August 31, 2009
The End of the Modern Age of Comics
A few reactions to Disney's purchase of Marvel:
- Can we call this the close of the Modern Age of comics? Sometime during the early 00s—maybe even earlier—it seems like big corporate comics (DC and Marvel) shifted decisively from creating new characters and storylines to mining the creative capital they'd accrued over decades. (There's a fossil fuel analogy lurking here.)
- I'm not talking about relaunches and re-interpretations, a la The Dark Knight Returns and John Byrne's Superman reboot back in the 80s. I'm talking about all you do is look backward—whether it's retold tales like Marvel's Ultimate Spider-Man or recursive loops like DC's Infinite Crisis.
- Okay, I'm sure there are lots of little exceptions, but I really really want to pronounce Marvel and DC dead. C'mon, can't we just pronounce them dead?
- And what I mean by that is: They are no longer engines of creation. They now exist to license, merchandise, expand and exploit the IP they've been nurturing over the years. Which is totally okay! But...
- Who's gonna create the new characters?
(Hmm. That ended up being more suited to paragraphs than bullets. Oh well, not changing it.)
Another detail from the story: Marvel has just 300 employees. Think of that company's cultural "throw-weight"—not insignificant—and divide that by its headcount. Pretty impressive.
What have you noticed about comics in the last 3-5 years? Anything noteworthy? Anything that this deal crystallizes? Where is the medium going?
August 6, 2009
Gods of the Underworld
I wrote about Joshua Glenn's new schema for generations a year ago - basically, Glenn's MO is to toss out distended categories like "Generation X" for tighter, single-decade groupings with names like "Hardboileds" or "The Net Generation."
That was at Brainiac, the blog for the Boston Globe. But at Hilobrow, Glenn's still working back, decade by decade, which is especially awesome for 1) people who are geeks for the nineteenth-century, like me, and 2) all of us, who have a much less intuitive sense of generational changes or continuities the longer we look beyond living memory.
For example, consider the generation born between 1854 and 1863. Glenn calls them "the Plutonians":
Pluto is the god of the underworld, and members of this generation — Freud, Emil Kraepelin, Sir James Frazer, Eugen Bleuler, Julius Wagner-Jauregg, Franz Boas, Émile Durkheim — were dedicated to spelunking the darkest corners of the unconscious, rationalizing the world’s religions and myths, laying bare the deepest structures of society and culture. And then there’s Plutonian Joseph Conrad’s voyage to the Heart of Darkness… and, of course, Rimbaud’s Une Saison en Enfer.
If Rimbaud's Season In Hell isn't enough brooding modernist romance for you, may I remind you that Nikola Tesla is holding in his hands balls of flame?
Tesla, the greatest of all Plutonians, had decided that the earth itself was a great conductor, “literally alive with electrical vibrations” — and that he could use it to transmit electrical power without wires. Tesla claimed that soon, humankind would tap the sun’s energy with an antenna, control the weather with electrical energy, and establish a global system of wireless communications. “When wireless is fully applied the earth will be converted into a huge brain,” he told backer J.P. Morgan, “capable of response in every one of its parts.”
Glenn says that Tesla, Ishi, Le Petomane, and The Elephant Man would make for a great League of Extraordinary Gentleman-style team-up; however, according to Wikipedia, there's already a graphic novel, The Five Fists of Science, where
Nikola Tesla, Mark Twain and Bertha von Suttner combine forces to try to bring about world peace through superior firepower. The comic's introduction shows Twain explaining that the story does not concern itself very much with historical accuracy, and this assertion is borne out by the story: Twain and Tesla use scientific know-how, general trickery and media manipulation techniques to try to scare world leaders into following their noble path. In the company of several allies, the two are soon confronted by dark forces led by the dastardly Thomas Edison, John Pierpont Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and Guglielmo Marconi. The inventors and financiers are collaborating on a bizarre new skyscraper, the Innsmouth Tower, on whose building site many construction workers have already died in mysterious accidents.
Here, I'll just give the last word to one of my favorite quotes from Futurama:
FRY: Hey, you have no right to criticize the twentieth century! We gave the world the light bulb, the steam boat and the cotton gin. LEELA: Those things are all from the nineteenth century. FRY: Yeah, well, they probably just copied us.
August 4, 2009
Drifting Away, Like Doctor Manhattan
I've been spending a lot of time reading about autism lately, so this NYT piece on a slate of forthcoming movies featuring characters with autism or Asperger's syndrome caught my attention.
But isn't the great book/movie about autism really Watchmen? One character after another -- savants, to be sure -- driven by their obsessions, unable to make lasting emotional connections with other people, despite their best efforts to connect and identify with humanity?
From the NYT:
“The more I learned about Asperger’s,” said Max Mayer, the writer and director of the romance, “Adam,” which opened last week, “the better metaphor it felt like for the condition of all of us in terms of a desire for connection to other people.”
People with Asperger’s may have superior intelligence and verbal skills, and they often have an obsessive interest in a particular topic (astronomy, in the case of the title character in “Adam,” played by Hugh Dancy). But they tend to be self-defeatingly awkward in social situations, and romantic relationships can leave them at sea.
July 22, 2009
Wednesday Comics Report
So I did go out and snag Wednesday Comics, as I mentioned. My verdict? Beautiful, inventive, and fatally flawed.
But the flaw is so simple! You see, Wednesday Comics #1 is comprised of sixteen giant pages. And each of those pages is a separate story. This renders it almost completely unreadable. Just as you build up a modicum of reading momentum—TO BE CONTINUED. And they're not even good to-be-continueds, because really, how could they be? Nothing has happened yet!
It's only worth mentioning because the whole thing would have been so sublime if they'd simply focused each issue on two or four stories instead of sixteen. I'm sure there's some sort of production logic at work here—Paul Pope is still madly scribbling out the back half of his Adam Strange story somewhere—but even so. The product, as is, is broken. It's fine fodder for "trends in media!" talk—and you know I love that—but as an actual reading experience it's no fun. Fresh formats are great, but you gotta get the fundamentals right, too.
However! A super-jumbo-sized trade paperback, collecting all of the issues, released around Christmastime, would be a fine thing indeed. I'll wait for that—and buy it with relish.
March 11, 2009
Secrets and Easter Eggs in the Watchmen Titles
One reason why Alan Moore (like lots of other people) may have thought that Watchmen was unfilmable was the use of subtle associations and tiny messages that could only be revealed by long scrutiny of the individual pages and panels. According to Moore, in Watchmen we see:
sort of "under-language" at work ... that is neither the "visuals" nor the "verbals" but a unique effect caused by a combination of the two. A picture can be set against text ironically, or it can be used to support the text, or it can be completely disjointed from the text -- which forces the reader into looking at the scene in a new way... the reader has the ability to stop and linger over one particular "frame" and work out all of the meaning in that frame or panel. (Quoted in "Reading Space in Watchmen.")
Well, movies don't allow that same kind of attention at full speed in the theater. They DO allow it in the freeze-frame -- and Zack Snyder's Watchmen title sequence actually slows down and freezes the frame for you. Now Meredith Woerner's got the goods on the easter eggs in the title sequence for Watchmen, and at least one is a doozy:
The opening shot, with Nite Owl giving a fist full of justice has a big Batman reference. First, check out the posters to the right. Look familiar? And isn't that Mr. and Mrs. Wayne at the back entrance of the opera, being saved from a bloody death? And according to commenter Rainbucket, the opera bills say: "Die Fledermaus" (The Bat). So can we safely come to the conclusion that the original Nite Owl stopped Batman from popping up in their universe?
P.S.: I haven't listened to these yet, but apparently there are some Watchmen podcasts that go through the book panel-by-panel the same way Woerner goes through the title sequence. These via Mystery Man on Film.
February 22, 2009
Sometimes a New Medium Sneaks Up On You
I'd seen references to Prezi here and there -- it's billed as a new presentation tool, a way to pan and zoom through ideas instead of clicking through slides. Which sounds pretty cool but, having now used this thing, I gotta say: The potential is much bigger than that.
I haven't been this excited about a new format in a long time. The tutorial video actually gave me chills. (Pretty sure I have never typed that sentence before.)
So here's my first prezi, which is just a little anecdote laid out in space -- absolutely not a good use of the technology. But it will give you a taste of the potential.
Cross-reference this with our ongoing future-of-books discussion. Also with Scott McCloud's infinite canvas.
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Comics, Design, Media Galaxy, Technosnark
January 30, 2009
'And for the Honor of Language and Ideas'
Soak up Maira Kalman's carol to the Inauguration. Luminous and lovely.
Meta comment: Isn't it great that it's one long, continuous scroll? Sooo much better than a bunch of pages you have to click between. Hello, infinite canvas.
December 22, 2008
Gavin at Wordwright wants the word back:
"Graphic novel" is not any more descriptive, and worse in that it implies fictional content to the detriment of memoir, travelogue, reportage, etc., which is where you find some of the most interesting work being currently done—Alison Bechdel, Joe Sacco, Lucy Knisley, perhaps?
I always thought that "graphic novel" was best used more as a material classification than a thematic one -- it's a standalone, extended-length treatment with a stiffer cover, while "comic books" are shorter and serial. But that doesn't get around the valorization of fiction. Hmm. Could we just tack on the generic marker to the end, like "graphic memoir"? Of course, now it sounds like something by Anaïs Nin. Blërg.
I like "comics" in part because I like the affinity between the comic book and the comic strip -- and "cartoon," which could either mean strips or animation, has its own problems. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that while I like comic books, especially the archetypal stories and characters they engender, I love comic strips even more. And "graphic strip" is even worse than "graphic memoir."
At all points we're besotted with and dumbfounded by language! In the end, I think we've got to give up attempts to engineer the thing, and accept that the terms we have are a hodgepodge with their own contradictions and unfair connotations, but a lot of wisdom too.
What do you guys think?
August 14, 2008
Ah, the mythic confluence of all things nerdy: Random House is publishing a book called Bat-Manga, edited by Chip Kidd (of course). Here's the story:
[T]he book features Batman and Robin as you've never seen them before -- in original Japanese stories from 1966 and 1967, written and drawn by Manga master Jiro Kuwata, creator of 8-Man! -- collected and translated for the very first time, over forty years after they originally appeared.
UnbeLIEVable. Why was I not told of this sooner?
July 15, 2008
Wordwright with the five things that make Batman Batman. His list does not describe all past Batmans: just the good ones.
P.S. In Minneapolis, we saw The Dark Knight being advertised on the side of a Landmark theater. That's right: This movie is simultaneously a summer IMAX blockbuster and an art-house flick. Awesome.
February 15, 2008
Warren Ellis launched a new webcomic today. Too early to tell if I'll be a fan, but at first glance, the art is nice and the design of the site seems very correct somehow.
Update: So, the site was designed by Ariana Osborne, whose own blog design is sort of totally amazing. It's split exactly down the middle between her own posts and the murmurings of her community. Mostly Twitter stuff, which as always eludes my affection, but still. There's something really interesting there.
January 12, 2008
The Old Cement Bridge
December 5, 2007
After You're Done With Persepolis, Try These
I love the comic/art/sketch blog Drawn -- what's up with the .ca domain, though? -- so I am paying special attention to this favorite comics and art books of 2007 post. Lots of stuff I'd never heard of.
September 30, 2007
January 7, 2007
Street Musique, Syrinx and Walking: three works by the incredible Canadian animator Ryan Larkin. I think this is what you'd get if you mashed up Fantasia, The Science of Sleep, The Earthly Paradise, a Bill Plympton cartoon, and some pot brownies.
December 25, 2006
Intellectually Acceptable Comics
In spite of his many and frequent innovations, Ware’s name, to me, has become synonymous with ‘intellectually acceptable comics’ produced for people who basically think comics are crap. His works — especially his commissions — reflect not so much an appreciation of the comics art form, but rather a keen understanding of how it can be parodied, satirized and even ridiculed in the service to the intellectual flattery of an audience that would otherwise be offended by less self-conscious practitioners of the medium.This is the pattern of culture, though, right? The novel, jazz, the blog ... Chris Ware, Alison Bechdel, Art Spiegelman, Joe Sacco -- these folks are the Daniel Defoes, Bob Dylans and Louie Armstrongs of their medium. Which, hey, you know, I totally wouldn't mind.