By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)
I first read Jeff Jensen when a friend introduced me to his long explorations on each episode of Lost. Almost two years after we both said goodbye to the passengers of Oceanic Flight 815, I read his Dark Horse graphic novel, Green River Killer: A True Detective Story. I enjoy, wait, strike that pronoun and verb, let me start again. The study and pursuit of serial killers by law enforcement agents interests me. So, before I delve into what this book made me think about, let me just say that it’s a fascinating look at a detective who pursues the Green River Killer, Tom Jensen, the father of Jeff.
Whom does the author decide to follow? For Jeff, I’m sure it was an easy decision to paint the portrait of his father and his family through the years and to intersperse it with the interrogation of Gary Leon Ridgway and a couple of scenes from Ridgway’s point of view.
For this genre, it’s a unique take. For the take of the investigator, you have the books of John Douglas. For the view from the killer, you have a number of books and movies like American Psycho and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. This one, though technically the story of Tom Jensen, gives the obvious feeling that it is told through the eyes of a son. Maybe I read too much into it, but the art of the novel feels like the scenes with Tom Jensen are from a perspective of someone shorter, listening to stories about how his father met his mother and looking up at him and his achievements.
It made me think of other graphic novels, books and movies and how that simple change of an author’s perspective can make a completely different story. Think of Blade Runner from the perspective of Rachael, as a guy comes in and gives you the replicant tests. Once that happens, if we follow her character, this revelation could change every relationship she has. Does she wonder how people look at her? Does she try to find answers at her job? How would the movie change if told entirely from the viewpoint of Pris and how she just wanted to live, but a ruthless killer kept pursuing her? What if it was from the angle of J.F. Sebastian who just wanted to find companionship?
I could go on as you can probably already see the different angels of your favorite movies, but humor me for a couple more. What if The Lord of the Rings came from the view of the elves? What if Eight Men Out told the story of the victorious Cincinnati Reds and how they won the World Series but the losers and their scandal overshadowed their victory? What if instead of Harry Potter, the books focused on the bright, muggle-born Hermione Granger?
The whole idea of Wicked is The Wizard of Oz from a different view. Elizabeth Bunce retold the story of Rumpelstiltskin in A Curse Dark As Gold completely from the view of the miller’s daughter and made her the heroine.
How does a writer choose a perspective? What character can interest both the writer as they write and the reader as they read?
When I went to Comic-Con and sat in on a panel with Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, they said what made Batman so interesting is that people could relate to him. He’s human like us all and he has suffered terrible losses. Everyone can understand those feelings and motivations. They said it made it easy to write and create for that character. They could interject themselves into the story.
On the other hand, Hannibal Lecter inspires book after book and movie after movie and I don’t think there are many genius cannibals in the world. Then again, do writers need to be genius cannibals to step into those shoes, or just need to find the mundane and the ordinary contemptible? I find it interesting that Lecter becomes a kind of hero in the stories movies even though he is a sadistic killer. In real life serial killers aren’t heroes; they are Gary Leon Ridgway. The eponymous Dexter makes a bit more sense as a hero because he only kills other killers. If you accept that, then it’s not that far of a stretch to get back to Batman who doesn’t kill, he merely beats and cripples the bad guys.
At their heart, these example characters seek justice. Rick Deckard seeks justice for the people the replicants killed to escape. The criminal justice system places the Black Sox on trial to make them atone for accepting money to throw games. Batman seeks to keep the streets safe from crime so that no one will have to face the pain he did.
A search for justice beats at the heart of many a crime story. The search for love lies at the heart of love story. If you want to tell a horror story, it’s about trying to find safety, and if you want to tell the story from the opposite side, it might be the search for retribution or something much darker. If you make the darkness ridiculous enough, you’ve got yourself a dark comedy.
We all have a story to tell. We all have a unique point of view. Every author has to decide what their story will be and what character can best tell it. I’ve heard it said that every story has already been written, and while that may be true, not every story has been told from every point of view.