Saturday, November 29, 2008

The View From the Ivory Tower

This post was supposed to show up yesterday. (In fact, I can leave it with its original time stamp for the 29th if I so desire... which I ended up doing because I forgot to fix the time stamp before hitting the post button. Whoops.) Problem is, I'm stealing the internet! He who lives by pirated wi-fi, dies by pirated wi-fi. No connection meant no posting.

The other delay came from my grandmother and aunt playing against type and shopping lightning fast. These two are grand masters of social shopping. "Talking to the wonderful people in line is half the fun!" said my grandmother. (I'm paraphrasing, of course, but trying to be as accurate as memory will allow.) Thinking they would be gone for hours, I sat down to write an essay and have a long chat with my aunt's partner, a kindred spirit in the anti-shopping mindset. Thinking I had hours to meander around before getting to my point, I launched into a back story for context. Didn't even finish with that before the shoppers were back. How rude! Anyway, by the time I got back to the laptop, wi-fi was dead.


One criticism I am sure to face when I unleash Precocious on the populace will be the justified accusation that it's all just too negative. Another will be that the strip is unbearably elitist. This would be when I giggle.

An artist can't help but project themselves into their work, and Precocious is very much the dark and twisted workings of my head on display. I like my humor like I like my coffee - intensely dark, then corrected with cream and sugar!

My characters are mean, violent, snotty, inconsiderate and foolish. The nice and redeemable characters either have their good natures abused or are treated like an outright enemy! What is wrong with me? People, please! Conflict is funny.

Precocious was created when I was around 11, and the underlying theme remains the same: It's all about classism. Not only do we have clear divides among economic brackets in the elitist-sounding Gemstone Estates, but we have intellectual elitism on display with the children attending the incredibly elitist-sounding Poppinstock Academy. Who are the worst enablers of this? My main characters! They outright ignore those not like them, down to pretending the other side of their classroom doesn't exist!

That would be the intensely dark coffee mentioned before. The cream comes in the form of the treatment. I'm making fun of myself via proxy with this strip. As much as I like to let my pride prop me up, doing so means I miss so much in life. If you take me out to a bar, I'd likely embarrass myself because I've always dismissed bars as being a home for the base elements. No, in reality the bar is just another social gathering place for all types! I think Dana's amazing story of love and happiness can prove I'm a damned fool.

The reason my kids come off as negative is because their attitudes are foolish. Autumn keeps getting her comeuppance for her competitive streak. Bud is decidedly warped because of his tendency to isolate himself. Jacob's desire to be a part of some grand design often ends with him spending energy on pointless endeavors. Tiffany's space cadet nature can also be seen as a consequence of pure self-indulgence. If I had made my children sweeter, that would imply their intellectual isolation was a *good* thing. These kids satirize the faults intellectuals can have. Intelligence is a wonderful thing. Knowledge as a weapon (the tagline of my strip) cuts both ways.

The character of Max is vital to Precocious. He's a saint and, aside from some blind optimism that strays from realism, he has no personality flaws. My official character biography calls him "history's greatest villain." Max is the control character that needs to pop in every so often to confirm that it's *my* kids are whacked. Later on, the other side of the classroom will also contribute. Kaitlyn Hu is fully sane and perceptive; she's the good Bud. Vincent Iddenstein and Yvette Nutely have their quirks, but they're also good at heart - it's Tiffany and Jacob with creamy souls! Quincy Wozwax is overly competitive, like Autumn, but even he's remarkably social with his nerdy world.

Now for the sugar in this equation. While my characters are often seen as irredeemably evil, there's no way a strip like that can persist without suffocating under its own darkness. The main kids *are* redeemable and they do have souls. Their elitism is the tragic flaw that causes their downfall time and time again; not something that will doom them to a lifetime of evil. They talk big and talk bad, but it's more dark humor than pure evil. They are "haters" that bandy about insults and harsh words freely - but it's not so bad because they all understand the rules of the hater's game. As I've always put it, they hug by hitting! They're normal, but this version of normal is skewed into the darkness.

A Calvin and Hobbes strip once had Calvin remarking how a little bit of antagonism could make any boring conversation into something exciting. The final panel had Calvin beaten into the ground, claiming his point was proven. That's what I'm going for!

For this pilot episode, I've done my best to throw in subtle clues to this. Bud remarks that their conflict is the "current" war, implying they do this all the time. The kids spend more time arguing semantics (and writing official documents) than actually fighting, because the challenge in building a grand scheme is more important than the negative fighting. When it's all over, they walk off content, wondering what they should do for fun the next day. In the end, they just wanted a water balloon fight - but they had to set it up in their way. Just like me, they can't tackle a normal task without doing something foolish to turn it into an epic event.

Even so, the redeemable aspects of my main kids might be *too* subtle. This is where Dionne, Suzette and Roddy enter the fray. If I have Max and Kaitlyn on one end, showing the contrast between my kids and well-adjusted people, I need to have some negatives on the other end to prove my children have sweetness and innocence in them as well.

Dionne is wonderful for that. She is fully aware than my kids talk a good game, but could never fully devote themselves to the path of evil, and she is delightfully malicious in exposing it! Dionne plays the evil game better than anyone, and she'll always win.

Suzette is the big red "Do Not Touch" button personified, always a risk to fly off the handle. She may have *small* point in claiming she's a victim of circumstance, but when she gets worked up her fire burns bright and hot. Again, while my kids scream at each other all the time, none can match the fury of Suzette.

Roddy's role as the outsider helps put my kids' quirks into perspective. He is usually right in pointing out how their attitudes and behavior are unhealthy and unkind, but his bitterness over the whole thing constantly makes him look worse. Roddy doesn't understand the "hater" mindset is another way to have fun, so he's eternally frustrated. Roddy is also my concession that this strip is far from normal. His frustration is fully justified, but he'll never be able to win until he understands of the insular bubble created by the Sapphire Lake kids.

I like my coffee as the intense dark roast, with double cream and one sugar. Get it?

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