Monday, April 16, 2012
Right on the edge
So I’m supposed to be working on the Free Comic Book Day story (you’re all showing up for that, right? May 5!), and I’m also working on Volume 2 of Masks, and both projects are going to interesting places.
The FCBD story first got my attention when I got a mental picture of its opening scene, in which a character I know to be one of my most heroic (albeit tragic) is sitting in a dark corner of a bar, trying unsuccessfully to get drunk. It’s his little sister’s wedding day, and he can’t go to the wedding because his family thinks he died in World War II. He’s letting them think that because it’s easier than telling them what actually happened. I’d written a series of stories about this guy when I was a teenager, mapping out his whole life from the day of his birth to his possible death at an advanced age, and the darkness in this scene surprised me. As bad a life as he’s had, I didn’t think he was prone to this kind of despair.
Then the devil sits down next to him and offers him a job.
Not the literal devil. It’s not that kind of story. But it’s someone who plays a big role in the Masks universe, and a man this young hero has come to see as a bit of a personal Mephistopheles, the tempter who leads him into all trouble. And as I sketched out the remainder of the story—the exact nature of the job, and what the young man ends up doing, and the devil’s secret reason for getting him to do it—I realized that I was actually drawing an arc of redemption for my hero, with the devil (of all people) as its agent. And when I sat down to actually write the story, I found I was writing it from the devil’s point of view.
It’s something that mirrors a few of the events in Volume 2 of Masks, although you’ll probably end up being surprised by who rises and who falls by the story’s end.
It seems I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with characters who stand right on the edge between light and dark—literally, in the case of Masks, and a bit more metaphorically in Street of Bakers. I used to know a classics professor who would talk about liminal figures—people and things that only appear when you’re crossing a border from one place to another, one state to the next. Psychopomps and threshold guardians, sentries and scavengers. And the thing about liminal figures is that they’re shape-shifters. You’re never completely sure of who you’re dealing with or what they’ll do next. You have to trust in your own power, or your wisdom, or your cunning, or your god, to pass their tests. And the crazy part is that a liminal figure might turn out to be any of those things. You just don’t know until it’s too late to change your mind.
Makes you watch the edges of the shadows a little more carefully …