About the site/author
... or 'Why I'm wasting my time with this'
Why am I doing this? I like a good story... Simple as that... Then again... Maybe it's not that simple... It may have started that way, but today it's also about preserving cultural heritages, building cross-cultural bridges, and adding something new to the Internet.
One of my first and fondest childhood memories is reading comics with my parents. One of the daily routines when I was five was my mother reading Donald Duck comics for me, and my father putting words on the daily Fred'nand and Alfredo strips in the newspaper. This was in Denmark in the early seventies. Comics were still frowned upon by the literary elite and only a few comics had been allowed in the libraries, but in the Danish population comics were popular and had been for decades.
At the same time there was series like Charlie's Angels
etc. on TV and Dirty Harry and James Bond in the local cinema. Larger than life characters and stories that became an integrated part of growing up.
Growing up I also discovered books and with the introduction of computer games additional worlds of adventure opened up. Characters like Doc Savage
, the Destroyer
, and Leisure Suit Larry
has been the source of some incredible adventures over the years.
Sometime back in 1999 I started a database for keeping track on some of the characters in comics. The nineties had given us many new series and companies, and at the same time everyone was constantly trying to innovate/retcon the existing characters by giving them new names, new uniforms and a new past. It became almost impossible to keep track on what was going on. At the same time I began reading up on some of the characters from my childhood. It was quite fun and I found a lot of interesting things.
Today I think Charlie's Angels
is incredibly boring, but reruns of shows like Colombo
still catch my attention and I feel the joy of a good story taking me for a ride. It's the same with comics, books, games or any other type of storytelling. My taste in stories has changed in the last 30+ years... I can't say it has matured... Just changed... WeirdSpace being based on what I have collected over the years will of course mostly reflect what I like or have liked. Otherwise I wouldn't have collected enough material about the various characters to have something substantial. Focus has been kept on what the characters and worlds are all about and I have kept out personal comments on whether I liked the character and story or not because WeirdSpace is about stories not personal preferences. It is not for me to tell what is good and what is crap.
Cultural heritages and cultural identities
Fictive characters are a strange lot. They are a part of our lives and yet they are not, because they are fictive. It has no impact on our life that Superman is married to Lois Lane, but we know who Superman is. He has been around for more than 60 years and is still here. Some may remember headlines on the newspapers when JR was shot. The expressions SNAFU and FUBAR are still used, but Private Snafu
is long gone. In the early nineties Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the rage. Merchandizing, movies, cartoons, anything... In New York the police had a problem with kids going down in the sewers to find the turtles. Today the turtles are mostly a faint memory and tons of crap in attics or landfills. If somebody says "To be or not to be..." you may see a guy holding a skull in his hand. Did you see the play? You know the reference is Hamlet
, but do you know the play? If you pictured Hamlet with the skull at the quote "To be or not to be..." there's a good chance you never saw or read the play, only the references or spoofs. If somebody say "I'll be back..." the way only Arnold Schwarzenegger can say it, most men will know the reference and they have probably also seen the movies. Most women will recognize it as a male thing like "Bond... James Bond..." as a pick-up line. I have seen the expression "Beam me up, Scotty" used in several movies. People are referring to 'the force'. It may be fiction and it may only be kids and nerds who watch Star Trek and Star Wars, but it is a part of our lives and cultural heritage and I think it is important to keep the stories from being reduced to quotes or forgotten all together.
Somehow cultural heritage and cultural identity has been linked to our language, and in my opinion it is crap. In Denmark there is a lot of concern that we'll become some sort of americans if we watch too many american series and talk shows. One of the big discussions in Denmark is the Danish language borrowing a lot of words from English. Apparently they have a similar discussion in Spain, and my guess is that you'll find this discussion in many countries. The argument is that Danish as a language will vanish and we'll lose part of our identity. In my World that's bull. Language is for communication. Along with the thumb that enables us to hold on to objects, it's one of the things that made us successful as a species. Having several languages is hampering communication. Those familiar with the Bible will recognize this as the point of the story of the Tower of Babel, so it's not my idea or even a new idea. If someone creates a new thing and gives it a name, I can't see the point in giving it a new name in another country. It isn't helping communication, which is still the primary function of having a language, that I have to learn two or more names for the same object. A personal computer is still an American invention, calling it datamat in Danish and ordenador in Spanish does not change it's origin, identity, or function. We'll never become Americans. We'll never become French or German either by eating croissants or driving BMWs. It's the very reason why Disney comics are popular in Europe and South America but not in USA while super-heroes are almost the only thing in USA, but only a part of what we read in Europe. These stories can flow freely, but we have different cultures and tastes, so they aren't really flowing anywhere.
The way I see it, the culture heritage and identity lies in your upbringing. In many cases this coincides with language and geography, which would explain why we traditionally see our cultural heritage and identity in terms of nationality and language, or even our currency. I grew up, first three years in Los Angeles, followed by 16 in a small town named Kaas in Northern Jutland, and so far I've lived 20 years in Copenhagen. When I was a teacher back in 2002-2004 I discovered that my cultural background was just as different from my students background, as it was from a friend I have who came here from Iran with her family during the Cultural Revolution. It's not very deep or profound, I know, but from where I stand, cultural heritage and identity only tells something about what you've experienced, it's a part of who you are but not who you are and only a little about where you are from.
The cultural elite
One of the fringe benefits of the site has been a chance to flip the bird at what I collectively refer to as the 'cultural elite'. When I grew up there was always someone telling me that comics were for kids and the TV series I enjoyed was crap. In the gymnasium (the Danish high school) great art was plays like Man Friday
about Britain being the great imperialistic Satan or poor self-absorbed sods like the traveler in Johannes V. Jensen's poem Paa Memphis Station
. It wasn't any less fiction or closer to reality than say the movie First Blood
, or the comic A Contract with God
by Will Eisner. Someone had just decided for me what was art and what was crap. The whole gymnasium thing at the time was in many ways an exercise in getting rid of individual thoughts, sort of like 'when we want your opinion, we'll give it to you'. Having the attitude 'Like Hell you will' I never had much success in many of the classes.
I've never understood why some people feel the urge to define for others what is art and what's not, or what they should like and dislike. When I look at an Asger Jorn painting I just see some ugly smears of paint, but it's art. Why? Because someone said so. Opera is art too. To me it mostly sounds like people who are in pain and should be put out of their misery. To me it's about as interesting as watching paint dry. Paint is a little more fun as it doesn't have that annoying noise to it. But it's art. Someone said so. I have no problem with that. If you like it and think it's art, it's fine by me. No problem! What I do have a problem with, is when someone tells me that what I like is not art but some second rate crap, and their opinion has more value than mine.
Over the years I've met quite a lot of attitude like that, and quite frankly I've found it to be a sad and pathetic attempt to cover up ignorance, or just plain cultural imperialism. Let me give a couple of examples from what I've seen: Back in Danish classes at the gymnasium we read a story about a guy playing hooky from work to enjoy a sunny day in the spring. One of the things he observed were some birds basking on the ground. To our Danish teacher this could only be related to sex. Obviously it couldn't be dust bathing, a thing birds do to keep their feathers clean. He'd never heard of dust bathing and it was obviously something related to sex. This was fiction, and you had to read between the lines. Him being the teacher and us the students, he was of course per definition right, and if you wanted to have a good grade, you had to bow to his culture. Many did. The second example is a former girlfriend. She was one those who didn't approve of my taste in literature in general and comics in particular. I dared her to read a comic, volume 1 of Frank Miller's Dark Knight
, a classic that was a part of redefining comics in the eighties. Her argument was that comics were childish and trivial, so Dark Knight
was an obvious choice, as she at least knew who Batman was. She gave up after a few pages. Turned out she couldn't read the pictures. You actually had to look at the pictures to understand the story in the comic. Obviously comics remained childish. Sour grapes anyone? Interestingly enough she later went to the university to study Danish, a study that produces the Danish teachers at the gymnasiums. Anyone else see a pattern here?
My experience is not unique I'm sad to say. It's not even limited to Denmark. You can't change the minds of the bigots out there, but you can stop them from being the only voices in the debate about what is art and what's not. When someone out there tries to ram their beliefs down our throats, whether it's the Chinese government on The Simpsons
and Mickey Mouse
, the Pope on The Da Vinci Code
or some Francophile movie critic who hates Hollywood, I'll be one of those flipping the bird 'Like Hell you will'. It's not an objective of the site, and I'm not trying to pick af fight with anyone either, the objective is providing information, but IMO it sure is one nice fringe benefit.
Why all the languages?
When I started out, I started in English. It was a practical thing. Even though I'm Danish, my primary written language is English, and has been since around 1987. It's the result of a lot of things like many of the books and comics I read only being available in English, and when available in Danish, they are often poorly translated and very expensive compared to the originals. Personally I also prefer to enjoy the author's original writing. I try to do the same thing in other languages too. A lot of flow and subtleties are lost in translation, even when it's done with skill and care. There was also the consideration, that if you want to reach a large international audience, Danish is not the language to use.
Being a polymer chemist I have to be able to read German and French as well as English, as they were very popular languages in chemistry before the 1970s, so I'm used to searching in several languages. That however is not the way most people read or search for information. Especially kids. People searching for information, use the language they have, and the search engines are optimized for this behavior too. For most people, especially kids, this would be their native language. It doesn't help you that the information is out there, if you can't read it, or find it because it's got a different name in your language. Right now the Big Bad Wolf occupies two places on my top 30 of the most popular pages on the site. One is the English page from searching on Big Bad Wolf
, and the other one is the Spanish page from searching on Lobo Feroz
. The Big Bad Wolf is a big offensive wolf in Danish, a big angry wolf in German, a big wolf in French and a ferocious wolf in Spanish. The only way to make sure the search engines index your page the right way and make it possible for anyone to find, is by translating the pages.
All in all, the way human nature and the search engines work, one of the major steps in breaking down cultural barriers is removing some of the language barriers. I'm working on getting the pages translated languages like Arabic, Japanese and Chinese, but it's a bit tricky. Anyone interested in helping out with the translations, feel free to contact me.
Doing a project like WeirdSpace is actually an old dream. The actual site turned out a bit different from the original vision as the idea evolved, but the basic idea still holds. Ever since I first read the first issues of 'The Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe' in the mid eighties I thought about doing something similar with fictive characters in general. For various practical reasons I didn't get started until I started my database, and then it had to reach a certain size, before I had something useful. It was never intended to be a site like this, but I realized that just like I enjoy reading about various characters on other sites, someone might actually enjoy reading what I have been doing. It might even be useful to somebody. All the years of being on line has proved this to be the case. There is a lot of information on the Internet, but there is also a lot of information, which is not on the Internet.
In the years I've had the site I've had visitors from most of the World. It is my hope that WeirdSpace will continue to fill out some of the information gabs and provide some useful information on fictional worlds on the Internet.
The site mission:
- To present accurate and sober information on fictional characters and worlds.
- To become a major source of information on the Internet. The objective is Alexa.com's top 100,000.
- To get information on fictional characters presented as a cultural object across the borders. The goal is to have a distribution of visitors across the World that reflects the distribution of Internet access.
- All info is based on reliable sources, e.g. original publications and interviews. Rumors and hearsays may be added but will be pointed out as a rumor or hearsay.
- No character is more important than others. Some are more popular than others and/or have more story/background than others, but all characters and publishers will be treated with equal respect.
- Diversity is king. As the opportunities becomes available and time allows it, the characters presented here will represent the widest range possible in terms of genre, country/culture of origin, media and age.
- Keep it clean. The objective is to tell about the characters and make them look cool and interesting on their own terms, not ragging on the characters, creators, artists, or series.
- Language barriers should be broken down as much as possible. Removing the barriers completely is impossible at the moment, but by faithfully translating the pages to other languages, it is possible to remove some of them.
- Relevant links to the publisher, non-profit organizations/fan sites etc., will be added to the pages. If you find the character interesting, it makes sense to be able to find the publisher so you can buy the books or find other people who are interested in the same character.
- Relevant links to similar characters will be added to the pages. If you like a character/series, there may be similar characters or stories from other publishers that you might enjoy.
- While this is not a professional site (I do this in my spare time), it is and will continue to be based on the principles for best practice for Internet sites. Programming, safety and communication is just as much of an art as writing and drawing, and is treated with the same care and respect.
- This is not a politically correct site. You can't please everyone, and someone somewhere in the World is going to be offended by something on the site. Showing the characters as they are, take precedence over anyone's sensitive feelings. I will on the other hand not show anything that has been created just to pick a fight (like the Mohammed cartoons from Jyllandsposten), or created to fund some war or illegal activity unless it is of historical value (e.g. comic or cartoons from WWII or the Cold War), and graphics with a violent or explicit sexual content will be equipped with a warning sign, if they can't be avoided.
Structuring of the information:
The information on the pages is highly structured, as this is how I work. The information is devided into two separate groups, the "in continuity" information and the background/bibliographic information.
The "in continuity" information is the information relating to the character in the stories. This is things like known family, date of birth, and what they do for a living in the stories. In this part is also the important parts of the character's history like origin for super-heroes, if they get married or something happens that affects the general continuity in the stories. This includes keeping track of the various retcons. The history is arranged chronological to the character's time line, not the date of publication. The history is strictly limited to the information relevant to continuity for two reasons: Information overload and not ruining the experience for those who want to read or watch the stories.
The background/bibliographic information is the real world so to speak.
One of the things that really annoyed me about projects like the Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe
was the lack of supporting characters. Imagine Superman or Spider-Man without a supporting cast. It would never work... On the other hand space is clearly a problem. In an ordinary comic book you can portray around 20 characters depending on the size of the book and how much space you use on each character. The supporting cast on Spider-Man alone would easily be four issues. At the same time, source books don't sell all that well which is why almost nothing was published between 1997 and 2004. Marvel started doing some specialized handbooks in 2004 with at least some of the supporting characters and DC is publishing a little as a part of their Secret Files & Origins
books, but it's a far cry from the old days with source books. On a site like this, the limitations in space are not as severe and additional space on servers is cheap.
The order in which I do the characters is partially random. It has been important for me to start with the lesser known characters to avoid doing what everyone else is doing. There are hundreds of pages with Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and all those major character, so me using time on those characters does no really add anything new to our knowledge and understanding of these characters. I'll do some work on them along the way, it's just not my main focus.
Usually projects like this one list the characters by their codename. Also, if there has been more than one with the same codename like Captain America they are usually given the suffix I, II, III, etc. I have three major reasons for NOT doing this. 1: Sometimes the suffix is really the name. There are three characters called Sentinel that I know of. They would be called Sentinel I
, Sentinel II
and Sentinel III
. Unfortunately Sentinel II
is an actual name for a character related to one of the Sentinels, what would I call him? 2: Some characters use the same codename more than once. I know of eight characters with the codename Starman
. Of these, Starman II
and Starman VI
(in chronological order) is the same character at different points in continuity. Which number is the right one to use? And 3: IT IS NOT THE CHARACTER'S NAME!!!
I can't draw very well yet. At the moment I am able to draw simple characters and make them look right. The process I use for the site usually looks something like this:
1. I find a useful picture and scan it. Often the original picture is very small, or lacks details or parts because it is hidden behind other objects. On the picture of Pappy Poopdeck here, the stance is good, but he's looking in the wrong direction compared to where is body is pointing. At this point I also scale up the picture, so it's easier to work with the details.
2. The first thing I do is add and/or remove the details I want or don't want, or in this case flip the body while keeping the head still to make Pappy look right. Sometimes the picture is composed from several pictures, and from time to time I transfer the picture to paper to make a pencil and paper drawing to get the details right. It's always a good idea to see if you can actually make the picture look the way you want, before the actual inking process.
3. From here on, it's just a matter of retracing the picture. I like having a thin inking of the pictures, which often leaves room for some nice details. If I'm adding things like a missing hand or foot, I make a point of studying how the artists draw the object on other pictures to get the right shape and feel on my addition. The finished picture is always done in black and white.
4. When the black and white picture is done, I put some color on. Here I look at the original pictures. I try to get the original feel of the pictures rather than the original colors used. The paper often changes the coloring, so using the original colors, makes the coloring look wrong on the white background on the computer. It's the same problem they have with reprints going from the original brownish paper to modern stark white paper. Using the original colors or the colors as they look in the originals is a matter of personal taste. I happen to like getting the feeling of the original coloring from when I read the comics.
Some times, some of the pictures requires a bit more modification than others, and if there is no color guide, I have to make a guess when I add color.
It takes a long time to do the pictures this way and it would be much faster to just scan a picture, but I want this site to be my work, as much as possible, and I want the pictures to be as cool as possible. The characters I can't draw yet, I try to get the best possible picture from whatever source is available to me.
Wherever it has been possible, I have put in the references. Some of the information I have is from Danish publications, which means that I don't know the original publication name, issue etc. The use of references is both a way of keeping track on where I have the information from, and for letting the readers know where to look if they want to read the stories.
I have tried to stick to the written facts... or the equivalent in films. If there are things, which I have deducted from what I have read, it should be clear in the text. There is the distinct possibility of wrong information due to bad translations. For some reason Danish translations are really bad. A part of the problem is in the Danish language, but some, like Harry Potter's magic wand being made from a feather from a phoenix in English and from a double chimera horn (whatever that might be) in Danish, is pure incompetence. I have tried to use the original material as much as possible.
Reading a page should be with as few distractions as possible. One of the things I personally dislike in web pages is the use of hypertext links within the text. One or two would be okay, but some pages have wall-to-wall links in the text. I have tried to keep the pages functional and easy to read by splitting them up in a section containing the actual text and another section containing the relevant links.
Copenhagen, Denmark, 2012