DENNIS O’NEIL: Two-Fers, part two
All hail to thee, Pulpus. Praised be thy name.
What? You don’t know that you’re Pulpus, god of popular culture? Well, if I were you I’d get next to Shrinkus, god of psychotherapy, and do something about your identity crisis. Meanwhile – there are some questions I’d like to ask you.
I assume that part of your duties involve helping the content, as well as the venues, of popular narratives evolve. Now let’s say – we’re just blue-skying here – that there’s a cheaply published vehicle for a certain kind of heroic fiction. Call the vehicle… oh; I dunno – “funnybooks” and the central characters of the fiction… lemme think for a second – “superheroes.” Let’s further suppose that for a long time a lot of people who fancied themselves “respectable” thought that the words “funnybook” were a synonym for illiterate tripe.
Okay, carry our supposition a step further and say you’ve done your work well and both funnybooks and superheroes have become – here’s that word again – respectable. Say that the funny book-inspired kind of fantasy melodrama has become a mainstay of the world of motion pictures. So – as part of the form’s evolution, wouldn’t you want to eliminate the elements that gave “respectable” people an excuse to excoriate these funnybooks? Creative Writing 101 stuff like an overdependence on coincidences, not establishing elements crucial to the narrative, not showing and/or explaining how the good guy accomplishes what he accomplishes…
Being, as you are, the god of popular culture, you would be aware that the funnybooks were occasionally guilty of these sins against what is generally considered good fiction writing, for a number of reasons, including extreme deadline pressure; a lack of sophistication on the part of the funnybook creators, some of whom began in the business when they were quite young; the fact that funnybooks are an extremely compressed kind of storytelling; the further fact that funnybooks developed erratically, without anyone connected with them trying to really understand what they are and how they might best be employed, at least not until pretty recently; and, finally, the disrespect given them even by people whose living and lifestyle – sometimes a very handsome lifestyle, indeed – depended on them, which meant that nobody associated the word “quality” with them, not for a long time, and so nobody tried to define what quality in this context might be.
That was a painfully long sentence. But you’re a god, you can handle it.
Anyway, what I guess I’m asking is, even if certain narrative glitches have often been a part of the funnybook world, may even have contributed to funnybook charm, should they be carried forward and exported to other media doing funnybook-type material? Or would evolution demand that they be eliminated?
Beg pardon? You want to know if I’ve been to the movies recently? Matter of fact, I have. But what has that got to do with anything?
Oh, yeah, I almost forgot…All hail and praise be thy name.
RECOMMENDED READING: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig
Dennis O’Neil is an award-winning editor and writer of comic books like Batman, The Question, Iron Man, Green Lantern and/or Green Arrow, and The Shadow, as well as all kinds of novels, stories and articles.