It’s All Been Done
But Don’t Let That Stop You!
The second person to write a dinosaur erotica story was copying the first. Once there were more than two people doing it, it was a genre, and it no longer mattered who started it. I’m probably the seventh or eighth. Or maybe the 100th? Who the hell knows? There is certainly more than one of us writing pervy stories with an ironic or comedic twist. I could still be the only person doing digitally painted covers for my books, though I haven’t checked in a while. One thing I’m pretty confident about is there are still not enough dinosaur erotica stories out there for people who want to consume them.
How many vampire stories were written between Bram Stoker’s Dracula, published in 1897, and Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, published in 1976? How many vampire romances came before Twilight, and how many YA vampire romances with Mormon overtones set in a high school came after it? Vampire stories, in general, might be cliché or tiresome, and you’re likely to be called a hack if you try to write one, but nobody will say you’re copying Bram Stoker. Legally speaking, you could publish Dracula word for word because it is in the public domain, but that’s not the point. What matters is it has spurred numerous genres and subgenres, and there are still new vampire stories coming out every day.
Matt Groening takes playful jabs at Seth MacFarlane because of the similarities between The Simpsons and Family Guy, but both owe a debt to The Flintstones, which itself is just an animated version of The Honeymooners. And now, thanks to all of the streaming services, there are hundreds of animated sitcoms that most people have never heard of, each with its own loyal group of fans. The Venture Brothers started out as a parody of the 1960s Hanna Barbara cartoon Jonny Quest before becoming its own thing. And then the show turned its own premise on its head by actually putting the Jonny Quest character in one of their episodes. Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick will always be the kings of meta, but that hasn’t stopped others from coming after their thrones.
As an artist, I struggle with the notion of originality all the time. The euphoria that accompanies the dawn of a new idea is quickly replaced by the anxiety over wondering if someone else got to it first. Thanks to the internet, you can find out within seconds if that fear is justified. The question is, should you?
K9 vs. Turner and Hooch
There are plenty of movies about a man and his dog, but both of these films are specifically about a cop and his canine partner, and they both came out in the same year. Which one hit the screens first? K9 won by three months. That doesn’t necessarily mean it was conceived of first, as movies can spend varying amounts of time in development, but this hardly matters to moviegoers. Whichever one happens to be released first will always be considered the original, and the second one is the “rip-off.” In the end, though, I like to think it matters which one is actually better. In this case, it’s also K9. Why? Let’s just say “for John Wick reasons.”
Before I tried making a living as an author/illustrator, I tried designing both t-shirts and greeting cards. The t-shirt thing started with a hand-drawn cupcake on a Hanes Beefy T that was inspired by the Care Bears — Birthday Bear, in particular. It was a fun little design that people seemed to like, so when I started my greeting card company, Crazy Cupcake Designs, I thought I could sell my logo on a t-shirt. It was just a simple line drawing of a cupcake, without any text, but I was pretty happy with it. I printed 500 shirts, then went around town trying to get them into local stores. That’s when I discovered Johnny Cupcakes. Not only did he launch his company in the same year that I did, he also started in the same city. And he was way better at marketing. And his design wasn’t just a plain cupcake, it had a pirate skull and crossbones theme. I didn’t stand a chance. For the next several years, I focused on greeting cards, but I’m a terrible salesperson, and even though I was able to get cards in a few indie bookstores, I could never get any real momentum going. By the time I pivoted back to t-shirts, Johnny Cupcakes was a national phenomenon. He had his own retail store on Newbury Street in Boston, and minor celebs could be seen wearing his brand. Even though I had retired my little cupcake design, I couldn’t help but feel like I was living in his shadow, and I eventually gave up the t-shirt biz altogether. This was my first experience with being beaten to the punch, and it shook me to the core. I couldn’t help but think that, no matter what I tried to do, someone else was probably already doing it more successfully. It took me a long time to let go of this fear, but the good news is I eventually did.
More or less.
One morning in the fall of 1995, I had a flash of inspiration for a story about a werewolf that breaks into a lion’s pen at the zoo and gets himself eaten. But since werewolves can only die via silver bullet, his essence fuses with the lion’s, turning him into a weird lion/human/wolf hybrid. I was imagining ways to poke fun at all of the usual genre tropes, but the idea that interested me most was the notion of sudden consciousness. One minute, you’re as dumb as a lion, and the next, you have human awareness. I wasn’t sure if he was going to have the human’s memories — maybe some of them would come to him over time, or whatever, but I knew I wanted to explore this further. I mulled these concepts over for months before finally trying to turn it into a short story for a creative writing class. It was a mess. People didn’t know what to make of it, and the truth is I wasn’t a mature enough writer to pull it off at the time.
Ten years later, while courting my (now) wife, I convinced her to help me turn this idea into a graphic novel. By then, the lion/wolfman had become a tiger/wolfman, and he was a private detective with a young assistant that looked suspiciously like my wife. We met up a couple of times to work on it, took a few notes, did a few sketches, but in the end, we had more important things to do. Like getting together. When it came down to it, I just didn’t want to do all the work involved in making a graphic novel. I can draw pretty well, but my style isn’t right for the medium, and I’m way too slow.
Another ten years later, I decided to revisit the material yet again. By 2015, I had a handful of dinosaur erotica short stories under my belt and thought I might have a novel in me. I had just done a cover for my friend’s book that included a giant metallic tiger, so I changed my tiger to a housecat. But he still needed to be half-human, and I started to think I needed a new origin story. That’s when I remembered Bastet, the Egyptian cat goddess. I would simply make him her son. I realized that by doing this, I was letting go of what had been some of the most important elements of the original concept, but sometimes art develops a life of its own. The character was still a detective, though. I had become obsessed with TV shows like Psych and Sherlock and I was excited about the idea of writing humorous mysteries.
Well, it turns out there were already numerous books featuring mystery-solving cats. So many, in fact, that it might be its own subgenre. I’ve never read any of these, but it looks like, most of the time, the cats aren’t sentient and can’t talk. Still, the similarities to what I wanted to do made me a little uncomfortable. Also, having the cat-man be related to Bastet seemed so obvious that I figured someone else must have already done it. I’m three books into a series, and to be honest, I’m still afraid to check. I’m more or less counting on my twisted sensibilities to set it apart from anything else that might be similar. My books feature an asshole of a feline who fucks crazy cat ladies and gives in to all of his animalistic impulses. The sex scenes are just as graphic as the ones I put in my dinosaur erotica books, though they tend to serve different purposes in the stories.
When it comes down to it, the only way I can truly let go of the fear of being a copycat is to go all in. The more books I put out, the more it legitimizes the series. As long as I commit whole-heartedly to my characters, they will eventually evolve beyond the premise just as the Venture Brothers did. If I can pull this off — if I can manage to build a compelling world that readers can get lost in — then the superficial similarities with other books won’t matter.
Nothing to Lose
We all hope to create something that the world has never seen before, but that’s not possible anymore. The best we can do is take something familiar and filter it through our own unique lenses. If you come up with an idea that you’re excited about, just go for it. Maybe someone else will have already done something similar, and maybe they’ll have done it more successfully, but if your execution is good, you can still find an audience. And while you might have to put up with comparisons to the person who did it first, there’s always a chance that yet a third person will throw their hat in the ring. When that happens, you’ll retroactively become part of a new subgenre, and the comparisons to the “original” won’t wreck you. Will the anxiety ever completely go away? Probably not, but you don’t have to let it stop you from doing what you love.