Sean T. Collins has written about comics and popular culture professionally since 2001 and on this very blog since 2003. He has written for Maxim, The Comics Journal, Stuff, Wizard, A&F Quarterly, Comic Book Resources, Giant, ToyFare, The Onion, The Comics Reporter and more. His comics have been published by Top Shelf, Partyka, and Family Style. He blogs here and at Robot 6.
I think there's a massive horror fan-base that's almost entirely oblivious to the existence of horror blogs, and I suspect that's largely because we remain "a bunch of intense loners off in their own corners." My hunch is that if we pulled together and achieved some kind of critical mass, we'd make a much bigger splash in horror fandom. Which is another way of saying, the audience most likely to appreciate and embrace what we're doing would actually begin to find its way to us in increasingly significant numbers.
Yeah, numbers. There, I said it. A thousand or a hundred or even just ten more people every day sitting down with their morning coffee or evening drink, visiting my blog in eager anticipation, and smiling at what they see or read? A thousand or a hundred or even just ten more heads nodding or shaking when I spin out my theories on horror and genre? A thousand or a hundred or even just ten more personal tastes educated to appreciate the kind of vintage horror I love so much? A thousand or a hundred or even just ten more pairs of eyeballs on reviews of current writers or artists I'm excited about and trying to promote? Hell yeah, you're goddamn right I want that! And so would those thousand or hundred or even just ten more people, if only they had some clue that Groovy Age existed.
I REALLY appreciate the rationale he gives for wanting to develop a horror blogosphere--essentially, simply giving horror fans access to a different array of voices and approaches to the genre than they're probably getting right now.
I think what burned me a bit on the comics blogosphere--and don't get me wrong, I still read dozens every day while reading nearly zero comics magazines or websites proper--is this sense of "blogger triumphalism" that arose when it became apparent that comics blogs as a collective entity had a substantial readership and therefore could actually have an impact on the areas they cover. Because comics blogs became able to drive conversation about comics online, I think they (and I) developed a sense of self-importance that does not become them, which manifests itself in all different ways: A need to comment in backseat-driver/armchair-quarterback fashion on industry and artistic issues that the blogger may know little or nothing about; a tendency toward tempest-in-a-teapot outrage over the latest stupid move by the corporate publishers; falling into the hype cycle of PR because a given book is the new big thing and as "industry players" the blogs feel that they should be covering it; a tendency to overinflate their own importance and impact, etc. I was certainly guilty of all of this in my comicsblogging days. When I returned to blogging after my brief hiatus and started reading horror blogs and doing one myself, I remember consciously thinking how refreshing it was that no horror bloggers actually felt any kind of proprietary role in the horror industry, and were simply commenting on it from the perspective of well-informed buffs as opposed to the wannabe captains of industry who populate the comics blogosphere, myself included again. So, calls for a more concentrated horror blogosphere have turned me off.
But what Curt calling for is keeping the horse in front of the cart in terms of the importance of readership. He's not saying that we should have a horror blogosphere because of what we horrorbloggers could get out of having an increased readership, he's saying we should have one because of what an increased readership could get out of us. And I think that's absolutely spot-on. I mean, if you're a horror fan and you're looking to read informed, intelligent, and idiosyncratic commentary about genre efforts, you basically have, what, Rue Morgue and whatever decent reviews/criticism/essays you can find in the mainstream media. The online non-blog scene is pretty dire, and Curt's right, I don't think most fans really know about the blogs at all. It would be nice if people had an alternative to the big sites! And as I've said, Curt (who kindly attributes the genesis of this whole discussion to reading various things I've written) is quite right to say that a big Journalista-style horror linkblog would help shore up such an alternative.
But the problems with a collective-identity blogosphere I listed above still would remain, most likely. Moreover, while Curt's call for a linkblog with a strong personality is no doubt intended to stave off the kind of "hey here's the news on every single movie with a decapitation in it no matter how unwatchable" feel of the big horror sites and other qualitative linkblogging hazards, I actually think that popular personality-driven linkblogs can exacerbate the blogospheric problems I mentioned earlier rather than ameliorate them. The main difficulty is that points of view that seem unobjectionable or even noble in principle can easily devolve into sweeping generalizations or calcified thou-shalt-nots. Meanwhile, sensible aesthetic advocacy can make a clumsy transition into ill-conceived industry second-guessing--the kind of situation where people who note a particular creator or subgenre's quality go on to demand that the entire industry abandon whatever business models had been working for it up until now in favor of a new approach that benefits that creator/subgenre, or pleases people who are fans of that creator/subgenre, or simply shames those who aren't. In that sense, popular linkblogs can even magnify that tendency since their voices are so much louder, shaping the discussion both in terms of links they select as noteworthy and the commentary they provide about them. I mean, that's true of any blog of any kind, but it's enhanced with the clearinghouse-linkblog type of blog.
All that being said, I now find myself in love with the idea of a Comics Reporter-style link'n'news blog with an old-fashioned creature-feature horror host personality. We need a Web 2.0 Zacherle!
PS: I am going to try to enable comments once again, but this post will be going up while I lay me down to sleep and it's entirely possible I'll discover that the comments aren't working when I wake up--they haven't in months so I don't really figure they'll start now. But it's worth a shot. Just know that if your comment is in a moderation queue, that means my comment feature is in fact busted.
Curt Purcell keeps the discussion about the potential impact of a centralized host-driven linkblog on the horror blogosphere going in a new post on the topic. (Earlier: here and here and here and here.) In it he includes a gentle reminder to me to post regarding the positive impact such blogs can have in terms of the obnoxious fannish tendencies a cohesive, collective blogosphere can display. Frankly, I'm not sure there is one beyond leading by example. If a Big Important Linkblog manages to avoid indulging the kinds of myopic, know-it-all behaviors that Bruce Baugh lays out here much more coherently than I've done in any of my posts, well, that's one less blog doing so, and a prominent one at that. I don't think their impact would go that far beyond that, however. Insofar as the big problems I have with cohesive blogospheres stem from the bloggers' mutually reinforced conviction that they're absolutely right about what they choose to talk about, it's not as though any one other blogger can really put a dent in that.
BUT! First of all, it's important to remember that the emergence of a cohesive horror blogosphere would have its own positive aspects, several of which Curt and I have talked about enthusiastically--increased exchange of ideas with one another, exposing genre fans to ways of discussing the genre they might not have had access to before and may get something out of, etc.
Second of all, as J.E. Bennett and ILoz Zoc point out, horror bloggers in the main seem to be a slightly less combative and self-serious bunch than those in more problematic blogospheres. I don't think that's at all true of horror fandom generally--you don't need to look any further than comment threads and forums at the big horror sites to figure that out--but I can say that the horror blogs I read tend not to stoke the fires of faux outrage or make proclamations regarding what kinds of horror count or don't count. Then again, there's obviously some selection bias in that group. But who knows, maybe a more interactive group of horror bloggers would remain less given to belligerence and dogma.
I think the biggest problem facing the creation of a horror blogosphere is that it's based on a genre, not a medium. The comics blogosphere is, after all, about comics, and Scott McLoud notwithstanding it's basically easy to understand what constitutes comics: comic books, graphic novels, manga, BD, editorial cartoons, comic strips, etc. Even if you factor in occasional digressions into illustration proper or animation or superheroes in other media or nerd-culture in general, it's clear that while different comics bloggers' tastes may vary, it will at least be clear to each that the other is, in fact, a comics blogger.
Horror is different in that it's based entirely on qualitative judgments regarding what horror is, which means that differences in personal taste have a lot more impact on whether we can even agree we're blogging about the same subject. I mean, as Curt and I have discussed in the past, our interests in terms of the genre have very little overlap, and in some fundamental ways we disagree on what constitutes horror in the first place. Now, we're both broad-minded or informed or whatever enough to acknowledge each other's interests in horror as horror, but multiply us two by however many other horror blogs there are with however many other interpretations of and interests in and takes on and views of the genre those blogs have, and it becomes that much more difficult to create a cohesive feel.
Any centralized, hosted horror linkblog is going to have to deal with this, and it might end up being difficult. Again, when Dirk Deppey or Tom Spurgeon looks around the internet for things to link to, it's pretty easy for them to figure out what qualifies as "comics." Taste enters into what they choose to link to to a certain extent, but here there's the added wrinkle that whatever their differences they both have what is generally considered to be "good taste" in comics--both of them having been in charge of the English language's preeminent comics criticism magazine, for example. But for horror, how would such a blogger figure out where their purview begins and ends? What does "good taste in horror" even mean? It's so much more subjective than the problems faced by comics linkbloggers...which might mean that the subjective will become the objective out of sheer necessity and cause even more of the problems I was talking about before. Or it might mean that a horror linkblog, and the horror blogosphere in general, becomes a lot more open to the kinds of "blog what you feel" blogs that Bruce Baugh is talking about.
My point, I suppose, is...I don't know that I have one, as a matter of fact. I'm kind of just thinking through the pros and cons. Both exist, and while one might outweigh the other for a given reader or blogger, certainly neither can erase the other.
Incredible Hercules #114-115
Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente, writers
Khoi Pham, artist
Marvel Comics, February & March 2008
22 pages of story each, I think?
Anyone else reading this? The Marvel fans among you must first put aside your disbelief and disgust that Marvel brass honestly believe Jeph Loeb is the best choice to take over the Hulk from Planet Hulk and World War Hulk author Greg Pak; now that Pak's launched this spinoff title to replace Incredible Hulk (the name of the upcoming movie, in case you forgot, which apparently Marvel did), Loeb has the opportunity to inflict himself on yet another marquee character. The rest of you have no idea what I'm talking about and don't care to find out. So I'm really speaking to the first segment of the audience: My bet is that if you enjoy superhero comics, or at least Marvel's version thereof, you'll really enjoy this series.
It feels a bit like Immortal Iron Fist in that it bounces between flashbacks and the present day (which I guess is Lost's influence on comics, now that I think about it) in a way that fleshes out its Greek god main character Hercules and his brother and nemesis Ares' unique place in the Marvel Universe, one that retains their mythological history while still having them occasionally team-up with Hawkeye and Wonder Man. Khoi Pham's art is impressively scratchy yet also expensive-looking, as if New Avengers artist Leinil Yu were better at drawing widescreen action. He and his sadly late colorist Stephane Peru also make the transitions between flashback and present day so distinct that I had to double-check to make sure they didn't switch pencillers a la David Aja and his gaggle of guest stars on Iron Fist. The writing is also sharp, with the characterization of Herc, his teen-genius ally Amadeus Cho, his resentful brother and erstwhile Avenger Ares, and his former teammate and current reluctant adversary Black Widow imbued with more emotional shading than you'd think they deserve. There's even a clever moebius-strip moment as Hercules recounts the story of his Twelve Labors, making a nice little point about both the nature of myth as primarily a chronicle of moral values rather than a history lesson, and also serving up an indictment of the self-perpetuating nature of violence among Great Men in a subtle but unmistakable way that's rarely seen in the sort of comic that's an oblique tie-in to World War Hulk and Secret Invasion. Like all Marvel writers at the moment, Van Lente and Pak are faced with the fact that the company's massive Civil War event made about 50% of their intellectual property irredeemably icky; they square that circle by giving the characters implicated in Iron Man's dickheaded dictatorship appear the same shrugged-shoulders "whaddyagonnado?" air that most of the writers themselves have. And again as with Iron Fist, there are knowing winks at Marvel's less-than-storied '70s material, from Hercules' goofy old team the Champions to the fact that Godzilla was once an in-continuity target of S.H.I.E.L.D. Good stuff.
Planetes Vols. 1-3
Makoto Yukimura, writer/artist
Yuki Nakamura, translator
Anna Wenger, adapter
Volume 1: 240 pages
Volume 2: 268 pages
Volume 3: 240 pages
$9.99 each Buy them from Amazon.com
Originally written on July 1st, 2004 for publication in The Comics Journal
The unending torrent of translated manga titles is all too easy for a reader raised on American comics to drown in. Unfamiliar and therefore arbitrary-seeming conventions, countless -makis, -muras, and other seemingly interchangeable surnames, and that damned right-to-left flow: It's enough to cause Western eyes to glaze over. It's gotten to the point where an exasperated sigh of "I just don't get manga" is viewed as an acceptable assessment in some circles. Indeed, "It's all speed-lined, Japanophilic crap starring giant robots and big-titted doe-eyed schoolgirls in their panties" has assumed a place of (dis)honor right along side "It's all mindless, sexist, crypto-fascist adolescent power fantasies about men in tights hitting each other" (mainstream/superhero/genre comics) and "It's all pointless, self-obsessed, navel-gazing slice-of-life stories about pathetic white guys feeling sorry for themselves" (alternative/underground/art comics) in the pantheon of stupidly dismissive sequential-art stereotypes.
Enter Makoto Yukimura's Planetes, the antidote to conventional wisdom about what translated manga can be, and the perfect gateway drug for fans of American art- and genre-comics alike. Compelling characters, story, and art add up to one of the finest regularly published titles you're likely to come across on the racks today, from any country.
Working within the type of hard science-fiction framework not often seen in genre comics, Planetes takes place in the semi-near future, a time when orbital space stations bustle with civilian activity, the moon has been colonized, Mars is on its way to being so, and a manned expedition to Jupiter is on the horizon. The high volume of space travel has given rise to unforeseen, space-borne growth industries, the least glamorous of which is debris pick-up. Glorified garbagemen travel through low Earth orbit, picking up busted satellites, wreckage from shuttle accidents, discarded refuse, and other space junk before it can collide at high velocity with unwary travelers.
From this SF premise, writer/artist Makoto Yukimura (ably assisted by the nearly invisible adaptation work of Anna Wenger) spins something pretty close to magic. The key--and it's so simple it'll make you kind of angry that every writer doesn't employ it--is that the action stems not from the external dictates of plotting or the need to get across some "mad idea" aimed at knocking the metaphysical socks off the reader, but springs organically from the internal workings of the characters themselves. And what characters they are.
We're first introduced to Yuri, an astronaut of Russian decent, in a full-color flashback, on board a passenger space flight with his wife. Even this very first scene is peppered with the alarmingly perceptive moments that make the series so memorable: Yuri's wife carries a compass with her every time she travels through space, in order to remember that even in the directionless void, there's a direction home. It's the sort of short, sharp shock of instant insight and attachment that makes the ensuing, slow-motion catastrophe all the more wrenching to watch, as does Yakimura's jarring change in perspective from an extreme, speed-blurred close-up to a cold, impersonal long shot. The accident that claims Yuri's wife's life was caused by the type of debris storm that Yuri, in his new career as a debris clearer, seeks to prevent, though his stoicism is complete enough to hide this true, tragic motivation even from himself.
Yuri's crewmate Fee is a much less quiet sort. A chain-smoking American woman of the sort some space-age Guess Who might sing about, Fee is the Bones McCoy of the hauler's crew. Her deadpan, take-no-shit refusal to indulge the melancholy reveries of her shipmmates makes her not just a natural foil for the sensitive Yuri and the moody Hachimaki (crew member number three), but a literal lifesaver given the mental duress contact with the vastness of space can engender. As if to contrast Fee's level-headedness with the space-shot flakiness of the other main characters, Yakimura assigns her the series' single most heroic act--preventing the destruction by terrorists of an entire space station, which in turn would generate enough debris to effectively end space travel for years. Fee's heroism, however, derives not from some high-minded belief that man is meant for the stars, but from a jones for the cigarettes available for sale on the space station. It's not idealism that motivates Fee--it's a nic fit.
The aforementioned Hachimaki initially strikes the reader as the book's shallowest, least-interesting character. Hachimaki may be a garbageman, but his ambition to be something more is clear. It's alternately expressed as a desire to own his own spaceship (a luxury item even in this era of lunar cities) and an obsession with becoming a crew member on the first, years-long manned trip to Jupiter. By now readers familiar with the conventions of manga characterization may be rolling their eyes: The young man who works relentlessly to become the best in his chosen field is a staple of shonen stories, from your standard martial-arts adventures to the culinary competitors of Iron Wok Jan. And of course, you don't need to be a manga devotee to know that The Brash, Tow-Headed Rookie With Something To Prove is a well-trod road indeed.
But as Hachimaki moves to the forefront, eventually becoming the lead character of the later volumes, we're stunned to see the emergence of a genuinely complex and conflicted character. There's nothing conventional at all about Hachimaki's near-pathological desire to prove his emotionless self-sufficience to anyone who cares to notice. The emptiness of space--which in one of Volume One's most harrowing sequences nearly cripples the still-inexperienced astronaut--is both the perfect nemesis for him to conquer and the perfect refuge in which he can hide from the emotional demands of interpersonal contact. It's this that Hachimaki finds more frightening than the risks of space travel, in which humans are after all little more than glorified debris themselves.
Yukimura's ability to slowly coax out the emotional core of his lead character lies not just in his expertise in shaping Hachimaki himself, but in the gorgeous sensitivity with which he peppers the story with memorable supporting players who naturally elicit moving and riveting responses from the upstart astronaut. There's Mr. Rowland, the aging astronaut who'd rather abandon himself to the ravages of the lunar desert than die Earthside. There's Nono, the lunar-born girl whose emotional strength exceeds that of her low-G-weakened physiology. There's Hachimaki's family: His father, the head-in-the-clouds veteran astronaut; his brother, the cool, single-minded amateur rocket scientist (seriously); his mother, whose love for her family is constantly tested by their passion for being thousands of miles away from home. There's Hakimu, the anti-colonization terrorist (the other big growth industry of the era) whose initial refusal to kill Hachimaki is more devastating to the young explorer than his eventual change of heart. There's Sally, the captain of Hackimaki's Jupiter-bound crew whose last-ditch attempt to snap him out of his malaise is equal parts touching, hilarious, and (well) hot. Last and certainly not least there's Tanabe, Hachimaki's successor aboard the debris hauler and the woman whose belief in a thing called love becomes more attractive to Hachimaki the more infuriatingly naïve he finds it.
But the real miracle of Planetes is that its indelible characters are matched by unforgettable imagery. "Visual poetry" is how I've heard it described, and that nails it as well as any description can. Yukimura's style is already more realistic and appealing than many of his counterparts', but he adds to this an almost uncanny ability to produce both individual moments and entire sequences of stunning visual impact. Volume Three's finest moments come when a white cat, embodying Hachimaki's conflicting desires for death and love, directly addresses the viewer (in place of Hachimaki himself), its white tail coiling and swaying against the black void so vividly as to be nearly animate. Volume Two offers another demonstration of Yukimura's skill with contrast: As Hachimaki nearly drowns following a motorcycle accident back on Earth, he's drawn as a reverse negative--fluid, minimalist white lines against a black background. The effect, amidst Yukimura's rich realism and almost colorful graytone, is as startling as the accident itself. And it's not just extreme mental states that Yukimura evokes with panache: His splash pages of lunar landscapes and extraterrestrial vistas immediately bring to mind the vivid, alien beauty of Kubrick's 2001, or the powerful contrast between man and nature of a Ford or Leone. Meanwhile his simple character work is just as memorable. Two standout moments come from Volume Three: Tanabe grinning as the wind blows through both her hair and the beautiful array of windmills behind her, and Tanabe's father on stage during his punk-rock filth-and-fury heyday. The last time I saw the heart-rending loveliness of a happy, beautiful woman and the super-fuckin'-funness of rock and roll depicted this convincingly, I was reading Love and Rockets.
Is that a fair comparison to make? I think it just might be. Literate comics fans have, I think, been conditioned to ignore the kinds of books put out by the American manga-publishing giants like Tokyopop and Viz; they've convinced themselves to stick with the Tezukas and Miyazakis and Tsuges, or to pine wistfully after a vaguely defined glut of Good Stuff They're Never Gonna Translate. But do yourself a favor. Elbow your way past the TRL-watching kids lined up in front of the manga racks at the bookstore. It's an unlikely place to renew your faith in comics, I know, but if you pick up the sturdy, gray-spined volumes of Planetes you find there, that's exactly what this emotional, beautiful series will do.
Jason Adams reads my mind and posts about the bizarre reaction to The Ruins by all of Ain't It Cool News's reviewers. (Thanks for saving me the work, man!) Basically, they all loved it, but they were all totally stunned by this because they assumed it would suck. I've seen similar bafflement about the movie expressed on some of the big horror sites--statements like "I just have to know what the hell is going on. Hopefully I won't be disappointed when all is revealed." If only it were based on an acclaimed novel available at your local library!
My friend Jim Treacher wrote me to say he was nervous that the studio wasn't screening the movie for critics. But can you blame them? If the CW among genre-centric reviewers, who really ought to know better, was that it was gonna stink, what do you think your average mainstream-media critic would make of it? After all, it's about violent and horrible things happening to attractive young people--unless you can cobble together a metaphor for the Bush Administration's treatment of Latin America out of it, it must be garbage, right?
I probably went into Carter Smith's film adaptation of Scott Smith's (no relation) The Ruins expecting too much. I don't see how I could have avoided that given just how wonderfully written the novel was. Unless they were to get very lyrical with landscapes and objects and sound, a la No Country for Old Men or There Will Be Blood, there was simply no way the filmmakers could translate the book's ferociously intense interiority to the screen. (Well, now that I think of it, that was a way, and it was a way they didn't take.) They made a good movie, don't get me wrong. If you haven't read the great novel you might think they made a great movie. I'm not sure.
What they did is rely on the ability of their actors to perform pain, and whenever that was going on they succeeded in a big way. As I've said before, the casting of this film was a real coup. Each of the main characters is attractive not in a plastic MTV/CW way, but in a your-girlfriend's-cute-best-friend or your-good-looking-roommate way. You're instantly attracted to each not in the way you're attracted to matinee idols or pin-ups, but to good-natured, presentable people in the prime of their lives. Perhaps that's why the necessarily truncated intro—which collapses our American foursome's meeting and befriending of German tourist Matthias and a group of party-hardy Greeks and their subsequent decision to set out to an off-the-map Mayan ruin to track down Matthias's brother and his newfound archaeologist lady friend from days into literally minutes—doesn't feel nearly as rushed as it probably ought to. If I bumped into any of these people on vacation, I'd probably go offroading with them too. (Certainly I defy you not to come away from this movie with a crush on Jena Malone, if you're oriented in that direction.)
The cutting and splicing doesn't start to hurt until they reach the ruins, where a series of decisions made by the Smiths (Scott wrote the screenplay as well as the novel) in the interest of economizing character and conveying the stakes as quickly as possible upset the complex, nuanced interplay that made the novel such a pleasurably unpleasant read. (I'm about to SPOIL THE HELL OUT OF THIS MOVIE, so be warned.) Instead of putting two and two together regarding how much business the Mayan guards mean via the discovery of the body of Matthias's brother, the movie gets the point across by having the Mayans kill the Greek right away. With him down, it's left to Matthias to become the outsider figure who breaks his back in an ill-fated descent down the ruins' shaft. So not only do we lose the pathos of a mortally wounded character whom the language barrier has rendered completely isolated (the Greek), we also strip ersatz group leader Jeff of his other competent counterpoint (Matthias), whose calm and melancholy works in strange harmony with Jeff's frustration and angry optimism in the novel.
Then, for reasons less immediately apparent, Stacy and Eric swap roles so that it's she who becomes infested with the killer vine and subsequently falls apart at the seams. This switch has the unfortunate effect of producing a far more stock character—the hysterical female, the Barbara from Night of the Living Dead—than what we had in the book. It also creates less of a contrast between Jeff and Eric, so now instead of a sullen MacGyver and an OCD self-mutilator we've got two shades of macho, one simply less take-charge than the other.
But let's get back to the good—the suffering. It's palpable and at times hard to watch. Though essentially asked to embody a cliche, Laura Ramsey as Stacy in particular is extraordinary. As with Malone, her body is used astutely by the filmmakers first to entice and then to unnerve with its soft, all-underbelly physicality. Her screams and sobs during the scene in which her friends finally take a knife to her to try to extract the infestation are so gutwrenchingly convincing I literally almost started crying myself out of sheer sympathy. Shortly thereafter she's asked to carry the biggest gore effect in the film and aces it with understatements and false bravado, which quickly give way to utter (and utterly believable) despair. Malone is mostly her support throughout, but she's quite good at it, repeatedly drawing on childlike gestures (hand-holding, hugging). And the person-on-person gore is as unflinching as you've heard, as raw as David Cronenberg's recent crime movies.
What about Jeff, though? In the novel his was one of the most unique survival-horror characters I'd ever seen: He got more and more on top of his game as events progressed, as though on fire with the knowledge that his whole life had led him to this moment—yet he became less and less likable as this happened, and he knew it, and he still couldn't do anything about it. (Along with Will Smith's competent-to-the-point-of-neurosis Robert Neville in Francis Lawrence's I Am Legend, Jeff was one of two fascinating riffs on the Survivor Type I came across last year.) Actor Jonathan Tucker has a hangdog handsomeness, a weary beauty, that lights him from within as he plays out Jeff's ever-increasing level of no-nonsense decision making. The problem is that he's not playing it out against anything. The aforementioned changes to the characters and their relationships gives him less to work with. Meanwhile the novel's relentless emphasis on quotidian physical deterioration (as opposed to the menace of the vines or even just the Mayans)—thirst, sunburn, filth, starvation, heat, aches and pains, the need to find and conserve food and water and pain medication—is almost completely eliminated from the film beyond a few token shots of rationed grapes and swigs from a water bottle. What I missed most of all is the characters' use of booze: The fact that the Greek packed more tequila than water, Eric Stacy and Amy repeatedly getting drunk despite knowing it will help kill them, and most importantly Jeff (and Matthias)'s reaction to their drunken stupidity. With none of those factors there to test him, we don't really feel Jeff's pain over knowing he's got to be good enough to survive on behalf of the whole group.
Which leads us to the end of the film, the most rushed part of the whole movie. It deviates significantly from the novel, which is fine in principle, and could have even worked in practice. But since they couldn't depict Jeff's struggles throughout, they condense it into an incongruous "his name was Robert Paulson" speech to the Mayans that feels grafted from a different movie and makes Jeff's sacrifice feel like it was done out of a kind of shakily established chivalry rather than fatigued rage. The penultimate sequence is straight out of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or The Descent, a nice bookend to the Shining riff of the opening credits. But given what we know of the vines' epidemiology, this development has eschatological repercussions that are completely unexplored. Instead we get a coda involving the remaining Greeks that cuts so quickly to the closing credits and their mood-killing Yeah Yeah Yeahs music that it's almost like the movie had a plane to catch or something. I understand the filmmakers' need to shorten a marathon to a steeplechase, but not this breakneck sprint to the finish line.
Part of me wishes I'd gone into the movie sight-unseen, like all those Ain't It Cool reviewers. I probably would have remained mightily impressed by the performances and by Carter Smith's taut, smart shots. I doubt I'd have felt the cuts and the rush, and I probably would have gone and read the book afterwards anyway. Coulda woulda shoulda.
* In one of her all too infrequent geekblogging breakouts, Eve Tushnet tackles a slew of horror films: Audition, May, Session 9, Ringu, and The Ring. Regarding those last two, like most people she prefers the version she saw first, but for a different reason than I've ever seen anyone cite before.
* Chris Butcher continues to refer to the Geoff Johns/Grant Morrison/Greg Rucka/Mark Waid/Keith Giffen/cast of thousands weekly series 52 with words like "pablum," and I continue to be baffled by this given how clearly, even ostentatiously weird, idiosyncratic, and follow-your-bliss its peripatetic plot and themes were. Also, I liked the last issue of World War Hulk.
* This week's Horror Roundtable is about out favorite writings on horror. Curt at Groovy Age takes issue with my citation of Noel Carroll's The Philosophy of Horror, pointing out the way Carroll treats horror plotlines like mysteries in which the characters attempt to "solve" the horrific presence. (Kind of like the initial set-up of The Ring, now that I think about it.) The funny thing is I didn't even REMEMBER the focus on "solving" the horror until Curt brought it up in this post. What resonated for me was Carrol's emphasis on how horror violates our sense not just of safety (like a lion on the loose or a mugger would) but also our sense of normalcy and even sanity. That seems like such a key distinction between horror proper and other things that are just scary. I read TPoH at a time when I was searching for a theory to explain why images that didn't present a physical threat to the character who sees them--the girls in The Shining are the best example--were still so scary. This was an issue the prevailing Carol Clover-driven horror-film theories couldn't account for.
* Finally, this shit is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S: Frank Miller's The Spirit, ladies and germs. Get 'em while they're hot. (Shhhhh.)
I'm sure it says something about me that with the exception of Doomsday--Doomsday!--I can't remember the last time I went to a movie that made me feel good. I'm talking about feeling good thanks to what happens in film, of course, not the film's quality. I've certainly seen plenty of good and even great movies in recent months, movies that make me feel good the way all great art does. But the vast majority of films I've chosen to see in the theater since 2005--this includes The Ruins, Rambo, Cloverfield, The Mist, I Am Legend, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Eastern Promises, Hostel Part II, 28 Weeks Later, Children of Men, Pan's Labyrinth, The Host, King Kong, A History of Violence, War of the Worlds, and Land of the Dead--are about making the audience feel the emotional effects of cruelty, brutality, violence, and despair in some combination or other. Checking my review-link sidebar over on the lefthand side of the page I see that I also saw some movies that are slightly less interested in making one feel awful, like Dragon Wars and Grindhouse and Shoot 'Em Up, but they were too crappy to make me leave the theater whistling a happy tune, and at any rate I'm stretching it with Grindhouse, while Shoot 'Em Up is in many ways more bothersome than your average torture-porn flick, and needless to say all three were violent. Hell, even my feel-good flick contained a viral semi-apocalypse and dismemberments galore, while the most recent one before that was 300, which is in the same boat.
Looking back on all those movies, I would guess that becoming a horror blogger has influenced what I consider to be "must-sees" in the theater. And hey, that's fine. Back when I did my first horrorblogging marathon while this was still mostly a comics blog, I very consciously was trying to reconnect with the genre that had given me so much enjoyment as I discovered it late in high school and throughout college. Making this a full-time horror blog was done with that in mind as well. I mean, I like being the guy with a Hellraiser T-shirt on at opening night of Cloverfield. I like being the guy my friends and co-workers turn to when they want an "authoritative" opinion about the adaptation of The Mist or I Am Legend. Moreover, I simply enjoy seeing movies in the theater. It's one of my favorite things to do, and since horrorblogging (for me at least) is largely a subset of filmblogging, I do it a lot now, which is great.
But there have been times recently when the lights go down and the trailers roll and the opening credits finally start and I wonder to myself what it would feel like to have this experience knowing that I'm not going to see people get brutally killed in the next 90 minutes. I've actually forgotten!
Tekkon Kinkreet: Black and White
Taiyo Matsumoto, writer/artist
Lillian Olsen, translator
Viz, September 2007
$29.95 Buy it from Amazon.com
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Taiyo Matsumoto's Tekkon Kinkreet is how its art constantly draws attention to its nature as art yet never compromises the totality of the story's vision. Like a Gahan Wilson cartoon or Klaus Voorman's cover for the Beatles' Revolver, Matsumoto's shaky—I almost wanna say gawky—line reveals itself as the product of a hand committing ink to paper on every page. Its largely uniform weight draws the eye to every detail at once, momentarily disabling the part of our brain that tricks us into seeing comics pages as three-dimensional environments rather than an assemblage of flat shapes, at least until Matusmoto's skillful spotting of blacks (holy moses, check out page 538!) once again guides us back into the illusion.
Step back for a wider view and the gangly linework fits neatly with the spindly, frequently scarred characters, and the messy city they inhabit, most often viewed from the ground up like a lost child would see it. There's a weakness to the art that is again reinforced by the story: On a certain level it's a futuristic, dystopian crime-action thriller about rival factions (cops, street gangs, yakuza, a sinister religious/entertainment corporation, and two feral kids named Black and White) battling for control of a sprawling city called Treasure Town. But while the action is thrilling--and, refreshingly enough for a translated manga with a potentially byzantine plot, easy to follow--where the book really hits home is on an emotional level. Its elegiac feel is perhaps meant to recall real-world analogues like the Disneyfication of New York City, but for me it functions as a message about caring for people and things who are past caring for themselves. It's defined by relationships between people who end up making themselves emotionally vulnerable and yoked to a belief in something better at great risk to themselves--streetwise Black's love for his idiot-savant brother White, White's love for his increasingly brutal brother Black, crimelord the Rat's desire to preserve the city he's mostly just stolen from, the cops' desire to preserve even the criminal underclass against an encroaching and even more vicious modernity. Now, as someone who's gotten a lot more enjoyment out of Disneyfied Times Square than Taxi Driver Times Square, many of the book's more didactic moments and gangster poses fall flat with me. But there's a part of everyone that still pines for wild youth, warts and all.
In the end almost all the characters are forced to choose the things that are most important to them and move on, leaving the rest behind, which is essentially how the process of growing up works. It's a coming of age tale that actually feels like coming of age does. I'm really impressed by how slowly and naturally these themes unfold, too--Matsumoto has a grasp on pacing that makes this serialized work read just great in a collected edition. It's all packed into a well-designed, hefty softcover, the kind of book that begs to be given as a gift or passed from reader to reader. Recommended.
* In recent months I've talked a bit about how the video game tropes we take for granted are actually incredibly bizarre and merit examination and exploration, perhaps even within the framework of narrative fiction a la Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim books. Because I don't actually play video games and therefore don't know what the hell I'm talking about, it never even occurred to me to think about this in terms of not just weird story/worldbuilding elements (a star makes you invincible, you fight turtles and mushrooms, etc.) but also in terms of the mechanics of gameplay itself. Why should you be able to climb walls and ceilings as easily as walking? Why, when you have a rocket launcher, can you not open certain doors without a particular key? Why does just touching certain objects instantly kill you? God bless the Internet, and reader kiss the next few hours goodbye, because the TV Tropes wiki has an absurdly comprehensive and well-written list of every video game trope you can think of. Besides being both funny and nostalgic, it's actually quite eye-opening if you haven't thought about this stuff in this way before. (I found this via Nate Patrin at Joystick Division, who lists some of his favorites.)
* Finally, I only have one word to say about this unique Lost recap (via Jim Treacher)...what?
* Here's another bummer: Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja, the founding creative team of The Immortal Iron Fist—the best superhero comic of 2007—are leaving the book.
* B-Sol at the Vault of Horror serves up another of his sharp overviews of horror-movie history. This time he's kicking off a series of posts on the modern zombie movie with a look at the early years of the genre, starting with its foundational text, George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, and the "rules" for zombie behavior it established.
It's a truism to say that comics have an unlimited special effects budget, thus casting their unfettered nature with regards to other narrative arts like film and television as primarily rooted in spectacle. But that sky's-the-limit difference can be a formal one as well. With few if any physical or logistical constraints on an ongoing creator-owned comic's length--particularly during this Internet Age--the ways in which stories are told may be similarly stretched. Any artist with a preexisting propensity for rambling, discursive narratives will find this limitlessness to be right in their wheelhouse.
No one seems to be stepping up to this plate with more determination than Josh Simmons, the underground-informed cartoonist behind many gleefully vulgar minis and anthology contributions who really exploded into comics-cognoscenti consciousness with his relentlessly bleak, wordless survival-horror graphic novel House last year. Jessica Farm Vol. 1 is the initial fruition of a project he's apparently had simmering for eight years, a projected 600-page graphic novel drawn one page per month and released in 96-page installments every eight years until its completion in the year 2050. With Jessica Farm, Simmons has created a comics-reading experience where getting there isn't half the fun--it is, by definition and at least for the next half-century or so, all the fun.
Is it fun? The answer is a qualified yes. For starters, Simmons tackles the erotic far more directly than any other cartoonists of his generation that I can think of, excepting Hans Rickheit I suppose--certainly more directly than anyone else with his Fantagraphics-granted level of exposure. The parts of this volume I'll remember most vividly involve the titular teen (?) grabbing other male characters by the cock on more than one occasion, an earthy and erotically matter-of-fact gesture. While character design does not strike me as Simmons's strong suit, he does give Jessica a winsome jolie-laide beauty, with wide eyes and sensually ropy tresses. And he really tapdances along the line that separates sexy from smutty from potty-humor in his depiction of his characters' bodies. When we catch a glimpse of Jessica's pudenda sticking out slightly from between her legs as we see her shower from behind, or when the mute, naked Mr. Sugarcock seasons her soup by dipping his balls in it Louie-from-The-State-style, or when Sugarcock's full-tilt sprinting is indicated by his namesake member flopping like a windsock in the opposite direction, the sight is intimate, titillating and discomfiting all at once.
Indeed Simmons excels as an artist of human physicality. Fans of his memorably gruesome Batman pastiche will no doubt be delighted to find that comic's thoughtful illustration of the body at work echoed throughout Jessica Farm, from watching tiny little people clamber up stairs that are each twice their height to the many shots of Jessica diving or pole-sliding through the many floors of her seemingly enchanted home. Depicting the cavernous and claustrophic contours of that home and other environments by moving his characters through them is another great strength of Simmons's cartooning, and the scenes in which Jessica and her alternately adorable and threatening companions wend their way through the house's darkened corridors no doubt contain within them the seeds of House, the artist's full-length exploration of exploring.
The problem with this experiment, I suppose, is one of its methodology. The attention-getting publishing schedule is no doubt what made you aware of the book in the first place, and in terms of sounding completely awesome, hey, mission accomplished. But once you hit page 96 and realize that it'll be another eight years before a subsequent volume provides you with a continuation--and more importantly, a context for--what you've just read, the bloom fades off that rose in a hurry. As I was getting at before, the format lends itself perfectly to a peripatetic story in which Jessica, Alice- (or Odysseus)-like, has a variety of surreal encounters. But as Alan Moore once astutely pointed out, myths need a Ragnarok, and without the hard defining line of an ending (at least until the grandchildren of the Bushes and Clintons are running for office), there's no real way to judge whether Jessica's rambling, discursive adventures are more or less than the sum of their dream-logic parts. So for every powerful image, like the Paperhouse-esque silhouette/villain/father or the little French band that plays in Jessica's shower, there's something that seems a bit on the nose without further explanation or exploration, like the cute li'l monkey getting stabbed to death or a room full of giant fetus-babies with their eyes gouged out and tongues pulled out. Without the constant an ending would provide, the equation is unsolvable. Of course, we wouldn't even be discussing these challenging topics if the comic were not an experiment to begin with.
* Bruce Baugh takes on Cloverfield in a pair of excellent posts. First, he focuses on how the good stuff was quite good but the bad stuff was not just bad but avoidable, which is dead on; he also has some insightful things to say about why 9/11-esque imagery is going to be showing up in disaster movies simply by default, and about a missed opportunity for the otherwise great creature design. (Meanwhile, check the very active comment thread for a Blair Witch bash-fest, and then click here to find out why they're all wrong.) Second, he focuses on mainstream critics of monster movies and their "allegory or bust" approach to analyzing the films; Bruce wonders why the monsters aren't first and foremost considered for what they are and what they do within the world of the film, and then considered for whether what they are and what they do is reminiscent of something going on in our world. (There's a useful comment thread on this one too.)
* In a thoughtful review, Jason Adams echoes my take on The Ruins: Strong performances and memorable horror imagery undercut by rushed pacing and a loss of tension. He also points out something I forgot, which is that the time frame for the events of the story is shortened considerably not just before we get to the ruins, but after. He's reserving final judgment until he gets a second viewing free from annoying audience members, though.
* Jason also runs down five of his favorite things from the season premiere of Battlestar Galactica. I've gotten the impression that people are classifying it as "good but not great," and I would actually lean toward great. Granted, I was a little taken aback by the way (as Jim Henley astutely noted) the sci-fi/mythos aspects were foregrounded as opposed to the whole "human drama in a sci-fi setting"--I mean, they changed the intro from describing the basic premise to a more or less context-free description of a particular dangling plot thread, even. But from the cinematography and the performances on down--is there a better ongoing performance on television than James Callis's?--I was constantly reminded what a great show this is by this episode. I mean, at varying times three or four of the main characters looked/look like they could be in the process of getting killed, and I believed in it every single time. That to me is a signal of great television.
* Art show, part one: Daybreak cartoonist Brian Ralph is cleaning out his morgue and putting some killer pulp covers on display. This, uh, unique water monster struck a chord with me, as you might have guessed:
* Art show, part two: The Blot cartoonist Tom Neely has another weekly comic strip up and it begins like this:
* Goddammit: Greg "Wolf Creek" McLean's killer-crocodile movie Rogue's release by the Weinsteins is so limited...
How limited is it?
...it's so limited, it's not even being screened in New York Fuckin' City! (Via the suitably outraged Jason Adams.) Truly it seems like there's a neverending litany of bad news for horror projects dear to the hearts of us in the horror blogosphere, from Rogue to Cowboys for Christ to All the Boys Love Mandy Lane to The Midnight Meat Train to the Hellraiser remake. And it's not exactly like Doomsday or The Ruins set the box office on fire, either.
I was eight years old and it had Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the rest all trapped in this intricate (remember, I was eight) villain deathtrap. Seeing all those superheroes together in one place set my eyes on fire. My addiction was born right there. To this very day, I treasure the idea that you can have a group of friends who will always be there to catch you. Why else would I spend the next 30 years fighting to get right back to that exact same space?
Emphasis mine, although Meltzer's career to date is probably emphasis enough. (Via Tom Spurgeon.)
* I'm being slightly facetious by saying that a proper 50 Greatest Comedy Sketches of All Time list should contain 50 Monty Python sketches, but only slightly. Actually, I do love The State quite passionately and have always been amazed at how well their stuff holds up given how much of it parodied '90s alternative youth culture in some way. And the SNL sketches they selected were pretty awesome, particularly Bass-O-Matic and the Chase/Pryor thing. But no Upper-Class Twit of the Year? Nigel, please. (Via Andrew Sullivan.)
* You know what's funny? A few months ago I realized that while I may like individual albums by, say, Soundgarden or Alice in Chains better than any one album by Stone Temple Pilots, I like more Stone Temple Pilots records than Soundgarden or Alice in Chains or Pearl Jam records, and they're only slightly outpaced by Nirvana (depending on how you count live albums and odds'n'sodds collections) and Smashing Pumpkins. They were actually pretty terrific and unpredictable songwriters, their first three albums are all solid listens from beginning to end and full of weirdness, they had Jawbox open for them when I saw them at Jones Beach way back when. In other words I like them more than many of the much "cooler," more credible grunge bands--to my credit this was one time when I never pretended otherwise; I always liked them and was pretty unabashed about it--so it's nice to see a full-scale, early-Weezer-esque reevaluationoftheband going on. (Via Matthew Perpetua.)
I'd imagine your tolerance for this book will vary proportionately to your tolerance for goth culture, because it's definitely about goths. There are a lot of piercings and unusual hairstyles and ripped stockings and purses with little batwings sewn on them. But this strange, slow story about a group of kids at either the Savannah College of Art and Design or a fictional facsimile thereof isn't your usual po-faced every-day-is-Halloween goth artifact. There's a sadness and a weakness and a feebleness to everyone's presentation of themselves as Goths, a recognition that this identity is the result of chipping away at certain surface characteristics until the desired result is achieved but that there can still be any number of chinks in the armor. Cleo and her friends/enemies more or less live in squalor, with pizza boxes and bags of chips and cockroaches strewn hither and yon. They make much of their bodily functions. They always look kind of tired and sickly. None of this is in the glamorous way that goths are supposed to work, either. Indeed the only character who truly appears to have perfected a seamless goth look and lifestyle is treated almost like an alien. And humor deflates the pretension on several occasions (what's up, punch to the boobs?).
What is glamorous about the book is its recreation of that sense of languid, sexy ennui-bordering-on-mania that afflicts certain types of people in college. Laziness so profound it becomes almost sensual, a constant unspoken sizing-up of your fellow young people as sexual objects, a feeling that, despite being surrounded by like-minded individuals in a setting expressly designed to stimulate the exchange of ideas, you're alone with your thoughts. This is essentially the storyline, but it's best expressed through Campbell's art itself. His women are extremely sexy in the way his lush line sort of idealizes their imperfections, and his dudes ain't so shabby either, but they all have this slightly slackjawed, tired-eyed look of being dazed. Campbell frequently frames them awkwardly within their panels, using the surrounding space to suggest that they're always a little lost, which is sort of the point.
* This EW set-visit article on Lost by their irritating, fanboy-CW-reinforcing Island correspondent Jeff Jensen is packed with mild spoilers of the who-gets-a-flashback variety, but it's also got some interesting bits regarding how the cast and crew's perception of the show has changed since it cemented its 48-episode endgame. You pays your money and you takes your choice. (Via Jim Treacher.)
* Speaking of Lost, for whatever reason, it's only been this season that I've reached critical mass with obsessive theory-spouting Lost fandom, and here's why: It's a total waste of time. Trying to predict what the show is "about" based on the information we have now presupposes that nothing that happens in the remaining two and a half seasons will alter or add to that information. Given the history of the show, and how many layers it adds to its mythos season after season after season, that's a patently ridiculous notion. Trying to "explain" what's going on now is like finding a bunch of pieces of a DIY Ikea furniture item and putting together a nice sturdy table, but then turning around and discovering like 60 more pieces and realizing it was supposed to be a sectional sofa. And that's not even getting into the fact that these cockamamie theories almost always a) assert as fact suppositions with no roots anywhere but the theorizer's mind ("given that the Island is stuck in 1996..."); b) completely lack any kind of character-based/emotional component, which is the whole point of the show, not whether the Monster is made of nanotechnology.
And what rough blogosphere, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?
I don't know how I missed this--sometimes I think my RSS reader gets a little lazy now and then, or is maybe just in the vanguard of the machines' war on humanity and this is its first tentative steps toward full-scale slaughter--but Curt Purcell added another post to the ongoing discussion about whether a more cohesive horror blogosphere would be a good thing, and whether the kind of big-deal linkblog that might help create such a blogosphere could also keep it on its best behavior. My instinct was that no, it couldn't, not really: at best it could lead by example (which is no small feat, to be sure), and at worst it would simply be one less jerkwad blog.
Curt points out something that hadn't even occurred to me: Given such a linkblog's ability to generate traffic for the sites it links to and attention for the ideas on those sites, by choosing to focus on better-behaved (or just qualitatively better) blogs it could indeed help shape the discourse. That's an excellent point, and I'm sure it would work in that way.
But then again (and uh-oh, here comes the Eeyore in me again), it would only work on blogs that were in it for the traffic and attention, which (while I can't read anyone's minds) I would imagine would be the blogs most deeply prone to cattiness, dogmatism, and other negative traits that don't begin with domestic animals. That kind of thing would be tough to shake.
My guess is that real quality blogging comes from a "blog gratia blogis" mentality. I know Curt frequently says he wants to reach as wide an audience as possible, But I can't help but feel that even if his audience consisted solely of googlebots and people who screwed up an "austin powers groovy baby" search, he'd still be rolling merrily along, blogging about Nazisploitation and whatnot. That's what makes his blog great, and the kinds of folks who tailor their blogging to make themselves more acceptable to linkfarms are probably not so hot to begin with.
All that being said, I really have no idea why I'm being such a gloomy gus about all this when I would be genuinely happy to see a horror blogosphere develop, where more voices interacted and more people were around to hear those voices. (Though I must say I'm pleased with the sites I regularly visit right now.) I hope I'm totally wrong about all of this stuff!
Well, now I'm curious as to what Curt thinks about my other, less personality-driven quibble: the inherent difficulty in creating a cohesive blogosphere around a genre rather than a medium. I hope he posts on it...
...I do worry that the series will feel such a need to send all of its plot threads rushing to their conclusions that it will abandon some of the more lyrical and human moments that gave the series such power in its first three seasons.
This one didn't quite do it for me. Partially I think it's because Davis's relatively realist story this time around, about a working-class woman who's forced to take care of her elderly, bed-ridden grandfather and her very young and withdrawn little sister, lacks a certain level of mystery compared to the fables and fantasies I'm more familiar with from her. The problem is that Davis tries to apply some of the same storytelling techniques here that she uses in her fantasy stories--mysteriously silent characters, long wordless stretches, a touch of the monstrous (in the form of the moaning grandfather), matter-of-fact nudity--and they end up overwhelming any sense that this is real life carefully observed. (She isn't helped by the hard-to-swallow obliviousness with which she imbues her main character.) Her cartooning is as strong as ever, with dynamic figures and an at times stunning selection of body language for her characters, but an overuse of zip-a-tone, strangely inorganic lettering and slightly over-animated facial expressions push it just a bit into slickness. It's funny, I remember reading in Gary Groth's interview with Davis in Mome that this was the comic that really made him sit up and take notice, but for me it feels like a detour from the more fruitful avenues of expression she's pursued before and since.
* The other big news today is that Phoebe Gloeckner, one of the four or five best living cartoonists, has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to complete work on her years-in-the-making graphic novel about the mass murder of women in Juarez, Mexico. It does indeed sound like she'll be using the digital technique I noticed a while back.
* My long-distance love affair with gaming continues: Joystick Divison's Gary Hodges presents the Top 5 Most Unforgivable Video Game Enemies--not bosses, mind you, but the little pissants who made a level or game impossible to beat. Fucking Bald Bull, man.
"No good book has ever been written that has in it symbols arrived at beforehand and stuck in," says Hemingway. "That kind of symbol sticks out like raisins in raisin bread. Raisin bread is all right, but plain bread is better." He opens two bottles of beer and continues: "I tried to make a real old man, a real boy, a real sea and a real fish and real sharks. But if I made them good and true enough they would mean many things. The hardest thing is to make something really true and sometimes truer than true."
* Now this is what I'm talkin' 'bout: The tandem comicsbloggers at Thought Balloonists tackle Junji Ito's horror masterpiece Uzumaki.
First up is Craig Fischer, who to my surprise looks at the series through the lens of three texts that were key to my senior essay on horror from college: Linda Williams's "Film Bodies: Gender, Genre and Excess," H.P. Lovecraft's Supernatural Horror in Literature, and Noel Carroll's The Philosophy of Horror. (Fischer misses the way Williams fudges her character/viewer physical-response chart for horror, but he's forgiven.) His review is laden with deliciously debatable quotes about horror:
I think Uzumaki is effective at unsettling readers like me because of its fidelity to the general traits of the horror genre. On the most elemental level, the purpose of horror is to impart fear and nausea, and Uzumaki has that effect on me. Horror is the genre that raises goosebumps, that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.[...] For me, Uzumaki works as horror because its hybrid monsters and piles of spiral flesh violate enough natural, cognitive categories to make me sick.
Charles Hatfield's follow-up focuses on the series' self-reflexive theme of obsession and repetition. He also takes issue with two aspects of the story I consider features, not bugs: The characters' comparatively blasé reaction to the horrific goings-on (I take it as a sort of "horror realist" approach) and the failure of the early chapters to cohere into a narrative (as Curt Purcell and I agree, side-stepping Noel Carroll's "complex discovery plot" is no vice). Regardless, both Hatfield and Fischer's posts are must-reads for fans of the comic and the genre.
* CRwM of And Now the Screaming Starts gives the film version of The Ruins a rave review, which is interesting because he argues that the "distillation" of the novel that so bothered me is in fact the key to making a successful film of the story. I might agree that it's the key to making a film of the story, period; successful? Not so much.
* From the sublime to the ridiculous: This Guardian thinkpiece by John Patterson about how American horror filmmakers really ought to be concentrating more on how awful America is has got to be the nadir of the inescapable "I enjoy horror movies to the extent that they are allegories about political issues I don't care for" meme among mainstream critics. Look, you don't even have to disagree with the political premise of such critics (and while Patterson gets a little ridiculous and sloppy with his points of comparison, and also so grossly misreads Hostel that he pretty much invalidates himself as a critic, I'm guessing I do indeed agree with him on the underlying issues). It's simply a question of whether or not sociopolitical allegory is either a necessary or sufficient component of good horror. If neither, then this unrelenting focus on it would seem to me to be a colossal misallocation of critical resources, akin to every single critic focusing on whether the monster's teeth or killer's chainsaw should have been more obviously penis-like. (Via Jason Adams.)
* My buddy Patrick Carone interviewed Gillian Anderson for Maxim, resulting in vague statements about the second X-Files movie and hotsy-totsy pictures that will likely remind you of small hours spent alone with the Internet ten years ago. You will then feel old and sad. (Also via Jason Adams, who will need to substitute Duchovny into this equation to reach this conclusion.)
Was this a webcomic first? A series of microminis? I ask because the skill Lilli Carré shows in this anthology is so considerable in terms of its ability to build to a punchline that also doubles as an indictment of the specific brand of thoughtless waste she's gunning for that it feels like you're reading a best-of collection rather than a debut.
Tales consists of strips of varying length chronicling the comical misadventures of both the titular woodsman and the legendary tall-tale hero Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe. I'm not saying it's a masterpiece--Carré occasionally gives into the temptation of a too easy joke, as in the first strip, where Woodsman Pete remarks upon the beauty of a pair of birds' song and then kills them anyway; meanwhile many of her strips on Pete dealing with aging strike me as being a young person's view of what old age is like; a lengthy section involving a future globally-warmed world where dried-up oceans leave great salt deposits behind never clicks as well as its length demands.
What I am saying is that it's a remarkably assured book, one where even its weak spots (which strike me as less important the more I think about the collection) feel like deliberate choices rather than missteps. Carré's thin, clear line, attractively presented in blue throughout, enables her to simultaneously cram many panels onto the book's small pages--resulting in a bit-by-bit inch-by-inch dialogue pace that perfectly fits the stories' shaggy-dog-tale rambliness--and give her characters an expressiveness that belies their knowingly crude design. I could sit and stare at Paul Bunyan's hair and beard for minutes, while at certain points the shading on Pete's hat and beard is almost tactile. The comparative realism of the animal heads mounted on Pete's wall lends weight to what struck this particular vegetarian as a message of conservation buried beneath the black humor.
Meanwhile, the gags frequently arrive from unexpected directions. Along with his wall-mounted hunting trophies, Pete keeps row upon row of beard trimmings to mark the decades. A stuffed deer head presented as a flourish on the top of one strip is revealed to have a stuffed butt attached to it when we turn the page. When Pete calls one of his trophies his favorite, another one silently cries. In a strip called "Saturday Night," Pete strips butt naked, dances around, then stops and falls asleep, and that's the whole strip. It's bracingly dry and cleverly delivered stuff.
The most impressive aspect of the collection is the unforeseen interlocking of the Pete and Paul Bunyan material. The giant lumberjack and his bovine friend don't show up until about a third of the way through the book; when we realize what's going on and that the images that kick off his arrival seem tied directly to the events of the preceding Pete strip, it's a rewarding little epiphany. However, Carré fudges the details of the strips so that it's never quite clear whether or not Pete and Paul are actually anywhere near each other temporally or spatially, which besides being a fairly complex narrative conceit for a gag-strip collection speaks directly to the larger point she's making about the unreliable nature of memory and storytelling and the dubious prospect that these mental phenomena can actually enable true and lasting connections between different people. All this for seven bucks? Sold.
* I've seen the news that after a gangbusters test screening Lionsgate is preserving The Midnight Meat Train's full meaty title and giving it an August 1st Stateside theatrical release everywhere today, but I'm sourcing it with Jason Adams just because the title of his post is easily the greatest thing I read all day.
* Here's news about North American screenings of two highly touted French horror movies, Inside and Frontier(s); the latter, at least, will be coming to NYC.
By participating in and perpetuating the theory-school of Lost fandom, the show's creators no doubt think they're fanning the flames of the Lost phenomenon. But this afternoon I got thinking that maybe they're actually doing the show a disservice. Not because I don't personally go in for theories, mind you--I mean that they might think they're building buzz, and therefore ratings, for the show when in fact they might be driving potential and actual audience members away.
Here's the thing: How many times have you heard people say they can't follow the show, that they have no idea what's going on, that it's over their head? But I don't think Lost is over anyone's head. Strip away the intriguing sci-fi elements and occasionally baroque flashback/flashforward structure and it's an action-adventure show about sweaty sexy people shooting things and Frenching each other on a tropical island--a very very compelling and well-made one, of course. I think the greatest trick the show ever pulled was convincing people it was over their heads by making people think that instead of simply watching and enjoying it, you need to "figure it out." As I've said, you can never figure the show out based on what you've seen because there are still two and a half unseen seasons chock full of information that will change the big picture. So if that's the level at which you're engaging the show, you will always feel outsmarted by it, and for many viewers that's going to drive them away from watching it at all.
Originally written on July 8th, 2004 for publication in The Comics Journal
The fifth installment of Paul Hornschemeier's personal anthology series is a transitional work of sorts, a midway point between the publication of the author's formidable graphic novel Mother, Come Home (the serialized installments of which completely took over Forlorn Funnies' previous three issues) and his upcoming entrée into the art-comix big time when Fantagraphics begins publishing the series. (This is the alternative comics equivalent of a WB starlet getting that phone call from Playboy--you've made it, baby!) Perhaps Hornschemeier himself sensed the in medias res nature of this project. It's his most direct effort to date in forging a middle way between his satirical and melancholy modes. Granted, separating the two physically may seem an odd way of linking them, but the link isn't any less clear for that.
As the book's subtitle suggests, My Love Is Dead/Long Live My Love is indeed divided into two sections, one "funny," one "forlorn," each printed at a 180-degree rotation from the other. Each section has its own "front cover" featuring the appropriate half of the subtitle and a mood-specific image and color scheme (as well as, cleverly, the book's bar code and ISBN information--this way there's now way to guess which half Hornschemeier considers "the back of the book"). At the spread at the center of the book, where the two sections meet, we find two pages' worth of rival "About the Author" material, one of which solemnly enumerates Hornschemeier's C.V. and the other of which features a lengthy explanation for its use of the phrase "butt smear." (You're all bright people, so I'll leave it up to you to guess which is which.)
Baroque conceits such as this are nothing new for Hornschemeier--you may recall that the entirety of Mother, Come Home is supposed to be the introduction to a novel of which we only see the first chapter's title page. It's fun to watch Hornschemeier at play in the fields of the formal, but what excites one most about FF5 are the cartoonist's visual and storytelling skills, which continue to expand at an alarmingly brisk rate.
Perhaps the best example of this is the emergence, fully formed, of a vocabulary of the monstrous a la Woodring or Brinkman. These strange creatures and the psychedelia-by-way-of-graphic-design wilderness in which they live are used to great effect on both sides of the forlorn/funny equation. In the former case ("Underneath"), a furry, Yeti-like behemoth responds to his growling stomach by diving under the sea, assaulting one of the creatures he finds there, and devouring one of the creature's young as its sibling and parent look on. The attacker arrives back on dry land only for its stomach to rumble yet again; he glances at the sea, and in the subsequent panel is nowhere to be found. The sequence is wordless, the creatures expressionless, but the horror inherent in the sea-creatures inability to protect itself or its children is palpable and chilling. As it trundles over to comfort its surviving offspring when the land-creature swims away, we wonder what it can possibly say to provide solace or safety; moreover, when we realize the land-creature has gone back underwater, we know that neither is in the offing. The humiliating powerlessness of parents in the face of overwhelming violence is usually the subject of only the finest literature (on TV, only The Sopranos goes there; in comics, you're hard pressed to find explorations of the topic outside historical efforts like Maus and Safe Area Gorazde); it's both jarring and inspiring to see this painful aspect of human existence broached in a monster comic.
On the funny side of things ("Ditty and the Pillow Plane"), the monsters are used (not surprisingly, as we'll soon see) to explore similar themes. While the two title characters float along in a manner reminiscent of Mother's opening sequence, strange creatures bite each other, ride each other, attempt to devour each other, and run past the frame while on fire. Ditty (whose eyes are x's) and the Pillow Plane (who has no eyes to speak of) grab a snack amidst the chaos, and the sequence concludes with this exchange: "Is civilization a cancer?" "Of the liver, Ditty." This seems as accurate an assessment as any, given the absurd pandemonium going on around them.
The notion that something's just sort of wrong with civilization and that we'll never set it right is the funny side's major preoccupation. This sentiment is frequently expressed in the broadest of terms--phrases like "Has it all been that senseless?" "Is it pointless to laugh?" "Fuck it all anyway!" and (especially) "Whatever, dude" echo one another from strip to strip. A trio of overt political cartoons help make this case as well. "Everyone Felt It" (its title emblazoned on a striking, stark black background) skewers the vague everybody-hurts semi-soul-searching the U.S. occasionally indulges in in times of tragedy. The star of "America, Your Boyfriend" is a MODOK-esque lunkhead who kicks the crap out of anyone who dares look askance at his SUV-driving, beer-swilling lifestyle. Personally, I believe that our country's most devoted enemies, in their drive to quite literally revive the Middle Ages, have problems unrelated to our own nation's admittedly troubling obsession with luxury vehicles, but the point is made clearly and, perhaps more importantly, hilariously. "The World Will Never Be the Same" depicts various people behaving like racist, sexist, xenophobic, elitist, patronizing assholes both "THEN" and "NOW," 9/11 being the unspoken line of demarcation between the two. The strip is similar in effect to an oft-reproduced sequence from Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers, and if the simplicity of the message of both is a little disconcerting (gee, America still isn't perfect? Bush lied!), Hornschemeier's iteration is more effective both for the vicious specificity of its targets and his willingness to implicate himself with his send-up of patronizing artsy-fartsy types. ("Oh, absolutely, his work is really making a difference," says one such gallery-attending schmuck as a presumably homeless man walks by.)
The excess of the artiste is another prime target. "Stupid Art Comics Are Stupid" is a gratifyingly reductive assault (at times, a physical one) on the pretensions of the modern artist, depicted alternately as a sex-obsessed phony or an empty-headed dilettante. Its follow up, an essay entitled "Stupid Art Comics May Be Stupid, But 'Stupid Art Comics Are Stupid' Is a Complete Waste of Time," is written from the point of view of a critic enraged both by the earlier piece's unsurprising "surprise" insights into the human condition and its creators insistence on designing it so that it can only be read if held upside-down in front of a mirror. A multi-page sequence entitled "Artist's Catalogue" deploys a slew of anti-art gags, including several pages that are simply blank and a reprint of the meticulous, highly intellectual plans and sketches for what turns out to be an "I went down on your mother" joke. (Fans of a certain Mozart/Bach-inspired Spinal Tap song ought to be pleased.)
With Long Live My Love so fixated on depicting a world going to hell in a handbasket as society's supposed coalmine canaries, the artists, jerk themselves off, it's up to My Love Is Dead to make more personal, though equally universal, points. A strange, untitled sequence involving a man, his grandmother, and a blood orange is difficult to unravel--I'm still not exactly sure what's going on, or more specifically what is about to go on--but the man's sweat, tears, and self-contradictory statements speak volumes about the power and terror of family love. "We Were Not Made For This World," a sci-fi parable about a robot seeking the source of its creation even as the desert through which he marches slowly erodes the automaton's ability to continue, is reminiscent of any number of similar SF meditations on loneliness, from Martin Cendreda's memorable minicomic Zurik Robot to Stephen King's eerie short story "The Beach." Hornschemeier's skill with both art (depicting with mathematical precision the granules of sand that are inexorably eroding the robot from within) and words ("He focuses on the horizon and tries to think it is beautiful"), however, give the story its own tragic grandeur. Most impressively of all, in "These Trespassing Vehicles," Hornschemeier uses a moment of random, catastrophic violence to center a story that encompasses the entire lives of its characters with daunting, heartbreaking totality. There's even room for a thoughtful twist ending, itself emerging from a life's irreversible turns. The story itself neatly mirrors the strength of Hornschemeier's work in general. Some moments may overshoot, others may undershoot, but the ambition is always grand, and thanks to the keenness of the author/artists's eye for detail amidst his expansive vision, so too is the execution.
* Big news: The Gordon Lee case has been dismissed, presumably due to egregious prosecutorial misconduct. This is a big day for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and a big day for comics, a medium that stands on shaky ground with regards to free speech issues. (Via Tom Spurgeon.)
* Fangoria speaks to Clive Barker about the current status of the Hellraiser remake, his Harry D'Amour/Pinhead epic The Scarlet Gospels, the next Abarat book, and the film adaptation of The Thief of Always.
This is what those "fun" superhero comics that nobody but predominantly superhero-comics bloggers reads would look like in an alternate universe where Gary Panter took over as Marvel house artist instead of John Romita Sr. and Los Bros Buscema following the departures of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. The major difference, of course, is where in those books the action-humor blend is the primary selling point, here it's simply the tool Chippendale uses to set up the action beats and environments that are the meat of his cartooning. The yuks and fights are the means to an end, not an end in themselves, but they also happen to be really really crackerjack, which is more than you can say about this book's Big Two brethren.
Plotwise, this is a follow-up to Chippendale's earlier Battlestack Galacti-crap, a story of two tribes (cue Frankie Goes to Hollywood) of costumed weirdoes battling it out over the right to sell cupcakes in a particular area of their sci-fi city. It's exactly as nonsensical as it sounds, which is totally fine because the point is the drawing, and man, it's a pip. This issue kicks off with a brief silkscreend color section that evokes the full-color openings of manga volumes, a comparison subverted here by the supreme ridiculous of the subject matter (one of our warring tribes, Teamy Weamy, is debating whether to change their name to Team Tomb or Team Tummy). The rest of the comic comprises three separate, vaguely interlocking vignettes, each defined by the way they use sequences of panels to pace action. In the first (back at the cupcake stand from the first issue) a bug-laden "bugcake" is lobbed past a stunned onlooker at the head of a disgruntled customer; Chippendale draws the action out over several panels to call attention to its kinetic silliness. This is in contrast to the next big bit, in which panel after panel is left silent while two characters are placed on hold as they call a credit card company to find out why one of their cards has been denied--here the drawn-out sequencing conveys boredom rather than action. Things kick into high gear in the second section, which involves a pair of super-types infiltrating an underground lair and battling robot-type dudes. Chippendale's chunky, crunchy line is a surprisingly effective canvas for action choreography, making the space in which the action takes place feel solidly constructed and lived-in while lending a certain palpable oomph to various ninja stealth antics, laser dodges, and one really memorable blast at a bad guy. the third and final sequence is mainly an excuse to create a convenience store shaped like Godzilla called Snackzilla, I guess, but it too has a laugh-out loud depiction of slapstick involving a bunch of characters getting bonked on the head with a baseball bat and sent tumbling down a hole in the floor by a secret member of a rival gang. After a funny, deadpan two-page bonus comic by Ben Jones about a dog who will become the Chosen One but at this point mostly stands around with his tongue lolling out, the comic ends with another two-page color section; as with the first issue, this finale displays Chippendale's knack for drawing figures in freefall, but this time uses it to set up a funny gag about one falling character remembering he can fly mid-plummet.
The character designs are all funny and easy to parse--I sort of want to see these folks cross over with the gang from Powr Mastrs; the environments, particularly in a trio of stand-alone pages toward the end of the book, are immersive and mysterious; and since Chippendale is working with basically one or two large panels per page it's probably a lot easier than Ninja or Maggots for your average civilian to follow. This is the kind of minicomic you'll read from cover to cover each time you come across it wherever you keep your minicomics. If you spot this at a con you should buy it.
* I've seen a lot of OUTRAGE from horror fandom about the recent successes of PG-13 horror movies, perhaps best represented by the Prom Night remake from a few weeks back. Most of it consists of mouthbreathingly simplistic "BLOOD AND TITS EQUALS WIN"-type extreme-mongering rather than any kind of informed consideration of whether PG-13 movies might possibly be scary. But B-Sol at Vault of Horror takes an entirely different view of the problem with PG-13: They're slasher movies explicitly geared at young teenagers.
Note to complainers: don't take this as an invitation to pontificate on why you hated this movie, because I don't actually care
* This week's Horror Roundtable is all about horror movies we remember watching as kids. Between the Roundtable proper and the comment thread, the moral of the story is clearly that everyone loves The Monster Squad and The Blob.
Jeffrey Brown, writer/artist
Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, March 2008
$14 Buy it from Amazon.com
It had been a while since I read a full-length Jeffrey Brown comic starring Jeffrey Brown, and I'd forgotten what a unique experience a Jeffrey Brown autobio page is. Reproduced at roughly the same size at which they're drawn, Brown's pages are almost always stuffed with six square panels, which are themselves crammed with penned detail. But despite containing so much visual information, the casual feel of Brown's line and portraiture make the page come across more mellow than manic. Meanwhile, and particularly when compared to the many other sketchy (by design or necessity) slice-of-life efforts that have sprung up in Brown's wake, his pop-eyed characters pop from their backgrounds, which themselves feel like fully realized and inhabitable spaces. The total effect is really accomplished and unique, and it turns out I missed it quite a bit.
This is the part of the review where I was gonna argue that in these ways the art mirrors the story, or nonstory, presented in the book itself: a sea of detail saved from unpleasant obsessiveness by a breezily directionless presentation, against which notable specifics stand out. This observation has the virtue of being true, but I feel like reading that much into what's going on sort of defeats the purpose of the book. While Brown argues in his introduction that the point is that tiny, seemingly insignificant moments--coffee with friends, awkward movie-watching experiences--can take on the same importance as truly life-changing events--gall-bladder surgery, witnessing a horrific car crash, meeting the father of the mother of your child--to me the book ultimately demonstrates something slightly but vitally different: Those insignificant moments remain insignificant, yet occupy a disproportionately high rank in our mental catalog of memories, and the resulting stew of momentousness and meaninglessness is in the end what makes our lives what they are. Both are indispensable.
* And at Entertainment Weekly, Miller and his producer Deborah Del Prete talk turkey about the Spirit adaptation, while Miller reveals he's 122 pages into a new book that's a "love letter to New York"--presumably not Holy Terror, Batman!, then--and that he's finished writing Sin City 2 with an eye on an eventual third film as well. (Via Kevin Melrose.)
* Speaking of films that irritate Ron Rosenbaum, Uma Thurman tells MTV that Quentin Tarantino is indeed working on that big final all-in-one deluxe DVD version of Kill Bill, aka The Whole Bloody Affair, AND at least one of his proposed anime prequel/sequel/whatevers involving the KB characters--the latter will be used as a bridge/intermission to create the former. Based on Tarantino's previous statements and Thurman saying she hasn't done any voice work for the cartoon, it seems like Bill will be the subject of the new material rather than the Bride. (Via Rob Bricken at Topless Robot.)
* Ammon Gilbert of Arrow in the Head pays homage to one of the two great ultraviolent Communist-invasion action films of the '80s, Red Dawn. (That's the one involving teenaged Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, and Jennifer Grey avenging the imprisonment of Harry Dean Stanton--and who wouldn't?--not the one involving Chuck Norris shooting people in shopping malls.)
* The Blot's Tom Neely keeps on killin' the game with his weekly comic strips. Goddammit, look at those palm trees.
* Water Monsters in the News: Loren Coleman notes a report of an alligator in a New Hampshire pond, which is neat enough, but in so doing he breaks down the differing types of unusual-alligator reports: stray pets or zoo animals vs. expanding habitat vs. actual out-of-place breeding populations vs. genuine cryptid lake monsters. Dreamy stuff.
* All Too Infrequent T-Shirt Blogging: Whitney Matheson notes that CNN.com now has T-shirt-making functionality for some of its video-news headlines. That is very bizarre and very cool.
* Finally, I hope to have a nice Lost post up later today in time for the return of the show--I was gonna include that stuff here but it probably merits its own post. So stay tuned.
The island heals some people and doesn't heal others. For instance, Ben needed an operation from Jack to beat cancer, but it seems like Sawyer gets injured every sixth episode and by the next, he's fine. Is that just a TV thing?
The last sentence kind of skews the question in a process-oriented direction rather than just an "OMG what's going on???" one, but I still think it points to the outlook of the kind of fandom that has me so flummoxed lately. To the extent that they do have considerations other than plot those considerations are still focused on logistical issues--trying to figure out why and how things happened behind the scenes. Simply mulling over and discussing the emotional, intellectual, and certainly the aesthetic impact of what we've seen doesn't enter into it. In many ways, it's like interviews with superhero comics writers, where nearly all the questions are dedicated to either "What's gonna happen to Wolverine next?" (in-world questions) or "How did you decide to do that to Wolverine?" (making-of questions), with no real critical response to speak of (unless you count "tearing the internet in half," whether positively or negatively, as a qualitative observation, which you shouldn't).
But Kimmel's interview gets at some of these distinctions itself. For example, there's this blockbuster section:
Kimmel: People come up to you all the time with theories. Has anyone come close to cracking the code?
Cuse: I think there are two assumptions that people make that are incorrect. One is that the whole answer to Lost reduces down to a sentence. It's not like searching for Einstein's Unified Field Theory. And the second is that you have enough information to "crack the code." The flash-forwards completely changed your notion of the show. So how could you do some accurate theorizing before you even knew those existed?
My sentiments EXACTLY! Seriously, it's almost eerie to be echoed by one of the show's head honchos just, like, two weeks after this first even occurred to me. But the best part of Cuse's quote is that it goes beyond refuting the Theorizers on a logistical level (you can't possibly know because you don't have all the information yet) and rejects that approach on a philosophical level as well (you can't possibly know because it doesn't work that way anyway).
Furthermore, when Kimmel presses the issue, Cuse responds:
Even though we get asked a lot of questions about the mythology, Jimmy, we're really trying to write a character show. We spend about 80-90 percent of our time talking about how the characters are lost in their own lives as people. The mythology is kind of the frosting on the cake.
(Now there is, of course, the "Lindelof's Mom" viewer, who supposedly tunes in to the show to see who hooks up with whom and cares not one whit for the monster or the Hatches or any mythology aspects. But as a friend of mine pointed out to me, the kinds of people who fixate on "who falls in looooooove" are almost as bad as the clue-hunters, and they're certainly a different beast than people who consider the overall effect of the show rather than the romance aspect alone. Theorizers and Shippers--the Scylla and Charybdis of contemporary genre fiction.)
And I also appreciated this bit from Lindelof, regarding the freeze-framed, digitally processed search for "clues" in every episode:
We would love in moments like that to go, "Yes. We knew we'd be introducing the idea of the Dharma Initiative in the second season premiere and we wanted people to go back to the pilot and see that the symbol had been burned into the fuselage." But if we had known, we wouldn't have done it in such an oblique way. Sawyer would've went [adopts Southern twang], "Hey, what's this?" We want people to see our Easter eggs.
This is a separate aspect of clue/theory-based fandom that irks me: the tendency not just to see hoofprints and think of zebras instead of horses, but to invent zebra prints when there aren't any there. Perhaps the most infuriating discussion about Lost I've ever had took place on a message board I hang out on, where I spent two or three weeks being told that there's no way baby Aaron could be one of the Oceanic Six, basically because he wasn't a ticketed passenger. Now, the label "Oceanic Six" is, in the world of Lost, a media-generated nickname for the survivors, so for Aaron to not be considered one of them would therefore mean the international news media ignored a baby born on a deserted island to a plane crash survivor--basically the greatest human-interest story ever--on the kind of technicality that only people who sit around making anagrams out of supporting characters' names would appreciate. The adamant refusal to consider basic tenets of human behavior, instead focusing on clues and rules and regulations like the show is a board game, is so baffling to me.
Interview number two is conducted by the Onion A.V. Club's Noel Murray. This interview is distinguished from every other interview I've seen with Lost creators, including the two I myself have conducted, in that it doesn't as a single in-world question. Also, the making-of questions aren't all variations on "do you know where this is going?", which is in a way just an in-world question in disguise. The resulting answers make for fascinating reading, and I'm so enthusiastic about it I'm basically going to reproduce vast swathes of it while encouraging you to click over and read it yourself.
For example, here's Lindelof on the difference between flashforwards and flashbacks as storytelling mechanisms:
...whereas the flashbacks before had been an emotional storytelling technique—like, "Here's how Sawyer became a con man, here's the time that Jack ratted out his father, here's when Kate held up a bank"—on a story level, they weren't that complicated. They were sort of the one thing the audience could grasp onto, no matter what sort of wackiness was happening on the island. The flash-forwards are the exact opposite of that. When you see [Character X] in the future killing people for [Character Y], that's all story. Or when you see [Character A] being approached by [Character B], that's all story. So the show actually becomes vastly more complicated.
All the flashforwards so far have shown the characters involved in extremely tense and discomfiting places emotionally so it's easy not to notice that they're now plot pieces as well as character pieces, but this is a point well taken.
Then there's Cuse on the different difficulty levels, for want of a better term, for the show's mysteries:
I also think that it's rewarding for the audience to not always be frustrated and behind. We have certain mysteries on the show that we hope the audience figures out on their own, and can have the satisfaction of saying "Aha! I knew that! I knew that the guy on the boat was going to be [Character Q]!" But there are other times when we have real surprises, like [Character U] shooting [Character V] and [Character W], where we go to great pains to make sure that nobody sees it coming, so you're genuinely surprised. We intentionally mix up the degree of difficulty in solving the puzzle.
I still find it immensely frustrating when the show is spoiled by its own opening credits, but again, this is a point well taken.
The pair also talk candidly, and to my mind somewhat disappointingly, about the impact fan reaction can have on the story itself. While they both disavow Lost messageboards as overly plot-centric and nitpicky, they also admit that the public reception of characters--they call this "market fluctuations"--can lead to their premature exit from the show. So too can outside considerations like actors simply wanting not to live in Hawaii anymore, which bums me out enormously, as such things have ever since I found out that the Frankie Pentangelli role in The Godfather Part II was originally supposed to be Clemenza. On the other hand, actors who really click in a role sometimes see their parts get beefed up, and for whatever reason I have no problem with that--I suppose because it's an issue of collaborating artists, rather than a business concern or an audience concern.
There's a lot more, including the now ever-present discussion of how having a set endpoint has altered and reinvigorated the storytelling dynamic, an interesting passage about how the DVD/download viewing model is really going to be the norm once the show ends and the actual week-to-week airings are a historical fluke by comparison. You should read the whole thing.
If The Dark Knight Strikes Again is Frank Miller's brain on SPX, I suppose Ronin is Frank Miller's brain on Shogun Assassin. I'd say Lone Wolf and Cub proper or some other manga touchstone, but the thing is that my own comparative ignorance of Japanese comics and Miller's enormous influence on Western ones make it hard for me to see evaluate this formally as anything but a Frank Miller Comic that happens to use samurai and Akira-style science fiction.
It's a very good Frank Miller Comic in fact. Back then his art had this doodly/sketchy quality—lots of little loops and bubbles and curlicues—that had yet to solidify into the hyperrealist noir of the first Sin City chapters in Dark Horse Presents and thence to recede to the chunky bigfoot self-satire of DKSA or the later Sin City books. It's a bold style, perfect for conveying enormity by expanding the blobby details to the edge of the page or isolating action by stripping them away and letting the remaining figures slash through them. It's also beautifully colored by Miller's now ex-collaborator Lynn Varley; no one has used greens this effectively before or since.
Storywise it combines the familiar Japanese pulp tropes mentioned above with the uniquely Millerian idiom of topless black bondage Nazi gangs (cf. The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City), evil corporations painted with an hilariously broad satirical brush (cf. Hard Boiled), and sinister omnipotent female computer programs (cf. Martha Washington--man, if in some future FM Batman comic the Batcomputer ever gets referred to as "she," watch out). But moreso than in any Miller comics save perhaps his collaborations with David Mazzuchelli, there's a refreshing space left for the human element. While there's obviously a lot of "he is the Hero, he is everything" to be found here, much of the plot is driven by the comparatively quotidian doings of the Aquarius Complex's worker bees: middle management, staff psychiatrists, laborers pissed off at the treatment of the fellow workers, an idealistic scientist and his security-guard girlfriend whose story of success-driven estrangement would fit nicely into a late-'90s period piece about a dot-com startup. So it's easy to forgive some narrative lapses, like a jarring bit of told-not-shown infodumping about how the ronin entered the modern world whose raison d'etre only becomes apparent at the end of the story, and simply focus on the pleasures of the art and the tempered-gonzo writing. Capping it all off is a brancinglysudden ending and final image of triumph-through-simply-existing that I really wish more genre comics would ape. I will enjoy rereading this comic every four years or so until I die.
* I am at least enthusiastic about the idea of the second film in this particular package, which lots of people seem really confused about but which seems to be pretty clearly about both Gandalf's doings when he wasn't hanging with the dwarves during the events of The Hobbit proper and the subsequent doings of, I'm guessing, Gandalf and Aragorn prior to the start of The Lord of the Rings. That's what I got out of Del Toro's interview on TheOneRing.net, anyway. (Via Kristin Thompson.)
A retelling of the first Batman story to involve superpowered antagonists way back when, Batman and the Monster Men would be the baseline of quality for Batcomics in a better world than this one. It's unlikely to stick in your craw in terms of its depiction of Batman's sadness or mania, which for me at least is the effect achieved by the best Batman stories. Nor does the scripting necessarily rise above the usual comic-book treatment of such stock figures as Mad Scientist, Gotham Mobster, Spunky but Naive Heiress, Crooked Commissioner and so on. The narration tends to spell out what's happening and why, and the prose isn't stylish enough for me not to be bugged by that. And Wagner's art is sometimes startling crude.
But--well, if you've stuck around long enough to hear the "but" in the first place, my guess is this book may be for you. Reason number one would be Wagner's art, crudeness and all. His Batman is a big hunk of marble that throws itself at its targets with a real wallop. Though we're about as far from Paul Pope's fashion-textbook realism, the combination of Wagner's meaty design and Dave Stewart's plain black and gray color scheme for the outfit truly makes Batman feel like a big, fast guy who puts on a creepy outfit to punch people in. Given that the threat in the story is basically three or four big huge mutants who punch people too, the effect is sort of like watching a Kimbo Slice streetfighting video on YouTube. That's pretty much how I want a Batman comic to feel.
Wagner also somehow pulls off the delicate alchemy of the "detective" aspect of Batman's idiom, having the character follow a trail of clues that we of course would never trace to the same conclusion but never coming across as manipulative or shoddily constructed. If the whole thing kind of pales in comparison to Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli's Batman: Year One—the project to which it seems meant to be a sequel in terms of look, tone, and time frame—it's also astute enough to fairly accurately ape that feel in the first place. Even the occasional bizarre and wonky facial expression or disproportionate body harkens back to the primitive Golden Age artists of yore. If I were presented with Batman comics like this on a regular basis, unspectacular but entertaining and satisfying efforts akin to a good solid Law & Order episode, I would be a very happy Batfan indeed.
* Clive Barker made some news at Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors convention this past weekend regarding his "Books of Blood" film series. In addition to the upcoming Midnight Meat Train and in-the-works Book of Blood, Barker announced that Anthony DiBlasi has been tapped to write and direct the long-gestating adaptation of "Dread," once again confirmed the also long-gestating plan to adapt "Pig Blood Blues," and revealed that the fifth film in the series will be an adaptation of an unlikely choice (to me at least), "The Madonna."
* Real life horror: An Austrian man kept his daughter prisoner in his windowless cellar for 24 years--along with the seven children he fathered with her through rape. All of this was unbeknownst to the man's wife, supposedly. The story is so horrifying and unbelievable that it is, well, hard to believe, and I wouldn't be surprised if initial reports turn out to be substantially inaccurate. But for now, here is your quote of the day:
Once inside the dungeon, police reported, they found all the passages extremely narrow, the ceiling is no higher than 5ft 6ins (170cm) and the floors uneven. They have found a makeshift shower room, cooking rings for the secret family to heat food, and a room lined entirely in rubber whose use is unknown.
* Film scholar and Tolkien-film expert Kristin Thompson weighs the enthusiasm for his new Hobbit gig expressed by director Guillermo Del Toro in this MTV interview and elsewhere against the skepticism expressed by Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. If O'Hehir's piece stuck with its initial focus on Del Toro's previously voiced distasted for heroic fantasy, or a critique of his existing films, I'd be right there with him, but instead it veers off into things that really have nothing to do with the potential quality of his Hobbit film, like the fact that lawsuits had been filed and Peter Jackson is successful.
Jeremy Tinder's debut graphic novella Cry Yourself to Sleep displayed a knack for slightly off-kilter observational humor, a fine grasp on cute character designs, and an entertaining way of combining the two. Stripped of that longer effort's stabs at coaxing something deeper out of the yuks, BGAF feels slighter (is slighter, I suppose), but compensates for that by reading like a funny Jeffery Brown convention mini. Several of the short strips contained here mine familiar "cute animal is actually a vulgar cad" territory to laugh-out-loud effect--I particularly liked the shot of a nude woman fellating a bunny rabbit with such enthusiasm she looks like she's eating his crotch. The stand-out strip, though, is the most serious one, which centers on a love quadrangle involving a lovelorn elephant. In its eight pages of anthropomorphized friends/lovers sharing one last bittersweet night before a separation, you get something that reads like half-Chunky Rice parody, half-Chunky Rice tribute. That's a pretty enjoyable combination for this reader.
* Big, sad news for film and TV blogospherians: Matt Zoller Seitz, proprietor of the best film and TV blog on the web by a country mile, The House Next Door, is retiring from journalism and criticism to become a full-time filmmaker. Frequent co-blogger Keith Uhlich will take his place as editor of the site.
* At his official website, there's another huge interview with Clive Barker. He announces a new, wholly original upcoming comic book project with his frequent publisher IDW, touches on his upcoming film projects, his paintings, the delayed release of Midnight Meat Train, and Abarat Book 3, but the bit I was most interested in, and happiest to read, was about his voice. If you've listened to any interviews with the man lately, quite frankly he sounded terrible, even more gravelly than usual. Turns out he had benign polyps on his vocal cords that have since been removed, making it easier for him to talk, sleep, and breathe. I sure do wish him well. (Via Dread Central.)
* There's a new Incredible Hulk trailer out there, and I know I'm supposed to say I'm soooooo over this movie (and Edward Norton), but I'm not. I want to watch CGI Ed Norton smack around CGI Tim Roth and I don't care who's feuding with whom. (Via Arrow in the Head.)