June 19th, 2006 | brainjuice
You know how sometimes you get a word on the tip of your tongue but just can’t find it to spit it out? It’s like that with writing sometimes.
(I’ll preface this with: don’t send me ideas, you silly fuckers.)
By previous agreement, I’m going to be producing a major new series with Avatar early next year. What that series will be is a matter of contention. I’ve thrown out three full-blown concepts for the series now. None of them were good enough. They weren’t bad books — I went as far as fully scripting two issues of one of them. But they weren’t good enough. They just laid there on the page. One of them attacked the themes I want, one of them had the energy, and one of them had the structure and language. But they don’t stick together, and separately they’re only a third of what I want on the page.
One of them’s too backward-looking, one of them plays too many market games, one of them has no attack to it.
It’s driving me mental.
It’s the blank page thing. Aaron Sorkin talked about it a bit, at the top of one of the WEST WING scriptbooks. The blank page is the only critic that can hit you where you live. In one of the episodes, in fact, a journalist asks Sam why writing a major speech is hard, and Sam says, because it’s a blank piece of paper. It knows all your secrets. In Sorkin’s words, it sits there and hisses, “I know how you’ve been scamming all those people all these years, GIFTLESS, you wanna dance with me?”
And we really don’t. We stare into space for hours, running themes and structures and settings through our heads. And in my case the blank page sits there and says, you’ve done that. That’s old. You’ve said that before. And it drives you mental.
Now, as a writer, I have a certain voice, because I’m interested in certain personality types and certain themes. And I can live with that. I came with things I want to talk about, and if you don’t like that there are plenty of other comics to read. But there are some things I don’t want to propagate. I’ve done enough reassessments of old fictional forms in my longrunning series. IGNITION CITY was a fun idea — crossing DEADWOOD with the 1930s sci-fi serials — but I find I don’t want to do it as a monthly series. Because it was JUST a fun idea, there was very little thematic meat on its bone beyond The Death Of Crewed Spaceflight, the Death Of Wonder and Flash Gordon running a crooked bar while Ming The Merciless hides in the woods and Zarkov does his Tesla routine and Buck Rogers has been drunk since he got back from the 25th Century and blah blah. There’s enough for short graphic novels, maybe. But it doesn’t swing the big hook.
It’s time to stop playing the retro games and start thinking about what fiction in the 21st Century actually means. It’s a long century, and we’re just at the start of it, and there’s no way we’re going to define “21st Century fiction” right off the bat. But I’d rather not end up as a curiosity of the millennium. And I don’t want to find myself writing RETRO TAIL-EATING FUNNIES this time next year, still wrapped up in the business of tying off the 20th Century.
Entirely a personal choice, of course. I’ll still look with interest at what others do in that business.
I dunno. I’m also a little sick of writing things set in America. Even though I don’t do “American” particularly well, I feel like I’m losing my own vernacular a bit.