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Gray, Black and White (part 1)

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, April 14, 2018
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I had to hold myself back from making a 50 shades joke so badly I feel chafing from the restraints.

But this isn't about what you think- i.e. using grayscale or black and white rather than colour in a webcomic.

Rather, this is about a webcomic's characters and their alignment on the ethical/virtue/affiliation spectrum that goes from the purest White (Jesus, Buddha, deities of virtue and Superman sometimes) to the darkest Black (the devil(s) of every franchise).

It is, rather reliably, said that if a character is designed as absolutely Good or absolutely Bad/villainous, they become boring, two-dimensional and way too archetypal to engage the audience emotionally and mentally.

While this is true, it isn't the whole story. Villains can be really villainous without any redeeming quality and still be humanized enough for the audience to engage with them and so can heroes- they can be very heroic without much in terms of drawbacks and still be very interesting and engaging.

The secret's in the sauce, not the meat of the matter:

The way to make a character interesting is to give him/her obstacles. They don't have to be personal demons of a tortured emo soul with a troubled past; they don't have to be stemming from personal flaws that would taint a hero's ‘shining armor’. They just need to be there, and the characters need to struggle to overcome them- have a real risk of failing.

Wiley E. Coyote is a pure villain in the Road Runner cartoon. He is basically a murderous unrepentant obsessive sadist (considering the ways he tries to kill the road runner, that would make it impossible for the coyote to eat him after). But we love him as an audience because of all the obstacles he faces, because of how amusing he is when he fails, because he never gives up and because he's pretty inventive and creative- all traits that don't detract one bit off his pure, moustache-twirling villainy.

In the same manner, Hades in Disney's Hercules is just as entertaining and probably the best part of that animated movie, for more or less the same reasons (he's also glib like a corporate lawyer). But there's not a single redeeming quality in him. He isn't any shade of grade at all, he's pure black, and that's okay! He's a very successful, engaging character that doesn't look 3D at all!

The same goes for heroes. They don't need to basically be anti-heroes to be legit, engaging and generally successful as purely heroic characters.

But that is for next week!

comment

anonymous?

KimLuster at 2:22PM, April 16, 2018

Yeah, as a vocal proponent of philosophical freewill, I sometimes recoil when people try to overly explain why someone is 'eeeevil'! Yes, we're shaped by the cards we're dealt in life to a large degree (genes and environment), but... we can sometimes just choose to do the wrong things just... because! Many a seemingly well-brought up person can turn into a reprehensible meanie. Likewise, someone who never got any breaks can still choose to be good! It's a choice we make everyday!!

bravo1102 at 4:20PM, April 15, 2018

Some of us have lived lives that are little more than bundles of contradictions. People change for all kinds of reasons and there's always the unexplained whim. Sometimes you just got to say "Why not?"

fallopiancrusader at 10:28AM, April 15, 2018

I like all fictional characters who behave in contradictory and unexplained ways sometimes. When an author tries to explain such things, I feel it often comes across like someone trying to explain a joke: It takes the wind right out of the sails. I am reminded of one story that took place in local New York politics in the 90s: There was an ice skating rink in Central Park that needed repairs, and the city council was taking years to release the funds to do it. Finally, a local philanthropist used part of his private fortune to get the job done in a matter of months. The rink is still enjoyed by thousands to this day. The name of the philanthropist? Donald Trump :/

AmeliaP at 1:12PM, April 14, 2018

@ozoneocean: "Too bad the pros don't realise that with hollywood movies and mainstream comics..." Man... maaaaaaaaaaaaaan, totally agree with you. But we can't blame the writers, since their job is completely DESTROYED when a producer takes the project. Usually, screenwriters are super depressed because of that. Mainstream comics? Again, poor writers. We'll find better mainstream comics by Image because they don't put a finger on the project, the creator is free. Author owned films are great, like Tarantino or Coppol's, because the producer steps back.

AmeliaP at 1:04PM, April 14, 2018

Oh, this article resonates with me :) Love it!

bravo1102 at 6:36AM, April 14, 2018

Let's ret-con the hero/villain to make them more interesting! Don't explain everything, just enough. The villain might never have been clean as the pure-driven snow and always a little shady before going off the deep end. The hero may just not be the nicest of people, but you can easily over-load the poor dear with too much angst. Or you could just because you want to do a really messed up person who didn't go over the edge as opposed to the borderline type who did. You don't have to explain everything but in series there is too much temptation to get into every little piece of background because you have the pages to do it. What is not said can be just as important as what is said.

ozoneocean at 6:15AM, April 14, 2018

I whole-heartedly agree with this. It's just bad writing if you feel the need to tarnish your hero to make them an interesting character. It's like Batman: too much has been made of his parent's tragedy that it's become a joke, AND they put too much emphasis on that aspect. Darth Vader become as boring as a washed out old shirt once they gave him a backstory and a motivation. Sure, he was redeemed in the original movies but he was never explained. A redeemed villain is a different thing. Tarnished heroes and complex villains are perfectly great IF they're supposed to BE that way to begin with. But making a villain complex or a hero tarnished after the fact in order to improve them will have the opposite effect.

ozoneocean at 6:09AM, April 14, 2018

@Kam- haha, brilliant! Too bad the pros don't realise that with hollywood movies and mainstream comics...

ozoneocean at 6:08AM, April 14, 2018

"chafing from the restraints" Hahaha!

KAM at 4:57AM, April 14, 2018

Years ago I was working on a novel and I was worried that the villainess was too 2-dimensional, so I came up with some backstory to explain why she was doing what she was doing and what she had done... and I made her even MORE 2-dimensional. It was weird. I wanted to flesh her out as a character, but instead I just emphasized how she got so evil and twisted and focused on her goal. I had to stop creating backstory for her or she'd have ended up as 1-dimensional. 8-o


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