Last week, I wrote about how I develop characters. For example, their motivation, background, speech, physical location. Everything that goes into making them seem like real people. Of course, real people develop over time, and what we find fascinating is watching fictional characters change in reaction to circumstances and conflict. But in comics, characters often don’t make any kind of emotional journey and that is their strength and their weakness. We like the reassuring cosiness of characters who never change, who are the same year after year, and often don’t seem to have any kind of private life. We don’t want them to get religion, make good or bad financial investments, marry, leave their job, or fall out with good friends. All the things we do ourselves in real-life. When they’re well written and drawn, like Judge Dredd, stasis stories work, but if they’re poorly executed, the character becomes boring and will probably be axed. In films and novels, however, an emotional journey is mandatory. The protagonist has to be changed by the events that he has experienced, notably by the ending scene. It’s one reason why comic book characters often don’t work in movies or text novels. For the most part, my characters always seem to have made an emotional journey, so here’s a run-down to show how it works.
Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t yet read Goodnight, John-Boy and you don’t want to spoil a key reveal, click here to scroll to safety.
‘No! You can’t kill me, Davey,’ he pleaded desperately.
‘Cos I’m your dad.’
‘Yeah, right,’ jeered Dave.
‘You? You? You think I’m crazy enough to believe a low-life like you could possibly be my father?’
‘I’m not lying,’ said Cooper, ‘I am your father.’ There was real conviction in his face and in his voice.
…Dave felt sick to his stomach. He was lost for words. Maybe that was why he was drawn into going back to the shop every Saturday, because, on some deep subconscious level, he sensed the newsagent was his real dad.
‘Cheer up, Dave,’ Cooper grinned. ‘It was only a bit of “How’s your Father?” if you’ll pardon the pun. And everyone was rutting like stoats in them days. That’s why there were all you baby boomers.’
Cooper smiled triumphantly at him, aware he had the upper hand once again.
‘I told her to flush you while she had the chance.’ He grinned at his son. ‘I’d flush you now if you weren’t so big.’
Thus in my serial Girl in a Bubble, published in Jinty, the heroine lives inside a large plastic bubble because she has no immunity to disease. Any physical contact with the outside world, and she will die. She is looked after by a female scientist who feeds and punishes her through control gloves inset into the side of the bubble. Then a tearaway girl sneaks into the building and finds the girl in the bubble. She tells her she thinks that there is nothing wrong with her. Gaining courage from her new friend, the heroine briefly leaves the bubble and discovers it’s true. The scientist’s treatment has cured her, but she wants her to remain in the bubble so she can continue experimenting on her. The tearaway encourages the heroine to run away and find her mother. But when her mother opens her front door, she rejects her own daughter and slams the door in her face. She had given up on her daughter and adopted another girl to take her place. But now the heroine has grown stronger as a person, and overcomes these latest challenges. Eventually, the mother is united with her daughter, and the scientist is punished.
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