Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hello, My Name Is Inigo Montoya

By Jay Stringer

It seem's the more I grow up, the more the world seems like professional wrestling. Everybody has to have a feud and a gimmick. Some safe way of putting themselves over with the crowd.

Some of my clearest childhood memories involve wrestling. In that age when you kinda sorta know that it aint 'real,' but your hear wants to believe in it. Before you realise that the fakery of the whole thing is kinda the point, like a film or a play. But I remember some classic feuds.

I remember 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper feuding with Brett 'The Hitman' Hart. The two went back and forth with well timed moves, two of the great workers of their day. The finale of the match saw Hart knocked to the floor and Piper stood over him with the ring announcers bell, deciding whether to hit his friend on the back of the head. As the crowd screamed one way or another, Piper hesitated and turned to listen to what they were telling him, choosing not to use it, and then wound up losing the match. The much younger version of me totally bough into that, the mini-morality play of the match, the inner turmoil of the villain-with-a-good-heart, the whole thing.

There were bigger matches, sure. The big meaty guys, the Hogans and the Warriors, but I wasn't interested in them. Looking back I know even then I was into the craftsmen, the story tellers.

When I started to analyse these things, it was that storytelling that I focused on first; The in-ring narrative, the plucky loser, the bad guy, the come back, the beat down, the cheating, etc. But more latterly I noticed the other side of it all. The work that went in outside of the ring, building the feuds, building up the stars and the training the crowd to spend money.

If you have a villain, then the crowd already hate him. All they want to see is him get his ass kicked. So you make him keep winning. You keep the story going and the hatred building. You bring some younger guy up through the ranks, maybe he gets his ass handed to him a few times, maybe the bad guy cheats him out of a few wins. Then, when the crowd are popping and firing and -most importantly paying- you let the young guy win.

It's called 'putting him over,' and the bad guy is the crucial part. He trains the hero, works with him, sets up all his punch lines and shows him how to work a crowd.

Or maybe you have to best friends, a tag team or a long standing partnership. Then you introduce a third factor, like a title belt, or a woman, and pretty soon all hell breaks loose. Maybe one of them steals the woman. Maybe one of them gets kicked through a glass window. You get the crowd baying to see them go at it, then you keep them apart for as long as you can. Until, again, the right money moment.

There's a very precise science to it. Again, it's story telling. It's bringing the pot to the boil, just like any writer does.

But years down the road, when those feuds and those matches are a distant memory, I can't help but notice how the same basic premise never goes away.

Take the infamous Val McDermid Vs Ian Rankin fun of a few years back. One fine day Ms McDermid gives an interview in the press where she reacted to comments made by Mr Rankin about female crime writers. And the press ran with with, and headlines expanded, and the internet exploded. Never mind the fact that Rankin's comments had been made some time before Ms McDermid reacted to them in the press, or that she happened to have a book out and marketing to do. The issue came u again the following summer, around the time that Rankin himself was making public appearances and needed a little press.

Bit got press coverage from the whole thing, both probably got to have the titles of a few of their books mentioned in mainstream newspapers. Both probably sold a few extra books.

And they're both friends.

Once a year Alan Moore sticks his head out of his Northampton castle to take a shot across the bow of the comic book industry. He talks about how the current creators aren't as good as him. He talks of how the big companies are creatively bankrupt (and since the most recent outburst comes after DC comics announced they're writing a sequel to his 1986 classic WATCHMEN, rather than creating something to equal that classic, you can see a little of his point.) But along the way he names a few names. Last year it was the turn of the Green Lantern series to get his treatment. He stated that the current storyline written by Geoff Johns was a poor imitation of ideas Moore had come up with 20 years prior.

And each time he says something, the internet loses it's shit. Creators blog about it. Interviews are given to rebut his comments. Column inches are filled. All the while, people seem to ignore the game at play. Writers who perhaps haven't crossed over into the mass media get a little extra coverage -Jason Aaron managed it this time around- and titles that are deserving of a few extra readers get a publicity boost -Green Lantern, Scalped, Etc. Moore himself gets plenty of news coverage out of it all and his classic titles get trotted out again, as if they weren't already on a few thousand Amazon wish lists.

And a few extra books sell. A few people become a little more famous. And the world keeps turning.

So, here we are folks. You want to get ahead in publishing? You need a feud. You need someone to put you over.

Sod all that 'hard work' malarky, and forget the rewrites; What I need is a feud, who's with me?


seana graham said...

I think what you want to ask is, who's against you?

Very interesting piece.

Dana King said...

You talking to me? You talking to ME? Well, I'm the only one here.

Bring it on. For all the good a fued with me will do you.