Blah Blah Blog – R-E-S-P-E-C-T

A posting from my long-ago Marvel blog concerning an often-thrown-out fan criticism: that creators aren’t respecting the characters they’re working on.


April 28, 2007 | 1:00 AM | By Tom_Brevoort | In General

One of the phrases that gets tossed around a lot in fan communications is “disrespecting the characters.” It’s an effective gauntlet to throw down, regardless of whether you’re talking about relative strength levels, story directions, the number of books that the character is featured in, or whatever, as it sounds really condemnatory, but it can’t actually be measured.

What one reader finds fascinating, another considers “disrespecting the characters.” Said disrespect tends to be a form of transference: because a given reader doesn’t like a particular direction, a particular scene involving their hero, they take it personally, as some sort of a commentary on them and their fellow like-minded fans. “You’re disrespecting the Hulk by letting Thor beat him!” tends to translate most directly into “You are directly challenging my manhood by implying that a long-haired hammer-wielder is cooler than me!”–with whatever story element you’re talking about substituted in. It’s the point at which these particular readers dance their egos too close to the characters, and are unable or unwilling to realize where one ends and the other begins.

The plain fact of the matter is that the characters are all fictional; they’re all lines on paper. It is therefore incredibly difficult to “disrespect” them in this sort of a manner. You can disrespect their histories, you can disrespect their historical importance, but you cannot disrespect them, because they don’t actually exist to take any offense.

From my point of view, the ultimate way to disrespect the characters would be to handle them with kid gloves, never allowing anything bad or challenging or life-changing to happen to them–little remnants of the lost childhoods of the readers who followed their adventures years before, frozen forever in amber. That’s also the best way to kill them. The Marvel characters continue to thrive after 45 years precisely because they’re allowed to continue to live on the printed page. And sometimes, that means there are going to be stories that you, the guy standing next to you, me, the guy standing next to me and everybody else aren’t going to like. But that’s okay–because just like it’s almost impossible to disrespect the characters, it’s also next to impossible to do them permanent unfixable damage.

More later.

Tom B

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