A Ramble on Roger and Val and the Structure of Floppies and Television

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So, I’ve been watching this rather brilliant BBC show called ROGER AND VAL HAVE JUST GOT IN, and it’s really got me thinking about ways to apply its structure to comics. It’s something that the equally compelling LUTHER sparked in much the same way.

ROGER AND VAL is a remarkably brave “comedy” starring Dawn French and Alfred Molina as a married couple, and they’re the only two actors who appear in the show. It takes place in real time, with no music, just after they’ve arrived home from work. They talk about their day, and deal with whatever issues a middle-aged married couple deals with after arriving home from work. The show was created by twins Emma and Beth Kilcoyne

What I find remarkable about the show is that the first two episodes give absolutely no hint as to where things will eventually head. The first real concrete clue that the show is more than it seems comes at the very end of episode three, and then the fourth episode opens things up about halfway through with a sort of staggering moment that changes the focus as well as the viewer’s awareness of the situation.

All of that aside, it occurs to me that almost the only place I’ve seen this structure work is British television. What executive penguins (to borrow a term from Mamet) greenlight a show that, for two episodes, sets up low key expectations, only to turn them around in the next two episodes? Evidently, some executive BBC penguins do.

The existence of creator-owned comics gives comic book creators a chance to approach things this way, but when every first issue is used to judge a series as a whole, is there any way to sustain an audience doing so? Can you hook readers with clever dialogue and engaging characters, and hope that’s enough to keep them around until you twist the knife and ratchet up the interest, a few issues down the road?

Thinking about it, I guess that’s sort of what Jason Latour and I were trying to do with THE EXPATRIATE. We tried to hook readers with a mystery about a man on the run, and then threw the craziest shit we could think of in their faces. Of course, we fucked it all up after that, but I guess it was an attempt.
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Maybe that’s the only way to really make it work. Hook people with the appearance of GENRE X and then eventually reveal that it’s really GENRE Y.

With the next couple of books I’m doing, the goal is to provide reviewers and retailers with the complete series prior to release, so they can judge the book’s merits beyond the first issue. More and more I’m thinking that’s the only way to engender trust that things are headed in a direction worth following.

In any event, ROGER AND VAL HAVE JUST GOT IN is another example of British television impacting the way I think about storytelling in comics. And I recommend tracking it down.
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