On Plot

posted September 12, 2008 by Jer


I do not want everyone to like The Elves of Iax.

I've thought a lot about this. The artist's instinctive wish is the opposite. We get an idea in our head and find a way to get it out. We put love and hard work into that expression. It's natural to hope that everyone who sees it understands it, and by proxy, you. The financial success of one's artwork has always been perceived as a literal measure of how many people truly understand the artist.

I would be pleased if many people enjoyed The Elves of Iax. The tangible comic versions of this world I dreamed up are very important to me, and it encourages me when people respond positively to them. However, the reason I create is to give structure to my dreams, to make sense out of my wild imagination. Ultimately, I am writing for myself, to get my ideas out into the real world. It's reasonable hope that a large number of people will understand them, but it would be unrealistic to expect everyone too.

Stories that everyone likes do exist. In fact, the creation of such a story is a well documented science. First you create characters based on established archetypes that many people can recognize and quickly identify with. Next, you set your characters into a plot-line that follows a familiar and predictable rhythm dolled up with a mildly original setting. You put your characters through troubles that seem impassible, but ultimately never actually threaten them or who they are. Finally, you conclude with said troubles being undeniably and permanently overcome, allowing the characters to relax into a state of adamantine emotional bliss, most often in the form of romantic satisfaction. This is why Mark Twain said every story about adults should end with a marriage.

Stories that break this mold also exist, but they are financial disasters. They never catch on because the characters are too foreign, the plot-line too confusing and the resolution too uncomfortable. Some people brave these stories, but not enough for them to sell well. Most people never even hear about these stories until they have been re-adapted into a more comfortable media as described above. This is exactly what's wrong with movies these days.

Ultimately, the Elves of Iax will not be a good example of either case. Though it would be nice to be a financial success, I don't make enough sacrifices to the originality to squeeze into mass appeal. Inversely, I'm not so driven by paradigm-shifts as to claim groundbreaking originality. I write and draw what makes me comfortable, and in doing so I employ as many affronts to mainstream expectations as I do concessions. In the end, all I have is the fact that it's my story and I enjoy creating it.

I came upon this realization at the comic store today. So much of the shelf is the comfortable formula, cranked out by an industry that knows it will make money. I found shelf after shelf of pretty characters faced with familiar quandaries. I resorted to the meager independent corner, and found a great deal of artwork that I honestly didn't respond to, and in the cases where the artwork did draw me in, the plot was just more predictable mediocrity.

Charles Schultz said to make comics, you had to be fairly good at a lot of things; art, writing, humor. I definitely fit the bill, and I think I need to remember that. I love my story, and though getting it out on paper - not to mention distributed to the world - is a lot of work, I enjoy the challenge. Lately, however, at a time when most of my stories are written and all that's left is to visualize them, I obsess about the detail of the rendering. It takes me several months to get another spread of Chapter 2 done, because I focus hours upon hours on meticulous visual details that will barely show up in the finished piece. Usually, these details conflict with the stylized images they are set right beside. My obsession with particular details actually deteriorates the finished piece and makes marching onward paralyzingly daunting.

I don't know what I'm doing, that much is clear. Forging my own path is comfortable though. I'm liberated by my (albeit foolhardy) resistance to the norm. The art I'm creating is so unusual that most people will simply not connect with it, finding it uncomfortable or unfamiliar. Meanwhile, many other people will recognize my inspirations and sources, and brush my work off as more of the same. Still, people will get what I'm trying to say, respond to my artwork, and encourage me to keep going. Not everyone, clearly, but some.

I'm fine with that. If I could be successful without becoming enormous, I would be a satisfied artist indeed.

Now, if only those people could find me.