EDITOR’S NOTE: David Watkins founded Minneapolis-based Mansion Comics in 1992 as a home for independent genre comics. As a lifelong comics and soap fan, he’d always dreamed of launching his own soap as a comic. He has written several comics for Mansion and other independent publishers. Multiple daytime dramas have been nominated for awards.
One of my earliest soap memories from childhood involves Dr. John Dixon wagging his finger at Dr. Bob Hughes and yelling at him about something on “As The World Turns.” I don't recall what they were arguing about. Maybe it was a botched surgery. Maybe it was a woman, or even just a stolen parking spot. There would be many more arguments between John and Bob, and I'd be there to catch most of them as one of many people hooked on soaps.
Soaps weren't my only passion at a young age; I was hooked on comic books, too -- so much so that I grew up to write and publish comics. These dual passions converged recently, as I created a soap opera comic book.
Comics and soaps have a lot in common -- wild situations, love triangles, forbidden love, revenge and intense drama abound in both. And like some heroes, soap characters can have selective memories. There was a period on “Guiding Light” when Holly and Roger Thorpe were happily reconciled after years of animosity and felonious shenanigans. I would wonder if -- during intimate moments -- Holly would bring up the time Roger nearly tossed her off a cliff. And don't get me started on Rachel Cory and Carl Hutchins from “Another World.”
One of the things that kept me coming back to soaps was the outrageousness of some characters -- characters who could do or say something outrageous at any moment. Characters that could get away with tossing a drink in someone's face. Characters who could cook their daughter's pet bird for dinner, transition from stripping or pool cleaning to the role of CEO, could clone wives, and could pretty much commit any crime they want (including murder, in some cases) without worrying about more than a few months jail time. Want to come back from the dead -- a lot? You should be a superhero or a soap character.
I love how in comic and soap worlds, truly remarkable things can be discovered without the constraints of reality. The X-Men found the prehistoric hidden world known as the Savage Land. Similarly, “One Life To Live” discovered the Lost Underground City of Eterna. If there's a major difference between soaps and comics (beyond super powers and Spandex) it's that whole SORAS thing -- Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome. While it's routine for kids to be sent to their room or boarding school and then return older or a lot older, in comics characters are stuck in time. Franklin Richards, son to Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, has been a tween for more than 20 years now. And Betty and Veronica from the “Archie” comics are looking mighty fine for being in their 80s.
Read more: Look who got their start on soaps?
But it's not all about freeze rays, being killed by a giant falling letter "C," devil possession, living dolls, islands full of presumed dead folk, and kidnapped people put in bird cages. Soaps are best at intimate drama grounded in real emotion. Take Brenda of “ General Hospital" clutching Sonny's leg, begging him not to leave her. Or Reva on “Guiding Light” hitting rock bottom and taking a dip in the country club's fountain. How about Karen from “One Life To Live” breaking down on the witness stand regarding her prostitution past? “As The World Turns” ended with some choice dramatic moments, making a bold choice to not give every character a happy ending. But it did end with Dr. John and Dr. Bob as friends -- or at least friendly. John even got to save the life of Bob's son. It was a great full circle moment for me.
Like comics, soaps have taken some lumps lately; we've lost a lot of great shows. But like comics, soaps will never go away. They may shrink a bit and their format may change, but there will always be a soap opera to follow.