Shady characters

Character study - Stan, Jill and Sunil
DAJB at 2:07AM, Nov. 22, 2007
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joined: 2-23-2007
Stanley Miller, Jill and Sunil



Names

As well as the “big theme” under-pinning the story, Shades is also an opportunity for me to put my spin on some of the accepted conventions of mainstream super hero comics. Some of the characters' names are therefore nods towards creators (especially writers) who - for one reason or another - I've admired. In Stan's case, however, it was also important that his name should sound ordinary, every-day and friendly. Eventually, he was christened after Stan Lee (whose work effectively defined the super hero genre from the 1960s through to the 1980s) and Frank Miller (whose The Dark Knight Returns is one of the main reasons I decided to write Shades at all).

There's no such convoluted thinking behind the name of his daughter. “Jill” is just a name I like! For reasons explained below, I wanted it to be clear that Sunil's father must have been Indian. However, if I mentioned that explicitly, there was a danger that some readers might see a non-existent “race agenda” behind it. The easiest way of squaring the circle (it seemed to me) was simply to give the boy an Indian name. “Sunil” was actually the name of someone I once worked with and it was a name that non-Indians could read without stumbling over!

Appearance

It has been suggested that Stan bears more than a passing resemblance to Stan Lee (which, I guess, he does!) Despite his name, however, Harsho assures me he just worked from my character descriptions and any likeness is entirely coincidental! In early sketches, Harsho drew Stan with a pipe but I asked for that to be removed very early on. Given his background, I felt it was Doug who really belonged to the pipe-smoking generation!

With Harsho being Indian, I left him to design Sunil. Originally, he was going to have much bigger, thicker hair but I was concerned that - to UK eyes - that made him look more Afro-Caribbean than Indian. As a result, we agreed to give him a more severe hair-cut. (And doesn't it make him look cute!?)

Role within the story

Stan's most important role in Shades is our point-of-view character; our everyman. In the early chapters, he takes centre stage and grounds the story in reality (or something like it!) As the story gets wilder, however, the more exotic characters have to step up to the plate and do their stuff. This inevitably means that Stan gets less “screen time” later on but his role is essentially unchanged - he's the guy who has to respond to all these strange characters in the same way that you or I might; the guy who's responsible for convincing us they could possibly exist!

When in the company of his colleagues, he's often the voice of reason; of good old British common sense when all around are being driven by emotion or dogma. Above all, however, he's the character who best embodies a sense of decency; who understands the importance of doing the right thing, even though it may cost him dearly.

And it has cost him dearly even before the book begins. When Jill accuses him of not having been there for much of her younger life, we know it's because he's been serving the needs of the hero community. As a tailor, he may not have been on the frontline, but he's been putting their needs before his own, ensuring that they were always equipped and ready to go out and fight the bad guys or save their victims.

There are plenty of heroes in real life, you know. Even if they don't have super powers.

Stan is, perhaps, the ultimate unsung hero.

Stan's family, Jill and Sunil, also serve to keep the story grounded. But they also have a less obvious role. Every country with different racial and/or religious communities within it has its share of race issues. The UK is no exception to this and there is certainly enough resentment (justified or otherwise) in certain areas for activists to manipulate whenever they see an opportunity. By and large, however, the UK is still characterised by tolerance and the majority of the population will regard bigots and racists (of all colours and persuasions) with disgust.

Although this is touched on in a couple of places, I didn't want Shades to make big speeches to this effect. Instead, I tried to leave the prevailing tolerance implicit in the little glimpses we see of Jill's various attempts at relationships.

Tailor to the stars

I can honestly say that the script for Shades was completed long before I'd even heard of The Incredibles and certainly before I knew it was going to feature a certain Edna Mode, a character in the same profession as Stan!

The idea of having a “non-super” central character was most directly inspired by Phil Sheldon, the press photographer in Alex Ross's Marvels. I loved that idea but felt that Ross (and Busiek) had executed it very poorly, relegating Sheldon to the status of bystander, watching events unfold from a distance but never being part of them. I know that was part of the point of Marvels but, for me, it left a gaping hole in the centre of the story. To avoid that, I decided to make Stan a tailor. This neatly answered one of the perennial super hero questions (where do they get their costumes from?) and, more importantly, gave him a reason to be involved with the hero community even though he wasn't part of it.

Initially I also thought that, as a tailor, Stan would be able to make the occasional comment on super hero costumes, defending them against the all-too-familiar criticisms trotted out by those with no real affection for the genre. In the end, most of those comments ended up on the cutting room floor!
last edited on July 18, 2011 10:23AM

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