Recently I wrote a throwaway character for my comic based on a real-life friend of mine. In short, he’s a loveable misanthrope. And because he’s based on a real human being, I felt like I owed the character something: he won’t grow, or change, or become a ‘better person.’ Maybe there’s more to him or he’s marginally more pleasant than first impressions made him seem, but that’s really more about getting to know the character than having him evolve. Essentially he comes in as a grump and he leaves as one.
Just like I would never suggest that his real-life counterpart ought to be more sociable, it would be patronizing for me to decide that that would somehow make the character better or wiser. People are complex and they don’t all need to be the same.
And actually, this is something I’m thinking about a lot while writing my comic. As far as I can manage it, characters don’t magically become better because they’ve come in contact with my protagonist. Dee isn’t just a neutral observer of the places she visits, but she isn’t travelling through universe fixing people and civilizations, either. She might leave things better, worse, or just different, if she changes anything at all.
This is a personal preference: there’s certainly a place for ‘growing as a person’ in dramas, but I get annoyed when comedies start getting too preachy on me. In some ways, I try to keep in mind the Seinfeld rule: No Hugging, No Learning. The difference is, of course, that my characters aren’t terrible people to begin with. Dee has good intentions, but she’s not Captain Kirk.
I also think there’s a middle ground to be had between Seinfeld’s cynicism and the sappy moral realizations of countless other sitcoms. Dee herself might learn lessons, but they’ll probably be about flaws that were obvious to the reader. In other words, I’m not trying to teach my readers any lessons, because I don’t presume to have any great knowledge that they don’t.
What do you think of the “No Hugging, No Learning” rule? Does your comic have a moral lesson for your readers?
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HippieVan at 12:00AM, Nov. 18, 2016
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