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Preachy Comics

Tantz_Aerine at 12:58AM, July 6, 2024

Last night I had an interesting conversation with one of my favorite creators (you know who you are) about what makes a webcomic (or comic, or movie, or book, anything applies) preachy. Preachy as in trying to force an agenda, or ideology, or outlook down the audience's throat whether they like it or not.

And it is a fine line, because objectively, every story wants to convince the audience of at least these two things:

a) identify with the main character (or one specific character)
b) accept the story's ‘side’ as the correct one

Without these two things, the integrity of the story is compromised as it becomes harder to maintain suspension of disbelief and engagement with the story.

But what makes a story preachy, as opposed to non-preachy?

What my take on the issue is, it's whether the story earns the persuasion. The character it wants us to identify with is actually likeable or cool or at least intriguing enough, due to character design, character building, and character interactions. The ‘side’ it presents at least has enough merits to entertain it as a plausible correct solution to whatever issue is being presented to us.

Otherwise Judge Dredd would never have worked. Separation of powers anyone?

A preachy story/webcomic/movie on the other hand imposes its views on you rather than do the work to convince you to entertain them. The main character is likeable and the one you should identify with because the story says so: are they completely rude and un-empathetic to the point of being almost antisocial, but somehow everyone tells them how awesome they are (without coersion) and the story works as if they were? - preachy

Is the story so geared to catering to one ideology that it lacks internal validity and makes no sense, but demands that you accept the premise anyway? (For example, if a cult forbids procreation, doesn't recruit new members and doesn't ever endorse children, but somehow has a population that endures over generations?) - preachy

Do the characters talk like they are propaganda posters? – it may not be preachy! Depends on the character. Are they indoctrinated, believe ina cause, or purposefully spread propaganda to others? That's a character trait then, not preachiness. Are they supposed to be ‘the correct one’ that sets everyone else straight one way or the other? – probably preachy.

A story can have powerful, really striking ideological messages and not be preachy, or no real ideological message and still manage to be so. That's how we have works like 1984 or The Parallax View that are not preachy, and also end up with stories that come across as caricatures (think ‘girl power’ movies of late, or some really out there religious movies as easy examples).

What stories do you consider to be preachy, if any?

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Tantz_Aerine at 2:26PM, July 7, 2024

Amelius: well said.

Amelius at 11:20AM, July 7, 2024

You guys... using "wokes" like it's shorthand for some kind of radical group is ridiculous, it's like using "self-aware" as pejorative... "woke" is just slang for saying you see exactly how the system is rigged to benefit certain classes and hurt others? You can't be "a woke" it's not a group or a movement; it's not a noun, it's an adjective. In the John Carpenter classic "They Live", John Nada puts on the sunglasses and sees the world for what it truly is-- THAT is being woke, not the bastardized version that American Republicans have warped it into, which is just shorthand for the racial slurs they wish they could use. Most people with a brain are anti-fascist but that doesn't mean they're also woke, so these things are not really opposite.

PaulEberhardt at 2:22AM, July 7, 2024

@marcorossi: Only a well-balanced mind could pull off a story like that, as only well-balanced minds can understand that showing the dangers of unchecked radicalism has nothing to do with what side you take. (E.g. just because you write a story about woke people installing a brutal dictatorial regime doesn't mean in any way that you don't respect the rights of traditionally marginalised groups.) Both wokes and fascists will target you as evil no matter what, because they can't understand this concept, or if they do they won't be seen letting on. That's what they have in common. Radicals and other preachy people tend to think in black and white instead of shades and nuances. The difference between us and them is kind of like the same as that between enjoyable and preachy stories, good and bad writing, etc.. It's why I hardly ever worry about getting preachy by accident, too.

PaulEberhardt at 2:11AM, July 7, 2024

I agree with you on that for a story to be non-preachy it should allow you to make up your own mind about it or at least let you believe you did. However, what's the difference, then, to just leaving the story open to interpretation, as anything called "good writing" should? This makes the topic kind of about the difference between good and bad writing in a specific way, doesn't it? That may at first sound like a shallow way of looking at it, but then good writing is essentially the skill of connecting to other people through your words, and not being obnoxious is certainly part of that. I tend to follow my gut feeling here: as long as I can enjoy the story and like the main characters without having to agree with the views presented there, it is good non-preachy stuff.

PaulEberhardt at 1:59AM, July 7, 2024

#11: Thou shalt not preach in comics...

usedbooks at 6:47PM, July 6, 2024

Presenting your own views and opinions in a story is easy. Provoking the audience to consider their own views/experiences and form their own opinions is an art.

marcorossi at 3:34PM, July 6, 2024

The problem is: suppose I want a story where "woke" people go overboard and the hero has to save the world from woke tiranny, I can write it; on the other hand, if I want I can write a story where "anti-woke" go overboard to full fascist and the hero has to save the world dr m anti-woke fascists. I can write whatever because I'm making up that world as I want it, so what I write doesn't represent reality, but my view, so whatever I write it proves nothing. But, if I write of woke tiranny and the "wokes" I represent are nothing like real "woke" people, or antifascist but the fascist are not believable stereotypes, this is gonna sound stupid and preachy, because charachters don't think with their heads but just represent stereotypes from my mind. I have to write characters who look like they are actually thinking with their heads, even though it is difficult.

marcorossi at 3:24PM, July 6, 2024

I think the core point is that charachters have to act naturally and not have automatically the same pow of the author.

dragonsong12 at 9:21AM, July 6, 2024

I worry about this with my stories a bit as well, though the oddly enough it’s BECAUSE I actually have no interest in putting any messages in my work. My interest is in the characters, so I like to put them in awful situations to see how they will react. Sometimes said awful situations are politically charged. And sometimes individual characters are very passionate about it. But my focus isn’t on said politics - I don’t think I’m qualified to tell that story - the focus is always the characters. …My worry is my writing doesn’t make that distinction clear enough, heh.

jazzy at 6:51AM, July 6, 2024

Has anyone read my comic? That's my biggest fear. Coming across like that. I hate that stuff. Just curious. Looking back at Infinity Burger I believe I did. But, I blame it on being younger. Still excuse.

mks_monsters at 5:36AM, July 6, 2024

Well... I guess it boils down to the story being about the plot or the message. At least in my experience. All stories carry a message, but it should feel natural not forced or in your face.

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