As regular readers of this site probably know, I’m more of a TV fan than a film buff. One of the interesting things about watching American TV shows in a few specific genres (eg: the sci-fi, detective, thiller and/or horror genres) is that there’s a group of actors and actresses that appear in multiple shows in these genres. Since TV is a lot less celebrity-obsessed than film is, there’s a relatively unknown group of people who turn up in numerous TV shows.
For example, a couple of days before I wrote this article earlier this year, Channel 5 showed two episodes of “NCIS” on subsequent days. One of these episodes guest-starred Stephanie Jacobsen from “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” and “Battlestar Galactica: Razor”. The other episode guest-starred Jim Beaver, which immediately prompted me to think “Oh my god! It’s Bobby from ‘Supernatural’! This is so cool!” as soon as I saw him.
I could probably go on about this sort of thing for a while. I mean, I could probably write an entire article just about how many times I’ve seen Mark A. Sheppard appear in various TV shows. Seriously, he’s appeared in quite a few of the cool TV shows that I’ve seen.
It’s always interesting to see someone familiar playing a totally different character. Although their character might be different, it’s still a little bit like seeing a cameo appearance from one of your favourite characters from another TV show. In fact, it takes some fairly good acting/writing for the audience to accept that they’re a totally different character.
A cool example of this would probably be when the one and only Claudia Black joined the cast of “Stargate SG-1” after “Farscape” had finished. Although the show contains a few references to her character from “Farscape”, she plays a totally different (and much funnier) character in “Stargate SG-1” and this is quickly shown through excellent writing and acting.
But, what does any of this have to do with prose fiction and/or comics? Well, it doesn’t – that’s kind of the point.
Because characters in fiction and comics are just that, characters, you don’t really get these kinds of moments when reading comics or novels. Yes, not having to hire a group of actors/actresses every time you want to tell a story is one of the advantages that comics/fiction have over TV/film, but it also means that writers miss out on the coolness factor of hiring someone who the audience is already familiar with.
So, I was wondering if comics and fiction could at least do something similar?
I’m guessing that this is probably a lot easier to do with comics than it is with prose fiction. After all, since comics are a visual medium – all you really have to do is to make sure that one of your new characters looks a little bit like one of the characters from your previous comics. Yes, you need to include a few visual differences (so that your audience isn’t confused), but it’s fairly easy to do.
However, this sort of thing is probably a lot more difficult to do in prose fiction, since it isn’t a visual medium. I guess that one possible way to do this in prose fiction is to make one of your characters have a slightly similar personality to one of your previous characters. Even so, this is probably quite difficult to do well. If the two characters are too similar, your audience will probably think that you’ve run out of ideas. But, if they’re too different, then your audience probably won’t see the connection.
Then again, if you’re writing prose fiction, then there aren’t really any rules against having your characters appear in multiple stories. So, I guess that writers have an added advantage here, since they don’t need to go down the route of using similar characters, when they can just use the same characters.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂