Ambidextrous: Original Ideas and Influences

Ambidextrous: Original Ideas

So, I finally broke down and read the Mystery in Space trade that’s been on my shelf for a few months…

I liked it quite a bit and will likely get the next volume, despite some reservations, which have nothing to do with the actual product itself, but everything to do with it being a science fiction comic. Since I started developing Miranda Mercury, I’ve intentionally distanced myself from anything other people were doing (or had recently done) with the genre. Except for what was already in my head before, and a number of very obvious Star Wars related homages, I didn’t want anything else playing influence on how I’m thinking about science fiction worlds and the characters populating them. I’m not silly enough to stand here and proclaim that “A book like Miranda Mercury has never been done before,” as most of the storytelling conceits (tricks, even) have appeared in a variety of places, but while getting it out of the gate, it seemed important to me to ensure that nothing else was in there, fighting to get out. If that makes any sense at all.

Some of this is really a psychotic response to a couple of my earlier works, which mostly channeled, or hell, even outright imitated the books I was obsessed with at any given time. Yeah, I suppose in high school, or even grade school, the best you can do is emulate the material that makes you want to write to begin with, but seriously, in my early teens, I created this teenaged superhero and called him Knightfall. Which tells you a lot about the comics I was reading back then, and that my love for Tim Drake was so great that it sparked the creation of a character that could accurately be described as “Black Robin.” You know…if there was no Batman and a young teenaged hero was forced to fight crime on the mean streets of Chicago and its nearby suburbs with no parental guidance whatsoever. And don’t even get me started on Public Relations, a series about publicly-elected superheroes that I think was little more than a remix of Liefeld’s Youngblood premise, though it’d prove interesting enough to return to over the years.

Some of it is a logical response to the story I had published in Spider-Man Unlimited. There’s this moment where Vulture pulls a gun on Spidey and tries to blast him off the side of this building. I thought it was fairly clever at the time, this image of an old man in a giant bird costume firing a gun at Spider-Man, but it wasn’t until years later, while re-reading Paul Jenkins’ Peter Parker trades, that I learned the exact same thing happened in one of his stories. Now, I’m pretty sure his was written first, and while it’s entirely possible that I just happened to stumble upon the same thing, it’s also possible Jenkins’ story put this in my head in the first place, where it just nested for months and months before gravitating into my short. Which has probably happened to guys much better than me, but obviously, isn’t a good feeling for a developing scribe. It was a small, innocuous element, but the mind is a funny thing and sometimes you don’t even realize just where everything comes from.

Though, despite all the carefully placed eggshells, sometimes it just happens…you and another writer have coincidentally stumbled onto an almost identical idea and unfortunately for you, they’ve gotten there first. For instance…

Around the time I was penning “The Knightfall Saga,” I also had this adventure serial about a young spy, which continued to grow in relative complexity as my meager skills developed over the years. Some of my first notebooks, the not-so cleverly branded “Hit Books,” are filled with rough plots and dialogue bits for about six seasons worth of material. Cause, you know, I thought it’d be perfect for television and wanted to make sure I was ready. Every year of this hypothetical show had a definitive arc, cliffhanger endings, and a continually shifting status quo. Characters died suddenly, survived things they later wish they hadn’t, crossed moral and ideological lines, and occasionally, every once in a while, enjoyed saving the world on a regular basis from terrorist leaders of every race and creed. The main character was following in his father’s footsteps, trying to understand a man that was this walking enigma while he was growing up, and also presumed dead. And I swear to you…JJ Abrams’ Alias is like the exact same show. Only the lead isn’t named Sydney Bristow…and, well…isn’t female…or white.

When it launched, I just missed it for some reason or another, only catching promos, a piece of the Tarantino episode, and some stuff on the ‘net. But over the years, the more details I heard about it, the more I started thinking, “Man, that sounds exactly like my ____.” After a while, I just broke down and got the first two seasons on DVD. I thought they (and most of the third season) were fantastic and they now sit proudly on my shelf next to certified classics like Buffy, The X-Files, and five seasons of 24. Much as I enjoyed them though, that little teenaged dude who’d filled up notebooks with ideas for his own spy show pouted a little, but that’s the game---any writer with a great idea is really in an intellectual race to give their ideas permanence before someone else does. Cause as novel and inventive as any idea is, there’s a good chance ten other dudes are thinking about the exact same thing. And really, that’s the number if you’re lucky. Blame Ideaspace, or whatever, but every aspiring writer is bound to have their notions show up in their favorite comic, movie, TV show, etc., while vying to become the professional writer that continually does the same thing to other people.

Perhaps it’s the creative circle of life, but in this very personal case, the only thing I could do was change my idea. Lot of it was written during the haze of youth anyway, which probably will make the process a little easier, but I’m no longer imagining it as a television show. There is a definite place for it that should effectively distance it from Alias without losing any of the core elements, but around that time the only consolation was that I really loved the show. Because if I hadn’t, no question I’d be a lot more irritable about the whole thing. This is why you’re told never to fall completely in love with an idea, because you have to be mentally prepared to drown your own babies…for their own good of course.

Which really is the thing about Miranda’s little hiatus that makes me nervous---the very real possibility that I’ll see some aspect of the book’s initial arc in someone else’s book first. Or the one after that, or the one after that, cause I tend to think in broad strokes and Lee and I have plotted things out far beyond our humble six issue beginnings. And if we can make it there, it’s incredibly important to me that the characters and the universe feel like a true extension of my influences and not a regurgitation of them.

And obviously, staying away from sci-fi material isn’t any kind of foolproof plan, but hopefully when used in conjunction with my finger crossing method; the true potential of Miranda Mercury can be realized before too long. And our names will be on it when you see it for the first time.

Next: A series of columns based on my many misadventures attempting to break into comics, in the fervent hope that someone could actually learn something from them. Also, making plans to read the entire run of Y- The Last Man in a couple weeks, and have a notion that might make for another fun series of pieces. But even before that, something tentatively titled What It Is…

Back soon.

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