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Concepts into Characters...into Canada?

Banes at 12:00AM, Feb. 22, 2024

I'm not sure if we've talked about this before, but character creation has so many possible roads.

An interesting one is turning a ‘concept’ into a character. It's been done many times - of course, there are the ancient Gods and Goddesses, that personify different aspects of reality or areas of life - The Goddesses of beauty, the Gods or Goddesses of War. The Greek Gods have their own sophisticated identifies and stories that give them a LOT of dimension. Many Gods end up representing different aspects of life in involved, complicated ways.

There's a simpler version of this, where concepts like Death, Time, Fate, Dreams, Chaos and Order or Good and Evil are represented by beings who personify that concept, like in Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality books, or the Sandman comics by Neil Gaiman, and shows like Supernatural.

What I wanted to get to, though, was the idea of more grounded characters, characters who are human or close-to-human, who are supposed to be realistic to some degree, but are based on abstract concepts.

This has been done a lot in comics, with superhero characters. Thinking of new characters all the time can be challenging, especially on a deadline.

I think of “Cloak and Dagger”, the euphemism for spy games. It was turned into comic characters back in the day: two teenagers were subjected to some kind of experiment and gained strange abilities. The female was able to create shards of light energy to pummel enemies with…little DAGGERS of light, while the guy became the master of some kind of dark matter, and wore a big, voluminous CLOAK that he could use for various purposes. It wasn't just the saying “cloak and dagger” that gave them their names; they also had the darkness and light contrast. Cloak, especially, was an interesting character as I remember. I didn't read a lot of their series - gotta look them up to understand Cloak's powers better. But he became kind of a scary character, at least in the early stories I read.

Anyway, what really inspired this was the comic team “Alpha Flight”. I liked the comic, probably because they were created, written, and drawn by the great John Byrne. They were a cool collection of Canadian superheroes. Byrne didn't think they were very good characters, being kind of shallow - they were created as a team of supporting characters to fight the X-Men, and were then given their own series.

What's funny about them was how CONCEPTUAL their identities were.

Guardian wore a Canadian Flag as a costume. He was kind of a simplified Iron Man, crossed with Captain America.

Marina was an alien who has water-related abilities. This was created to reference the great bodies of water in certain parts of Canada.

Shaman was a mystic, and a First Nations character, connecting to Canada's First Nations population and culture.

Aurora and Northstar were obvious allusions to the night sky in Canada, where things were more clear than in more populated areas. Northstar is, well, the North Star, and Aurora was the Aurora Borealis. They had light powers (and were also French-Canadian).

Sasquatch referenced the mythical beastie that's somewhat connected to the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Snowbird was, of course, about Canada's snowy, wintry reputation.

and Puck was obviously related to Hockey, the Canadian National passtime.

I accepted these folks as characters whole-heartedly when I was young (if I'm being honest, I still do!).

But looking back at them years after the fact, it's a bit funny how their identities and powers were conveniently slotted into aspects of Canadian culture. They were pretty thin characters, as John Byrne thought. I didn't love the way most of them developed, either - but I enjoyed the early adventures quite a bit.

The villain they fought in issue #1 of their own series? TUNDRA.

It might not be the way to create fully realized three-dimensional characters.

But based on my continued affection for them - hey, one could do a lot worse!

See you next time, eh?

This post may have been a bit pointless, but nothing else was coming to mind! If you found something worthwhile or diverting in a pleasant way, I'm greatly relieved! xD

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Banes at 8:23AM, Feb. 25, 2024

@Hockey Webcomics - Loved Sasquatch! Puck was a cool character too (though they got a bit wacky with his origin story later). Captain Britain was another "Captain fill-in-the-country" character.

Banes at 8:20AM, Feb. 25, 2024

@plymayer - that could be; I'm pondering that! Even when the plot is the writer's priority first, the characters are starting out as concepts, as far as what role they might play in the story (hero, villain, love interest, sidekick, mentor...). So it's a fair point!

Banes at 8:17AM, Feb. 25, 2024

@ozoneocean - thanks oz!

Hockey Webcomics at 7:29AM, Feb. 23, 2024

What can I say? I dig it! =D Sasquatch is my favourite one. That's pretty interesting and that's not very common. You have concept-named characters in X-Men (of course I'm not including Alpha Flight), but they're related to their looks or powers. There are few other good Canadian characters taking from the concept thing, I think the most obvious ones would be Captain Canuck ("The guardian of True North") and Northguard. Yeah, those are more patriotic concepts, so it's not a unique trait. I mean, you can do the same to other nations, just take a country and make "Captain" "name-of-the-country." Of course, you have Wolverine too... maybe most people won't recognize the concept, but... wolverine. Local fauna.

plymayer at 4:43PM, Feb. 22, 2024

Oh and anyone remember Hawk & Dove?

plymayer at 4:42PM, Feb. 22, 2024

Every journey starts at the beginning. Characters from concepts. Perhaps over simplified, is at the start of every writer's story.

Ozoneocean at 4:16PM, Feb. 22, 2024

@Gunwallace- those sound like a super villain team HAHAH!

Ozoneocean at 4:13PM, Feb. 22, 2024

I loved this post. This was fascinating!

Banes at 2:58PM, Feb. 22, 2024

@Gunwallace - when is this hitting the newsstands? I’ve gotta have it!!

Banes at 2:57PM, Feb. 22, 2024

@Ironscarf - I thought Byrne DID create the West Coast Avengers - oh, I just realized I was thinking of the “Great Lakes Avengers” who were more comedic (and lesss known - and may not have been created by Byrne either…)

Banes at 2:54PM, Feb. 22, 2024

@Jason Moon - oh yeah, I heard about that but didn’t see it and know nothing about it! Cloak’s powers were quite creepy, mysterious and cool for sure!

Gunwallace at 12:56PM, Feb. 22, 2024

Poutine -- a superhero who can make anyone feel overstuffed, sluggish, and drowsy. Maple Syrup -- a hero who is always getting into sticky situations, but she's so sweet no-one seems to mind. Donut Hole -- has the ability to fill any gap with a tasty, sugary gap-filler. Beaver --- (um, probably best if I stop there).

Ironscarf at 10:52AM, Feb. 22, 2024

Interesting post which makes me wish the West Coast Avengers had been created by Byrne. I wonder what kind of characters he would've come up with for that?

Jason Moon at 10:38AM, Feb. 22, 2024

Hey Banes, they made a cloak and dagger live action series. The show doesn't do justice to the characters like the comic but they begin to dive into their powers. I felt like they didn't dive all the way into Cloak's character because they only showed a fraction of his power in the show. But I love his dark powers and how he can send you to the darkness realm where a monster dwells and eats whoever ends up there. The show does go directions I wish they didn't and they leave out comic stuff I enjoyed but I did end up making it through the whole show. I believe cloak and dagger were also one of the first interracial couple in a heros comic back in the day.

Banes at 10:05AM, Feb. 22, 2024

@Paul - Thanks for bringing the substance on this, as you so often do! You could teach some kind of literature course! :D

Banes at 10:03AM, Feb. 22, 2024

@jerrie - Me too! It was a shocking twist, but the series fell apart for me after that.

PaulEberhardt at 6:14AM, Feb. 22, 2024

Medieval and early modern morality plays took this to its extreme, with every character being an allegory of something, typically starring Everyman, Vice, Virtue, Justice, and Death. I think you can often find it in satires too, both old and contemporary. If they don't happen to target someone specific, the characters often stand for a type of person or a concept. Think of the animals in Orwell's Animal Farm. However, the examples here show that you can very well create characters from concepts in a non-satirical, non-moralising way, and I think this is a really important notion to keep in mind.

jerrie at 12:06AM, Feb. 22, 2024

I really liked the Alpha Flight series, Until Guardian was killed off.

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