On History: Stories

By | Tuesday, February 23, 2016 Leave a Comment
This past weekend, I read a pair of short, unrelated posts talking (by Stowe Boyd and Seth Godin) about how people craft stories for themselves. Boyd, utilizing a quote from Graham Swift, suggests that people have to tell stories about themselves as a means to try to achieve longevity. Wherever they go, they leave behind some story or stories about themselves in not only their minds but in the minds of others. Godin then succinctly notes that, as authors of our own stories, we can craft them however we see fit and, if we end up not liking our story, we can change it.

Interestingly, this dovetails off a NerdSync video I caught last week in which Scott Niswander tries to parse out whether Deadpool is an intentional rip-off of Deathstroke. He tracks down quotes from both Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza that seem to contradict one another on this point, but then goes on to note how tricky memory is, and how the seemingly disparate recollections Liefeld and Nicieza have may stem from how they each write the narratives of their own lives.

Niswander also uses Stan Lee as example of this phenomenon as well. "I have said this so often at so many places that, for all I know, it might even be true."

Speaking for my own life, I'm thrilled that I have the ability to do this. Not so much that I want to obfuscate my own past, but rather I can steer the direction of my future. I can craft a story about how I want to live, and change my behaviors to match up with the hero in that story.

On the flip side, this makes doing research extraordinarily difficult. I mean, just try to parse the who-did-what debate between Lee and Jack Kirby! Not only did those two men have different personal narratives of what happened, but everyone who's weighed in on the matter has their own narrative as well. (This is why those discussions descend into flame wars so frequently. The question itself is not so much a problem as it is that you're challenging their personal narrative of how they arrived there.)

A lot of the great comic creations have similar problems in their origins. That's why we still keep hearing about Superman's ownership in court, even though the guys who created him died decades ago. That's why we only just got a book about Bill Finger co-creating Batman a few years ago. That's why digging up court documents about what Will Eisner actually said about creating Wonder Man is important. That's why combing through Fredric Wertham's papers in the Library of Congress to compare and contrast against Seduction of the Innocent is worthwhile.

The comic stories creators craft can be incredibly entertaining and engaging and enlightening and engrossing. But the personal stories they craft can be equally frustrating and flummoxing and fallacious and fallible.
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