COMIC BOOK CITY: screening, new video, downloads, “The making of”

Here is a round-up of recent news related to Comic Book City:

I screened the film at Graphixia 2013: Comics & the Multimodal World at Douglas College in New Westminster BC. Read about the screening here.

Before and after that screening, I added new artist and writer interviews on Vimeo. You can now watch all of the creator interviews from the film online via the Comic Book City album on Vimeo (UPDATE: you can watch the entire film at Vimeo now, too). The most recent additions, Graham Annable, Sarah Oleksyk, and Dylan Meconis, can be viewed here:

 

 

 

You can also download a copy of the film from the film blog on TypePad to watch, use, or share.

Finally, I made a “Making of” feature on Storify.

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Video from live preview

Last week I attended the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington. In a Geographies of Media paper session, I presented a live preview of about twelve minutes from the end of the documentary. This section features interviews with Dylan Meconis and Graham Annable, and a reflection on race in Portland that includes Meconis, the previously previewed Kevin Moore and Sarah Oleksyk, and Sara Ryan, as well as Carl Abbott, a professor of urban studies at Portland State University.

You can view the footage on blip.tv.

Comics documentary preview footage

A couple of days ago I posted rough preview footage from my documentary on comics creators in Portland, Oregon to my blip.tv and YouTube pages. The footage features interviews with Kevin Moore and Sarah Oleksyk. The videos are “rough” in that I am waiting on animation and graphics work to be finished and still have sound editing and mixing to do.

 

On finishing BUFFY SEASON EIGHT

I had been thinking about what I might want to write about Buffy Season Eight even before reading issue number forty and Joss Whedon’s letter at the end of the “episode”, as well his EW interview, which I had stored away in my “read later” section on Pinboard.

And what I had been thinking about runs parallel to Whedon’s remarks on the end of this first comics season for Buffy. In particular, I think that these comments from the EW interview, and also represented in the letter, identify what made Season Eight both exciting and frustrating:

I got very excited when I had a comic book with the idea that I could do absolutely anything. We hit a lot of beautiful notes and I’ve got a lot of great writers working [on the comics], and I’m very proud of it. But at the same time, it’s like, yeah, “You can do anything” is not really the Buffy mission statement. The Buffy mission statement is, “What does this feel like?”

With the comic, we just sort of said, “Wheee!” Ultimately, “Wheee!” caught up with us in a cavalcade of mythology. It became clear, as it did with the show, that people really liked when Buffy’s adventures reflect what she’s going through in her life [and] what we’re going through in our lives at that age. That was the thing in season 8 that we didn’t tap into as much as I think we ultimately should have.

As I remarked in this column on PopMatters, the scale and scope of the storytelling in Season Eight is much greater than it ever was, or could be, on television. While this undoubtedly took advantage of the new medium, sometimes bigger is just bigger, not better. That the creative team recognizes this is not only apparent in paratexts like the letter and the interview, but also in the text of issue number forty.

One of the strengths of Buffy on TV is how consistently the series deals with the consequences of big events and character choices. And that’s what the final issue of Season Eight is about – the aftermath of what Buffy did to conclude “Last Gleaming” (#36-#39). While destroying the seed of magic creates a break in the storyworld it also constitutes a beginning, one where the effects of Buffy’s action have to be dealt with, both on a personal level for the characters and also in terms of how the universe works. This is strong storytelling, and looks to be the jumping off point for Season Nine, for which Whedon seems to be promising less grand theatrics and more character-driven narratives.

For me, I think the apex of the “wheee” thinking is in the Brad Meltzer written “Twilight” issues (#32-#35), where Buffy and Angel have explicit, epic, universe creating sex. For one constraint or another – censors, budgets – this storyline would have been impossible to work into the TV series, and likely so even if it had not been on a broadcast network.

And I’m still not sure what I think about this particular piece of the Season Eight story, or what it added to the mythology of the Buffyverse, or to our understanding of Buffy’s relationship with Angel. It still feels to me as if it was done more because it could be done, and not as much because it was an entirely good or compelling idea.

A more minor “we did it because we could” moment in Season Eight is the reappearance of Warren. In terms of technique, aesthetics, and budgets, a drawn character who has no skin is a much better proposition than a live action version, but the narrative reasons for bringing Warren back, really skin or no, still elude me. There is also the question of what his appearance in the comics implies for season seven and how the First Evil works. I’ve done some research, and know that a rationale has been given (wanked) for how Warren could both be used by the First Evil and come back in uncovered flesh and blood for Season Eight, but I don’t find the explanation compelling in light of the limited pay off for needing to rationalize the choice at all.

To be honest, I’m not sure Amy needed to be brought into the new comics either, but with her there might be future uses that could still result in something interesting. More importantly, her introduction into Season Eight did not create meta-narrative level problems requiring readers to either forget what they had been told previously and/or some kind of patch for the mythology to remain consistent at a pretty fundamental level.

On the other hand, I agree with Whedon that Giant Dawn is maybe the best example of how the writers and artists took advantage of the medium in Season Eight. All of Dawn’s transmogrifications worked for both humor and character development, giving Dawn adversity to overcome, and helping her to mature as her feelings of being different take on literal form.

“Wolves at the Gate” (#12-#15) stands as one of my favorite mini-arcs of the season. Giant Dawn, of course, plays a major role in that story, but I also like how Drew Goddard writes Dracula as both a powerful and a vulnerable character, and the shift of the action to Tokyo is another good example of using comics to good effect (I did not particularly care for the killing off of Renee, but was not surprised by it either).

“No Future for You” (#6-#9) and “Time of Your Life” (#16-#19) are my two other favorite series within the series. The latter, like “Wolves at the Gate”, takes Buffy into a high concept world that would have been impossible to render in an effective way on TV, but also gave fans a much anticipated crossover with Fray, drew out some very long term implications of the present-day story, and brought Karl Moline back to the Buffyverse. I think that Whedon’s rendering of an even thicker version of future slang for this mini is a good use of bringing Buffy into Fray’s New York, giving readers what they don’t have in Fray, which is someone in the story who has to navigate that time and place from an unfamiliar position.

The Drew Goddard written “No Future for You” knows its core characters well, and provides a superb reintroduction of Faith, but is also the first point in the series where Georges Jeanty and Andy Owens showed me a real weakness in their art. For the most part, the comics versions of the characters took on effective lives of their own, different from, but related to, their live action counterparts, but the early attempts at drawing Faith did not work well for me at all, making her seem, of all things, dumpy. By the end of the whole series, she starts looking sharper and more Faith-like, but initially, not a high point for the art in Season Eight.

Looking back on the single issue stories from Season Eight:

  • In “The Chain” (#5), Joss Whedon writes a story that ably explores the tougher side of running a Slayer army.
  • Also written by Whedon and appearing in succession are “Anywhere But Here” (#10) and “A Beautiful Sunset” (#11). The former is notable to me for Cliff Richards’s art, which, as always, provides effective comic book likenesses of the characters. The latter reveals Satsu’s love for Buffy and also brings the series around to questions of love and sexuality that it kind of punted with Willow by making her a fully committed Lesbian. Anne-Marie and I have always talked about how it would be more interesting if Willow simply loved who she loved, male or female, than it is for her to have not only discovered an attraction to women, but also that she is, in some sense, exclusive in her attractions. Buffy’s sexuality seems to have become more fluid with time, and that is interesting, and well worth the static this revelation earned the creators on the letters page.
  • “After these Message … We’ll be Right Back!” (#20), by Jeph Loeb, “Harmonic Divergence” (#21), by Jane Espenson, and “Swell” (#22), by Steven S. DeKnight all provided fun diversions from the main story, playing with cultural trends and keeping the series grounded in everyday life.
  • Whedon’s “Turbulence” (#31) is strong bridge between “Retreat” (#26-#30) and “Twilight”, and introduces one of the most interesting aspects of Season Eight for me: Buffy’s superpowers, a development made even more intriguing given their source. This story poses interesting issues about power and the costs of using it that are well within the scope of both the series itself and superhero comics in general. Granting Buffy new powers, even for a few moments, serves to ground her in that larger tradition, but in a way that seems very organic, and not forced.

In considering my review, clearly I have more doubts about the latter third of the series than the remainder, but there are, of course, moments I liked. Spike leading a pack of spacefaring bugs, for example, is crazy fun, and the character wears that kind of thing well. I also am impressed that, in issue forty, Whedon manages to make Kennedy interesting, albeit at Willow’s expense.

However, I do not know what to write about Giles’s death at the hands of Angel. On the one hand, this death is less cheap than Anya’s is in season seven. On the other hand, I am not sure what to make of the how it happened, or whether this is, in fact, the time to actually take Giles out of the storyworld (the previous time this happened did not work out so well, but everyone was younger then, too). I hope that this a thread that gets woven into Season Nine and/or the new Angel books from Dark Horse.

Mostly, I am interested to see if the new series does, in fact, follow the lines outlined by Whedon so far. If it does, that will be for the better, and will also, I think, keep giving Buffy (and Buffy) a meaningful life in comics. What I hope does not change is Jo Chen as the primary cover artist. Virually every cover she made for Season Eight is a frameable work of art. Still, I am open to change and surprise even here.

Adapting B.P.R.D. to film, or for television?

At the end of last month, MTV’s Splash Page posted highlights from an interview with Dark Horse Comics and Entertainment president, Mike Richardson, in which Richardson broadly hints that the next movie out of the Hellboy-universe might not be a third Hellboy, but a BPRD adaptation (the article is vague as to whether this project is being looked at or worked on by Guillermo del Toro or not).

I would be happy to see either a Hellboy III or a BPRD movie, so long as it is made with the same care and affection for the characters that mark the first two Hellboys, and I can see the logic in shifting the franchise to BPRD, but, as I have noted previously, what I would really like to see is for the team title to be made into a TV series.

Making the next movie about the Bureau instead of Hellboy would follow logically from the end of Golden Army, where Hellboy quits the organization, much as he does at the end Seed of Destruction in the comics. Moving Hellboy along would do for the movies what it has done for the books, which is to give the other characters more room for growth and development and for extending the storyworld beyond the horizons of a single, titanic figure.

One crucial difference between the comics and the movies, though, is that in the former, Hellboy quits on his own, while in the latter, Abe and Liz also quit. I think that any BPRD movie would need to reintegrate at least one of those characters to be viable. In terms of their cultural resonance, Hellboy isn’t Batman and the BPRD is not the X-Men, which means that the next film, whatever it is, and if it is, can hardly afford to lose all of the characters that have anchored the movies to this point.

It is easy to think of ways to bring Abe back into the fold, but, due to her pregnancy, it is difficult to see how Liz could be part of a BPRD movie without also including Hellboy. You could write a big break-up between the two, or have Liz’s power threatening to leave her control again, maybe leaving Hellboy as a single dad (wouldn’t that be interesting), but that seems a strange turn to take once you’ve decided to essentially marry Liz and Hellboy and give them a child. Can Abe provide enough continuity to make the average moviegoer or comics fan excited about seeing the film? Probably no way to answer that question in advance.

One way to short circuit this problem is to look at a BPRD movie as a reboot, but I’m not sure what that would look like, or if it would be smart given that much of the potential audience will only have the Hellboy movies for reference. Most importantly, Hellboy needs to be part of the background for the Bureau and if you don’t pick up where Golden Army leaves off, how do you effectively do that while also making a BPRD adaptation and not another Hellboy? Clearly you need to be more clever than me to figure these questions out.

This is one place where I think adapting the series for television makes more sense than a film. I think that a change in medium would offer more of an opportunity to restructure the storyworld in the adaptation process, if for no other reason than you don’t have to deal with the legacy of prior works on TV. I can easily see how a BPRD television series could be made without Hellboy as a primary character, as a recurring character, maybe popping up in flashback, or as someone who crosses paths with the Bureau on occasion, but I think you can make his presence felt without needing to build the show around him, given that you would be starting from a unique beginning on TV.

However, in a more general sense, I think that BPRD is simply better material for television than it is for film.

Movies adapted from serialized fiction, especially genres like science fiction, fantasy, or superhero, are a chance to see the spectacular aspects of stories rendered in a spectacular way, but inevitably, this comes at the expense of character and narrative development.

Yes, BPRD has its epic qualities, but you also have years of complex character interactions and stories that have been unfolding through multiple-interlocking layers of narrative for essentially the entire run of the series, and even back to Hellboy. BPRD, to me, suggests The Wire or Lost more than it does Lawrence of Arabia or Star Wars.

Hellboy, by contrast, is, on his own, a bigger than life character and, maybe for that reason, in the comics, is used for more episodic storytelling than is the whole, evolving crew at the BPRD. Generally, I think that it is probably easier to take a single character and use him or her in different contexts because you have less to manage in terms of relationships and character development than you do when trying to focus on a group of people. In short, I think that movies play well to the strengths and qualities of Hellboy, both book and character, and in the same way, I think that television is a better medium for adapting BPRD.

Where would such a series find a home? That’s a hard question to answer, but I am thinking more SyFy or AMC than Fox or NBC.  Done right, this would clearly be a cult-y niche show, and a channel or network that has a business model that works with showcasing interesting, alternative type programming without requiring some sort of buy-in from a wider audience would be best. I also think that it would be helpful for the series to be programmed on a more intensive basis, ten or twelve episodes a season instead of twenty-two or twenty-four, and, with scripted programs at least, that is still more common with off network shows than it is for those on the big four.

Of course, all of this is from a fan’s perspective and what I’d like to see happen. Richardson may have been cagey in the MTV interview because nothing may get made. And that would be ok, too, at least so long as the books are still going strong.

Recommended daily reading – 24 November (pre-Thanksgiving edition)

Here are a few items as I wonder if anyone will show up to my evening class:

Two pieces from Mother Jones with reference to Tea Partiers. One points to the results of a survey which shows, among other things, that 61% of self-identified Tea Party members believe that discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against African-Americans and the members of other minority populations. I think this is an interesting follow-up to Justin Smith’s 3QD piece on ‘whiteness’ and the Tea Party, which I highlighted earlier.

The other MoJo entry looks at Tom Ricks’s proposal for national service, which includes a “libertarian opt out”. Under that option, anyone who wants to keep their time to themselves can, only they should also expect government workers to do the same in return. This part of the proposal is appealing, because I have often thought that libertarians can afford to rail against taxes, government regulation, public schools, etc. because in the back of their heads, most know that there is very little risk that they will ever actually have to live in the fully privatized and market-driven world of their ideals (although, as I have seen suggested by others, anyone who is serious about living that way is welcome to move to a place like Somalia where there is no effective public sector or government and see how they like it).

I’m a little late in recommending this interview with Martin Scorsese at The Guardian (link via Slash Film). The article covers a number of topics, including Scorsese’s current project, shooting in 3-D, which has been getting most of the attention, and working in TV:

As somebody with such a profound sense of cinema, it’s surprising that some of Scorsese’s recent successes have been on television, a medium which he has credited with providing “what we had hoped for in the mid-60s… this kind of freedom and ability to create another world” with the luxury of “the long form of developing character in a story”.

Finally, on Juxtapoz is a the documentary short “Skateistan”, which looks at a co-ed skateboarding school in Afghanistan. Running just under ten minutes, the film effectively places what it means to skateboard in conditions of war and deprivation, especially for girls in a harshly patriarchal place.

Recommended daily reading – 13 October (late edition)

Much to do the past few days, but here are some items I have been saving:

On the PopMatters “Marginal Utility” blog, Robert Horning has a post about his recent vacation to Winnipeg, Manitoba. His anecdote about Canadian border guards acting skeptical about people actually wanting to visit is true for me, too, and I’ve heard this attitude on my way to Vancouver BC, which, you would think would not generate much disbelief as a destination for international visitors. And, honestly, Winnipeg is a perfectly pleasant and interesting place; I understand why Horning feels, “strangely hesitant to recommend it to anyone”. Alas, for him, I think that Winnipeg is kind of an open secret at this point. After reading his blog post, read this from Kim Morgan.

Keeping with Canadian cities, Kevin Plummer on the Torontoist has a long essay on Goin’ Down the Road (1970), a film that is a fixture in the Canadian film canon, and one that I routinely screen in my Canadian film class. Whether the film’s stature says more about it or about the canon is one of the questions Plummer addresses, as well as how the movie got made, its themes and visual style, and reception. Ultimately, he chooses to see the film as a snapshot of late ’60s Toronto.

And, finally, a few comics related pieces:

  • On Acephalous, Scott Eric Kaufman has a short, but effective exercise on the power of authorship, text & image in comics using a single panel from Scott Pilgrim.
  • The oft-linked here Renee French has an interview at Robot 6 about her new book, H Day.
  • And Comics Alliance has news about Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle making way for Nick Spencer and Bernard Chang on Supergirl. I have been reading the new Supergirl in trade, while also going back to Peter David, and hope that the character is allowed to continue to develop on her own. Spencer is a writer that I have a love-hate relationship with. As in Forgetless, I think that he shows a strong sense of the current cultural moment, especially for young, urban creative types, but he also has a real taste for the seamier sides of human behavior. It will be interesting to see how his talents work on a title like Supergirl.