Human, Inhuman - On Writing Awful People You Care About
Most of my work, at the end of the day, is about one thing, how awful we can be to each other. But, I like to think that within that thesis, there comes something else. How amazing we can be to each other. Using Tumor as an example, Frank is a degenerate who's more or less thrown away his life because of a series of bad decisions and the loss of his wife. He's for all intents and purposes been a complete and utter drain on society and a waste of space. But, the point of Tumor is to redeem him. To show that even the awfulness that has been his life isn't enough to corrupt that tiny spark of humanity inside him. That's probably even more true of Detective Polish in Tumor who's pretty much an unlikable, amoral shit bag. And yet, for me, he's the most interesting character in the book. He's the one who actually has to make choices, especially in the final act, that change his life irreparably. He's biting the hand that feeds him in the favor of good, or, at least, the guy who he thinks might actually win. That's probably why any thought I have about continuing the characters from Tumor center not around young Frank, but around post-corrupt Polish.
Elk's Run in it's way is about this same question as everybody thinks they're the good guy, even as though they do horrific, monstsrous things. Hell, even Punks is really about a bunch of guys with so little humanity that they aren't even human. Alibi, Echoes, and any number of top secret things you've not yet heard about all tread this same ground.
So now, I'm doing a superhero book. My own, creator owned superhero book. Of course, being me, it's not. It's not about superheroes, not really, and, in fact, there's only one, and he's kind of a shit head. But, he's also so far above all of us both in terms of power AND morality, that he's a bit of mystery, even to me. I write this character who's got genuinely pure intentions but has no interest in the sanctity of life or trampling over whoever it takes to take care of the task at hand. That's been the challenge of writing the book, and frankly, the reason I stay away from the supernatural/science fiction stuff, as I tend to get lost in the math, so to speak, rather than the poetry.
I say all of this because while sitting on the plane to Emerald City Comic Con (Come see me at both 710!), I just watched the documentary CATFISH. It's very clearly from the get go about some very, very inhumane people. Both the protaganist and the so called antagonists are pretty unlikeable, and, you think you know where it's going, with one side jumping out on the other and screaming "HA! I CAUGHT YOU!"
And it gets right up into that moment, and then something extraordinary happens.
Humanity. These people look at each other, and just can't do it. They can't hurt somebody so delicate and so needy. It's... magical. Even as the strife that drives story continues, (and I'm being vague to not spoil it for you), you feel not anger or resentment for them, but pity and sorrow. That's a great lesson to learn as a writer. You can have people doing awful things or being awful, but, without humanity it becomes a dark satire at best, grating melodramatic bullshit at worst.
Always, always keep the humanity in the inhumanity.