MY PEN HAS POWERS

All entertainment projects have a bunch of writers at the helm. At some point, (well, every point), those writers encounter decisions about what they show, and how they show it. In creating a piece of fiction, (Or in Dahmer’s case, a true crime series), the writers must decide whose voices they amplify, and whose they suppress. Directors, producers and editors engage in collaborative choices that decide which characters in their stories matter enough to be heard, and who they can push to the sidelines. These are vital decisions that affect the creation, representation, and impact of all the entertainment people consume in their lives.

Oh, and guess what? 

It affects comic writers too. 

A while into writing Lennan & Smallsy Comics, I had an epiphany. I realised that the moment my leaky pen touched the ordinary notebook paper, I had a ton of choices. Of course, an idea always births in my head before pen and paper meet. But once they do, I become the master of how people may perceive my work.

One day, while writing a story featuring Lennan, Justine and Mrs Richards, I drew the last panel, filled in the final bubble, signed my name and called it a day. Until a lightbulb exploded in my head.

I had strangled Mrs Richards. 

Not physically, of course. (That might be someone else’s job. No spoilers, but spoilers. Yep, ouch, I know. But it is a series about domestic violence, so, you know). As my story unfolded, I realised I had staged the scenes to capture the emotions of Lennan, not his mum.

Depending on my particular intentions, sometimes that’s ok. But in this case, it wasn’t. I started out wanting to write a story that had emotional ripples for Mrs Richards. But in crafting scenes based on Lennan’s reaction, I had wiped her out of my own story. 

Now, if you’re thinking, “So what? She’s a cartoon character!” Well, technically you’re right. Mrs Richards isn’t a real lady. However, the suppression of female voice and experience IS a real phenomena in the entertainment industry. And if you start to pay close attention to movies, television shows and books, you’ll see what I mean.

It could be that the cameraman cuts to black before we see the consequences for the woman in the story. It could be the playing down or poking fun at frustrations experienced by women in sitcoms that we mindlessly watch while shoving dinner into our mouths. Or it might be the paper thin way females are written in a male-led novel. When drama strikes in these stories, the male protagonist gets the most airtime, while the female’s arc is forcibly closed, or her reaction hammed up for the sake of cheap melodrama.

This. Infuriates me.

Without giving spoilers, I was surprised and impressed that the team behind Dahmer seemed to care about giving their victims a voice. A key aim of Lennan & Smallsy Comics is to do the same. In an exploration of domestic violence, if I don’t show the impact and lived experiences of victims, then it’s really just a voyeuristic soap opera, with twists and turns to keep your nails bitten down to stubs. 

So, what did I do?

I grabbed my pen, flipped to a new page, and started all over again. 

Tough stuff?

Yep.

But worth it?

Infinity yep.

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