Saturday, August 27, 2005

Cronin Theory of Comics - A Reaction Is Not Enough

There are some spoilers ahead!

So I had really been enjoying the Ultimate Annuals, but with the Ultimate X-Men Annual, I think they hit a snag.

My main concern was the basic concept of the comic, which appeared to be "Let's kill off Gambit."

Ya see, I think that is a great example of confusing "significant" with "good."

Killing off Gambit is SIGNIFICANT, but it does not neccessarily mean that it is GOOD. Most of the X-Men Annual was pretty standard fare, excepting that at the end of the big fight between Gambit and Juggernaut, Gambit dies. That really was the only thing that separated it from, say, Uncanny X-Men #361, where Gambit and Juggernaut also fought. This really feels like a story where it was built upon the REACTION first, and the story second.

Which I think is not a good idea.

Writers will, over time, piss people off with their stories. It is going to happen. Pissing people off does not mean that the stories were bad. However, pissing people off is NOT, in fact, an indication that your work is good, either.

I guess what I am trying to get at is, well, I really found that the following statement by Bill Willingham regarding Batman #644 was quite lame:
Yes, deliberately withholding treatment, except in the context of a legitimate triage decision, is quite the unequivocal violation of the Hippocratic oath. In a court of law one could reasonably expect to be found guilty of murder.

Seems like Leslie snapped. Seems like Batman doesn't like her much anymore (though he still couldn't bring himself to be the one who brought her in).

After this issue came out, I took a rare tour of other message boards to try to gauge what the general reaction might be. As expected, it was overwhelmingly negative, with lots of "how dare Willingham do this!" What I didn't expect is how much message traffic this book would generate. Message boards that might have one or two regulars post every few days, or so, suddenly exploded with five and six pages of new messages per day.

Here's something you readers need to realize: Though we generally hope readers will like our stories, hating them is almost as good. Hating them so much that yours is the one book everyone is talking about now -- well that's golden. One can't hate without passion and involvement. The one reaction we most fear is indifference.

Yes, I'm a little put out by the (at least three and counting) reputedly male readers who posted testimony that they wept after reading this issue (one claiming it was for the loss of innocence). Not that I believe they actually did. But I'm still from an early enough American generation to find men claiming to act like overly dramatic little girls just a little bit cringe-making.

And of course there were scores of those claiming that this incident was the last straw and they're giving up my books, or the Bat books, or all comic books, forever. Here's a splash of water for everyone who ever has or ever will make such an hysterical claim on a message board: We never believe you. If you're the type to indulge in "how dare they do that!" we know you'll always be back for further outrages. Those addicted to indignation need constant indignation feeding.

But, that aside, all is good. Feel free to blame me for ruining Batman. I could claim that editorial mandates were in force here and thereby split the blame a bit, but I think this time I won't. I willingly took the job, and I'm too greedy to want to share the credit this time.

How do you like them apples?
Putting aside his points about how people never mean it when they say, "I'm never reading this again!" (which, for the most part, is true) and how "Men shouldn't cry" (which's an odd point, either way), let me direct your attention to the following section of the post:
Here's something you readers need to realize: Though we generally hope readers will like our stories, hating them is almost as good. Hating them so much that yours is the one book everyone is talking about now -- well that's golden. One can't hate without passion and involvement. The one reaction we most fear is indifference.
As I said before, yes, you WILL likely piss people off at one point, but what Willingham is missing (it appears, purposefully) here is that while, yes, it is good to get a reaction from your readers (a good deal better than indifference), that just is NOT enough to be satisfied.

He does not address the complaints about the story, for whatever reason, and to ignore the story complaints and to just say, "I relish people getting mad at me" is the epitome of looking for a reaction first, and a good story second.

Which, I believe, is not good.

Read More


Anonymous Anonymous said...

And it sounds like a cop-out. He's that kid who can't win at any of the schoolyard game and exclaims, "I like losing!"

Bullshit. Nobody likes losing. And nobody likes being hated.

Nice try. But as indicated by his weird tangent about men crying, Willingham clearly has some issues with appearance and image. He's so concerned with putting on a brave front that he's willing to take endless heat for a bad story, with the caveat that he meant for it to be bad.

What a chump.


8/28/2005 01:49:00 AM  
Blogger Ken Robinson said...

Good call, Bill. Getting people to hate a story is almost as good as them liking it! Who cares if it's not enjoyable, right? That's not what comics are about. And, it's not like this sort of thing will affect sales. Remember the Clone Saga. Most fans hated it, but sales were great!

Yeah, the above should be read with as much sarcasm as you can muster. And, of course, sales WEREN'T great for the clone saga; they dropped like a rock. Any "interest" generated by hate will be short-term. Any long-term effects will end up being negative. Bill doesn't seem to realize this with his "hating them is almost as good" bit.

Bill might also like to keep in mind that people DO quit comics. Just give them enough reason to and it'll happen. Will everyone who said they will actually quit? I doubt it. But this could be the last straw for some people, you never know. Why put up with crap writing, especially when one writer of said crap is happy you hated it?

I think both Brian and Dan make some good points about Willingham. Good call, guys.

8/28/2005 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger Vaklam said...

What Ken said!

Also, I have stopped buying comics by certain writers just as there are certain directors whose movies I won't see and novelists whose books I won't buy. I avoid certain creators because they have consistently produced things that piss me off. I don't go back to things that piss me off because that's not what I'm reading things for.

So, yes, Bill, some of don't come back.

8/28/2005 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

The other day, I developed a Theory of Fictional Death:

For a fictional death to be good, the storytelling gain (G) from the death muse be equal to or greater than the storytelling loss (L). Expressed mathematically, If G>=L, then D>0 (where D is the measure of how good the death is, a positive value meaning it's good, and a negative value meaning it's bad).

In just typing this, I've come up with a Second Law of Fictional Death: The storytelling gain of a death is equal to the story potential (P1) the death creates divided by its degree of shock value(S). Mathematically, G=P1/S.

And if we have a law for the gain, we must have a law for the loss as well, the Third Law of Fictional Death, which states that the storytelling loss is equal to the story potential destroyed by the death (P2) *multiplied by* the degree of shock value. L=P2*S.

Therefore, in the first equation, P1/S>=P2*S. In a case where they are exactly equal, then the two S's will cancel one another out, and we will be left with P1=P2, and therefore P1/P2=1. So another way of expressing the first law is P1/P2>=1.


8/28/2005 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Foss said...

Wow, Michael, seems like everyone's hitting on theories of death lately (though yours is a bit more analytical than mine). Cool.

Excellent post, Mr. Cronin. Too bad it looks like it's not going to be "Leslie just tricked everyone."

You know, what really sticks out to me in there is "Seems like Leslie snapped." You know, someone like Greg Rucka would have thoroughly explained exactly what led up to her snapping, and how her snapping fit in with the last year and a half of stories, and whatnot. Characters just don't "snap," and "seems like" sure sounds like Willingham didn't put much thought or planning into how this fits with Leslie's established character. I could have Alfred kill Bruce in his sleep with a hacksaw because he was tired of Bruce not finishing his soup, and that'd still be more justification than Willingham gave here. Bad show, Bill. Even much-maligned Ron Marz gave Hal Jordan a reason to snap.

8/28/2005 01:02:00 PM  
Anonymous thekamisama said...

I have yet to "quit comics" as a whole. But I quit Spider-man back when marketing McFarlene was paramount to making good comics. I quit X-Men at Age of Apocalypse (though Grant Morrison brought me back for a few years). I quit Batman during the Azreal thing.
All the brilliant mismanagment of superhero comics pretty much soured me on the genre. If there is something fresh, human, and good out there I end up finding it on my own.
Bill has done lots of great comics. Elementals is still one of my top ten 80's comic runs, I love what he is doing in Fables too.I cannot see me stopping reading those for some Batman book I never read.
But Bill some people do keep their promises.

8/28/2005 02:09:00 PM  
Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Brian: Where did you get the Willingham statement from? I'd like to reference it in my review this week.


PS: Looks like it's time to add the word verification for comments feature to the blog.

8/28/2005 02:21:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

It is on his website, Guy.

As for word verification, I think I'd rather just go to haloscan, but I never get around to it...hehe.

Anyone know if going to haloscan means losing the original posts?

8/28/2005 04:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Charlie Anders said...

Actually, there are many comics creators whose work I no longer buy because bad writing or art. And I actually did go through a phase of buying *all* the main Batman comics and following all the storylines. And I got so annoyed at some of the idiotic writing that I posted on various message boards that I was going to stop reading them. And then? I stopped reading them. Now I only buy them occasionally from the bargain bins.

8/29/2005 06:20:00 PM  
Blogger Shane Bailey said...

I believe you can do both and let people choose where to comment if you want. I don't know if you use haloscan and turn off blogger comments if you lose the old comments though, sorry.

8/30/2005 09:39:00 AM  
Blogger Pól Rua said...

I can see his point, but I disagree.
Sometimes, you DO want fanboys to hate your work. I mean, a tragedy works because you like the hero and you don't want anything bad to happen and yet something does... horribly so.

Sometimes, it's good when a story makes you sad, or angry, or whatever... and in the current comics marketplace, this seems like a bad idea.
The essential fanboy assumption is that nothing bad should ever happen. "How dare you kill off a character I like!"
"How dare you break up my favourite ficticious couple!"
"How dare you make my favourite character act like an asshole!"
Sometimes, writers do things that aren't popular, or designed to pander to the fans and make them happy and sometimes that means pissing people off.
I can dig that.
However, if I can flog that horse just a little more (he's just sleeping, honest!), in the end, it's about execution.
Whether or not this story got a response or not, it sounds like assbiscuits. Not because people hated it or reacted to it... but simply because it's a bad story.
So yeah, I can see what you mean, Mister Willingham.

But you're wrong.

Love your work.

8/30/2005 09:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Kelson said...

I'm beginning to wonder if Willingham is just one of those writers who does his best work when working in his own sandbox instead of someone else's. Except for "March of the Wooden Soldiers," which went on way too long, Fables has been consistently a great read. While most of the characters are from established stories, the concept and these versions of the characters are his to do whatever he wants with... and it works.

Day of Judgment and The Thessaliad are the only other books of his that I can remember reading (one DCU, one Vertigo/Sandman, which is sorta DCU) both had some nice moments, but neither has really stood out for me.

Similarly, I hated Jay Faerber's run on The Titans, but I love Noble Causes.

8/31/2005 03:28:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

What Willingham must realize is that although he's right about fans just blowing hot air when they claim to stop reading, they are not necessarily bluffing when they claim they'll stop buying. With the growing prevalence of comic downloading, unhappy fans can now easily stop buying a characters' books yet continue reading the stories illegally.

8/31/2005 04:35:00 PM  
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