Category Archives: Comics
This post was a long time coming. The moment that “One More Time” teaser came out in 2012, it was just a matter of when the swan song would begin playing in my head. I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d play it, but now that Phonogram will play silent forever, I think it’s time I put this out. This is more of a last serenade, just a friendly tune of an attempt in showing my appreciation for the work Gillen/McKelvie and others have done. So, time to put the needle on the vinyl, get this LP going.
Now What You’ve Done, Beetlebum, Get Nothing Done
Months before I started reading Phonogram I had medical issues that destroyed my writing habits. Before that I had a good amount of comic scripts and short story scraps that I were worth exploring, but my brain was annihilated by strong brain medication and underlying fear. It was the beginning of what would become a rather terrible time, and I wanted the words in my head out of them and onto paper to serve as a catharsis, but try as I might, the words coming out of me were shit. I look back at it now and I realized I could have been stronger, but I’m still glad I was weaker, or else I probably wouldn’t come back to this familiar path.
You Won’t Find It By Yourself, You’re Gonna Need Some Help
Comics, my everlasting redeemer, brought me back. It wasn’t Phonogram immediately, however. Another writer who in the past works as a totemic symbol got me going – Warren Ellis. I finally read Planetary, which I had not read before, and the fact it was heavily referential served well for the road ahead. There was something about the fact that the resident hacker, who went by the name of The Drummer, could produce links to the occult. It’s an odd stretch to connect his breed of abilities to phonomancy, but comics and sympathetic magic can work that way.
Magic By Any Other Definition Of The Word
Yes, about sympathetic magic. Simply put, it is magic performed when its effect resembles its cause – “like produces like.” Music is my shamanic totem, voodoo doll, and haunted weapon that connects to the arcane. When there’s a song that plays, one that fills my ears and endorphins drown my brain, things get metaphysical. I feel like I can read the face of everyone in the club’s crowd, or harness male aggression into audio witchcraft. The moments I’m alone in my room and the music is set to ignorant levels, I feel like I’m in true sonic santero mode and sing like Freddie goddamned Mercury. And then, I find that there was a book toying with that very concept? It’s like someone was telling me from the ether, whispering “Here Garay, is the grimoire you have been asking for all your life.” How could I refuse that mystic offer?
We Are Now For Your Inspiration, Soundtrack To The Times
I’ll admit this immediately – before I immersed into Rue Britannia my knowledge of Britpop was very rudimentary. It went only as far as a documentary I stumbled on the TV years ago, “Live Forever – The Rise And Fall of Britpop.”
It was still not enough. From the get-go the shameless, arrogant David Kohl at first did not serve as an easy teacher of the musical lore of 90s British music. But that didn’t stop me from reading. It was the way Kieron Gillen described Kohl’s obsession to Britpop, and Jamie McKelvie’s depictions of phonomancy that made the story come alive. The expressions on the way McKelvie drew faces – Kohl’s shit-eating grins, the faces of Britannia, etc. – as Gillen waxed poetic on magic/music were ace. It read like parts of conversations I’ve had before, or wish I had. Phonogram was simultaneously impenetrable and accessible, an indie rock band telling you it’s better than you but holding your hand with simple hooks that stick to your ribs.
Rue Britannia was important to me because it validated an attempt at writing, at least in some form. I may not have known a goddamn thing about Kenickie, or Kula Shaker, or a shit-ton of other things in that first arc, but it was in a world where I could feel my obsession for music, or recalling an old scene, and capturing the other-worldliness of it. And if that can be done, if you can make the occult from the mundane, then anything is possible.
[Yes, I’m doing a glossary, I’m putting references in this post, why wouldn’t I? Deal with it.]
Story Of A Charmed Man – Modified play on “story of a charmless man,” from the song “A Charmless Man” by Blur. Yes, I was gonna make a Britpop reference out of the motherfuckin’ gate.
“One More Time” – Opening song of Daft Punk’s Discovery album. I shouldn’t have to put this here, they play this song at weddings now.
“Now what you done, Beetlebum…” – First song from Blur’s self-titled album. My favorite song by the band. I believe it’s about heroin.
“You won’t find it in yourself…” – Part of the chorus to “Come On Let’s Go” by Broadcast. They were a really good neo-psychedelia band. It’s a shame the lead singer died.
Warren Ellis – Writer of comics and novels. Most known for Transmetropolitan, The Authority, Crooked Little Vein, and others. His work can been seen in movies like Red and inspired parts of Iron Man 3.
Planetary – Seminal Warren Ellis comic, a story of archaeologists of the weird. Each issue is a great send-up to pop culture references.
Magic by any other definition of the word – David Kohl says this in Phonogram: Rue Britannia #1. Right after he uses his powers to get into a club.
Santero – Name for practitioner of Santeria, the predominant Latin American form of witchcraft.
Freddie Mercury – Lead singer of Queen. If you don’t know who that is to begin with…well, you need Jesus, or the Devil, or Stephen Hawking to save you, kid.
We are now for your inspiration… – Part of lyrics to“Nightlife” by Kenickie. I kinda fucks with this song, although not with the band.
Britpop – Mid-90s British rock/pop. Really British mid-90s rock/pop. Influenced by the history of guitar music from their beloved kingdom. Bands include Oasis, Blur, Elastica, Pulp, etc.
Kenickie – British pop punk band. “Iggy Pop’s atom bomb and Dusty Springfield’s Hiroshima’s eye shadow”, as David Kohl says in Rue Britannia.
Kula Shaker – Late Britpop band. I’m pretty sure the only thing they made of consequence stateside was their cover of “Hush”. In agreement with Gillen, they’re kinda basura.
I made it a point to wait until a few issues before I posted anything on this comic. I of course, am thoroughly enjoying it as I have all Gillen/McKelvie joints, and this modern pantheon drama hits many things, simultaneously, that I will perhaps go into detail in future posts. For the time being, here is a small ramble. 1-2-3-4.
Godhood is a violent prospect. The life/death cycle, avatar-esque nature of deities across all mythologies (Greek, Egyptian, Mesosamerican, etc.) come down to one thing – the wonder is as bloody as it is holy. There is the primordial chaos of Tiamat, the fratricide of Cronos and his children, and Odin ripping an eye out for wisdom. It makes sense that the cold open of The Wicked + The Divine is a destructive one. It is a modern creation myth, an Enûma Eliš of sorts, not because Gillen and Mckelvie are making modern versions of dragons and monsters but because they want to let you know this is how it will be. In the faces of the four Jazz-Age young gods – resolute, nonchalant, excited, and hesitant – they prepare for a cataclysmic end. It is a small microcosm of what will come to pass in all stories. The light of creation does not come peacefully in Gillen/McKelvie’s story, but in fire and destruction. This is also true in Ananke’s transformation of Lucifer . If Laura were to become a god at some point during the series, which is doubtful, her transformation will be just as rough.
And honestly, how bad is the construction of your modern gods – your cherished musicians, artists and writers? Consider the myriad abuse, drugs, poverty and mental difficulties. Consider that Philip K. Dick was constantly broke, paranoid, and had hallucinatory episodes. You have Van Gogh, of course, along with Basquiat who even with all his fame in life still had a crippling heroin addiction. The concept of the life/death of the WicDiv gods is an interesting 27 Club of sorts that will be interesting to see unfold as the story progresses.
The millennial updates of the gods in WicDiv is intriguing to me from many points, one of them my lapsed South American Catholic one. Latin American Catholicism is a mix of saints with orishas, relics mixed with the roots of the land. Even witchcraft has connection to the cross. My connection vis-à-vis WicDiv comes through the Lord of Lies, The Adversary, Apollyon, The Lightbringer, etc. etc. Lucifer is a very powerful character to Catholics – even my brother, who also does not follow the faith as much anymore, has a tattoo of the devil getting his ass kicked by St. Michael the Archangel.
One must wonder in the world of the comic what would be on the backs of her followers when they take off their white suits. Would it be a giant graphic of the morning star sigil, or will it be Luci standing in a pose similar to Bowie in his Thin White Duke era, grinning as she stands over a dead angel in the pits of hell? If you were a follower of Luci, what would be tattooed on yours? That simple morningstar, perhaps an unchained Lucifer from an idea you came up with in the middle of a coke binge one night? If it was a theoretical me, given that my shift comes from recovering Catholic to believer in a sartorial sinful goddess, my tat would be…well, I don’t know. It will come to me in time.
The Morrigan/Baphomet scene feeds all those parts of your body when you go into an underground show. There were two shows I had been to that came to mind when I read that scene. The first was in a warehouse in New Jersey where a DJ was playing house music and a man put up sheet rock as a makeshift bar/lounge. The drinks were horrible of course but the crowd was fun. As always, things ended abruptly the moment red-and-blue lights made their appearance from the windows outside. The second show was a more peculiar setting – a Chinatown dim sum restaurant closed for the night – but the DJ was more exciting. Crystal Castle’s Alice Glass was headlining, and of course everyone was sweating out their water/booze/drugs in anticipation for her to come out. And when she did it was well worth it.
Those two moments fit Baphomet and Morrigan. Baphomet is that dingy warehouse, the pounding music as energy leading to something ominous. While getting caught by the five-o is not as dire as death-by-phantasms, the prospect still gets your heart racing as you make your way past decades-old rebar and crumbling brick. Morrigan is seeing Glass jump over the knobs and sound system to stand over the crowd (took a photo of it here on a crappy phone camera), becoming the lord as she always does at a show lit only by tea candles and two party lights. A dark goddess playing whatever the hell she wanted, everyone thinking she was perfect, and the crowd loving every second of it.
So 2010 was a fun year for music for me. Two of my favorite albums were Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy score. WicDiv’s Baal and Woden are avatars of my 2010 music love. Baal’s red suit and the mural in its Michelangelo-esque glory – which was an amazing synthesis of McKelvie and Nathan Fairbairn – is undeniably MBDTF-era Kanye.
As for Woden, not only is he wearing a Guy-Manuel de Homnem-inspired helmet, but the rest of his suit and that of his valkyrie come straight from The Grid. All he is missing is a light-cycle in that panel to really seal the image. This continues with the rest of the gods. Amaterasu’s aesthetic is in full Florence Welch, flame-red hair and long gowns suiting her. Baphomet mirrors an early Andrew Eldritch, shirtless and wearing a black leather jacket and sunglasses just like in the “This Corrosion” music video:
The Morrigan is a three-part goddess all connected to her Celtic roots, but the primary one is a Kate Bush/Lorde ultra-goth hybrid of the dark. Sekhmet appears to have a Sky Ferreira/Grimes look to her. The most enigmatic of all is Ananke, who has no easy or modern pop cultural frame of reference to work with. She is necessity personified, sure, but I imagine from an aesthetic perspective what was necessary to make her.
As the story progresses I think I may come up with more WicDiv posts. For the time being, I’ll continue counting, and snapping, and counting and snapping…
I had been to smaller conventions before – The Nova Albion Steampunk Exhibition in 2011 and PAX East this year, but New York Comic-Con was the first time I almost felt overwhelmed going through crowds of cosplayers, garden-variety geeks, and bewildered parents of tween Homestruck fans (which I honestly don’t get, or maybe I really am old). I didn’t really take in the full con at first due to working on Thursday and my Friday was severely cut from an immense pain in my feet from a beforehand walking from the New York Public Library down to Union Square in a “team-building” exercise for work.
I did manage to get a primary target out of the way on Friday despite the pain. I wanted to get my copies of Pax Romana and The Nightly News signed by Jonathan Hickman, the writer/artist of the books. For those that don’t know, both are indie graphic novels in which the former’s premise answered the question of what history would be like if the Middle Ages had never happened, and the latter involves terrorists against the media. Hickman’s current run on Fantastic Four was pretty good as well, seeing as you know, actually got me to read FF comics for the first time without tossing them back into a bin somewhere.
When it was my time to speak to him, I told Hickman as he signed my books that his run on Fantastic Four was the first time I had ever cared about them.
“Me too!” he responded.
I had my friend Phil take a photo of me with Hickman.
Oh, one more Friday photo of note is that of writer/artist and Kabuki creator David Mack.
Saturday was the true slog, however. I had convinced to take my mother, sister, and brother-in-law around the convention to their first huge convention. I had no internet/phone service from the moment I got within yards of the Jacob Javits Center, and after finding all of them more than an hour later, I lost them in the first fifteen to twenty minutes of walking around with them. I knew it would be pointless to find them in the crowd, so I walked around until more of my friends showed up. From there on out I walked around, taking photos of cosplayers. Here are some of the greatest hits from the entire con:
The above photo is a good segue for an interesting part of my con experience. I am fascinated with the steampunk scene. I used to own these great goggles but I lost them in the move back to Jersey. I saw this old man from Michigan selling them at a reasonable price (as if there is a reasonable price for gear of that sort) which included magnifier glasses. Phil said something that proved to be correct: ladies love cool goggles:
To be a complete attention whore about my new gear, I kept them on my head. even when I left the con to get food. I had a female tourist sitting outside a restaurant ask about them, and I had a group of women staring at me the entire time I was at a nearby dive bar. I wasn’t in the mood to start a conversation, however. The real test of the theory though? Her:
She politely complimented me on my goggles after I took this photo. That pretty much validated the purchase.
My final (and probably most important) target of the convention happened on the final day. I wanted to meet Phonogram and current Journey Into Mystery writer Kieron Gillen. To put it simply, Gillen is one of my new heroes. Gamer writer (he founded Rock Paper Shotgun), music geek on a level I’ve never been to (seriously, read the original and see just how much Britpop you really know), and apparently pretty solid at conventional comics seeing as the line in the 3:00-4:00 time frame comprised entirely of his fans, mostly young teenage girls obsessed with his Journey Into Mystery run. I normally like to chat with people in line, but seeing as I along with my associate Rob were probably a good ten years older than the people behind and in front of us, we both kept quiet.
I had brought two things for him to sign: one was a trade of his short run on the quickly cancelled SWORD from Marvel, and his sequel to the original Phonogram, The Singles Club. When it was my time to speak, I had put the SWORD trade on top. I slid them over to him and said:
“I bought the first one to keep the Marvel thing going but..”
I then slid it over to show the Phonogram trade. He smiled and did that British thing where they tip the side of their nose. I went off and told him that Phonogram was my Velvet Underground (to understand that, there’s this old anecdote that the first VU album did not do well financially, but it helped inspire and start many bands) in that he helped validate some of my old ideas of the connection between music and magic. I also told him he stole my idea of using TV On The Radio’s “Wolf Like Me” as a story title and premise. He told me that the same thing had happened to him, only that it was Alan Moore of Watchmen and V for Vendetta fame that took it.
“I took that as compliment,” he said. After that, he asked me if I’m still writing, which is very much the case. He signed my copy with the words “WRITE!!!” and “Music=Magic”, which is the tag of the entire Phonogram series. Rob took this photo of me with Gillen:
Afterwards, I walked around and bought more random stuff in the name of consumerism and went home. Overall, I had a blast. Can’t wait for next years.
The truth was, I had no idea Grant Morrison was doing a book signing for Supergods until Rob sent me the link from Bleeding Cool on Monday of that week, proceeded by the words “DO IT NOW!” I was hesitant to go, since he should have been my wingman guarding my six on the way to Isotope Comics, where the event was being held at. That, of course, was impossible since he works in Midtown Manhattan and I work in the Financial District in San Francisco. Asking any of my Bay Area friends was out of the question; I am the only comic nerd in a gaming industry circle.
So, after waking up on a clear Saturday morning I put on a black long sleeve undershirt and my totem, the Magneto t-shirt Rob gave me for my birthday. Gwen dropped me off at the local train station. I walked upstairs to a platform of bright orange children zipping by me, holding teddy bears wearing hats with the staggered S and F of the Giants logo. I should have checked for baseball game days along with the weather, I thought, and my bright red shirt gave me a chill of self-consciousness to go with the breeze. I performed my staple maneuver when I have a stain on my shirt, a stretching of my arms downwards and across the point of interest. I stopped when I realized that there would be no way to cover the face of Magneto against Brian Wilson’s mountain-man beard. Ten minutes later I jumped on the (now expected) packed bullet train and slipped through the baseball fans. I sent a text message to Rob, telling him about my fashion mistake, but his response was befitting to the words on my shirt.
” Lincecum is wrong. Magneto Was Right.”
I got off on the Civic Center BART an hour later. The walk from there to Isotope was fine save for the Van Ness Ave wind tunnel. Once I crossed Van Ness the city slipped from office and government buildings to the small shops, food carts, and trees of Hayes Valley. Isotope Comics is a shop and lounge run by James Sime, a wild-haired man in suits that are a couple of question marks away from a mad Riddler. The rest of his employees also wore interesting attire that fit Sime’s attire: a woman with a short blond bob cut and tight black dress manning the register and a man with a tight mohawk, black suit, and Chuck Taylors looking either like a nervous bouncer or the doorman to a ska show. Despite his sneakers, I still felt under-dressed. The clash between the comic geek part of me used to other comic shops run by men in ratty band or nerd tees, and the Catholic school part of me that enjoys wearing suit jackets and a nice pair of slacks, was in full effect.
“I know I’m ten million hours early,” I told her. I gave her my name, grabbed my ticket, told her I’d come back to get my copy of the book (which was a part of the package), and went to grab lunch at a really good diner. To my surprise, when I came back an hour later the amount of fans also hanging around for the signing were still at the same “count on my fingers” level that it was at when I left.
Morrison came in ten minutes later, along with his wife. Sime walked down from the second floor reading room, already set up with a draft table for the signing, and greeted both. Morrison was standing two feet away from me. My thoughts flashed back to when Kali and I bumped into Mos Def wearing a fez at a DOOM concert back in college. I geeked out on that occasion, but not this time, mostly because I started reading one of the trades written by him to keep my cool.
I instinctively picked up New X-Men; that was the one that got me into his work. It was a breath of fresh air for me, one that came from the open window Morrison used to throw continuity out of. The costumes changed from spandex to a more utilitarian version that was step or two above the ones made for the movies. The shirt I was wearing was a direct reference to his run, a piece of mutant fashion wore by the rebellious Kid Omega during the “Riot at Xavier’s” arc.
I grabbed my copy when the fans made their way to the lounge, surrounded by indie comics in pamphlet form and toilet seat covers with art and scripts from creators, with Sime standing across from the Dr. Strange costume on display. Morrison was sitting at the table right next to Strange’s cape.
I was number 6, and number 5 was a guy holding five books to his chest, in comparison to the one book in my hand. I turned around to see Number 7 holding three singles in polymer bags and her copy of Supergods. While number 4 chatted with Grant I had a chat with number 5 that consisted of, “hey you take my photo with him and I’ll take yours.”
I started another conversation, this time with numbers 7 and 8. Number 7, who later introduced herself as Klassy, was a Filipina girl living in SF for the last two years. I never learned number 8′s name, but he was a nice curly-haired guy from out-of-town rocking a faded white tee with the X-Men wrapped around it. He only had one single and the book, but I still felt like I cheated myself for not bringing my copy of New X-Men in my bookcase back home.
Then I looked down at Magneto. ” Could you hold my book?” I asked Klassy. She obliged and I took off the shirt. I was glad it was clean, as putting it in a frame with an odor would haunt me in small way for the rest of my life (or until I lost it, which knowing me is very possible).
Number 5 left and I took his place on a cushioned bench next to Morrison. We shook hands, I introduced myself, and braced myself for the fact that his Glaswegian tongue has been completely indecipherable to me when I’ve seen interviews on him. I started off with a fumble, asking him about what is down the pipeline for him as if I hadn’t read about his upcoming Action Comics run in September. I used it to find words through his vocal Ghillie suit. The first thing that caught my attention was how soft his tone of voice was as he shook his head to the side, saying “Well…” and still not really understanding the rest.
So then, I went straight to what I’ve meant to say to him. ”First off, I’d like to say I’ve been championing your X-Men run for ten years. My friends hated it because of continuity, but fuck the haters.”
He shook his head as I said it, doing another “Well…” but I paid close attention this time. “…Marvel has, I don’t know,” he said, looking a bit exasperated. “The thing is, Marvel was made by three geniuses, Lee, Kirby, and Ditko, who made characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. They’re characters that are realistic, that makes it harder for writers to work with. DC gives you more freedom because of the ideas the characters represent…” his voice went into a softer tone at this point. I couldn’t hear his words, but by now I was appreciating at how much of a normal guy he was. My image of Morrison consisted of a dapper man in bright suits and sunglasses , or staring right at me with a maniacal smile from his interview for Coilhouse. Here he was, wearing a simple black shirt for his upcoming western movie Sinatoro (which reminded me of the photo shoot scene in Lost In Translation where Bill Murray is asked to do a Sinatra pose), almost whispering at me while we huddled over the drafting table.
After that, he signed my book, and smiled at my shirt before signing it . I took some ( mediocre) shots as he put his pen below the words on it, first in a writing pose, then in a painterly one for a better image. Number 8 and Klassy asked me where I got it from; you can get it here from the wonderfully nerdy people at MightyFine. I shook Grant’s hand again as we both stood up and handed Sime my camera. He took two photos of me and him, one of us smiling and the other one with me in a ridiculous Jersey pout and Grant leaning towards my head. I had yet another handshake, said goodbye and went back downstairs.
I didn’t leave the store immediately. I sat down on the bean bag sofas near the entrance and talked with other fans waiting to hear their number. I continued my conversation with Klassy, who received adoration and envy from the others after getting her iPad signed by Morrison, along with a sketch of Batman’s profile. Sime came down to get a clearer photo to post on Twitter, and after revealing her cinephilic nature to me she received my customary Top Five question. As expected, this sparked a conversation. another number, 39 (or Michael, which I learned after introducing myself an hour later) sat at my left. He is a regular who stops by on his way home from work. We talked about nostalgia, the 90s, Kyle Rayner (we argued about the mask), and the normal kids/music combo that happens when you’re talking to a person in their 40s. On my right was 24 who, to my surprise, was reading New X-Men for the first time. I held back from trying to sell him into loving the book, I try my best at not being that kind of fan anymore (at least in public).
I planned to stay for the after hours event at the bar, but then learned that I had only paid for the signing. It didn’t bother me I still bought the cup celebrating the event and thanked the woman at the register before walking towards the BART. The truth is, even as I look back now, what stood out were the people I met and the place than the moment I had with Morrison. While he was great for being humble and mundane, I’m always more interested in characters like Klassy the geeked out fan and Michael the grizzled but polite veteran. I remember my careful reading of Supergods on a beer drenched train ride home, careful not to let any drunk Giants fan get their beer near me. I of course geeked out on my chair once I was back home.
I have every right to, though:
I friggin’ met Grant Morrison.
Kanye West, despite what you may think of his personality or rapping skills (he’s at about a 5 out of 10 in my MC-O-Meter), does make for good internet memes. Our newest Kanyeme is Kanye + Comics from Chris Haley of Let’s Be Friend’s Again fame, which combines lines from Yeezy’s tracks with panels and images from comic books. It’s surprisingly effective as can be seen from this example:
My favorite though?
(And yes, I know that my title references Ma$e, Diddy, and Biggie Smalls and not Ye, but I’m working on my own Yeezy + Comics right now, so stuff it.)
Now, THIS is an mash-up done right, courtesy of SharkBomb from deviantART:
Reading a new interview from Alan Moore always reminds me of one of his greats: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I’m sure most will only remember the godawful Sean Connery movie, but the comic portrayed Victorian literary characters in a great steampunk English backdrop against a Cavorite-hunting Professor Moriarty and the War of the Worlds itself. Moore is still writing the series, with the next part of Vol. 3 -Century being released sometime in 2011. With that in mind, I started wondering what other characters made throughout the century would fit in this illustrious and highly dysfunctional super-heroic team?
Dr. Victor Frankenstein: Every team needs a Henry Pym, and having one of fiction’s most famous mad scientists on the team would definitely help. I can even see him as a sort of forensic scientist that can aid the team in figuring out how to properly dissect a shoggoth when they land on English soils. You know he can also bring some bruisers to the fight, provided you give him a lab, a graveyard, and a slaughterhouse.
Lara Croft: Now before anyone freaks out, think about it. She has all the fighting and shooting skills that the current team’s adventurer, Alan Quatermain, has and then some. Seeing that Moore is taking references from TV shows for Century, I don’t see why it would be much of a stretch to take one of the more famous video game references (besides licensing issues, of course) and put her on the team. She’s also British to boot.
The Doctor: While some might call this choice a bit overpowered, bringing one of British sci-fi’s largest exports over could make for an interesting team member if done right.I mean, think about it: the Doctor as written by Alan Moore? you know the Time Lord is going to end up pretty twisted.
Nick Haflinger: Now this character isn’t known to many sci-fi fans, but he was the hacker protagonist in the novel The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner. The book was published in 1975, way before the cyberpunk genre blew up. This book started the use of the word “worm” as a self-replicating computer program. Although his tools are pretty outdated now, as he used public telephones to make new identities, developing him into a reverse anachronistic character for a League in the ’60s and ’70s is a good idea. He could use computer/programming concepts that wouldn’t exist yet, and serve as a bridge between dystopian characters like Winston Smith from older stories like 1984 (covered in another League story, Black Dossier) and the crazed hackers that had yet to come out from writers like William Gibson or Neal Stephenson.
Hannibal Lecter: An excellently cultured serial killer, Lecter’s medical and psychiatric knowledge is of great use to a team when trying to hunt other psychopaths down. If the fact that in Hannibal Rising a young Lecter is given kick-ass kenjutsu skills is added , this plus his intense way of messing with people’s minds would make him a great anti-hero on par with Midnighter from the Authority. Imagine it: He gets in the bad guys’ heads, makes them slip up once, and then slices them up in preparation for a wonderful dinner.
At some point, whether it’s been you or someone you know, this scenario has occurred after walking out of a theater after watching a movie adapted from a deeply loved comic book/graphic novel: Arms are up in the air. Ham-fisted lines from the movie are repeated, dripping with sarcasm and ridicule. Every other sentence starts with “But in the original…” and “He (or she) could have been so much better if…” and it continues this way until eventually the disappointment and rage culminates into a long moan, decrying that the Hollywood machine has again torn apart and whip-stitched together their favorite story and placed nipples on it, or worse.
This, of course, isn’t new to the average bibliophile; even at the literary novel level, nerds as famous as Salman Rushdie weighed in on why so many books don’t make for good movies. But for many it seems like it should be different with comics, as they are a visual medium by design, and many filmmakers like to see them as ready-made storyboards for a movie. There is more to it however, and by looking at a couple of examples you’ll see that there are many ways to tackle this type of production.
The first thing to mention is that most moviegoers have been tricked: they’ve seen more comic book adaptations than they care to admit. Sure, not all of them are cape and tights affairs like the Spider-Man and Batman movie series, but there has been accolades for movies like A History of Violence and The Road To Perdition, the latter being an adaptation of one of comic-book writer Frank Miller’s favorites, Lone Wolf and Cub. Even on the more fantastical and blockbuster approach, there have been movies like The Crow and Men In Black, both originally comic books, which have become so wildly popular from their movie adaptations that most fans don’t even know that there was a source material.
On the topic of source material, the idea of the letter and the spirit should be, in theory, what drives any adaptation to a certain degree. Omissions or artistic liberties for the sake of cost or vision will occur, like in any other movie production. It is only in keeping to the comic that the chances a movie becomes another serious misfire like Batman and Robin, Catwoman, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Fantastic Four and Ghost Rider is diminished. These are all movies which, when viewed, look as if they threw the source material out the window in order to appease a miscast star actor or to fulfill some sort of fan-fiction fantasy in celluloid form.
With that in mind, let’s go back to Frank Miller. He’s gotten a bit of buzz outside the comic world since he and Robert Rodriguez made what was a shot-by-shot remake of his own Sin City comics on the silver screen to rave reviews on all fronts. However, Miller being Miller, he didn’t stop there and tried his luck with adapting Wil Eisner’s seminal The Spirit. Like his own most recent comic work, it was not well-received, mostly because he forgot that unlike Sin City, The Spirit wasn’t ultra-violent noir, but a pulp comic. You would think that he, being good friends with the late Eisner, would know that, but it seems like his own ego got in the way of making a good movie.
That’s not to say that a movie made slavishly panel-by-panel from the comic is a guaranteed critical success on either front. For example, look at Watchmen. Director Zack Snyder was incredibly faithful to the comic, from the visual production that literally took notes from original artist Dave Gibbons down to the use of songs in particular scenes, placed in reference to Alan Moore’s own use of music in his own work. Snyder’s previous movie had also been a shot-by-shot comic-book adaptation, 300, one that fit his hyper-stylized visual style and use of slow motion action scenes.
While that was enough for a sword-and-sandals movie, Snyder could only use that to cover the ultra-violent slow-motion action scenes in Watchmen, while his attempt of faithfulness to the comic still missed a good deal of the characterization and a depth that Moore filled his story. Instead, it seemed as if he padded it with Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” for a Snyder-styled sex scene and a whole slew of inappropriate soundtrack bites in his attempt make it true to the source. Despite the mixed reviews on both the film and comic critics’ fronts, the movie has been a success, but it does go to show that no matter how devoted to the source material a director is, they will still make decisions that are not congruent with the source.
Adapting a story from its core and omitting certain parts, when done in the right hands, can prove to make the better decision. Going back to A History of Violence, the screenplay written by Josh Olson is a vast departure from the graphic novel (director David Cronenberg hadn’t even heard of the graphic novel until later in production), yet still keeps to the basics of a man hiding from a horrible crime-ridden past and its effects on his family in a small Midwestern town. The movie also gets a lot of casting decisions right with Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, and Ed Harris who all make great performances. Then again, this movie is one of the lucky ones, as the graphic novel’s obscurity and ability for wide cinematic appeal make it a rarity.
How do you do that for comics with either the potential for wide appeal like Kick Ass or the fan boy credibility of Scott Pilgrim? Those two are of course pointed out because they have been recently released and are widely different comics to boot. First, let’s look at Kick-Ass. Despite comic writer Mark Millar’s own over the top pandering, he actually made a smart move by going a route similar to that of Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick when they made 2001: A Space Odyssey. Millar worked concurrently with director Matthew Vaughn, writing the script and the comic at the same time. Clearly this was always part of his plan, as he optioned the comic to Universal before the first issue had even hit comic book stores. Say what you will about the comic (Chris Sims over at ComicsAlliance is definitely not a fan), the movie actually takes a story that is basically heroic violence porn and made enough changes in the source material to make a fun, humorous take on the superhero genre.
The story is the same for Scott Pilgrim vs. World, as writer/artist Byran Lee O’Malley helped Edgar Wright and Michael Bacall with their adapted screenplay while he was still working on the Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels. What actually makes this production interesting is in how O’Malley took lines from the screenplay and put it in the comic. Even the Gideon Graves character in comic was heavily influenced by Jason Shwartzman’s portrayal of him in the movie. The word “organic” is used far too many times when describing creative processes, but in this case, it’s a pretty accurate description.
When reality sinks in, however, both movies had a mixed box office reception at best (at least of Kick-Ass), or in the case of Scott Pilgrim overshadowed by movies that grab a wider audience or by ludicrous criticisms of sexism. No matter how someone makes the movie, most comic-book adaptations only get as successful as Ghost World or the Hellboy movies, which barely made enough to cover its budget, but became a cult hit to a niche audience. While it does make perfect sense to make an indie movie out of an indie comic, the truth is most studios are trying to make the next The Dark Knight. With the amount of comic-book adaptations that are on their way, there’s a good chance it might happen, but the law of averages can easily make it so that one movie will send us all back to Schumacher country again.
What is a director/producer/writer to do to make sure that doesn’t happen? There are two options available now. One is to take an existing A-List character from the Big Two and hope to God that they can find the balance between making a fun movie and a faithful one, lest they get destroyed by both fan boys and the public. The other is to find an indie comic and work under-the-radar to make something unique, and maybe get some critical and financial success, but live on as a 3AM TV favorite for small audiences. New filmmakers need to find a real third option where both of those two are executed. Some are already trying it now, but as moviegoers, we need to support the good ones. That’s the only way we can make more of them happen.
It’s pretty sad that the death of a character like Ryan Choi from The Atom had to happen to bring this up, but now many fans and writers alike are starting to come up with a very important question: why are the minorities always getting shafted in comic books? The Atom is not an A-list DC superhero, but Choi, for many, brought a refreshing take on a character that most fans didn’t care much about. This was the beginning point of Chris Sims’ article on how regressing to old school characters is bringing an unintentional whitewashing of the DCU.
Thing is, he’s not the only case: Jaime Reyes, the current Blue Beetle, has already lost his comic run and will most likely get screwed over in the future in order for original Blue Beetle Ted Kord to get his moment, despite the fact that the Kord Beetle’s comic sales were abysmal unless he got shoved into another book. Add to that the unnecessary racial tension between the characters Jason Rausch and Ronnie Raymond in Brightest Day, along with fan responses to Dwayne McDuffie’s JLA roster a few years back, and you see how there is no love for minority characters.
It’s not just in DC, either. Ryan Mullenix at Bleeding Cool made a list of what has happened to many of the minority characters in comics, and it’s not pretty. i09 also jumped into the fray, with comments from Marvel’s Tom Brevoort and Boom! Comics’ Mark Waid basically saying because the readership of comics mostly comprised of Caucasians, most of the characters are going to follow that suit as well.
First off, it’s fair to say that DC is not actively being racist, they are just merely far too wrapped up in the nostalgia of the Silver Age to realize how the “good ol’ days” were mostly made up of white guys. With so many compelling, popular characters of different backgrounds created since then, it seems like a horrible misstep to just wipe them out for the sake of shock value or for whatever grand scheme it is they’re working on. They should also remember that a lot of us are from a generation that grew up with characters like Kyle Rayner (who is also a minority character, I found out) and for us it’s mind-boggling to see him get sent to the back burner just to bring back Hal Jordan, who despite all the great work Geoff Johns’ run has done for him, is still not terribly that interesting a character.
Comic books are such an odd medium, as massive world-shattering events happen just for the sake of fixing the status quo. You’d think they would use it to make some real progress, but lately it just feels like they are trying so hard to appease an older generation. I get that now that it’s their time to write the stories they want to bring back the characters they grew up with, but I don’t see how this helps your already dwindling sales. The people they’re catering to are a shrinking older comic fan base. Shouldn’t they be trying to get the kids back into this? And as for Brevoort’s comments, as a Latino comic nerd I actually find it insulting that they don’t give a crap about us. What, just because Spider-Man is white I’m gonna not read him? It’s that marginalizing of potential minority fans who could be a boon to the industry if they just tried to reach out that’s really frustrating to me.
The truth here is that race isn’t everything, especially in a genre where one of the most widely known characters is a refugee immigrant who has adapted to the American way of a life and is serving his duty as a citizen by saving them from a bald big business lunatic. And Junot Diaz said it best himself when he equated being a Hispanic nerd to being like a mutant fit for Professor X’s school. Comics can tell stories of the universal human experience, regardless if you’re black, Asian, Latino, or white. Please, comic heads, don’t ruin this by pushing things back to the 60s and 70s. Those times are over, move on.