So yesterday I released the latest chapter of Wayne Rises. It is one of those occasional Cat-Tales episodes that is shown entirely from Selina’s point of view—which brought a very gratifying compliment. A reader messaged me saying how unique Selina’s first person voice is, compared to the noirish voiceover that is a staple of comic books, graphic novels, and “slum-dweller P.I.” fiction.
It started me thinking, because I agreed that the bulk of those comic narration boxes are very much the voice of the old film noir private eyes, and I agreed that Selina’s voice is nothing at all like either. But I really didn’t know why, and this person had paid me quite compliment, so I wanted to know why. And so, catlike, I started pawing the ball of yarn:
It is certainly one of the ironies of modern comics that those who are most opinionated about old school, costumed theme-rogues being outdated relics are the most prolific with the dustiest, most overdone, moth-eaten, formulaic cliché of all: the noir voiceover. That cynical self-deprecating monologue of the loner-loser whining about what a crappy life he has, with just enough snide in his tone that we’re not supposed to realize he’s engaged in such an unmanly activity as whining like a bitch.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Bogey. I love his Sam Spade, Fred McMurray’s Walter Neff, and William Holden’s Joe Gillis. But that was about 12 Presidents ago. It’s been done. A lot. And frankly…
(I’m about to fulfill the worst fears of the most terrified macho men in comics by daring to posit that they can learn something from females. This is girly wisdom, fellas. If you’re man enough to hear it… )
…there is a reason that bridesmaid dresses suck. To make the bride look prettier standing next to her salmon-and-fuschia-taffeta-ruffled attendants.
You hear what I’m saying, fellas? None of you are Dashiell Hammett. None of you are John Huston or Billy Wilder. And absolutely none of you are Bogey. You really don’t want to be standing next to them quite so often. You really don’t want to be standing next to them every bloody chance you get.
But back to Cat-Tales . One of the big differences with Selina’s voice is that it’s not self-deprecating. This is not a self-loathing loser disappointed in her life, who has thrown in the towel on even trying to enjoy it or take pleasure from her world. On the contrary, she revels in her world—as the reader presumably wants to, or why else would you decide to read this thing?
And that’s when I saw it. She’s Edith Wharton…
The narration of those ‘peaches and cream’ novels of manners is as unique, once you know it, as is the hardboiled P.I. It’s an insider whispering in our ear as we enter the ball room—whispering all the secrets of this strange new world, knowing but not cynical—letting us in on the gossip, because that is the fun of these parties, after all.