A reader once asked whether Radnor Wentworth is really me, and I responded that I don’t own a suit of armor. (Although, in a sense, I guess maybe I do.)
A more serious, although oblique, answer might have mentioned one of the differences I’ve noticed between serious and hack fiction. (Of course many people still assume that cartoon fiction can’t be serious, but they’re simply wrong.) The hack writer focuses on the outside world, and constructs a character to meet the needs of the plot. A serious author is more likely to be self-absorbed (or at least self-examining), and may construct main characters (perhaps unconsciously) more to satisfy personal needs.
These may include the need to understand one’s world better, the desire to explore personal problems, and the desire to vent and thus get rid of long-standing internal tensions (catharsis). In hack fiction, characters tend to be practical tools; in serious fiction they’re often in a more complex relationship with the author. But that “relationship” usually doesn’t mean a character is just an avatar or stand-in for its creator; that’s unlikely for various reasons, both personal and artistic.
For one thing, even the most complex and subtle fiction — War and Peace, for example — is infinitely simpler and clearer than real life. (That relative clarity is one reason we like fiction, I think.) Also, the writer usually has to construct multiple characters, and if more than one of them is meant to be three-dimensional, they may need to draw on different parts of their creator: share his identity among themselves, so to speak.
The net result is that a well-made fictional character, while unlikely to “be” the author, may well personify one piece of the author, or one tendency within him — simplified and intensified.
I thought the reader’s question was interesting, even if it was intended to be provocative; and I hope my answer here doesn’t sound too evasive or English-teacherish. It’s been a long time since I was an English teacher, but I guess some things never leave you completely.
Radnor Wentworth’s Theory of Friendship was originally published in print form in 1990, during my long career as a print creative director. By 2001-2002, after additional years as a Web creative director, I decided to put some of my cartoon stories online. I’d become a better illustrator in the intervening years, but I resisted the temptation to redraw most of the story. I did a little redrawing, however: the most important change was to redesign Radnor’s face in the few panels where he appears without his helmet. Radnor may have his, ah, limitations, but he’s not a villain — and in the original printed version I had (without realizing it) made him look so geeky that he was slightly repulsive. I’ve made a couple of minor writing revisions as well to help clarify his theory. Overall, I believe these Web versions are artistically slightly superior to the original printed versions.
Each image in the Web version of Theory of Friendship was created using a hybrid technique. First, I made a traditional pen & ink drawing. This was scanned into digital form. The drawing was then further developed in a computer painting program, using a wireless electronic “pen” and drawing tablet rather than a mouse. The composition was refined, additional elements introduced, and gray tones and shading added. At every stage of the process, these images were created with Web viewing in mind.
Here’s some of the press response to the original printed version of Radnor Wentworth's Theory of Friendship:
Mini of the Month!
Mini-comic number four from San makes it a Grand Slam for this newly emerging cartoonist. Not only does San have a natural understanding of the mini-comic format, and what can be done with it, he also has a wealth of clever ideas to produce, each of them different and all of them thought-provoking.
In this mini, the lead character, Radnor Wentworth, is a lonely guy wondering why he has so few friends. Is he too smart? Is he too intense? Just what is it that drives his friends away after three to six months? He leaves home, trying to figure it all out, and goes to a carnival; all the while, incongruously, he is dressed like a medieval knight in armor. (A nice touch that San actually fails to exploit as well as he could’ve.)
And, at the carnival, Wentworth finds the answer — or thinks he does.
San continues to produce attractively packaged and enjoyable mini-comics.… Seriously. You’ll enjoy his work. His previous minis are River Journey, Psychology Can’t Help, and The Hurricane.
– Comics F/X Magazine
San does classy minicomics, and this is no exception. Wentworth is this guy in a suit of armor who has trouble keeping friends, despite his computer programming skills and phenomenal intelligence. He comes to some conclusions about this here, but the self-knowledge doesn't seem to get him far.
– Factsheet Five
Quite clever. Dream interpretations, soul searching, expressive drawings, and even a bit of humor… Cross Woody Allen with Natalie d’Arbeloff, toss in a pinch of Jim Bricker and a dash of Frank Tashlin, and… you won’t have really come even close. Good try, though.
– Amazing Heroes Magazine
(referring to four stories by San)
Many readers sent notes in response to the original printed version of this story. You’re welcome to contact me about this Web version, or, for that matter, about anything else. And if I never hear from you… thank you for reading my stories.