Who's Who In the SBCU Update 2003

In his dreams Alan Donald is a multi-award winning writer of comic books, animation, theme park shows and rides, children’s books, novels, television, internet animation and more.

In real life Alan writes this column, which has been described as more than a lifestyle than a weekly column. He used to write SBC's All The Rage.


Alternative Covers: Threat Or Menace
Tuesday, November 11

How To Break Into Comics
Tuesday, November 4

What Comic Book Taboos Are Left?
Tuesday, October 28

Diamond - Saviour or Satan?
Tuesday, October 21

Does Hollywood "Ruin" Comics?
Tuesday, October 14




New Characters vs. Old Characters

By Alan Donald
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This week’s question comes from Cody who thinks “the premise is pure genius” behind the column. Cody got to thinking about this question following the Panel’s question in regard to minority characters; this got Cody thinking about the creation of new characters. Particularly mentioned are War Machine and Quasar, comics which apparently didn't last very long or sell very well. In any case the question is:

“What is the hardest part about creating a new character, and why is it that these new characters have such a hard time sticking in universe's featuring older characters?”

Peter David: “Because fans are simply not interested in putting long term personal investment into characters who haven't been around for thirty-or-so years. Fans look for reasons to buy titles featuring long-standing characters; however they look for reasons to drop titles featuring newly minted characters. It's not that they're doing it consciously, but I believe they'll give MUCH shorter leash to characters they don't know. They're much more interested in seeing new and different twists on characters created prior to 1970 than characters of more recent vintage.

Creating new characters is easy. The *only* hard part is sustaining interest at a time when the natural tendency for Americans is to have trouble focusing on anything for an extended period of time.”

Devin Grayson: “Creating a new character isn't difficult at all, it's a great joy. The complication lies in the second part of your question; how do you then integrate this new being into (if we're talking about mainstream super hero comics) as great as sixty plus years of continuity? There's often a natural resistance built in on the part of the readership, who are waiting to see guest appearances by familiar, beloved characters they've already invested in. As a reader, I have no patience for "life-long best friends" suddenly popping up out of nowhere to serve a story arc or brand new villains that are granted knowledge and gravity they haven't earned. That said, sometimes nothing is more exciting than an intriguing new character. As with all things, a lot depends on how well and respectfully the new character is developed. A brand new best friend who gets kidnapped or killed is a throw away plot device, a lazy attempt on the part of the creator to up the stakes for the hero. But a carefully conceived supporting cast can be incredibly rewarding -- look at Tim Drake, or the new Batgirl. They're so integrated in Batman continuity now that it's sometimes difficult to remember they haven't always been there. They developed naturally, and were given time to carve out their own roles in the Batverse.

Technically, too, there's an exposure issue. A new character has difficulty catching on if he or she isn't seen regularly, but unless creative teams other than the one that invented him or her are encouraged to and interested in using that character, the new character's exposure is going to be limited. I sometimes feel hesitant to use a character that I feel "belongs to" a colleague, but in mainstream ventures, it might actually be better for the new character if we did, in fact, all share.”

Terry Moore: “I'm sitting in the bleachers on this one, but I have a theory that classic hero characters rely on make-believe and modern characters tend to be a bit more realistic. We just have to accept that while Superman has the beef to beat up a train he can also defy gravity, and not only defy gravity but actually propel himself somehow, from hover to Mach 3 plus. And that while he's flying at Mach 3 his cape doesn't strangle him from the torque of flapping at three times the speed of sound. And that when he flies at mach 3, his hands aren't 3,000 degrees faranheit like the nose of a military Blackbird, and they don't incinerate the falling Lois Lane that he catches as she falls from the roof of the Daily Planet, and that she didn't have the usual major cardiac event during the fall. Etc., etc. None of it makes sense. Wolverine and SpiderMan looks positively common by comparison. The modern Nightwing and Batgirl read like dark young vigilantes until you put them with Superman or any of the other cosmic-able heroes, then they just become sidekicks. Batman is just Bandit to Superman's Johnny Quest, despite Frank Miller's special gloves. I know, Batman's not a new character, but I couldn't pass the chance to compare the Dark Dork to a dog. :)”

Alan Grant: “The hardest part of creating a new character is coming up with something which will endure over time. It's relatively easy to create new characters for one-off stories, but ongoing characters demand a level of complexity that's hard to achieve.

To a certain extent, comic writers/artists fall into two groups: a small number of those who create lasting characters, and a much larger number of those who interpret characters created by someone else. There's a large amount of overlap between the two camps, of course, but generally speaking there's truth in the division. John Wagner and Pat Mills, for instance, actively dislike writing characters which they haven't created themselves. I'm the opposite--I find character creation so difficult, I'd rather give my own take on already-created characters.”

Mike Collins: “It's the 'been there, done that' aspect of creating new characters. Particularly if we're talking Super Hero universes. What new powers can you give a hero, what unique character trait?
Avenging dead parents? Done that.

Serving your country by dressing up in the flag and bashing the Bosche? Done that.

Feel the overpowering need to channel your wealth into fighting crime, while you recover from a defective heart? Done that.
Gifted with powers by radiation or an alien/magical/extra-dimensional entity? Done that.

In the Marvel Universe, Stan and Jack, and Stan and Steve created individual characters that gradually came to know each other. It was a buzz when Thor flew by Spider-Man the first time... it was exciting, fresh.

Now? You've got to imagine you'd bump into one super hero or another standing in line to buy groceries in Marvel NYC.

So what's the solution? You can tell fresh and new stories, it's the trick of finding the angle to make it work. Ironically, this very aspect of over familiarity is what helps drive a book like Powers or Astro City that start from the premise that heroes are everywhere, and takes a different look at living in such a world.”

Alonzo Washington: “The reason it is so hard to launch new comic book characters is because the old ones have the media & major entertainment corporations on lock. Meaning promotion, licensing, distribution, familiarity, TV & movie deals all go to the comic books like Super Man, Bat Man, The Hulk, Spider Man, etc. Hell, you could never read a comic book or go to a comic book shop and you would still know these characters. The new characters have to have something extra special to get them attention and most of them don't. My 11 year old character (Omega Man) gains a lot of mainstream attention because he addresses a lot of controversial social issues. Moreover, it's a Black comic book that produces high quality work. OMEGA MAN IS NOT supposed TO EXIST! Therefore, he gains a lot of attention. New characters & comic book publishers have face the Super Monopoly that DC & Marvel has on the comic book world. They get all the deals and they are everywhere. They don't want to see new characters make it. So every time you pick up new comic books with new characters hold on to it. It may not stay around. The mainstream companies ever have problems launching new characters. Sure the comic book geeks except new super heroes, but it take a lot of work to get the mainstream to accept a new super hero. Most of them have Super Man & the others on the brain. Look at how long it took the X-MEN to make it to the mainstream. They came out in the 60's and did not become mega popular until the 90's. It's not easy being a super hero.”

Evil Rick Shea: It's all been done. Even though there are some new and exciting ideas and executions lately, it's hard for new characters to stick, because there is very little left to create that doesn't bear at least some resemblance to all the great ideas that have come before. Books like Y the Last Man, Fables or Empire are all great twists on premises that we may have seen before.

With rare exceptions, people want more of something they're already aware of or used to, rather than trying something new that may bore them to death. I think Jessica Jones from Alias is the most interesting new Marvel character since Wolverine or Punisher (their only two major icons not created in the sixties), but we'll see if she stands the test of time.

Alan Donald: “Remember this: SBC reserves the right to edit questions for reasons of consistency and inclusivity.? It’s at the bottom of every issue of The Panel and guess which idiot forgot about it when it came to sending out this question. I haven’t created any new characters for any comicbook company yet and I feel my answers would be too fanboyish here so I’m afraid I have to bow out this week.”

Summary: Quite a range of thoughts and ideas this week. One thing the Panel seems to agree on is that it is fairly easy to come up with a new character but the hard part is keeping it going. Or keeping any character going…

This Week’s Panel: Peter David (Captain Marvel), Devin Grayson (Nightwing), Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise), Alan Grant (Batman, Judge Anderson), Mike Collins (bloody loads…just one? Ok, Judge Dredd) and Alonzo Washington (OmegaMan), Evil Rick Shea (prop Famous Faces & Funnies)

Next Week’s Question: “ Since Jewish people pretty much created every superhero out there, how come there isn't a single title that stars a Jewish superhero?”

Big Shout: The Panel need your questions so email them into me at: [email protected]

Previous Questions: Check out the message board where I’ve put up a list of every question the Panel has faced so far (neatly linked to the column it appeared in) to inspire you and let you know what to avoid.

SBC reserves the right to edit questions for reasons of consistency and inclusivity.

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