Archive for the ‘Gateway Drugs’ Category
Looking back, it’s almost hard to believe that it took such long-lived American industries so long to get together. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the motion picture world devoted significant attention to comics, but after a few notable successes in translating iconic pop figures like Superman and Batman to the silver screen, Hollywood discovered that mining the major publishers produced a winning formula: (Moviestars + superpowers) x explosions = $$ (+/- a remainder of quality storytelling, character development, direction, etc…)
The trend continued to snowball through the 80s and 90s, until it came to be that the 2000s were so thoroughly dominated by adapted works as to be the first true “Comic Book Movie Decade.” Dozens of films were produced. Some of the managed to range from good to even great: Christopher Nolan’s rebooted Batman, Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man”, and two-thirds of the Spiderman franchise spring to mind. Others fell somewhere between bad and just god-awful: “Daredevil”/“Elektra”, “Catwoman”, not one but two stabs each at both the Punisher and the Incredible Hulk- I could go on for entirely too long to bother.
Still, the overwhelming majority of comic book movies this decade fell into a third category, amounting to nothing more than forgettable also-rans, straightforward re-treads of the same old Hollywood templates dressed up in capes for varying degrees of mindless viewing “enjoyment”: four installments of Hugh Jackman with sideburns, Keanu as “Constantine”, a pair of not-so-Fantastic 4s, three (THREE!) iterations of “Blade”, a “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and- (shudder) even the defiled corpse of Watchmen…
So with the glut of comics-inspired fare producing far more output ranging from poor to mediocre, you couldn’t really blame a serious movie fan for thinking comics don’t have so much going for them. Hell, if the only non-superhero comic book movie I’d seen was “Wanted” I’d think it was a bankrupt form too. But the truth is, there’s a plethora of excellent films out there that your average cinephile will love, and source material that’s just as top-notch (and thus the perfect gateway drug…)
Sin City- There has been perhaps no more literal a translation of any comic’s complete aesthetic than Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s “Sin City”, based on Miller’s eponymous series. In most cases, that’s a good thing, since usually the most damning trap that comic book movies fall victim to is to equate “comics” with “cartoonish”- over-the-top violence, outlandish character designs, and slap-dash CGI are enough to pass muster for most studios (and, sadly, audiences.)
But Miller’s Sin City already had an extremely cinematic style all its own, combining more action and noir touchstones than you’d find in Raymond Chandler’s closet to make a moody, stylish, hard-boiled world that’s as fun as Hell to watch- every second of which shows up on screen for the filmic adaptation. Add in some terrific performances from the exquisitely-cast rundown of Academy-favorites like Benicio Del Toro, Clive Owen, and especially Mickey Rourke (three years before The Wrestler heralded his return to mainstream respectability) and you’ve got the perfect popcorn companion, in movie or comic form.
Ghost World- You think comics are only good at producing popcorn flicks? Alright. How about a dourly comic stroll through suburban ennui depicted in the failing friendship of two teenaged girls? Can you believe Michael Bay passed on this one? Maybe the most low-profile comic book film ever, fans of the film (which stars independent film favorites Steve Buscemi, Thora Birch, and pre-starlet Scarlett Johansson) rarely seem to know that Daniel Clowes comic exists. But the indie spirit of film and comics are kindred, for sure, and the graphic novel as a medium shares celluloid’s capacity for conveying the ephemeral qualities of the human condition. Terry Zwigoff’s 2001 take on the comic is the perfect match for people who “get” films about people not really doing anything.
A History of Violence- If Ghost World shows the literary commonalities between film and comics, A History of Violence exemplifies how the addition of a new creative point of view can offer something different in the jump from page to screen. Yes, the movie changes some of the specifics of John Wagner’s most famous post-Judge Dredd funnybook, but it’s impossible not to appreciate director David Cronenberg’s thoughtful, slow-burning take on the film’s central tenets.
It’s also got outstanding performances by Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris and John Hurt, all of whom bring a compelling and thoughtful depth to their characters. As such, “A History of Violence” arguably does a better job than its namesake of deconstructing comics and cinema’s shared convention of violence, and examining the emotional and intellectual implications that brutal acts really should have on real, living, breathing people.
Oldboy- The film won the Grand Prix at Cannes (and was Quentin Tarantino’s choice for the Palme d’Or), but even as a filmic property it remains unknown to most save for the truly hardened cinephile. But those who HAVE seen Park Chan Wook’s take on the disturbing (but really just plain bizarre) manga regard it as a film of the highest order. If the popular themes of revenge, love, and borderline-nauseating ultra-violence don’t reel in your movie fan pal, just tell them that it’s all in Korean. They’ll probably dig the subtitles.
American Splendor- Art imitating life imitating art. Chances are that any cinephile who sees Paul Giamatti starring as real-life comic book curmudgeon Harvey Pekar will immediately be drawn to the outsider-ish comic that inspired this Academy Award-nominated screenplay. Every bit as emotionally resonant and affecting as the film that bears its name, American Splendor’s slice-of-life stories themselves then another gateway drug, this time to the works of the litany of famous independent illustrators who have collaborated with Pekar over the years (including legendary underground weirdo R. Crumb and the Hernandez brothers, of Love and Rockets fame.)
Like I’m sure most of you, I have a pretty boring job. It’s not that I don’t like it or anything – I work with cool people, and sometimes I even get to do fun stuff like write and get paid for it. Most days, I would characterize myself as someone who is reasonably satisfied with his current position in the workforce.
And then there are days like today, which I will mostly spend stuffing envelopes. This is, needless to say, not exactly my recipe for spiritual fulfillment in a career. But that is why God gave us webcomics. The odds are good that I’ll spend most of my Friday reading a lot of webcomics, covertly opening new tabs that can transform, as if by magic, into my e-mail or an online calendar at the drop of a hat, should the need arise.
For the most part, I’ll probably get through on comics like Overcompensating and A Softer World – frequently updated, strip style comics that demonstrate what the real estate above the crossword puzzle in your newspaper would look like if the Lifestyles editor had a better sense of humor and a steady supply of peyote. Other things in this vein that will be occupying time that could probably be better spent include the unchanging but ever fresh awesomeness of Dinosaur Comics, the subversive clip art of strips like Wondermark and Married to the Sea, the often hilarious but sometimes just confusing Pictures for Sad Children, and xkcd, which is written by a real life rocket scientist, which means you will occasionally have to look something up to get the joke, but you will generally be glad you did. And remember – not everything worth reading is still updating regularly, but lots of it remains available online. Just the archives of Perry Bible Fellowship, A Lesson Is Learned, But The Damage Is Irreversible and the once again updating (HOORAY!) Copper can provide entertainment for plenty of coffee breaks.
For those of you looking for more than just a brief respite from the doldrums of the day job, there are plenty of ongoing books that you can really sink your teeth into. 8 Bit Theater was among the first webcomics I ever read, and almost 1200 installments later it is still going strong. I’m a later but no less enthusiastic adopter of The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, about a doctor who is also a ninja…or a ninja who is also a doctor. Admittedly, that is something of a fine distinction, but an important one.
And then there are the couple of books that really rise above and distinguish themselves and the medium. Do yourself a favor and start from the beginning of Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield’s post apocalyptic sci-fi epic Freak Angels. And then read the beautiful, charming and whimsical story of The Abominable Charles Christopher, a gorgeous black and white series featuring talking animals and a Buster Keaton-esque yeti, which is equal parts Watership Down and Judd Apatow movie. It’s probably the best ongoing story going on the web right now. Why no one has picked this up for a collection is absolutely beyond me.
But enough about me. What are you folks really reading while you pretend to fill out spreadsheets and analyze sales data all day?
Anyone remember Asterix? Yeah, me too! (Hey! I get it! FRENCH CLASS!! See what we did there?) We’ve all got at least one friend who’s a total history nerd, right? Well, welcome to High Five!’s definitive guide to getting your history-buff buddy into comics!
First up, Marvel 1602*, which transplants several familiar Marvel heroes back to the Elizabethan era. I know, I know. The premise sounds stupid, and I thought so too, but I picked it up off a discount rack a while back, and man – I should have had more faith in Neil Gaiman. Sir Nicholas Fury is the master of her majesty’s spy game, and Rohjaz – well, you’ll just have to find out. Also starring Elizabeth I, Virginia Dare, James I, oh and some dinosaurs. Just ignore the dinosaurs, ok? I swear, this book is not as cheesy as you think it is, and putting our modern heroes in a 17th-century setting is a feat only Neil Gaiman could pull off. Read it!
Maus. Oh god, Maus. Art Spiegelman’s riveting graphic novel tells two stories. First, the story of Spiegelman’s own youth in New York City in the 50s, and second, the story of his father, Vladek. Spiegelman’s father was prisoner #175113 at Auschwitz. Maus tells that story, as well as tales of Vladek’s youth in Poland. While largely an autobiographical piece, Maus uses animals as the main characters instead of humans. The Jews are mice, the Germans are cats, the Russians are bears – but this comes off as anything but cutesy. This book won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, so if nothing else grabs you, maybe the fact that a COMIC won a PULITZER will.
THIS IS SPARTA! Amirite? Dudebros everywhere loved the movie, but history nerds will like 300, especially since bits of it are so inaccurate they’ll be able to nitpick at length. (History nerds LOVE to nitpick, see: SCA. Which I grew up in, so I’m not mocking, I’m just saying.) Anyway, 300 is the comic re-telling of the three day long Battle of Thermopylae, waged between the Spartans and the Persians. Sin City‘s Frank Miller wrote this one so it can be a little…much, at moments. Just don’t say you weren’t warned, ok?
Another movie! And this one starred Johnny Depp, so there’s a good chance the ladies reading caught this flick (even though it had next to nothing in common with the book. sigh). From Hell, by the always brilliant Alan Moore, speculates on the identity and motives of the terrifying Jack the Ripper. The book draws from records of the original case, as well as Moore’s own imagination. Many of Moore’s conclusions have been disproved – multiple times; but that doesn’t detract from the Moore’s ability to tell a truly twisted period tale.
Finally, a suggestion from reader Ben C., Warren Ellis’ Crécy, which details parts of the Battle of Crécy, fought between the British and the French in 1346 during the Hundred Years War. The British were outnumbered something like 3:1, and they basically won the battle by shooting massive clouds of arrows at the French Cavalry, who were, being cavalry, on horses. Legend goes that the British only lost 40 men out of the ten thousand or so fighting. Crécy is something of a point of pride for the Britons. Warren Ellis is British, and he’s imbued Crécy with his particular brand of British snark. Read it!
Now, if someone would just make a comic about 1066, the Battle of Hastings, and the start of Plantagenet dynasty, I’d be a very happy girl. Oh wait they did- it’s called the Bayeaux Tapestry.
*Note: If you trust us and decide to pick up any of these titles, click the links in this post to buy! They’ll take you through to amazon, and we’ll get some miniscule percentage in commission.
“Hey, Rob, what are you reading?”
“Oh, I just picked up all the trades for Animal Man. Seems like a pretty good book.”
“Wait… That’s a comic book… Forget it, I’ll be over here jerking off to James Joyce.”
There are so many uppity people who I’ve tried to get to read comics who turn them down because, well, they’re just comic books. So fucking what if comic books don’t dress all dapper and fellate your ego? They are FAR from the mindless entertainment that they are stereotyped to be (blame the Golden Age for that one). Stop being so elitist, jerks. I’ve got suggestions and you’re gonna read ‘em, come hell or high water.
Firstly-first, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman might be a great jumping off point. I mean, check it out. It’s about a guy who granted William Shakespeare the ability to write and frequently visits Hell and Asgard to consult with the deities and demons there. Wait, who are those weird-lookin’ folks? Oh, that’s just Elemental Girl and Martian Manhunter. Yeah, they’re DC superheroes. Ha! I tricked you! You’re a couple hundred pages into the DCU and you didn’t even know it! Oh, that’s rich.
What else we got? Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles isn’t about heroes, it’s about being fucked up, wordy, and making you feel as uncomfortable as humanly possible (something it accomplishes almost immediately). It deconstructs reality and reassembles it in a way that leaves you feeling like you are missing some integral part of yourself. Plus, the Marquis de Sade plays a gigantic role and we all know what he did for literature, right? Double plus (book joke!), you know The Matrix, that movie all the kids had their panties in knots over a decade back? Well, the Wachowski Brothers Siblings stole it right out from the pages of The Invisibles. Take that, elitists!
Then there’s Alan Moore, who snobby types probably already like without knowing it. V for Vendetta explores fascism versus anarchy and all that other esoteric shit pretentious people like. Moore’s ‘V’ character quotes about a million different literary works and spreads anarchy through vaudeville. If you quote V in arguments, you’ll win. The hyper-literate LOOOOVE to argue and win. Probably. Elistist braggarts eat this shit up, right?
And isn’t hyper-literate elitism simply the art of quoting people cleverer than you are? We just hooked you up. Look, there’s nothing wrong with reading books that aren’t comics. I do love me some occasional Sedaris or Foer or whatever. Books what ain’t got none of them pretty pictures don’t make nobody better than nobody else, you know? You might as well do yourself a favor and discover what other stories (and storytellers) are out there. Curb the pompous superiority and read a fuckin’ comic.
Getting your mom into comics might very well be an impossible task for a lot of people, but here at High Five! we’re always trying to drag others down with us. Here are a few valiant ideas for getting your mom into comics.
Is your mom into 24? CSINCIS Las Miami? Or even just Law & Order? Then give her Greg Rucka’s Queen and Country *, starring Tara Chace, designated Minder Two, spy extraordinaire for her royal majesty the Queen of England. She’s a british lady spy, and no one writes strong female characters quite like Greg Rucka. Pick up the Definitive Edition, Vol. 1 from Oni Press. Tara Chace could kick Jack Bauer’s ass and STILL have time to go to the bathroom. From there you could probably get your mom involved in Rucka’s Wonder Woman run.
Or maybe your mom is more into the fantastic. Did she like The Princess Bride? Or Labyrinth? Or really any of those weird 80s fantasy movies? Give her Fables. Fables is the story of fairy tale and folklore characters exiled in New York. The first two trades are a bit all over the place, but once Willingham and Sturges got this book going, it rose above it’s premise and became totally awesome. I’ve found that Fables is generally a good entry point for anyone – new readers already KNOW the backgrounds of these characters, there’s no sense of being overwhelmed by decades of continuity and in-jokes.
What about a Star Trek mom? I know people have Star Trek moms, cos I was at a buddy’s graduation party once and I made a joke about Romulan ale. Then his mom bopped over to me making Romulan jokes and I spent the rest of the party talking to her. Oddly enough, I’m going to recommend you take her straight to the super-heroes. Green Lantern: Rebirth. Geoff Johns sets up a great big space opera in this title, and it’s still running to this day. It’s damned good, and I’ve seen new readers who’ve never even HEARD of Green Lantern convert to DC after reading this title. This book pretty much requires a mom that was already a total geek.
Of course, all of these options assume that your mom is already at least a little bit of a media-junkie. If your mom isn’t really into TV or movies, you might be out of luck – some moms are just never, ever gonna read a funny book.
*Queen & Country #1 for free! You’ll need a program to unzip & read it.
So your girlfriend/husband/best friend/sister/mom/wife/brother isn’t into comics? Bummer. High Five! is here to help!
I’ll kick this series off with an obvious one. Let’s say you are a gigantic Grant Morrison fan. Your girlfriend, as nerdy and awesome as she is, doesn’t like comics. Well, she thinks she doesn’t like comics. This post assumes that if you’re reading High Five! and you’ve got a girlfriend, she is probably at least a little geeky, not a classless woo-girl ninny.
Did she like Buffy? That makes it easier. Go pick up the first trade paperback of Buffy Season 8, The Long Way Home. Spend a month or two rewatching the ENTIRE series with her (If she wasn’t into Buffy before, she will be now. You may have to watch Angel as well, for maximum effect). When she goes into withdrawal after watching the series finale, whip that book out and say lovingly “Do you miss them already? Good thing I have this swell COMIC BOOK by JOSS WHEDON which continues the adventures of the fictional characters you’re hopelessly attached to! I got it for you because I LOVE YOU!”
Once she catches up on those, go pick up Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run. Oh snap, your girlfriend is reading super-hero comics. When she finishes Astonishing, she’ll want to read New X-Men, to know what was going on BEFORE Astonishing. So go buy Grant Morrison’s New X-Men.
Now your girlfriend is reading GRANT MORRISON. Hot. From there you can get her reading Animal Man, Doom Patrol, We3, or JLA. I suggest keeping her away from The Invisibles at first, just to be on the safe side.
This whole process should snowball until your girlfriend is spending just as much money as you on Wednesdays!
Recap: Buffy/Angel – Buffy Season 8 – Whedon X-Men – Morrison X-Men – other Morrison books.
Next Week: Your Mom.