arms), and even nobles (swords and fans). Take advantage of that to build your characters.

2) The look of the weapon says a lot about the character. A sword can be a weapon of nobility or savagery, it all depends on how it is used. The look of the sword emphasizes that point; a sword with smooth lines represents a more noble characters than one with barbs. Throw in a blood groove and the character is a sadist. A rusty sword is for someone who hasn't fought in a while, and shiny sword is for the novice. A fancy hilt is a show off, while a bit of gold makes for a rich character. And that ignores any symbols on the weapon itself, such as waves, runes, or even no decoration at all when everyone else has symbols all over their gear...All of these little details can tell a lot about the character who wields the weapon.

3) How the weapon is carried is important. A character who is sneaky and should not be trusted carries weapons that are small or are easily hidden. An upfront character has obvious weaponry, and usually no more than one or two. A well-prepared usually carries several weapons. A character more interested in comfort may carry his weapons more as an accessory while a battle-ready character ties them down in easy-to-access locations.

4) The weapon doesn't need to fit the character as long as it shows something about the character. The obvious example is the young character who is wielding his dead father's weapons; he needs to grow into them over time. Another fighter may be wielding the weapon of his lover, while a group of soldiers may wield the same blade in order to show solidarity. If the character is wielding a weapon that obviously doesn't fit him you need to have a reason, and that makes for some interesting stories in and of itself.

When it comes down to it, a weapon is a major investment in the character's time and energy. Even if he inherits or is assigned it, he needs to train with it, learn its intricacies, and be able to defend himself with it. It makes sense that it tells a lot about the character given that it will easily be one of the biggest trademarks about the character. It's also a great way to get into the character as a writer as you need to worry about why he's carrying it. So put some serious thought into what kind of weapon he wields, and what it means to him, and the character can only benefit.