Tuesday, December 14, 2004

duel vision

The inherent difficulty in any collaborative effort is the diminishment or mistranslation of authorial vision. Take, for example, a comic book. The only way wherein authorial (privileged) intent can be kept is if the author is also the illustrator or artist, otherwise, there will always be a duel of visions.

When I write a comic book script my involvement in the creative process ends when I pen the last word (with a future editing pass after lettering, of course). The scene or panel instructions I leave for the artist are not mine to enforce, because the artist has to be given the opportunity to exercise his craft, which is to interpret the story in his mind and render it on the page. Thus, there is no way that the story as I envisioned it will be illustrated in the exact or precise way I intended - from the look of the characters to the nuances of expression to the background settings or even the color of the set pieces. If I wanted to "art direct" it, I could - but that would make the artist nothing more than a hand, and thus dispel the very notion of a true collaborative effort.

The same thing occurs in film or in plays. The scripts I write for these are at the mercy of the actors and the director. The director, even if he promises to adhere to the script, can and should impose his own eye on my material, ultimately becoming the auteur of the finished product - which, rightly or wrongly, is how things are, with directors being top-of-mind when it comes to naming quality films, as if they are the only ones responsible. In theater, the playwright may get the occasional curtain call ovation, but it is mostly the director or actors that carry the show (in some sad cases, it is even the set design or choreography).

Comic book scripts are meant to be part and parcel of a finished product. No matter how wonderful your script, if the artist proves inadequate, your story becomes inadequate, because comic books act as a whole (and they are unique in this respect, having elements that fight for the eye's attention at the same time: art, balloons, boxes, action, color, panel sequences). Scripts for film or theater are meant to be produced or staged. Many plays, even award-winning ones, become painfully obvious failures when they are attempted to be staged, because many playwrights do not think about the reality of a drama onstage, creating "closet dramas".

For a writer like me who does these three things (comic books, film, plays), the angst is not whether or not I can create excellent work. It is the frustration of seeing collaborative efforts miss the mark in my mind. I've been blessed with many fine partners in various projects, from award-winning illustrators, acclaimed film directors, and cutting edge stage directors to creatives who have yet to make their name and mark on the world, and am lucky to find one or two whose framework of artistic reference coincides with mine to a sublime degree (Andrew Drilon for Siglo: Freedom's "Jolo" and Jeremy Arambulo for Siglo: Passion's "Hollow Girl").

My agenda, if agenda needs to be defined, has always been to create work that is above the ordinary. Sometimes, this means pushing upwards towards some loftly goal. Sometimes, it simply means being playful but in a manner that somehow has some worth, going beyond the simplistic need to entertain or be entertaining. In other words, if I had my way, every film would be an "art film" with the rare mindless summer blockbuster to keep us sane.

If I am generally dissatisfied with the thought of collaborating with artists, I am even more appalled at the thought of collaborating with other writers. For two or more "wordsmiths" to share creative duties in the process of writing a novel or a series of short stories is, to me, a recipe for unmitigated disaster. The difference in terms of values becomes immediately apparent: discipline in deadlines, writing aesthetics, "craftwork", even the very choice of words. I can imagine a successful collaborative effort in terms of a joint novel or series of stories only if one or the other has control. Let one or the other employ best his best moves, as John Nash's Non-cooperative Game Theory purports (why "non-cooperative" in the context of a willing collaboration? Because since you have two or more unique individuals wanting to do the same thing, there is bound to be conflict).

I am happiest in psuedo non-collaborative efforts, like writing prose ("psuedo" because after everything, you may choose to deal with an editor, unless you live under a rock or are quite taken with your mastery of words and have no intention of publishing beyond your little circle of friends).

I am the master of my world which tick-tocks to my time and endures the tempests of my foul weather. I determine the words: their cadence, rhythm and billing; I decide on form, structure and length, manner and voice, character and plot. At the end of writing a short story or novel, I decide to keep it or burn it. Like a lone sculptor, I can look at the clay I fashioned and determine if it is worthy of my love, or if I am worthy to be called its creator.

In the context of publication, there is still the editor, and depending on the nature of this person, your relationship can be wonderful or murderous. But the corrections or recommendations are performed on work you wrote yourself, and any changes are made by you, using words of your choice.

Ultimately, it is a choice. Adhere to the "The act of creation is a solitary endeavor" or go with "Many hands make light work".

Whichever floats your boat.

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