Thursday, February 21, 2008

Thank you, Jeph Jacques, for character development!

First, a note: that title is not meant to be read sarcastically. I am totally sincere and it should be read cheerfully. Also, I'm not meaning to imply that there has never been character development in QC before. But the new stuff that's going on is all exciting and that's what I'm psyched about so that's the title.

So one of my complaints about comics (web or otherwise) is that the more people care about the characters, the harder it is for the author to have any character development. Or at least I assume it's due to reader complaint, that no author would want wooden, static characters. But I digress... One thing I love about Questionable Content is that the characters have changed and developed over time. I have enjoyed the story arcs as much as the one-offs and that is not usually the case. (Normally I get irritated when there's a non-story comic because I'm into the story, or when non-sequitur comics go all story on me because I'm like, "Why are we dwelling?") Recently I have been worried that the main female protagonist on QC was becoming a one note character, whose purpose was to act as the sadly-cynical counterpoint to an otherwise happily-cynical cast. I am really happy to see Jeph take her in a kind of new direction. (It's not totally new because he's been foreshadowing the improvements in her mental health for weeks; but he could have decided to go for drama and had her toe the same old "I'm too emotionally scarred to be anything by afraid" line.)

I think I've ranted about the relative merits of mono- and polyvocality before (probably many times, and no doubt to everyone's general chagrin), but comics offer a different set of challenges when it comes to authorial voice. Because the graphic style is (usually) consistent throughout, there's an inherent monovocality to any comic strip or graphic novel. All polyvocality must be character and dialog driven. In a book, an author might show each character's individual voice in first person or third person-limited descriptions of environment and events that evokes the character's independent perspective, as compared to third person-omniscient descriptions from the author's perspective. Sometimes the author's perspective is very subtle - it's in the way s/he gives you access to the characters thoughts and motivations, almost pleading with the reader to understand, to think: "Her reasoning is so flawed!" or "But he had such good intentions! Why can't he see how wrong he is?" But in a comic, options for separating out individual character voices are limited. (I actually think this is why so many web-comics are semi-autobiographical. But that's another post for another day.) In the beginning, as new characters were added to the QC cast, it seemed to me that they were really a parsing out of different characteristics of a particular lifestyle. Archetypes almost. And that was fine with me because it's funny and well-drawn and interesting stuff happens. But as the cast reached a stable level and Jacques started to flesh out their backstories, they really began to develop individual voices. Actually, I sometimes find it hard to distinguish Dora and Martin, or Dora and Faye, depending on who is in a scene. (Not visually, obviously; but those pairs are equally likely to make an obscure indie music reference, or threaten to pummel someone.) But most of the time I feel like I could tell you who was speaking without seeing the drawings. And that's without crazy accents!

Anyway, I've been so excited about this new story arc that I've been refreshing my QC tab every five minutes once the clock strikes 10. If Jeph posted a new comic three times a day, I would still be like, "Why do I have to wait??" So this is just to say, Thank you!, to Jeph Jacques and to prattle on about narrative voice for a bit, as I like to do. If you've read this far and are ready to kill me for being so damn boring (and such a disgusting fangirl), (and totally pretentious, all talking about literary criticism ideas she learned in a linguistics class like she knows anything), well, all I can say is: Dude. (I can't actually think of a better response that doesn't come off as trying-too-hard-to-be-clever or adversarial, so I stick with what I know.)


SonicLlama said...

I agree with everything you said.

But, I'll add that I think Hanners needs to get some.

With Pintsize.

Awww, yeah.

Sydney said...

I think you mean, "Aw ew." You're always trying to turn everything into Diesel Sweeties. ::WINK::

But yes, Hanners + getting some = good call. Otherwise her dad will just continue to send her eerie Manbots. Or so I assume.