Whose Voice is it Anyway?
Politics and personal views are almost always a touchy subject in any form of entertainment. Most people are against it, especially when the view held by the author goes against their own. But what if you don’t want to insert your stance on an issue, but the view held by one of your characters as a way to give them more depth and show who they are as a character?
That is a good idea, but there is also the problem in that if you are not careful with how you write, readers are going to start thinking that those are your views, even if they go against what you believe in.
I know, because I have made that assumption many times in the past, especially when it comes to authors with a history of inserting long rants arguing for their brand of politics. If I see a character going on and on about a topic for a few panels without being contradicted or challenged in any way then I tend to come to the conclusion that the audience is being preached to.
I have accidentally done this, in an early page of Tnemrot, the character of Dae gives exposition on the premise to catch everyone up, but it’s filtered through his mind and so there is a lot of hatred for the spectators and industry. I made sure to include an author’s note saying this was not me going on a rant but me trying to show how Dae thinks. So the next time he went on one, I made sure Angel was there to challenge him.
But of course, that’s just how I see it, there are other people who may have gotten that I do not agree with everything my protagonists say. But it all depends on how you look at the comic and sometimes it can vary wildly.
Back when I did my straw man column, the webcomic beacon did a podcast where they talked about it (15 minutes in for those interested). When they came to my point about LICD, they dismissed it as the comic tends to be over the top and so they felt anything it said should not be taken seriously. At one point they actually say Sinfest and Ryan Sohmer never use straw man arguments and as such they were automatically bad examples.
Now while I agree with them that the article is not that good, I did admittedly give Dave Willis too much leeway and my definition of straw man use was inaccurate, I do have to wonder if they read it fully instead of just skimming it. But again, that’s just my interpretation. For all I know they completely dissected the thing before they recorded their podcast.
The best bet to keep from giving off mixed messages, especially when you have a history of showcasing your views, is to make sure that someone else is there to offer a different opinion. In the Vertigo series Fables, Bill Willingham loves to write his characters giving his views on warfare and tactics, as well as spying and the very nature of war. However at one point in issue 76, the evil emperor is verbally attacked by a woman whose family were killed as an example. The emperor gives a long monologue about how he killed millions to ensure the safety of billions; he has no regrets for his actions and even compares himself to God.
Just going by the dialogue, the whole thing is almost set up as a straw argument, with the only person arguing against the emperor highly emotional and not making any counter points. But the scene is followed by several panels in which the good characters are silent and it’s clearly written on their faces they’re just now realising exactly what sort of monster they have to deal with. Even without the context of the rest of the issue, the scene clearly identifies who this person is as a character and how we are meant to feel about how he sees the world.
As for webcomics, the only one I can think of that does this well is Darths and Droids. It has a balance of different types of players. While some are presented as more competent and moral than others, their various methods end up benefitting the whole group depending on each situation and everyone is treated as equally valuable.
But I would love to hear what examples you guys can think of.