Do authors owe readers anything at all? And does that debt grow the further into a story readers get?
I ask because I believe there is a grave difference between surprising or challenging a reader for entertainment and betraying that reader’s trust.
An author asks for a reader’s attention, yes? And that same author earns readers’ attention by making certain promises; to entertain, to thrill, to intellectually challenge; to provoke thought, emotions, moral reflection; to scare, etc. Once the reader accepts the author’s offer, a pact is created: an author will provide a certain kind of entertainment aimed at eliciting certain responses, and in return, readers will continue to read.
What happens when an author violates that pact?
After considerable time trying to shake THE WALKING DEAD issue #100, I am amazed at how thoroughly betrayed I feel. Not entertained. Not thrilled, spooked, scared, horrified, or any other sensation. I believe the comic book’s creative team was disloyal to its readers, and may have damaged THE WALKING DEAD experience significantly, perhaps irreparably.
I understand that one of the rules of this book’s world is “no one is safe.” I have lived with that, even when continuing was difficult (the Governor’s serial raping of Michonne was nearly impossible to get beyond; I actually stopped reading for more than a year, until a friend wore me down saying the book “got better”). I also understand that another of the rules of this series is “this group of people is worth watching.” If this group was not worthy of our attention, was not somehow more worthy of following than any other group, then the book would have been a non-linear series of stories moving from group to group, and would not have made it to issue #100.
The reason a book is successful comes down to character. Character is story and story is character. Everything of value in storytelling must emerge from character. Plot comes from character. Suspense, horror, humor, love, all of it comes from character. And the agreement between author and reader is “these characters are worthwhile, they have something to say to you.”
The Walking Dead team entered into this pact with readers, especially in regards to characters they kept in front of readers for almost 100 issues. Why would an author ask readers to invest in a character for almost 100 issues if that character had nothing to say? That is why we keep reading because we have been promised these characters “have something to say.”
In issue #100, the WD team seemed to suddenly, violently, declare, “No, they do not.”
From very early on in the series, the WD team wrote and drew and inked and lettered the character Glenn in such a way as to evoke a sympathetic response in readers. Glenn meant something to the creators; it is clear from how they allowed him to exist. Glenn was the hope left in that world. And in issue #100, the WD team utterly decimated that hope. He was violated with such lack of respect, such cheap thrills, such utter dismissal of his value as to alter how this world is perceived by readers from this point forward.
And it is easy to understand that the WD team meant to change the way we perceive this world. And they succeeded. But here’s the problem; the change violated the pact. We were promised these people were worth watching, that they were different than the rest of this world of victims, and therein was the promise of hope.
Now, unfortunately, there’s no more hope, no more reason to “watch this group” above any other. There will never again be that sliver of hope that some semblance of worthwhile existence can be achieved, and if there is no hope that life is worth living, where is the entertainment value?
We read horror for catharsis, release. Now those elements have been removed. That was not the pact. The agreement was these characters were special, were worth watching. It seems the WD team betrayed our faith in these characters as worthwhile, in this book as worthy of our time, in their storytelling abilities as worth experiencing. They undermined the character’s collective heroic journey, and obliterated trust that these people are worth following.
Sadly, I am not sure I can go any further with THE WALKING DEAD, in either comics or television. After Glenn, what’s the point?
I’d love to see the opinion of others. Hopefully, there is someone out there who can restore my faith in what had been an exceptional experience. What do you say? Is there an author/reader pact?