Friday, March 27, 2009

Steve Englehart Speaks!

"Stainless" Steve Englehart, superhero comics's greatest writer, does an audio interview from 2005, when he was doing Darknight Detective.

Steve Englehart Speaks

Incidentally, read the comments to his thread. Comics fans are a garrulous, fractious bunch, and if you get six fans in a room, you get nine opinions. But in one thread, not a single negative comment.

Not. One!

I can't think of anyone that has this effect on comics fans, except maybe Alan Moore.

The only downside is a nauseating narrator, who plays Willie Scott to Englehart's Indiana Jones. "I think there's validity to every version of Batman." Well gee whiz, what's so freakin' special about Englehart then, eh, you dick?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Comics Fans Say the Dumbest Things

Comics fans often remind me of a savage tribe in the South Pacific that's confronted with a solar eclipse. They're confused and enraged, and because they don't understand what's going on, they respond with fear or anger instead of reason. They panic, form themselves into mobs, and concern themselves with violence and apportioning blame: who's blood has to be shed in order to bring the sun back?

So it's no surprise that they start believing the most absurd or outrageous myths. Their basis isn't coherent or even rational; it's just a savage panic that seizes onto the nearest idea.

First and foremost, there's the absurd desire to pursue that chimera, so-called "new readers." This or that book needs to attract newbies to survive, and so forth.

In and of itself this isn't that bad, but its a phrase so overused that it has become in and of itself meaningless, the way "freedom" became a goofy catchphrase to justify whatever outrageously exploitative scheme politicians wanted to ram down our throats.

The argument that comics need to appeal to new readers is often used by so-called "fans" to show that it is necessary to jettison baggage (little, unimportant details like consistent characterization, history and worldbuilding!), which they argue, confuses and angers new readers, like cows caught outside in a hailstorm. If I make this argument sound like it treats "new readers" as if they're stupid and illiterate, that's because it does.

When someone is disoriented by a flurry of unfamiliar names, places and events and don't know what is going on in a story or novel, guess what? They don't stop reading. People that make this argument just don't read things, or haven't read anything in the past twenty or thirty years.

Take any science fiction novel that has been written in the past 40 years, for instance. It won't bother to explain terms or worldbuilding; it throws you right in the thick of the middle. If you can guess what's going on after the first fifty pages of Dune, The Stars My Destination, or Neuromancer, or the average Cordwainer Smith story, you're lying or very, very clever. Yet that hasn't stopped anyone from being enthralled by the Girl Who Sailed the Stars or Paul Atreides.

The truth of the matter is, complex and engrossing worldbuilding is a strength rather than a weakness. Why do the same comics "fans" filled with awe and wonder at startling creations like Tolkien's Middle Earth or the dinosaur filled earth of Harry Harrison's West of Eden novels and then reject superhero comics for doing the very same thing?

Many of these same fans turn against so-called "continuity" because they feel it holds comics back. It's interesting to note that these fans are often DC fans; this particular kind is much rarer over in Marvel-land, because the Marvel Universe was built on the idea that suspension of disbelief is aided by consistency, and that characters have to behave like real people, which includes having a history, being affected, growing and changing as a result of their stories, and the idea that characters shouldn't wildly change because a different writer takes over...and finally, the idea that long-term, serial storytelling done over several issues and possibly even years has far greater entertainment value than sixteen page, compartmentalized little distractions that don't affect anything else.

There is nothing wrong with comics that appeal to the strengths of the fan audience.

Finally, this "logic" is also a false dilemma: either a comic appeals to the reader on the street, OR it appeals to comics fans with big memories. This is patently false.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Truth Betrayed

The most frustrating thing about Peter Schweitzer's THE MOUSE BETRAYED, a story about how Disney was transformed after its founders' death by Eisner and others into something that Walt would find unrecognizable, is that it is sometimes very true: there have been occasions where Disney Theme Parks have kept injuries at their parks secret by transporting wounded visitors to their own facilities instead of to hospitals.

By the far the most surreal anecdote is how at Disneyworld, at least once per day on average in the summertime, one guy in a cartoon character faints from the Florida heat, where they are then shoved into the back of a "Code Blue" van, an internal ambulance. The idea of someone that shoves for a living collapsed Disney characters into an ambulance all day is a pretty bizarre thought.

I got the feeling all while reading this that there was a sort of disingenuousness at work, and it was politically motivated. Only a portion of the book is related to actual, real malfeasance on the part of the Disney company: corruption, mismanaged finances, park injuries, and even one chapter that accuses THE LION KING of plagiarism from the famous KIMBA THE WHITE LION.

(The book was written before the most offensive creative decision, the endless sequelization of everything: Pinocchio II, and so on.)

The majority (two-thirds) of the book are about things that are only bad deeds if you're a right-wing ideologue that rates entertainment in terms of how it subscribes to your ideology instead of any intrinsic value: Disney Parks' tolerance of homosexuals (including the famous "Gay Day"), Disney's multiculturalism (as seen in films like "Pocahontas"). Finally, there's Disney's decision after Eisner to make non-family films under the Miramax label, not "Disney" proper.

The book reads like its top priority is to "score points" and make cheap shots, and there are some occasions where it gets downright sloppy. The moment I realized this book wasn't being honest with the reader was in the first few pages when it lambasted Michael Eisner for supporting the movie WHITE DOG.

The exact quote from the book is like this:

"[Eisner] had insisted on producing WHITE DOG, a movie about a racist canine that attacked only blacks. It was considered so bad it was only shown on basic cable." (Schweitzer, pg. 4)

I can just imagine after writing this diss of a sentence, Peter Schweitzer turned to his wife for a high-five and a BOOYAH! It has the smarmy air of a fratboy slam.

But no one ever considered WHITE DOG a terrible movie; it was denied release because of its incindiary subject matter. It was shown on basic cable not because it was "bad," but because it was the only way to get the movie released after misguided activists and scared suits bailed on its theatrical release. It was just a cheap shot against Eisner, and it bothers me they misportrayed one of my favorite movies to do it.

WHITE DOG was a pull-no-punches, haunting and weird story by one of Hollywood's most subversive directors. The quote above frames WHITE DOG as one the very worst exploitation pictures, a bad concept film like KROG with Joan Crawford, about an unfrozen caveman that goes berserk every time he hears rock music.

I can never find myself ever becoming truly offended about politics or religion. But slam a good movie, or frame it in a false and deceptive way? Now that just ticks me off.

As for the rest of the book, its guilty of an error: assuming that readers will be offended by things the writer clearly finds ofensive. The transformation of Disney from a studio that Tom Hanks once described as "like being at a Greyhound bus station in the fifies" to a slick Hollywood operation just like Paramount, Columbia and the rest is only a truly offensive thing if you buy into the implicit value system the writer may not even be aware is at work, where things that are rural and bucolic are superior to things that are urban; that family entertainment is valued over things that are just for the adults; that in general, things in the past were better than they are today.

For this reason, whenever the writer trotted out something that he invites us to see as tragic, like the idea of a large entertainment corporation having a side arm that produces pornography, it gets a big, fat "so what?" from me.
In the end, that's the most blistering critique I can offer of THE TRUTH BETRAYED: the book only has its effect if you're already a true believer, so it gives you even more to have (self-)righteous ragegasms over. "Gay Day" is only offensive to those that dislike homosexuals. If you're indifferent to the homos, or have a "live and let live" libertarian philosophy, it's impossible to be offended.