After the success of the first Table Talk with questions from readers, Barry Reese, Bobby Nash and Mike Bullock decided to continue taking questions "from the audience" every now and again. This week, the guys tackle the topic of archetypes and working with different characters.
***Question (Josh Bell): Pulps, and subsequently comics, have quite a long history of recycling a lot of material when an idea proves successful. Sometimes, I think the end result grows into its own, my favorite example being Ka-Zar, whom I love almost as much as Tarzan. Though he started out as a very close imitation of the pre-eminent Jungle Lord, his revamp by Stan and Jack in the 60's led to him being, in my opinion, an engaging character in his own right. Closer to the pulp home, the Spider is obviously very similar too and inspired by the Shadow, right down to the slouch hat and twin .45's. This said, the Spider ultimately took a different direction than his predecessor. Still, for every Ka-Zar and the Spider, there are loads more incarnations of the pulp archetypes that fall flat. Do you guys, as the current guardians of pulp fiction, think that the recycling of archetypes is a good thing, as they can serve to reinforce what pulp is all about, or a hindrance, given that it can be seen to lack originality?
Bobby: I think all of the basic types of characters have been done in one form or another. I’m hard pressed to look at any new character and not be able to see some other character that either served as inspiration or is similar, but the similarity is simply a coincidence. Hey, it happens. Ka-Zar may have started out as a Tarzan clone, but he became something different as the character grew and now Ka-Zar and Tarzan are similar only in the fact that they operate out of the jungle.
Barry: I've heard there's nothing new under the sun. I think archetypes have power and it's okay to utilize them as long as you bring something new to the table at the same time. Plus, analogues allow us to do stories with characters that we'd never be able to touch otherwise. My Revenant character is "my" version of Lee Falk's Phantom but she's developed far past that. But it's creative shorthand to explain her that way.
Mike: I'd have to quibble a little bit with the use of the word "archetype" here. I don't really think there are any pulp archetypes. For me, the archetypes for characters go back thousands of years, back to the old Greek tragedies. While Doc Savage and Phantom are built from those archetypes, they in and of themselves aren't ones.
From there, I'd toss out that I build a lot of my characters from the original archetypes, as have countless creators before us, including a lot of the original pulp authors. By doing that, we're not recycling so much as we are building on a solid foundation that's lasted as long as the written word.
Of course, your mileage may vary…
Bobby: I’d agree with that. There’s no new character I’m going to create that someone can’t find some aspect of it that exists elsewhere, whether I knew about it or not. That’s just a reality I have to accept. All I can do is tell the best story I can and hope readers like it.
Barry: I think you’re arguing semantics. You could say that every piece of fiction can originally be traced back to mythology. But there ARE modern archetypes – the Doc Savage figure, the perfect man with the cadre of followers – might have mythological origins but that doesn’t mean that in our modern parlance, it’s not an archetype of its own. I think it’s pretty damned silly to dismiss everything from the Greek days on as being unworthy of the term archetype.
Question (Luis Guillermo Del Corral): I would want to write stories about this character, or this another. But... what character would you never write about and why?
Bobby: I don’t have a list of characters lying around that I never want to write. That said, I have, on occasion, turned down writing gigs because I did not feel that I was the right writer for the job. Two instances that come to mind were stories with Peter Pan and Sherlock Holmes. While I like both characters just fine, at the time I was offered those assignments I did not feel like I was the best writer to handle them. So, instead of potentially turning in a sub-par story, I decided to decline the option. Now, that doesn’t mean I would never write these characters. If the option became available again then I might feel differently.
Barry: There are lots of characters that I don’t think I’d have the voice or desire to do correctly. Like Bobby mentioned, I’ve had numerous chances to handle Holmes but aside from a guest appearance he made in one of my stories, I’ve turned all the opportunities down. I love Holmes and re-read the originals all the time but I don’t think I’m the right guy to write him. And there are some characters I just don’t like – The Spider, being one. Could I do it? Sure. I mean, if somebody offered me a million dollars to write The Spider, you can be damned sure that I’d try and find a hook for the story… but it’s not something that I’m looking to do.