Friday, May 5, 2023

Sidekick Awareness by Warren Bull


Image by Stephen Rheeder on Unsplash

Sidekick Awareness by Warren Bull

(Re-published from 2022)

It’s not unusual for authors to discover that their secondary or one-time-only characters catch on with readers and end up with more stories to tell than writers expect.  Perhaps the most famous of this group is Popeye, the sailorman.

Elzie Crisler Segar created the cartoon sailor for his comic strip Thimble Theater in the tenth year of production. Originally the strip starred Ham Gravy, his girlfriend Olive Oil and her brother Castor. When they sailed off on an adventure a pipe-smoking, one-eyed sailor accompanied them. Fans requested more about the sailor. Popeye appeared on January 17, 1929. He claimed the title of the cartoon. Ham and Castor abandoned the strip. Popeye outlived his creator. Max Fleischer cast the “I yam what I yam” character in cartoons. 

Popeye has been in comic books, television cartoons, video games, ads and a movie. One of the cartoons made during the second world war is now out of circulation because of the racial stereotypes in contains. Since the work is legally a work for hire, it is still under copyright.

Robert B. Parker’s character Hawk shows up in the 4th Spenser novel. He provides a contrast to the Spenser straight-arrow character. Hawk’s morality is more limited, and more rigid than Spenser’s. In some ways he is more interesting than the protagonist. A character like Hawk, a Black street-wise criminal with his own code, made an appearance in an earlier novel and Parker was smart enough to seize the chance to deepen the series. 

A one-off character quite different from his initial portrayal is the Cisco Kid. He appeared in the O. Henry short story The Caballero’s Way in July of 1907. The story is now in the public domain and well worth reading.  In the story Cisco Kid is a murderous outlaw with more than a dozen killings already under his belt. He is thoroughly unlikeable, although charming and attentive to women. 

Starting with his first appearance in a silent movie in 1914, the character is redeemed and transformed into a dispenser of justice. In comics, movies and television Cisco, AKA Juan Carlos Francisco Antonio Hernandez, is often mistaken for a bandit due to his habit of taking on to rich and greedy people in order to help the poor. Warner Baxter won the Academy Award for Best Actor for portraying the character in Old Arizona in 1929, the first all-talking western. His award was the second Academy Award given for Best Actor.

Without Dr. Watson, Sherlock Holmes would be an insufferable bore. Imagine The Walking Dead without Daryl, Dark Shadows without Barnaby Collins, or The Big Bang Theory without Sheldon. Pay attention to your deuteragonists. They could become stars on their own.


Kait said...

So much fun and your photo is perfect!

Jim Jackson said...

Did not realize Popeye was a walk-on who stole the show.

Susan said...

I agree with your points about Hawk and Spenser. Hawks enlivens every book he’s in.

Debra H. Goldstein said...

So interesting to think about the sidekicks who often do steal the show or the page.

KM Rockwood said...

Sometimes the character we created to be a sidekick turns out to be the main protagonist instead. And sometimes that character is so compelling he/she needs a new series entirely.

Author Sarah E. Burr said...

I had a sidekick turn into a main protag in my first series. Spending so much time with our characters deepens the bonds, and it's always so wonderful when readers feel the same.