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Recently, I was prompted to think again about authorship. More specifically, I thought about how often I devote ample digital column inches in this space to considerations of pop culture that make a presumption about specific visions. Those visions are sometimes collaborative, but they almost always reside within a confined framework. When I write about comic books, I stick to single issues or runs on a title by a set of creators. When I write about television, I lock in on one season, weighing it against others only as a comparison that helps me assign a superlative.

I chose those two media as examples deliberately, since they have in common a certain longevity of narrative that defies the notion of one creative guide. There are complications to ascribing clear authorship on other forms of cultural art, too, as I’ve acknowledged on occasion. But comics and television programs are designed to endure past the point — sometimes well past the point — of the instigators falling away. Since those are also the two media that I glommed onto the earliest, there’s an even simpler way to get at what I intend to do with this new feature. Before I learned to follow creators, I learned to follow characters.

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My supposition about characters existing apart from their creators is a little more slippery than I imply above. It’s also shifting in notable way. Television now allows for more instances in which the creator has a forceful hold for the entire run of the series, and, for the best programs, there is even an expectation of such a process. No matter how much AMC might have wanted a few more episodes of Breaking Bad, it was highly unlikely and probably inadvisable to continue it without Vince Gilligan. As film moves inexorably toward a model of overlapping franchises, there’s conversely a relatively newfound sense that many different talents will weigh in on the vaster narrative. Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff has been a major character in three different film franchises, presided over by at least the same number of filmmaking teams. And there’s reason to believe she will wander yet further.

Additionally, despite heroic efforts by most, characters don’t really stay on model. They develop slightly different nuances depending on who is tinkering with their fictional psyches. The shifts are fascinating. Where does the core of the character hold? And where does it diverge? As for the latter question, I’m not referring to those instances when a long-running character goes through a brutal emotional transformation as part of the developing continuity. Instead, I’m more interested in the more gradual movement that happens as time passes and a character is speckled by more and more different fingerprints.

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That’s the intent of this, anyway. How the feature might resettle as it hits different ruts in the road is another matter, which is fitting, of course. I begin with a basic rule: every character I write about must have gone through at least two distinctively different creators or assemblages of creators. Most will have gone through many, many more. I’ll also note that I don’t necessarily intend these to be favorite characters. They are simply characters that strike me as interesting enough to write about when beginning from the perspective of considering them as seen through prisms of creation held up by different people.

Even so, tomorrow this feature will properly get underway with a character who, if pressed, I’m prepared to name as my favorite of all time. Not the best. I make no such assertion. But favorite? Most likely. Again, that’s tomorrow.

(Images all nicked from Goodreads)

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