The story of Bill Mantlo passed through the sides of my eyes. I was somewhat aware that the creator of Rocket Raccoon, a character that had featured in the Guardians Of The Galaxy movie, had some sort of health problem. I may even have heard he had been the victim of an accident. I just thought he was recovering.
In the 1970’s, Bill Mantlo was working for Marvel Comics, and had been responsible for taking on Parker Bros. toy licenses and fleshing them out into grand narrative epics. My interest in how writers write has only increased while studying creative writing at university, and although I had never had any interest in characters like ROM: Spaceknight or The Micronauts, my curiousity to peer behind the curtain was piqued.
One of the things we have been doing at university is learning to be a little less precious, and just write. Inspiration and prompts have come from a single word, a piece of music, or an image. What seemed like a frustrating venture, making an entire series out of a toy line, suddenly sounded like something to explore. It seems very easy to just write whatever and cash the cheque, knowing the title will sell regardless, but I am currently in awe of writers who adapt a work and transcend expectations. Bryan Fuller is the epitome of this idea, taking the concept of Hannibal Lecter and making a television show that could very easily have been a sloppy, procedural mess.
I read a few issues of ROM: Spaceknight and enjoyed the dark backstory Mantlo had crafted. Eager to learn more, I stumbled across an in-depth article on what exactly had happened to Bill Mantlo. (You can read it here). There was so much in his story that captivated me. The blurring of fiction and reality in his journal in the days following his car accident. The poor state of dealing with long-term care patients. The fact he was a complicated, confrontational, creative man. Every beat felt right for crafting a story around him.
I have fragments all around me from various writing sessions that well. A couple of weeks ago, our drama tutor taught us about causality and the five act tragedy. He asked us to pick an interesting person, and think about the worst possible thing that could happen to them. Bill Mantlo’s accident and his subsequent loss of mental capacity came immediately to mind. There was nothing more terrifying for a writer. I was particularly emotional about the writing of ROM in his journals. He felt so strongly about his characters, his story, that they were are the forefront of his mind after his accident. He was still crafting these stories in his head. That was powerful to me.
The question I have now is, how do you adapt a life and remain respectful? What are the ethics of showing a person, and taking liberties with their lives for the sake of entertainment? I have toyed with the idea of just using the basic premise of a writer melding with their character, but the question still nags. Is something like Anna Nicole The Opera distasteful, or celebratory? How about London Road, where residents of a street that also housed a serial killer gave interviews and these were turned verbatim into a musical? Then there’s the two Yves Saint Laurent biopics, released in the same year, the “official” one being a little more forgiving than the unauthorised adaptation.
What right do we have to turn our experiences, which are always full to the brim with other people, into works of art? Do people recognize themselves in what we write? Do we keep it subtle and respectful, or do we sometimes have to push to the edge for the sake of a good story? Questions, questions.