Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Batman and the Profiteering of Violence

Much has already been said about the tragic and horrific events of this past weekend in Aurora Colorado. My heart goes out to those who were touched by this tragedy, and our culture has been altered irrevocably by the terror that ensued.

I’m not going to beat on that horse.

I’m also not going to proselytize about gun control (either for or against), because that’s not the point. At this point in time, I think we have the right amount of laws on the books, and no, I will not change my mind.

What bothers me the most about the incident is the fact that no matter how tragic, how senseless, how horrific an event is, there are ghouls out there that see it as an opportunity to enrich themselves. On Saturday, a Politician made the rounds on the morning talk shows claiming that the shootings were caused by a move away from God. I’m not the most religious person in the world (read: non-) but I try really hard to respect others beliefs, but this is just ludicrous. 

New York Mayor Bloomberg suggested that police go on strike until gun control laws are tightened. So, by having the police go on strike, this is going to magically reduce gun crimes?

The final nail in the coffin came today when some jackhole who was at the opening but was not injured is suing the theater, the shooter’s doctors, and Warner Brothers. This guy was not injured, yet he’s trying to profit off of the tragedy. I could understand if his arguments weren’t so outlandish. He’s suing the theater because they were “negligent for having an emergency door that was not alarmed or guarded.” He’s suing the shooter’s doctors because of “alleged mismanagement of Holmes’ still-unconfirmed medical condition” and he’s suing Warner Brothers “claiming that The Dark Knight Rises was so irresponsibly violent that it took too long for audience members to realize that the shooting wasn’t a publicity stunt”. Does this vulture have any tact? Why do I have the feeling that this guy would sue Denny’s for severe emotional trauma because his bacon didn’t come with a notice that it may have sharp edges.

First off, why the hell should a theater have an alarmed emergency door? It would totally disrupt a film, and all it would take was one jerk 16-year-old to race out the door to ruin the movie and force the theater to refund a lot of money, and to guard a theater exit? Seriously? That would bankrupt the theater even faster than an alarmed emergency exit. I’ve been to the Aurora Theater before, and it’s big. It seems like a good target to try and sue.

Second, How can this guy claim that the shooter’s doctors mismanaged treatment? Was he there for every visit, every diagnosis, every pill popped? They haven’t even definitively diagnosed if the shooter has a mental illness (I’m sure he does, but nothing has been proven – yet). Doctors, especially psychologists appear to make a lot of money, so they’re an obvious target as well.

Finally, Suing the movie studio? A classic move to make easy money. However, This is the third Batman movie. Anyone who has seen the first two movies know that this is not the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman that was “family friendly”. This is the Goddamn Batman – Influenced by Frank Miller (who has never been known for his soft and cuddly side). Of course it’s going to be fucking violent. It’s a dark, dirty, violent film that reflects the ideologies of a post 9/11 mentality. Besides, Christopher Nolan would never stoop so low as to engage in the whole 50s style chicanery to promote a movie.

This is what pisses me off the most – not the religious zealotry, not the political agendas, but the fact that people are trying to profit off of others suffering. Call me an idealist, but these slimy piles of human waste are the lowest of the low, and they really embody what is truly wrong with humanity. Unfortunately, they’re also like cockroaches – you take care of one, and two more pop up to replace them. The best thing a judge can do is throw the lawsuit out with prejudice, and hopefully this slime ball will just submerge himself back into obscurity.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Quest of Some Sort, Involving Elves

 

So, I’m not sure how old some of you are, and I’m sure that many of you have never heard about a series that was started almost 40 years ago, but has been an indelible part of fantasy since it was first released. I’m speaking of course about the Wendy and Richard Pini series ElfQuest. If the name doesn’t sound familiar right off, I’m sure the title image will be readily recognizable.

elf

As a kid living in Denver, Colorado, I would spend time at my grandparent’s house, which was about a mile away from a newsstand. If I was lucky, I could usually talk my folks or my uncle into taking me down to the newsstand so I could look at the comic books. At the time, most kids my age were reading Mickey Mouse comics, or Archie comics, you know, the more kid-centric, vanilla comics of the early to mid-80s.

Not me – my uncle, a musician, artist, bike mechanic, was no stranger to the Comix movement of the 60s and 70s, and had some of the books to prove it. What he didn’t know was that I knew where his comics were. So, at the ripe old age of 7, I was reading about Fritz the Cat, the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Wonder Warthog and the like. So, the first time we took a trip to the newsstand (sadly long out of business now), I wanted to find something that was more interesting than Archie, but not something that would incite a long boring lecture about what was appropriate for me to read at that time. As I walked through the stacks of magazines and comics, looking wistfully at the covers on the upper levels: Heavy Metal, Zap! Comix, some dude named Larry Welz, whose artwork I thought I could fool my parents into thinking it was Archie, although the blonde on the cover was practically falling out of her dress. Resigned to find some lame title, I caught something out of the corner of my eye. Turning towards it, I saw this:

elf 2

Time stopped for a moment. My breath caught in my throat. It wouldn’t been until years later that I felt a jolt like that, and that was when I first met the woman who would become my wife. At 7, I didn’t know what the hell had hit me, but I just knew I had to have this magazine. My heart was racing. A cold sweat broke out on my brow. Feverishly, I shoved my hand in my pocket, pulling out a handful of coins. I had to re-count the coins three times before I could ascertain that I was short by a quarter. I was crushed.

In one of those flashes of insight, I grabbed the magazine, raced over to my folks, and asked them to help me pay for it. Distracted as they were at the time (I had chosen to ask them when they were engaged in a discussion with someone), they agreed, and I handed them my sweat drenched coins and placed the issue on the counter. After it was rung up, I made a beeline to the car, jealously clutching my find to my chest. Climbing into the car, I plunked down in my chair and started reading, not knowing what I was getting myself into.

In it’s pages, I saw elves and trolls killing each other. I saw racial hatred, swordplay and blood. lots of blood. I saw decapitations and the troll king’s head on pikes. It was horrific, violent, terrifying and shocking.

I was hooked.

I read that issue a dozen times that first week, even though the first night I suffered from terrible nightmares. That magazine went everywhere with me, becoming a companion of sorts. Eventually, I took it to my cousin’s house and forgot it there – I never saw it again. In the ensuing months and years, I tried to find new issues, to no avail. At 7, I didn’t know it was being published tri-annually, all I knew was that it was never at the newsstands when I looked for it.

A few years passed, I moved across country and then back, still obsessing over finding those mythical books (in my mind, I yearned to read more – fearing I had imagined the magazine). My mom got a job at the local library, and so I spent my days in the stacks, looking for anything and everything I found interesting when I stumbled across Fire and Flight.

fire and flight

 

Suddenly, I felt vindicated. Something that had been missing was no longer missing. I discovered the library had all the current books (at the time), and I checked them out as soon as each one was returned. I was happy again. I started scouring the local book stores, looking for copies that I myself could purchase. As I was a poor kid who didn’t really want to work (It took me a few years to get over that), I never had a whole lot of money to splurge on such things as books. As I continued to read the graphic novels, I discovered book 7 for sale at a time I had some money, so I purchased it (it remains the only ElfQuest book I own).

As the years went on, and it became increasingly difficult to find new issues in town, my interest naturally began to wane, but I never forgot about it.

Recently, I started checking Amazon to see if I could purchase the graphic novels. I was dismayed to see that the average price for them starts around $50, as they’re all out of print. Figuring I would see what I could find online, I discovered that the Pinis have digitized every issue of their series (that they have legal rights too do so), and posted them on their web site, free of charge. While I may not be able to own the dead tree versions of this iconic series, I can at least visit Cutter, Leeta, Skywise, Pike, and the rest of the clans whenever I want.

Now, I can appreciate the nuances of the elves societies in a way that I never understood when I was 7, and completely misinterpreted when I was 13. One thing that will never change however, is the awe that I feel when I look at the artwork that has gone into this story. It is definitely timeless.

To Wendy and Richard Pini, Thank You! for all of your work over the years that you invested into your stories and artwork. Thank you for creating something that means as much to me now, almost 30 years later as it did when I was but a small, impressionable lad of 7. I too hope for the day that we finally get to see the Wolfriders, the Sun Folk, the High Ones, Gliders and Go-Backs in glorious action. But most of all, I look forward to introducing my own kids to the wonder and majesty that is ElfQuest.

 

P.s. All images are copyright Wendy & Richard Pini.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Little Project I’ve Been Working On

 

Due to an increase in questions about what I would suggest for different ages, I threw this extremely brief guide to for parents. The links listed below will take you to a download page. I’ve made both a .docx (MS Word) and PDF (Acrobat) so you can choose your personal preference.

 

Word Version

https://docs.google.com/open?id=0BwHoX8bEa7XWZlJhV29VYnE4elU

 

PDF version

https://docs.google.com/open?id=0BwHoX8bEa7XWZS1qUXA0akdvd1E

 

If you have any questions or comments, please let me know!

Friday, July 6, 2012

The temporal matter of ongoing series

 

Bakuman, a Japanese manga from the group that did the deeply influential Death Note has finished. Now, if you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, please refer to the notes listed below.

If you don’t know what a manga is, start at note 1.

If you don’t know what Death Note is, start at note 2.

If you don’t know what Bakuman us, start at note 3.

If you know all of the above, skip the notes.

Note 1

Manga is the Japanese term for ‘comic book’. Only in Western cultures are manga considered a genre into and of themselves. Manga are an integral part of Japanese society, much the way reality television and compromising one’s morals for money is an integral part of Western culture anymore. Manga cover just about every aspect of Japanese life: there are manga aimed at kids, young men and women, and adults. Topics cover everything – every genre is represented, and it is not uncommon to read a manga about sports, or school, or even something as mundane as going to the store. The majority of manga that is imported is translated into English, but the original format of the book is maintained (it reads from right to left, as opposed to the Western format – left to right), and it does take a little getting used to.

Note 2

Death Note was a series that was originally published in weekly  format from 2003 to 2006. Death Note told the story of a Shingami (a Japanese Death Spirit) who leaves his book of reaping (the Death Note) in the land of humans. A young man by the name of Light Yagami finds the book and discovers that by writing a name in the book and visualizing the person who is named in the book will cause them to die. Filled with a sense of purpose, Light, who contacts the media under the nickname ‘Kira’ (Japanese for ‘killer’) sets out to recreate society by killing off all of the criminal elements in the world. As the police are completely baffled by Kira’s crimes, they call in a world famous detective only known as ‘L’. As the story progresses, it is revealed that L is a young man, around Light’s age, who is intent on catching Kira, and asks Light to help apprehend the villain. What happens from there is one of the most insane games of cat and mouse I have ever personally read. It’s a fantastic series, but definitely for older audiences. Death Note has spawned two live action movies, several video games, and two novels. All twelve books (collecting individual issues) have been released in America, along with a thirteenth book that acts as a reader’s guide. Both novels have been translated into English and can often be found next to the tankĊbons (collected arcs – the equivalent of a trade paper back).

Note 3

Bakuman was the second series that Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata worked on together. In it, they chose to tell the story of two kids who made it their life’s desire to become famous mangaka (comics creators). Moritaka Mashiro and fellow classmate Akito Takagi set out to do manga together. Early on, Mashiro reveals that he has a crush on another classmate, a young girl by the name of Miho Azuki. Takagi talks Mashiro into confessing his love for her, and the two agree that they will marry once he is a famous mangaka whose story has been made into an anime (television adaptation) and she is the voice of the female protagonist. The most fascinating thing I found about this series (at least early on) was the amount of focus that was placed on the technical aspect of publishing a weekly manga (and the fact that even though these guys put in close to 80 hours a week, they barely make anything). Bakuman just recently finished its final story arc. However, it has not been completely released in America yet.

 

Now that we’re up to speed, I just wanted to say that I was very thankful and relived that Bakuman ended when it did. The story line had come to it’s natural conclusion (both in the fictional story Mashiro and Takagi had written) and in the series itself – there was no last minute rush to insert a new wrinkle in the story, nor was there any need to. The story had run its course, the protagonists had faced their obstacles and come out the better for it, and everyone was happy.

Unfortunately, not all stories work that way – both in Japan and America. In Japan, two of the most popular series of all time are Naruto and One Piece. Both are action based manga with male protagonists who are constantly facing impossible odds. Both have the attitude of “I’ll become the best (insert career) the world has ever seen”, and both have a cast of supporting characters that are beloved by fans the world over. The other thing they have in common is the fact that both series are formulaic, and have been running continually for over ten years straight.

That’s right – the same basic premise running from story arc to story arc, for ten. years. Ten freakin’ years! It gets a little old after a while.

Now America is not innocent of this fact either – Superman, Batman, X-men, Captain America, all of these titles have been running for many decades (Superman started in the 40s!), and without fail for the majority of that time, it’s the same formula over and over again. Sure, Marvel and DC try to shake things up by occasionally killing off the character, or having the mantle shift to another player for a while, but in the end, it’s still the same damn story.

I understand the driving force behind it – the company has to make money. If something works, why try and fix it? New fans are always coming into the fold, and if the stories got too far-fetched, these new readers would be completely alienated. But seriously – this is why I don’t follow the monthlies anymore. In the majority of stories, the main character faces off against a bad guy, flexes his (or her) muscles, throws down, suffers a set-back of some sort, and ultimately defeats the villain. Yes, this is a gross oversimplification, and I’m well aware of Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero’s Journey’ aspect of these stories, but far too often, it feels as though the characters are being cut and pasted from one situation to the next, while the villains are being introduced through a revolving door of issues.

Disembodied voice: “Now serving number 78, number 78.”

Villain of the week: "Oh goodie! It’s only been six issues since I last faced off against Captain Amazing Pants! Thank god my insurance covered my jaw being reconstructed!”

Perhaps I’m just cynical, maybe I’m too hung up on the 80s and 90s aspects of storytelling. I don’t know, but this is one of the main reasons I stick with self-contained graphic novels. The possibility of the same damn thing happening over and over again is kept to a minimum.

Am I wrong about recycled story lines? Has this become just a Eastern issue? Let me know in the comments.

Friday, March 2, 2012

From Aside to Soliloquy in Geek Minor

 

So tonight, I managed to freak out my children by whooping and hollering in the car while we were sitting outside the drive-up window of a local restaurant chain. I had just gotten an email stating that my paper proposal had been accepted for a literary conference this summer.

Now, several hours later, the giddiness has worn off, and in it’s place, a profound sense of  “holy shit, what the hell did I just get myself into” has managed to settle itself (rather uncomfortably, I might add) on my chest, much like the incubi of old were said to sit upon a sleeping man’s chest and steal his life away.

“But why?” You may be asking, “Why must you feel this way? Are you not versed in the literary arts?” Well, yes, for the most part, I am, but this is an entirely new situation. And as such, throws my entire sense of self into turmoil. Once again I feel as if I am trapped within the confines of High School, doubting my abilities to communicate, to fit in, to be accepted as one who belongs. I’m wracked with doubts. I fear my ability to write, much less engage in coherent behavior. Questions burble to the surface “what if my presentation falls flat?, what if I set fire to the stage?, what if I accidentally insult Scott McCloud?, what if I can’t afford to go?” And then, after working myself into a frenzied panic of hyperventilation and bad “what if…” scenarios that would put Marvel to shame, I take a few deep breaths, slap myself a few times, and realize the most important thing.

There’s no point in giving up now. I’ve always prided myself on doing things on a large scale. Either I succeed soundly, or I fail – spectacularly. So, gentle reader, I will attend this conference this summer. I will present my paper, and the cosmic forces who pull the strings will flip a coin and decide how everything will turn out.

And in the aftermath, I will sit there, in the flaming wreckage that resulted from either my success or my failure, probably drinking from an ice-cold Blue Moon, and I’ll realize that the true force in the universe is actually a DC Villain by the name of Harvey ‘Two-Face’ Dent.

 

I apologize for the theater references in the title… been reading Hamlet again.