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Return of the Knave
Drink It Black
Saturday, 27 August 2005
Making a splash
It's not just the large scale battle scenes that are harder to enact on stage. The feature that modern comics share with the modern feature film is the close-up, the changed perspective. Stage whispers denote closeness to the audience in the round and that is a different experience again.

But note this picture. It's just Thor striding through the halls of Asgard





Now the problematic aspect to capturing this scene on stage is not any prohibition against depicting a god, since theatre and, indeed, all the arts have devoted an inordinate amount of energy to depictions of the Divine.

[Stan Lee notes in his 'Origin of Marvel Comics' that his first idea of having 'Super God' in a comic book would offend sensibilities but he could readily take from a dead religion (though he got the mythology wrong as the Thunder God is the one Asgardian who cannot cross the rainbow bridge to Midgard)]

Nor would a deft playwright worry about getting the narrator to intone the purple prose in the caption boxes.

The real difficulty is in capturing the impression we get from that panel. You literally cannot reproduce it on stage since only a percentage of the audience will see this profile. Perhaps there is no sensitivity about audience in the round seeing the back of this god but it changes the experience significantly. The same is true of those theatregoers seated in the balcony, where the actor playing a Norse god is reduced in scale.

Perhaps the narrative is necessary! "The Lord of Lightning is grim-visaged is he dear?" "Well I can't really see past this guy's boof head!"

Posted by berko_wills at 5:15 AM NZT
Updated: Wednesday, 12 October 2005 3:00 PM NZT
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Thursday, 18 August 2005
Prop 36
Would you rather sit in a bus stop reading a seven dollar comic or pay thirty six dollars or more to see the same story played out on stage? Well there is no equivalency. The theatrehas its own delights, its own drawbacks, its own misgivings.

Theatre very often needs a narrator to introduce the storyline and characters and to 'set the scene' between changes in scenery.

A narrator figure who came into his own in the 'What If..?' series is The Watcher, who is forbidden to interfere in the events he witnesses. Unfortunately this device has been downgraded substantially by the hyperbolic drive to have him consider an event so cataclysmic that he does step in (even if only to warn one of the players)

Even in the most elaborate production, you need to minimise the number of location changes and the type of settings you use - a restriction that does not apply in any way to comics.

Comics do appear to have absorbed a larger influence from the world of stage plays than that of the printed word in the way they employ larger than life characters with iconic names.




For a curtain call



Posted by berko_wills at 4:15 PM NZT
Updated: Thursday, 18 August 2005 4:33 PM NZT
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Sunday, 7 August 2005
'Twas a dark and stormy nightcap
Drama is yet another in a long line of types that is not as easily definable as first made out. Decried in the platform of soap opera mocked for its earnest attention to serial implausibility.

Or placed on the pedestal of Greek thought. One extreme to the other. Like the other genres and features of comic book art, drama is underpinned by considerations of what went before and
pinned down by the expectations of the audience, the critics and the press.

It is more than counting - or identifying - the dramatic moments in Terry and the Pirates and still short of the momentum that can carry To Kill A Mockingbird or Twelve Angry Men.
There are some things better left to other media.

That said Stan Lee (and Don Heck?) knew what he was doing when he created an armour-encased hero called the Invincible Iron Man, whose very strength is interlinked with his greatest weakness; an injured heart kept beating by the same technology as the suit.

You could go as far as saying that the Marvel empire was built on drama. Every other feature was already present in some degree. But you can see the DC characters gaining a personality as the decade rolls on.

Posted by berko_wills at 8:08 PM NZT
Updated: Sunday, 7 August 2005 8:13 PM NZT
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Wednesday, 20 July 2005
Love potion
I don't know about you but I've had enough of death, espionage and the body politic, so why don't we shift the mood a little to, say, romance.

Not as blokey a subject as the others but subject its own particular quirks. When I studied cultural forms, an interesting fact came to light. Nobody would dream of skipping to the last page of a thriller to see how it turns out but readers of romance novels do.

For protagonists in more action-oriented tales the love interest has been de rigeur (with a few exceptions)but romance has taken centre stage for some periods in comic book history. It hasn't dominated in the way that affairs of the heart do the song, but romance has had its day in the sun. Whether one needs visual accompaniment to show dating*, weddings,or marriage, possibly informs the dearth of same in current publishing (apart from appearing within the pages of books devoted to other pursuits). The same could be said for heartbreak and divorce.

[*this is very funny 'rating the dating of supertypes' but, being a blog, you have to scroll down past the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis to get to it]

Posted by berko_wills at 4:54 PM NZT
Updated: Friday, 29 July 2005 12:19 AM NZT
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Sunday, 17 July 2005
Which bank?

It matters not whether the author of Little Lulu had a political agenda or was just trying to entertain. Nor does it matter whether a semiological significance in Johnny Quick was picked up by the reader or not.

On the face of it, comics that can be read as apolitical are few indeed.




Posted by berko_wills at 6:13 AM NZT
Updated: Sunday, 17 July 2005 9:15 PM NZT
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Monday, 27 June 2005
Official seal
As much as the world of comic books might want to see itself as escapist, it can no more escape politics than any other media.

There are
Friday, 24 June 2005
Vat
You might have thought this blog doesn't do politics any more but when we compare spooks (the wiretapping kind) with crooks we quickly see that it is not so much the action but the directive that determines which is which. This is, in fact, the whole bone of contention with anarchists. What makes one group a terrorist organisation, another 'freedom fighters'?

Sanction by the government, that's what.

It seems inconceivable that people would vote for a government that uses torture and rendering as part of its method for extracting information or exacting revenge, and yet that's exactly what has happened. A pretty hollow freedom to defend, one would think.

Any old act of persecution has to be examined in the light of whether it's a government agency doing it or some arbitrary psychopath. It's pretty desperate when it depends whether we give the authority for bullying and intimidation; these acts are intrinsically ones of bastardry and cynical expediency and should be viewed as such.

The other side of the coin is that killing some dude walking to get the morning paper is straight out murder but kill a senator or congressman - especially at the podium, making a speech - and it's
assassination


Posted by berko_wills at 3:57 PM NZT
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Thursday, 23 June 2005
Deep and steep in darkness
I don't suppose anyone wants their dark fantasy exposed but thanks to Tim Berners-Lee it's easy to do just that. It's like someone else has gathered all the footnotes for your thesis and you can skip where'er you wish.

So having dispensed dark fantasy, it is time to start tailing spies and secret agents. As much products of the War as supersoldiers and suchlike, they can still cause a commotion.
Really, who can refuse the lure of espionage, especially when it is so inextricably linked to our world history.

Unless you have a standing army, world domination requires scheming and a knowledge of that world; a private artillery; a supply of goons with some global outlook and another language under their belt.

Of course there has to be a secret weapon every now and again, and a fight with the saboteur. Terrorists now face the might of the US army but there was certainly a time when their clandestine activities were countered by shadowy figures from our side.

Posted by berko_wills at 3:34 PM NZT
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Sunday, 12 June 2005
Cup o' joe
Detectives are dotted through comic history in backup stories and anthologies as well as the handful that found themselves in the spotlight such as The Spirit and Dick Tracy. But what of the accusation that superheroes are largely jumped up cops or 'guardian angels' beating on the brat?

The Spirit is one domino mask away from looking like your regulation dick yet the idea of the vengeful spirit is crossing into more of a hyper-reality until it takes on more power than you could imagine in The Spectre, another copper. Dick Tracy has the futuristic gadgetry and bizarre villains. The number of guys who look like gumshoes with a few scraps of costume to give them a half-hearted heft into herodom is extensive. So why deny a connection. And Detective Comics having as one of their flagship characters, the World's Greatest Detective, is no coincidence. The Shadow of the Bat is over a number of spinoff 'detective-like' storylines like the Human Target, who disguises himself as the intended victim and then (hopefully)prevents the act before a shot is fired.

The odd hybrid me-tooism experiment that was Atlas Comics produced the shortlived Police Action which gamely tried to bring back actual police as the stars of a comic book.

Stan Lee, ever one for playing with the formula, didn't have that many costumed cops. His superheroes, perhaps as part of the push to be more 'realistic', were centre stage for the tragedy of their transformation, not their desire to fight crime.

Posted by berko_wills at 5:56 AM NZT
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Wednesday, 1 June 2005
Clink
Crime comics are morbidly close to horror in many ways. Though it was necessary to argue in court art vs gratuitous display with a decapitated head; not necessarily out of repugnance for this so much as that it was more immediately shocking, and easier to build a case against, than the more nebulous (but perceived) notion of encouraging delinquency in the readership.

I do think that breaking every plot down to Good vs Evil is biblically overdetermined. Good vs Bad perhaps, since true evil extends beyond the bag snatcher IMO.

Crooks in comics, as in many works of fiction, are useful for telling a story. They act as a quick counterpoint to the protagonist. The early costumed heroes had a steady supply of generic hoodlums with hats and guns to contend with.

The ongoing debate as to whether the depiction of burglars and kidnappers has a deleterious effect on impressionable minds has to be tempered by explicit statements that Crime Does Not Pay and with Batman's famous motivation for choosing his identity:"Criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot".

There hasn't been as much use of the uniform police because there is an attraction to a more vigiliante approach to law enforcement (if you can even call busting someone's jaw for a holdup 'law enforcement').

Private eyes and gumshoes have seen their turf taken over but there's been a resurgence of late.

And bank robbery and slayings remain popular staples.

Posted by berko_wills at 4:07 PM NZT
Updated: Tuesday, 7 June 2005 11:09 AM NZT
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