Sunday, May 31, 2009

Selling Ted Out

Why is it that when something enters mainstream consciousness, it suddenly seem to become a lot less cool?

I remember when Neil Gaiman’s Sandman was a beautifully-kept secret of the Geekdom Illuminati, a wonderful piece of visual prose that had existed below the common fanboy’s radar for decades. Suddenly, with the release of the book’s collected volumes, everyone and his cousin was reading about Dream and the rest of the Endless. In fact, when Gaiman came to visit a few years ago for a local event, he was quite literally swarmed by legions of his readers.

Now a few who had been reading the series before it erupted into the mainstream reacted in different ways. Some were suddenly cooler than they actually were, just for having read the book before the rest of us did. Others violently protested against the Sandman’s sudden boom in popularity, wishing that the book stayed a secret known only to the purest of comic book geeks. Whichever side you belonged to, if you were one of those who were early readers of the series, I’m guessing you couldn’t help but feel that the series lost a bit of its allure when its sales increased astronomically.

There’s a little bit of romanticism behind knowing of something that others don’t. It’s like a secret tropical paradise – it’s more precious when less people know about it. The more people know about your heavenly beach getaway, the more will come to visit. The more people that come to visit, the more businesses come to capitalize on its popularity. As it becomes more and more commercialized, even more people come to party in the summer months. The place gets loud and raucous and dirty, and your favorite beach, while still a premium spot for tourists, becomes a lot cheaper (I’m looking at you, Boracay). In the end, it all boils down to one scenario – the more people who know about it, the more people will spoil it.

Now I’m not saying that the same will follow for Gaiman’s work. You have to admit, however, that you now can’t go to a local bookstore without seeing his name. Comic book snobs (especially those who make it a point to refer to the books as “graphic novels”, which really is just a snootier term for what they are) shudder at the thought of your regular old Juan de la Cruz perusing the shelves and picking up a copy of Neverwhere just because it has “Dat Gay-mahn Guy’s” name on it. They call Coraline’s cinematic release a crime against nature, because of the addition of a character new to the beloved source material.

But I ask, what the hell is so bad about that? What’s wrong with more people appreciating what you do? I’m not entirely sure, but from my experience, there are about two reasons why aficionados dislike their goods entering the mainstream.

One is that they may envision the secret beach scenario I illustrated above. They fear the emergence of *gasp* Sandman charms for Crocs or *gasp again* Delirium popping up in an episode of Hannah Montana or *be still my raging heart* some other disgustingly mass-marketed product.

Another is that they run out of self-perceived “coolness”. With Sandman out in the mainstream, the comic snobs can’t scoff at the common fan’s fascination with colorful spandex and explosions. They can’t ridicule people for enjoying comic books’ equivalent of Michael Bay movies when everyone else is reading the works of Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison and Frank Miller, among other fantastic writers. They lose the ability to say “Psssh. You read X-men? If you want to read real comics… excuse me, Graphic Novels, you should read what I read.” It seems as though knowing about something that others don’t is a status symbol, a step up in the hierarchy of coolness.

Honestly, I’ve felt this way before, but I’ve always consoled myself in the very fact that more people are reading the stuff. So what if crappy adaptations take liberties with the source material (I still hate X-men Origins: Wolverine, by the way)? So what if your hyper-trendy next-door neighbor buys a few trade paperbacks of the Sandman solely because “everybody’s reading it”? I think it’s good that everybody’s reading it, because that means their tastes are improving, and if the taste of the mainstream as a whole improves, so does the quality of work the major corporations choose to publish. Your little snobby secrets are helping make everything better.

It’s because of this that I want to sell Ted the Bug out.

Ted is a character in one of my favorite titles, Bone. Drawn and written by the extremely talented Jeff Smith, Bone tells the story of three cousins and their adventures in a valley of fascinating people and creatures. The tale begins with Fone Bone, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone being driven out of their hometown following a disastrous event involving Phoney’s ambitions and some bad prunes. Lost in the wilderness and desperate for water, they chance upon a crudely-drawn map before being separated by a swarm of locusts. Fone Bone is able to hold onto the map and finds his way to the valley, where he meets Ted, the possum kids, a cigar-smoking dragon, a pair of stupid, stupid rat creatures, and Thorn, a young farm girl living with her grandmother.

Despite its simple, almost cartoon-ish start, the story develops into an epic journey, with an ages-old battle that extends into the dream-world and an unbelievable discovery about Thorn’s past. Jeff Smith masterfully melds the animated whimsy of early Disney cartoons with Tolkien-esque fantasy in his storytelling, while his art explodes with dynamism and expressiveness in every panel. The tale is full of wonder, charm, terror and humor, and is, in my opinion, a classic for all ages. The art and storytelling is simple enough to be read as a bedtime story, but the themes, plot and dialogue can be appreciated by any age group. It’s hard to find a story that can capture the emotions behind love’s regret and the corrupting influence of power in such a quaint, well-done package.

The critics agree, too. The winner of 10 (TEN!!!) Eisner awards and 11 (ELEVEN!!!) Harvey Awards, Bone was named one of Time Magazine’s Ten Greatest Graphic Novels. Scholastic acquired the rights to publish Bone in 2004, and just finished publishing the last volume in January 2009. What’s great about the Scholastic editions, and what sets them apart from Smith’s independent Cartoon Books label's editions, is that the series has been colored by award-winning colorist Steve Hamaker.

I realize I’m gushing about a comic book, but I really do want more people to read it. It’s a fantastic piece for all ages, and if I can get even just one person who chances upon this little bit of binary code on the vast universe that is the Internet, I’ll be happy.

I’m also writing this because Lauren gave me the most awesome gift for my birthday: The Art of Bone. I really love seeing Jeff Smith’s work in progress, and he’s been one of my biggest inspirations in the field of comics. To think that he’d been drawing these characters since his early childhood, and was able to develop them into a wonderful work of modern visual literature is just amazing to me, and I can only hope to achieve what he's accomplished with his dreams.

I am being such a fanboy right now it’s not even funny. But really, if you do so happen to read this post, read Bone as well. You’re going to love it.

Read on >

Monday, May 4, 2009

All I Need's Just a Pair of Wheels

I sometimes wish I could wear spandex.

And spritz hairspray all over my long, unkempt mane.

And grab my crotch on stage.

I've got a love for cheesy rock anthems, the kind that sets your soul on fire with motivational words, emboldening guitar chords, and ultimately ends up as the main theme on movie soundtracks. For as long as I can remember, I've been performing hits like "Eye of the Tiger", "Blaze of Glory", and "All for Love" in the sanctity of my shower. There's just something about these songs that makes me feel (dare I say it?) alive.

Perhaps it's the catchy tunes the songs typically hold. Maybe the incredibly cheesy lyrics strike a familiar chord with me (I mean, have you read the previous entry?). It might even be the fact that these songs are best sung from the chest, belted out like a primal affirmation of modern masculinity. Whatever it is, I've been hard-pressed to find music that's so unabashedly emotional.

And so my fantasies are better explained: the spandex is for the outfits the bands used to wear back in the anthems' heyday; the hairspray for the hairstyle that goes with the costume; and the crotch-grabbing for me to be able to hit those really high notes. I absolutely love these songs and love singing them. Hell, I don't know the lyrics to most of them, but I will audibly mumble along to the choruses.

What makes me enjoy them is the incredible passion behind them. Yeah, it's probably all commercialized mainstream money-making hogwash, but it's pretty fucking effective. I can feel the fire burning in my eyes whenever I hear one of these bad boys playing. I can feel myself standing up, pumping my chest, and belting out this declaration of my manhood. I am the man who will fight for your honor, goddammit!

So what's the point of all this lame drivel? I've decided to actually listen to one of the songs, and not just ride the wave of awesomeness it brings to my senses. The song of choice is the now-classic "Man in Motion" by John Parr, main theme of 80s brat pack flick "St. Elmo's Fire." I mean, take a look at some of those lyrics:

I can see a new horizon underneath the blazin' sky
I'll be where the eagle's flying higher and higher
Gonna be your man in motion, all I need is a pair of wheels
Take me where my future's lyin', St. Elmo's Fire

I can climb the highest mountain, cross the wildest sea
I can feel St. Elmo's Fire burnin' in me, burnin' in me

Just once in his life a man has his time
and my time is now, I'm coming alive

I can hear the music playin', I can see the banners fly
Feel like you're back again, and hope ridin' high
Gonna be your man in motion, all I need is a pair of wheels
Take me where my future's lyin', St. Elmo's Fire

How does that not make you want to make something of yourself? How? John Parr has awakened something in me that no other 80s singer, not even Rick-fucking-Astley, can ever hope to bring out.

See, I'm going to quit my job soon, and among other unfortunate things, one thing that's been holding me back from finally telling the bosses to shove it is the fear that I might be making a mistake. I don't want to leave my job thinking it's holding me back, only to find out that I made a mistake. I don't want to see myself as an idealistic young tool whose ambition got the better of him. And yet, I do know that the company isn't going to take me anywhere. In the end, all that's left is my fear of changing things to which I've grown accustomed.

Well, to fuck with that. I'm going to be a man in motion. I'm going seek those new horizons underneath the blazing sky. I am going to soar with the eagles (but stay a Lasallian!) and take a mighty flying dump on the occupational wasteland I'll be leaving behind. Hell, I might be making a huge mistake, but I'm young, and I know that things will get better than what they are now eventually, even if I do end up taking a step backward. Hell yeah I can feel it burning in me! AWWWW YEEEEAAHHH!!!

Also, I really do need a pair of wheels. I'll probably need to learn how to drive first. AND I WILL, BITCHES. I WILL.

Read on >