Dream Eater has some explaining to do. And Zhiro is really not going to like it.
A reminder that the August sale ends on the 31st! If you’d like to have both a LeyLines book and the new Wavemen book at the sale price, now is the time!
I asked my friend Jacques Nyemb to look over the script for chapter 14 as a sensitivity editor. And because he’s a magnificent human being he decided to read through ALL of LeyLines in addition to the script so he could give me a comprehensive look at not just the content of the chapter, but also any tropes or patterns that needed to be discussed for the story as a whole. Also, Jacques makes tons of cool comics (which you can buy!) and is pretty much the greatest ever. Plus, contrary to my fear when I asked if he could look at my script, he did not think my writing was so terrible that he’d need to stop being my friend and never speak to me again. I mean, logically I thought that probably wouldn’t be the case, but my anxiety was pretty much 110% certain that would be the outcome. So take that, anxiety! Jacques is the best!
He called me on his drive home yesterday so we could talk about his observations. One of the things he brought up was something I felt it was important to share with you all. It’s something that I’d just started to notice as well, and to have it confirmed and discussed with more clarity was important to me.
Namely: Pretty much nothing good ever happens to Zhiro. And he’s somewhat expected to be okay with that?
There are certain tropes that I have become more aware of in the past few years. Where characters of color suffer so that the characters who are white (or white equivalent) can learn an Important Life Lesson. Usually, not to be racist jerks. There’s also the White Savior trope wherein a pure-of-heart white person saves characters of color from their downtrodden plight. Often a plight that said white person benefits directly from. Both of these tropes put the white person at the center of the narrative and utilize the pain of non-white characters as a motivator or as background trappings. It has some similarities with (but is still distinct from) “Fridging” a female character to motivate the (typically) white male protagonist. These characters are presented as victims, but without any importance being put on their experiences. They are objects, not actors, and there is no room made for them to have their own stories.
Creating a comic as-we-go online comes with some challenges. One of those is that, due to how long it takes, I as a writer change during the telling. The process of writing forces me to research and learn. Revision cannot happen once the story is done, the way a novel draft would be. It has to happen chapter by chapter, trying my best to course correct as I look back and see with slightly-less-ignorant-eyes what I’ve made.
Zhiro has always been a character who I intended to be more than pain. Who would have a larger arc as a person and find his own path. However, there are elements in what I’ve written that have picked up aspects of both the tropes I’ve described above, and I haven’t done a great job of bringing out good to balance bad for him yet. They’re in the plan, but these past few chapters I’ve been focusing on churning through some of those old ideas in order to accelerate getting all the characters to new places. The downside to that is that a lot of terrible news is coming to Zhiro all at once, and it’s a lot. It’s probably too much, too quickly, and even I’m starting to go, “GEEZ, this poor kid can’t catch a break. What’s up with that, me??”
There are things about the plan that I don’t mind sharing with you. I don’t think they’re particularly spoilery. For one, I want to change the dynamic between Zhiro and Mizha to one of friendship. They’re starting the relationship over, in a way, now that they’ve cleared the air a bit in chapter twelve. I want to move it away from, as Jacques put it, “being kinda Stockholm.” It was never intended to be a romance. I always wanted it to be an unhealthy kind of interaction. However, I was looking at it primarily from the “romantic” tropes I’d always been frustrated with. I didn’t have much awareness of how racial tropes might also play a part in how the story was built. Case in point, the necessities of one’s feminism being inter-sectional. I still have so much to learn, and to unlearn.
I’d say at the core of Zhiro’s path is determining and defining for himself what love is. Romantic, familial, platonic…even the kind of love that intersects with worship and faith. What do healthy relationships entail? How have the people who are supposed to love him failed in those roles? What new kinds of relationships can be considered successful? These are the kinds of questions I want to explore with Zhiro.
See also: Dream Eater, who is also more than his pain.
So why am I telling you all this? I think it’s important to be open about being a fallible human who is still learning about the world and about writing. I see little purpose in pretending to be more aware and enlightened than I am. We all have ugly assumptions and ideas to challenge and work through. The influence of these tropes are there. I wanted to state that I am aware of them and trying to understand the complexities of how those tropes function. That there are pieces of the story that I’m accelerating, changing, and adding to help address things as I find them. The overall plot for LeyLines is still the same, but the pieces and the path are always in flux. They have to be, because the Robin who writes the story today is a more aware than the one that started it five years ago, and I will strive to make sure the Robin who is still writing this in another five is even more informed.
My thanks to Jacques for sharing his thoughts and helping me see the story through an outside perspective. I cannot stress enough how much I appreciate his support and I really hope you check out his projects because he’s got a ton of exciting stuff going on.
And if there’s ever any patterns, tropes, or concerns that you observe here on this site or in this story, please let me know. I want to learn. I will never be perfect, but I’m always hoping to become better than I am.