Comic Talk and General Discussion *

What's the value of human life in your comic?
Ozoneocean at 2:02AM, Sept. 29, 2020
posts: 28,801
joined: 1-2-2004
Every time I see a film or a TV show or read a story I wonder at the value of human life in that fictional world…

Like it might be about a supervillian and they just casually kill anyone who defies them, including their second in command- which can severely break the suspension of disbelief if it's done badly because even though it's meant to show how dangerous and callous they are, if handled badly you wonder why anyone bothers to serve them anyway and why they just don't revolt or defect.

In a lot of SciFi they get it wrong most of the time I too. Most often in Scifi people are in deep space in some little spaceship or whatever and they usually just casually kill all the time, when in reality human life would be extremely rare and precious out there unless you were really low on resources.

In most hospital dramas the value of human life is highest, they'll do anything to save anyone- which isn't always completely realistic either…


I feel that you have to get the value of life in your work at the right balance so that the story makes sense, like it's no use treating grunts and soldiers as utterly expendable and meaningless and yet everyone goes easy on your main characters. The original series of Star Trek often suffered that with the “Red Shirts”. You have those moronic scenes in shows and movies where a whole bunch of people try and get a main character, who kills half of them before finally being subdued and held at gunpoint and NOT killed, no retribution, nothing… The value of life is imbalanced.

Conversely, you have the reality of places like the USA and Brazil where police will often kill people for no more than a minor offense and not suffer any consequences, yet killing police is an extreme crime with the very highest consequences.


In Pinky TA like to consider everyone's life as having the same value. Obviously characters are not going to think that way about their enemies, but the enemies WILL feel that way about each other. So no one is expendable.
last edited on Sept. 29, 2020 2:04AM
bravo1102 at 6:14AM, Sept. 29, 2020
posts: 6,095
joined: 1-21-2008
I try to make it clear in my stories that human life is cheap to some and valuable to others. I have a bunch of comics, but they're all the same universe. Some folks care and others exploit.

One alien race doesn't care simply because humans reproduce so easily that humans are just a resource and that point of view has bled over into others because of past injustice. However, this species is against wars of extermination and intervened to save certain human subspecies.

Even though there are so many humans, keeping them alive is important because they are a valuable resource to be used and exploited like any other. It's a philosophy that's inferred in our world by renaming personnel departments “human resources” But if the bodies are important, personality and freedom of choice aren't. You don't waste any other resource, so you don't waste life. Exploit it for all its worth, but don't waste it.
last edited on Sept. 29, 2020 6:18AM
dragonsong12 at 6:29AM, Sept. 29, 2020
posts: 110
joined: 1-2-2006
Twisted Mirrors is mostly about the characters themselves and their struggles, so it doesn't really come up much. There aren't a lot of action scenes, it's just a lot of talking…
Life is pretty sacred in that story, but it mostly has to do with what I'm focusing on. Everyone in the story - even the cartoonishly bigoted antagonists - is written from the perspective that they think they're right. Bad actions are often justified, of course, but each person views themselves and their views as noble and right so they're not often likely to murder without cause.

I don't actually think it's necessarily bad to have a shallow, action-oriented pieces of media where that stuff is overlooked in order to focus on the spectacle as long as everyone understands that that's what they're consuming, but I still agree with you about a lot of this. It's bugged me before too. Particularly the trope of villains killing their underlings. Even beyond the question of why anyone would listen to the villain when they do shit like that, it's just a waste of resources. Your minions get your stuff done, man, what's the point of killing THEM when you could be killing the people that try to stop you? I've come to really love when villains show loyalty to one another because it's both interesting and realistic from a character perspective, but also because it's annoyingly rare.

Back on topic, I've a second story I've already begun which focuses a lot more on this very issue. Where the goal of our main characters is to reach a point in their particular conflict where it can be resolved in a way where no one dies - not even the ones who initiated it. Since none of the characters in that story are exactly pinnacles of virtue, it's interesting to explore why this respect for life is an important goal for them.
…and like you, I'm kinda tired of the faceless drones all dying for “cool” factor or shock value or whatever. Killing in stories should never be off the table, but I believe it should always be done with purpose.
last edited on Sept. 29, 2020 6:30AM
usedbooks at 7:32AM, Sept. 29, 2020
posts: 3,357
joined: 2-24-2007
Life is very highly valued in my comic. So much that my readers seem to think people die all the time, when it is very rare. Any death has a significant purpose to the plot, so it's memorable. I have a couple villains that think very little of others' lives. They have “offscreen” victims, but usually one or two “onscreen” ones to drive the point home.

I also have Gibson, an assassin who literally has a monetary value in mind for each life. He's efficient and won't kill unless compensation is reasonable. Any death not paid for is a waste of money. He assesses how much a threat a person might be to someone rich and powerful in the future and makes extra sure they don't die until some compensation is arranged. Gibson values human life more than most other characters and in a very concrete way.
Ozoneocean at 1:55AM, Sept. 30, 2020
posts: 28,801
joined: 1-2-2004
It's a tricky calculation… It's not only what lives are worth to other characters but what they're worth to the society too- like if a character gets killed or even harmed, what are the consequences for that?

For lot of stories that's out of the temporal scope of things. Like say it's a war and an enemy soldier is killed, there would be grieving and inquiries ad things, collection of belongings, papers filed, funeral etc, but you're not going to be able to show any of that. Similarly, if a person was killed in a violent robbery and the story is following the criminals and the story of their activities then you're not usually going to have any time to devote to the victims. None of that means they matter less, it just means it's outside of your scope.

But when it's not it shouldn't be ignored…
I've seen plenty of Westerns where there's this fantasy that human life means absolutely zero and random murder is perfectly fine, but any cursory reading of American history during the old West period tells you have massively seriously they took that stuff, hunting people down for thousands of miles, remembering charges for decades… They didn't just forgive and forget. Even murders during wartime are often investigated.

I feel that writers often forget about the value of human life in their stories- especially when they're doing a war story, western, action or crime.
John Wick is a good example there. Only certain characters and things have value- his dog, car, wife, the Mafia boss, and his son. Everyone else is completely worthless. Fair enough that it's just a childishly simple story and those are the only things that matter because they're the only things that matter to the chief protagonist, but it still handicaps things and prevents it from being as good a story as it could be because it keeps things utterly cartoonish and stylised- nothing matters to any of the other characters and their lives are nothing but fodder, that they gladly throw away.
El Cid at 5:10PM, Oct. 1, 2020
posts: 1,273
joined: 5-4-2009
I try to avoid writing set pieces where there's just like hordes of fodder baddies getting wiped out by the good guys. It's not interesting and, in my opinion, lazy filler storytelling. I prefer if possible to just have one major action climax where lots of characters get killed off, and have the bulk of the story leading up to that committed to the characters themselves. I think when you have tons of nameless drones getting mowed down, it's desensitizing to the reader, whereas if you focus on mostly story and characters and punctuate it here and there with moments of action/violence, it's much more impactful. It's more fun to read and to write as well IMO.
hushicho at 8:08PM, Oct. 3, 2020
posts: 161
joined: 10-4-2007
I generally try to maintain life as sacred in most all of my comics, quite extensively in some more than others.

But generally speaking, I don't think it's particularly effective to treat characters as disposable or just have it be that any character at any time can be just removed from it permanently. I typically see that as bad writing, which interferes with any engagement with the work. Most people won't invest emotionally to any extent in a work where they don't know if their favorite character is going to make it to the next page/minute/level, and every character is someone's favorite.

It can be impactful to have even nameless characters fall in a story, but most of the time, it just inures the audience to violence and loss. When you write a story of that sort, you're more likely to end up with an insensitive and desensitized audience by the end, who ultimately had much less emotional investment in any part of the story.

It's very involving, on the other hand, for a character to be injured and their condition to be precarious for a time. Plus you can then do more with that character once they've recovered – which you can't do, if they're removed from the story – but you also get to sort of sideline them for a time and get the maximum reader response and investment from frankly minimal screentime.

This is a topic where I can get off on many tangents, but I'll leave it with my two bits there!
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bravo1102 at 4:48AM, Oct. 6, 2020
posts: 6,095
joined: 1-21-2008
Somebody once said “life is cheap unless you're the one who has to pay.”

Means more than just preserving your own life. If you're responsible for others life takes on a great value indeed. Research General Grant's reaction to the Battle of Cold Harbor.

But as Lee famously said “to be a good soldier you must love the army. To be a good commander you must be willing to order the death of that thing you love.”

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