Around the Fire: Pixar’s 22 rules through Faust

This month, How to Tell Stories the Pixar Way and, in case you missed it, #FaustReturns!

Emma Coat’s recently tweeted 22 pithy Rules of Story informed by her experience in the Pixar storyboard trenches; it’s been making the rounds amongst those of us who craft corporate and/or creative fiction for a living.

Because a writer can never learn too much about what does/doesn’t resonate around the campfire…  even and especially when the primal dreaming flame is a computer tablet or a TV screen.

Given recent announcements, it’s fun to look atFaust: Love of the Damned through Emma’s POV. We’ve never met – so I have to say, I am grateful for the opportunity, and I hope she doesn’t mind.

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

Well, our protagonist John Jaspers looks like Batman/Daredevil/Wolverine, but he’s anything but admirable. Bait and switch or metafiction? That tension between superhero and Heart of Darkness spawned (pun intended) the uproar the series caused when it launched in 1987. The poor, twisted fucker’s not a hero, though he certainly has elements of the tragic hero, in a Samson Agonistes or Travis Bickle sorta way.

But if there is one thing he has done since Night One, it’s try.

He’s raged against insanity, plunging into evil to fight evil. He’s been tempted to give up on himself, but he has never given up on his obsession with his doctor, Jade, or his love/hate wrestling match with the Mephistophelian father figure, M.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

I didn’t see the difference between the two when Tim Vigil and I started colliding our ideas together to create Faust, just over 25 years ago. I do now. But I am a very different person. And yet I am the same person.

After college, I slam-danced sideways from NY’s music business into independent comics and business communications in the age of Gordon Gecko in the late 80s.

Wall Street and four color fantasy did a number on me.

And vice versa.

And my obsessions, melted in with those of my visual co-creator, are raw on every page, naked. Genre-blending. Overwraught emotion. Grand Guignol. Frank Frazetta body worship. Beat crazy. Esoteric layers. Punk rock and Splatter. James Brown. American “Sex is Dirty” Hypocrisy. New York in the Party’s Over Era after the crash of ’87. Sex and sex and sex and violence and sex.

I really wasn’t thinking about what the audience wanted or needed to be interesting. (Some of you are still saying “Obviously!”)

As dark end colleague Warren Ellis realized in his forward to the Faust/777 trade paperback in 1999, part of the point was getting beyond thinking itself, into the primal, in the sense that Arthur Janov used the word in The Primal Scream. Remember, this was before Wolverine went to Hell (hmmmm, interesting concept, that) and DC superheroes routinely raped, murdered and betrayed each other as they did in the last decade. Faust, like its contemporary The Crow by James O’Barr, spoke to its time and place and carved a narrow but defined pop culture niche, predicting the future.

Their influence echoes in the darker side of comics culture today, for better (The Walking Dead) or for worse (Rapey DC).

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

See above. I had enough of theme in college. I was exploring ways to use words and pictures to feel something directly. Body and soul as well as head.

I still try to work this way, actually. Head Hand Heart, my motto.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of 
that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

Yeah, I get this. Another way to say this: if it works without the character/scene/plot point/line, cut it. And yes, we blatantly – and aggressively – ignored this wisdom in the comic, but followed it in the screenplay for the Brian Yuzna film (Filmax/Lions Gate, 2000).

Will Eisner once distilled the same advice for me, advising, “Nothing in this art form is accidental.” I remember that, and I learned so much from reading and interviewing Mr. Eisner. But no disrespect, professor, in this book, the detours and the sub-text were supposed to rise to the surface like Lovecraftian squids and take over the asylum. Though we did borrow a few visual tricks from The Spirit era, and were very playful with character names – Jade DeCamp, Beef and Hapi, Captain Mulligan – as you would have been.

Ha.  And on that note, my ride is here.

As we say in storytelling, TO BE CONTINUED

The Unholy 25th Anniversary of Faust erupts this summer. Like the Facebook page to be part of it!

7 thoughts on “Around the Fire: Pixar’s 22 rules through Faust

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