Ranthead: Originality Versus Similarity

As one man how different can each of your works be? If you are writing genre fiction, no matter what genre, aren’t the tropes of said genre going to effect the eventual product whether you are playing against the conventions or wholeheartedly embracing them? I think most people would accept that they go to a genre looking for a knowledge of the things that actually make up that genre to be present in the work. Now extend this to a piece of writing itself — if one man produces several different pieces of work and they are derived from what he can experience, what he can research, and they are influenced by who he is, then is there not going to be a commonality to the pieces just by virtue of that? Does it mean necessarily that if he explores the same area or similar ideas using a different character that he is retreading what he has already done? I don’t think so. I think that the writer obviously feels that he has something new to say or he wouldn’t say it. Of course there is the possibility that a big pay cheque might make someone throw away their artistic concerns regarding something like this but in this particular case I don’t think that this is true. So, to stop dodging the ball and to say what inspired this piece? Some people complaining about the new work of Warren Ellis and saying that it too closely resembles some of his previous creations. Whereas they are arguing that the worlds of for instance Desolation Jones, Transmetropolitan and Doktor Sleepless are only superficially different. I would posit that they are in fact only superficially the same and only if you look at them through a very narrow squint of analysis. So, Ellis likes writing certain types of characters — characters which may or may not bare some resemblance to himself and therefore each other. I think that is a simplistic way to put it. A writer extrapolates a character from an aspect of themselves or from an attitude that they may have to a certain subject but it is very rarely a wholesale transcription; also, given the concerns of the different books, and they do look at different things the build is designed in a different way and to do different things. Transmetropolitan is set in the future but it is concerned with politics, with journalism, with the way information is disseminated with the way the present will be impacted upon by the future. It appears a more extreme future than that of Doktor Sleepless. In the same way that William Gibson now treads ground that is closer to home; deals with technologies not so far removed from those we have today, so to does Ellis’s Doktor Sleepless seem a lot closer and more possible. Transmetropolitan‘s future seems brash and in your face whereas Doktor Sleepless shows a stealthy future, one creeping in under the skin, it actually has two competing futures at play — the one people were promised and the one that has arrived unbidden. I think the fact it is in some ways less brash and confrontational might make it more subversive than it’s predecessor. To shine a light on Desolation Jones, yes he is an outsider … a misanthrope? Maybe. But is that all? I don’t believe so. You see touches of tenderness played out, vulnerabilities. The thing I really appreciate in all of Mr Ellis’s writing is that none of the characters exist in places of moral certitude — they don’t fall into that stupid and childish black hat/white hat polarity that plagues so much writing in comics. It should be no secret to anyone who reads the writing on this site that I like Mr Ellis’s work, and sure he doesn’t need me weighing in on his behalf at all, but it seems to be an attack on the very nature of what it means to be a writer and an artist. The quest for constant novelty in and of itself is a dead-end. I think the newness in each project that Ellis generates is sufficient but it seems that the main drive is to tell a story and I think he does admirably. He produces more than most so I suppose this is an inevitable pitfall — that fans who buy everything will become aware of similarities and fixated on differences as a mark of quality. That seems a shallow and pointless way to read a text. Nuances are ever evident — at least to these eyes. I see differences painted with a subtle brush and I don’t always need broad strokes. If Ellis spent his whole time being wilfully perverse, spinning us through character sets he had come up with on the roll of a dice, events designed to trump what came before then hell he might as well be George Lucas. Lucas has great big shiny differences all over the shop and what are they? The emperor’s new clothes. I like Ellis for what he does, I appreciate the innovations he brings to bear, the way he has made certain things more palatable to me that I might not have read before, but the thing that gets me every time is the story. The story is the thing.

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