Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Coincidences in Writing: Some Rambling Thoughts.

I’ve long since come to believe that “coincidences in writing” just happen. You’re tempted to think that something was inspired by something else – or was ripped-off by something else. But, probably more often than we realize, it’s most likely just coincidence.

My favorite example of this in classic sci-fi TV occurs between STAR TREK “Mirror Mirror” (10/06/1967) and LOST IN SPACE “The Anti-Matter Man” (12/27/1967)!

Each posited an alternate / opposite / evil twin universe – and, miraculously, each had an other-world duplicate of one of “our guys” sporting a BEARD! Mr. Spock for STAR TREK and Major Don West for LOST IN SPACE!

Both aired within 2.5 months of one another, ruling out even inadvertent recollections leading to the similarities, much less the possibility of plagiarism – and both had an amazing number of coinciding elements, including the above-mentioned “nega-character” with a beard. If anything, BOTH might have been cribbed from DC’s “Crime Syndicate of America”, that first appeared in 1964.

The funny thing about the Star Trek / Lost in Space parallel is that there really weren't any (or very many) established "norms" for TV Sci-Fi at the time. Now? Certainly there are! But, THEN? They were pretty much making it up as they went along -- with only '50s Sci-Fi movies as a guide. For examples of THAT, watch the great classic "Forbidden Planet" - - and count the ways it influences BOTH series. Star Trek and Lost in Space pretty much "did their own thing -- their own way" (And I STILL love 'em both for that!) making such a parallel all the more unlikely.

In direct contrast, for examples of "non-coincidence", watch the '50s film "The Thing from Another World" -- and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea's "The Heat Monster" (1967). The nature of the respective "creatures" differed (An alien "vegetable" vs. a sentient "flame-creature"), but EVERYTHING else was the same. The one key element of "The Thing from Another World" that didn't appear in the Voyage episode (the creature being defrosted from a block of ice by an unfortunately placed electric blanket) found itself in the Lost in Space episode "Castles in Space" (also 1967). I'll be doing a DVD Review of "The Thing from Another World" someday, and will be certain to mention that.

Applying the topic to my own experiences in comic book script writing:
In my first script for Gemstone, Super Goof: “Now Museum, Now You Don’t” (2006), I referred to the omnipresent coffee establishment in the greater Duckburg-Mouseton Metro Area as “Starducks”. “Thuh coffee so strong it puts feathers on a hairy chest!”

I liken getting to use a gag like that to “finding a 50 dollar bill lying on the ground”. You’re glad YOU picked it up, and wonder why no one else got to it first.

Anyone who has read Boom!’s Darkwing Duck comic will know that “Starducks” was also the omnipresent coffee establishment in St. Canard. Darkwing authors Ian Brill, Aaron Sparrow, or whoever wrote that first arc did not borrow that from me… it was a coincidence!

Though, ironically, in the very unlikely event that “Now Museum, Now You Don’t” ever gets reprinted, folks will probably think I borrowed it from THEM. (If, indeed, they remember “Starducks” at all!)

Starducks” was simply a very likely name to use in a particular situation.

I have ANOTHER such “50 dollar bill find” in an unpublished UNCLE SCROOGE script that I completed just as Boom! decided to cancel the title.
It’s another “one of those things” that’s so good and so obvious, that you wonder why no one’s beaten you to it. No, I’m not tipping on what it is! Hopefully, someday, you’ll see it in print!

So, now I’m hoping that someone soon picks up the license to publish UNCLE SCROOGE – and decides to run that story – before another writer “beats me to it”, who really may not have done so at all!

And, if it should happen, I will be unhappy, but I’ll know it was a coincidence.


Achille Talon said...

Alright, since you've directed us here from the latest post. That story with the other "lost 50 dollar bill". Has IDW run it? If so what was the gag in question? And if not, do you think it may yet ever be?

Joe Torcivia said...


The gag was written for an unpublished issue from the Boom! Studios days. The story was eventually run at IDW, and appeared in THIS ISSUE OF UNCLE SCROOGE, as the tale I called “Bad Things Come in Threes”.

Scroll down and look for it under the “red-lettered” heading of “Favorite Melvin Moments”. It will be the first gag you see!

It seemed so obvious to me that I feared someone else would also think of it, and get it into print during those first 11 months of IDW before it finally appeared.