Chef Josh Grinker recently blogged a list of “Things Chefs Don’t Want You To Know.” The explanation for #1 (There is butter in everything) began like this:
In every culinary school in America, they hammer home the same three-word mantra to students day after day, year after year, until it’s like a little voice in your brain that guides virtually every culinary decision you will make for the rest of your career: ‘Fat is Flavor.’
Now, this isn’t a cooking blog, and if there are any nutrition proselytizers out there who want to make the case for their fat-free, salt-free, gluten free, lentil and tofu roulade being just as tasty as a deep dish with pepperoni and sausage from Giordano’s, they can lump it. Because there are two key elements in Grinker’s statement which are the gateway to serial success or—in DC Comics’s case—serial failure.
First of all, the three little words are true. I could spend a day perusing the Good Eats clips on youtube for Mr. Science-style demonstrations explaining that reality molecule-by-molecule, but again, this is not a cooking blog. The point is, regardless of what you say on the convention floor, no matter what you put in the press release or tell the columnist from IGN, and no matter what would be convenient for you personally or professionally, no matter what creates a political pain in the ass for you personally or professionally, the bedrock principle on which you base your decisions has to be TRUE. One example off the top of my head: readers like the theme rogues. You can accept that and build your one year arc around Croc, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Joker, Harley Quinn, Riddler, and Two-Face and be on your way to the hit of the decade, or you can reject it, stage a parade of faceless mobsters and serial killers, and then grouse that grumble that you’re never as popular as that other guy.
Assembling the list of wrong ideas DC has about life, the universe, and everything would be a daunting task, and not necessarily a productive one. Because the second key in Grinker’s statement is that repetition of the founding principle(s) until it becomes an instinct. There are some major figures out there who are so consistently wrong in everything they say and do, they’ve definitely got the instinct mechanism working, it’s just based on faulty base principles.
From “Bruce Wayne is the mask” to the fallacy of Millerism, they have core ideas, those ideas just happen to be wrong. But there are others who have no little voice leading them in any direction. They go from mediocre to pretty good to clinically insane, from really bad to slightly above average to “oh hell, the syphilis got to their brain.” That is the mark of a writer, editor, or manager who is stumbling blind. They have no root principles, so every choice brings them back to square one. They’re a ping pong ball in a wind tunnel, and whatever gusts hit them last will determine where they go next.
Look, things do change in this world. One of the major reasons the Titanic went down is because everything Captain Smith knew was wrong. It was based on based on 30 years of experience, but on that ship on that voyage in those waters: wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. But here’s the catch: other things do NOT change. There is a reason the term is bedrock principles. Some things simply are, they are constants, they do not alter. “You know how you cook a great steak? You slather it in butter, throw it on the grill, paint it with more butter.” Because fat is flavor. The principles of storytelling do not change. Going home. Coming of age. Sin and redemption. The hero. The power of love. They are hardwired into us, just like our taste buds process sweet, sour, bitter, and salt. Can a new voice come up with something startling and creative and unprecedented? Absolutely. Can they invent a fifth taste? No. No, they can’t. Can they make it so we don’t like sweet anymore? No, no they can’t.
Find the true bedrock principles, repeat them until they become a little voice in the back of your mind shaping every decision you make, and you might just rock the world. Insist that fat isn’t flavor… well, enjoy your empty restaurant.
Meanwhile, the Cat-Tales kitchens are bustling these days. Electron 29: Chapter 4 is out. Compilations of Books 1 through 4 are out in ebook formats for Kindle, Sony, Nook, iPhone/iPad/iPod, and pretty much everything as well as new print-ready pdf editions. Individual Tales 1 through 50 are also available, and several have new covers showcased here, here, and here. The last ten tales (through #60) will be out – both individually and as the Book 5 Compilation – in time for Christmas. New installments of both spinoffs: Capes & Bats by Wanders Nowhere and Don’t Fear the Z by Random Equinox are in the pipeline and may actually be out by the time you read this, and an amazing new artist is soon to debut in the Fan Art Gallery. And oh yes, Batcatfever will kill me if I don’t mention that the forums have been quietly devouring the latest snippets from Batman: The Brave and the Bold.