Ah, the internet is a dangerous place, especially when one should be writing … imagine my dismay (and my hour long procrastination session) when I came across Ghosts of Albion, a BBC animated webcast written by Amber Benson (alas, Buffy fans recognize her as our dearly departed “Tara”) and Christopher Golden and animated by Cosgrove Hall.

Set in 19th Century England, siblings Tamara (a writer) and William (architect’s apprentice) Swift discover that their grandfather’s profession as a stage magician was cover for a hidden legacy – mystical protector of Albion (huh? you ask – ancient name for England, i reply).

Equally fascinating to me is Tamara’s Diary, where you can read more backstory and even help solve clues. While I haven’t had much time to read through this section, it highlights a significant interest for me – world-building, or the process through which we create a dynamic, believable world system. Faulkner was a master at this, as was someone like Tolkien. I’m fascinated, for example, by Faulkner’s inclusion of the map of Jefferson, the Genealogy, and the Chronology in Absalom. These apparent “historical artifacts” work in direct contrast to the intricate negotiations and complications that Faulkner weaves throughout the “main” text itself; they are a comment on the act of making history and (I believe) not addendums but rather a crucial part of what we call Absalom.

More and more we see instances where writers, artists, (etc) employ a variety of media and perspectives in order to create the illusion of a complex world system. Comic books have been doing this for a while – weaving art, word, and overlapping superhero titles to maintain a constant sense of universe (unless, of course, you read competing publishers – not sure I’ve ever heard of Batman running into Spidey). In fact, a few recent comic books play on this idea.Alias (not the TV show) is about a former “power” – Jessica Jones – who decides that she just doesn’t dig the superhero gig, so she becomes a private detective instead. Set in the Marvel Universe, she negotiates the power system of the tractional police departments (who dislike her because she’s a PI and a former “power”) and the elite superheroes (a club she used to belong to) – so you watch her get brushed off (or interrogated) by the police as well as the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, etc. She acts as a conduit through which we view the Marvel-verse; since Jones rests on the margins of these various power groups, she acts as the seam that stitches these worlds together.

Another semi-meta comic book is Powers, published by Image Comics and written by Brian Michael Bendis (who also writes Alias, as well as some Daredevil and Ultimate Spiderman) and Michael Oeming. Two cops (one a former “Power” – a superhero) are Homicide, Powers Division, investigating crimes of the superpowers who are, in this world, much more like pop stars. Again, we read at the seams, and while the powers are all original (not set in a Marvel-verse, or DC-verse), this book seems much more meta to me – commenting on the fandom of superpowers (and comic books) and the function of media in society. Not to mention some pretty great writing.

How did I get here? Comics have been on the brain, since a friend – D – lent me issues from Powers, Alias, Ultimate Spiderman, and Daredevil (the last of which I haven’t read yet). I felt the need to brush up on my comic lore base on my interests in the intersections of various media – print, art, film, and so on. Not to mention the fact that I collected as a kid and wanted to revive my interest without paying $3 an issue. Matt lent me the first four issues of Global Frequency, which chronicles a network of agents that save the world from a variety of (often cybernetic-style) dangers. The premise is interesting, although I think that the issues suffer from compactness – they force an entire story into one comic, which doesn’t leave too much room for dynamic development, whereas a traditional arc for one of Bendis’ comics is about four or five books.

Back to world-building – I think this fits into a couple of schemes, one of which is marketing. Consider, for example, the strategy of a popular film of 1999 – The Blair Witch Project. I first encountered this film on the internet, not in the theater. The so-called “paratextual” (paravisual?) of the Blair Witch project is what helped it achieve such commercial success. Combined with the pseudo-documentary nature of the film, the “world” of the Blair Witch was so convincing as to drive people to call the University of Maryland for more information (by the way, there is no Maryland University – tricky tricky). Marketing or no, the success rests on the sense of verisimilitude that seems to be the ultimate goal of world-building – create a logical structure whereby even the unexplained – or the unmentioned – can be accounted for in some fashion (incidentally, lots of fan fiction is born out of such openings; yet another wealth of material to study and explore).

The failure of the follow-up film – Book of Shadows – destroys this verisimilitude by documenting the very act that we – as audience – enact during the first film. We already were terrorized by following the “documentary” – watching others do the same is less exciting (aside from the fact that BoS was simply mundane) and actually divorces us from our initial sense of participation. We *watch*, in other words, our role as “movie watcher” in BoS, whereas in the original we felt as though we were in the act of archival discovery – we *played* the role of “movie watcher”.

I think this same sense of discovery (a game, perhaps?) is what interests me in books such as Danielewski’s House of Leaves or Nabakov’s Pale Fire. Incidentally, if anyone happens to have some version of Danielewski’s HoL as distributed on the internet prior to its release in print, I would very much like to see a copy (for research purposes, of course – I already own two copies of the book 😉 ). I *really* would love to get my hands on the limited release “Full Color” version, complete with braille (if it even exists – has anyone seen it?).

Final thought re: world building – I’m waiting in great anticipation for the next installment of The Matrix – both in its film and game incarnations. Talk about an expansive world both in media – film, comic, anime, game, text – and in imagination.


2 Responses to Ghosts of Albion

  1. chuck tryon says:

    This notion of world-building is interesting to me, too (I did my master’s thesis on Faulkner’s As I lay Dying), and it certainly struck me that the “supplemental” material of Absalom was very much a part of the novel. And the comics world is one of the best places for seeing this type of world-building (probably in part because these worlds can depart from physical laws in RL). Serialized “texts” (TV shows, comics, book series like Harry Potter, and movie sequels) tend to lend themselves better to this form of world-building, such as the obvious example of the Buffyverse….I’ve been trying to think of other examples because this is an enticing concept.

  2. Jason says:

    The Buffy-verse is a great example, and particularly interesting right now as the “main” show is ending and Angel (hopefully) continues. The whole Trek series suits, and of course Potter (can’t believe I forgot that one – and new book coming soon!), and -of course- Star Wars (Star Wars Galaxies, coming soon too!).

    What strikes me is that the central examples tend to be otherworldly, gothic, futuristic (I personally think that all of those, except possibly futuristic, are prime descriptors of Faulkner’s South)… some “alt” .. which makes me wonder about the scope, specific characteristics, and historicity of the genre (is it a genre or an occurrence, a happening?). Are there examples of “world-building” in 18th century England (George?) or were they still too occupied with nation-building (or perhaps, it’s not such a different thing). Should we consider Johnson’s _Rasselas_ such an attempt… or even later with Dickens’ London streets (Dickens at least fits your apt association of world-building with the serial – perhaps some investigation into 19th C. fan culture is in order)?

    Are we just seeing the advanced products of a nation-building/defining exercise? Buffy as America (hey, it was a better representation of my high school days than 90210)…

    I’m interested in this for a lot of reasons, one of which is that I’m trying to capture a method of examining world-building in both a developer (professional) and fan-based mode. As a marketing strategy, it’s brilliant, but creatively it’s fascinating too – all sorts of issues erupt. World/character ownership, collaborative writing strategies, author/reader dynamics, spin-off of “alt” worlds (when fan culture, for example, keeps Buffy and Angel together, or turns Spock into Kirk’s lover), creation of believable languages, histories, and so on. All of this is crucially important for the successful creation of a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Play Game (MMORPG) such as Everquest or Asheron’s Call (or heck, even Pen&Paper RPGs with established worlds like TSR/WoTC’s Forgotten Realms).

    Lots of parentheticals. Hmm.

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