What If Someone Already Did It?

I’m in the muddy-middle of my developing comic right now. The story almost totally nailed down, and the art for the first chapter (50 or so pages) is well underway. In a way, it’s the hardest part: the end is nowhere in sight, and the initial burst of inspiration has faded away. Around this point, I start to have doubts about what I’m doing. In particular, there’s one doubt that bears a lot of weight in my mind…

Someone else has already done this.

As artists, we are under pretty intense pressure to be creative and original. We want to be groundbreaking geniuses, so that people will marvel and say, “We’ve never seen that before!” But this pressure is so great that our fear of failure (and being labeled uncreative) is paralyzing. It’s so easy to convince myself that the comic I’m working on (heavy on the Victorian romance) isn’t original or unique, and I should go back to the drawing board until I come up with something new.

During one of the low moments, when I feared that I was a total rip-off, I decided to reread Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. It’s a personal favorite of mine, and my way of somehow crossing time to commiserate with both Eyre and Bronte on the troubles of storytelling and men with wives in the attic wait what. But Jane Eyre does more than give me an escape: it reminds me that the number of times a plot has been used doesn’t matter. What matters is that we find the audience who needs to hear that story again.

There’s no limit on a good story.

Jane Eyre is the story of a young woman who grows up in hardship, falls in love only to discover her lover’s dark secrets. After she leaves him (rather than compromise her morals), she inherits a small fortune. She suddenly feels called back to the man she loved, and discovers that his dark secret (and wealth) no longer stands between them. That’s…that’s pretty much it. The story of a young, lower class woman clinging to her virtues and eventually guiding the man to redemption… it’s been done. But instead of throwing the narrative away like an over-played melody, I ask myself…

Does someone still want to hear this story?

The answer will almost always be yes, no matter the narrative. The stories may have been told before (perhaps even told by brilliant storytellers), but there’s something to be said for taking on the role of a contemporary storyteller. Past literature, art, and music are all important parts of where we’ve come from. But why not share what we (you and I) feel and think right now? Bronte and I share a love for a brooding intellectual man: rather than let that commonality be a barrier for my own stories, why not use it as a building block? Surely my love of Broody McDarkster isn’t that unusual.

So instead of trying to create something that no one has ever seen, I’m trying to do the opposite: I want to tap into universal, timeless stories, with characters that (while not generic or flat) ring with certain familiarity. This isn’t copying. It’s a matter of recognizing the why behind the myths and legends that shape our very cultures. And let’s be honest: there’s no such thing as too many Mr. Rochesters.

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