Tag Archives: iconic characters

Understanding And Appreciating The Work Ethic Of Hank Hill

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As kids, we don’t always appreciate the deeper messages of certain TV shows, movies, or songs. I imagine most kids who saw “Jurassic Park” in 1993 didn’t care that much about the larger points Ian Malcom made about tampering with nature. They just loved seeing dinosaurs eat cowardly lawyers off toilets.

That’s why re-watching shows you loved in your youth can be insightful. Sometimes, it can be a little distressing, seeing themes that aren’t quite in line with today’s taboos and social norms. However, I don’t want to focus on those unpleasant instances. Instead, I want to focus on insights that we appreciate more as adults than we do as kids.

This brings me to a show that, even by today’s standards, has uncanny appeal. That show is “King of the Hill,” a show I’ve already singled out as home to Hank Hill, a strong example of noble masculinity. After rediscovering the show, thanks to Hulu, I’ve found myself appreciating the less obvious messages of the show.

One clear message that seems to come up several times over the course of the show’s 13 seasons is the value of a work ethic, especially when contrasted to those who have none. It’s a value few kids and teenagers appreciate. That’s understandable because in the innocence of youth, most go out of their way to avoid hard work or laborious tasks.

What makes “King of the Hill” stand out, more so to adults than to kids, is how it portrays work and the way people go about it. One of Hank Hill’s core traits is his dedication to his job. Among his most memorable and oft-repeated quotes is that he sells propane and propane accessories. That’s not just his job, though. It’s part of his identity.

Hank, unlike many male protagonists in animated sitcoms, actually loves his job. It’s not just something he does to pay the bills and provide for his family. He genuinely loves selling propane and propane accessories. That love is played up in plenty of comedic ways. In one episode, “Hank’s Back,” even doctors had a hard time believing that anyone would avoid a worker’s comp settlement.

What makes that comedy work is the common expectation that few people actually like their jobs. If they do, it’s only because they’re rich and it affords them all sorts of fancy perks. However, Hank is not rich. One episode even goes out of its way to show that, even by middle class standards, he’s not that well off. He’s no Al Bundy, but he’s not Charlie Harper, either.

That doesn’t matter to Hank because his is not entirely about money or even the opportunity to make more money. It’s about doing something he loves and deriving real meaning from it. His job selling propane and propane accessories gives him a unique sense of fulfillment that can’t be quantified with money.

This sort of approach to work isn’t just unique among sitcom dads. It reflects an approach to work that is rarely emphasized, even in a world where work is changing due to automation. Growing up, the nature of work and careers is presented in a certain way. It’s not always through the media or movies like “Office Space,” either.

When kids and teenagers are encouraged to think about future careers, it’s almost always framed as a means to an end. First and foremost, a career provides money and resources with which to build a life, whether it’s a family or just a home in general. It’s part of a much larger process of becoming a productive member of society.

Most counselors and teachers will encourage kids to find a career they actually like. That’s the ideal. However, it’s a poorly-kept secret that few people ever land their “dream job.” Just as few people end up working jobs that are related to their college major. On top of that, many of these people who graduate college are underemployed, which put them in a similar position to Hank.

To some extent, Hank Hill is in an ideal career because he’s doing something he loves and he’s getting paid for it. That alone sets him apart from many career-seekers, both in the real and fictional world. However, the love he has for his work and his career actually runs deeper than that.

To him, his job isn’t just a means to an end. It is the end. The work itself is the reward. The money he makes is only ever secondary. For Hank Hill, the best moment of his job isn’t when he gets his paycheck. It’s when he sees the look on a satisfied customer’s face when he sells them a new grill or helps them refill their propane tank.

That kind of fulfillment isn’t just rare in an animated sitcom that includes a self-professed conspiracy theorist who never realizes that his wife cheated on him for years. It’s a rare and unique state of being, having a job in which the work feels so rewarding. Even in the real world, this sort of mindset is rare, which is part of what helps set Hank Hill apart.

For most of human history, people didn’t have careers. They just had things they had to do to survive another day, whether it involved hunting and gathering or growing crops. In modern times, a new host of jobs gave people a variety of ways to earn a living, but the nature of the work was rarely fulfilling and often laborious.

The idea of having a job that you actually like and feeling fulfilled in the work you do is akin to a modern nirvana, of sorts. It takes the very idea of work and turns it into something other than that stuff people have to do in order to make money. Hank isn’t just lucky in that he has that kind of job. He’s got the perfect attitude for it.

That attitude of seeing work as something inherently fulfilling often puts him at odds with other characters and sub-plots throughout the show. On many occasions, Hank’s approach to work often clashes with other characters who go out of their way to avoid hard work or seek to make as much money as they can for as little effort as possible.

His son, Bobby Hill, often embodies that sentiment and not just because he’s terrible in gym class. In multiple episodes, Bobby’s fondness of laziness is not very subtle. When faced with the prospect of having to work hard, he usually does what he can to avoid it. More often than not, trying to avoid the work backfires or ends up being more laborious than the work itself.

He’s not the only one who harbors this attitude. Hank’s loud-mouthed neighbor, Kahn Souphanousinphone, attempts more than one get-rich-quick-scheme throughout the show. To him, work is always a means to an end. Even though his job affords him more money and better material assets, or so he claims, he rarely comes off as fulfilled as Hank.

Even when money isn’t the endgame, others still approach work with a different end in mind. Hank’s wife, Peggy, approaches her job as a substitute teacher with more passion and purpose than most. For her, though, the work she does is less about the money and more about feeding her inflated ego. In some cases, it borders on outright narcissism.

Regardless of intent or goal, “King of the Hill” often comes back to the same theme with respect to work. Hank, for all his faults and shortcomings, has the right attitude when it comes to work. It’s not just about having your dream job and doing what you love for a living. It’s about seeing work as inherently fulfilling, regardless of money or material aspirations.

At a time when the future of work will likely change what it means to have a career, Hank Hill may very well be ahead of his time. Even in the current work climate, his has major value. It’s a perspective that most kids and teenagers don’t appreciate. For some, it may not even be an idea they’ve ever contemplated, the notion that a job could be so inherently fulfilling.

It may still seem like an impossible ideal for many, but Hank Hill shows that it’s not that impossible. Selling propane and propane accessories isn’t one of those jobs that requires a rare set of skills or talents. It requires only basic people skills, salesmanship, and a working knowledge of propane.

Hank didn’t go to college and he didn’t go through some rigorous training to achieve what he achieved. He simply took a simple job selling propane and propane accessories and made it part of his passion. Even in an animated world where impossible things can happen, Hank makes his approach to his job feel attainable, even in the real world.

Appreciating Hank’s work ethic was not the first thing that appealed to me when I watched “King of the Hill” when it was still on the air. However, as I get older and see people wrestle with their careers, I see more and more merit to Hank’s approach to work.

I don’t deny that hard work can be tedious, at times. I also don’t deny that every job, even so-called dream jobs, have bad days every now and then. Even Hank has a few bad days at Strickland Propane throughout the course of the show. That still never discourages him from doing his job as well as he does it and getting genuine fulfillment from it.

There are plenty of lesson in “King of the Hill” that are as relevant now as they were when the show first aired. It’s possible for people of all ages to appreciate those lessons and the comedy that comes with it. That’s part of what made the show so successful for so many years.

When it comes to work ethic and approaching a career, Hank Hill stands out more than most. He sells propane and propane accessories better than anyone has or probably ever will, but that’s not the point. For him, the work itself is the greatest reward. Whether you appreciate his many other quirks or not, that’s a sentiment worth respecting.

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Filed under human nature, media issues, noble masculinity, philosophy, television

Walter White Vs. Saul Goodman: A Tale Of Two Villains

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If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, then the road to villainy has many paths with similar landmarks. Well-developed villains can be every bit as compelling as their heroic counterparts, if not more so. Ever since Heath Ledger’s Joker stole the show and an Oscar in “The Dark Knight,” great villains aren’t just a complement to the heroes. They’re a journey unto themselves.

At the moment, Walter White from “Breaking Bad” is the ultimate embodiment of this journey. His path to villainy made for some of the greatest moments in modern television and Bryan Cranston has the Emmy trophies to prove it. Since then, it seems as though everyone is just struggle to keep up.

However, there’s one journey that comes very close and is remarkably similar. Fittingly enough, it spins right out of the world of “Breaking Bad.” I’m talking, of course, about “Better Call Saul,” the prequel/spin-off that tells the story of how an aspiring lawyer named James McGill became the morally bankrupt legal guru, Saul Goodman.

I’ve been watching this show closely for a while now. I was originally planning to wait until the conclusion of Season 4 to write about it, but after re-watching the Season 3 finale, I feel like there’s too much to work with. After seeing that episode, I feel like I saw a turning point in the ongoing transformation of James McGill to Saul Goodman. I also saw some important parallels with Walter White that are worth discussing.

At its core, “Breaking Bad” is a story about how a law-biding man goes from an underpaid chemistry teacher to a blood-thirsty drug kingpin. Creator Vince Gilligan nicely summed up Walt’s transformation as going from Mr. Chips to Scarface. That journey, and the story behind it, took an initially unassuming character and turned them into someone they never thought they could be.

The essence of “Better Call Saul” is very different. James McGill is not the same as Walter White. From the very first episode, we can see traces of the unscrupulous con man manifesting in a many ways. The show establishes in Season 1 that James McGill is not some clean-cut straight-arrow like Walt was. His soul was tainted before he ever applied to law school.

James “Slipping Jimmy” McGill is someone who always seems inclined to cut corners, break rules, and cheat to get ahead. That’s something his older brother, Charles “Chuck” McGill, constantly points out over the course of the first three seasons. Every time Jimmy had a chance to do the right thing, he compromised. Just doing the right thing wasn’t enough for him.

Walter White’s decision-making process was similar. In the early seasons of “Breaking Bad,” he showed a reluctance to cross certain lines and go too far. He often found himself pushed or tempted, sometimes by forces beyond his control and sometimes by the consequences of actions. At the end of the day, though, he still didn’t get off that path.

That’s a common thread for many villains in their journey. They find themselves on that path and they see opportunities to leave it, but they choose not to. They don’t seek redemption like a hero would. They just keep making excuses, willfully entering a brutal cycle of corruption and compromise.

Whereas Walt succumbed to that cycle, though, James McGill steadily embraces it. Moreover, he isn’t drawn into that path by tragedy or bad luck. He gravitates towards it. He’s even excited by it. James is at his most animated and charismatic when he’s pulling a con, putting on a show, or crafting a lie. It’s not a necessity like it was for Walt. It’s a thrill.

If James is tempted by anything, it’s the lure of walking the honorable path like his older brother. In fact, Chuck might have been the only positive influence that kept Jimmy from becoming something worse than a sleazy con-man. He and a host of other influence, especially Kim Wexler and Howard Hamlin, play the part of a reverse temptress, trying to keep him off that villainous path.

Early on, there’s a sense that James genuinely wants to be a decent, upstanding lawyer. There are situations where he does the right thing. Some of the causes he takes on, such as a case against an elder care facility that was stealing money from its residents, are objectively noble. In the end, though, doing the right thing isn’t enough for him. The end of Season 1 really cements that.

Walt goes through a similar process early on. Like the “refusal of the call” that heroes experience, Walt attempts to escape the villainous path. However, a combination of circumstances and choices put Walt back on the road towards becoming Heisenberg. By the end of Season 1, there’s a sense that there’s no going back.

Where Walt and James diverge, as villains, it’s how and why they make their choices. Walt becomes Heisenberg because he think he has to, first for his family and later for selfish reasons. James becomes Saul Goodman because he wants to. He tried to be the upstanding lawyer his brother and friends wanted. It just didn’t work for him. Being James McGill just wasn’t enough.

There’s plenty of conflict surrounding those choices. Part of why I love “Better Call Saul” is how it reveals the steady progression from James McGill to Saul Goodman. It doesn’t happen all at once. It doesn’t even happen in a steady, linear narrative. James fluctuates on his journey to becoming Saul. He even hesitates a few times. He still doesn’t avoid it in the end.

That ending, as revealed through the finale of “Breaking Bad” and the flash-forward sequences of “Better Call Saul,” shows one other key distinction between Walt and Jimmy. While both men complete their villainous journey, they both end up in very different places. Walt is dead or at least close to it, as some fan theories predict. However, Saul Goodman’s fate might actually be worse.

In the first minutes of the first episode of “Better Call Saul,” we see what came of James McGill/Saul Goodman after the events of “Breaking Bad.” Gone are the days where he shows up in flashy commercials and hatches elaborate cons on unsuspecting people. Instead, he lives an unexciting, mundane life in Omaha, Nebraska managing a Cinnabon.

Some might argue this is Saul’s personal Hell, trapped in a such a sad and unassuming life. I would say it’s more like his purgatory. In this world, he can’t embrace that villainous persona that gave him so many thrills. Even if he wanted to be that villainous character again, he can’t because it means losing what little he has left.

Just as he frequently did in the early seasons of “Better Call Saul,” James McGill takes the easy way out. Walt tried that too in the last few episodes of “Breaking Bad,” but that didn’t last. He eventually chose to confront the byproduct of his villainous choices. James ran and didn’t look back. The easiest path, in the journey of a villain, is often a coward’s path.

Whether or not James McGill escapes his purgatory or continues wallowing in obscurity remains to be seen. The fact he ends up in this state after undergoing this transformation into Saul Goodman reveals another critical component to the villain’s journey. While the hero ultimately triumphs, the villain eventually loses. It doesn’t always end with them going to jail, but they often endure a less-than-desirable fate.

Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” are both great shows that set a new standard for depicting the evolution of a character into a villain. I won’t claim that “Better Call Saul” is superior to its predecessor, if only because the story isn’t finished. It does, however, accomplish something every bit as remarkable as the story of Walter White.

The process of becoming a villain is a steady, inconsistent journey full of many complications and tough choices. Walter White and James McGill began that journey under different circumstances and ended up in different places. Ultimately, they both crossed lines that sealed their respective fates. It’s tragic in some ways, but it makes for some damn good television.

 

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Filed under human nature, philosophy, psychology, Villains Journey

How To Denigrate Multiple Iconic Romances In A Single Comic

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I love romance. I also love comics. I’ve made my fondness clear for both on numerous occasions. When they’re combined, I’m twice as thrilled. It has proven to be a very potent combination before. Like real life, comic book romance isn’t always done right, but when it works, it’s a beautiful thing.

That’s what I had hoped to see with the release of X-men Gold #30, which was billed as the overdue wedding between Kitty Pryde and Colossus. They’re one of the X-men’s most prominent romances, having a history that spans decades and includes death, resurrection, and being trapped in a giant bullet. I swear I’m not making that last part up.

Earlier this year, I detailed why the Kitty/Colossus romance was so special in annuls of X-men lore. It’s one of those romances that isn’t assumed like Superman and Lois Lane. They have to actually work to make their relationship strong, which makes it feel more real than most superhero couples.

It’s why I had such high hopes for X-men Gold #30. It promised to reward these characters for their love and the work they put into it. Being the romance fans I am, I’m a strong believer in having that kind of effort pay off for a couple.

Sadly, and this was spoiled before the comic even came out, that’s not how things played out for Kitty and Colossus. I don’t mind spoiling it, either. Kitty and Colossus don’t get married. Kitty, for reasons that are more asinine than I can put into words, gets cold feet at the last possible second and calls it off.

She doesn’t even wait until she and Colossus are alone so she doesn’t create this mass spectacle that is sure to humiliate and hurt someone she loves in a very public way. She actually gets to the point where Colossus is about to put the ring on her finger and that’s where she stops it. Short of punching his jaw after being told he can kiss the bride, it’s one of the worst things she could’ve done to this man.

On top of that, Kitty was the one who proposed to him. This isn’t a case where a man pressures a woman into marrying someone or a woman feels pressure from her family and peers. The idea, request, and desire to get married came from Kitty and her being the one to call it off like that, after her friends and family did so much to help her, just makes her look more callous than an entire army of Lex Luthors.

I wish I could provide some context to her decision. I really do. I just can’t find a believable way to make her decision anything other than an act of heartlessness, cruelty, and cowardice. There were no hints, whatsoever, in the events that led up to the wedding that would imply Kitty was having second thoughts. In fact, the events of X-men Gold #29 doubled down on her love for this man.

Then, in just one scene that played out early in X-men Gold #30, it all comes apart thanks to a short, unspectacular conversation with Colossus’ sister, Illyana “Magik” Rasputin. It’s not dramatic. It’s not that revealing, either. Again, I don’t mind spoiling it.

Magik just reminds Kitty that she and Colossus had to overcome a lot in order to get to this point. She also throws in that, if they were meant to be, it would’ve happened already. Bear in mind, Magik is considered one of Kitty Pryde’s closest friends on top of being Colossus’ sister. Even if that remark could be attributed to her alcohol intake, it’s still a terrible thing to say to someone who is about to get married.

It’s one of those comments that shouldn’t have derailed a couple that has worked so hard to be together, but it did. Seriously, that’s all it took to convince Kitty that she had to stop the wedding, in the middle of the ceremony, and in front of all her friends and family. Considering she’s supposed to be a leader of the X-men and one of the toughest female X-men of all time, it’s pretty pathetic.

Her decision and terrible timing, alone, could’ve made X-men Gold #30 one of the least romantic stories in the history of the comics. I still wouldn’t have put it on par with some very disturbing romantic sub-plots that played out in some Spider-Man comics. If breaking off a wedding was all this comic did, I would still appreciate it for how it imparted so much heartbreak into a story.

However, it gets even worse than that. It wasn’t enough for X-men Gold #30 to undermine one of the X-men’s most likable romances. It actually succeeded in denigrating the entire concept of romance in superhero comics. I know that sounds like an exaggeration on my part, but I’m dead serious.

Yes, Kitty and Colossus don’t get married in this issue. However, a marriage does occur and it is between another iconic X-men couple that I’m actually really fond of. The lucky couple here is Rogue and Gambit. If you watched the old X-men 90s animated series, you understand why that’s a big deal.

Now, I could write several articles on the quirks of the Rogue/Gambit relationship. It’s another one of those romances that has become iconic in its own right. I would even go so far as to put it slightly above the Kitty/Colossus relationship, if only because both characters have had to deal with some pretty unique obstacles, the least of which involves Mystique being Rogue’s adopted mother.

In the context of X-men Gold #30, though, those various quirks don’t really play into the moment. They haven’t even played into any of the events throughout X-men Gold that led up to this wedding. In fact, they only recently rekindled their relationship in a mini-series called “Rogue and Gambit” by Kelly Thompson, which I highly recommend.

Even with that development, though, them getting married at this point would’ve been rushed, forced, and downright inappropriate, given what just happened to Kitty and Colossus. It would’ve given the impression that someone had to get married in this comic. It didn’t matter who, why, or for what reason. It just had to happen to salvage the issue.

To hell with crafting a story that documents the emotional journey two characters make to get to that point. Never mind the fact that other iconic couples have gone on that journey and made for some of the most memorable moments in the history of comics. Just having Rogue and Gambit randomly decide, on the spot, to get married should carry the same weight. If I could write that with more sarcasm, I could.

Again, I want to make clear that I like the Rogue/Gambit relationship. I’m glad their romance is evolving, once more, especially after some of the other characters they’ve been stuck with. The way it was handled, though, and at Kitty and Colossus’ expense, no less, was just downright demeaning to the very concept of meaningful romance.

It sends the message that romance is as interchangeable as a box of frozen burritos. If one doesn’t heat up right, then another one works just as well. It’s not like they’re unique, having unique emotional dynamics and personal journeys specific to multiple characters. One is no more special or meaningful than the other. Again, if I could write that with more sarcasm, I would.

What happened to Kitty and Colossus in X-men Gold #30 was tragic, but it didn’t undercut romance in superhero comics, as a whole. As soon as Rogue and Gambit were randomly thrust into the moment, doing on a whim what took other couples so much time and effort, the whole issue undercut any deeper meaning that both romances had going for them.

Great romance, especially those that go onto become iconic, can’t be the kind of exchangeable gimmicks that can be sold as easily as plastic cups at Costco. Great romance is like the cookies you bake with your grandmother from scratch. There’s work, patience, and a deeper personal touch to the effort.

I get the appeal of throwing in a major twist. Comics, movies, and everything associated with M. Knight Shyamalan have been doing that for years. That appeal isn’t there in X-men Gold #30 because it comes at the cost of treating romance with the same recklessness as super-villains treat their henchmen.

On it’s own, I thought X-men Gold #30 was just really disappointing for how it handled Kitty and Colossus. However, it’s the precedent and the implications that leave me concerned for the future of romance in comics, particularly Marvel. If this is how love is treated, as something easily cut and pasted into a plot, then I worry for other comic book couples that may face similar denigration.

Here’s to hoping that the upcoming wedding between Batman and Catwoman sets a better precedent.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Love Or Obsession, Marriage and Relationships, romance, X-men

What “Guardians Of The Galaxy” Can Teach Us About Character Development

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What makes a character great, iconic, and memorable? Think of your favorite character from your favorite movie, novel, or TV show. Why do they stand out? What is it about them that just makes you want to hug them, love them, and reenact every scene from every porno ever made since 1982? Take all the time you need. I imagine it involves some fairly extensive thought, among other things.

Creating these kinds of characters is one of the greatest challenges that any director, producer, or aspiring erotica/romance writer can face. It doesn’t matter how great the story is, how awesome the action sequences are, or how gratuitous the nudity is. If there’s no iconic character, then the story just won’t have the kind of impact you’ll feel in your heart or your loins. Just ask Michael Bay. Better yet, ask Megan Fox.

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That’s why I’ve often seen characters as the bedrock on which any great story is built. In the same way you can’t build the Empire State Building on a mountain of soft, unstable shit, you can’t craft a great story without lovable, memorable, and iconic characters.

I’ve certainly tried to create those kinds of characters in my novels. Stories like the ones I craft in “Passion Relapse” or “Skin Deep” rely heavily on developing strong characters with strong motivations. I won’t say those stories succeeded. I’ll leave that up to the readers, but that process may very well determine how my career as an erotica/romance writer plays out.

That brings me to the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies. I know that’s not much of a segway, but cut me some slack. When you’re trying to relate the challenges of character development with a movie that has both a talking tree and a raccoon with a machine gun, there’s only so much you can do in terms of transitions.

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For those of you who have been under a rock and/or in a coma, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is the biggest surprise hit in movies since some guy named George Lucas convinced movie producers that audiences wanted to see space battles, Wookies, and light sabres.

The first movie came out in 2014 and made $773 million worldwide. For a movie based on a team of obscure comic book characters that nobody outside the most hardcore of comic book fans knew existed. They are not the Avengers. They are not the X-men. They were the D-list of D-list characters.

The story of how they ended up being one of the biggest franchises that didn’t come from the mind of George Lucas or Stephen Spielberg is epic in and of itself. It might have simply been a matter of pragmatics, given how Marvel doesn’t own the movie rights to all its iconic characters.

Whatever the circumstances might have been, though, James Gunn and Marvel Studios managed to create another blockbuster franchise for Marvel and Disney. For a couple of companies that are never satisfied with just a few billion dollars here and there, that’s saying something.

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The success is undeniable. Just this past week, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” came out and generated $145 million domestically on top of the $427 million it had already generated worldwide. I saw the movie the day after it came out. It’s fun, it’s heartfelt, and it’s dramatic in the best possible way. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s well-worth your time.

In watching this movie and its predecessor, though, I saw something that was actually more remarkable than a raccoon with a machine gun, if you can believe that. I saw, in my opinion, a case study on how to develop endearing, memorable characters that will both entertain audiences and make them care less about overpaying for popcorn.

The best example, in the context of the first two movies, is Peter “Starlord” Quill, who is played by Chris Pratt. That fact alone is both remarkable and telling because before “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Pratt was best known as that chubby dork from “Parks and Recreation.” In a sense, though, the journey of the Andy Dwyer and that of Starlord tell a similar story. One just has a lot more sex appeal than the other.

When both “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Parks and Recreation” start out, both Starlord and Dwyer aren’t presented as likable characters. One is an admitted thief and outlaw. The other is a selfish slacker. On the surface, they give no reason as to why we should hope they succeed at anything that doesn’t involve severe head trauma.

That changes quickly though, especially for Starlord. Shortly after the story begins in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” we start to see that he isn’t just some renegade outlaw looking to steal things, blow stuff up, and swim in a pool of orphan tears. He’s just trying to get by in a galaxy full of rough circumstances.

He and the rest of his crew, including the talking tree and raccoon, are all in a similar boat. They’re not out there looking for baby seals to beat with baseball bats. They’re just trying to get by, making as much money as they can with their limited skills and jaded reputations.

Sure, it leads to a clash that nearly destroys a planet, but that’s not their fault. Those are just more rough circumstances, coupled with an insane alien religious zealot with a big ass hammer. It’s every bit as ridiculous and entertaining as it sounds.

That situation, as well as their lot in life, is a big reason why Starlord and his ragtag team of outlaws gain so much appeal. It’s also a major factor in what made the story so great. These characters, especially Starlord, aren’t born as princes, prodigies, or heirs. They don’t just start at the bottom of the social ladder. They start in a deep hole right under it.

Starlord had a lot of shit luck early on. He never knew who his father was as a kid. His mom died of cancer. Then, a team of alien bounty hunters abducted him and made him their personal bitch for most of his life. He’s not just an underdog. He’s someone that even other underdogs spit on.

That makes his efforts to find a better lot in life, including those involving crime, both understandable and justified. There’s almost no other way for Starlord to pull himself up and carve out a better story for himself. He has to be an outlaw of sorts. Having Chris Pratt’s sex appeal is just a nice bonus.

However, the outlaw persona is not the core of Starlord’s character. It’s never more than a secondary trait at best. Starlord is still a hero in the sense that when the situation gets tricky, his first inclination is to do the right thing. When what he thinks is just a simple heist turns into a galaxy-threatening crisis, he doesn’t need any coaxing. He wants to do the right thing.

That doesn’t just make him heroic. That makes him endearing. That makes him someone we can root for. That makes him someone we can get behind. In terms of creating an iconic and endearing character, Starlord checks all the right boxes and so do much of his teammates, including the talking tree. Given Groot’s limited vocabulary, that’s quite an accomplishment.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” takes that effort a step further by having Starlord meet up with his long-lost father. It both expands on the origins that began in the first movie and adds greater emotional appeal.

The first movie succeeded in making Starlord a character we can root for. That meant that even before the second movie began, we as an audience were already rooting for him. We wanted him to find his father. We wanted him to have the kind of relationship that he wanted with his father.

I won’t spoil the key details of the movie, but I’ll just say that the this sentiment is what makes the story in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” especially devastating. However, it’s devastating in the best possible way because it reminds us how much we were rooting for this character.

We all wanted Starlord, a guy who lived most of his life in the armpits of society, to achieve that happiness he sought. When the devastating truth comes out, it hurts both him and the audience. We empathize with his plight and we share in the devastation.

This is the most potent manifestation of a character that any novel, movie, or TV show can achieve. When it gets to a point where the audience shares in the struggle and plight, it becomes more than just an entertaining story. It becomes personal.

Starlord’s journey might not have been the same as Superman, Captain America, or even Luke Skywalker, but it’s a journey we shared. It’s one that evoked all the right emotions within us. That’s why it was so effective. That’s why James Gunn, Chris Pratt, and Marvel are now swimming in a fresh pool of money.

There are many lessons that can be learned from movies like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and not just those espoused by talking trees. As an aspiring writer, I want to create characters like Starlord that readers want to root for. I want a character whose pain and pleasure will be felt by everyone who reads it.

It’s not an easy feat to accomplish. I’ve made a concerted effort in every one of my novels. I won’t say I’ve succeeded yet. I won’t say I’ve failed either. However, I do feel there’s plenty of room for improvement. I’ll just have to figure out how to do it without the aid of a talking raccoon with a machine gun.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes

The Reasons And Excuses Of Character Development

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Think about your favorite character. Whether it’s Superman, King Arthur, or Christian Grey, think about what made that character tick. Why did they do what they do? How did they go about doing it? What was it about those traits that made them your favorite character?

These questions and whatever answers you give, however basic or kinky they might be, is the hot iron from which great characters are forged. You could have the greatest story since the Iliad. You could have a plot so great that Shakespeare himself would lick the dirt off your feet and say it tastes like candy. It still won’t work if the characters aren’t well-developed, compelling, and iconic.

In fact, being a great character can help them endure piss poor plots and come out unscathed. Superman is the most iconic hero of the 20th century and he was once in a comic where he made a sex tape with someone else’s wife. I swear I’m not making that up. See Action Comics #592 and #593. Who else but Superman could come out of that and remain iconic?

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I celebrate the power of great characters because they are, by far, one of the hardest parts in the creative process. As an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I can attest that this part of crafting a novel is more demanding than tongue kissing a lizard after dental surgery. I probably three times as much energy on crafting the characters compared to the overall plot.

This brings me back to the concept of reasons versus excuses. I said in my first post about the concept that it would apply to erotica/romance novels. I may have an excessive fondness of superhero comics, football, and beer, but I’m a man of my word.

Think back to your favorite characters again and apply that concept to their actions, emotions, and motivations? How many of those traits qualify as reasons? How many of them qualify as excuses? How many are a little of both? If the answers are all over the place, then that’s further proof that the character is compelling and well-developed.

That should be abundantly clear because a great character is like an explorer on a journey with no GPS and a map with gravy stains on it. A lousy character is a glorified rat in a maze whose soul purpose is getting to the cheese. One is inherently more interesting than the other and unless you’re also a rat, you know which is which.

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I’ve learned in my own experience with character development that you can’t have characters completely driven by excuses. That would give them the maturity of a 7-year-old on a toy store. You also can’t have them driven completely by reason either. That would make them as bland as robot with no personality or sex appeal.

Great characters, no matter what the genre or style, have a potent blend of reasons and excuses. Soldiers and warriors like those in Greek or Chinese myths are driven by duty. Those are tangible reasons. They’re also driven by more obscure concepts like honor, hubris, and ambition.

Then, you have characters who are students, parents, lovers, cowboys, business tycoons, athletes, and even prostitutes, like in my novel, “The Escort and the Gigolo.” They have reasons that are tangible and useful for doing what they do. They go to class because they’re students. They practice for a big game because they’re an aspiring athlete. They have sex with a lonely housewife because they’re paid to do so.

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When it comes to excuses, that’s where the complexity really expands. Excuses help explain why someone is a certain type of student, a certain style of athlete, or a certain kind of prostitute. Not all students, soldiers, and prostitutes are the same. They have different motivations for doing what they do. They have just as many motivations for why they do it.

Sure, a student is a student because they have to be, but that same student could be an overachiever because they want to be the next Elon Musk. That’s both an ambitious dream and an excuse, but it’s also helps guide the character. Not every student wants to be the next Elon Musk so the way this character conducts themselves will be distinct.

With respect to erotica/romance, the blend of reasons and excuses gets a lot more potent, not to mention sexy. As hard as it is to create compelling characters with the right mix of reasons and excuses, creating two compelling characters and having them hook up in a believable way is just adding more moving parts to a machine that can blow up in your face if you let it.

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Any story can just have two random people come together and have sex. That’s basically the plot of every porno ever made. However, porn isn’t crafted with the aim of telling compelling stories or crafting elaborate plots. It’s designed solely to make other people horny on the most basic level. Erotica/romance has to be ten times more elaborate while still making people horny. It’s a hell of a juggling act to say the least.

Take two characters from my book, “Skin Deep.” Ben Prescott and Mary Williams are the primary romance in the story. They both have similar reasons for wanting to be together. They’re both functional, non-sociopath humans. They seek connection, intimacy, and understanding with others. They able console one another when they’re in difficult, vulnerable situations.

Those reasons help make their chemistry believable. Beyond the reasons, though, the excuses add more layers to that chemistry. Ben was not that attractive at the start of the story. He didn’t have a lot of confidence. He’d basically accepted that Mary, who is described in the book as “a young Carmen Electra,” is way out of his league.

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On Mary’s side of things, she knows she’s attractive. She knows she’s popular. She’s not with Ben in the beginning because she feels as though she should be dating the kinds of meathead guys that beautiful women are supposed to date. It’s an excuse because it’s built on a shallow assumption. Even though others around her completely understand and accept it, that doesn’t make it less of an excuse.

Later in the book, without getting too deep into spoiler territory since I do want people to buy it, there are some cold, inescapable reasons that essentially force them to re-evaluate how they feel about each other. They make excuses to avoid it. They make other excuses to embrace it. In the end, though, it makes for some pretty passionate moments.

The process of developing that romance was not easy. It had a lot of moving parts, a lot of moving targets, and a lot of graphic nudity. That only made it more satisfying when I completed the story. That’s another thing about crafting great characters with a solid blend of reasons and excuses. When you feel you’ve made one, you feel like you just got to polish the shine on Jennifer Lawrence’s ass. It’s a great feeling.

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With my upcoming book, “Passion Relapse,” which comes out on April 18th, I feel I’ve created two strong characters who come together for all the right reasons with all the right excuses. I made it a point to make sure that the way they come together and how they come together feels genuine. I hope those that read it are as satisfied at the end as I was when I completed it. If you can keep your pants on, then consider that a bonus.

Whether you’re writing your own novels, crafting your own erotica/romances, or just celebrating your favorite fictional characters, understanding their reasons and excuses can go a long way towards appreciating them even more. It also ensures that when they hook up with someone whose just as compelling, it’ll be that much sexier.

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Filed under Reasons and Excuses