Valerian: A Thousand Stealable Ideas

This post is sort of a book recommendation, but really this is a writing tip.  Way back when I was in college, a professor gave me some advice. When you’re in the middle of a big creative project, spend your free time watching the greatest movies, reading the greatest books, listening to the greatest music.  Surround yourself with the greatest works of art, so that their greatness can inspire your own work.

That’s not bad advice.  But I’ve found that if I spend all my free time with Dune and The Lord of the Rings and the original Star Wars films (things that are, in my opinion, among the greatest works of Sci-Fi/Fantasy ever produced), my own work starts to feel imitative.  Derivative.  And I don’t like that.

But recently I stumbled upon a new source of inspiration, something that seems to work better for my own creative process.

Valerian was a French comic book series that ran from 1968 to 2007.  To American audiences, it’s frequently described as the best comic book you’ve never heard of.  Also, Valerian has a reputation among artists and writers for its “stealable ideas,” and a lot of its ideas have allegedly been stolen by other Sci-Fi properties, most notably Star Wars.

I’ve now read a few volumes of the English translation, and I have to say… it’s not that great.  I’m sorry to any huge Valerian fans who might be reading this, but I just feel like these comics leave something to be desired.  I’m not sure what.  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why these comics fall short for me.  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what’s missing, what could be done to make them better.

And that is the very reason why I, as a writer/artist, am so fascinated by this series.  It could be better.  It’s almost great.  It’s so close to being great.  Reading Valerian puts me into a “how could I make this better?” mindset.  And that is the mindset I want to be in when I sit down to work on my own Sci-Fi universe.

So that’s my writing tip.  If you’re looking for creative inspiration, maybe don’t turn to the greatest of the greats.  Rather, look to those works of art or literature that you feel are almost great.  Get yourself into that “how could I make this better?” mindset and then apply that mindset to your own work.

18 thoughts on “Valerian: A Thousand Stealable Ideas

    1. You’re right, they are. The old line about standing on the shoulders of giants applies to writers and artists just as much as scientists. But I also think the bad ideas are stealable, if you see a way to fix them.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. When it comes to story ideas, there’s really nothing new under the sun.

    The problem with stealing ideas from the greats is everyone will recognize what you’ve done, although if you give a new spin or execute on it in a fresh way, most people will be fine with it. But there’s a lot to be said for perusing the pulpy stuff, particularly the old pulpy stuff, for exactly the reasons you mention.

    This reminds me of one of the James SA Corey authors tweeting about how much anime he was watching in an epic binge. I wonder how many story ideas he got from that marathon that made it into the Expanse series.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve been rewatching some anime lately as well. “Galaxy Express 999” is another one that gets me thinking in much the same way as Valerian. I hadn’t thought of these things as pulpy, but that is the right word for it.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. That character’s name is Laureline, and she’s awesome. She’s not arm candy, and she’s not a damsel in distress, at least not consistently. She does need rescuing on occasion, but I feel like she ends up rescuing Valerian more often then he ends up rescuing her. There are still a few problematic scenes with her—for example, there was a part about who’s supposed to do the cooking—but for the most part, for a comic book character from the 1970’s, she’s definitely ahead of her time.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Fair point. And I do get the sense that for the 1970’s, Valerian was ahead of its time. I don’t mean to disrespect that. But as a 21st Century reader, I do feel like something’s missing, and I keep trying to figure out what it is, and that leads me to some very productive thinking that I can apply to my own work.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Any inspiration can be good inspiration, and it works for you, go for it. I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration from two interesting sources, the old Doc Savage pulps, and the novels of Michael Crichton; both, in their way, present unexpected twists or consequences of extrapolating known technologies, and that idea informs a lot of my writing.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. I remember when that movie came out, and yeah… I had no idea either. Whoever was in charge of marketing for that movie did a really bad job explaining what the movie was.

      Also, that movie was shockingly bad. It’s baffling too, because the director was apparently a huge fan of the comics, so you can’t say he didn’t understand the source material. But now that I’ve read some of the comics, it sure does seem like the director didn’t understand the source material.

      Liked by 1 person

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