Thursday, April 8, 2010

When Your Characters Move On

In Monday's entry, I made the statement, "I never waste a character if I think they have even a scrap of potential to be something entertaining." True enough. But the flipside of that statement is that sometimes characters just stop working. This can be because the character is so derivative of another that you can no longer justify their use. That fate befell my own Ferro Man, and it's why he (more or less) evolved and merged into Captain Satellite. But more often that not, it's not a failure of the character, but more their context.

I'm a firm believer in the notion that there are no bad characters, only a lack of imagination. I have lived long enough to see the rehabilitation of comic book heroes once deemed hopelessly lame, like Mr. Terrific. You can find value in anything if you put forth the effort and creativity. It's just that the situation isn't always ideal.

I'm not explaining this well. Let me give you two examples from my own experience to illustrate my point.

1) Doctor Diabolo is seen here as delineated by Sara Denny. This is how I explained his origins in 2008 in the notes for the 10th Episode of the "Return of Jetman" series : "Dr. Diabolo was originally a character I created to battle my personal superhero Captain Satellite. The unusual spelling "Diabolo" (not a typo for "Diablo", as a gag much later spells out) derives from the time in high school in which one of my classmates was singing the praises of the Lamborghini Diablo and couldn't quite pronounce the name correctly."

When I wrote that particular ROJ story in 2003, I didn't anticipate doing much of anything with Captain Satellite and his gang. I drafted Dr. Diabolo into ROJ because I liked his name, and he was a "blank slate" that I could mold however I saw fit. He didn't even have a set design until I commissioned that drawing from Sara.

Well, a few years down the line, I wound up doing a lot with the Captain Satellite cast of characters. Perhaps you have seen them here? Unfortunately for him, Dr. Diabolo was no longer a good fit for the very world that had led to his creation. There were other characters who filled all of his functions more elegantly : mad scientist, would-be world conqueror, armored villain, guy with alliterative "DD" name, etc. My use of Dr. Diabolo in ROJ led to his being crowded out of Captain Satellite.

Don't feel too badly for Dr. D - he fared pretty well snagging the ROJ gig. He scored a wonderful design by Sara, and the story featuring him has probably been read by hundreds of people around the globe since 2003. You could convince me pretty easily that ROJ and Captain Satellite inhabit the same "world", but I don't foresee Dr. Diabolo and Captain Satellite crossing paths in any official capacity.

2) Amazing Girl & Muscle Woman are two characters I invented back in my elementary school days. They are also the only two characters to ever be annexed into Captain Satellite's domain by popular acclaim.

I've related the story of my first jam picture here in the past. What I didn't spell out was that, a week after its original posting, I received the best gift in my Easter basket ever. That was the first time Sara posted art of my characters, but it would by no means be the last.

Sara was and is quite keen on my super heroines. She and the mysterioso Kabuki Katze even conspired to fashion for me a most excellent birthday gift in 2007 involving them. You'll probably be seeing more about that project one day.

My jam picture was intended as a symbolic shot, uniting bunches of characters running throughout my imagination. It's not a literal representation of the way my "worlds" operate. The old childhood "Legion" characters are separate from the "Captain Satellite" group, largely out of necessity. But Sara and Kabuki chose to illustrate the four heroines (two from each "world") together, and there was no harm in that. They were wonderful pieces of artwork, and the conceit worked beautifully. It was thrilling.

Eventually, Sara and I concocted a project which would have brought Amazing Girl and Muscle Woman fully into the Captain Satellite mythos. We had lengthy discussions about ideas, and even devised civilian identities for the pair - something they had lacked up to that point. (Amazing Girl was Kendal Rose, with one "l", and Muscle Woman was Beth Gordon, if memory serves.) Sara designed new looks for all four girls, and I went back and colored some of my old art as a bit of a teaser. This was the "reason" alluded to in the description on the Muscle Woman page.

This collaboration eventually fell by the wayside, as both Sara and I ended up getting involved with other things. That sort of thing happens all the time, and it wasn't a big deal. However, it left me with a bit of a problem. Amazing Girl and Muscle Woman had been sort of halfway inducted into the Captain Satellite mythos, and I had no real ideas for them.

I'll delve into my concepts on the "Too Many Superheroes" conundrum someday, but the main point here is that I try to limit the superheroes running around Captain Satellite's world to preserve the uniqueness of the ones already there. Heck, there were stages in its development in which he was the only superhero. So it is vital to me to ensure that I have some potential stories in mind for every character in what I have grandly dubbed "My World" on this blog. And sadly, I have none for Amazing Girl and Muscle Woman. That was really a story that Sara had wanted to tell, and she has moved on to other things.

After struggling to develop something that grabbed me, I ultimately decided to abandon my efforts to make Amazing Girl and Muscle Woman fit into Captain Satellite's universe, and put them back on the shelf with the rest of their Legion colleagues. They are not dead or forgotten; they can still frolic and play with their old buddies and can still star in new art both canonical and non-canonical. I'd even say the door is still open if either Sara decides she is dying to tell her stories or I somehow come up with concepts to do my delightful duo justice. It's just that I'd rather preserve the mystique they earned rather than diminish it by doing something half-hearted.

Whew! That was very long-winded, but those stories illustrate two different examples of characters of mine who are perfectly fine but no longer fit into their original plans. Fortunately, they can live on in their current versions, so nothing is truly lost.

A huge, HUGE thanks, and much credit, to my friend and former collaborator Sara. We did a lot of fantastic work in tandem for a couple of years, and her influence looms large in much of what I do to this day. Do yourself a favor and be sure to check out both her blog and her brand-new deviantArt page.

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