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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Monday, November 2, 2015


I've been giving more thought as to how my "51 percent rule" applies to the form of serials and related formats.

Any regular readers of this blog shouldn't be thrown by this reference, for I've only brought up the rule three times over the years, and only once did I use the concept to discuss the intermingling of pheomenalities in a serial format. In ABNER ORIGINE I remarked upon the fact that the comic strip LI'L ABNER had made copious usages of marvelous concepts, though it was not usually classed as a fantasy-comic. I put this down to the fact that marvelous concepts only appeared in ABNER in an irregular fashion, and that the strip was better known for naturalistic tropes, like having its hillbilly characters run into society snobs and gangsters. At the same time, I mentioned that one of Al Capp's running gags was to portray both the strip's star Abner and frequent support-character "Mammy" as possessing inhuman levels of strength.  I opined that if this running-gag appeared as frequently as I thought that it did, then LI'L ABNER deserved to be considered a metaphenomenal strip, even if it wasn't as open about its fantastic nature as LITTLE NEMO and FLASH GORDON.

I conceived of the "51 percent rule" in keeping with the phenomenological considerations covered in the essay WITH ENFOLDED HANDS. All works with dominantly metaphomenal content-- whether they are stand-alone works or parts of an ongoing serial narrative-- cannot help but reference the phenomenal principles typical of naturalistic narrative: that there must be some degree of causal coherence and intelligibility, if only to provide contrast to the violations of one or both of these two principles.

That said, there are serials that only very rarely stray into metaphenomenal territory, which is what originally caused me to formulate the rule. Over the years Marvel Comics reprinted, to the best of my knowledge, all of the adventures of 1950s western hero "The Ringo Kid." Of those adventures, only one possessed metaphenomenal content, a story from RINGO KID WESTERN #8 (October 1955). In this issue the heroic Kid encountered a mad scientist, Doctor Saturn, who invented a super-scientific device with which he temporarily blinded people, whom his gang then robbed.

I'm reasonably sure that no one would induct the Ringo Kid into the ranks of metaphenomenal heroes on the basis of one lousy adventure. But things get a little more dicey with a serial concept like LI'L ABNER. The strip lasted several years, and even if I had access to all of the ABNER strips, I wouldn't have any interest in sedulously noting exactly how many metaphenomenal storylines appeared in all of the strips, and what percentage of all the story-arcs possesses such concepts. Yet I wanted to formulate the rule as a *theory* that could account for the dominant proclivities of any series, no matter how long-lived. Once more, from the essay where I first propounded the term:

I term my solution to this problem the "51 Per Cent Solution."  In business dealings we're accustomed to hearing that a stockholder with 51% of a company's stocks has the greatest advantage, though not an unqualified dominion.  Thus, if one wished to determine the dominant mythos of the Briefer work, one would count up the total number of stories and determine which mythos-type was statistically dominant.  

As I've noted elsewhere, the context in this essay has to do with sorting out the Fryean mythos that dominates a given serial narrative, but the same logic applies to its phenomenality as well, and I've been using it in this manner in my informal determinations, though not so much on this blog.

Still, even with this "rule of thumb" in place, it should be obvious that even if LI'L ABNER's metaphenomenal storylines did not make up over fifty percent of the total storylines, it's obvious that Al Capp possessed a creative passion for coming up with metaphenomenal concepts on a regular basis, while the guy who put a mad scientist into a RINGO KID story may have simply been tired of the usual cowpoke sagas, and so elected to "bend the Kid's genre," so to speak.

I said in the except above that "51 percent" didn't give the holder of such stock an "unqualified dominion," and the same applies to serial concepts. Sometimes one can see that a given author has a real passion for playing with metaphenomenal concepts, while another author may just be tossing out whatever seems to work.

To draw once more upon comic strip examples, DICK TRACY debuted in 1931, and if it had been cancelled in 1940, we would hardly remember it as having any metaphenomenal content, as Chester Gould only rarely used weird, freaky crooks in his 1930s stories. However, from the 1940s and on, TRACY became famous for its "rogue's gallery" of bizarre criminals. TRACY might or might not exceed the formal "51 percent rule" in terms of metaphenomenal content, but as with ABNER, one can hardly doubt the influence of said content on the strip as a structuring principle.

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