One of the Rules of the Game

A first glance... Today I discovered that Saturnalia had recently returned from an extended hiatus. (And by recently, I mean… many months ago.)

I sometimes wonder how many great comics I am still in mourning for that are now merrily updating away without my notice.

In any case, I happened to check up on this one and was well rewarded for doing so.

Saturnalia is one of those comics that may not blow me out of my shows, but is still fun to follow. It has manga style art, which can sometimes be a little chaotic to follow, but often with some exceptionally good scenes. The story is set in the future with your usual hot-headed protaganist and a whole set of quirky ‘friends’.

The plot, as of yet, has a lot of mysteries, and if some things seem to be done a little too neatly… well, that may be explained in time.

However, I discovered one thing that was done exceptionally well during the months I had missed.

Chapter Nine of the story focuses on an announcement made by the King of the planet. Up till then we’ve only heard strange rumors about the King, and implications that something horrible and shady may be going on behind the scenes.

The King himself is over three hundred years old, and despite the machines that keep him alive, his body is failing.

At this point you are expecting someone diabolical. This man controls the entire world – an ancient genius plotting who knows what. Your first view of him is the visage up above – a shadowy figure, isolated and alone.

...and a second. What I was not expecting was a figure who looked nothing so much as a boy playing dress-up, in an outfit a few sizes too big.

Looking close, the facade of youth is clearly that, from a physical standpoint – King Hal the first appears far from healthy.

But he still acts like a kid. He suffers from a fear of public speaking. He dwells on the achievements he made in high school – in grade school, despite it being three hundred years later. Several of the silly names of cities, communities, and the kingdom itself make much more sense, if you imagine a man like this as the founder.

One does not expect him to cut such a jovial figure, but he manages it well – despite his extra pair of arms.

Now, is this all there is to him? Doubtful.

It could well be that he is a diabolical genius planning something sinister. But whether a villain or not, he is an interesting character.

The creator, Space Coyote, has done something very well – they have subverted expectations. They took what could have been something easily cliche – and mindless, and dull – and done something completely unexpected with it. And that makes it all the more fascinating.

Does this mean every artist should throw absurd characters into the story without reason or explanation? Well no – one of the reasons the character of King Hal works is that the very flaws in the character make him believable. And he clearly has a place in the story – he isn’t thrown in recklessly.

Having that sort of originality is vital for a storyteller. As I mentioned earlier, I enjoy Saturnalia, but it has rarely wowed me. Adding something new and exciting, though – that makes me remember it. That gets my attention.

I’m not saying to try and constantly one-up the reader. Don’t ruin the integrity of the story because you are afraid readers might see the plot twist coming, and don’t create wacky characters or events solely to try and shock and dazzle the reader. It isn’t about beating the reader in some obscure way – but it is about doing something to win them over and get them coming back.

But if you can carefully, subtely lead their thought process one way, and then successfully subvert that expectation with something fascinating and clever?

Then the game is already halfway won.

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