Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Big Hiatus

Okay. Real hiatus this time.

I am usually pretty honest with you guys about most aspects of my life. Last time I took a hiatus, it was largely so I could screw around and play the new DCU Online game, which I did and am doing. If anyone else is playing, let me know so we can team up. It didn't feel like a big deal to break the hiatus because, well... I was playing video games.

This time I'm going on hiatus because I made a New Year's resolution and I am not sticking to it. I mean, I should be, but that takes discipline. And it also means: quit talking about comics nobody in this audience is reading, anyway. Take a break.

I mention this once every blue moon, but a decade ago I started working on The Great American Novel, and when I am blogging, I am not finishing The Great American Novel. And, dammit, America has been waiting, I am sure, for another pulpy, crappy book to not get picked up, because, seriously... I do feel like I have to say it out loud, or its not real or I don't have to do it, because nobody knows about it, anyway. But if I say something, well, gee... it makes it all a little more real.

Anyhoo... My New Year's resolution was not to finish the book, but at least spend more time on it than this here blog, and get some new chapters cranked out by year's end. And I am failing at that.

And, yes, its exactly like this.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

SOTU, Eraser, Fantastic Four

I write to you, a man who has just finished watching the 2011 State of the Union Address in a Courtyard Marriot in Waco, Texas... a man who has eaten some really awful Chinese food at a building that once housed a proud fried chicken joint I liked in middle school... a man who was delighted to realize his mid-range hotel had a full bar with a bartender...

Anyway, I did watch the State of the Union. Whatever. I don't get much fired up about the political game these days, so much as I get fired up about participating in government, and I consider those two separate things. ie: I will always vote, and I work for the state partially because I like the idea of serving something bigger than myself or the needs of shareholders. I am too old and cynical to take the bait when it comes to platitudes regarding education and social infrastructure that, once push comes to shove, won't be funded (even at a fraction of the cost of robot dog missles or whatever we're cooking up this week...) nor do I get excited about what some young congressman from Yahooville reads from a teleprompter, as if these thoughts occurred to him as he sipped a martini and listened to the address on the radio.

I voted this year. I'll vote again next year and the year after that. But enjoying the right to vote is not, for me, the same as engaging in politics as hometown team spectator sport.

You know, I definitely over-romanticize old school corrupt politics, political machines like Tammany Hall and political conventions having more meaning than the Golden Globes. I never lived any of that. And its probably wrong to long for the days when the corruption was mustache-ier and people got stabbed more often during ballot counting. But its not like its hard to guess who is buttering whose bread based on watching who claps for what during these clown shows.

I didn't watch the response because... I can think the words "everything he just said was a damn, dirty lie" to myself. Now, I missed Bachmann's response but the Twittersphere seemed positively incandescent pondering what they were seeing. Sadly, by the time I got over to CNN from the Telenovella I'd tuned to (the hair on those ladies is so SHINY), Bachmann was done using her words and Headline News was literally already back to talking about Jersey Shore.

That's okay. AMC is now showing Eraser, which I made Jason and Jamie go see in the theater during its original release because (a) Arnie, and (B) Vanessa Williams. Mostly B. Man, this movie is everything that went wrong with 90's action movies by the end of the decade. But, you know, it features lots of Point B.

And... right. Today Marvel Comics released their latest issue of Fantastic Four, a comic I like in theory much more than execution unless Mark Waid is writing the book (Sorry, rest of industry). In this story, one of the FF was scheduled to die, a move so routine in comics as an attention grabber, its quite literally true that we now expect the "death" of at least two major character per universe per year, followed by a much less celebrated resurrection.

I only read FF for about two years back in the mid 00's, and during that time, one of the FF died, too. So, you know, it happens.

Ah, wait. Bully has a terrific post on the topic.

I actually did hit a comic shop today after my meeting. Bankston's here in Waco is a sister store to Austin Books and Comics as its owned by the brother of the owner of ABC. Anyhow, they have a terrific selection, its a really fun shop, and I always have to make sure I have a gameplan when I walk in the door, because its a place I could easily go crazy.

Yes, they had the issue of FF by the cash register, all wrapped up in a black bag, a la "Death of Superman". And I looked at it and looked at it... but the thought of actually buying it never crossed my mind. Death of major characters has officially become so commonplace, even a well-marketed and well-placed copy of the comic can't pique my curiosity.

I did, however, grab Superman/ Batman #80, which has been getting some great notices and penned by Chris Roberson (and issue 79 rocked my socks).

Monday, January 24, 2011

Death of The Comics Code Part 4: CMAA MIA?

This is interesting.  Apparently the Comics Code Authority had basically been so neglected the past few years, even folks inside the industry seem to have no clue what they story has been for some time now.

Newsarama has an interesting article on the quest to find out what's actually going on.

Newsarama hasn't been able to locate any evidence that the organization was functioning since 2009. And Archie Comics has indicated that it wasn't actually submitting comics for approval to the Comics Magazine Association of America, which oversaw the Code.

"We haven't submitted for a year or more," said Archie Comics President Mike Pellerito.
When asked if the CMAA was even functioning anymore, Pellerito said, "I don't think they are."
 In reading more, I have learned that Batman and Superman comics were, in fact, still carrying the seal.  It was just much different from the seal I recalled from the 1980's and whenever it was I last looked.

I'm Headed for Waco, also (Some) Lawyers are Pigs!

I'm headed out for Waco yet again tomorrow.  No, I will not go to your old local haunts, JimD.  Its another night at Ninfa's for me!

I'd feel worse about the fact that I'm not going to do a real post, but I interrupted my hiatus to talk about Wonder Woman on TV and the Comics Code thing.  See:  news breaks, we're on the scene!

This evening I was driving south on Lamar in Austin, and at the intersection of Barton Springs and Lamar, I saw this:

It was a gentleman of middling years in a pig costume standing at the intersection and cheerfully waving. 

And then he turned and I saw his sign:

I was in traffic.  I risked my life to bring you this image.
Can't read the sign?  Well, let me help you out.

"Some" Lawyers are Pigs!
Apparently the pig costume is nothing new.  Austin gadfly John Kelso wrote a column on the Lawyer-hating pig-guy way back in November.  I'd just not had the chance to see him.

Kelso never did learn what was going on, exactly, and it sounds like the world may never know.  I just like the idea of dressing up as a pig to make an abstract point.  Especially when you dress up as one of the two things you're comparing and suggesting you like neither.  That's owning it, man. 

But, I wonder if the pig suit is getting attention as pigs can be terribly cute animals.

I am waiting for the high pitched "eeeeee!" sound Jamie will make when she sees this pig.
See, that's just adorable.

I actually think grown up pigs are cute, too.  And delicious

Anyway, I knew I was in luck when I went to Google "Lawyers are Pigs" and "Lawyers are Pigs Austin" came up as an option.  I salute this fellow, even if the lawyers I know are mostly okay.

why I am not allowed to have a pig of my own

DC Comics, The Multiverse and Everything

Grant Morrison believes that the DC Universe is alive and well and trying to tell us something.  And that something may have first been whispered to us via Flash comic books in 1961 (50 years ago!) via the story "Flash of Two Worlds".

The story posits that there are multiple universes, and The Flash (Barry Allen) can travel between them by changing his "vibrational frequency".  He travels to "Earth-2" where he meets the Flash from that world, a Flash he's only read about in comics books, named Jay Garrick.

Maybe writer Gardner Fox wasn't so crazy...

From NPR's science desk, a story on the possibility of multiverses.

From the article:
So if the universe is infinitely large, it is also home to infinite parallel universes.
Does that sound confusing? Try this:

Think of the universe like a deck of cards.

"Now, if you shuffle that deck, there's just so many orderings that can happen," Greene says. "If you shuffle that deck enough times, the orders will have to repeat. Similarly, with an infinite universe and only a finite number of complexions of matter, the way in which matter arranges itself has to repeat."
Deck of cards?  Why...  that has 52 cards in it.  It seems like I've heard that number somewhere...

I'm just saying.
DC's Infinite and 52 Universes

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Diagnosing a Terrible Comment: Wanting to Watch "V" Online

What are they calling it?  Media 2.0?  Journalism: The Sequel?  Transmedia?  Social Media?

Today, I want to talk a bit about the following comment which I found online:

Better NBC than ABC. I have not watched ABC since they stopped offering full episodes of V on their website.
The comment was made following an article on NBC picking up a pilot for Wonder Woman.

Aside from the fact that the dude somehow equated his issues with "V" - which is not Wonder Woman, and ABC, which is NOT NBC...  I wanted to break this one down a bit.

1)  ABC is owned by Disney.  Which owns Marvel Comics.  Which is starting their own TV division with shows like AKA: Jessica Jones and The Incredible Hulk.  Wonder Woman is and always was a property of DC Comics, owned by rival corporation, Time Warner.  The likelihood of DC getting a show on ABC right now is fairly small once one ponders my favorite word from RTF 101: Synergy.

One day I will do a lengthy post about late 80's cartoon "Jem and the Holograms" and this picture will be hilarious

Basically, from a corporate standpoint, Wonder Woman was likely never going to appear on ABC unless things got very, very odd or profitable.

2)  This person is upset about a loss of access to "V".  Enough so that they have cursed an entire network.  "V" is, by any measure, a terrible TV show. It is a show so completely terrible that it features aliens, spaceships, gun play, an underground resistance movement and long, lingering shots of Elizabeth Mitchell, and, somehow, even with all that, I still cannot even summon the strength to set my DVR so that in my quiet hours I fast forward to the long, lingering shots of Ms. Mitchell.

Basically, regarding "V":

This is how we're doing criticism now.  Its going to save some time.
 I wasn't even disappointed that the show was different from the original premise in many respects.  I was disappointed that the show was boring and made no sense whatsoever, especially in today's paranoid political climate and treats the audience as if its as dumb as apparently the audience might be.

3)  The whole network?  Really?  Not just a terse letter to the company?  You're swearing off dozens of other shows, sporting events, news?

Heck, if we're swearing off ABC, what about ESPN, which is an ABC company?  The various other networks ABC has a stake in, like USA?  Or Disney owned movies (Disney owns ABC, as you'll recall)?  This is going to get complicated, because that's not just cartoons.  Disney also owns other studios that make the movies you watch, distribution channels that get movies to your local theater and home video, video game companies, cruise lines, amusement parks and a @#$%ing island.

4)  You believe that your 1 man V-inspired boycott is achieving...?

5)  The ABC network isn't your loving granny looking to bestow you with candy and $1 bills.  It also isn't your sort-of-friend-that-owes-you-something-for-spending-time-with-them.  Its a big corporation that doesn't owe you anything and doesn't know you exist.  It doesn't.  They broadcast this lousy show that costs them millions per episode at absolutely no cost to you.  They release the show in windows appropriate to maximizing their profits, not for your lazy ass convenience.  Get a TV and a DVR or wait until the Blu-Ray release and be @#$%ing thrilled you live in an age where things air more than once or that you don't have to wait for a traveling acting troupe to happen upon your village to perform for your @#$%ing amusement as people have done for the last 5000 years?


6)  And, I hate to come back to this, but... you told us this in relation to Wonder Woman getting picked up on NBC because...?  I guess NBC wouldn't get your 1 person viewership due to the ongoing V-related boycott?  Right.  That doesn't sound crazy at all.

Ah, me.  I feel better.

Regarding the Comics Code Authority and Ratings Systems

Horus Kemwer of Against the Modern World attempted to comment on one of my Comics Code Authority posts, but for some reason Blogger didn't take the comment while sending it to my email (I get emails whenever you guys comment).

I had stated that DC was putting in a ratings system, which I compared to that of the MPAA, ie: movie ratings.

Horus said:
I find it odd that you characterize DC's decision to abandon the CCA as "adopting a ratings code, similar to that of the MPAA." My understanding about the MPAA ratings board is that they are actually a lot like the CCA, i.e. 1. it's a board of individuals with a supposed interest in maintaining morality standards in movies (e.g. parents) and 2. they use subjective, non-professional/informed opinion in assessing those standards. Of course, a hierarchy of ratings as opposed to just a yes / no is more like the MPAA, but if DC is making these decisions in house, then that is actually radically different from how the MPAA works, and a more interesting and important break from the CCA in my opinion, one the world of cinema sorely needs.

But then everything I know about the MPAA comes from This Film is Not Yet Rated . . .
Everything Horus says is correct.

I was comparing the tiered ratings DC is putting into place to the MPAA tiers (G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17), and not considering how close in the CCA is to the MPAA in practice.  It is true that the governing bodies are/ were quite similar. 

I write these things quickly, and what you get is often a not-terribly-well-considered point. 

Really, I was considering how consumers will view these ratings.  Parents - ostensibly looking for someone else to verify that the material their kid is reading isn't smut - needed something to trust without having to actually read each comic themselves.  The "either it has the CCA stamp or not" was an artifact of a mode of thinking that "comics are for kids, end of story" which was part of the narrative sold to Congress during the comics hearings of the mid-1950's.

While that's also the line I grew up with in the 80's, that's a pretty odd way of thinking of an entire medium.  Its like saying "radio is for old people" or "sculpture is for Canadians".  But when you suggest that a medium is for children, in particular, you're also suggesting something about the cognitive state of the consumer, ie:  You, man in tie or lady in business suit...  Why are you reading something intended for an audience of recognized limited intellect? What is wrong with you?

I've never shaken the time I was interviewed online by a journalist who, in her line of questioning and with the assumptions she was starting with, accused people who read "comics" of having emotional or mental issues. To her - comics were something only small children should read.  She was absolutely stunned when I suggested that the attitude she was displaying might be considered a bit ignorant and she might want to check out some actual comics and learn a bit about the readership before writing her article, the point of which was sold to me as "comics in education", but basically quickly turned into "adults who read comics - should we reach out to help them?".

So, yeah.  If we can get away from a binary system of "for kids" vs. "pornography", which is kind of what we've got now in the minds of folks trying to sort through an entire medium with no toolkit with which to approach comics. I'd suggest ratings can provide a helping hand to both consumer and the industry.  The tiered system does for comics what ratings did for movies and allows for a stair step for an audience to decipher what sort of content can appear in a comic and what a discriminating reader can expect.  It helps the non-Wednesday crowd to make appropriate choices.  

The tussle of the next few months or few years will be getting everyone in line on this without a central authority like the CCA.  The publishers from DC, Marvel, Boom!, Dark Horse, IDW, Dynamite, etc... should get together and settle on a single system based on movie or TV ratings.  What the marketplace doesn't need is further confusion.  Help the consumer, and that helps you.  Ratings systems shouldn't be a turf war.

TV has done a remarkable job of self-policing since adding ratings a few years back.  And while I see Fantagraphics and the like beating their chest about putting ratings on their product and seeing themselves in the book market... fine.

But as Horus pointed out, the MPAA is a mess.  We're far, far away from the days when Congress was eyeing comic covers and nodding gravely, and they've thrown off the antiquated and draconian CCA.  You don't need to go back to hiring people of delicate sensibilities to tell you not to show ankle in a comic panel.  Show the public you can do this and do it well, and it may pay you back pretty darn well.