Monday, July 21, 2008

It's Darker than You Think

It's not easy writing an "About" page for a webcomic. 

If you describe the strip, you risk spoiling it. If you describe the setting, you risk turning off people who find it unappealing.

The late literary critic John Gardner said that in the end, the best literature is philosophical. I think the best comics are philosophical. Look at Peanuts. It needn't be overt and usually shouldn't be.

After several rewrites, I decided the best "About" page for my comic "Li'l Nyet" is philosophical. It flags the intellectual, emotional and social terrain without revealing too much. It reveals the deeper human issues behind the punch lines, tempting people to reserve judgment until they have read more deeply.

Getting scholarly on an "About" page runs the risk of alienating some. There are plenty who can read Nyet on a surface level and enjoy it without entering the great debates of our time. The richest jokes are the most profound.

Here, for your consideration, is what I wrote:

Li'l Nyet is about human ideals versus human nature. It's also about comics, hell, ghosts, hauntings, Russian literature, turnips and totalitarianism.

Total - what? Totalitarianism is government that controls every aspect of your life, including what you are allowed to think. It's Big Brother. It reached its peak in the communist societies of the last century, including Russia, and still exists in North Korea.

The idea of everyone being equal is appealing, but it is human nature to be different. This is one of the great quandaries of our time, as governments push the equality pendulum back and forth between freedom and "remedies" to inequality.

The struggles between the free and the unfree, the doctrinaire and the open-minded, the smart and the dumb, the fit and the burdened and all their ramifications creates ideologies that make truth a bystander and distort our understanding of reality.

In high school, we were taught that there are four kinds of dynamic tension in a story: man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. machine and man vs. himself. Our libraries are full of tales that fit neatly into these categories. The nature of man versus the ideas of man fits as well, but is perhaps the most censored, repressed, politically volatile concept of our day.

What better place to tear into it than a comic strip? And what better setting than the security apparatus of the world's most powerful totalitarian state, headed by a demon of obscure origin?

Enjoy Li'l Nyet, the comedy that's darker than you think.