Thursday, August 20, 2015

Comics, Creativity, and Canon

The comic book industry has contributed immensely, possibly even spawned, geek culture. Collaborative imaginary universes where stories are told and ideas explored. However, one thing that comics and other books have that has failed to translate into other formats of storytelling (television, movies, etc.) is unrestrained experimentation.

Perhaps it is the cost and collaborative nature of those other storytelling formats. You can whip up a comic relatively quickly and cheaply. Books can be the product of a single artist, or at most a few. Movies and TV involve hundreds of people and hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. In any case, comics have more freedom to play with ideas.

There have been dozens of re-imaginings and retellings of the Batman mythos in comics, for example. Meanwhile, there have only been 3 distinct tellings of Batman in live action visual story telling. Animation adds a few more. It is simply too costly and time consuming to allow for the same level of creativity.

What makes things even more interesting is a pseudo-religious aspect of geek culture. There is an obsession with canonicity. There is something that makes people resistant to stories that are simply stories. They want a self-contained universe where the story occurs and where there are fixed points in plot that impact everything else that occurs.

In part, this drive is responsible for concepts like the multiverse. And, most time travel stories are concerned with propping up this consistency. For instance, in Trek they never freely engage in telling speculative stories that place the beloved characters in extreme situations without time travel being involved. Everything has to have that “reset button” that can get things back to a status quo. Back to canon where no deaths or failures have any permanence.

In comics, on the other hand, speculation and alternate versions of “realities” run rampant. Once again in Trek, we have stories where our heroes have met characters from other franchises: Trek meets Planet of the Apes, or Trek meet Doctor Who. Imagination (and intellectual property re-purposing) are the limit. Yet still, geek culture rests assured in the multiverse principle to reconcile their need for “cannon.”

If one can just let go of the need for some internal consistency and “reality” in fictional creation, it is a lot more fun and the potential for creativity is limitless. Ultimately, you just take the stories you enjoy and leave the rest. That would be a nice approach for Disney to take with their Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars properties. Don’t hold your breath though.

All of this makes it even more amazing the way dozens of independent authors over a period of centuries, often with no knowledge of each other, managed to create a cohesive special revelation that is consistent in message and corroborated by all the historical documents and archaeological evidence that still emerges today. Talk about a canon that stands up to scrutiny!

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