Bandit's Banter

The topic for this month's Banter has once again been provided to me by my friend Mike Dominic.  Dunno if I've mentioned this before, but every couple of months, Mike sends me a CARE package, of the latest comics and books that he's picked up, so as to keep me in touch with what's going on in the comics world.  As Mike puts it, CARE stands for "Comics Are Required Entertainment".

Currently, I'm slowly wending my way through one of the books Mike sent me.  It's called Shop Talk, and features legendary comic strip artist Will Eisner interviewing several other legends in the comics field.  Eisner's first interview in the book is with Neal Adams.  During a recent online Scrabble game on Sunday night, Mike asked me if I read the Adams interview, and if so, what I thought of it.  In particular, Mike wanted to know what I thought of Adams's claim that whenever he writes a heroic character, such as his own Ms. Mystic for example, the character does not necessarily have to reflect his (Adams) own viewpoints.  The character is just a character, even if it is the main heroic character.  Mike wanted to know if I would be able to do the same thing: write a heroic character whose beliefs, attitudes, etc., are not shared by me.  Mike and I never really got into the discussion, as the hour grew late, and we both had to be up in the morning, but it certainly left me thinking.  By the way, I clobbered Mike in two games of Scrabble that night!  Not even deep philosphical questions could put me off track.

Could I write a main heroic character whose beliefs did not reflect my own?  Not someone who puts in a cameo appearance, but someone whom I'd be spending a good deal of time, perhaps years on?  Obviously, Bruno is not who I'm talking about here.  His viewpoints and beliefs are almost the exact opposite of mine, which make him so much fun to write about.  Still, I don't really consider him a "heroic" character, per se.  Fiona is a little closer to who I am, but again, she's not quite what I'm talking about here.

I think if I was to write a more serious sympathetic main character, their beliefs would end up coinciding with my own.  Especially if it was a character I'd be spending any length of time on.  My assumption is that I would be writing something from my point of view, and as such, my beliefs and attitudes are the ones I'd most want to represent.  Not necessarily as as a way to convert you to my way of thinking, but merely as a reflection of who I am.  And I think that's how most writers go about portraying their main sympathetic characters, Neal Adams notwithstanding.

However, one thing I find a lot of writers fall short on is in how they portray those with whom they disagree.  Oftentimes, these are the characters who are the "bad guys".   A liberal cartoonist, for example, may portray conservatives in his/her strip in a less-than-sympathetic light.  This is understandable to a point.  After all, it's your viewpoint being represented, if you're the liberal cartoonist.  But, if you portray all conservatives as "fools and idiots" (or vice versa, if you're a conservative cartoonist), then you lose my interest pretty darn fast.  Mind you, I consider myself to be neither left-wing nor right-wing, but in the centre of the political spectrum.  After all, when flying, a bird does not rely on just one wing...

Anyway, I think it's a sign of maturity when a writer can portray at least some characters whose values they may not share in a sympathetic light.  It's something I've tried to do in Bruno the Bandit.  How successful I've been I cannot sayI have had some angry responses to my strip,so maybe I've a ways to go.  Or maybe I just can't please all the people all the time. Anyway, the reasons for portraying some characters with whom you disagree in a good light are (to me, at least) obvious.  Firstly, I don't assume I have all the answers to all of life's questions.  I may be able to learn from those with whom I disagree.  I'm not going to slam the door in the face of someone who has a different viewpoint than me.  Secondly, I want people with whom I disagree to read my strip.  If I automatically portray them as being the scum of the earth, they'll just ignore me, and will never be exposed to my viewpoint (or at least, will be far less sympathetic to it).

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying everyone with whom we disagree must be portrayed in a sympathetic light.  I mean, I'm sorry, but I can't see a good side to Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda network.  It's hard to imagine a sympathetic racist or sympathetic terrorist.  I certainly wouldn't be able to create one as a character, anyway.  However, if for instance, you're a conservative cartoonist who considers all liberals to be as bad or as stupid as Osama, or Hitler, then you've stepped into the realm of radicalism, and your appeal will be only to your fellow radicals.

Mike, your Scrabble playing needs work, but at least it's better than your chess game! :-P  But I mostly enjoy our Sunday night sessions for the chatting anyway, as you give me so much to think about.  And where's my next CARE package...?