Footloose

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Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of writing is the effective use of pacing in telling the story. Many stories (both prose and graphic) suffer from a tendency toward wordiness and glacial pacing; at its worse, this can end up driving all but the most patient readers away as they get bored with the story. Oddly, its inverse can also be problematic, especially when a story’s been building up to a spectacular climax that shows considerable promise. And it’s my unfortunate duty to mention that one of my favorites, the meta-fictional webcomic Footloose, has succumbed to hasty storytelling that ultimately diminished what had promised to be a truly climactic conclusion to a fascinating story.

Just as a brief warning, there will be spoilers (though I’ve rarely shied away from them in any event), so if you’ve not read the comic in the past, you might want to read through it. I’ll wait. And who knows, it might make for some interesting counterpoints to my perceptions on the comic. Now, as I’d previously mentioned, cartoonists Ally Nuttall and Emily Brady had been building up on a Man vs. Self narrative conflict for close to a year. In fact, the start of the climactic chapter showed the human aspect of the protagonist, Keti Jones, waking up in a prison of the mind, trapped along with her werewolf aspect while her faerie self proceeded to face down her formers friends. It was a powerful scene that held much promise.

We had a clear villain available with the corrupted “Kaeti” (with the Fae aspect of Keti being twisted by the Sword of Slayskull). We had dual environments, with the ongoing battle in the Realm of Faerie and the inner prison of Keti’s mind. And we even had convergence between the three, with Iordan using a literal Deus Ex Machina to help him fight Kaeti, Kaeti herself diving in for a final strike… and the fractured non-fae aspects of Keti working together to reach their Fae aspect for a final encounter. And that is the point where the story faltered, with an entire narrative conflict seemingly tossed aside and an inner conflict that had slowly been built vanishing in a group glomp.

Seeing that I’d gone on in length in the past about the “Man vs. Self” narrative conflict, it could be easy to dismiss my criticism as a critic’s pique. After all, no one likes to admit to being wrong. The thing is, we’d seen this conflict in the past. The most obvious example was when Kaeti initially took control to try and flirt with An. Kaeti also has had issues with Keti’s inability to comprehend the rules governing fiction (generics), something that the Fae are quite capable of comprehending while humans and weres suffer from genre blindness even when it’s explained with charts and hand puppets. Thus for Kaeti to be taken down with a mere group hug and an affirmative shout that they are all one… it just doesn’t work for me.

Next, we have the Sword of Slayskull itself as an antagonist. This is mentioned several times, both by Keti’s Faerie Godmother Flibbage and by Fey, the above-mentioned Deus Ex Machina (and faerie-based artificial intelligence). Unfortunately, the Sword’s maliciousness seems more akin to the Ring of Power from the Lord of the Rings movie (which used whispering to great effect in building atmosphere). The glimmers of blue in a greyscale comic have become synonymous with the Sword itself, and with its maliciousness. But there is never any real conflict here. The Sword is a Force of Nature, and Keti herself never actually confronts it, other than to cast the Sword away once her group glomp reintegrated her personality. Instead, Fey casts it into the Void and conveniently wraps things up.

So then, if Keti never actually confronted either Kaeti or the Sword, then what was the climax of the story? Was the whole point of this blowup merely to have the resident nice guy (Iordan) give Keti her first kiss (and snap her out of her insane homicidal rage)? Or to have a magical computer wave its cursor and remove the plot token (the Sword) that has driven the entire second part of the First Book of Footloose? Maybe I’m just reading too much into this. After all, there was an entire line of conflict going on outside of Keti that was built up nicely and culminated spectacularly. Unfortunately this was the lesser story that had all the love and attention given to it. The good stuff, the conflict of Keti’s mind and soul, failed to deliver and thus lessened the impact of the story.

As for my previous comments concerning Sparkle, Keti’s old antagonist? I must admit I would have found it quite amusing had Kaeti “rescued” her, especially when the Rules of Generics concerning rescues come into play. But when I take a cold hard look at her role (as I did with the climax of the comic), I can clearly see she served little purpose in this story. That’s not to say her kidnapping served no purpose, seeing as it allowed Nuttall and Brady to continue the humiliation conga of Sparkle started in the first half of the series, but we also had seeds planted to allow for her continued antagonism in the Second Book of Footloose (especially when you consider she all but begged for Daniel, her ex-boyfriend, to rescue her). In this, Nuttall and Brady did the right thing in cropping extraneous growth from the comic as a whole.