The Squirrel Girl Dilemma

So the latest World of Warcraft patch has come out, and I have a tauren paladin to level.  But I haven’t posted anything in a while, so let’s get to it.

Recently, I tweeted that I’d like to write a story with either Marvel’s Squirrel Girl or DC’s Killowog.  And I really, really would.  This is rare for me,  as I don’t aspire to write stories for characters I didn’t create.  I love Superman, Batman, the mighty Thor, but I have no real interest in writing anything with them.  (Although if someone at DC or Marvel thinks I’d be a good fit, I wouldn’t rule it out immediately.)

I think the appeal of Squirrel Girl and Killowog for me is that neither character has had a lot written about them.  This gives me a little more room to maneuver, to write my own story without having to worry about previous continuity and interpretations of the characters. 

For those who don’t know, Squirrel Girl is a comedic superhero in the Marvel universe with squirrel powers (of course).  The joke about Squirrel Girl is that she is the greatest superhero in the Marvel universe, despite her innocuous powers and personality.  She’s endlessly cheerful.  Her sidekick is a squirrel.  And she routinely kicks the butts of world-shattering villains.

Killowog isn’t a comedic character.  He’s just a Green Lantern.  But he’s usually portrayed as a no-nonsense guy who just kicks butt.  It’d be a chance to write a Green Lantern story without having to deal with Hal Jordan, who I’ve always felt was rather bland as a character.

Someone asked me, “How would I write a story with these characters to introduce them to the general public?”

It’s an interesting question.

Firstly, I’m not sure that’s even relevant.  Comic books are an insular medium at this point, and it’s rare for anyone to just decide to buy comics out of the blue.  Usually, they have friends who are comic book fans or have already been buying them for years.  The shrinking nature of the market is a big problem, but there seems to be no real effort to stop that at this point as comic companies continue to cater to diehard fans who are willing to catalogue decades of fake history in order to understand many stories.

But let’s just assume that I did get to write a comic book and that this would cause non-comic buying people to rush to the stores and purchase said comic.  It’s possible.  I do have fans.  I don’t know how many are eager to read a comic book I’ve helped write, but you never know.

The reason I find the question interesting is that I don’t see how writing a comic book with an established character would be any different than writing any other story I’ve written.  Since I have yet to write a sequel to anything, every story I create starts with the assumption that the reader won’t know anything going in.  That’s one of the things I love about writing original stories.  I don’t have to worry about excessive continuity or about balancing old fans with new.  Every book stands on its own.  Every book is a fresh start.

I would treat a comic book story in much the same way.  It’s true that established characters in established universes come with some baggage.  But I look at that as backstory.  It might shape and influence the character, but it shouldn’t be necessary to understand the history of everything a character has done to enjoy whatever story they are taking part in now.  As I said, neither Squirrel Girl or Killowog have much backstory to begin with because they’re minor characters.  And that’s what I find so appealing about them.

Whether or not a character has a history, I think it’s a mistake to revel in that.  Tight comic book continuity is one of the reasons the medium is dying.  It’s called continuity lockout at www.tvtropes.org and it’s a very real danger with any kind of ongoing story or universe.  Especially in comic books superheroes, where literally decades of history can be found on so many characters.

Good writing should seek to transcend continuity.  It shouldn’t rely on a fannish devotion to previous works.  There’s nothing wrong with a continuity nod here and there.  And characters with long histories can have layered and interesting stories told about them.  But the second a reader has to look up reference material to understand what you’ve written (not just to add to their enjoyment of it) is the second you’ve failed as a writer.  Usually.  These aren’t hard and fast rules, folks.  Novelology is a soft science.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, gang.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

Lee

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7 Comments

  1. Rippley
    Posted November 24, 2010 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    The greatest thing you’ve written in your entire career “makes me want to stomp a harmless puppy.”

    Yeah, I see what you are saying.

  2. Posted November 24, 2010 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    Tauren Paladin… $#(&@#!!!!

    Don’t even get me started…

  3. Rippley
    Posted November 24, 2010 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    I read a lot. So, it shouldn’t surprise you that I was walking down the sidewalk reading a book. I get really involved when I’m reading. I’m walking and reading. Reading and walking. And I end up in a part of the city I wasn’t familiar with. I looked around trying to get a glimpse of some familiar landmark. Couldn’t find one…started reading my book and walking.

    Anyway, I found myself in this area swarming with homeless people. Tons of homeless people, cold, starving, huddled in makeshift shacks. I ask this homeless man, Tom, where I was. Tom knows I’m talking to him, because staring right at him. But since people don’t usually talk directly to him he’s conditioned to believe that people who are saying, “Hey Buddy, could you help me? I’m lost. I don’t know where I am. Hey! Buddy! I’m lost. Could you please help me?” are really talking to him. Tom took notice of me when I tapped him on the shoulder with my book. He mumbled something or other, and then he walked away.

    So, I assumed I would have to find another person to help me. I approached this other homeless man, but before I could get his attention Tom tapped me on the shoulder. Gave me the international “come along” gesture, and he walked me back to a familiar part of the city.

    I talked to Tom for about an hour about the book I was reading. I gave him the book–I have so many books I could fill a library. And then I took him to McDonalds for some grub.

    We exchanged our gratitude for each other. He said he would read the book, The Nature and Function of Dreaming.

    There is no point to this story. No moral. I didn’t learn anything. I just think its awesome.

  4. Austin
    Posted November 25, 2010 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    Here’s something to consider in your decision.
    There’s more than 1 killowog action figure,
    There is NO Squirrel Girl action figure

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted November 26, 2010 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

      And it is indeed a crime against all of comicdom that she doesn’t.

  5. Posted November 29, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    I think its awesome you play wow, as it is my current obsession at the moment. I have a Draenei Priest and Blood elf Death knight. I really am enjoying all the new changes to the game and can not wait for the Worgen race.

    As for the Squirrel Girl idea I like the fact that she seems to be an outsider in the Marvel universe. The death of her side kick squirrel is also tragic. I think it would be fun to write about this girl no one takes seriously but has the potential to be really epic. I would think even though she is endlessly chipper she would have some emotional issues to work out. Im sure growing up part squirrel would be traumatizing as a child . I dont know much about Killowog but I feel like they could meet in an under appreciated superheroes chat room or a support group. They could get a few drinks afterwards and realize they could help each other become truly great and remembered superheroes.

    Also reading Nameless Witch right now and loving every page of it!

  6. Posted December 3, 2010 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    i would dig it if you wrote a comic. i think you understand the medium more than most do.

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