Friday, September 30, 2005
Jerry Juhl, RIP
Thursday, September 29, 2005
National Geek Day
As I've pointed out before, I think that, in a very real sense, we have won--"we" here meaning geeks, and "won" taken to mean mainstream culture. The mainstream has completely consumed, digested, and assimilated geek culture, and now it's difficult to remember a time when big summer blockbuster films weren't all superheroes and science fiction. When a huge percentage of the new offerings in television's fall season are genre (Threshold, Invasion, Surface, Night Stalker, Supernatural, et al.) it doesn't suggest that a culture shift is happening; it stands as proof that we're living in a post-shift world.
When Star Trek: The Next Generation was a breakout hit in syndication back in the late eighties, there followed a spate of syndicated genre shows, most of them well and truly horrible. This suggested that producers had recognized that there was money to be made off the backs of genre fans, but it was money they didn't have to work very hard to get. When Lost was the breakout hit for network television last season, we now have a spate of hour-long genre shows. And considering that the worst of these new series is still a (marginally) watchable drama with a sizeable budget--ironically, of the three "invasion" series, the one with lowest budget, "Threshold," is clearly the most watchable of the bunch--it means that studios are taking the market for this material seriously. Or, at least, as seriously as they take the markets for cop, lawyer, and doctor shows.
It's my impression that there's a segment of fandom that resents this shift, to some extent. Rather than seeing the mainstream adoption of geek culture as a vindication, perhaps they see it instead as the mainstream taking away from them something that, heretofore, has been exclusively theirs. Part of this may be the same species of resentment one finds among fans of an underground music act once they go platinum--"I liked them before they were cool." But I think there might be something else at work, as well. The "principled disdain for ... ordinary social conventions" mentioned in the Time article could, in some cases, be seen as the effect, and not the cause. Many of us were drawn to geek culture as kids because we didn't fit into the mainstream culture in the first place, for whatever reason. We weren't the right size, or the right shape, or we wheezed with asthma when we ran, or wore thick glasses, or even were attracted to the wrong gender--whatever the specifics, something set us apart, something that we ourselves recognized but, often worse, something that other people recognized as well, and exploited. Childhood sucks for everyone, I firmly believe, but it can be worse for some of us than for others. And geek culture served, for many, as a place where they could find acceptance they couldn't find elsewhere. When that culture is then co-opted by the same mainstream that wouldn't accept the "geeks" in the first place, it's easy to see why some would resent it.
For my part, I see the geekification of the mainstream as a positive thing. Not only does it suggest that we were right all along but, as a fan of this sort of material, I'm heartened that there is so much more of it available now than ever before. The disposable free time that I devote to watching television and movies is now full of genre stuff and, for the first time since, well, ever, there is more quality genre material than I can keep up with.
Sadly, though, on September 30th, the first official National Geek Day, I won't be able to see Serenity or MirrorMask, both of which I've been looking forward to watching for a long time. Instead, I'll be on the road with my wife and daughter, heading north to spend the weekend with my folks. But, my fellow members of the geek nation, know that while I won't be with you in person, I will most definitely be there in spirit.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Larsen's recent comments on his Comic Book Resources column about continuity, and the problem of the passage of time, have been making the rounds of the comics blogosphere the last few days, but I've only now taken the time to read through the full text. In amongst the standard discussion about the appropriate audience for superhero comics, and the practical concerns associating with aging fictional characters in "real time," there were a few really interesting comments. Perhaps most germane to serials in general, across genres and medium, was this:
"Another thought I had (and I'm sure most of you will pooh-pooh this immediately, but wait until you hear me out first) would be to give every character a definite timeline and have them all be set in certain time periods. Superman really worked best as a character set in the late '30s and early '40s. Spider-Man, the FF, Nick Fury work best in the swingin' '60s and the man called Nova as a product of the '70s. What if the FF was set in the '60s? Why not? Then you wouldn't worry about him aging-- it would all fit. And you could have an older Spider-Man encountering Nova in the '70s. A Superman in the '30s works so well. If he's from the '30s, he really is the forerunner of all superheroes whereas now, because of the JSA, he's a relatively recent character. Sure, there would end up being gaffs made, but it might be pretty cool. "This approaches the de facto solution to continuity and "real time" with characters like Sherlock Holmes and Zorro. In the early decades of the twentieth century, when people other than Arthur Conan Doyle turned their hands to tell a Sherlock Holmes story (most notably in the movies), they made Holmes a contemporary character. When Basil Rathbone played the character in Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, Holmes pitted wits against the Nazis! It was only as time went on, and the period of Holmes's origin retreated further into the fog-wrapped past, that creators and pastichers came to realize that the character functioned best (and arguably, only) in Victorian England. Ever since, Holmes and his milieu have been inseparable.
The same is not true of James Bond. A product of the Cold War, the more distant the character gets from his origins, the more the strain begins to show. Without an Iron Curtain across which to glare at his implacable Soviet foes, Bond is too often left a hero without a villain (to say nothing of the anachronism of his attitudes towards women which, cheeky and roguish in the fifties and early sixties, come off as just creepy and predatory in more enlightened times).
Michael Chabon, in his mid-nineties pitch for a Fantastic Four movie, opined that the characters worked best in a sixties milieu (a solution later rediscovered by Brad Bird for The Incredibles.) Many have pointed out that Batman is a creature of the forties, and that Superman works best in the fifties (I think his world seems to begin sometime in the Eisenhower administration, and ends just before the assassination of JFK).
Darwyn Cooke understands this. His incredible New Frontier gets a lot of mileage out of setting these characters in their historical context. Kurt Busiek, too, in his Astro City, gets some creative juice out of setting certain types of characters against various historical backgrounds (like Larsen, he disagrees with the notion of characters like Superman and Spider-Man aging in real time, though both have created their own superheroic "universes" that progress in real time). Alan Moore, in constructing his ABC universe, added an additional wrinkle, having characters that, while they didn't seem to age at an appreciable rate, still experienced the passage of real time, even if their settings didn't (Tom Strong's Millennium City is a perpetual post-art deco forties, while in Greyshirt's Indigo City it always seems to be the fifties).
I can't see Marvel or DC, who get so much of their revenue from licensing and merchandising, ever adopting an approach such as Larsen suggests, since any marketing wonk worth their MBA would surely argue that a hero locked into the 1950s would be impossible to sell to today's kid audience. But it makes for an interesting thought experiment, and a possible model for future creators to keep in mind.
There's a lesson here
There's a lesson here, but I'm not sure what it is. Is this a case of the media, even in the midst of a serious crisis, resorting to sensationalism? Or it an instance of the power of rumor and stories exagerrating with the retelling, with well-intentioned people (reporters and "civilians" alike) merely reporting what they've heard and believe to be true? Honest mistakes, or something more sinister? Either way, those who looked to the "animalistic" behavior of the evacuees at the NOLA convention center and the Superdome as some sort of justification for them being left stranded for days will have to look elsewhere for their rationalizations.
"'I think 99 percent of it is bulls---,' said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Lachney, who played a key role in security and humanitarian work inside the Dome. 'Don't get me wrong, bad things happened, but I didn't see any killing and raping and cutting of throats or anything. ... Ninety-nine percent of the people in the Dome were very well-behaved.'"
(Thanks to Paul Cornell for the link.)
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
World Fantasy Convention
Maximum Fantastic Four
From the article, it's difficult to discern just what Mosley's contribution to the finished product will be, aside from originating the concept. I'd hope for an essay at least, about the project's genesis.
Mosely, Marvel Team Up To offer Maximum Fantastic Four
-- Publishers Weekly, 9/27/2005
Like a lot of comic book lovers, Walter Mosely—yes, that Walter Mosely—has a thing for the work of Jack Kirby. Mosely discovered the Fantastic Four, Kirby and Stan Lee’s groundbreaking 1961 super hero comic book series, when he was eleven and he’s never forgotten the dazzling impact of Kirby’s art on his young imagination.43 years later, Mosely remains passionately connected to the Fantastic Four and he’s worked to turn that early inspirational encounter into a fitting tribute to the art and creative influence of Jack Kirby.
In November Marvel Comics will publish Maximum Fantastic Four, an oversized hardcover recreation of Fantastic Four #1 that reprints that first issue with an important graphic twist.In the new book each of Kirby’s vividly rendered panels is enlarged and given an entire page—turning a 32 page classic comic book into a lavishly designed 224 page artbook—in effect recreating, says Mosely, the visual power and emotional connection he remembers from his first readings of the Fantastic Four.Maximum FF offers up each of Kirby’s panels as a carefully rendered graphic composition—reminiscent of the early comic book panel paintings of Roy Lichtenstein—but with Stan Lee’s narrative intact.
Mosely, who has published more than 20 novels, including his bestselling Easy Rawlins series, isn’t shy about ranking the cultural importance of Kirby, Lee and the beginnings of the Marvel Age of comics. “I think Kirby’s drawings rival those of Goya or DaVinci,” says Mosely. “No one else brought the emotion and kinetic energy to the printed page that Kirby’s drawings did.”And he’s quick to credit Kirby and Lee’s influence on his own writing, pointing to the physical description of Lee’s characters and the ways in which he pushes characters beyond their limits. “Kirby drew characters that really looked like Lee’s characterizations,” he says. Mosley hit on the idea of “visually deconstructing” FF#1 and took his notion to Marvel chairman Avi Arad, who gave him the go ahead. Book designer Paul Sahre was brought in the design the book, adding gatefolds and a book jacket that unfolds into a poster witha photo reproduction of every page in the original comic. Comics historian and former Kirby assistant Mark Evanier puts this whole effort in context in an essay that looks at business and editorial side of Marvel Comics in the early 1960s.
Mosley acknowledges the nostalgia attached to the project. “But there’s an esthetic value to this comic book.Jack Kirby and Stan Lee created a template that you can put yourself into and learn about the world.”
Monday, September 26, 2005
Dense or Retarded?
For those who don't follow comics that closely, this is a retelling of Robin's origin, and the reputedly "dense" or "retarded" kid on the left is Dick Grayson, shortly after his parents are killed. In all previous versions of Robin's origin, his trapeze-artist parents are killed by gangsters, who rig the ropes to break during their act, making it look like an accident.
In Frank Miller's masterful retelling, they are shot in the head by an overweight thug (an incredible feat, really, considering that he's shooting over long distances with a handgun) after they've reached the ground and are taking their bows. To make it look like an accident. Naturally. Batman, who has already been scouting their now-orphaned twelve-year old son--for some unknown reason--decides on the spot to "draft" the grieving child into his war on crime. You know, instead of getting him some grief counseling.
I hadn't planned on doing much more than posting that image, but I find now that I can't escape quoting one page's worth of Miller's Psychotic Batman monologue. Having already damaged your eyes with the panel above, I'll compound the insult by salting on a bit more of Miller's third-rate Spillane-tough-guy interior monologue. I urge the squeamish to turn away now.
I'll set the stage. Dick Grayson's parents have just been shot, taking their bows at the center ring of a circus, while Bruce Wayne watches from the audience. Bruce thinks to himself, "And I don't know why this was done to him. I can't know why. Not yet." And then we get the following page of soliloquy, worthy of Hamlet. (Note that the all-caps emphasis and the repetition is as written.)
But I know exactly THIS MUCH.Honestly, this is some of the worst writing I've ever seen. Leaving aside the obvious question--why would a detective incapacitate a murdered with toxins, leaving him unable to answer questions for a month?--it's just damned lazy writing. It's nonsense, nothing more than self-contradictory, macho bullshit. Does Batman know whether the snake poison works (assuming, of course, that he doesn't mean "works for snakes") when the panel begins? Has he forgotten that he has "checked"? When he hopes for "NASTY side effects," has it slipped his mind that he already knows precisely what those side effects will be, and how long they will last? Does anyone, by this point, care?
The boy has entered MY world.
And he'll never leave it.
There's no way out.
There's no way out.
There's no way out.
No. Way. Out.
Not for any of us.
[Batman throws a "batarang" shuriken into the back of the fleeing thug.]
Turns out the stuff works.
I hope it's got some NASTY side effects.
As a matter of fact, I CHECKED.
It DOES. This killer will be pulling BUGS that aren't THERE out of his EARS for a MONTH.
I don't have anything near Lou Anders's affection for the character of Batman. Hell, I don't even like the character that much at all. But I find this just offensive. If it weren't for Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's upcoming take on the last son of Krypton, I'd write off the All-Star line all together. At least with All-Star Superman, I can be reasonably sure the hero won't torture suspects, murder policemen, and psychological abuse a traumatized twelve-year old, all in the interests of "fighting crime."
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Saturday, September 24, 2005
A little digging, though, turns up a Gallup Poll published yesterday that breaks things down with a little less ambiguity, and is both better and worse, when one digs into it.
There's lots of interesting bits of polling data buried in here. Things like the correlations between church attendance, education, and belief in creationism or evolution. Those who attend church "seldom/never" and are college graduates overwhelming state that evolution is "Definitely/Probably True," with postgraduates ranking even higher. However, while the reverse is true of church attendance and creationism (with the majority of weekly attendees falling in the "Definitely/Probably True" category), the correlation between creationism and education gets a bit murkier, with a majority of respondents in all categories, "High School or less" through "College Grad" averring that they believe in creationism (with post graduates being pretty evenly split on the question).
Most of the respondents claim not to be familiar with Intelligent Design, which is the sexy new "scientific" drag in which creationism has been strutting around since the early nineties. Most, however, claim to be familiar with both evolution and creationism. And yet, somehow, a significant percentage of respondents claim to believe in both.
I think there's some ambiguity in the questions here, clearly, but the Gallup write up itself points out that there is some cognitive dissonance here.
What's going on here? Fully one third of Americans, if this poll is correct, believe that the universe was created billions of years ago and six thousand years ago, and that species developed through gradual change over thousands of generations and that a supernatural god created them all in their present forms to populate the Garden of Eden.
In principle, the possibility exists that one could believe in both evolution and intelligent design. While many evolutionists suggest that random mutations are at the heart of evolutionary change, many other people who accept evolution nevertheless believe that at some removed point in time, God set the evolutionary process in motion.
However, the conflicts between creationism and evolution appear irreconcilable. Evolution posits millions of years of change, and the emergence of the human species from apes. Creationism accepts the literal creation story in the Bible, which essentially says that about 6,000 years ago God created all living things, including humans, as they currently exist.
The poll shows, however, that many Americans apparently do not recognize the irreconcilableness of creationism and evolution. Twenty-nine percent say that both explanations are either definitely or probably true, while 57% accept only one or the other of the explanations -- 26% say creationism is probably true, but evolution is not; and 21% say that evolution is probably true, and creationism is not. Another 4% say both explanations are probably false, and 20% have no opinion.
Belief in a god or creator is not irreconcilable with accepting the findings of science, however much the Intelligent Design folks might try to frame the debate otherwise. But accepting science does preclude belief in the literal truth of ancient religious texts. A six-day creation is incompatible with every bit of evidence we have about the origin of species, of the Earth, of the universe itself. (Unless, of course, what I've been taught in school, films and magazines is all phony.)
There's clearly an uncertainty here about the origins of life (and of the universe itself), and its one that the ID movement is exploiting. Science has never--from ivory tower researchers to high school biology teachers--insisted that science be taught in houses of worship. That a few well-funded religious activists masquerading as scientists are agitating for religion to be taught in science classes is pretty damned odious.
My favorite bit of data from this poll, though, is this: "Another 4% say both explanations are probably false, and 20% have no opinion." The 20% I can just about understand; they got a job to do and kids to feed, and don't have time to worry about whether we first crawled from the primordial soup or were shaped from clay by supernatural hands. But that 4%? They clearly have an opinion, but don't believe in either science or the literal creation story of any religion. What's up with them?
Friday, September 23, 2005
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Another New Review
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
(Though I think I prefer the naked self-promotion of this. And I surprised to see that these cats, Powerhouse Animation, are fellow Austinites. How about that?)
Apparently I'm a Socialist
|You are a |
You are best described as a:
Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid
I was an avowed Socialist through most of college (thanks to Billy Bragg), but then I lapsed and have just considered myself a progressive independent ever since. I've been forced by circumstance to ally myself with the Democractic party, due entirely to the state of the opposition, but wouldn't self-identify as a Democrat by any means. Interestingly, Charlie Stross ranks just a few percentage points from me on both axes.
Monday, September 19, 2005
The End of the World
TOM STRONG #36
Written by Alan Moore, art and cover by Chris Sprouse and Karl Story.
ABC. It's 'Tom Strong at the End of the World' as Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse reunite for one final, breathtaking story. The events of the last several issues of Promethea are recalled as our hero and special guest stars Jack B. Quick, Greyshirt, Splash Brannigan, The Cobweb, Jonni Future, and many others discover what happens when the world comes to an end. But that's all small potatoes compared to the really big news revealed within these pages! Final issue.
32 pages, $2.99, in stores on Dec. 14.
In the few years now since Moore last wrote an issue of Tom Strong, folks like Peter Hogan, Ed Brubaker, Michael Moorcock, and Steve Aylett have all done journeyman work in chronicling the adventures of the hero of Millennium City, but it's long been time for Moore to write the character one last time and put him to bed. (He already destroyed the world in the penultimate issue of Promethea, after all. What could come next?)
Top Ten: Beyond the Farthest Precinct, I think Wildstorm would probably be better off retiring the whole ABC line now that Moore is done with it. Between the end of Promethea, this last issue of Tom Strong, and the two Tomorrow Stories specials, I think the ABC universe has been brought to a tidy conclusion, and perhaps that should be an end to it.
Of course, if Wildstorm were to call tomorrow and ask me to write a new Tom Strong adventure, I reserve the right to change my position on the matter.
Saturday, September 17, 2005
The Secret Origin of my Obsessions
Usually I read for pleasure only in between projects, and typically I can manage only one novel or story collection in that brief span before my conscience gets the better of me and I'm back to researching or writing again. The last two times out, before starting Paragaea and after finishing it, respectively, I chose poorly, and ended up reading books that weren't worth the trouble of picking up in the first place (one of which, though, I so despised that I read straight through to the end, just to be able to excoriate it from a position of authority). This time, though, I lucked out, devouring Matthew Hughes's first two Archonate novels, the highly-entertaining Fools Errant and Fool Me Twice (both sadly out of print), and Richard Bowes's brilliant mosaic novel From the Files of the Time Rangers.
At first glance, Hughes's picaresques and Bowes's skein of stories could not be more dissimilar, but I found in them a commonality, one which I've also discovered in my own writing. There is in them a tendency to take seemingly-moribund tropes of genre fiction and attempt to revitalize them, making of cliches something able to contain meaning. Bowes's mosaic novel, for example, functions both as a commentary on familiar old "time patrol" stories and as a fully functional time patrol story in its own right (the best example is the central section originally in short story form on SCIFICTION). There is a tradition of this kind of thing in genre fiction, of course, but it often trends towards parody (as it also does in film, as in Kung Fu Hustle, which I mentioned earlier this week). There is nothing parodic about Bowes's Time Rangers, and while Hughes's Archonate novels are satirical, they don't lampoon the Vancean dying earth stories which they emulate, but use the Vancean model as a vehicle for attacking more wide-ranging issues.
Recognizing a similar tendency to use (and abuse) genre tropes and cliches in my own work (Here, There & Everywhere was conceived as an attempt to explore every aspect of the time travel genre that I knew, while Paragaea: A Planetary Romance is intended to be one of the science fantasies I grew up loving recast as a strictly rationalized science fiction), I started thinking about what aspects of genre I seem to return to most often, which were the tropes that I couldn't seem to let go.
I came up with a short list, and realized that virtually everything I've written in the last eight years revolved around one ore more of them. Alternate history; time travel; parallel worlds; cultures in conflict; and families & heroic legacies. I realized, too, that my nonfiction obsessions, physics and history, are more in service of my fiction concerns than the other way around.
I wondered where this particular set of preferences came from, and realized almost immediately that they all stem from my life-long obsession: superhero comics.
I discovered superhero comics at an early age, and right on time, apparently. Roy Thomas, who got his start in comics as the first person after Stan Lee to edit a Marvel Comic, and who went on to pen countless titles for Marvel and DC in the following decades, famously stated that "the golden age of comics is eight." I was about eight or nine when I first picked up a superhero comic, which probably was one of the plastic wrapped Whitman sampler packs that used to crowd toy stores and grocery store toy aisles. When the DC Comics Blue Ribbon Digests started appearing on newsstands and at supermarket checkout lines, though, it was all over for me.
The comics companies had tried experimenting with repacking their material in book form before. My first exposure to Superman in print form (I'm certain I'd seen the George Reeves Adventures of Superman or episodes of the animated Superfriends before then) was in a Grosset & Dunlap mass market paperback, entitled simply "Superman," which was composed of five Weisenger-era stories, the panels reconfigured to fit a paperback page and printed in black and white, and having seen Spider-Man on the forgettable live-action series with Nicholas Hammond I quickly followed him into the world of four-color heroics through the agency of Simon & Schuster's Fireside edition "The Amazing Spider-Man," a trade paperback reprinting in full color key stories from the sixties and seventies.
But the Blue Ribbon Digests were something else besides. Priced at ninety-five cents and running to one hundred full-color pages, these little gems were like a crash course in the history of the superhero genre (at least the DC side of things). Starting bimonthly and then soon shifting to a monthly schedule, the digests launched in the fall of 1979, and distorted my worldview forever. I've got five of the first six of them that I ever laid hands on, spread out in front of me now--I can't seem to locate the very first one I bought, The Best of DC #1, featuring Batman, but I know it's got to be around here somewhere--and I realize now that I can't overestimate the impact that these little buggers had on me.
"The Rogue Legionnaire," DC Special #1, Mar/Apr '80 (f. The Legion of Super-Heroes) - Time Travel
"Doomward Flight of the Flashes," DC Special #2, May/June '80 (f. The Flash) - Parallel Worlds
"Secret Origin of the Guardians," DC Special #4, Sep/Oct '80 (f. Green Lantern) - Heroes & Legacies
"The Five Other Identities of Superman," Best of DC #8, Nov/Dec '80 (f. Superman) - Alternate History
The only thing missing from my list of recurrent tropes is the notion of cultures in conflict (I suppose I could stretch and say that the Teen Titans story from Best of DC #3, Jan/Feb '80, "Eye of the Beholder," brings in the notion of culture clash, since the American heroes are forced by circumstance to team with the Soviet hero Red Star, but it would be a bit of a stretch).
Superhero comics were a gateway drug for me. Not only to things like prose science fiction and fantasy, which were certainly passions which followed directly from reading comics, but also to things "worthy." I read Hamlet six times during my junior year of high school, not because it had been assigned--it hadn't--but because I wanted to wring all possible meaning from the chapter titles in Matt Wagner's Mage. I discovered Jorge Luis Borges in college after reading Grant Morrison's "homage" to his "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" in the pages of Doom Patrol (Morrison also led me to David Bohm, Rupert Sheldrake, and Philip K. Dick, among many others; he's got a lot to answer for).
But unlike most others, before and after me, who read superhero comics as kids, I didn't give them up when I a) discovered music, b) discovered girls, or c) discovered booze and drugs. Somehow, throughout all of the stages that normally account for the attrition of comics readership, I managed to stick it out. Maybe it's just a question of arrested development, and I continued to read superhero comics for the same reason that I continued to enjoy animation and puppetry. (Hell, who am I kidding? Of course it's arrested development. My entire generation is stuck in a state of perpetual infantalism; we started getting nostalgaic for our childhoods before we'd even become adults. But hey, I pay my bills, dress myself, and feed and care for my daughter. What does it matter if my tastes haven't matured appreciably since I was ten years old? At least I have a better vocabulary now, right?)
Every Wednesday, just like I've done every week for the last twenty-five years, I take a break from work and head into town to my local comic shop. (Here is another indicator of progression and growth: when I was a kid I had to ride a bike, and carry the comics home in a paper bag, its topped rolled over and clenched between my teeth--somehow the notion of a backpack never occurred to me--but now I get to drive a car. In the immortal words of Walter Koenig, I'm now "a well rounded person. With my own friends, credit cards, keys.") I read indy comics, and crime comics, and artsy comics, and all of that jazz. But when I'm honest, I admit that what keeps me coming back, week after week, is the superheroes. (And, too, I find that I can read comics in spare moments through the week, even when I'm working on a novel or short story, while I can't read prose without its style "bleeding" into my own.)
I've never written for superhero comics--though I pitched and submitted to DC and Marvel in my twenties more times than I can count--and, considering the contraction of the comics readership and the size of the talent pool, there's every indication that I might not ever do so. And though my prose work often gives me an opportunity to play with the elements that I adore about the genre (things like time travel, parallel worlds, alternate history...), I often have a yen to do something a bit nearer to the source than more serious sf is allowed to get.
(It would be fun, too, to work in the same sorts of trope revitalization and play with cliche that I see in Bowes's Time Rangers and Hughes's Archonate novels, which started this line of thought. Of course, superhero comics have as much of a history of this sort of thing as genre fiction, if not more. Recursion of this sort, and the revitalizing and examination of tropes, has been a hallmark of good superheroics since the early 80s, at least, with works like Grant Morrison's Animal Man, James Robinson's Starman, and especially Alan Moore's Miracleman and Supreme being the preeminent examples.)
I've long said that, given the current state of the American comics industry, it's not long before superhero comics go the way of epic poetry. There will always be people creating new work, and always an audience willing to pay for it, but that audience will shrink to the point where the medium is nothing more than a hobby for everyone involved. (I'd be flabbergasted to learn that anyone in the 21st century could earn a living writing epic poetry; by the 22nd, I'd be dumbfounded if anyone was still paying their mortgage producing superhero comics as we know them today.) But the genre itself has shown a surprising adaptability in recent years, successfully making the leap to screen (small* and silver) and monitor (games and otherwise).
I've been working on it. Aegis, the first in a proposed series of middle reader novels, has been making the rounds of editors' desks for the last year or so, and while it hasn't found a home yet, recently some interest in it has been expressed, so there's always hope. Aegis is an attempt to take everything I love about superhero comics and transpose it into a strictly rationalized science fiction novel for kids. It's got alternate histories, and parallel worlds, and the legacies of heroes; there's family stuff in there, and cultures in conflict, and even a hint of time travel in the mix. I don't think I've ever had more fun working on a project than I did writing it, and I'd love to do more in the series, if the opportunity arose.
In the meantime, I'll keep making my weekly pilgrimage to the comic shop, and that suits me just fine.
* Note: In terms of superheroes really making inroads on television, there are the preeminent examples like the Bruce Timm-Paul Dini universe of DC animation (with Justice League Unlimited being the most recent incarnation), but I think a better indicator of what's possible is something like Butch Hartman's Danny Phantom on Nickelodeon. I thought that the makers of Danny Phantom wouldn't be able to top last season's closer, Reign Storm, but with last night's one hour The Ultimate Enemy they've proven me wrong. Hartman and his writing staff--in particular Steve Marmel, who provided the storyline for both episodes--are to be commended for creating what is probably the best superheroic character originating outside the pages of a four-color comic book since, well, ever.
Friday, September 16, 2005
Another New Review (?)
From School Library Journal
Adult/High School–Roxanne Bonaventure, a precocious 11-year-old, leaves school one day to find a woman sprawled on the sidewalk. The stranger gives her a silver bracelet she calls the Sofia and promptly dies. Although shaken and puzzled by the encounter, the girl goes on with her life. But one day, she discovers that the bracelet grants its wearer the ability to travel through space and time. With the aid of her scientist father, she learns to control its power and soon pops across history and the future. Being young, her first experiments center on jumping back in time to find information on that cute boy in class. As she gets older, Roxanne explores some of her favorite points in history and meets H. G. Wells and the Beatles, among other figures. Each chapter is a separate adventure, giving the book an episodic feel. The range is from the action-oriented, like fighting Nazis, to the elegiac, such as her attempts to use time travel to find a cure for her father's illness. Particularly as a child and young adult, Roxanne is a fun, freewheeling character with whom readers will easily connect. As she gets older, she becomes wiser, a little more reserved, and cautious. But after all she learns, she still searches for the secrets of her own life as well as the enigmatic source of the Sofia. The novel concludes by circling back in surprising ways, giving her the elusive answers for which she longs. Clever, irreverent, and at times touching.–Matthew L. Moffett, Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale
I've had to look for the humor in the recent nonsensical customer review on Amazon from a spam-puppet flogging a micro-press book I've never heard of. But I'm certain that if I had ever read "Dragons: Lexicon Triumvirate," which the author assures the world is much better than Harry Potter or Eragon, I'm sure I would have been inspired to add a few time travelling dragons to Roxanne's story.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
A Mound of Blunder
(Sadly, his description of this piece of dreck is so horrifically fascinating that I'm half-tempted to watch it myself, just to see how bad it gets. I had a similar temptation with last year's Van Helsing, but fifteen minutes in things got as bad as Allison was willing to take, and we just had to take it as read that things got worse from there, ejecting the DVD and sending it back for Netflix to inflict on some other poor sucker.)
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Snow and the Seven? Wha- huh?!
The Wicked Queen will not know what hit her. Snow White is about to be transformed into a martial arts epic with Shaolin monks replacing the seven dwarves of the original Grimm Brothers fairytale.
Yuen Woo-ping, the fight choreographer for the Matrix trilogy, Kill Bill and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, has been recruited to direct the film, which will be shot in China later this year.
Tentatively titled Snow and the Seven, the story - scripted by Pulitzer prize-winning author Michael Chabon - will be set in a British concession of colonial China in the 1880s.
I think Chabon is charting a new career path for Pulitzer prize winners. What other Pulitzer-winners have leveraged their mainstream literary plaudits into writing a) a comic book, b) the screenplay for a superhero flick, c) a Sherlock Holmes novella, and d) a kung fu flick to be directed by Yuen Woo-ping?
[Tangent: I finally got a chance to see Stephen Chow's excellent Kung Fu Hustle last night, and it's put me in a mood to see a bit more HK cinema make use of the kinds of tricks CGI lets filmmakers get away with these days. The final fight scene, between the Beast and the One, is the kind of thing that was inconceivable just a few years ago. Wire-fu choreographers and directors (like Chow and Woo-ping) are already used to thinking in three dimensions, one dimension more than most American action directors, and I wait impatiently to see what sorts of new directions into which they start pushing film in coming years.]
Yes, it's safe to say that Kyle Baker drawing Kyle Baker is the perfect fit between character and creator," observes Kyle Baker Publishing president Elizabeth Glass. "Kyle Baker is the character Kyle Baker was born to draw.
While sources are hesitant to divulge specific dollar amounts, it has been verified that Baker's new contract grants him one hundred percent of all profits.
Nothing New Under the Sun
"This is not the first time that harsh realities have reshaped cities along the Gulf of Mexico.
The historic analogy for New Orleans is Galveston. For 60 years in the 1800s, that coastal city was the most advanced in Texas. It had the state's first post office, first naval base, first bakery, first gaslights, first opera house, first telephones, first electric lights and first medical school.
Then came the hurricane of Sept. 8, 1900. As yet unsurpassed as the deadliest natural disaster in American history, it washed away at least 6,000 souls. Civic leaders responded with heroic determination, building a seawall seven miles long and 17 feet high. Homes were jacked up. Dredges poured four to six feet of sand under them.
Galveston today is a charming tourist and entertainment destination, but it never returned to its old commercial glory."
Friday, September 09, 2005
The first glimmer of hope
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Self-Publishing, Novellas, and Series Fiction
As I've previously blogged, Chris Ware will be self-publishing Acme Novelty Library starting with the sixteenth installment. The description and marketing material have appeared on Amazon, obviously penned by Ware himself, and are definitely worth checking out.
"After four years of almost exclusively repackaging his sophomoric early work for the book trade, the children's entertainer and award-winning calligrapher F. C. Ware returns to his groundbreaking 1990s cartoon series "The ACME Novelty Library," a nearly decade-long publishing experiment which more or less single-handedly demonstrated the redemptive power a fancy paper stock or a little gold foil might exert over an otherwise dull, dry visual narrative."
I've been thinking a lot about self-publishing the last few months. I'm really enjoying selling my work to other publishers (not least of which because it means someone else has to do all the hard work, and yet they still give you money), but at the same time I've come to realize that some of the projects I've got in mind are less commercially-viable than others, at least from the perspective of a large house. I've every intention of continuing to sell work to publishers for as long as they'll keep buying it, but I suspect that in the not-too-distant future I may end up writing something that I'd just as soon release under my own MonkeyBrain Books banner.
I've been thinking quite a bit, too, about novellas. It seems like such a perfect length for a genre story. I've written a few, sold one (the forthcoming The Voyage of Night Shining White from PS Publishing), and really enjoyed the process every time. Short stories can often be too brief to fully explore a particular sfnal idea, while the novel length too often seems a bit overlong. Some of my favorite bits of fiction in recent years have been novella length (China Miéville's The Tain and Kage Baker's The Empress of Mars spring to mind). But while the novella is a perfect length for many stories, creatively, from a marketing standpoint it can be a tough sell. Magazines, for considerations of space alone, can take only a few novellas a year, and despite the successes that small presses like PS Publishing and Golden Gryphon have had with novella length titles, most publishers shy away from them, preferring more marketable novel-length material (though just what constitutes "novel-length" fluctuates pretty broadly as tastes and trends change from year to year).
And, finally, I've been thinking about series fiction, and serials in general. I've found few pleasures greater than completing a book by an author I've never read before, loving it, and then discovering that they've written more books with the same characters and/or setting (again, Miéville's Bas-Lag and Baker's Company series spring to mind). And there is unalloyed joy in discovering that a television series (cf. Deadwood or Rome) is actually good, and ongoing. There is certainly a commercial aspect to series and serials; readers and viewers always want more of the thing they just got finished enjoying, and publishers and tv producers are only too happy to sell it to them. But at the same time, I think there is real creative juice in getting to explore a world or a character more deeply than a single volume or installment will allow. Just from my own limited experience, I know that in writing Here, There & Everywhere I frequently came up with stories and episodes from Roxanne Bonaventure's life that I really wanted to write, but simply didn't fit within the structure of that particular novel; and when I finished work on Paragaea just a few months ago, I knew that I had covered (literally) only part of the world I'd mapped out.
Taken all together, these disparate thoughts colliding in my overheated brain, I shouldn't be too surprised if, in another few months, I strike upon the notion of a series of novellas, featuring a central character or cast of characters, published under the MonkeyBrain Books banner. In fact, I may already have some ideas in that direction. Hmmm...
The City of Louisiana
Allison's always been more of a fan of Keith Olbermann than I am, but I've warmed to him over the past year. After watching this clip, I'll never doubt him again. A full transcript is here (though I notice some errors have crept into the transcription, and I recommend viewing the whole clip).
"But, nationally, these are leaders who won re-election last year largely by portraying their opponents as incapable of keeping the country safe. These are leaders who regularly pressure the news media in this country to report the reopening of a school or a power station in Iraq, and defies its citizens not to stand up and cheer. Yet they couldn't even keep one school or power station from being devastated by infrastructure collapse in New Orleans — even though the government had heard all the "chatter" from the scientists and city planners and hurricane centers and some group whose purposes the government couldn't quite discern... a group called The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers."
In essence, Austin's municipal energy outfit is trying to petition automakers to produce plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), a "gas-optional vehicle that offers a viable alternative to petroleum dependant transportation." So there.
A write up of the proposal is here, and the petition (which is open to everyone, including non-Austin, non-Texas residents) is here.
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
"I write to live and to make sense of things. Words and voices come out of my head when I ask them to and I write them down and show them to people, at which point the stuff from my head miraculously converts into money, then the money turns into houses and cat food and trips abroad and clothes and savings. I view the process as pure sorcery and treat it with the respect and devotion it deserves."
Grant Morrison is a flat-out genius. His worst work is worth close study, and his best work is sublime and invaluable.
"My own personal taste doesn't run to literal work or stuff where everything's neatly explained to me and tied in a 'clever' bow. The world's a big, wild mess and I like to reflect that. As a reader, I like to join in and not just watch, if you see what I mean, so as a writer my intention has always been to create experiences which deliberately raise questions or suggest further, untold stories and don't necessarily have one easy solution or outcome. I like to leave people with something to talk about and fire their own imaginations and I'm trying to capture the real patterns of real life."
Morrison crams his work so full of ideas that they come spilling over the edges of the panels. In comic only Alan Moore packs so much creativity per square inch as Morrison, and together the two of them dispense ideas at such a steady clip that it makes science fiction writers cry with envy.
"Will we remain unsatisfied until every newborn babe has a Spider-Man logo tattooed on his head? Aren't Marvel and DC characters on the sides of buses enough evidence that the whole world has fallen under the spell of comics? Does every man, woman, and child have to swear allegiance to Captain America's shield before we finally accept that comics are already valid? How much more validation do summathese goddamn fanboys need, for crying out loud!!"
Someone named Alex Ness has done an interview with Morrison for something called Pop Thought. Most of the discussion is about craft, but a lot of what Morrison says about the medium of comics in this context could just as easily be said about the genre of science fiction.
"Anyway, if you read SEAGUY, liked it and were entertained by it, isn't that enough? What else should a comic book do? Make love to you?"
Monday, September 05, 2005
LazyTown? What the...?
We've only just learned that LazyTown comes to us from Iceland. Taking this and Bjork as our only two datapoints, I have to conclude that something really odd is going on up there in Iceland.
(At this point, though, anything that gives us a few minutes respite from the 24hr coverage of the ongoing horribleness is pretty welcome.)
Saturday, September 03, 2005
The Cozy Catastrophe
Chris Nakashima-Brown, one of the most talented writers I know, sent the following in email to a group of Austin-based sf writers this morning. I thought it deserved a broader audience and, with Chris's permission, I'm reprinting the entirety of it here.
This week's events have me digging out old Walker Percy novels, specifically, Love in the Ruins -- a "cozy catastrophe" set in a near- future New Orleans imagined from a 1971 point of view.
1. From the Turkey City Lexicon:
"The Cozy Catastrophe
Story in which horrific events are overwhelming the entirety of human civilization, but the action concentrates on a small group of tidy, middle-class, white Anglo- Saxon protagonists. The essence of the cozy catastrophe is that the hero should have a pretty good time (a girl, free suites at the Savoy, automobiles for the taking) while everyone else is dying off. (Attr. Brian Aldiss)"
2. From the beginning of the first chapter of Love in the Ruins, set at an abandoned Howard Johnson's on the outskirts of New Orleans:
"In the pine grove on the southwest cusp of the interstate cloverleaf, 5 p.m., July 4
Now in these dread latter days of the old violent beloved U.S.A. and of the Christ-forgetting Christ-haunted death-dealing Western world I cam to find myself in a grove of young pines and the question came to me: has it happened at last?
Two or more hours should tell the story. One way or the other. Either I am right and a catastrophe will occur, or it won't and I'm crazy. In either case the outlook is not so good.
Here I sit, in any case, against a young pine, broken out in hives and waiting for the end of the world. Safe here for the moment though, flanks protected by the rise of ground on the left and an approach ramp on the right. The carbine lies across my lap.
Just below the cloverleaf, in the ruined motel, the three girls are waiting for me. Undoubtedly something is about to happen.
Or is it that something has stopped happening?
Is it that God has at last removed his blessing from the U.S.A. and what we feel now is just the clank of the old historical machinery, the sudden jerking ahead of the roller-coaster cars as the chain catches hold and carries us back into history with its ordinary catastrophes, carries us out and up toward the brink from that felicitous and privileged siding where even unbelievers admitted that if it was not God who blessed the U.S.A., then at least some great good luck had befallen us, and that now the blessing or the luck is over, the machinery clanks, the chain catches hold, and the cars jerk forward?"
3. QUESTION: Is the "cozy catastrophe" tenable in a world of actual apocalypse? How would we react to a story about some fellow watching the New Orleans scene all unfold from his penthouse view atop a luxury hotel, secretly reveling in the freedom he finds as his moorings to bourgeois society are cut, and the whole mess collapses around him?
What happens to science fiction -- specifically, that favorite subgenre of mine, the literature of apocalypse -- when the cataclysm is actually happening?
Partly because of the narrative form, the oeuvre usually centers around a single protagonist. In the American pop cultural version, that protagonist achieves heroics through self-reliant individualism. How do we feel about the protagonist of Matheson's I Am Legend (Charlton Heston in The Omega Man), the last white man in the city, "finding" the things he needs to survive (see Patrick Nielsen Hayden's "white people find, black people loot"), fighting off the hordes of vampiric zombies (couldn't be an analog for black people could they?) Could we redo that story set in New Orleans on last Tuesday?
Speaking of Charlton Heston, how do you like watching the politicians and television news personalities grind their mental gears as the situation utterly fails to conform to the disaster movie paradigm? Mass catastrophe, it turns out, is not amenable to resolution by lone Western heroes. That only works on the micro-scale -- the lone yuppie father, loading his family into the Volvo to escape to the Houston Four Seasons Hotel, to the in-laws in a nice white neighborhood in Memphis, barely evading the hordes of vampiric zombies that will rape and eat them all if they fail to make it out before the giant tidal wave hits. Or the revolutionary leader who emerges from the mob, organizes it, and seizes the opportunity to take the city from the incompetent paternal government.
Did you see the stories yesterday -- obviously rumors -- suggesting people in New Orleans were slipping into cannibalism??
Our narrative, like our culture, values self-reliance over community. Does it have the tools to deal with suffering on a mass scale?
What do science fiction writers do when their futuristic scenarios show up in today? Online bill payment may not be as sexy as Case "jacking in," but at least it doesn't make you wonder if you will ever need to defend yourself as your world slips into a Hobbesian state of nature!
Who knew life inside a Bruce Sterling novel would be this fucking horrifying? I mean, like, where are the smart-ass jokes?
Pardon the Saturday morning rambling.
"Now is not the time..."
"The state Homeland Security Department had requested--and continues to request--that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans following the hurricane. Our presence would keep people from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city. "The policy wonks who engineered this little bit of brilliance, at the state and/or federal level, have the blood on their hands of all those who died from dehydration or lack of medical attention in front of the convention center and elsewhere this last week.
In the days following 9-11, one of the things that struck me most was the fact that, for a brief moment, the vast majority of news coverage in the US, both on networks and on cable, was about things that actually mattered. Of course, it didn't last. And there's no reason to believe that the current transformation of cable news into actually journalism is likely to be anything but a temporary condition. But I still hold out hope.
Damned Scientists and Their Logic
Friday, September 02, 2005
I've more than a fair share of thoughts about what's happening, and specifically about the federal government's response to it, but I don't think I can put any of it more cogently than China Miéville has here. Scroll down for his ongoing "The politics of weather" posts.
And I follow with disgust stories like this.
Thursday, September 01, 2005
Sometimes, these fans can take on an almost missionary zeal, and on rare occassion they can convert one from among the great unwashed to their cause. Such was the case with me and the Muppet fanatics.
As I've mentioned previously on this journal, I was reintroduced to the work of Jim Henson through the agency of my now-eighteen-month-old daughter. Starting with Play With Me Sesame, graduating to Sesame Street, and then expanding backwards and forewords into the Muppet features and Fraggle Rock, and the post-Jim products of the Henson camp like Bear in the Big Blue House and The Wubbulous World of Doctor Seuss--we quickly became a Henson-watching household. As a compulsive researcher, as Georgia and I watched these shows, I couldn't help but do a bit of digging online. At places like Muppet Central and Tough Pigs I got a crash course in Muppetry--things like which performers were which characters in which seasons and shows, how characters evolved and changed over the years, even arcana like the poser controversy. I started boring my wife with all sorts of Muppet trivia, a natural result of my obsessive tendencies, but when she was able to quote some of the trivia back at me months later, I realized I'd reached a new plateau.
(I've come to believe this is genetic. A few weeks ago the first season DVD box set of The Muppet Show arrived from Amazon, and in the afternoon's Georgia and I have been watching a show or two a day. Now, after a few minutes of watching Baby Einstein with her afternoon cup of juice, she quickly gets bored, stands in front of the DVD player, and points at the Muppet Show box set on the shelf, agitating wildly until I eject the soothing Baby Einstein and pop in a Muppet disc. As soon as the theme song starts up, and Kermit kicks off the opening, Georgia starts laughing, waving her arms like she's trying to take off, and dancing around the room. The Muppet Show is now as much of our daily routine as Play With Me Sesame.)
All of which brings me to this, the most recent controversy. Danny Horn of Tough Pigs is more than a little concerned about Disney's plan to raise the Muppets' profile by deploying multiple performers for each of the characters, like Salvation Army Santas, to cruise lines, Disney Stores, and local TV affiliate appeareances. At the outset the idea didn't really bother me all that much, but when I read Danny's reasons for his objections, I must admit that I was swayed.
"One of the things that I like best about the Muppets is that they can appear out in the real world -- on talk shows, or awards shows -- and they're treated like they're real celebrities. That creates this amazing double-vision feeling, tickling our suspension of disbelief in a uniquely pleasurable way. Just by being there, the Muppets are poking fun at the show they're appearing on, turning the real world of show business into a parody. "