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Reader Interpretation vs. Writer Intent
Posted Oct 15, 2012 - 13:27:13

Roomies!I've been a reader of webcomics by David Willis since right about the beginning of It's Walky!. I, of course, archive binged and read his Roomies! comic that led into it when I started, and have been reading his work ever since.

That's... a long time.

I haven't read those original comics since I first went through them over a decade ago, so when Mr. Willis started reposting the comics on a new site ( with additional commentary, needless to say I was elated. In truth, most of the commentary involves David Willis mocking himself, but it also adds depth to character motivations - along with understanding how much is autobiographical (and what he was just flailing around with). What I've discovered though was that I, as a reader, had been interpreting one of the leads (Danny) completely differently than David Willis ever meant the reader to.

I had the character dead wrong.

See, what I was unaware of as a reader initially was that the David Willis of the late nineties (unlike the David Willis of today) was a fundamentalist Christian. Danny, the lead, likewise was intended to be one. There were small hints sprinkled in, but as I grew up entirely outside that world (raised agnostic, used to be an Atheist, and for over fifteen years I've been a Wiccan) I totally didn't get them.

And while I assumed Danny was a Christian, as most Americans identify as such, I assumed he was of the more secular mindset like most of my friends who are Christian. In other words, in the absence of proof, I strongly assumed the character was more like, well... me.

Not only that, but when presented with evidence that the character wasn't like me (as in the linked comic you'll find if you click on the panel above) I completely reinterpreted the character motivations to match my idea of who they are. My mental version of that scene and what David Willis intended when he wrote it are lightyears apart... and what he intended is (honestly) the much more obvious version.

But since this was back in the day where comics didn't have comment sections and readers rarely interacted with the cartoonists of their favorite webcomics, I kept on assuming I was right. And when later comics DID incorporate much more author interaction, David Willis had already changed to a much more liberal mindset... so there was little evidence that he'd have written Danny that way.

Now I'm learning about this character all over again, and I'm faced with a choice: Do I continue to imagine my version of Danny or do I recalibrate to the author's initial intent?

On the one hand, frankly, I like mine better. If I'd understood Mr. Willis's intent at the beginning, I might not have kept reading all those years ago. On the other hand, I'm such a staunch defender of my own characters that I'd feel like a hypocrite not accepting the Author's version.

It's a puzzle, and one that I'm not sure has an easy answer.
- Traegorn

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To be absolutely frank, I never really pegged Danny to be a "Christian" but more of a dialed back sort of person. Someone who conforms more to the "Norm."
That was my initial interpretation too -- but that wasn't what Willis intended, and if you look for the clues, it's obvious why we were wrong.

Although it's true, he's still a dialed back guy in either case. :P
I was surprised to find he shares a background similar to mine.
Danny was still a mite dailed back in the Martian invasion. That was weird.

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