Some keys to Plato’s cave

(and the goths who live there)

I’ve been writing and drawing comics over the last few years, sometimes I think a bit about that.
…and one of the things I think is that there is sometimes a tendancy, when deciding what a prop or background character looks like to go for the platonic archetypal ideal typical proverbial object….but this is also the generic and boring prop, no matter what flourish and decoration you add to it. No-one is surprised, for example, when the Key to Hell in Neil Gaiman‘s classic – Sandman– looks like this:
Sandman Key

Which is grand: after all, Sandman is a world whose central aesthetic is pretty goth, and one of its themes IS symbols, archetypes and platonic forms.

…but if you’re not writing a fantasy novel set in all of history’s subconscious, you might want to think a bit more about what the archetypal version of your prop might be, and weigh the pro’s and cons of the familiarity of the ‘symbol’ version of the object against the benefits you’ll get from using something more specific.

Because, despite the fact that I think if you asked most adults to draw a Key they would draw something similar in form to the ‘symbol’ form above, most people’s day to day experience of anactual key has more in common with the Key to the Fortress of Solitude in Grant Morrison‘s All Star Superman:

All Star Superman : Key

Which is brilliant: it replaces the symbolic version with the every day and this is unexpected.

Once you’re away from the platonic form, and using a form that is either more real world or completely alien, you have a much wider range of attributes to consider. The objects form, size, wight, material all have semiotic considerations that can be used to deduce a lot about its owner and the culture and story in which it exists.

  • Plastic, Wood and Metal?
  • Over or Undersized?
  • Embellished or Minimal?

So, if you look at your props and in all honestly it looks like something a Goth might like, you maybe need to think on it a bit further. Your haunted house will possibly be more effective and surprising if it’s a suburban semi detatched than the house on the hill, for example. It will also offer up different and interesting storytelling opportunities.

As an aside, I’m quite interested in Tim Burton’s films: he’s as goth a filmmaker as you can get, but I’m quite looking forward to seeing his Dark Shadows clash of goth and 70’s aesthetics.