Thursday, March 05, 2015

On continuity

As I finish up this weird final Bobbins story,  I've repeatedly asked myself, "what am I doing?" After 16 years and counting of the same continuity, the greatest difficulty I have is making my work approachable to new readers while retaining the old ones. As a comic book reader in my youth, comics leant heavily on continuity, but I never remember it being a huge problem. If someone or something reappeared, it was never a huge mental leap to accommodate the new reality of this returning figure/recurrent situation.

But I don't have the luxuries that the creators of an issue of Alpha Flight from 1988 had. I don't have an editor to straighten things out. I have a fallible human memory of nearly 5000 pages of comics, with no master document detailing the relationships between various characters. There's no wiki to keep things straight. Frequently, I can't remember minor characters' names at all. The greatest danger is to dredge up something tempting from 2001, because I am the last person who should be allowed to curate his own history

Bringing back Bobbins was one of the most fundamentally idiotic things I have ever done and worst of all, I did it because the idea was funny to me. I was talking to my friend Jeremy one afternoon about Bobbins, and the following evening, the slogan "Bobbins is back" sprang to mind. I thought this was hilarious, and drew the original characters' faces in my sketchbook. Within a couple of weeks, I'd done the first strip that appears as part of The Case Of The Forked Road. I loved doing that little story, about how Ryan meets Amy, but I have a feeling that if you were to check it against the original Bobbins comics, there are some... fairly problematic interactions in there. I'm not sure how the project persisted past that original point. The revival has now been going on for half as long as the original comic ran.

With Bad Machinery done, and Expecting To Fly (a Bobbins prequel that also includes its fair share of misremembered/fudged history) complete, I thought I'd do some Bobbins comics to fill in while I worked on Giant Days for Boom and Bad Machinery 4 for Oni Press. I never set out to make something convoluted, but as the weeks have gone on, it's folded over and over on itself into something crazy.

People sometimes ask me why there's Bobbins, and Scary Go Round, and Bad Machinery, "when they're all just the same thing." The answer is, so that I can work out where the line is between these projects, so I don't have to remember too much, so that I can divide it all up semi-neatly. This last Bobbins story is what happens if I take out all those dividing lines in my head, just so you can see what it looks like. It's a mess. I've started to get emails from people asking for clarification on certain "historical" characters, which suggests to me that it's time to stop. Time's pretty much up for the "Tackleverse", which is why I did it - this is the end of the road for a lot of the characters. 

I hope you enjoyed the experiment as much as I have - it's gone in directions I didn't expect. At the start of April it will be time for something new.

23 comments:

Lisa said...

I just want to go on record to say that this storyline has been everything I ever wanted out of a Bobbins reunion. That may not negate the fact that you need to take a break from Tackleford for sanity's sake, but I've been glad for more time with Rich, Holly, Tim, and Shelley.

Brett said...

I have loved this visit back with old friends, but you tell us the stories you want to. Worry about continuity if you want to, but I just enjoy your stories because they almost never go where I expect them to and that is glorious.

DangerInPurple said...

I discovered SGR right after it had ended and have been reading ever since. Every year or so I go back through and reread most of the stories from the archives, but I only just recently found and read the old Bobbins from the beginning. I love the new Bobbins! And don't care about any inconsistencies, although having a wiki for the Tackleverse would be pretty awesome.

I'll be sad when the story's over, but I'm sure I'll be reading whatever the new project is, and hope that you'll revisit them again someday.

Gillian G. said...

I love the Tackleverse, inconsistencies and all. I'd far rather see these characters regularly (or even intermittently) than quibble over continuity. It's a fiction - and a magical, super-natural one at that - I think that can cover any bases it needs to, plot wise. The strong, interesting characterizations patch any timeline holes that might come up - so much so that they are not noticeable except to those who go looking for them. I hope to see these characters again.

Michael Rosefield said...

*Sniff*.

Looking forward to whatever comes next, even if it's sad to say goodbye.

Claire said...

I've enjoyed Bobbins coming back a lot, and personally haven't struggled to keep track at all! I'm sorry to hear there's not going to be any more Tackleford though, I'm extremely attached to it!

Corina said...

I think the way your stories kept rewriting themselves was brilliant,whether you planned for it or not.

donal fallon said...

It puts me in two minds. One is that as a long time reader, I love the Tackleverse and can't even imagine it not being there on a daily basis. Who cares about continuity? The world you set up doesn't need continuity, it's all about the characters... essence?

The other mind can't wait until you unveil something new. The idea of seeing something different is really appealing. :)

Ashleigh Brown said...

I went to University of Manchester seven years ago, and a friend linked me into your comics. Seven years later and the Tackleverse has kept me so amazed, entertained, and in touch with my crazy side that I am almost angry to see it go. Thank you so much for all of your work on this comic, it's been beautiful to read!

Skullyflower said...

Oh John,
I love what has been happening in Bobbins. Even if I sometimes feel a little lost about who someone is, I trust you to reveal the info I need to get caught up enough to get the jokes. Even if you are making it up on the spot.

You are amazing, and amazingly prolific. I'm amazed at the consistency and quality of your output. (Sorry for over using or abusing the word amazed here.)

Do not let the nerdier nerds discourage you. There are plenty of us with better things to do than gripe about historical consistency.

Zoe Sotet Art Studio said...

I'm going to miss Tackleverse....

My memory is too bad to notice continuity errors, I've just enjoyed the stories.

Sean Rankin said...

I've been a long time reader, since the days of scary-go-round (I would have read bobbins but i was a bit young for it, I'm only in university now)and I just want to say that though it can be a little convoluted sometimes or I may forget a character, this has been some of the most fun I've had reading anything in quite some time. This chapter even, though it is hectic has been top notch. I would love for it to continue on just this way, but I understand for you as an author and artist, trying to keep all this in your head has to be madness. So if you really do end the Tackleverse now, it's ending with a great story. While I will hate to see these characters, that I have grown up with, go, I just cannot wait to see what you do next. You have a lifetime reader out of me.

Claire Connelly said...

Echoing everyone else, I will miss the "Tackleverse", if you end it, but I will also be very eager to read (and enjoy the art for) anythng else you go on to create.

I first found Scary-Go-Round through a recommendation from another webcomic, and quickly fell in love with everything about it: the characters, the art style, the crazy stories. Happily, I know that all those elements will be present in anything you choose to do in the future. Every story has to end, but that just makes more room for another to begin.

Jeffrey Boyle said...

I echo some of the other comments with grief over whatever loss is coming and unreserved enthusiasm for your tireless work and your insane story-telling abilities. I think the main idea I want to convey is that we trust you and your brain. Just let us know where and when to meet you and we'll be there, waiting.

doktorJung said...

I'm happy to see this (somewhat literal) collision of characters, and a furthering or epilogue of Erin's arc in particular. And a recap of the Tim/Davies conflict as well! Interesting that their motivations are pretty equally mad this time around, the Mayor-off from back in the story was more clearly right vs. wrong or whichever labels you like. Thanks for the story, look forward to whatever comes next!

mordicai said...

Bobbins is what brought me to reading webcomics, back in...let's say 2000. It has been great seeing old friends. I won't lie, I got way more excited than is reasonable when Tim dropped a "tupping liberty."

I like the stuff you do. Do whatever is the next step. I'll read it avidly. & buy t-shirts & tea towels of it.

Don't Think, Boy said...

Just tagging on to everyone else here - wherever you go we're with you. I started reading SGR back in 2003(?)and haven't missed an update of yours since.

To me, the Tackleverse is as important a work of fiction as anything created by Marvel or DC (and I will be sad to see it's end) but as long as you still want to keep telling stories, I'll be around to read them.

Thanks for all, Mr. Allison

Unknown said...

Dear John, Nerds absolutely love convoluted self contradictory continuity. They love arguing about it, they love delving into it, they love spotting inconsistencies in it. When one of us points out that 15 years ago X did something that is different from Y it's like when a cat brings you a small dead animal. It's disgusting and repulsive, but well meant. The poor creature just doesn't know any other way to show it's appreciation.

James Carr said...

I too discovered the Tackleverse just after the end of Scarygoround, devoured the archives and have devotedly followed it ever since. I've re-read most of it more than once, and apart from the first year or so of Bobbins I can't say I've ever really noticed any glaring continuity problems. All the flashbacks have fitted pretty darn well to my thinking, and considering the complexity of it all I can't see how it could have been done any better.
I'm looking forward to wherever you go next, since your work just keeps getting better.
But please, please, please don't kill off too many of your characters too completely. One thing I have really enjoyed is watching your characters grow and develop over the years. You and your characters are still young, and I'd be so much happier knowing that perhaps one day (when my hair is thinner and my glasses are thicker), a new storyline might give us a glimpse of Grandpa Ryan, or show us what nutty white-haired old naunty (or just, just maybe even grandma) Shelley is doing to again unravel the fabric of reality...

ChaiLatte said...

I would just like to say that Wolverine had his origin story re-written like 7 different times. Continuity was never a problem for major comic books because no one really cared if there were major story plot holes or if the same character had a different love interest in every comic. As long as the dialogue was entertaining and the story was interesting and understandable the fans stuck with it. The same can and will be said for you and your Tackleverse. I understand if you need a break from it, but don't let continuity issues be the cause of it's end.

Hopper said...

I picked up reading Scary Go Round back in 2003ish, and immediately tore through the Bobbins archive, and have been visiting prettymuch daily ever since. I just fell in love with your characters, and they way you tell their stories and not the nit-picky details of continuity. I mean, Scary Go Round has magic and ghosts and alternate dimensions et cetera, little hiccups in the timeline have never been as important as maintaining the voice(s) with which you write. In my opinion, you have always presented a highly entertaining and captivating style of writing, which has kept me coming back for 10+ years. I'll be back for any story you want to tell us, Tackleford or otherwise. I do hope we will still see Shelley from time to time, though :)

CFlo said...

Here's a fun thought. Your small, very small, continuity errors could easily be explained by blaming the Bad Machinery kids. The kids went back in time through the whole in the wall and changed the future. When they "fixed" the past and changed the future back, maybe they only got it 99% back right. Everything happened 99% the same, except a few changes to how it happened.

James Carr said...

As CFlo said yesterday... Well everyone knows that the laws of narrative causality dictate that any time travel story arc must, by definition change the past, the present, and consequently the future. The Tackleverse has seen at least two time-travel arcs, the first of which quite possibly left a time-clone of Shelley in the 1840s on the music-hall stage singing her way through the Beatles catalogue, and the second of which early on referred to the BEATLES, and ended with the greatest music phenomenon of the twentieth century having been a girl band called the BEETLES. I also seem to remember some incident with a major character being pulled out of reality and all evidence of her existence fading away... This would suggest that the Tackleverse is a wold in which the normal rules of continuity do not apply, and consequently a consistent continuity would in itself be a continuity error.
I'm classifying this structural continuity disturbance as a plot device fully as brilliant as having The Doctor regenerate every time they need to change lead actor they keep in the Tardis.