Tag Archives: comic

Face Made For Radio

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Bit of a deviation from storytelling here, but I thought it was quite interesting. The raptor, cunning reptile that he is, applied for a ton of free tickets to radio recordings of things like The Now Show. This week we got into a double-episode of recording Just A Minute, and I learned a few truths about programmes you can’t see:

1. These shoes ain’t made for show biz

I work from home, so I understand the concept of not spending a huge amount of time on your appearance if no one’s going to see you. Most of the time I don’t bother wearing shoes. But I’m in private, on my own (unless there’s a squatter in the attic I don’t know about), not standing in front of an audience of around 250. Since that’s only a percentage of their audience, apparently some radio performers don’t count it as being in public. For some reason bare-footed comedians amused me.

2. Fancy a pint?

Of the shows I’ve seen so far, the refreshment choice for the performers has been 50/50 beer and water. I’m honestly not judging, I’m just curious – what’s the difference between TV (where they are either all drinking water, or pretending and actually necking gin at an impressive rate), and radio?

EDIT: Hmm, okay. I’ve just seen Lee Mack down a bottle of beer on Live at the Apollo. Might have to retract this!

3. Take Two

It’s obvious, really, but I hadn’t thought about it. Radio is rarely broadcast live, so if someone messes up then they can just do it again immediately. I’m sure this happens in TV as well, I just haven’t seen any being recorded. They also have to hang around at the end whilst the producer tells them which bits they messed up without noticing, and redo those.

4. Not for listeners at home

There’s a tremendous amount of visual comedy that goes on during radio recordings. Again, it’s an obvious thing I hadn’t thought of – people communicate with bodies just as much as words. Comedians make faces, some of them even do dinosaur impressions (Hugh Dennis, mainly). If you’re listening to a comedy radio show and the audience apparently laughs at nothing, it’s probably because something happened in the studio.

That, or they were breathing laughing gas.

So, yeah. A random couple of things I didn’t know before watching a radio programme. Nothing to do with writing at all, but I thought there was a faint possibility you might be interested. Also, I’ve been rubbish this week and not blogged. In my defence, any writing time I’ve had has been spent writing. I’m currently at the stage where the book is a bit of an obsession. The end is in sight and I’ve set myself the arbitrary date of finishing the first draft by the end of August. So it’s all systems go. I apologise (not much, you understand, but a bit) and will try not to neglect this as much next week.

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The Film on the Page

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If I’m deep in a good book, I don’t read words. I don’t even see them. They pass straight through my eyes and get translated into a film in my brain. Admittedly it’s quite a fuzzy film, and I couldn’t describe the main actors to you, but it’s a film nonetheless.

So how important are things like music and art to telling a story in novel format? Because they don’t get used by the reader. This may be another one of those Resist the Urge to Explain things again, but I have a very definite soundtrack for each story I write and occasionally I think it would be nice to share this with the reader.

It’s been done. Bill Bryson occasionally lists key tracks at the beginning of chapters. But do the readers actually care, or is it purely a writing aide? Yet music is so vital to storytelling on celluloid. An interesting clash of formats.

And what about visuals? Again, I have a very clear picture of what my characters look like but, as a writer, I can’t describe each person and place in detail or I’d lose the audience very fast. Comics have an advantage there, but miss out on descriptive prose which (even if you don’t see all the words) can be a beautiful thing.

In comics, of course, you get wildly varying styles of art. Some of them are best described as impressionist, whilst others are photo-clear. In a way, I kind of see this as graphic’s version of word-choice – if the story is compelling enough to live inside the reader’s head, how important are the individual words or the specific art styles?

I had a very interesting conversation last night with Mr. B and the English Teacher about dreams. Lucid dreaming is a learnable skill and Mr. B was wondering why everyone doesn’t lucid dream every night – 8 hours of free entertainment and stories straight from your own subconscious! This got us to comparing styles of dreaming. Do you dream in colour or B&W? Do you dream music? Scents? Do you dream in first person or as an omniscient presence? I don’t put a lot of stock in dream translations, but I think that the way you dream is quite telling. Are you the narrator or the audience for your subconscious?

This one was quite rambly, I know. It’s a not-quite-finished discussion going round my head. With pictures.

Visual Memory

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Over the weekend I was at my parents’ new place, briefly lending them a hand in unpacking after yet another move. (They do it for a hobby, I swear.) Amongst the pile of boxes I uncovered a collection of books from my childhood days, including a rather battered copy of Hans Christian Anderson’s collected works. Cue cessation of all unpacking as I flicked through it.

What struck me was that I didn’t remember most of the stories. These were the formative food for my imagination and I’m sure they contribute to the foundations of my own writing in some way, but the majority of the plots had vanished.

The pictures, on the other hand… Those simple line drawings were exactly as I remembered. I couldn’t tell you the tale behind them, but the images were crystal in my head. A little dusty, perhaps, but solidly embedded.

The brain works in weird ways. I’ve known for a long time that I pick things up by ear better than by eye, but I hadn’t appreciated that images are easier to remember than stories. It does make sense, I guess – we evolved to react to movement and colour rather than text. Those of our ancestors who could spot the sabre-tooth tiger in the grass tended to pass on their genes better. Images only lack movement, and our imaginations supply that very easily.

Why, then, do most adult books not include pictures? What is the thinking behind that fashion? Images are key to telling a story, and can add a whole other dimension to storytelling technique. In fact, when I read I usually don’t see the words at all. My brain translates it to a film – quite fuzzy, and the casting isn’t clear, but it’s images rather than text.

It also makes me wonder why comics and graphic novels aren’t more popular. I know there’s a stigma of either childishness or geekiness (why?), but some of them tell very mature stories. It’s just that the medium is different and, in my mind at least, ought to appeal more.

The Face of the Supervillain

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Masks in comics are very common. They are an essential part of the superhero’s equipment, protecting their identity so they can lead ‘normal’ lives. The mask is so intrinsically linked to heroism that the hero rarely uses their powers without it. Although it’s never taken that far (that I’ve seen, anyway) it’s almost a direct link between mask and power. Without the mask there is no hero.

Conversely the villain hardly ever wears one. Granted, I’m not that well versed in comics, but the only masked villain I can think of off the top of my head is the Joker in Batman and, by the time he starts wearing one, there’s no private identity left to protect. Oh, and Spiderman‘s Green Goblin, where the evil personality (at least in the film) is portrayed as being IN the mask.

I’ve been trying to think of reasons for this division. Do we believe that people have the ability to be villainous at any time, with no need for assistance from a magical mask? Or is it simply that we want them to be caught and so never hide their faces?

If you turn the question on its head, you come up with a much more interesting answer. Why are most heroes portrayed with masks? The protected identity thing is a narrative convention. I think the real reason is that it makes them more relatable. Bear with me on this. By making superheros anonymous, they become a kind of Everyman. Regardless of who is actually under the mask, it has the potential to be anyone, even the reader. The mask enables us to project our own faces onto the hero.

By keeping villains bare faced, we define them as that specific individual. We cannot therefore be the villain, because we don’t look like that.

In comics, this need to define the villain as ‘not me’ can result in extreme caricaturing. This makes us feel safer – after all, we will never risk meeting such absurd people in real life. The really scary ones are those that aren’t that different. The Everymans who think at only 10° from us. It is all too easy to believe that we will meet them or, worse, could be them. When you’re playing the ‘what superpower would you like’ game no one ever says a villain, because you don’t want to be associated with that kind of behaviour. But let’s be honest – Dr. Octopus was cool.

This division of ‘self’ and ‘other’ is an important key to understanding, well, rather a lot of things. International politics for a start, but I’m not going to go there. In writing, it is vital to give your readers a villain. Your hero has to be someone that the audience can relate to in some way – without empathy, there is no interest. That means your villain must be ‘other’, and that delineation usually needs to be fairly obvious. Otherwise there’s a risk the reader will go off piste and decide on an antipathetic character for themselves. You don’t want to lose control of the reader that much – there’s no telling what else they might do.

But how do you define ‘other’? Well, an excellent place to start is by making sure you have properly defined ‘self’, aka the hero. And this brings to light another point that should not be neglected – heros and villains exist symbiotically. Without one, the other is meaningless. Elijah Price in M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable put this rather well:

Now that we know who you are, I know who I am.