Comedy Insertion

I think after this third draft, I have become pretty adept at knowing when to insert some comedy and knowing when to let the drama roll on.

See, when I was done with the second draft, I reread it pretty closely. As I was looking it over, I realized that there were times where I was becoming dangerously close to what I hated: a writer who focuses all of his energy on “getting through” a story versus “telling” a story. A good example would be the last 100 issues of Cerebus (“getting through”) versus the first 200 issues (“telling”). A better example might be my recent Bone article.

Wanna know my secret? I’ll tell you, but I’ll have to whisper and you can’t let everyone know. Otherwise, there might be a lot more good comics out there.

Insert the comedy before the drama becomes melodrama.

That’s it. No big formula. I learned it from Shakespeare.

I used to teach English and one of the things I always tried to show the kids was writing methods that The Bard often employed. In many of his more serious plays, you’ll find an awful lot of humor (and bawdy humor too. Probably because making penis jokes isn’t that tough to do, and he was trying to just crack a smile before he got back to everyone committing suicide). And you usually find this humor right before or right after something traumatic happens. If all you have is Romeo talking about killing himself and then Juliet talking about killing herself and then their parents talking about killing themselves if they haven’t yet killed each other and then Romeo killing himself and then Juliet killing herself and then the parents killing themselves before they’ve killed each other, it can be a bit of a downer. So you have Nurse and the Musicians and even Mercutio (who does some funny stuff, but can be dramatic) to break it up.

So, to sum up, I’m a lot like Shakespeare. And Fred is my Mercutio.

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5 Responses

  1. Sim wasn’t getting through shit in Chasing YHWH.

    Or Guys, or Rick’s Story, really.

    Flight seems the worst offender to me in that regard, I suppose because it was the big clean-up piece, where every stupid and crazy thing that happened in the comic gets shoehorned into the newly emerging revelation that everything is mystical to the point of incomprehensibility.

    (Sim earned every entry he has on tvtropes.com)

    I don’t see much in the last 100 where Sim is just getting through it. Even the beginning of Latter Days, where stuff moves so damn fast, is good stuff that Sim seems to savor. Perhaps the fairer criticism is that he sometimes neither tells the story nor gets through it, but indulges himself in lengthy digressions of marginal relevance to the real plot (or at least, any aspect of the plot that any reader had any interest in).

  2. Oh, he was just getting through it (as a matter of fact, I heard him on some podcast or other not long ago saying that he originally intended for Cerebus to go 200 issues and then just said, “Might as well go to 300; also, he’s said that the last 100 issues is epilogue).
    Here’s what I mean by “getting through”: you have something to say, but that something can’t happen for a long time (for whatever reason: the plot needs to be resolved first, the character needs to change first… maybe it’s the moral). It seems to me that most of the last 2000 pages or so were just filler; Sim was trying to get to the end.
    I’m not saying the other books (YHWH, Guys, Rick’s Story) weren’t interesting on some level, I’m saying they don’t help “tell” the story of Cerebus. Why? Because that story was done at issue 200. Cerebus learned his lesson: “you can get what you want and still not be very happy. You’re welcome.”
    I’ve said this for a long time. I think the end of Cerebus would’ve been much better received – and would’ve sold much better for much longer – had Sim ended at 200, made a couple of books staring other people (there’s no real reason to put Cerebus in a book about Fitzgerald or Hemmingway), and then, if necessary, went back a few years later to write The Last Day.

  3. Wow. You guys no quite a bit abt cerebus. Never read it. Any good?

  4. I see what you mean. I took you to mean something entirely different by “just getting through it”–I took to it to mean proceeding through the story quickly and artlessly, not pushing through the pages one had to fill to finish the comic.

    I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of a 200 page Cerebus. There’s too much I love in the last 100 for me to really embrace the idea, but there’s no disputing that the most egregiously boring text sections seem a superfluous struggle, a series of roadblocks in the path to Cerebus’s denouement.

    However, most of the sections that seemed most boring to me the first time I was reading, when I was wrapped up in the story and just wanted to know what was going to fucking happen; those things became the most meaningful to me upon subsequent re-readings. (Have I said all this before?)

    The Torah commentaries are nearly unbearable, not because the subject matter is uninteresting, nor because the “truths” are uncomfortable, but because Sim has constructed a means of literary analysis that leads to the same results in every story imaginable. The weak/fake/secondary/dependent/feminine god-ish being wants to be like God, join with God, split apart from God, and thereby reproduce more things like itself. God wants to teach the god-ish thing the folly of this. God and the god-ish thing have an endless “conversation” by using reality to create a series of living metaphors.

    So, every story or natural event that involves either things joining together, or splitting apart, is explained, at length, to be a predictable elaboration of the above living metaphors. Sometimes Sim has to really bend and twist the stories to get them where he wants them, but in the end it doesn’t matter, because everything is either 1) fake god, using reality to demonstrate something that isn’t true, or 2) God, using reality to demonstrate truth. Got that? Everything conceivable thing that could ever happen is consistent with Sim’s interpretation of the Torah.

    Thus, the individual analyses mean very little. We know the result before we ever start, and if Sim’s paradigm seems to “fit” the Bible particularly well, we shouldn’t be surprised. The paradigm would apply equally well to Grimm’s Fairy Tales, or Pokey the Penguin.

    So, twelve issues of that shit is a little tough to swallow. That each issue is padded with a few pages of Woody Allen talking about masturbating doesn’t exactly sweeten the deal.

    In fact, in all honesty, the first time I “read” Latter Days, I couldn’t make it through that stuff. I made it most of the way, but I eventually gave up on it, finding no reason to continue torturing myself with that garbage. I was displeased that The Last Day began with the same sort of nonsense.

    However, the second time I was reading through the series, I read every bit of the commentaries. They never improve, in terms of aesthetic or meaning. In fact, if anything, they get worse. But reading them completely provided me with a different emotional reaction to Cerebus’s corruption through New Joanne.

    It’s not that I didn’t fully understand the plot development the first time. It just didn’t hit me as hard. After reading Cerebus go on and on, at such ridiculous length, about his understanding of the universe and the nature of the masculine and feminine, the fact that he would still fall in love with a woman solely because she reminded him of Jaka was quite moving. It’s tragic, and stupid, and bittersweet; a lot of things, but moving. I cried when I reached the end of the volume, and saw Jaka’s face on the journalist, even though I knew it was coming.

    And really, it comes to about the same thing at the end, when Cerebus sees Jaka after his death.

    There’s a lot of stuff like that. F. Stop Kennedy’s book just seemed like a tiresome joke repeated ten times on my first read, but on subsequent readings (when I wasn’t concerned about getting on with the plot), it did speak deeply about the relationship between the three travelers, and how Cerebus was obliviously tumbling into disaster. The Earnestway stuff wasn’t really about Earnest Hemingway’s writing as it was about Cerebus’s model of masculinity being revealed as a sham, a coward, a defeated man. The Booke of Rick (or was it Ricke?)–well, I guess that was funny, even the first time.

    I may be alone in this world, but I think Sim was a better writer at the end than he was at the beginning or the middle.

    And Melmoth seems a great deal more misplaced than anything in the last 100.

  5. […] was too dark for a stick-figure comic (not as dark as anything by Feazell, but still…) so I added a bunch of scenes in strategic places so that the book wouldn’t be such a downer. It’s now twice as good – and much more […]

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