Yesterday on Twitter, a literary agent was being RT’d onto my timeline, discussing the types of manuscripts she preferred. This is a pretty common thing I’ve noticed, and it’s interesting to see what agents like. This one particular woman made mention of “perfect” characters, and how she liked characters to be “flawed”.
During my own counter-rant, my friend pointed out that many people may prefer “flawed” characters because they’re more relatable. She mentioned how after the Golden Age of comics, fans asked for less “perfect” heroes like Superman. Whether this is true or not, I haven’t a clue – but it certainly speaks to a trend we see now in superhero movies with darker characters and stories (i.e: recent Batman films) who are placed in situations that we can relate to, or sympathize with (i.e: Tony Stark being held hostage).
In my own dealings with comics, my feelings are pretty up in the air. Because of my own gender and sexual orientation (for example), I find a huge chunk of media and pop culture to be profoundly unrelatable to my personal experiences and labels. So while I would love to have more black female leads in mainstream graphic novels, it probably won’t happen any time soon, so I’ve settled for reading good stories with well-written characters (like Echo by Terry Moore).
But even when confronted with the type of imagery I’d like to see, I don’t feel connected to the whole character, so I end up scaling back any attachment. What ends up happening is that I begin relating to a character who is nothing like me, like Rorschach from Watchmen ( and whose story I’m currently reading in Before Watchmen). Although he’s a white, potentially middle-aged cis man, I felt this incredible draw to him in the film even when I only saw the trailer. Many of his values, and his way of moving through the world, imprinted onto me. At the end, when he asks Dr. Manhattan to kill him because he can’t live in a world that’s based on a lie – my adoration and admiration knew no end. I loved him completely.
Not many characters have this effect on me. In fact, on average I simply enjoy the character for who she or he is but don’t relate to them, their struggles or their issues. For example, I’m thoroughly enjoying Morning Glories written by Nick Spencer with art by Joe Eisma – but there’s not a single character I feel kindred spirit with. They’re all multifaceted people with strengths, weaknesses and all around awesomeness – but I consider none of them flawed or perfect. They’re just them.
My inability to relate to most fictional characters has led me to feel that I shouldn’t go around trying to label characters as perfect or flawed – because there’s no point. It’s also generally ignored that the “perfect” character is really only perfect to the creator, not the audience, if the creator is going to admit to any kind of perfection in his or her character at all. Because at the end of the day, perfection is really just another form of idealism – what you think is perfection.
And I have found characters to be “perfect” because they align perfectly with what I believe, how I see the world or what I aspire to. But if i happen to find a character who goes against many of the things (if not all) I believe in, then that doesn’t make them “flawed”. I think characters, much like people, should be given the opportunity to be exactly who they are. I don’t look at people in my day to day world and think they’re flawed (though both characters and people can be dysfunctional, but that’s not a flaw). Nor do I perceive people are perfect, either.
So in many ways I’m thankful to comics for exposing me to all different sorts of characters and their journeys – because I want to learn to let characters (and people) have the space to be exactly who they are, because characters grow and change just like people do.