Tuesday, September 09, 2008

What was it Picasso said?

Over the past few weeks work on my webcomic has started again. Finally realizing that there’s just no way that I’m going to be able to come up with around $250 for a new tablet any time soon (and the awful realization I was using that as an excuse)…I decided to get back to work.

There are a few things I really do need, however, so until I can get those few, far less expensive items, I decided to actually script the thing as much as possible.

Then today, I found a post on Wil Wheaton’s blog that I thought I’d throw my two cents into. Here’s the excerpt:

“More often than not, when I'm just making stuff up and writing it, I get self conscious and feel like I'm trying too hard. I've had a lot of success coming up with ideas and characters, but when I try to combine them into a narrative form, I get massive performance anxiety. A big problem for me is working on a story for several days, and then realizing, "Oh shit. I'm writing Quantum Leap." or "Motherfucker! This sure was interesting when it was called Enemy Mine."”

This struck a chord with me because it’s something I’ve suffered from the time I first picked up a pen as a five year old.

Most recently, I had a similar crisis to Wil’s when I first read Brad Guigar’s ‘Evil Inc.’ shortly after coming up with the concept for ‘Obsolete’, my own webcomic. My idea was different to Brad’s, but shared a lot of similarities.

In other words, I thought ‘Oh shit! I’m writing Evil Inc.”

What got me past that was an email from Brad himself, who is quite simply one of the nicest guys I’ve ever had the fortune to come into contact with. I saved his email:


Thanks for the very kind words about Evil Inc. :) I'm thrilled to hear that you like it!

That said, I don't see *that* much crossover between our two ideas -- certainly not enough to worry about. So get working. I can't wait to see it! :)


What more did I need? The guy I was so afraid that I was copying openly told me to go ahead with my idea.

We sent another couple emails back and forth over the next couple weeks and, in all seriousness, without Brad’s advice and encouragement, ‘Obsolete’ would still exist only in my head.

I want to point out here that Brad is an actual professional. He’s a busy guy with multiple popular web and print comics, as well as he author and co-author of a couple of great books on cartooning. That he actually took the time to write a few emails to help out a complete stranger shows just how awesome the guy is.

Anyway, with ‘Obsolete; I got lucky…but the chances of getting the go ahead from every creator that you feel your work is too similar to isn’t that likely. The reason I’m writing this post is to state one important point:

As a creator, you can’t be afraid to ‘borrow’.

The simple truth of the matter is that if you’re holding off on writing that novel, comic, screenplay or script until you come up with that one amazing idea that’s totally original and has never been done before…you’re in for a long wait.

It sounds like a cop-out, but there really are no truly original ideas left. What matters is putting your own spin on those ideas, mixing some together, taking a different viewpoint and exploring different themes.

Take any film, any book, any story that was made in the past years and you’ll find another that came before it that it borrows heavily from.

Put it this way. Wil Wheaton gave up on an idea because he felt he was just ripping off ‘Quantum Leap’. Quantum Leap was a TV series about a time traveler trying to get home by ‘setting things right that once went wrong’.

That’s almost exactly the same premise for the 1966 TV series ‘Time Tunnel’. It’s also very similar in concept to the ‘Back to the Future’ movies…and when you actually think of it, every time-travel story ever written.

Now, before you think ‘Back to the Future’ was nothing like ‘Quantum Leap’, you’re right. They both deliver completely different experiences, but consider this:

We have a story where a guy travels in time and gets stuck there. In order to get home, he has to set a number of things right with the help of a friend who is the only one in the scenario who knows he’s a time-traveler.

What did I just describe?

Marty McFly, traveling back in time and having to make sure his parents fall in love with the help of Doc Brown? Or Sam Beckett, traveling back in time and having to help strangers in order to ‘leap’ with the help of Al?

Basically, just create and don’t worry about it. As long as you’re not just changing a few names, your work is as original as anything out there.

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