I’m currently reading Dirk Manning’s book ‘Write or Wrong’ (I have a shelf of Comic-How-To books) and while I find his casual, rambling style somewhat annoying, when he does get around to a point, it’s usually a good one.

The one that’s really got me excited is his position that in comics ‘Theme’ trumps ‘Plot’. Wait… What? That’s pretty much the opposite of what every other book on writing for comics has said. Of course those books mention theme, but the focus has always been on how-to-plot a comics story. (Alan Moore (Watchman, V for Vendetta) in his book ‘Writing for Comics’ unsurprisingly, agrees most comics are plot-centric, without what he only refers to as an ‘idea’ for the story, and he, admittedly, sometimes foregoes plot completely.) So why is this exciting?

When I think back about the comics that really had an impact on me, on the ones that stand out in memory, in popular culture and throughout the test of time, it’s not the super well-plotted stories. Oh, those are entertaining, at the time. But how many were memorable? I used to get about 8 comics a month delivered to me. So I’ve read hundreds if not thousands of comics over the years. But I don’t remember 98% of them. Not really, a few snippets here or there and if I picked it up again it’d jog my memory but yeah, not too memorable. Why not?

Because comics, by and large, focus on compelling plots – and compelling plots are a good thing, but lack any theme. They just don’t have anything to say. Now the ones I do remember, and can go back to time and again, books like Watchman, The Crow, X-Men’s Phoenix saga (the original), The Infinity Gauntlet (original), Marvel’s Civil War(*sigh*, original), and although I was never a fan, Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, all of which had strong themes to them. So where does this leave me with Brute?

I’m an avid study of my craft.

Brute the series already has a main theme – in a word – redemption. Can a group of misanthrope bounty hunters find a place in society? But knowing the importance of theme, now allows me to really lean into themes. Both for the series as a whole and for various story arcs (like the one begun in Issue #1). Of course, I’m also working on creating stronger, more compelling plots for each arch and each individual issue. I’m just amazed that no one has spoken about the importance of theme before.
Although, to be fair, most everyone else is speaking from a place of writing for Marvel/DC or such – which is very different when it comes to theme for one key reason. Strong themes usually require the main character to change and brand characters (like Spider-Man, Super Man, etc) can’t really change – or at least, not in a lasting way. Basically any real change, gets erased by the next story arc, writer or reboot. Note the Dark Knight Returns was an alt future Batman and therefore Miller had free reign with that, and nothing came along and rewrote it, so it stands the test of time. So I’m now doubly glad to be writing about my own characters within my own universe, as the entire series is based on their growth as characters.
For me, that’s the really exciting part. Sure it’s fun to see Brute kicking a– and taking names, but if that’s all there is, it’s just another comic – and that’s not what we’re about.