How Can Death Contribute To A Meaningful Comic?

I’m sure many of us can remember the days when the Death of Superman was in comic stores. It’s happened before, and odds are will happen again. But how does death contribute to making your comic meaningful? Hopefully when I get to read Life With Archie‘s last issue in which he’s reported to die saving a friend I’ll review it here. Till then, this weeks Friday Artist Talk is opening the topic of characters dying up for discussion.

Obviously it’s not usually okay to just go willy nilly killing off characters for no reason. It is something a lot of thought should be put into. After all, people come to love your characters. What do you do when everyone wants to see more of characters you’ve already written off?

Naturally you could always go the soap opera or sci-fi route of coming up with some idea to save them from the jaws of death even after everyone has assumed they’ve passed on. From twin brothers to clones and just flat out faking their death, many methods of this story telling element have been used in the past. If you’re okay with taking a route like this is another question. Sometimes it’s best to take the strong path and work in the characters demise into your story. That’s what our subject refers to this week.

Grief and sadness are two very powerful emotions. Having characters come to terms with loss is an incredibly complex character building event. Do they just accept it with a smile and do their best to live with their loss? Perhaps someone is to blame and the characters want revenge for what has happened. The deepest is when those emotions affect the character and they need to rely on their own self realizations as well as friends to come to terms with their loss.

Many of us don’t want to deal with issues like this in our creations. After all, comics don’t always need more dramatic twists such as the loss of a character. In reference to the Archie comics Life With Archie story, that somewhat makes sense since it seems to be a more emotional story beginning with the focus of Archie being married to Betty or Veronica. I’m hoping that they deal with the aftermath in the comic. That’s where I’d recommend any of you focus. How your supporting cast react to their loss really can tell a deep story.

There are other ways too that death can be a deep story element. If you’ve set the scene well, it can be a powerful emotional moment for your readers. However, unfortunately it’s something that we’ve all had to deal with in our own lives from time to time. So as complex and dramatic as a death scene can be, along with the mourning process afterwards, don’t get too out of character for your comic. After all, you don’t want to depress your readers, or worse off upset anyone. It may not always be on our minds, but you should remember that your stories do affect those who read them.

That doesn’t mean you should rewrite your story. It is your story after all. If it’s something you believe will contribute to your comic, then go for it. Just remember though that readers have dealt with stories like this for a long time too in comics, and if it feels too cliché your readers may see it as just a way to grab attention. It clearly is something you can do to build excitement for your comic. Readers tuning in to see which character is going to die is a promotional tactic that has been used many times before. After all, it goes back to your readers investment in the characters. It’s a difficult decision. If you do have a death in your comic, you do want to be as thoughtful and meaningful.

So what do you think? What experiences have you had writing such content for your own web comics?


6 Comments

  1. DemonDan April 12, 2014 2:10 pm 

    It’s interesting. Even though I’ve killed off the majority of introduced characters so far, I do note in myself an attachment to my “main” main characters, and wanting to make sure they don’t die. Kind of funny.

    • Les Major April 13, 2014 12:47 am 

      You two are producing a web comic though where it fits the story. It’s not like Tenzin and friends were hanging having a movie night and dropping like crazy.

  2. DemonArchives April 12, 2014 5:49 pm 

    Yeah… its kinda awkward if we comment in this thread… when one of our readers commented: “you do realize if you kill everyone off then there won’t be a comic… right???”

  3. Coyote April 13, 2014 8:20 am 

    So far no one in BOHICA Blues has died, but sooner or later it will happen. How I’m going to do that in a family-friendly humor comic is going to be an interesting balancing act, but I have no intention of trying to avoid it. Technically, I already have one character in mind but this person is very much in the background. I don’t want it to be cheap or a ploy, but at the same time the overall tone of the series is humorous, and I’ve no doubt some people may see a death in the comic as either jarring and inappropriate (like audience reaction to LTC Henry Blake’s off-screen death in M*A*S*H; it upset so many people in many re-runs the brief mention of it at the end of the show was cut), or worse, as making fun of the situation.

    I have time to contemplate it– they just barely got into Iraq itself, after all (http://www.bohicablues.com/) but if I put it off too much it will seem even more surreal. I find the prospect of making war appear deathless/without consequences even more problematic than the risk of balancing death with the humor.

    • DemonDan April 13, 2014 9:28 am 

      Great point, and I’m interested to see how you pull it off. That was a thought process Nick and I had up front: the need to present war in its real, harsh and cruel light. That plus the need for readers to actually fear for our characters when they are in horrible situations.

      • Les Major April 13, 2014 4:07 pm 

        Exactly, and that’s something The Demon Archives does very well!

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