The day before I wrote this article, I was reminded of the whole subject of creator cameos by this hilariously cynical “Cracked” article about terrible director cameos in films. Although some of them didn’t seem that bad (I mean, I certainly didn’t notice George Lucas lurking in the background of one of the “Star Wars” films, or Peter Jackson doing the same in one of the “Lord Of The Rings” movies), it certainly made me think about the subject again.
Creator cameos are probably the classic example of an in-joke. A good creator cameo is usually either only noticed by the creator or by people who are serious fans of the thing in question. A good example from one of my favourite computer games is probably John Romero’s cameo in “Doom II”.
During the final boss battle, there’s an ominous backwards message in the background (recorded by Romero) that says something like “To win the game, you must kill me, John Romero!“. This was placed into the game after Romero had learnt that one of the other programmers had secretly added a photo of his head to a hidden room behind the final boss (which can only be seen if you use cheat codes). To win the game, you literally have to fire rockets into this hidden room via a small gap in the wall.
One reason why people like to add themselves to the things that they make is because they’ve spent such a long time with a group of characters or a fictional world that they literally feel like they’re a small part of it. Either that, or they’re curious about how they would fit into the fictional “world” that they’ve created. Or they do it just for a laugh.
The general rule with creator cameos is that the less prominent they are, the better. Going back to films, a good example can be found in the original “Evil Dead” movie. If you don’t listen to the director’s commentary, then there’s no real way to know that two hitchhikers who are seen for a couple of seconds at the beginning of the film are actually none other than Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert.
In other words, a good creator cameo should be a carefully-hidden thing that gives fans an additional surprise but which goes unnoticed by casual members of the audience. If in doubt, then leave it out.
Surprisingly, I only really worked this out through trial and error. Even thinking about a couple of the more blatant cameos I added to my old webcomics from 2010-2013 kind of makes me cringe slightly. In fact, it wasn’t until this year that I added another cameo to one of my webcomics (where I played a trendy modern artist, both for laughs and as a reference to this year’s April Fools Day article).
This webcomic update also illustrates another good rule to remember if you decide to give yourself a cameo in your comics or fiction. Your cameo shouldn’t be essential to anyone’s enjoyment or understanding of your comic. For example, the comic I just showed you would probably still be funny even if the second panel was missing.
Keeping creator cameos brief and slightly hidden also helps to avoid one of the other pitfalls that can appear when a writer or comic creator decides to become a character in their own works. I am, of course, talking about the dreaded “Mary Sue” character. This is where a character who represents the writer ends up being a ridiculously idealised character.
A good way to avoid this is to add some self-parody to your cameo appearance or, as I’ve said before, to keep your cameo fairly brief.
So, yes, creator cameos can be fun. Just don’t make them too prominent or add them too often.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂