George RR. Martin, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Paul Cornell, Carrie Vaughn, Michael Cassutt, David Anthony Durham, Caroline Spector, Daniel Abraham, and Kevin Andrew Murphy took the stage at San Diego Comic-Con 2011 to talk about adapting your comic worlds to prose as they discussed their Wild Cards shared fiction universe.
On the last day of San Diego Comic-Con 2011, a packed room of fans came to listen to some a group of smart, award-winning writers talk about the challenges of creating shared universes. Two points: first, it's always cool to me when people fill the hall for something that's not movie, TV, or Big Two-related, and second, I've got an interesting post somewhere in me (interesting to me, at least) about shared universes that may need to get written someday.
Preamble and scrambled early-Sunday thinking out of the way, the panel began with Carrie Vaughn charting the course of her writig career from her teen years reading the works of Mr. Martin, to writing her own fan fiction (which she is embarrassed by now) to crafting her own fiction. She was attracted to the Wild Cards books by their unique covers which were different from all the other fantasy and sci-fi titles on the shelves, featuring superheroes instead of dragons and space ships.
Cornell explained that he was attracted to the line because the series has been written in more or less real time over the years. In his story, the lead is a young British girl living in the middle of New York amidst all of the cops, criminals, and superheroes.
David Anthony Durham says that he want to jump in with a "Joker" story, focusing on the unfortunates of the Wild Cards universe who receive what Martin calls "negative mutation." He says his story is about a young man whose lower body has been transformed into that of a snake with a tongue that spurts poison. He's simply a nice guy trying to deal with a catastrophic change in his life.
The alternate history series actually got its start in 1986, in the first novel, simply titled Wild Cards. It featured a world where an alien virus was released on the Earth, resulting in dramatic mutations to the populace. Martin says that in keeping the stories set in real-time, many of the characters are Arne his age now, compared to Peter Parker, who has been locked into an ageless stasis for years.
Kevin Andrew Murphy noted that there was a real clear division in their fictional world between the period before powers and everything after the 1946 introduction of the virus. With his story, he then thought about what would be a new epochal period for his characters given that 1946 is essentially ancient history to him and others of his generation. Murphy says that part of this is about creating a point of entry for new readers--there are 25 years of fictional history and instead of rebooting the line, it's best to just make it easy for new readers to get into the current fiction.
Martin then joked "no reboots, no restarts, no retcons ever!"
Michael Cassutt brought his expertise in space exploration to the stories, revealing what would happen in a universe where people can fly, making space exploration irrelevant. He joked that superheroes aren't his forte, but that he was able to find his angle in an espionage story about characters up to suspicious goings-on in the desert.
Ms. Spector says that it wasn't her fault that her character, formerly known as "Fat Chick," was accidentally overpowered and intentionally and proudly gay (although ambivalent about her power to absorb kinetic energy as fat which can be released as explosive bubbles). She says that compared to some of the other lesbian characters in the Wild Card universe, she wasn't a lesbian just waiting for the right man to come along.
What I keep thinking about as the writers describe their universe is Kurt Busiek's Astro City, which is itself about a world where superpowers are the norm with mature storylines, rich with sex, violence, and implied history. There's something really appealing to me about universes whose history can be explored as a puzzle or mystery, where the characters are about more than simply keeping an IP alive, and are instead about driving the fictional world forward. That's deeply, profoundly cool to me.
You can find the Wild Cards novels on shelves and online.