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Return of the Knave
Drink It Black
Monday, 24 October 2005
Classic
What makes a comic classic?

It can't coast on the coat tails of some existing more established form as the chances are that there is no adaptation of Everyman or any attempt would fall short of what was required.

Of course a book can have a significance particular to its medium that makes a comics adaptation superfluous; it isn't the strength of the story or the way it is told that gives it its status.

So, staying within the medium, how can we recognize the classics of the form? Given the age of literary classics, are comics in their current from too recent for us to discern which are, or will be, classics? It isn't age alone that determines a classic or Dollman would automatically be accorded that honour.

I think, under a loose definition, that Eisner and Fine's creation does fit the bill. But here I am doing so without having read the stories but having considered the impact and the longevity of the series. Add in a level of expectation encouraged by the creators involved and it is easy to see how the title is applied. It carries more credence than Disney Entertainment labelling of every release, regardless of vintage or audience acceptance, as a 'classic' but sticklers may still want further proof.

I'm not even sure the best story or the earliest example qualify a work as being classic unless they have lasting resonance. A cartoonist may be revered but one would have to see a sample of their work to know whether it was classic. Perhaps.

Though I don't suppose we can brush off consensus in gauging a work's bid to be considered classic, picking sales figures or readership as the criterion seems also misplaced. It's more likely that the verve that was brought to Daredevil make it a classic, rather than the number of readers it had in its day.

Posted by berko_wills at 3:59 AM NZT
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Tuesday, 18 October 2005
Depth
The mature comic takes roughly the same guidelines as it does for the movies: no reading unless fifteen years or over and accompanied by an adult.

The distinction is important for horror as the bloody excesses of EC inspire black and white depictions for an older readership in the form of Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella. But the science fiction and fantasy communities have a use for the mature readers tag too as is evidenced by the French comics magazine Metal Hurlant and its English language equivalent Heavy Metal

Mature is not quite the same thing as adult and so we see nudity but not with pubic hair and orifices, coarse language but of a certain stripe and not constant, violence more muted than R but harsh enough to give you the picture.
An extra step in differentiating comics for the mature reader is to not keep them in comic form but create them as a graphic novel or have them bound as a trade paperback. Or you can just offer them for sale in a special section of the shop.

Posted by berko_wills at 6:32 AM NZT
Updated: Tuesday, 18 October 2005 8:32 PM NZT
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Wednesday, 12 October 2005
Oak eh
Just as no plumber would want to read a comic book exclusively about his profession, of course adolescents aren't primed to read only in their age group, or exclusively about characters who are going through the selfsame torments and triumphs.

While there may be room for the coming of age and first love in a comic book story, the younger reader is as likely to be captivated by saucers and sorcerers and so forth. If the comic reader (certainly the comic collector) has aged, then it is also true that publishers did once note the audience drop off as their readers bought their first car or started dating and so, the fact that characters and storylines range across the divide, suggests that this has not been an issue for teen readers. At various times they would have read and enjoyed:

and snuck furtively into big sister or brother's room to peruse their copy of Omaha the Cat Dancer

Posted by berko_wills at 3:38 PM NZT
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Saturday, 8 October 2005
Not fully matured
Was the targetted audience for comics ever teenagers? Wasn't a book called Teen Titans as likely to have been created for sidekicks who were no longer boys and girls rather than as a point of identification? And didn't that whole comics company devoted to teens - Archie Comics - only stumble on the formula by accident?

Was the School for Gifted Youngsters an appeal to youngsters who wish they were so gifted, or is just a good place to start the story of superheroes born with their powers? And were the teens of the future: Legion of Superheroes playmates for Superboy? Or did Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles accurately parody the prevailing trends with teenagers deliberately at the centre of stories?

I have a feeling that if the comics industry is catching the eye of teenagers, it is guys who were teenagers the first time a character called The Angel appeared (only they weren't called teenagers in them days) Today's teenagers have plenty of other distractions, not least video games and other instant media like cheap DVDs and MP3


Posted by berko_wills at 6:32 AM NZT
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Wednesday, 14 September 2005
Refreshments available
Consider this an intermission


Posted by berko_wills at 3:22 PM NZT
Updated: Monday, 3 October 2005 12:35 AM NZT
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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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