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Archive for September, 2008

It’s sad, but not totally surprising.

Over at Comic Book Resources they’re reporting that the DC imprint of graphic novels for girls, Minx, is no more.  From the announced launch the element that struck me oddest was DC.  I think DC comics and I don’t immediately think “girls” or “graphic novels” really, I think Batman.  I think Superman.  I think of a publisher that made their name as the chief competitor to Marvel for the better part of half a century.  Guy stuff.

Also, anytime you start a subdivision aimed at a specific core market you’re acknowledging (a) that you have been neglecting that market, which connotes a sort of guilt, and (b) you’re attempting to correct the problem through a form of market segregation.  DC started Minx because the noted there were a lot of teen girls reading manga.  Imagine if they took similar steps back in the 60s by starting an imprint of comics aimed at black children by giving them their own imprint, a sort of separate but equal for the comic book world.

The problem is that what girls — or any consumer for that matter — wants isn’t their own culturally specific art, media, or entertainment as determined by a single entity, what they want is true integration across the board.  If the observation is that girls are reading more manga the conclusion isn’t that they want their own comics brand but they want comics with female characters in them.  DC sort of got that part right. Castellucci’s Janes books, Good As Lily, The Re-Gifters, all of them featuring female characters.  If that was all it took wouldn’t everyone be beating down the door for that untapped market?

Recently I caught a talk given by J.J. Abrams, one of the creators of the TV show Lost, talking about what he calls the mystery box.  It’s about wanting to know what’s inside that drives dramas, their secret heart, what makes them tick.  During the talk he shows a clip from Jaws.  I’m not going to recount the whole thing here, so if you want the full experience jump over here and give it a look and then come back.  The thing he identifies though, what he says the film is about, it isn’t what we think of with Jaws.  It isn’t the shark, it isn’t the totentanz for three men in a boat, it’s about one man in personal crisis, a crisis of the heart.  This is the core of the film and the essential secret, the mystery within the box, because without this the film is dead.

I’ve always sort of known this about Jaws, but what I realized while listening to Abrams is that when some cultural phenomenon like Jaws — or a graphic novel like Watchmen, or a TV show like Lost, or the Harry Potter books — garners attention what follows is the parade of imitators desperately hoping to cash in through imitation.  But what they see, what they copy, isn’t what makes the original resonate with people.  What is copied is the artifice, the exterior, and not the core or the mystery.  Sequels to Jaws weren’t about a man in crisis, they were about the shock of the shark, and as such became pale (and laughable) imitators.  The core of the Harry Potter books is no different than a Cinderella story with a bit more Grimm added to it, but the immitators only saw wizards and magic and dragons that adorned the outside of it.

Back to Minx.  DC saw girls reading manga and said “hey, we can do that!”  But what they created were comics, not manga.  The stories were more decidedly Western when perhaps it was a Japanese cultural perspective that was the draw.  DC/Minx saw the shark, they never tapped the mystery box, at least that’s my take on it.  But get this explanation:

Multiple sources close to the situation agree Bond and DC aren’t to blame for MINX’s cancellation, and that this development should be seen as a depressing indication that a market for alternative young adult comics does not exist in the capacity to support an initiative of this kind, if at all.

Are they kidding?  Yeah, well, we saw that girls liked comics so we started an imprint just for them, but no one really bought them and so we have to conclude the market really isn’t there. No, Minx, from my perspective the alternative young adult comic market does exist, you just didn’t really bother to understand what that market wanted.

You want to know what I think is the most telling part of the news release?

Nevertheless, CBR News was told that Random House, DC’s book trade distributor, has not been able to successfully place MINX titles in the coveted young adult sections of bookstores like Barnes & Noble.

That’s the killer.  Barnes and Noble decided the books should be buried among the bound collections of guys with tights and the girls don’t like going there.  I worked there, I know.  Reason?  That aisle is full of grown men leering through the manga and teen boys acting like jerkworms arguing over alternate Batman universes.  Everyone knows that what B&N says, goes. And if Minx was even going to have a chance at the market they knew they needed better placement than Fanboy Alley.  I bet a face-out in YA of Minx titles might have told a different story then the one we’re hearing about now.

So long, Minx.

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Long ago – long, long ago – I had this idea to make a comic out of the statues on Easter Island.  Obviously this would be a very cerebral comic as the main characters were made of stone and planted in the ground.  They were sort of the Original Talking Heads.

One storyline concerned feet.  Few realize that the statures have complete bodies and were planted so the couldn’t move around on their own.  One (and this is true) was never finished and he wonders aloud why they don’t have feet, assuming they were all like him.  And he feels somewhat damaged, especially with some of the others laughing at him, until one of the elders reminds them all that even with feet they are no better than their brother without them.

Yeah, crazy stuff.  Perhaps one day I can hook up with a comic artist and carry out this odd venture.

Anyway, in doing extensive research I found a prayer for bringing rain to the island Te Pito O Te Henua, which is what the current occupants call the island.  I’ve always liked this simple prayer to the god Hiro and, in fact, was the text (in a slightly different translation) for the one copy of the comic I ever produced.

‘E te ‘ua, matavari roa ‘a Hiro e
Ka hoa mai koe ki raro
Ka rei mai koe ki raro
‘E te ‘ua, matavari roa ‘a Hiro e

—–

Oh rain, long tears of Hiro
Fall you down
Beat you down
Oh rain, long tears of Hiro

Metreux translation, 1940
from the book

Rongorongo: The Easter Island Script : History, Traditions, Texts
By Steven R. Fischer
Published by Oxford University Press, 1997
With fall nigh, I guess it isn’t long before the rains come on their own.
The Poetry Friday Round-Up is over at Author Amok today.

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I’m sorry, but this is wrong, all wrong.

NO. 1 BESTSELLING AUTHOR EOIN COLFER TO WRITE THE SIXTH HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY

Penguin will publish the sixth novel in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. Eight years after the death of its creator, Douglas Adams, widow Jane Belson has sanctioned the project to be written by the bestselling children’s writer, Eoin Colfer. The new book is entitled “And Another Thing…” and will be published in October 2009.

This from the Penguin Blog UK.

Aside from the fact that I really don’t think anyone should be mucking about with Adams’ work, I’m really not feeling Eoin Colfer as the one to carry the mantle.  I could be wrong, but I totally see myself reading this and going “Nope, that’s not how Adams would have done it,” and that’ll be that.

Does anyone out there have more faith than I do?

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How can you tell when a brown towel is clean?

Anyone remember that?  It was the selling point for an ad for laundry detergent on television back in the 70s.  It might have been for Tide or Cheer or one of those heinous collections of chemicals that pass for laundry detergent.  The idea was that if you couldn’t see the dirt or mildew on a towel how would you know it was there?  Well, by SMELL obviously, but in the commercial a family stood around holding towels and wondering Gee, how can we tell if these are clean? Because that’s what commercials do, ask the question that plants a doubt in your mind (Gee, how do I know if my green towels are clean?  What about my blue ones?), and once you have that doubt, they have you.  They (Those evil THEM) prey on your insecurity and, gee, I guess the only way to be sure those brown-blue-green towels are clean is to buy the product.

What does this have to do with anything?  I finished the first draft of my middle grade novel and I had a strange sensation of not knowing, well, if my metaphorical brown towel was clean.  (Hmm, metaphorical brown towel sounds a little nasty.)  I knew the end was in sight, I was wrapping things up, and all of a sudden I wrote a sentence, looked at it, and thought Gee, I don’t think I need to say anything else.

Another thought crossed my mind, another slogan from another commercial.  In California there was a TV ad for the state lottery.  You see a POV shot of a guy on a motorcycle charging down a pastoral road.  In voiceover you’d hear an average joe say This is weird.  There’d be a beat and he’d follow up with It’s great, but it’s weird. The idea, of course, is that with all his lottery money he could quit his job, buy a motorcycle, and then just zoom around with nothing better to do.

So I’m looking at this final sentence for maybe ten minutes. Is there something more I need to say, any loose ends (brown towel)?  Am I really finished (this is weird)?

Why, in these moments of personal triumph, does my mind flood with memories of TV commercials from long ago?

So it’s done.

Suze asked me if this was the first book manuscript that I have completed.  I opened my mouth to automatically say “of course not” but then it got caught in my throat.  Is it?  I have completed screenplays, but a book? Really?  This is it?  No wonder it feels so alien that I can only relate it to TV commercials: it’s surreal and it doesn’t make sense!  It is something I’ve never done before, something I also never really prepared myself for.

Now what?

Rewrites and revisions, naturally. An overhaul of the opening and a lot of tightening of nuts and bolts.  Maybe a short rest before backtracking.  Maybe start something new to keep the energy moving forward.  The YA about the teens who make a fake documentary to get into college?  Another middle grade story about sea exploration?  No! I already have a dozen stories I’d been meaning to write.  Other characters who have been patient far too long.  Wait! I need to focus on revision, I need to work on something smaller.  A short story.  Serious or humorous?  Who read short stories?  Okay… focus.

It’s just  manuscript, just a first draft.

They’re just words on paper.

But they are mine.

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Among the footnotes of history this is going to have to remain a flyspeck on the period at the end of the sentence. It’s the Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator. I have Gwenda to thank for this (I think), though it’s spreading like wildfire.

So if Sarah Palin were to have named me (quite a feat, given that I’m older than she is) I am told my name would be Bush Gator Palin. I’ve thrown this onto the nicknames page as well. I like the way it’s sort of rugged and outdoorsy while at the same time you know anyone named Bush Palin is out there shooting real gators from the air with an AK-47. I even like the initials – BGP – like the name of a petroleum company or a lobbyist firm in Washington.

Hey, look! I can see Alaska from my front porch!

Go get yourself a new Sarah Palin name. Let me know how that goes for ya.

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A simple request to the universe: would someone please make some new, interesting monsters so we can have some new monster movies.

I guess technically what I mean when I say monsters includes a wide variety of human and humanoid creatures who populate the psyche as vividly as any man-made creature in a rubber suit.  While I’m getting all specific, what I’m looking for are the literary creatures that captivate the imagination and then enter the cultural lexicon as a shared experience. Not to put too fine on it, all you vampire-wannabes, we need some new blood.  And we need it to repair the damage to our psyches.

Seriously, I can think of nothing more dull than this current vogue in blood drinkers.  It’s gotten to the point that the number of vampires extant in the literary world now outnumber the population of our planet.  Yes, I get it, blood is elemental, and the various promises of powers and eternal life and blah-blah-blah, but it’s old. It’s tired. It’s 19th century Victorian in a 21st century geodesic dome.  We’re talking about a leech in human form, no longer an outcast of society but a parasite.  This is sexy?  When it’s a single vampyre in the world, driven by a need and felled by lust, yes, it’s got some erotic overtones.  When it’s selfish armies driven to feed you might as well set up shop with a sign that says “billions served.”  Ma, I’m headed down to the mini mart for a pint of blood.  You need me to get you some anticoagulants?

The children of Victor Frankenstein fared a little better.  Obviously the first time someone sewed a human together and woke them from an eternal slumber that didn’t work so well.  We learned that putting the vehicle together and making the motor run didn’t put a driver behind the wheel.  So science fiction picked up the slack and gave us robot think, just once, an intelligent robot would decide You know, I’m thinking the point of life is happiness, so I’m gonna grab a little spiked lube and go hang out at the beach.  But no, our robots follow the grand tradition of the monster and come for us.  Now it looks like cloning and DNA work are going to make the possibilities less “monster” and more human as we grapple with the moral questions.  Frankie’s always been a moral question, with the the fundamentalist villagers waving their burning flags and Armageddon pitchforks asking “Who died and made you God?”  The monster just doesn’t scare anymore.

Speaking of the undead coming back for seconds, what’s with zombies anyway?  Seriously.  Undead, slow-moving, flesh- and brain-eating creatures who do as they’re controlled to, like armies.  What’s the appeal in watching humans prove they can out-last and out-think the lowest of creatures on the monster food chain?  Maybe it’s me, but I just can’t get excited about these guys.  They’re an inefficient vehicle for examining our fear of being alone and exposed in public.  Now, if the zombies didn’t want to eat our brains but instead want to strip us naked and keep us from wearing clothes in public, wouldn’t that be something!  What if the zombies went from town to town destroying food supplies that contained high fructose corn syrup and trans fats?  The horror!  What would we eat, what would we eat?

The werewolf cracks me up as a monster, because nothing screams PUBERTY more than this creature with a lunar cycle that culminates with the sudden growth of body hair and animal behavior.  Was this ever really a monster to take seriously?  And why always male?  Don’t wolves have mates, and don’t they mate for life?  Why would they need to go marauding the moors or prowling the plateaus in search of… well, the werewolf really never has articulated exactly what it is the old boy wants. Could it be a bath?  Maybe a nice stick to fetch?  A tummy rub? Maybe the Wolfman still has punch for a modern crowd, given that young people today seem to have a pathological fear of body hair and would rather be shorn and waxed than appear hirsute.

Now, as for mummies, I have to admit I liked what they did recently when they revisited the old Egyptian myths.  At least for the first movie.  I could have used a little less camp, but it was still fun, they were still able to mine some unexamined aspects of the original curse thing.  And while I admire them making a go at those mummies in China to expand the franchise I’m not a little nervous that there’s more going on politically with the choices of mummies in countries America currently has uneasy relations with.  Instead of monsters cursing those who disturb their eternal rest we’re now faced with armies (again with the armies!) of undead looking to wreak havoc on the living.  But as with werewolves, where are the literary stories of these creatures, what are we really dealing with when we face down the changeling or the creature who has been pickled and cured?  Mummies are like zombies in that fear-of-the-undead way, but until recently they, too, were slow moving and posed little threat.

In the 1930s Universal pictures gave us what are now considered the great monsters of movies.  They came from literature and they came from recent archaeological discoveries.  They also came from a world that was just beginning to open up.  Following World War I soldiers deployed overseas had seen parts of the world barely in their consciousness outside of classrooms.  Foreign lands and foreign cultures – all this strange newness presented Hollywood and movie-going audience a chance to learn (and fear) things unlike anything American.  The Old World with its charms and customs also had its mysteries and secrets: remote mountain villages with scientists living in castles, remote feudal countrysides with dark lords, funerary monuments filled with treasures and curses.  Today these are all travel destinations with guidebooks explaining quaint superstitions.

By the 1950s our fears became political and nuclear.  The Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation brought us a new breed of monsters.  Creatures bombarded with radiation mutated and grew into city-destroying men in rubber suits.  What is a Godzilla movie if not a mutant lizard battling other mutants (like a giant mutant moth?) in an East-versus-West showdown over superiority.  Yes, it’s up to the people on the ground (again with the armies!) to push the fear back into the sea or find some other way to placate the fears.  And, as if the symbolism of Communist invasion could be made any more blatant, aliens arrived from space to turn us into unfeeling blank slates, to turn us into bits of machinery for the state.  Whether the beast came from 20,000 Fathoms or It Came from Outer Space the fact remains, it came and it came to get us.

By the 1970s our eyes were fully opened to the world and our monsters came from within.  We no longer would run from mummies or aliens – those were the fears of children, the monsters under the bed from long ago.  Instead we would run from our neighbors wielding chainsaws or donning hockey masks and lurking in the darkened corners.  Ancient grudges paid in full, more recent grievances are answered in buckets of bloodletting at remote campsites, in haunted houses, and anyplace else of significance to the specters of vengeance.  Fear of the unknown or the unusual was simply replaced by fear of each other.

It would seem we have exhausted our ability to be scared from within and have now moved to bring each other to a state of blind terror.  How can you expect to tell stories of monsters when you are in a constant state of fear over the monsters among us.  You could take all the monsters of literature, all the cultural monsters from movies, all the fear of nuclear warfare and the end of civilization and the couldn’t replace the fear now deeply embedded in the psyche of the average American.  Where terrorism was once a remote act of violence that happened elsewhere, now we fear unseen acts of terror awaiting us at every turn.  And where is our release for this anxiety, how are we to work out our irrational fears and come to grip with the changes in our society?

Superheroes are not the answer, though I suspect they are an attempt to assuage those fears.  We root for superheroes to serve as our surrogates, but they do not show us how to combat our own fears.  They are the mommies and daddies who save helpless children, they are the protectors of the weak and frail and those who have abdicated their own responsibilities.  That is not who we are or what we need.

What we need are monsters who stand-in for what scares us and shows us how to stand up for ourselves.  Accepting the old cliched monsters, wanting to be like them or longing for them romantically, is a defeatist attitude.  Why run from the Wolfman when you can lust for him?  Why fight the power of the vampire’s magnetic personality when you can open a vein and bleed for her willingly?  Ancient curses from ancient cultures have no power over us when we can instead harness those powers for our own ends.

Over the recent decades we have been badly damaged, made to believe that monsters do not exist and that the people we should fear the most are Other People.  The people we should fear are those telling us we should fear each other, they are the real monsters.  They are the scariest monsters of all because they are accepted, believed, trusted with power and money and government.  But as monsters go they are alos uninteresting.  They look and talk like us and no one goes running from the room when they enter, no one goes looking for a pitchfork to wield when they draw near.  Because we don’t recognize them as monsters we have forgotten how to stand up to them.

So I say it’s time for some new monsters.  It’s time to tell the allegories that instruct, to show us how to stand up once again and teach us how to fight back.  No superalien from space who will come at the last minute to save us, no humutant with elemental powers to stand in for us, we need credible creatures who invade our mental spaces on a visceral level and show us that our guns are useless, that passivity results in death, and that only by banding together and using our intelligence wil we survive.

We need some new monsters, both in books and movies and any other new media that can support them.  The old ones just don’t cut it anymore.

*     *     *     *     *

For those finding the title strangely familiar, or to those who might think I am not aware of such things, yes, I do vividly remember this movie from my childhood.  How many kids today would get these referneces the same way I did back in the day?  Could a similar movie be made today?  Do we have enough of a shared culture anymore to say we have modern, universal monsters?

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poetry friday: limeraiku

How strange.  One minute you’re minding your own business, then along comes a general question about the limerick. Ah, yes, I seem to remember this fine book called The Penguin Book of Limericks, edited by a Mr. Parrott (if that is his real name).  Here’s a fine collection of… what’s this?

Limericks, in haiku form?

Yes.  Take the five line limerick and remove the second and fourth lines.  Of the three remaining lines, with their A-B-A rhyme, shorten each to follow traditional haiku pattern of 5, 7, and 5 syllables.  This is harder than it seems.  I’ve tried and failed a few times but I am determined.  In the meantime, some people who have managed it.

Little Miss Muffet
Said: ‘Stuff it. No go. And so,
Hands off my tuffet.

-W. S. Brownlee

A-hem. Yes.  The limerick.  Like much folklore and oral tradition, occasionally rude, crude and socially unacceptable.  How unlike the haiku!  And yet there they are, together!  Another from the nursery?

Said Little Boy Blue:
‘Same to you.  You scorn my horn?
You know what to do.”

W.S. Brownlee

Indeed! I always nursery rhyme characters to be less than savory at times.  Almost like carneys.  Candlestick jumping and plum-pie thumping and whatnot.  How about a little literary biography?

John Keats rose at dawn
Still forlorn, to chaste to taste
The amorous Brawne,

~Nick Enright

And so.  Though I have failed in my own attempts, a charge to those of you with better skills to add your own limeraiku to the world.  Feel free to taunt me with your efforts in the comments.

Poetry Friday is being hosted at Biblio File this week.

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