Saxon Brenton saxonbrenton at hotmail.com
Sun Aug 20 05:45:35 PDT 2006

[Tom discusses the hows, why and wherefore of a difference between
writing stereotypes and writing icons]

>I eagerly await your opinions, especially if they run counter to my own.  
>Those of you who have written characters of a different ethnicity than 
>yourself, please speak up.  Those of you who have thoughts about race as it 
>pertains to this genre in particular, please speak up.
>And those of you who actually wrote this story -- that's you, Jochem
>:-) -- please, speak up; particularly if I have no idea what I'm talking 
>about. :-)

Well, in `A Devil Came Down To Georgia' I also had a guy called Martin
who eventually turned out to be black :-)  That said, MegaMetal BlastLord
wasn't all that interested in using his ethnicity as part of heroic
identity: but then he came from a middle-class family and probably wasn't
thinking along those lines during his initial adventures.

It occurs to me that the notion of stereotypes being used as icons is
valid for a competent writer, but does run the risk of going the other
way and turning into cliches.

I write different characters as having different backgrounds and
ethnicities and religions for different reasons.  None of them are
really what you could call iconic or, hopefully, stereotypical.

As an extreme example, Kid Not Appearing In Any Retcon Hour Story is a
black man from the planet Vathlo for the simple reason of a piece of
Superman trivia: that during the Silver Age it was noted that all the
Kryptonese were white, and so as a bit of social awareness they included
an island called Vathlo inhabitants by more humanoid aliens who looked
*amazingly* like earth humans, but in this case they were like African
earth humans rather than European earth humans.

But that *is* an extreme example.  Other characters are created as
belonging to different groups often because it's interesting at the
time, albeit keeping in mind something that Kurt Busiek once wrote
(although he probably wasn't the first): when creating a new character,
if there's no outstanding reason to be white and male, then why not
make them something different.  Although I do often use the theme of
people of different religions being able to get along together, and so
have gone out of my way to have my characters represented by different

My general guiding philosophy might take some explaining: one of the
things that crops up in website and newsgroup discussions is how, when
a mainstream comic shows a scene set in another country, it's always got
a famous landmark in the background as a quick-and-easy reference point,
so that being in Paris will always have the Eiffel Tower in the back-
ground, or the Opera House if in Sydney.  Worse, characters who find
themselves in Europe are often being chased at night across desolate
countryside by pitchfork and firebrand wielding mobs in traditional
ethnic costumes: not mobs dressed in hardwearing jeans and parkas using
firearms and electric torches/flashlights.  As stated, these are quick
reference points to establish mood and setting, but it doesn't change
the fact that they are stereotypes or even cliches.  And while a story
might not have the space or pacing to dwell upon the more subtle types
of information that would tell the reader where the story is being set,
it shouldn't be too hard to simply put in a narrative caption that says
something like: `A down market hotel, in Paris'.  That sort of thing
irritates me, and not just because I live in a country that isn't
Amercia: it can't be that hard to pick up a Loney Planet Guide or Fodors
and skim the chapter on culture, just to get an idea of what you're
writing about.  Then keep in mind that that's only a guideline for how
a particular culture or nation will express the normal human concerns
of: the `average citizens' will typically be worried about the humdrum
business of doing their jobs, earning their pay, and keeping the family
fed) regardless of where they are.

So, after all that babbling, my concerns are that most people should act
like `people'.  If they belong to a particular group, then as far as I'm
concerned that should only be a modifier on their actions within the
more general human condition.

(The problem of course is that superhumans and supervillains are, almost
by definition, extraordinary individuals, and might not think or act the
way the average person does.  At the very least running around wearing
your underwear on the outside in order to draw attention to your status
as a hero or villain puts the costumed person outside of social norms.
And that's before we get to the issue of how a superhuman might have
powers or even an existence that makes them perceive the world or
think in non-human ways.)

Also:  Generally when I'm writing, I sometimes play around with situations
in my head with the characters taking different reactions and roles and
suchlike to see what works best.  It acts as a way of discovering who the
characters are.  Sometimes this works: I had originally thought that
Anal-Retentive-Archive Kid may have been bisexual and would have ragged
on the conservative sexual values of the Mormon Zachary Durandel in the
`Food' two-parter.  Actually it turned out to be more-or-less the other
way around: ARAK won't touch other guys because it makes him feel
seriously squick, while Zachary is more or a east-coast liberal, without
quite being a Jack Mormon.  (Which means that, if you look at the
exposition that Dinnerplate gave Retcon Late at the end of `Food', most
of what he said about Zachary was a distortion or outright lie designed
to corrupt RLad to give in to wrath.)  Other times it won't work: I
tried for ages to figure out what religion Fourth Wall Lass was, until
I asked Jamas about it and he recognised straight off that she was Yiddish.

Okay, that's a lot of babbling, and I'm not even sure if I've properly
addressed Tom's concerns.  It's now 10:50pm, and I'm off to bed.

Saxon Brenton     Uni of Technology, city library, Sydney Australia
    saxon.brenton at uts.edu.au     saxonbrenton at hotmail.com

Thousands of jobs, millions of opportunities. Begin here! 

More information about the racc mailing list