Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
I wrote most of this a few months ago, after I had stumbled across a blog entry at http://www.engel-cox.org/textvision/a_funny_book_bill_of_rights.html in which Glen Engel-Cox posted his own criticisms of a work called “Comic Book Reader’s Bill of Rights Version 1.0.” If I’m reading things correctly, the original was written by a guy named Marc Mason for his own blog.
I agreed with most of Engel-Cox’s criticisms of Mason’s version, so I decided to try writing down my own version, starting from scratch, instead of just rewriting Mason’s ideas point by point. In an attempt to make it easier to distinguish between Mason’s effort (from January 2004) and my own take on the same general concept, I carefully substituted “Fan’s” for “Reader’s” in my title.
To save you a little trouble: Let me assure you there’s no need to sadly inform me that I’m indulging in shameless wish fulfillment here, and that it is highly unlikely that the “reforms” my Bill of Rights seems to call for will happen at any of the big American comic book publishers in the foreseeable future. Believe me, I knew all that before I ever started typing! But a fan can dream, can’t he?
The Comic Book Fan’s Bill of Rights (First Draft)
1. You have the right to expect that a one-year subscription to that exciting monthly title, Character X, will mean that you receive twelve consecutive chapters of coherent storytelling about the adventures of Character X and his supporting cast. As opposed to having #’s 1-3 be a three-part arc, followed by #4 being “Part 6 of the X-Cruciatingly X-Tended X-Ploitation Crossover” that stretches across seven other titles, followed by #5 being “Part 14 of the X-Cruciatingly X-Tended X-Ploitation Crossover,” followed by #6 being “Part 22 of the “X-Cruciatingly X-Tended X-Ploitation Crossover,” followed by #7 showing the hero reeling from the aftermath of the “dramatic events” that happened in the grand finale of that Crossover (“Part 24″ which naturally was published in another title) . . . you get the idea.
02. You have the right to expect that once The Powers That Be have established a good solid origin story for a superhero, they’ll basically leave it alone. Sure, doing regular “retellings” with rewritten dialogue and “expanded details” is one thing, but throwing out the essential points on the spur of the moment for the sake of getting “shock value” from something “new and different” is something else, and should be off limits! The Powers That Be should remember that wise old
adage: “If it ain’t broke . . . don’t fix it!”
03. You have the right to log in to online forums and proceed to gripe, whine, bellyache, sob, and otherwise rant and rave regarding anything remotely connected to the comic book industry, criticizing any point on any basis you see fit, regardless of whether or not other participants on that forum think your rantings and ravings actually make any sense whatsoever!
(Please note: The unpleasant corollary to this is that all the other fans participating on the same forum have an equal right to loudly express wild opinions, even if you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that their ideas don’t make any sense! It’s amazing how many fans insist totally overlook this corollary to the concept of “free speech.”)
04. You have the right to expect that when an ongoing series is collected in TPBs, whatever issues of that series are reprinted will be reprinted in order, so that the internal continuity, with its gradual development of long-term subplots, etc., actually makes sense to anyone reading the TPBs as they are successively released. For instance, the fourth TPB collection will only contain issues that were originally published after the ones reprinted in the third TPB collection of the same series.
05. You have the right to expect that when a company publishes #1 of a six-part miniseries, or the first installment of a six-part story arc within a well-established ongoing series, that the next five issues have already been scripted and pencilled so that you won’t find this putatively “monthly” story being delayed for months at a time between issues.
06. You have the right to expect that the dialogue in the original issues of a story arc will remain the same in the later collected editions — hardcover and/or softcover — instead of being rewritten on the fly so that people who wait for the book get a remarkably different idea of what “really happened” in that story than you did when you were faithfully subsidizing the project by buying each skinny little issue when it was hot off the presses.
07. You have the right to expect any necessary retcons in the continuity of a particular title — or in a large universe of many related titles — to be clearly and unambiguously announced so that you will know beyond a shadow of a doubt whether or not the shocking events of Team Y #400 (published eleven years ago) are still a valid portion of the relevant characters’ history today.
08. You have the right to expect the publishing company to insist that any Hollywood writer who expects to be paid for a script for a movie or TV episode based on your favorite superhero (or superheroes) will at least take the time to read a few years’ worth of the relevant continuity before he actually writes the script. (You similarly have the right to expect the director of the whole shebang to do the same thing, so that he has some basis for judging how “faithful” the first draft is to whatever the “most essential elements” of the original concept are, in the director’s informed opinion.)
09. You have the right to be warned of the following Fundamental Rule of Public Statements by Professionals: Whenever an editor, writer, artist, or other “insider” at any comic book company makes a firm statement such as “This character is dead, dead, DEAD, and will stay that way!” or “That controversial story arc from ten years ago has been retconned away into limbo and will never be heard from again,” any such statement implicitly includes the following escape clause, even though no one bothers to spell it out when he is handing out “definitive sound bites” for journalistic use:
“And this statement is absolutely positively guaranteed to remain valid until such time as someone important at our company has another mood swing and decides to throw this guarantee out the window in favor of making a quick buck by putting things back the way they were before! And that’s a promise!”
Understanding this crucial point about the “Automatic-But-Unspoken Escape Clause” can save you from an awful lot of heartburn over the years, as your favorite “moments of resolution” from one title or another get shamelessly rearranged — Dramatic Weddings turn into Dramatic Divorces, Tearjerking Moments of Heroic Death get watered down by having the “martyred” hero make a cheerful return from the grave, Permanent Loss of Superpowers turns out to have been Very Temporary Loss of Superpowers, A Veteran Hero Utterly Disgracing Himself turns out to have been A Veteran Hero Being Totally Mind-Controlled by Someone Else (And Only a Spoilsport Would Still Hold It Against Him) . . . you get the idea.
10. You have the right to receive fair warning that the people who actually produce these comic books don’t care what “rights” you think you have. If they want to announce a new “monthly” series and then release two issues a year, they’ll do it. If they want to have the third TPB collection from a title reprint #’s 17-20, 22-23, and 25, and then follow this up with the innovative tactic of having the fourth TPB collection from the same title reprint #’s 15-16, 21, and 26-28, they’ll do it. If they want to act as if they have “very quietly” retconned away the huge stinking embarrassment of Team Y #400, without ever finding the courage to stand up in public and admit, for the record, that a retcon-erasure is exactly what they have done, they’ll do it. Et cetera. They are probably wrong to do these things, but that never stopped them before and it certainly won’t stop them now!
P.S. Try to find solace in the thought that, as described in #03, you still have the right to log on to your favorite forum and complain long and loud about the disgraceful behavior of certain professionals. I mean, just imagine how quiet and boring all the comic book-themed forums would get if The Powers That Be at the various comic book publishers didn’t keep providing us with fresh material for well-justified complaints, week after week and year after year! Why, in a worst-case scenario, this entire rant (thinly disguised asa Bill of Rights) might never have been written, because instead of brooding about bad behavior, I would have been too busy gleefully perusing the dozens of consistently well-written, coherently-plotted, respectful-of-basic-continuity stories that the big publishers were continuing to churn out each month about all my favorite characters! (And we wouldn’t want that, would we?)
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