REVIEWS: The Phippsian Reader

saxon.brenton at saxon.brenton at
Sun May 15 04:27:12 PDT 2005

Martin replied to Tom, and made various points which I don't think I
have time to address directly.

     Originally I had written out the start of a review for 'Day
After Next week', but in my state of harriedness (sic) it suffered
from exactly the same problem that the original review of 'Academy of
Super-Heroes' #58 did - it went of on a total tangent to something
else. In that case, it was dominated by the thematic parallels between
'Day After Next Week' and the philosophical issues that I'm
wrestling with in the latest issue 'Limp-Asparagus Lad' (well,
mostly; I've also been wrestling with other stuff, like the propose
gay sex 'scene' between TJ and Swell Boy in the next LNHY story); and
since I wasn't feeling so gauche as to highjack a review of someone
else's story for what would probably have ended up being a preview of
L-AL55, I just scrapped the whole thing. Now I can't even recall what
other non-L-ALad related salient points I had floating around in my
mind at the time.
     Let's look at the overarching topics from a different
perspective, then. I have in the past, both in private email and in
public forums, referred to Martin's storylines as having
'stripped-down-racing-plots'. As a description it has a certain
evocative ring, and now that Tom has descried Martin's use of
'archetypal' characters, it seems to me that these are two
interrelated phenomena: aspects of the same writing style.
     Now, I hadn't been aware that Martin had been trained in
stand-up comedy (dunno whether it's because it hasn't been
mentioned before, or if it has but I missed it, or it has and I've
forgotten it), but contextually that - and the corresponding adage of
'don't waste time, make every line count' - all hang together.
By comparison, it's pretty obvious that I've never studied the
principles of stand-up comedy in any depth, because I tend to waffle
too much. Frankly, that's why I need an editor; and it's
interesting to speculate how 'A Devil Came Down To Georgia' from
last year would have turned out if I had of given it over to Jamas for
some oversight, and not just because it couldn't have been produced
on the near-daily basis (I think it averaged 6 posts a week) and the
consequence change in pacing and structure.
     However (says he, dragging himself back to the main point), you
can only go so far with archetypal. Recalling the truism that there
only a small number of plots which are recycled with variations, it
behoves a writer to pay some attention to the variations. Fortunately
there are more archetypes in character than there are in plot, plus
perhaps hundreds of different motifs, etc etc etc. In the end, however,
the main variation that a writer can engage in is characterisation -
as in, what gives a person, place or thing unique and engaging
characteristics that will make the reader interested. In that regard
there seems to be a dichotomy, perhaps even a conflict, between the
quicker storytelling-driven-by-standup-comedy-principles that Martin
espouses and the lengthier introspection that I tend to write.
Presumably there's a way to judge the median between the two, so that
one day I'll identify it and start using it myself.
     Considering the next thought has only just occurred to me in the
last five minutes, and I've had minimal training in criticism beyond
basic high school English classes and so is probably not well
considered, anybody can feel free to dump on me from a great height;
but it seems to me that Martin, since he's working so heavily with
parody and satire (the latter, of course, being parody with teeth) it
means that he has a great amount of variation in plot but a heavy
reliance on archetype of character. Fortunately not total reliance on
archetype, however. Although he tends to do it only occasionally,
Martin does focus on one or two characters from time-to-time and
throw in little gems of characterisation; and IIRC for a very long time
he was the only person doing any sort of characterisation in the likes
of 'LNH Comics Present' and of 'LNH' vol.1.
     Now, here is the conundrum for me. Martin writes entertaining
stories, but the style isn't the type that I find engaging for
rereadings. By I do reread them, both because of those little bits of
characterisation and, probably more importantly, because both the
stories themselves and the back-histories that are part of the
characterisation often have important bits of plot information which I
need to be aware of when I'm crapping on about the minute of
Looniverse history. (Google searches are a great aid in this, and it
depresses me no end that Google Groups Beta is seemingly not going to
be as useful a research tool in that regard). It's probably something
that Jamas will also have to keep in my if/when he gets around to
turning Barry back into Fan.Boy. Anyway, in summary I read Martin's
stuff for amusement the first time, and for technical reasons the
subsequent times.

Saxon Brenton     saxon.brenton at
The GIRL GENIUS comic of Phil and Kaja Foglio is now online at:

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