Wish I had a photo of the LCC panel titled “Smile and Be a Villain: What Makes Villains Memorable.” Picture a room set up in the hotel, a long narrow room. Seated at the front table are five imposing men of various ages and styles with one common dramatic element: they are all wearing big, black, fake mustaches! Very big, very black and very fake.
As you can tell from photos on their websites, big black mustaches would look pretty weird on these authors of books with villains they hope are memorable: John Billheimer, Darrell James, J.J. Lamb, Simon Wood, and Moderator, Con Lehane
These mustachioed authors looked comically nefarious, but what they had to say about the villains in their books is useful for both readers and writers, imho. What I personally wondered was whether my villain in House of Cuts, Melvin the Mad Butcher, had the stuff that memorable is made of.
Okay, so the way I costumed up last Halloween as Melvin qualifies in terms of having a big, black mustache. But what else is needed? Here’s what the men on the panel came up with: Memorable villains are heroic! They need a cause they believe in, misguided as it or they may be. They are dedicated, motivated and mission-oriented. The panel cited Dexter as an example of a villain with a cause, made sympathetic due to the even worse evil actions of his victims. As an example of a villain seeking justice, J.J. Lamb points to a man in the second book of his Bone series, Sin & Bone, as one who “gets even with his wife by killing women who look like her.” As Francis Bacon said: “Revenge is a kind of wild justice.”
The panel discussed the villains in Breaking Bad, characters who walk a fine line as to whether or not they’re a “hero.” Some characters have zero redeeming qualities, despite their understandable background, and are considered utterly vile. No–or very little–moral inner debate goes on in a villain such as Hannibal Lecter or his ilk.
Overall, it looks like Melvin the Mad Butcher qualifies as the heroic sort of villain, trying in his ill-conceived way to stop huge globals from killing little local businesses, like his shop in the San Joaquin Valley.
While studying villains, I came across an intriguing group: “The League of Proper Villains” in Sacramento, CA! Just have to mention them since they have put up such a memorable website–looks like a hot time in the old town kind of fun!? Perpetual Halloween?
If I go to a Sacvillain event, I’ll go as Melvin the Mad Butcher. What character might you go costumed as?
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