Some of you may not know that I have an MFA in writing from CSULA.

For my thesis, I developed a story simultaneously as a comic book and as a play, then examined the differences in order to discover how the nature of the mediums affected the development of the story.

That story was called “Lately Something’s Changed” and follows the last two males left alive on Earth as they each have very different means of dealing with the unexpected death of the last female.

The comic book version can be read by clicking the “Lately Something’s Changed” link to your left.

The theatrical version can be seen below.

 

And now, here is the paper that I wrote to accompany the story.
(Be warned – it is QUITE long.)

 

A REASON TO CHANGE: HOW MEDIUM AFFECTS STORY

A Thesis

Presented to

The Faculties of the Departments of Television, Film & Media Studies,

and

Music, Theatre & Dance

California State University, Los Angeles

© 2014

Searnold

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

ABSTRACT

I developed a story simultaneously as a comic book and as a play in order to examine how the differences between the mediums affected the development of the story.  The story I told is called “Lately Something’s Changed” and follows the last two males left on Earth as they deal with the death of the last female and what that means for their lives moving forward.  The play was performed at CSULA in February of 2014, where I distributed copies of the comic to everyone in attendance to get feedback about both.  Through analyzing that feedback and the notes I made during development, I decided that stories exist outside of the medium through which they are told.  Thus, any story can be told through any medium, but a good author takes advantage of the particular strengths and weaknesses of a medium when crafting a story.

 

CHAPTER 1 – INTRODUCTION

 

For my thesis, I developed a story simultaneously as a comic book and as a play in order to examine how the differences between the two mediums would affect the development of the story.  I self-published a 32 page color comic and produced the same story as a thirty minute one-act play.  In order to gather data about the differences between the two products, I needed audience feedback about both, and so, as part of the theatrical experience, I also allowed time for my audience to read the comic.  The resulting project created an interesting union between two very different mediums, as well as some interesting discoveries about the nature of storytelling.

As a writer, my medium of choice has always been the comic book (or graphic novel, for those who wish to use a more academically and socially acceptable term for the merging of words and pictures.)  I have been self-publishing comic books since 2008, when I published my first issue of “Behind the Hero.”  In fact, the reason I came to CSULA to study writing was to enhance my craft as a comic book writer.  When the time came to develop a project for my thesis, I knew that I wanted to do something with comics.  After all, I had studied film, theatre, and television for the past two years.  It seemed only natural to find a way to include comic books in my studies, an attempt to maintain the broad horizons of CSULA’s TVFT MFA program.  However, I wanted to do something more than just write a comic book.  After all, I had done that before.

The development of the idea for this project dates back to 2010, when Fox hired me to write a series of short prose stories for a website they were putting together (that never materialized) called Neopulp.  They wanted gritty stories that could be serialized in the vein of the old pulp novels.  One pitch I came up with was called “T&A.”  It was a postapocalyptic detective story starring twin (and sexy) sisters Trish and Amber.  People would hire them to find information about whether or not their loved ones had survived and where said loved ones were living now that the world had ended.  For the initial story, I decided Trish and Amber would be hired to find an old lady’s dog and promised access to a stock of canned foods in exchange.  After hunting down a dog-capturing cult and returning the missing pet, they discover that the canned foods are all dog food.

Fox declined this pitch.

So I decided to turn it into a short eight page comic book story that I would publish on my website, http://www.SuperSearnold.com.  Time passed, and I never wrote the comic.  Other projects kept taking priority, as they are want to do.  But “T&A” was always percolating in the back of my mind.

Then, in winter of 2012, I took a character development class with Professor Kristiina Hackel.  As part of the class assignments, I decided to further develop the characters of Trish and Amber, for what (in my mind) would still be a short eight page comic book story.  But Professor Hackel asked us to write our final scripts (using the characters we had developed in the class) in either film or television format.  I decided to write a short film script that (once the class was over) I then planned to adapt into that eight page comic book short I was so intent on creating.

However, further into the development process, the script changed again.  Dinosaurs and slime monsters became part of the postapocalyptic world I was constructing.  Because of the crazy special effects this would require, “T&A” was then turned into an animated pilot for a television series.

Somewhere during the process of changing a short story prose pitch into a film script that became an animated pilot so that it could be adapted into a comic book, I started questioning: “How does the nature of a medium affect the development of a story?”  Upon reflection, I realized that was an extremely complex question, rife with thesis potential.

My initial idea was to create a story as a movie, a television script, and a comic book (those being the three mediums “T&A” had existed in) and examine the differences between the three mediums.  But that got me thinking wider and broader.  What about as a short prose story?  What about as an oral story?  A video game?  A web series?  A theatre piece?  There are so many different mediums through which stories can be told.  Professor Hackel suggested I narrow my field by picking two mediums to explore.  Perhaps with unlimited time, I would still develop this thesis into a myriad of other mediums, but – given my finite human existence – I decided to heed Professor Hackel’s advice and pick two mediums, thus allowing me to explore each in more detail.

I took that idea and spoke with Professor Steve Rothman, whom I wanted to chair my thesis committee, he being the only professor I knew who shared my passion for graphic novels.  He agreed that an exploration into two mediums would be best, so we began discussing which two mediums those should be.  The first would still be a comic book.  Part of the intention of the project was so that I could create a comic book as part of my thesis.  The more we talked about it, the more I didn’t want the second medium to be a movie.  Comic books are adapted into movies all the time.  And while that is not quite the same as simultaneous development, there already exists a plethora of information about the differences and similarities between comics and movies.

Less so with theatre.

In fact, extremely rarely so with theatre.

Also, from the perspective of comparative mediums, the nature of live performance creates larger differences between comics and theatre than exist between comics and movies.  Comparing comics and theatre would be more interesting because the two mediums are so vastly different.  So it was decided: I would develop a story simultaneously as a comic book and as a play and examine how the differences between the mediums affected the development of that story.

Then I had to pick a story.

Professor Alan Bloom brought up the point that most people think comic book stories have to be about superheroes.  This is because superheroes are the only genre that were birthed from comic books (in Action Comics #1, circa 1938.)  Also, since the 1960’s, superheroes have been the most popular and best selling genre in comic books.  But one thing I wanted to show the world with this project is that comics are a medium, not a genre.  Also, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” the most famous example of superhero comics and theatre blending, was an abysmal failure.  So I very specifically chose to not tell a superhero story.

Instead, I decided to tell a postapocalyptic story – following in the footsteps of “T&A,” the story that gave birth to this entire project.  The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of doing a postapocalyptic play.  It’s a genre I personally haven’t seen explored on stage before, even though it’s a fairly standard setting for a comic book story.

The story that I ultimately decided to tell is called “Lately Something’s Changed,” and it follows the last two (unnamed) males on Earth.  They disagree about the lyrics to Rick Springfield’s song “Jessie’s Girl.”  While they are out digging through rubble, hoping to find a copy of the song, the last female unexpectedly dies.  The two remaining males discuss whether or not life is still worth living now that there is no possibility for humanity to continue.  One of them insists that it is, that hope exists in the unknown and that life is worth living for more reasons than the continuation of the species.  The other is not dissuaded from his pessimistic views and takes his own life.  In the final scene, the last remaining male considers taking his own life, too, but instead finally finds a copy of “Jessie’s Girl” and decides to continue living.

During the rest of this paper, I will examine the development process of that story, making special note of each time the consideration of medium entered into that process.  I will then analyze audience reactions to the comic and the play, allowing me to compare and contrast them.  Finally, I will explain what I learned about the nature of storytelling, that ultimately, stories exist outside of the medium through which they are told, and thus any story CAN be told in any medium.  However, a good writer will choose to tell a story that can be told WELL through the medium they have chosen to tell it in.  Each medium has its own obstacles that need to be overcome in order to best portray a story, as well as strengths that should be capitalized upon in order to create the optimum experience for the audience.  Specifically, the nature of live theatre does the best job of allowing the audience to experience raw emotional moments while comic books do a superior job of exploring visuals and slowing down time to force the reader to focus their attention on specific details.

 

CHAPTER 2 – PROCESS

 

The contention that medium does not have to affect story, but merely the telling of that story, requires that the story itself somehow exists on its own, independent of its telling.  This is true on a very basic level, because stories mirror life.  Audiences intrinsically understand (or perhaps have been taught since such a young age that the knowledge seems intrinsic) that characters have implied lives beyond the moments seen in the story.  Attentive audiences are never confused by the fact that the characters they are watching (or reading about) never seem to eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom.  This understanding is a reflection of life, because we know that the people we interact with continue to live and act even after they leave our presence.

This idea of story existing beyond medium is also supported by my brainstorming process.  As I brainstorm, I try to discover what happened in the world of the characters, without actually worrying about whether or not it was something that my audience will ever see.  I’m not thinking about TELLING the story yet.  I’m just DISCOVERING the story for myself.  Once I have a full grasp of everything that’s occurring in these characters’ lives, then I can decide which moments to show to the audience in order to indicate the entire story, without the audience having to actually live the experiences along with the characters in real time.  (See Appendix A for an example of this type of brainstorming.)

 

Before Medium – Conceiving of an Idea

 

Normally, when I conceive of a story, I look at what medium has the best ability to express that story to my audience, and I develop the story in that medium.  For example, “Fate of the Prey” is a science fiction story I developed in 2009 about six rebel slaves, each of a different alien species, who band together to fight off their alien oppressors.  Because each of the six main characters have a vastly different perspective (a byproduct of being different species), I wanted each to get a chance to narrate a section of the story.  This naturally led itself to being a six issue comic book mini-series, each individual issue being narrated by a different character.  In 2011, I developed a story called “A Fairly Obvious Parallel” about a writer who was writing a play that just so happened to be the very play the audience was watching.  This naturally led itself to being a play, because of the metatheatrical nature of the story.

With my thesis project, however, I actually worked backwards in order to observe the effect the medium had on the development of the story.  I knew that I was creating a comic and a play, so as my story developed, rather than naturally seeing what medium could best express that story to an audience, I instead looked at whether comics or theatre would limit or enhance my ability to express that story.  As I brainstormed, I made note of particular moments that would work well in either medium and of moments that would be particularly difficult to express in either medium.  However, those sorts of considerations didn’t begin to manifest until AFTER I had chosen to tell a postapocalyptic story.

The reason I love postapocalyptic stories is because they create a unique scenario for thought experiments.  I have always enjoyed studying philosophy and asking questions about life and why we do the things we do.  Only in a world where governments have collapsed and life as we know it is teetering on the brink can you examine what your REAL priorities are.  I knew I wanted to pose questions to my audience such as whether life’s only purpose is the continuation and betterment of mankind.  Is life more precious when there is less of it?  Do right and wrong matter in the absence of other humans to judge your actions?  If survival is taken care of, but society didn’t exist, what would you do with your free time, and what does that tell us about your priorities?  My goal was not to answer any of these questions, or even suggest a particular position.  I simply wanted to pose these sorts of questions to my audience and make them ask themselves what THEY thought.

In order to do this, I constructed a story about the last handful of people left on Earth immediately after an unknown and confusing apocalypse (see Appendix B for the complete outline).  They find each other, are unable to find further survivors, and decide to hunker down and wait for rescue.  No rescue comes, and over the years, they restart their own little society.  However, slowly and from various causes, they die off faster than they can reproduce.  Eventually, the last human slowly withers away of old age.  As they slowly died off, and the stakes for survival got higher and higher, the characters would find themselves asking the sorts of questions I wanted to pose, thus allowing my audience to do the same.

I still hope to tell this story one day.  However, as I developed it, I realized that in order to tell it properly, I would require approximately 300 pages of comic book, which I estimate would roughly translate into a three hour play.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see this as a realistic amount of content to create in a single year.  However, much of the content I developed while brainstorming THAT story made its way into “Lately Something’s Changed,” and are thus important to examine.

 

Brainstorming Considerations

 

This section will examine all of the notes I made about medium while developing my story.  You will notice that most of these notes were that theatre would be limited by my budget but do a better job of forcing the audience to experience raw emotion.  Ultimately, this same conclusion was reflected in the questionnaires my audience filled out.  I choose to believe this means it is an accurate conclusion, rather than a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Also, please keep in mind that some of the following ideas may or may not be TRUE, but they are the THOUGHTS that I had during the brainstorming process, and the very act of having these thoughts meant that, in some small way, the consideration of medium was influencing my development process.

One story moment that I thought would capitalize well on comics’ ability to visualize anything was the reveal of the postapocalyptic landscape.  I wanted each character to discover something gross, strange, or abysmal.  Then, on a single page, I would reveal what each of those discoveries were, allowing the reader to take in this new apocalyptic wasteland in a single page.

I created one scene where, immediately after the mysterious apocalypse, three characters are trapped on an out-of-control bus, heading towards the edge of a cliff.  Only one of the three is still able to move, but only has enough time to save one other passenger, leaving the third to die.  Realizing that I couldn’t SHOW this scene on stage, I brainstormed the conversation these characters might have, describing what had happened.  This led to the revelation that they both experienced great guilt about letting the third character die, an obvious emotion that I may never have explored if the limitations of theatre hadn’t forced me to brainstorm this particular conversation.

In another scene, a new character appears out of nowhere because the apocalypse is causing her to randomly jump around in time.  I made note that as a comic writer, I have to ‘direct’ specifically HOW everything happens, but as a playwright, I could simply write, “she appears out of nowhere” and leave it up to the interpretation of the director exactly how to make that illusion occur onstage.

I wanted to explore the idea of art in this postapocalyptic world.  I had one character create an art project by moving rocks, trees, and rivers.  The result could only be seen from the top of a nearby mountain.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to show that image on stage, but I thought it might be cool to, instead, have the character painting live in front of the audience.  The sort of developmental flow that occurs during live painting would not be nearly as interesting to watch in a comic, segmented into frozen panels.

In one scene, I wanted to show a quick flashback to a dead body in order to visually reveal a previously unnoticed clue about the nature of the mysterious apocalypse.  While simple in comics, this flashback would require an entire new scene setup in theatre, and too many scene transitions can very easily turn a good play into an awful experience for the audience.

Attempting to restart humanity meant having babies, which would pose GREAT difficulty in theatre.  Maybe in a professionally mounted production an actual baby could be used on stage, but given my resources, I knew the closest I could come would be using a doll.  This limits the amount of interactions the other characters can have with the baby before the audience is reminded that they are watching a play where a doll is supposed to represent an actual baby.  Since I also don’t have access to child actors, I had to make sure we didn’t see the baby again until she was at least a teenager (so a college student could realistically portray her.)  This meant nothing noteworthy could happen to the child during that time gap, which meant their new society had to become fairly safe and stable.

For the sake of reproduction, there was a scene where two characters who aren’t attracted to each other have awkward sex.  This would be simple to show in comics, because I control everything the audience sees, even the angle they see it from.  Characters can have sex without it being ‘graphic.’  I also thought it would be a great scene in which to use the comic book convention of thought balloons, in order to examine the awkwardness that wasn’t being spoken.  This would be a much more difficult scene to show (tastefully) in a theatrical setting.  But, it might make the sex even MORE awkward if it was happening LIVE, or if the characters decided to keep all of their clothes on (so that the actors wouldn’t have to be naked.)

At one point in the story, the characters discover an old-timey radio that still works.  They twist through all the knobs and channels, hoping to find a signal in the static, something that could indicate there were other survivors.  This would be a powerful moment in theatre, as the audience sits in that anticipatory tension with the characters, hearing the static, and hoping to find something, as the characters slowly turn the knobs.  But without that sound, it would be an extremely boring and repetitive series of panels in a comic.

I decided I needed a scene that establishes how the characters get their hair cut.  My actors’ hair can’t grow between scenes (maybe it could if I had a huge budget and a vast collection of wigs).  I decided I would also include this haircut scene in the comic version of the story, which would then be a very direct moment of medium impacting story development.  While this scene did not make it into the final product, the idea of hair growth did.  In the comic, the last remaining male has much longer hair in the final scene, to indicate that time has passed, something that the theatrical version lacked.

There were multiple scenes in this story where characters died that I thought would be tricky to show live.  However, there was a great deal of sad silence among the characters that remained as they sat with the realization that another one of them had passed.  These types of pauses can’t really be shown in comics.  You can include a panel where nothing happens, but it takes the reader mere fractions of a second to process that break in action, which is a very different experience than actually sitting through that silence in real time.

Theatre’s ability to produce a larger emotional impact occurs with anger as well.  While you could print dialogue in a 72 point font in a comic, that is not the same as actually being in a room while someone is yelling.  There is more emotion in human delivery than there can ever be in written dialogue.  This will be discussed more in Chapter 4 – Evaluation, but what I ultimately learned is that these changes are interesting, but they don’t actually affect STORY.  The larger emotional impact of sitting in silence (or anger) in live theatre affects HOW the audience experiences that story, but not the story itself.

 

Choice of a Shortened Story

 

I will explore the following idea in further detail in Chapter 4 – Evaluation, but the one way I found that medium does have a large affect on story development is in deciding WHICH story to tell, and making sure it can be told WELL in the medium you have chosen to tell it in.

For me, the process of choosing a story that can be told well through a given medium is what inspired me to tell the story of the last humans slowly dying off.  I was inspired by the theatrical potential I imagined in my final scene.  I wanted to have the last human die of old age on stage, and then not tell the audience the play was over, but instead have them sit there in that ultimate moment until they decided to leave.  I thought that would be a fun, interesting, and meaningful way to subvert expectations and create a memorable experience for the audience.  Ultimately, I decided to give my story a happy ending, and this scene disappeared.

Another moment where medium seems to have affected story is when I decided to shorten the story I had initially brainstormed down to only the last two males left alive.  I shortened the story because of the practical production concerns of creating a finished comic and play within the limited amount of time I had before graduation.  However, this was not a medium specific change.  It was not because of the nature of comics or theatre that I made this change, but because I wanted a finished product.  If I had been planning to produce the earlier version of the story in ANY medium in under a year, I think that I would have still chosen to tell this shorter story, instead.

Once I made that choice, I went back into the original story I had developed and looked for the core elements that I still wanted to present to my audience: whether or not life is worth living in the absence of future generations of humanity; an unexpected, unexplained death that may or may not be suicide and the way that changes everything you believe about the future of your life; how difficult it would be to find the correct lyrics to a song that was stuck in your head in a postapocalyptic world.

I decided that if I cut straight to the last two people on Earth, that I didn’t need to explain everything that had led up to that point.  Audiences are familiar enough with the concept of the end of the world that I can drop them into this situation and follow these characters’ lives without having to explain the intricacies of how they got there.  How do these characters know for sure that they are the last two people left on Earth?  Exploring that is a different story.  For this story, all the audience needs to know is that they are the last.

In order to create this shorter story, I went back through the old dialogue I had developed and pulled out the bits and pieces that I still wanted to present to my audience.  Many of the conversations the characters have in “Lately Something’s Changed” were originally written for different characters in different situations.  But the ideas and themes behind them are still the same.  I tweaked what needed to be tweaked for the conversations to make sense in this new context without consideration of the medium through which the dialogue would be delivered.  This worked because both comics and theatre use dialogue.  If I had been using a medium such as dance or mime, pulling out old dialogue and repurposing it for a new scene would not have worked.

That is an example of what I mean when I say that medium affects the choice of WHICH story to tell.  Because “Lately Something’s Changed” is so cerebral, telling it through dance or mime would have been a mistake, because it cannot be told WELL without dialogue.  Instead, if I knew I were restricted to (or were intentionally creating) a dance or mime piece, I would have chosen to tell a DIFFERENT story, perhaps evoking similar emotions and themes, maybe even a story with similar scenes, but a story which could be more effectively communicated to my audience through a medium that lacks dialogue.

 

From Comic to Play

 

Once the new story was ready, I had to transform it into an actual script.  Because of production timelines, and because I wanted the comic book to be finished and printed for audiences to read during the play, I needed to write the comic book script first.  In fact, in order for the comic to be ready by the end of February 2014 (when I planned on putting up the play), I had to give the finished comic script to my artist in mid-October of 2013.  Because of this, in some ways, what I did was adapt the comic script into a theatre script, rather than develop them simultaneously (which I will discuss more in Chapter 4 – Evaluation).

But first, I had to take my STORY and turn into a comic book script.  As the writer of a comic, I am in charge of choosing every single image the audience sees.  I could ask my artist to draw a single image of two people talking and insert a series of dialogue bubbles.  But, in order to make sure my audience doesn’t get bored, I put in physical changes that break up those ‘talking heads.’  I choreograph every single movement: when they pull something out of the rubble; when they take a drink; what facial reactions they have to the other character’s dialogue.  These small changes affect the flow and meaning of the conversation by indicating tone to the audience.  Comic writers craft these small moments to tailor our audience’s experience of our story exactly the way we want it to be.  But when I went to turn the story into a play script, I found that I lost much of this control.

The biggest difference between a comic SCRIPT and a play SCRIPT is that the play script is designed to be produced multiple times by completely different sets of people, often without any further input from the writer (at least at a high enough level of professionalism.)  The play script needs to be ambiguous enough that individual directors have the ability to leave their mark on their version of the production.  (Ultimately, I did happen to direct this production of my play, but that was superfluous to my considerations as a writer at this point in the development process.)  In order to accomplish this ambiguity, traditionally, play scripts are sparse of stage directions.  In fact, actor Vince Major told me that while studying acting at Southern Utah University, the first thing he was taught to do when handed a play script was cross out all of the stage directions the writer had written and instead listen to what the director told him to do.

Because of this, as I changed my comic script into a theatre script, I cut as much description as possible.  The first thing I did was take out all of the page breaks and panel breaks.  Then I cut any mention of a closeup on a specific item, such as a necklace, or a specific facial expression, because there are no closeups in theatre.  Eliminating these specifics often collapsed multiple lines of dialogue that were broken up between different panels into single monologues.  For example, in the third scene of the comic, Rick’s lines, “Oh, not funny” and “God I hate everything!” are broken up by a panel of sitting in silence.  I could have chosen to insert the stage direction, “They sit in silence” between these lines in the play script.  However, I chose not to, so that different groups of directors and actors who may produce this script in the future have opportunities to put their unique interpretation on more moments of the play.  It’s up the them to find the particular cadence and potential pauses to make that moment as powerful for their audience as possible.

The fourth and final scene of the script also required many changes.  This scene, where the last man on Earth is all alone, is mostly silent.  There are only four lines of dialogue.  It is also the scene where the last man considers killing himself with a knife.  At the time of writing the play script, I did not know if I would have access to a fake knife or fake blood to use during the production of this scene.  But I didn’t want to cut that part from the script, as it is an essential part of the story. So instead, I changed it into the ambiguous line, “He considers killing himself,” so that each different crew that may ever produce this play has their pick of how they choose to create that moment on stage.

I was also worried about how a director might choose to interpret the line of dialogue, “You were right,” in the absence of directions about the character’s emotions.  I knew that I could have crafted dialogue that would force a director to interpret that moment in a particular way, a line such as, “I’m so sad that you’re gone, and I miss you.  But now I see that you were right about the song lyrics, and that makes me realize that you were wrong about killing yourself, and so I choose to go on living.”  However, that is awful dialogue that doesn’t actually sound like the way people talk, and ruins the emotional power of the subtext of that moment.  I realized that there is always the potential for collaborators, such as a director, to come in and ruin something that I write, but I choose to write for the best potential collaboration, and hope that, even without the overt dialogue, a competent director would know how to make that a powerful emotional moment for the audience.

So then, are these tweaks a change in the STORY due to the difference between the mediums?  No.  Consider the largest change in interpretation that may be inserted in these moments in a future production.  Two people discussing this story, one who had only seen this version of the play and one who had only read the comic, would probably never even realize there was a difference.  This is because the STORY itself was not changed.  There was only a change in the WAY the audience experienced that particular moment.

None of these changes affect the story.  What it comes down to is that comic writers and playwrights are playing different ROLES when it comes to crafting the means through which their audiences will experience their stories.  A comic writer needs to know how to direct the control and flow of a page, choosing every single image that their reader will see and how many words will accompany each image.  A playwright works in a broader sense, with fewer details, leaving room for the director to leave THEIR mark on the audience’s experience of the story.  And while these SKILLS are different, they are not an example of the different mediums having an affect on the development of the story.  Because they have less control over the finished product, the FEAR of a playwright is that a director will come in and ruin the audience’s experience of what they have written.  But that’s the nature of collaboration.  A bad artist could just as easily ruin the work of a good comic writer.  Allowing this fear to affect the story would be a mistake that ultimately creates an inferior product.

 

Production Part 1 – Finishing the Comic

 

Once the scripts for my comic and play were completed, production began.  While I will make a few notes here about the production process, what I have come to realize is that they are superfluous to my attempt at analyzing how the nature of these mediums affects story development.  When production began, my job as a writer was completed.  The stories had been developed.  From that point on, all of the difficulties I experienced, as well as the inspiration I received, were aspects of producing the story.  They only affected the way my audience perceived the story, the moments through which they entered the story, not the story itself.

Once my artist, Alisa Ogura, sent me the finished comic art in mid-January, it was my job to go in and letter the comic, using Gimp (the free version of Photoshop) to add the dialogue on top of her art.  At this point, it had been many months since I had written the comic script.  In the meantime, a few lines of dialogue had changed while I wrote the play script.  However, these tweaks were not the result of the difference between the mediums, but rather the result of spending more time with the script and deciding I preferred a slightly different phrasing.  Thus, while lettering, I chose to change those lines in the comic, as well.

I also made a few line changes to better correspond with the particular art that Alisa had drawn.  For example, on page 14, Rick is supposed to yell “How could you do this to us?” at Patty’s dead body.  Because Patty’s body was not visible on any of the panels on that page, I thought this might be confusing, as the audience might think Rick was still talking to the character named ‘Jessie’s Girl.’  Thus, I changed the line to “How could SHE do this to us?”  However, I chose to keep the line as “you” in the play, because I felt the direct address to Patty was more powerful.  I also made sure to direct my actor to yell that line specifically in the direction of Patty’s body, so that it would be obvious who he was speaking to.

As I will, once again, discuss further in Chapter 4 – Evaluation, I contend that these minor changes are not actually changes to the STORY itself, because two audience members discussing their unique experiences of either the comic or the play would probably not even be able to tell that there was a difference.  These were MINOR tweaks to the medium through which the audience experiences the story, made in order to optimize the audience’s experience in each particular medium.

 

Production Part 2 – Putting on the Play

 

I cast the play in the beginning of January, 2014.  Luke Bellmonte would play ‘man 1’ and Patrick Castillo would play ‘man 2.’  It was shortly after this point that I realized my characters would need to be called something.  The last two men on Earth are never named in the dialogue of my story.  I wanted them to ambiguously be ‘the last two men on Earth’ rather than taking on specific identities.  However, I knew I would be giving credit to my actors in the playbill, and I wanted them to be distinguished by something more clever than ‘man 1’ and ‘man 2’ so I called the characters ‘Rick Springfield’ and ‘Jessie’s Girl.’  Ultimately, I believe this was a mistake.  These monikers stuck, because people discussing the story needed something to call these characters, and that ultimately led to confusion, because ‘Jessie’s Girl’ is a male character and sounds particularly strange in the possessive, such as ‘Jessie’s Girl’s hair is longer in the final scene.’

My original intent was to produce the play using a lot of audience imagination (no props, no lights, no costumes), as I wasn’t sure if my extremely limited budget would allow me access to these sorts of commodities.  However, I knew I wanted to put together something more substantial than a staged reading.  I didn’t feel like a staged reading would be a complete enough product to fully compare the mediums.  I also hoped to (and then actually did) record the play so that, in the future, when I talk to people about my thesis, I have the ability to actually show them what the theatrical version was like.

Fortunately, I was able to access props, lights, and costumes through CSULA’s theatre department.  The ‘imaginative’ version of the play, in which the actors mimed all of their props, would have capitalized on some of theatre’s strengths to engage audience imagination, but ultimately, I feel like ACTUALLY seeing physical props and costumes BETTER capitalized on theatre’s ability to be physically present, and thus create a unique (and cool) postapocalyptic experience for my audience.

Having a crew was also extremely helpful during the production process.  Capri Harris served as my stage manager and Christopher Urena was my stagehand.  They, along with my actors, helped me come up with many ideas about how to best implement this story in a physical, theatrical setting.  For example, in the comic, Rick Springfield gets angry and smashes an alcohol bottle.  I was trying to think of a safe way to do this live, and Capri came up with the suggestion to use alcohol CANS instead.  Luke came up with much of his own physical comedy, which I find greatly enhanced the audience’s enjoyment of the play.

It is interesting to note how much of the audience’s experience of a play cannot be controlled by the writer.  Many aspects of production may be completely unknown to the writer during story development, such as the space in which the play may performed.  It was not until one week before opening, when I first physically entered the theatre we would be performing in, that I had the idea to scatter the audience’s chairs haphazardly in order to enhance their postapocalyptic experience.  I found that going through the production process was extremely helpful as it gave me a better grasp of the sort of unknown practical production concerns that I can attempt to take into account during future writing endeavors.  In general, I have found that understanding everyone else’s roles can be greatly helpful during any collaboration.

Ultimately, I felt the show was quite successful.  It opened on Thursday, February 28th, 2014.  The audience came in to a dark room, lit with a dim red light.  There was caution tape dangling from the ceiling.  Their chairs were strewn about.  And the stage was covered in postapocalyptic props.  The play occurred, then I came on stage, described the project, and gave the audience an opportunity to read the comic version of the story.  The next day, the audience came into the theatre, was handed a copy of the comic, and given an opportunity to read it.  Once everyone had finished reading, the play began.  On both nights, I gathered a lot of data through audience questionnaires, which I will, of course, talk more about in Chapter 4 – Evaluation.

 

CHAPTER 3 – RESEARCH

 

Research Part 1 – Stories

 

As with any project, a great variety of research went into making this thesis successful, the first being research into the nature of postapocalyptic stories.  As writers, every story we ever consume throughout our entire life influences the stories that we then choose to tell.  I could not have conceived of the world I did without the help of Brian K. Vaughn’s comic “Y – The Last Man,” Pendleton Ward’s television show “Adventure Time,” George Miller’s movie “Mad Max,” Square-Enix’s video game “Chrono Trigger,” or H.G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine.  The existence of postapocalyptic stories that have influenced me over the years in so many different mediums is further support of this idea that stories somehow exist beyond the medium through which they are told.  The postapocalyptic story in, for example, “Chrono Trigger,” does not inspire my writing only in video games, but in all stories I create.  And as I reflect upon the story of “Chrono Trigger,” that story exists in my mind independent of the gameplay experience.

Because of this, everything I researched about the very nature of story itself was relevant to this project’s development.  Robert McKee’s book Story: Style, Structure, Substance and the Principles of Screenwriting was a huge influence.  Though it was written about screenwriting, much of the advice McKee gives translates perfectly into every other medium, because he dissects the very nature of story itself.  In fact, this book was the first time I heard the notion of stories existing beyond the audience’s experience of those stories.  McKee was discussing character development and said that our job as writers is to know our characters’ lives completely but pick and choose only a few key moments to actually show to our audience.

I was also largely influenced by personal advice I was given by two of comics’ greatest writers, John Michael Straczynski and Brian Michael Bendis.  At a comic book convention, Straczynski once told me a piece of writing advice that he got from science fiction great Harlan Ellison: writing is a process of elimination.  First, you write down everything you CAN say about a subject, then you edit that down to everything you want to say about the subject, then you edit that down to everything you NEED to say.  I think the same holds true with stories.  While creating, you brainstorming everything that COULD happen given certain characters in certain circumstances.  You edit that down to what you want to happen.  And then you edit that down to what NEEDS to happen in order to most effectively convey that story to your audience.  This idea that there is more that can be said than what is actually put down on the page in the finished product once again supports this idea that stories exist outside and beyond whatever form they actually take in a medium.

At another comic convention, writer Brian Michael Bendis told me that while (in some form or another) every story has already been told, not every conversation has already been had.  That rang very true to me, and is something else I think about when writing.  Stories about the end of the world have been told.  Stories dealing with death and suicide have been told.  But this particular conversation that I wrote between these two particular characters is something completely new that may provide some insight or perspective or ideas for the audience that they have never thought of before.  This greatly inspired me, because, after all, the reason we tell stories is to touch the lives of our audience.

 

Research Part 2 – Mediums

 

The next stage of my research involved examining the two specific mediums I would be writing in, comic books and plays.  Among the comic book community, Scott McCloud is generally considered the guru of the exploration of how comics work as a medium.  He has published three books on the subject, Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics, and Making Comics.  These books were extremely helpful in analyzing the ways in which readers process still images and use their imaginations to fill in the story gaps between each panel break.  This phenomenon is unique to comics, and something that writers must capitalize upon in order to maximize their reader’s enjoyment.

I also drew upon my own experience reading and writing comics to further add to my knowledge of what the medium is capable of and what makes a ‘good’ comic book.  Comics are primarily a visual medium.  What most readers respond to are the pictures on the page, far more so than the accompanying words.  Criticism of my first comic, “Behind the Hero,” taught me that a wide variety of image types and sizes are necessary for an optimum reader experience.

I have less personal experience in the world of professional theatre, as most of my experience with theatre has been in indie productions, such as for schools and churches.  They tended to be free, no-budget shows put on by a group of enthusiastic friends.  Because of this, roles were extremely blurred.  We didn’t use stage managers or light operators.  If a light needed moving, whoever was closest to it would get up and move it.  In order to get a better idea of what professional theatre was capable of, I read books such as Playwrighting for Dummies by Angelo Parra and The Playwright’s Guidebook by Stuart Spencer.  I also spoke with theatre students at CSULA.  Ultimately, however, “Lately Something’s Changed” WAS a small indie production with no budget that was free to the public.  I would, however, love to see what could be done with this story in a theatrical setting with an unlimited budget.

Unfortunately (at least from a researching perspective, perhaps very fortunate from the perspective of developing new art) combinations of comics and theatre are extremely rare.  In fact, I was able to discover only one true combination in all of my research, The Comic Book Theatre Festival held at The Brick Theatre in Brooklyn, New York in 2011.  I greatly wish I could have attended, but it was already a distant memory before I even conceived of the idea for this project.  It was, however, well received by reviewers online, which was an encouraging change from the most well known story that had been told in both mediums, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.”  One of my goals for this project was to prove that comic books and theatre can blend together successfully, unlike that disastrous Broadway musical.  There are a handful of early comic strips that have also been converted into plays (Lil Abner, Little Orphan Annie, Addams Family), but the zeitgeist tends to forget that these successful plays ever existed as comics.

Another less known instance of comics and theatre converging was Stuart Gordon’s “Warp!”  This play was originally developed in 1971 at Chicago’s Organic Theatre Company as an attempt to bring the Marvel Comics characters to the stage.  Gordon was unable to procure the license for these characters, so he created his own analogous characters.  The play was even told in multiple parts on different nights, much like a serialized monthly comic book.  The show then moved to Broadway, where Marvel Comics artist Neal Adams actually served as art director.  In an interview conducted on opening night of the Broadway version, Gordon talked about the difficulties of overcoming the budgetary (and physical) limitations of theatre, but also that the audience thought it was “far out” to actually see these sorts of “comic book visuals” come to life.  This is very similar to the experience I wound up having with “Lately Something’s Changed.”

The goal of this project was not to create a comic book and then adapt it into a play (though it could be said that that is what I ultimately did.)  However, research into the nature of adaptation was still relevant, so I took an adaptation class taught by Professor Hackel, where we studied the book Film Adaptation edited by James Naremore.  Many of the principles we discussed in that class about taking a story and telling it through a different medium were influential to my understanding of how stories exist beyond the medium through which they are told.  The message we seemed to keep returning to was that the primary goal of adaptation was to stay true to the underlying story, rather than specific moments that may have been used well in a particular medium.  For example, the Harry Potter movies are much shorter than the books, simply because of the temporal limitations of the film medium.  However, the adaptations are generally considered successful because the scenes they did choose to include in the films conveyed the core of the characters and their struggles.

 

CHAPTER 4 – EVALUATION

 

Critiquing the Products

 

I will begin my evaluation by examining the two individual products I created, a comic book and a play, and discussing what I could have done better in each.  First, in the comic, the panel where Jessie’s Girl holds a knife to his throat and considers killing himself is unclear.  Because there is no dialogue to accompany the visuals, the visuals needed to be especially clear to indicate his thoughts, and they weren’t.  Particularly, because of the angle he is holding the knife and the direction he is looking, he appears to be examining it, rather than considering slitting his throat.  Multiple readers who had not seen the play indicated a problem with that very key panel.

In the play, I could have handled the scene transitions better.  Although there were only three of them, they were long periods of dark silence.  I think some type of audio would have greatly enhanced these moments.  Then, if I had purposefully not used audio during the transition immediately following Rick Springfield’s death, that silence would have been even more powerful.  From an acting standpoint, Luke forgot an essential monologue about the process of moving on after a death during Thursday night’s opening performance.  I knew he didn’t have his lines down during our dress rehearsal the night before, and as a director, I feel I could have been harder on him in order to thus encourage him to get those lines down by opening.

There were also a few lines that the actors learned subtly wrong, saying things like “another” refill rather than “a” refill or “this absolute” rather than “the absolute.”  I noticed these differences during rehearsal, but chose not to say anything, because I understand that learning lines quickly (we only had six weeks of rehearsal) is difficult.  I thought the lines were close enough to the original, and thus not worth mentioning.  I’m not sure I would have done anything differently (other than having more rehearsal time), but I do want to take a moment to analyze what effect these small line changes have.  It would be ridiculous to say that the difference between “this” and “the” actually changes the STORY of “Lately Something’s Changed.”  This particular difference (a product of the theatrical medium) instead merely has a tiny influence on the audience’s experience of that story.  Certainly, enough small changes can add up to major differences, they simply didn’t in this particular case.

The potential for an actor to forget or mis-say a line, or for the audience to misunderstand their speech, is an x-factor in theatre that does not exist in a comic book.  But as a writer, there’s unfortunately nothing we can do about this.  We COULD write in such a way that no individual line carries so much weight that its absence changes the meaning, tone, or direction of the story.  But this is a mistake, as it caters to the lowest common denominator of collaboration, rather than aiming for the highest.  Also, this same worry does exist in comic books in a different form: a reader could breeze through a particularly important sentence and not quite catch its full meaning.

I believe the missing monologue on opening night also highlights one of the biggest differences between comics and theatre: now that the comic is printed, it is done and it is the same one hundred percent of the time.  What the audience brings to the comic will vary, but the physical comic itself is always identical.  The play, however, was slightly different each night it was performed.  Also, if the same play were ever remounted, it would no doubt have numerous differences.

This is an interesting phenomenon that is unique to theatre and I believe derived from the fact that theatre ceases to exist in any sort of physical form once it is performed.  It would be absurd to have a new artist draw a comic book that has already been made (a fun artistic experiment perhaps, but completely unheard of.)  Even when movies get remade, they use a COMPLETELY different script.  Remakes are much more like adaptations than they are remounts.  Only in theatre is the exact same script used by multiple directors in different locations at different times to create similar but ultimately different products.

If this project were ever remounted, I would be interested in seeing how a different director approached the material.  I would also be interested in seeing responses from audiences who didn’t know that the piece has a comic book element.  Can it stand completely on its own as a theatrical piece?  I think (and hope) that it can.  The only reason I fear it couldn’t is because of its short length.  That length does, however, make it appropriate for school productions for students who don’t have the time or resources to mount a full-length play.

Similarly, can the comic stand on its own?  I hope so.  I plan to use it as a calling card in the comic book community.  My artist, Alisa Ogura, and I have developed another project (along with my co-writer and friend Zach Seemayer) that we will be pitching to comic book publishers in the forthcoming year.  We will use “Lately Something’s Changed” to show the caliber of what we can create, and then present them with the pitch for our new project.

 

Perspective

 

Upon reflection, I realized that I have been viewing this project primarily as a comic book story that I also happened to make into a play.  This is for three reasons.  First, I see myself primarily as a comic book writer.  Second, I plan on using the comic as part of my professional portfolio, whereas I don’t have any specific plans to move forward with the play on a professional level.  Third, I did technically write the words to the comic first, because they needed to be written in that order to be finished simultaneously.

What might be different if I had switched my perspective and looked at this project as a play first that I also happened to make into a comic?  I don’t believe the STORY would have changed, but I may have tried to capture the most important MOMENTS of the play within the comic.  I may have used more panels to try to give the comic book version of Jessie’s Girl the same physical humor that Luke brought to the character.  Jessie’s Girl would have stabbed himself while trying to open his can of beans, rather than while eating them, because this was a moment we devised during rehearsal as a reaction to not having a real knife.  If Patrick walking into the audience was an important part of the play, then I might have given that moment an entire splash page where the character is breaking the panel border and screaming directly at the reader.  It’s hard to say whether any of these changes would have improved or worsened the quality of the comic, but it does clearly illustrate that the PERSPECTIVE through which we view a project certainly has a large effect.

 

Analyzing Audience Reactions

 

I devised four sets of questionnaires for my audience (see Appendix C): one for people who had only experienced the comic, and then a follow-up for after they had also seen the play; a third for people who had only seen the play, and then a follow-up for once they had also read the comic.  At each stage, I asked what their favorite moment of the story was, what moment they considered the funniest, which moment was most memorable, and which moment had the greatest emotional impact on them.  In the second set of questionnaires, I also asked whether their emotional moment had a smaller, similar, or greater emotional impact in the other medium.  I asked which version was their favorite, and finally, I asked them to rank how similar they found the products to be on a scale of one to ten.

I was worried that the audience would become quite bored experiencing the same story twice in a row (so much so that I apologized for it in the playbill).  Imagine the tediousness of watching the same movie back to back.  I believed that because the words were essentially identical, and because the plot points unfolded in the same order, that audiences, knowing what was coming next, would not enjoy watching (or reading) those events unfold.  Even though the products were different, the stories were the same, and I was worried that would cause audiences to lose interest.

I was happily surprised to find that this was not the case.  In fact, most people said that they enjoyed getting to experience both versions of the story and felt like they complimented each other.  Perhaps this means I did an insufficient job of creating pieces that could stand on their own.  However, in the reviews of people who had only experienced one or the other (i.e. the questionnaires filled out on Friday after they had read the comic but before they had seen the play), the responses were still quite positive.  In retrospect, I realize that the questions I asked were a bit leading in the positive direction.  I asked about the audiences’ favorite, funniest, most memorable, and most emotional moments.  I did not ask what their least favorite moments were, what moments were boring, or what they would change.  However, I was happy to note that a few responders had no problem telling me that they found no moments to be funny.  I take this as a good sign that if people had felt there were no emotional moments or that they didn’t have a favorite moment, they would have told me this, as well.  And no one did.

 

Similarity Scale

 

I also think I could have done a better job of constructing the similarity scale on my audience questionnaires.  I labeled zero as “almost similar” and ten as “indistinguishable.”  “Almost similar” created confusion, because people weren’t entirely sure how similar “almost” was.  “Indistinguishable” was a bit too strong of a word, as many commented that it drove them away from the higher end of the scale.  Also, based on the way I phrased the question, what I ultimately asked about were the PRODUCTS, the comic itself and the play itself, rather than the underlying STORY, the story being what I actually intended to analyze.

The average similarity listed on Thursday night was 6.9.  The average on Friday was 7.7, with an overall average of 7.3.  Statistically, the variance between the two nights is huge, and I think the reason has to do with the difference between the two mediums.  When you read a comic book, most of what you experience is provided by your individual imagination.  You use your imagination to fill the dialogue with a particular tone and cadence based on context clues and corresponding images.  Thus, everyone’s individual experience of a comic book is quite different and uniquely personal.  However, in theatre, each line is delivered in a singular specific manner.  Each audience member may have a SLIGHTLY different experience (based on the position of their seat, whether they are paying attention, and whatever unique point of view they bring to the experience), but that variance is tiny compared to the variance between audience members’ experiences reading a comic.

Thus, on Friday, when audience members read the comic first, there was a large percentage of people who, with their imaginations, imagined a tone and cadence in the dialogue that was different than the actual line delivery they then experienced during the play.  On Thursday, however, after having just seen the play, I suspect that most audience members used their imaginations to make the dialogue in the comic match the tone and cadence they had just seen in the play, thus making the two products seem more similar.

Although I didn’t actually wind up collecting any direct audience data about story, I think it’s safe to say that the underlying story of both the comic and the play are EXTREMELY similar (I would dare to say indistinguishable if I hadn’t already learned my lesson against using such strong language).  If an audience member were to write a summary of one or the other, I think it would be nearly impossible to tell which they were summarizing.  Interestingly though (biased scale or not), a 7.3 similarity between the final PRODUCTS is FAR from indistinguishable.  In fact, only 22% of the time did audience members list the same moment in both mediums as either their favorite, funniest, most memorable, or most emotional.  And not a single audience member said that their most emotional moment had the same emotional impact in both mediums.

I believe the differences between the mediums actually created a huge effect on the audience’s experience of the story.  Hearing words out loud is an extremely different process than hearing them in your head.  Passively watching events unfold onstage is extremely different than using your imagination to fill in gaps between images.  And I believe that is why no one seemed to get bored experiencing both the comic and play back to back.

 

Medium Affecting Audience Experience

 

Through creating this thesis and analyzing my audiences’ reactions, I ultimately drew the conclusion that choice of medium does not actually affect the underlying story.  However, choice of medium does have a HUGE effect on the WAY the audience experiences that story, which is why a good writer won’t choose to tell a story that can’t be told well through the medium they are using.  To further explore this phenomenon, I will compare audience reactions to Patty’s death and Rick’s death.

Based on responses to my questionnaires, I created a graph of the most common favorite, funny, memorable, and emotional moments in each medium (see Appendix D).  Two things instantly stand out as apparent: Patty’s death was more emotionally powerful in the play, and Rick’s death was more emotionally powerful in the comic.  Reading audience’s comments (I made sure to add ‘why’ at the end of each of question) makes it clear that this difference is a reflection of the way those moments were expressed through each medium.  In the play, after they discover Patty’s body, we sit in real time with Rick Springfield and Jessie’s Girl.  Being in the presence of mourning people is a visceral experience, and sitting in that silent pain in real time clearly had a large effect on the audience, much larger than the silent panels in the comic.

When Rick dies, however, the comic was much more powerful because it was able to more fully explore that moment.  Rick Springfield kills himself by jumping off a cliff while Jessie’s Girl watches, unable to do anything to stop it.  In the play, Patrick (the actor playing Rick) stood up on a block, and as soon as he indicated that he was jumping off, I cut the lights.  The blackout ensured Patrick’s safety (because he didn’t ACTUALLY have to jump) while still implying to the audience that he was killing himself.  But in the comic, we actually get to see him fall.  And more importantly (as many audience members noted) we get to see a closeup on Jessie’s Girl’s face as he watches Rick die.  This closeup did not in any way change the story, but it allowed the audience to more fully appreciate the emotions of that moment.

Analyzing audience reactions to Patty’s death on the two different evenings also produces some interesting results.  On Friday, after only reading the comic, no one mentioned Patty’s death as their favorite moment in the comic.  However, on Thursday, 8% of respondents who saw the play first then marked Patty’s death as their favorite moment in the comic.  The phenomenon repeats itself.  Only 6% of respondents marked Patty’s death as their most memorable moment after only reading the comic, but 18% of respondents who saw the play first then marked Patty’s death as their most memorable moment in the comic.  In the ‘emotional moment’ category, Patty’s death jumps from 11% up to 31%.  I believe this is because audience members didn’t get to see Patty’s body during the play (for practical production reasons, and due to limited resources, her ‘body’ was hidden offstage.)  Thus, it was an unexpected pleasure to actually see her body in the comic book version, to SEE Rick’s sadness as he held her and tried to revive her (rather than hearing it from offstage).  But for those who had only read the comic, there was no expectation of NOT seeing her body, so seeing her body wasn’t particularly memorable or meaningful.  This doesn’t necessarily say as much about a particular medium as it does about how our expectations influence our enjoyment, emotional involvement, and reaction to a story.

All audience members have expectations about the way a medium will tell a story, and meeting or subverting those expectations should be done on purpose in order to control what sort of experience you want your audience to have.  I could have used only a single panel on each page of the comic, but that would have defied expectations, and if I didn’t do that for a REASON that somehow integrated with the story and enhanced the audience’s experience of that story, they would have left the experience asking, ‘Why was there only one panel on each page?’  And focusing on that would have meant that they WEREN’T focusing on the CONTENT of the story.  Playing with the nature of mediums is fun, but should only be done for a REASON.

I (minorly) subverted some theatrical expectations by having Patrick yell one of his lines from on top of the audience risers, in the middle of the audience.  This convention isn’t completely unheard of, but it was unexpected, and many audience members commented that it made that moment more powerful for them.  But one audience member wrote that breaking the fourth wall ruined that moment for them.  The difficulty here is that you can’t control what the audience brings to your story, and while there are general expectations that most people share, if enough people see your work, there will always be exceptions.  Some of the audience is going to bring something totally different than anything you could possibly anticipate to their experience of your story.

Another interesting phenomenon based upon the order in which audiences experienced the comic and the play is that, overwhelmingly, people who saw the play first and then read the comic preferred the comic.  I believe analyzing this phenomenon indicates the strengths of these two mediums.  The most common reason given by those who preferred the comic was the superior visuals; actually getting to SEE the postapocalyptic landscape, Patty’s body, and Jessie’s Girl’s reaction to Rick’s death.  The most common reason given by those who preferred the play was that they felt the actors did a better job of portraying the characters’ emotions; the happy banter between the characters in the beginning, the sadness and anger after Patty’s death, Jessie’s Girl’s contemplation of suicide.

When reading a comic, readers use context clues and corresponding images to understand what emotions a character may be experiencing in any particular scene.  However, I do not believe that most readers will EXPERIENCE those emotions on an emotional level, they will only register them on a cognitive level.  They will say (for example) ‘Rick is angry in this scene’ and read an appropriate delivery.  But when a person onstage, sharing the same space as you, is getting angry, you EXPERIENCE an emotional reaction.  Whether you get angry with them, or afraid of their anger, or something completely unexpected, it is impossible for us as empathetic humans to watch another person experience an emotion (even someone we know is just acting) and not also experience some type of emotion ourselves.  This is the strength of live theatre.

Everyone who read the comic second still had all of those real experienced emotions fresh in their minds.  As they read through scenes they had just experienced, I believe they used their imaginations to infuse those moments with the emotions they had just experienced in ways that an audience who came into the comic book fresh could not.  Therefore, people who read the comic book second had the best of both mediums; they took the emotional power of the theatre with them into their reading of the comic, while still maintaining the comic’s superior visuals.

Thus, I don’t believe the overwhelming favoritism of the comic is in any way a slight against the play, but simply a result of the nature of the two mediums.  In fact, the quality of the two pieces is so similar that on Friday, when the ‘medium-bias’ effect I described above was absent, there was a three-way tie for favorite between comic, play, and ‘both.’  I believe that if repeated, those reading the comic book second will always tend to favor the comic.

 

Clarifying my Conclusions

 

In Chapter 2 – Process, I mentioned that while developing my original story, I decided to create a fairly stable postapocalyptic society.  I noted that nothing important could happen to my characters while they were children, because I lacked access to child actors.  While this seems like medium affecting story, I contend that it is actually something different for this reason: that other story still exists.  I could have developed a story where all kinds of shenanigans happen to their children and then done my best to tell that story as a play.  In this case, that would have meant adult actors playing child characters, which is not ideal, but certainly not impossible.  The theatrical medium did not PROHIBIT me from telling that story or FORCE me to tell a different story.  I simply CHOSE to tell a different story, one that I felt I could better express through the theatrical medium.

My point is that any story CAN be told through any medium, and medium does not HAVE to influence that story’s development.  But a good writer is constantly considering medium, and does not choose to tell a story that cannot be told WELL through the medium they have chosen to use.  It is important for a writer to keep the strengths and weaknesses of each medium in mind so that they take advantage of those strengths and emphasize the right moments in order to create the most positive reactions from their audience.  And fortunately, I did that, and so I got very positive reactions from my audience.

However, another important fact that I have come to realize, even through the process of writing this paper, is that the development process for every single story is different.  Each writer brings something unique to each project they develop.  For me, in this particular project, the story was developed in the nebulous regions of my mind.  Then, I did my best to express that story as a comic.  Then I did my best to express that story as a play.  Ultimately, while the differences in the mediums created a unique audience experience in each medium, the underlying story remained the same.  But a different story developed by a different writer at a different time could be conceived of in a completely different manner, and heavily influenced by medium.

 

A Unique Artistic Experiment

 

My objective with this project was to create a unique comic that could stand alone and a unique play that could stand alone that happened to share the same story and then compare the two.  However, MERGING the two together as I did in order to gather audience reactions created a third product that I think is very special.  Many audience members commented to me, both on their questionnaires and in person, that they felt getting to experience BOTH versions of the story greatly enhanced their appreciation of the story, as well as creating a unique evening of entertainment.  While I do want both products to be able to stand on their own, I think this merging of mediums to create new art is something very interesting worth exploring further as I move on with my career as a writer.  How else might two different mediums fuse to create unique experiences for an audience?  Let’s look to more creative futures, and not limit ourselves by mediums that already exist.

 

CHAPTER 5 – CONCLUSION

 

Ultimately, I drew the conclusion that stories exists beyond what medium they are told through.  Medium does not seem to affect the story ITSELF (at least in the case of “Lately Something’s Changed”), so much as it affects HOW you express that story to an audience.  Medium forces you to tweak small moments in order to best capitalize on that medium’s ability to express that particular moment.  For example, theatre did a superior job of capturing the powerful sadness following Patty’s death while comics did a superior job of exploring the moments surrounding Rick’s death.

So, if these changes do not affect the story, what do they affect?  On the one hand, changing a single line (such as saying “this” rather than “the”) has an imperceivably small change on the audience’s experience of that story.  But on the other hand, a series of small differences add up.  You could summarize a story and still be telling the same story, but that summary would be an extremely different experience than actually watching that story unfold.  It is the act of living through a series of small moments, any of which individually could be removed without creating a noticeable difference, that ultimately creates the EXPERIENCE of a story.  And it’s the act of EXPERIENCING a story, of living through those small moments, one by one, that makes a story interesting and worthwhile to an audience.

THAT’S the key difference between any two mediums.  THAT’S WHAT a medium DOES.  It transcends the story from something that you think about ethereally into something you EXPERIENCE, and when you experience it, you, as an empathetic being, have what Robert McKee calls meaningful emotional catharsis, which inserts both meaning and pleasure into the story.

I want to take a moment to go back to “T&A,” the story that started me down the path of this particular thesis project.  Based on the changes made while developing that story, I anticipated finding a myriad of ways that medium affected story development.  But upon further inspection, I see now that the changing mediums was not affecting the development of the T&A story, but rather, as the story developed, my writer instincts were choosing new mediums through which the story could better be told.  I realized that the gritty, dark, crumbling world I had developed in prose would look incredible as a comic.  As I inserted depth into the characters, I realized that seeing them onscreen, portrayed by real actors, would do a better job of bringing them to life.  When dinosaurs and slime monsters entered the world, I realized that animation would be the most effective (by which I mean cheapest) means of bringing those images to the screen.  As I mentioned at the beginning of Chapter 2 – Process, I normally conceive of a story independent of medium and then think about which medium would best be able to express that story, and as it turns out, that’s what I had been doing with “T&A” all along.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thank you to Professor Steve Rothman for taking the time to perform the bureaucratic nightmare that is being a thesis chair.  And to Professors Anne McMills and Kristiina Hackel for joining in on the fun.

Thank you to each of the other professors who had a hand in the development of this thesis: José Cruz González, Alan Bloom, Suzanne Regan, and James Hatfield.

Thank you to the entire crew of the CSULA Theatre Department, particularly Meredith Greenburg, Elizabeth Pietrzak, Bruce Zwinge, and Candice Clasby. Thank you to Karmela Cooper for knowing everything, and to the rest of the TVFT teachers, staff, and students for sharing in a particularly peculiar journey.

Thank you to Luke Bellmonte, Patrick Castillo, Capri Harris, and Christopher Urena for your parts in producing the play. I literally couldn’t have done this without you.

A special thank you to Alisa Ogura for your wonderful work as an artist and for being an incredible collaborator.

Thank you to Zach Seemayer for laughing so hard the first time I told him my “Jessie’s Girl” joke that I decided to base my entire thesis on it. And for recording the play for posterity. And for being a friend. And, you know, other stuff.

Thank you to Jill Pagan, Evan Manning, and Jennafer Worland for going first and leading by example.

Thank you to Vince Major for letting me quote you in my thesis, and for saying something worth quoting.

Thank you to my employers and mentors, Chris Soth and Scott Lobdell.

Thank you to Brian Michael Bendis and John Michael Straczynski for both having the middle name Michael, and for taking the time to share your wisdom with me.

Thank you to Rick Springfield for writing a nifty little ditty.

Thank you to my dad for being the most likely person to actually read this paper.

Thank you to my roommates Lisa Hill and Morgan Callaway for sitting next to me and watching “King of the Hill” while I write these acknowledgements.

Thank you to everyone who came to see my play. Performing is rather moot without an audience, and I couldn’t have written this paper without analyzing your feedback.

And thank you to everyone in the universe for making the universe an interesting place to spend some time.

 

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