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When Death Comes…

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Nov. 12, 2016
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No matter what the genre, plot and general tone of your comic, death always is absolute.

Or alternatively, death is used as a very efficient comedy device (if anyone remembers the numerous ways Dirk dies in Dragon’s Layer). Unsurprisingly so, I think, since real comedy is based on tragedy.
But comedy aside, death is never a trifle.

Except in mainstream comics, where characters that die just take a sabbatical and then return.
Which really feels to me that handling the death of a character in such a manner, trivializes the idea of character death itself.

It also sometimes feels like the writers use death as a gimmick because they can’t think of anything else to hold their audience with, or up the drama or create controversy over their title.

But even when death is kept permanent, it is easy to take away from the awe it inspires in a narrative, when it is used too much with ways that don’t offer anything to the plot, except a gratuitous bodycount or an excuse for splatter and gore (granted, that usually is the point with gratuitous body counts). I can’t think of a webcomic example, but off-screen summary deaths usually take away the meaningfulness of that character’s death and it comes across to the audience like the character was just thrown away (e.g. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).

Often it’s considered ballsy to kill off a character, so writers might feel obliged to do it to give their story more weight or importance as a ‘no nonsense’ tale. I believe that is a trap that can end up trivializing death as I mentioned above.

On the other hand, a strategic, choice usage of death in a story (whether it is a single death or tens of them, like in Game of Thrones) can create a constant tension and engagement in the audience, in the ‘anyone-can-die’ principle that doesn’t allow the reader to relax and feel safe about any character he/she may be rooting for.

So what do you think? Have you had any characters die in your story? How do you utilize death and dying if at all? And if you have up to now steered away from it, would you consider using it and how?

comment

anonymous?

rmccool at 4:26PM, Nov. 14, 2016

I have used death as a turning point in tone of story.. shocking cold, and as a old friend.. with a pot of tea.. at the end of a long road...

Udyr at 10:38PM, Nov. 13, 2016

KAM: as long as there's science theres still hope though!

KAM at 8:01AM, Nov. 13, 2016

Udyr, usually when you are down to one member of a two-sex species, the race is extinct. Unless there are some samples of sperm and eggs safely protected and facilities to grow new members, then one member is too little to save the day.

bravo1102 at 9:43PM, Nov. 12, 2016

A very informal study shows that El Cid probably has killed off the most characters on screen in his comics. Most other creators keep it discrete and off screen. He blows them up right in front of you. I got really graphic in Attack of the Robofemoids which was supposed to be a mix of exploitation movie homage and Russian fatalism.

Dragonaur at 7:40PM, Nov. 12, 2016

I don't think anyone died in my comics. Not something I like too fool with. ^_^;

Udyr at 5:45PM, Nov. 12, 2016

I think it depends on how you decide to use death- In my example I'm working on a comic based on dark humour containing pointless deaths, but it doesn't apply to "everyone" in the comicstory. The ironic sad part -life is so fragile, yet there's this one character who treats their life like its some sort of joke by running stupidly into danger constantly. Meanwhile opposed to that- one of the main character's death would mean the extinction of her entire race, leaving with some more serious concequences. It depends if its on purpose or if its just because you regret killing your character. Having a character who's constantly harmed and 'almost die' can be sort of annoying, at least i felt it that way with Harry potter in the movies.

Whirlwynd at 8:30AM, Nov. 12, 2016

Death in Lady Unlucky is definitely played for laughs at times. But the two main characters in the story are immortal, having their bodies destroyed is usually only an inconvenience. So I'm not sure that counts as a "real" character death.

KAM at 8:20AM, Nov. 12, 2016

I've had mooks working for the bad guy die, but then that's kind of a mook's job. ;-) I had one storyline where Gertrude & Brunhilda hired the Redshirt Bearer Brigade & I told my readers not to get attached to any of the bearers 'cause they were ALL gonna die (a black humor heavy storyline). I can only recall killing off one named, main character, but my readers hated that sub-series, so future stories that would have touched on his death were shelved.

usedbooks at 8:06AM, Nov. 12, 2016

As for my personal use of death as a plot device, I've done it. I don't like it though. I get very emotional when I'm writing, and a minor character's trials can shake me up as much as a more significant one. I'm too attached to characters. -_- That's why I had to nix my original plans of writing a murder mystery series.

usedbooks at 7:47AM, Nov. 12, 2016

There's also the flip side of bringing characters back to life "cheaply," and that's to always leave a question to their death -- just in case you want to use them again. That's cheap too. It turned MacGyver's Murdoc into a running joke. Although it was always fun to see him again, it was hardly surprising.

usedbooks at 7:45AM, Nov. 12, 2016

As for bringing characters back to life, it is *usually* cheap and bad writing -- UNLESS that was the plan from the start and the writer laid the groundwork to show it. Doyle killing off his characters (Holmes) when he was done with it and then later changing his mind is cheap and the wrong way to go. (To be fair, he wrote a few stories afterward that were reflections in memorial. Eventually, he gave in and brought him back.) Detective Conan "killed off" an endearing protagonist, but the event was very detailed and full of little clues that were enough to tip off viewers/readers to the scheme. It took two years for the "big reveal" to the audience (and longer for key characters) of his survival, but along the way, more hints surfaced. It basically built up so the entire audience would piece it together before "the reveal" but kept back some smaller twists. It's such a long-running series with a slow paced bigger plot, it impresses me that they can manage to keep that interest.

usedbooks at 7:35AM, Nov. 12, 2016

Like any other plot device, deaths should have a purpose, even if it is simply to set a mood of the fragile nature of life and senselessness of untimely demise. Not every character would necessarily elicit remorse should they die, but that might be the point. It really depends on the story. The nature and prevalence of deaths and the emotional impact of them (among characters or readers/viewers) helps lay the groundwork of the world. The plot development, mood, and intention are most important.

KimLuster at 7:33AM, Nov. 12, 2016

Should be 'what I've heard from the average clergy/layperson...'

KimLuster at 7:32AM, Nov. 12, 2016

Agree about that interpretation of jesus... but from what of heard from the average clergy and layperson, it's the death and shedding of blood that mattered... but we can go in circles all day long on that subject haha

Tantz_Aerine at 7:20AM, Nov. 12, 2016

Bravo1102: Agreed! THose stories use the plot device of character death pretty well if they manage to get that across I think. And the idea of surviving and survivors also. // KimLuster: Ah, definitely. Of course, death isn;t the only sacrifice there is out there. FOr some, death is a release ;) In the Jesus issue, it's always felt in my book that the biggest sacrifice was being born into this world knowing the entire ride in advance, rather than the exit and the perks that came with it ;)

KimLuster at 6:40AM, Nov. 12, 2016

As I've suggested in my story, it may be that death is what makes life precious. In the movie Troy, Achilles says the Immortal Gods envy humans, because the Gods can never know the joy of life moments, rites of passage, glory in battle, joy in childbirth... These things lose significance when you've lived eons and will continue to live forever. I sorta agree... when a character returns from death in a story or comic, it sorta cheapens what they've done and will do... I've even brought it up about religion... I've been told of the enormous sacrifice Jesus made, giving his life for us... and people look at me evilly when I say, 'but what sacrifice..? Isn't he still alive...?' Even so, Gandalf's death on the Bridge is still awesomely cool!!

bravo1102 at 1:08AM, Nov. 12, 2016

I usually have high body counts but not just because of the gore and blood, because I like to portray survival. As is said as the end of Big Red One, this is dedicated to the survivors. It isn't winning or losing, but staying alive.

bravo1102 at 1:04AM, Nov. 12, 2016

The theme of some stories is that death is meaningless and random. That death is all pervasive, difficult to avoid and so indifferent. And then it comes to a character you have come to know and suddenly life means all the more and sheer survival among the dead is to be cherished because any life among the hell is that much more precious. But you better keep your head down because death still waits for us all. And in the end it is just another day. All Quiet on the Western Front is a prime example of that. The Cross of Iron and The Seventh Seal too.


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