SPREY Log #029 – Notes on Worldbuilding #002

I’ve talked to a different storyteller since my last note. I have realized, I couldn’t trick or convince myself of what isn’t there in SPREY. Wasn’t I talking about a romance with hidden fleshy bits under the coat? I should take that thought serious and cut some fat, a lot of fat, from SPREY.

Let’s think in a new and bold direction, right after Literature Note #005 has smacked my brain moments ago Instead of trying to be a city, instead of trying to be a theme, instead of trying to be a whole cast I should go and be Rich and Willard. Why don’t I let their relationship dictate SPREY? Instead of looking into various things superficially, let’s make this one thing right and find some good words for it.

What’s the conflict here? Rich and Willard are madly in love with each other and it’s a bad idea, even without any cannibal horror rockers or other external threats around. Rich is a convicted cybercriminal and Willard is an ambitious and idealistic cop, who doesn’t know this detail about his partner yet. It also doesn’t help that Rich has a lot of past trauma bottled up he never dealt with and is so scared of being hurt that he keeps making decisions that hurt him more.

Now what is the worst thing that could happen to them?

Imagine one day they’re making out in a back alley during Willard’s break. A new wanted poster comes in and it’s Rich. Now Rich has a lot of explaining to do, Willard’s world collapses faster than he can say, do or feel anything, but they have zero time to discuss it out. Willard has to make a decision really quickly…and decides to help Rich escape the city.

But then… and this then could be anything, it wouldn’t necessarily require the slashers even.

Stepping away from this text for a bit I realized that Willard can only be convinced to do anything that goes against his ideals if someone literally holds a gun to Rich’s head. And then whatever happens doesn’t come from Willard. At least at first. I have a lot of new food for thought. You can be sure, I will soon be back and try to solve this riddle again.

SPREY Log #0028 – Notes on Worldbuilding #001

Notes like these hopefully help me to flesh SPREY out more and get it to a story structure that works – to arrive at a comic that works. SPREY had a huge problem in it’s structure from the start, but only now do I have the toolkit as a storyteller to actually see it and find remedies.

General

SPREY takes place in a dark, dirty, urban dog eat dog world. The technology level is high and deeply informed and inspired by the 70ies and 80ies of the 20th century, but the technology is not equally accessible to everyone. We are also not in a full-out cyberpunk dystopia. First, I do not wish to compete with or copy the many great works that exist in the core of this genre already. Second, I do not wish to feast on the stereotypes and clichées that come with the popularity of cyberpunk. It seems bad enough that one of my protagonists is a hacker. Third, I am writing a romance that just takes on a fancy coat and has some fleshy bits on chains dangling from it, with a chilling grace hidden deep under that garment. My romance does not deal with all the questions cyberpunk is asking, nor has it sci-fi at it’s core. I rather need modernity to contrast the primal „evil“ that we are going to encounter. I need the uncaring mass society, the logistics of a failing metropolis, the promised future that never was and another generation waking up to the promise being empty…to let my characters realize that was not the worst thing that could happen to them, not at all. But they are not condemned to just sit and suffer from what they got either.

My lovers find meaning in each other in a meaningless world. Do I say, love conquers all? I don’t think so. Striving and fighting for a love relationship just seems equally primal to hunting, gathering and coping with death, enthropy and the shadow every human has. So everything has it’s place under the coat of SPREY for a mythical story.

But my work is not done here. To truly get the core of SPREY right we must dive deeper into what „evil“ actually is. So far, on the outer layers of the world, ignorance and apathy seem to rule, which is not the same as evil.

100 Days of SPREY – 22

With the prior blog entry I have defined and committed myself to a core of my comic project. This is important, because there will always be a lot of temptations to pivot away or otherwise water it down later. Before I can enter the process of developing finer details of Street Prey (SPREY) more, there is a last layer of chains to break.

I have mentioned it before, but SPREY is actually an old idea. In 2011 I thought to myself while riding home from university on train and subway: wouldn‘t it be great if a hacker and a cop, a very unlikely pair, were trapped in an abandoned subway tunnel system with some cannibal horror rockers and had to learn to get along and fight their way out? With a lot of synthwavey and cyberpunky color play and 80ies horror movies cheese please, thank you. Apparently, the idea and the characters evolved a lot since then. But there must be something about SPREY that was so memorable it never left my brain again. It was just waiting for it‘s time to come later.

Maybe this even is a completely normal, natural cycle of creation: When you are young, you have a lot of time to explore media and a lot of playful ideas, but no means to create properly. And later in life, if you chose to evolve the toolset to create, you would actually not dream up big ideas like these anymore. But you yourself are still moved by them. So what you love and grew up with, you will consciously or unconsciously try to bring back to the world. This contributes to the cycle of trends returning every 30 years or so, when those who grew up under the influence of certain works of art and other media are in positions where they have a say in what gets created either as creator or as paying customer.

It is not inherently bad to do it like this. You just have to make sure to bring what you cherish back in a way other people outside of your bubble understand it, too. Many movie makers I love from the 80ies were inspired by horror and sci-fi movies of the 50ies and brought elements and references from them over to their own movies. While the 80ies will always have a special place in my heart, I‘m not as strongly connected to the 50ies. Still, I can enjoy the movies, I can see where my heroes are coming from and respect their roots, too, as a neverending cycle of artists being inspired by other artists who came before them. One day someone will look at my beloved 80ies and 90ies influences, shake their head and say „Well, not my thing, but I can understand where she‘s coming from.“ just like me now.

And there we have it. The movie makers of the 80ies did not seek to recreate the past slavishly. They couldn‘t, the audience wouldn‘t buy it, just like I couldn‘t recreate an authentic 80ies experience if I tried. I haven‘t culturally lived in that era. We cannot move back in history, at least it is not healthy to do so and ignore what was learned since then as well as ignoring societal progress. You cannot successfully exclude reality ever and reality is progression of time and change. Everything changes and you have to adapt. Also, my favorite 80ies movies have been made already. While I can learn from them and try to bring their appeal or lessons from them to my works, I should not try to be them like my heroes did not try to revert back to the 50ies.

If you are thinking to yourself right now, everything of this is obvious, why am I making such a fuss, you are a lucky lucky person! To me, nothing of this was clear ten years ago. Even now I‘m still learning and repeating to learn how to stand on my own as a creative brain and not get swept up in trends or fandoms. Did you ever wonder why we get self-indulgent works of art, especially movies, where the ageing creative mind behind the work brings back something they invented and cherished from their youth, even if nobody asked for it, the present audience doesn‘t understand it anymore and the creator stubbornly makes no effort to adapt to anything. They have worked hard and have made many sacrifices to come to a place where they finally can create their dream project, so of course they are unwilling to compromise. But then the creation might not have the impact it otherwise could have had. You are indeed alone when you are creating, but you are not alone when you unleash it onto the world.

Have a counter example. My knowledge of Russia of the 1800s is quite limited, but the great old novelists like Chekov, Tolstoj and Dostojewski still manage to make me care for the fates of their protagonists and what the works tell me about life. I can enjoy the old literature, even if I do not understand every reference without looking it up. I think this is because they managed to capture the essence not only of their times but of a timeless human experience. Flaws, passions, despair over seemingly inevitable failures, small sparkles of joy throughout a mundane existance, the pain and uncertainty of growing up. All this, to an extent, resonates with every human being. We all arrive at places in our life where we ask ourselves comparable questions, where we face comparable problems, but of course, nothing is ever an exact copy of itself. Therefore, seemingly old stories have to be told again and again with new coats on top. One day we will bore future generations with what was novel to us, maybe like early social media and it‘s opportunities and risks.

And now the big question – what are the consequences for my comic?

I just laid down my current design and worldbuilding philosophy for you. I had this grandiose idea to make SPREY 80ies technology cyberpunk, but clean and sanitized like synthwave, with hidden gritty horrors under the stylish surface. That is a lot, and that requires a lot of work to get right. I was all about learning the rules of those genres and preparing to follow slavishly. I do not have to. The big cyberpunk works of the 80ies and later have been done already. I will never be Akira, Blade Runner or Battle Angel Alita and I don‘t have to. Synthwave has been done already, too. I must do more than just use references. There must be room for me and what I can bring to the table myself, even if it is just that I want to make a mature romance out of it.

And instead of asking myself how and whom I can impress by getting all the details right and learning a lot of things by heart…what can I add on top of the core of my story that will make the core shine even more and add to what I have to say, not detract from it? Suddenly you do not have as many paralyzing choices as before while being very free. But unfortunately, the answers are not there immediately. They want to be discovered and fought for in many hours of exploration, trial and error and research. But now I have a chance to actually work with the core of my own comic instead of just slapping an aesthetic over it like someone else‘s worn skin.