When To Use Invincible Comic Characters (And When Not To)

2016 Artwork Death In Webcomics article sketch

Well, I’m still in the mood for writing about making webcomics – although everything that I say in this article can probably also be applied to both traditional comics and (to a lesser extent) prose fiction too. In fact, I’ll also be using examples from television and cinema too. I will, of course, be talking about death. Or, rather, the lack of it.

"Damania Regrown - Cheating Death" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Regrown – Cheating Death” By C. A. Brown

One of the most important, but usually subconscious, decisions that you’ll have to make when you start making a webcomic (even an occasional one) is the question of whether your characters can die or not. Or, more accurately, how difficult it will be for your main characters to die.

The general rule here is that, if you’re making a comedy comic, then your main characters should either be immortal or – at the very least- extremely unlikely to die. Although this depends a lot on the style of humour you’re using, it’s a good general rule to follow.

Generally, good comedy tends to subvert the rules of life slightly. After all, good comedy relies on playing with the audience’s expectations. For example, if the famous “Springfield Gorge” scene from “The Simpsons” took place in a “realistic” live action film, not only would it be stomach-churningly horrific – but it would only last for maybe a quarter of the amount of time, for the simple reason that Homer Simpson would have died by then.

However, since it’s an unrealistic stylised cartoon in a comedy show where character deaths are extremely rare, the scene goes from being one of abject horror to being a classic example of slapstick comedy. But, it’s only funny because we all know that Homer Simpson won’t die. Not only that, we also know that his injuries will have magically disappeared in the next episode.

But, if you’re going to include frequent character deaths in a comedy comic, then make sure that these characters don’t have too much characterisation. For example, in my short-lived comedy fiction series from 2013 called “Ambitus“, one of the running jokes is that the lifespan of Captain Jola’s first officer can usually be measured in minutes rather than years. Since these characters tend to die in amusingly bizarre ways several minutes after being introduced, the audience doesn’t have time to form an attachment to them.

However, if your comic or webcomic is trying to tell a more “dramatic” story, then you should probably take death a bit more seriously. For example, one of the things that has always put me off of the superhero genre is the fact that the main characters seem to be pretty much invincible (and/or easily brought back from the dead). When the main character is invincible in a “serious” story, then it’s like playing a computer game with the “God mode” cheat turned on. It’s fun for a few minutes, but it quickly loses all suspense and becomes boring as a result.

To use a cinematic example that I’ve used before, it’s like the difference between the first and fifth “Die Hard” movies. In the first movie, one dramatic moment is when the main character treads on some broken glass and seriously injures his foot (which actually has an effect on the story, for a short while at least). This increases the suspense by explicitly showing the audience that he’s only human. It also makes his eventual victory against a team of heavily-armed terrorists all the more dramatic and satisfying.

However, in the fifth movie, the same character is able to survive a large fiery explosion right next to him just by hiding behind a small box. He’s also able to fall large distances, with only a scratch or two to show for it. He’s very clearly invincible, so there’s no real suspense because the film has basically told the audience “he’s an invincible superhuman who cannot be harmed, unlike the villains..“. He goes from being an action hero to being a superhero in all but name.

Of course, I’ve described two extremes here. Obviously, not everything is either highly comedic or gloomily serious. Most things fall somewhere in the middle.

Even so, it’s worth considering how invulnerable your characters will be before you start making a webcomic, making a traditional comic, writing a novel etc..

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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