Here's the latest Storytelling Engine from John Seavey. Check out more of them at his blog, Fraggmented.
Storytelling Engines:Howard the Duck
(or "It's Not For You")
When looking at Steve Gerber's 70s opus 'Howard the Duck', it seems in many ways to be a perfect example of what not to do when creating a storytelling engine. The reason for this is very simple: It is a perfect example of what not to do when creating a storytelling engine. Gerber freely admits (most notably in issue #16, the "album issue") that he has no overarching plan, no grand direction in which he plans to take the series. "In fact," he says, "the 'next issue blurb at the end of each story is always the most difficult line for me to write. I change my mind like some people change underwear. Ideas go stale for me as quickly as...well, you get the gist. I'm easily bored."
This is, as followers of this column might note, a poor way to go about building a book into a long-term series of self-generating stories. With Gerber's constant changes of setting, inconsistent supporting cast, and free-flowing stream-of-consciousness storylines, he puts himself in a position where he has to rely on inspiration striking him each month instead of letting established characters and settings do his work for him.
Which is the point of today's column: That doesn't mean he's doing things "wrong." He might be doing things in a way that makes it more difficult for himself in the long term, and it definitely might make things difficult for future writers on the series. (Which, in fact, it did; 'Howard' never recovered from Gerber's departure, and the series and character essentially vanished from the scene until the 21st century.) But Gerber isn't required to make the job easy for himself or others, and he's not required to make plans for the long haul. Sometimes, one story is all you ever want to tell.