Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Understanding Comics, Part One

I've read Understanding before, years ago, and I was astounded. Not because of what McCloud says in it, but rather because I'd found it in my high school library. My shock was profound; Gilford High, bastion of suburban "normality" and regimented schooling, had this epic dissertation on comics. Of course, they didn't have any actual comics along with it so I could examine them in this new light, which raises some serious questions. Why is it that a text on comics is respectable enough for the library, but not the comics it discusses, when the text itself is told as a comic? I can only guess that the answer is something that would probably depress and infuriate me.
Regardless, I've enjoyed this chance to revisit the text that helped me into my current phase as a comics reader. McCloud's work examines comics by means of storytelling, art, and psychology, with their connection to the work of "sequential art" is the overhead concept which only needs refreshing every so often.
However, while I was entranced by the book when I first picked it up, this time I found I knew enough about the craft to occasionally yearn for more specificity than McCloud gives. As I begin to give serious thought to writing actual scripts and submitting them to companies, I find that Understanding is less about what it takes to create comics, and more about what comics are once they've been created. Then again, perhaps this generality is akin to McCloud's point about icons being more applicable; maybe he's sacrificed specificity to reach the widest possible audience.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Non-Class Review: Immortal Iron Fist

It's worth mentioning that I'm biased. Being a white guy who knows martial arts myself, Iron Fist has been one of my favorite characters since I was little, when he showed up a grand total of once or twice a year if I was lucky. The writer of Immortal, Ed Brubaker, sums the appeal of the character up best in this three word idiom: Kung. Fu. Billionaire. He's a semi-powered Batman who actually knows how to enjoy himself, and has an automatic connection to both the world of big-time heroing, while maintaining his own mystical myth base.
It's this balance that keeps Immortal so interesting; the big stuff in post "Civil War" Marvel is there, but Iron Fist has his own issues to deal with that feel just as important. You get to see his old buddy Luke Cage and old nemesis Davos, but they feel more alive than those old 70's comics. Brubaker writes everyone as very real, interesting people living in a ridiculous superhero world. On top of that, David Aja provides art that has a tangible, visceral feel while not going too far into the recent "photo-realistic" trend. I would recommend this book to anyone who can keep an open mind about their superheroes.

NOTE: As with every book I review under "Non-Class," I can make this available to anyone willing to treat them like newborn infants. Also, if I don't have it in my room, you may have to wait a few weeks for me to get it from my home in NH.

Tales from the Farm *Major Spoilers, such as they are*

Spoiler/reflection/theory one: Jimmy is obviously Lester's dad, and is not a brain damaged as he seems at first.
For starters, half of the dialogue in the comic only makes sense if Jimmy is Lester's dad, especially the poignant look after "You and me get along, and you never had any kids." However, the second part only comes into play with that in mind. My thought is that the hit Jimmy took in the NHL was only the last in a series of concussions, which made it dangerous to continue playing professionally, and left him with speech problems and concentration problems. Those of you familiar with football, think Steve Young in recent years. Therefore, instead of a man with the mind of a child playing with a child, it's a man who can't get respect in his home town connecting with his son the only way he's allowed.
Spoiler/reflection/theory two: Arguments for and against alien invasion.
On the first hand, if there are no actual aliens, what the hell happens to Jimmy? Lester may be imaginative, and writing Jimmy out of the story may have been dramatic, but Lester lives his story and wouldn't kill off a real person like that for no reason. This makes even more sense when you consider the Lester hung up his cape, meaning something important happened. Also, he seems as surprised as anyone when he flies or did the trick with the flaming slingshot pellet.
On the other hand, this is a story about people connecting with one another, or failing to, as the case my be, and that means alien invasion is probably out. Also, Lester never uses his powers when anyone other than Jimmy is around.
Seems kind of like a crap shoot to me, so believe whatever you prefer.

My Perspective

Here's the thing. I'm a life-long reader of comics, and that includes the scholcky cape-and-tights stuff. Hell, I still like all that stuff, though my standards for writing are much higher than they used to be. Ergo, I think of comics as the media that allowed my beloved superheroes to exist, and everything that goes above and beyond is icing on the cake.
The combination of visual and textual media is an experience that I don't think can be found anywhere else, and though conventions exist, they're subverted as often as anything, so nearly any story can be told. Because of that, I often find that I prefer the absurd and fantastic when venturing away from superheroic tales, but ultimately I'll listen to whatever story the writer has to tell.