Wearing a Duck

February 7, 2011

Remember that great scene in My Favorite Year: Benny Stone, freshman writer on King Kaiser’s Comedy Cavalcade finally has a date with the girl of his dreams. She regrets that she is the one person working at the show who isn’t funny. He says anybody can be funny. He’ll teach her a joke. “A guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office with a duck on his head. The psychiatrist says, ‘Can I help you?’ And the duck says, ‘Yeah, can you get this guy off my ass.’” She laughs, he prompts her to tell it back to him. She straightens her dress a little in an endearing ‘here we go’ maneuver and begins: “A man walks into a doctor’s office wearing a duck.”
Homaged here in Studio 60

…Sorkin goes on to explain the phenomenon:
You can’t tell a joke. Like a young child, you hear it, get it, and then can’t reconstruct the moving parts.

This is what we’re facing in mainstream comics. A real writer comes along, say Jeph Loeb. He crafts a cunning mystery, putting the long-neglected theme rogues front and center, and weaves in a heartbreaking tragedy of Bruce’s inability to trust following the structure best suited to the purpose: Aristotelian tragedy. Since a good mystery requires a good red herring, he constructs one tailor-made to grab the fanboy’s attention and keep it rived on the ball in my RIGHT hand. He teased the one thing that all sane comic readers knew would never happen, he teased breaking one of the 3 commandments, he teased Jason Todd was still alive. He then revealed the image they were all waiting for – if Jason were alive today, what would he look like – in a full page at the very end of the issue, giving them a full month to fizz and and enjoy themselves. Then he went on with his story… that’s what storytellers do.

Here’s what comics writers do: not understanding how any of the moving parts worked, they latched onto things at random: it was the character of Hush himself, not the mystery that made it such a success. And the return of Jason Todd! Like Pacific Islanders lining an improvised runway with torches and sitting a guy on the end with coconuts strapped to his head like headphones, thinking it will make planes land filled with supplies – you know, the way it did during the war. It looks just like it used to, why don’t the planes come?

Last week’s blog, I quoted the late John Barry bemoaning modern composers who are “just playing with notes.” Yesterday I posted a quote of Aaron Sorkin about those demonizing education and intellect. We have a PROBLEM here: people allowed to write, edit and manage major comic titles who have not learned the basics of their own craft – and who scoff at the idea it is necessary. Not only have they been allowed to ruin something that was once a pleasure for thousands of ex-readers, they have taken up a slot that could have been filled by competent and talented writers who would appreciate it.

Chris Dee

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