Thursday, August 29, 2013


So, over on Talent Not Guaranteed, I just unleashed unveiled the new project that will take a year or so to complete: a panel-for-panel re-do of Justice League of America #200, similar in spirit to Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake of Hitchcock's Psycho, but maybe closer in skill and execution to the legendary Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation.

This project is actually an off-shoot of a thought experiment I have had for some time; it focused on JLA #200, but only because that was the comic I had to hand when the idea came. Regardless of the source material, I think it would be an interesting exercise.

The first step is to take a comic book story and have a third party write a (DC-stye as opposed to Marvel-stye) full script -- sort of reverse-engineering the script from the finished product. This in itself would be a useful exercise in exploring the conventions of comic scriptwriting and the nature of the collaboration between writer and artist. The next step is to take the finished script and give it to a new artist, one who has never seen the source material. That artist then illustrates the story according the full script, interpreting the writer's words and direction and actualizing them. Finally, we compare the second version with the original version, examine the differences, and try to see where the influence of the writer and that of the artist can identified.

I'm not sure that this experiment isn't already being done somewhere, although perhaps it has more appeal to critics than creators - adaptation is often a useful lens for literary analysis, but maybe the talent is less interested in this than the audience.

In any event, it is that thought experiment that inspired my latest exercise. We'll see how it goes as I slog through. Probably something like this.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Five by Five: Dalgoda

From 1984 to 1986, Fantagraphics published Dalgoda, a science-fiction series about the adventures of an interstellar visitor to Earth in a future that had quite a few disturbing similarities to our own time. I recently backfilled the wholes in in my eight-issue run and re-read the whole story. Here's the 5 x 5:

1. Jan Strnad and Dennis Fujitake are two of my favorite creators. Strnad wrote the fantastic ERB-Wodehouse mashup Dinosaur Rex (illustrated by Henry Mayo) and Fukitake illustrated the back-up story in that book, what is perhaps my all-time favorite comic book story, Dragons of Summer (written by William Messner-Loebs). In Dalgoda, we get these two great talents working together, and that alone is the price of admission.

2. Strnad gives us the titular canine alien and plays with his dogginess without ever making it trite or predictable. All of the cast members (except maybe one villainy-villain) are complex and multi-faceted: the human hero/partner has some less-admirable qualities, the government agents are not faceless drones, the lawyers are not amoral caricatures - even "The Girl" is not at all stereotypical. Heck, Gunner is more "The Sidekick" and screw the gender roles.

3. Fujitake's detailed art is a great accompaniment to Strnad's layered writing. His action scenes are dynamic and clear, but where he shines is in revealing character - the expressions and body languages of the main characters, the supporting characters, and even the extras all convey mood, emotion, information, and even plot cogently and beautifully. I have never encountered a more real world in a comic book than one Fujitake has created.

4. Dalgoda is, of course, a sci-fi epic, and the series gives us a fully realized world, with consistent explanations for its inconsistent technology, a logical premise about interstellar travel that pays attention to both Einsteinian physics and quantum mechanics, and a plot with stakes high enough to make us care about the mission, the maguffin(s), and the heroes.

5. What was ultimately disappointing about this re-read is that the story leaves us in media res; not exactly at a cliffhanger, but with no resolution as of yet. There was a follow-up Dalgoda series, Flesh and Bones; I did not read that at the time and will have to seek it out now. I don't think there's a collected Dalgoda of any sort, but if you ever get a chance to read these, jump at it.

PS: There was some kind of fantasy back-up feature in some of the issues but I ignored it then and now...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Size matters

So, I was walking through my bedroom slash office getting something, and my eye happened upon some books, and I saw what I thought was an interesting juxtaposition. As usual, I over-thought it, and gathered more samples, and anyway, herewith are the results:

The two tallest books in my bookcases:

The two thickest books in my bookcases:

The two smallest books (by surface area of cover) in my bookcases:

I'm not sure what meaning I can glean, but there it is.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Big Box

So, as I said elsewhere, I recently purchased some comic books from Mile High Comics, and I'm really not shilling for them, but I am going to to talk about them again. They included some propaganda in with the shipment, of course; adverts for special editions and some sort of custom variant cover stuff, but one of the comic-sized flyers had a three-panel photograph of one of the firm's retail stores. I wanted to scan it, but it's way too big, so here's a different way to show what it looked liked:

Man, that's a big comics shop. The flyer says it's the world's largest at 45,000 square feet. What gets me is that there doesn't seem to be any stock besides comics - I can't see any action figures or gaming supplies or whatnot. Holy moly.

All right, enough of them. If Mike Sterling will send me some pictures of Ralph's, I'll post those.

And if anyone has pictures of the Passaic Book Center, where I bought back issues in the 1970s, I'd love to see them.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Completist, not elitist

So, I had a need (yes, a deep need) for a copy of JLA #200 and although I own it I could not find it, so I decided to buy a(nother) copy. I couldn't find it at a local comic shop, so I went to the ready stand-by on the internet, Mile High Comics.

Since buying the one comic would have incurred exorbitant shipping costs, but spending more money got free shipping, it seemed only logical to buy more comics. In that spirit, I took the opportunity to fill in a few series.

I sort of felt like this:

(That's right, I couldn't find the actual Doonesbury strip that illustrated how I felt, so I posted a picture of someone describing it.)

I remember when obtaining back issues meant multiple trips to used book stores, tracking down the few specialty comic shops that were in existence, or going to a convention. Now, I can just log on, click my mouse, and the desired copies are winging my way forthwith. It takes some of the adventure out of it, sure. But it does fill the shortbox! Here are the series that I filled out:

Great Lakes Avengers: I had gotten 1 through 3 (of 4) from a quarter bin, just for Squirrel Girl... now I have the conclusion.

Mage: I had all 15 of these but 1, 2, and 4 -- it was one of my favorite series back in the day and I wonder if it still holds up. It certainly deserves another read-through.

Amethyst: I found 1 through 12 of the original mini-series in a less-than-a-quarter bin at the thrift store, except for 8 - I think that one cost as much as all the rest combined. Anyway, this is a series deserving of a close read.

Dalgoda: One of the best science-fiction stories in comics -- for some reason, I only had sort of every other issue. I think the story will flow much better now.

It wasn't just the completist impulse that led to this extravagance: I have always wanted to explore these series as complete stories (well, three of them, anyway), and this will give me the chance to do that. Keep watching this space for the dissection reports!

Oh, and of course I screwed up. I forgot that the Fujitake-Strnad Retief series for Mad Dog went to six issues. I have the first three, so I didn't see a gap, but I need to complete this one soon, too -- it really needs to be celebrated,

Of course, that just means Ill have to find some other stuff to buy in order to get the free shipping...

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Mash kicking

So, some time ago, I was readying some observations about the state of mash-ups. Examples of this internet idiom are ubiquitous - you can't go to Tumblr or any pop culture aggregator site without running across one pretty quickly; sometimes two or three pieces in a row will be about mash-ups. The one that kicked off my rumination was this one - "Charlie Brownson" it's called:

I don't get it. After the initial shock of the juxtaposition, what's there? Does this tell me anything? I mean, some mash-ups illuminate one thing by mashing it against another - if I insert the crew of Serenity into the Breakfast Club poster, I am (hopefully) letting you know something about how to see each of the characters. Turning the Justice League into a D&D party says something about the creator's understanding of both superheroes and tabletop RPGs. Turning Calvin & Hobbes into Lex Luthor and the Joker was actually a work of small genius, explicating all four characters.

But this? Charlie Brown's chronic depression will lead him to soul-killing violence? What? What?

As I said, I was readying these observations in the hopes of producing a short essay, but it seems that the watershed has already been reached and all hope is lost. Check this out:

It's masterful, I'll give the guy that. There's about 200 movies beautifully edited together there - that must have taken a lot of work. And his choices were almost all OMG-epic. But to what end? There is no consistency of visual tone or sensibility, much less any sort of narrative energy, even implied. I see that the guy who made this is a trailer editor by trade, and I imagine this functions as part of his portfolio, but I swear it is so po-mo that it makes my ears bleed.

Has it come to this? Do we just want the cool bits of everything thrown in a blender to enjoy without intent, or meaning, or message?

Man, it's enough to make someone want to read a book.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

More than meets the why

On a trip to Spokane this weekend to visit some friends, we were treated to a demonstration of a pal's snazzy Volkswagen Eos convertible... and it was just geeky enough to make this blog instead of the other one. Here, take a look:

Full disclosure - shown at 150% speed to match the music.

Thursday, August 1, 2013


So, Wonder Wife and I just finished watching the entire Freaks and Geeks oeuvre - not a Herculean task, since there were only ever eighteen episodes. The discussion of how a brilliant series can come and go so quickly (cf. Firefly) is for another time; right now, I want to focus on just one aspect of the final episode of this series about burnouts and nerds, the yin-yang misfits of high school.

Daniel Desario, one of the freaks (James Franco in a surprisingly textured performance), is going through a rough patch; he decides to play Dungeons and Dragons with the geeks. Here's a scene compilation:

While almost none of the game mechanics are elaborated, the show gets across the essence and appeal of the game perfectly, I think. "We sit around and crack jokes and eat junk food all night while we're fighting dragons and saving princesses and stuff." It's the community, the shared experience, and the story that matter; the dice rolling is just there to help things along.

There have been a couple of other shows that have used portrayals of Dungeons and Dragons to good ends. 

Community featured a D&D episode that didn't just avoid or ignore the game mechanics, it presented them totally incorrectly: only the DM ever rolled the 20-sided die. The session played by the motley collection of community college study group members was, however, completely accurate in its portrayal of the kind of psychodrama that can bleed into roleplaying when adults play D&D and are concerned with more complex issues than "saving princesses and stuff."

Another show lovingly mocked the difference between D&D geeks and civilians. Britain's The IT Crowd featured the company computer nerds entertaining some visiting VIPs with a rousing session of tabletop roleplaying.

After a slow start, the bros (what's the British equivalent of "bro"?) are swept away into roleplaying and have a great time. Hey, I've seen it happen.

There was an episode (or two, I imagine) of the The Bing Bang Theory that focused on D&D, but have never seen those in situ, so I'll pass on commenting.

Any more? Four major references in ten years or so seems too few even for a fringe activity like D&D.