While the actual story itself is extremely good, one of the most interesting aspects of From Hell, by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, is the Appendix in which Moore provides an almost panel-by-panel list of extensive citations for the historical – and even some of the speculative – aspects of the story, creating an exhaustive bibliography of the the assorted texts on Jack the Ripper that served as his research material. It provides a fascinating insight into the mind of a writer, and I have to say that I actually enjoy reading that even more than I enjoy reading the fruits of his research labor.
Similarly, there is an extra-textual aspect of Grant Morrison’s seminal work The Invisibles that, while not overshadowing the excellent story in the same way that Moore’s Appendix overshadows (in my mind, at least) the fiction, adds an extra level of fascination.
The character of King Mob was created by Morrison as a sort of fictional alter ego of the author himself. Indeed, one of the aliases that KM is a writer by the name of Morrison.
At one point in the story very bad things happen to KM, and in a case of life imitating art, Morrison himself became deathly ill shortly thereafter, suffering injuries that served as an eerie parallel to the injuries that KM suffered (or believed he suffered – it’s complicated).
There are a lot of aspects of that I could get into, centering around the fact that Morrison is a practicing Chaos Magician, and on some of his musings about magic and fiction, but you’d be better served reading about it – and his near-fatal illness – in his own words in his book Supergods.
Besides, I do actually have a point that I want to get to, so we’ll need to move on, but I do first need to address the notion of the author self-insert or Mary Sue.
Many authors are guilty of the practice, though not always consciously, and it’s not always a bad thing, though, as with anything, your mileage may vary.
In Morrison’s case, it’s generally been a deliberate choice, and it relates to his ideas about magic and the creative process. He’s described it as “putting on a fiction suit,” which allows him to interact with his own creation in a more meaningful way.
You are free, of course, to think that he’s a loon – and I don’t think you’d be far off the mark, but he is, at least, a talented loon – but for my part the idea has a certain resonance.
And though it’s been something of a widening gyre, that does bring us closer to my point.
In many of my shorter works of fiction – both written and unwritten – which do not focus on any of the large stable of other characters I’ve created, such as Fontaine, and which are generally more straightforward pieces of fiction rather than being of any specific genre such as Science Fiction or Fantasy, the protagonist has been a nameless man who bears a striking and not at all coincidental resemblance to the author.*
The circumstances of his life in each of the stories are such that there’s no real continuity to his fictional existence – in one story he’s an orphan, in another his parents are alive and well – there’s never been any doubt in my mind that these disparate stories are all focusing on the same person.
Which is to say, they’re all about me. (That I’ve created worlds that are “all about me” should surprise exactly no one.)
While I’ve never exactly used m self-insert as a fiction suit, exactly, I have attempted to utilize this alter ego as a means of addressing certain real life concerns in an fictional setting.
Certainly that was the point of his most recent appearance in my 2012 NaNoWriMo novel, in which the similarities between the character and the author were not even thinly veiled, and he really was me in all but name. (I never gave him a name in any of the stories, in part because I’m terrible at coming up with names, but also because I liked the challenge of writing about someone whose name you never learn.)
Which brings me to my point, finally. I don’t think this counts as a spoiler, as it’s unlikely that anyone will ever read that particular story – having anyone read it was never the actual point of it, after all – but the thing is, in that story, I killed him.
Since that time, particularly after my recent re-reading of The Invisibles, I’ve found myself wondering what, if anything, happens when you commit fictional suicide. Did some part of me die? Does his death represent something larger?
We’re several months past the point of his death, and I’m still here, so I don’t think I’m likely to head into the kind of circumstances that Morrison found himself in when he brutally tortured King Mob.
That his death past unnoticed in either his world or this one, and that he died unnamed, unloved, and unmourned, leads me to wonder.
*If you’re among the statistically insignificant number of people who read it, you may also be a member of the even more statistically insignificant group of people who recall that I actually made a brief appearance in my first Fontaine novel. That fictional me is different from the nameless version.