All this month at Biff Bam Pop we’re looking at Origin stories – from films and comics and debut albums, to authors and their work. As part of this, writer Michael Moreci has written about the origin of his new series Hoax Hunters (you can read our previous interview with Michael here). For all you aspiring comic book creators out there, this is great insight into one artists’ creative process. Without further adieu, take it away Michael:
Origin stories are boring.
There, I got that off my chest (and I even mean it, in a way).
The necessity of origins stories is an unusual thing, I think, because it’s so exclusive to comics. Not to say other mediums don’t incorporate origins into their narratives (they do), they just don’t have the same level of devotion as comics do. Let’s face it: Comics are obsessed with origins. Year One, Earth One, Season One, reboots, secret origins, on and on. It never stops.
Now, before getting any further, let me preface what I’m about to say with a simple disclosure: I will never, ever be the creator who tracks down reviewers and confronts them about a bad review. Unless the critic gets something egregiously wrong or insults a member of my family, I won’t dissuade—or worse, bully—them from holding whatever opinion they have. So there. That said, I can express some frustration I had over a few reviews of Hoax Hunters #0 in a general way for the sake of this topic.
One of the main points of criticism I encountered (and there weren’t many, thankfully) with that first issue of Hoax Hunters was a perception that the characters weren’t explained in enough detail. A few critics commented about not knowing who Jack, Ken, and Regan were, what their powers were, their status in the Hoax Hunters organization, etc. In short: They wanted the origin story.
Which, in a way, I can’t blame them or any reader for having that expectation. Us comics readers, we’re conditioned to have our stories start at the beginning. We want to know who these characters are, what the central conflict is, how they got into this mutant school/apocalyptic mess/revenge killing spree. We want to know what to expect and feel a sense of familiarity.
And, to me, there’s a lot to lament in that.
Because that conditioning has informed not only how comics read, but how they’re created. I’ve read so many comics—in many genres, from many publishers—where the first issue is an assault of information. The writer seems to leave no stone unturned in terms of setting up, precisely, what the who, what, where, when, and how are and will be. And, hey, sometimes it works. But a lot of times, I read these issues and all I can think is, “slow the f**k down!” Maybe I’m in the minority, but I like stories that allow themselves room to breathe, that open up and reveal different layers, textures, and nuances that weren’t there at first glance. An intriguing, well-paced story is the pinnacle of execution for gifted storytellers. It truly is. But this can’t happen if, in the first 22 pages, creators are expected to be so explicit right off the bat.
That’s something Steve (Seeley) and I consciously avoided in Hoax Hunters. The comic starts in season four of the Hoax Hunters television show, so there’s a history already established from the time you open up page one. Our objective was to dive into a weird, fun story, not cram an issue full of exposition where, say, every character says what they’re thinking as a matter of disclosing information. In Hoax Hunters, the origin stories are there, for each and every character. And we’re going to reveal all that information in due time, as it fits into the larger narrative and makes sense to tell.
Even giving that defence is, to me, a bit strange in its necessity. Let’s take a time out and skip to another medium. Consider Mad Men. I’ll ask one question: Who is Don Draper? We know he used to be Dick Whitman, and we’ve seen pieces of his previous life here and there. His experiences in the war, his “wife” in California. But who is Don? I’ve seen every episode, and I really can’t say. To me, that’s what makes his character so memorable. We don’t know exactly where he’s coming from or why he does the things he does. There’s plenty of room to speculate, but Don is a mystery, an enigma. Not that every character need to be as such, but there’s something to be said for allowing for character ambiguity (and, to note, there’s a difference between being ambiguous and being unclear, something I wish some writers would understand). And Don is certainly not alone—Ben from LOST was a terrific cipher for so long, as was Bullock in Deadwood.
Anyway, that’s my opinion or origins, stated as briefly as I could. So, the question still remains: What is my favorite origin story? It’s always hard to pin down an answer to a question like this, because you’ll always oscillate between so many good selections. But if I had to choose just one, I’d go with Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing.
I know, not a traditional origin. But Moore, in my opinion, is the patriarch of the modern reboot. Granted, he’d probably have an elaborate argument that would disagree with that assessment, but he is a writer who has enjoyed rebooting/reimagining established and/or forgotten characters.
What makes Moore’s Swamp Thing origin so great—at least in this context—is that story actually justifies its existence. The “rebooting” makes clear, simple sense in the Swamp Thing mythos. The twist Moore applies is so perfect that it’s almost obvious—yet somehow it forever changed how Swamp Thing would be understood. That’s what postmodernists do, they break down an established trope to get to its barest essentials, then reimagine from there. No one—and I mean no one—is better at this than Moore.
What’s really interesting is that we don’t even learn about this new origin from the protagonist of the series; the bulk of the story’s beginnings come from Woodrue, Swamp Thing’s enemy. It’s another perfect twist on this postmodern reboot, as it defamiliarizes the reader with the story. You expect to experience the story through Swamp Thing’s perspective, but you don’t. Instead, it’s this pastiche of fragmented, unreliable narrators that help re-create this newly formed Swamp Thing.
That’s all I’ve got! Thanks for reading.
Thanks to Michael Moreci for his time! To find out more about his work, including the ongoing Hoax Hunters series and his new book ReincarNATE, check out his official site here. You can also follow him on twitter @MichaelMoreci.