Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Lurking deep in the shadows

A piece at the Savage Critic traces the influences that led to the hero who lurks deep in the shadows best known today, Batman. Of course the Shadow is mentioned, he who knows what evil llllurks in the hearts of men. Zorro is not mentioned, for some reason, even though he was a movie in 1920 and serials before that and also an obvious influence. Mostly the post is given over to telling of the French silent serial Judex, which sounds like an interesting series as does the other work by the same maker described.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that has any of the Judex serials. It has got The Shadow for your listening pleasure and the classic Zorro movie (and some serials).

Maybe it sounds particularly interesting since I've been getting out the old radio serial mp3s and listening to The Shadow and The Third Man and as well as some shows not starring Orson Wells and some new stuff off the BBC for entertainment while knitting.

Speaking of Orson Wells and today being All Hallows' Eve, here's one more thing in the archive for your listening pleasure.

Oh, yeah. 100!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Creator owned is better

One of the actual reasons manga can be better than certain American comics is that it is creator owned.

Once I picked up Death: At Death's Door and asked about it. My comic guy explained how popular Jill Thompson's other efforts with the Endless were and that this was a new story for that audience, etc. "Ah," say I, going on to summarize, "sanctioned fanfic." It has finally percolated through my thick head why the answer to that was pretty much a grumble. Also why this is a particularly ironic title to say that about.

A great part (it's a good store and I couldn't say if this is over or under half) of the content of the store could be summed up as "sanctioned fanfic" or, worse, "solicited fanfic". The characters in so many books are corporate properties written and illustrated by the page by someone who did not originally create the world or the character. All too often by someone who would rather be working on something else.

The stories add on year after year until there is far too much life lived for one character and something happens (cue Superboy!) so that everything can start over again. Besides, the inconsistencies from having so many cooks were probably starting to add up.

Creating something new seems to be anathema. If a new character is needed, often an old character is recycled instead. Pick one off a back shelf and give it a makeover. Or, better yet, find one that is still active enough to have a following so there's a built in audience! There's a laziness about it on both sides. The publisher doesn't have to pay a new creator and the audience doesn't have to go looking for new interesting characters because the stories about the ones they've found already never end.

There can be good stuff to come from this. The Sandman series, from which the book I'd picked up derives, is, I am given to understand, work for hire. A long forgotten character completely reinvented for a pitch and the publisher had the good sense to agree. (That other guy who wrote Good Omens is really a rather good writer whatever he goes after.)

There is plenty of chaff as well. Personally, I find the sudden appearance of a character who just happens to be owned by the same company but doesn't usually seem to be in the same sort of world stomach turning. Your average creator can tell which sets of characters should be interacting and doesn't mix them up, your average company full of corporate owned characters sees a quick buck in giant crossovers between groups and no one can stop them because they own all the trademarks. (I don't know how this gets them the bucks, but apparently people buy it.)

Of course it all ultimately comes down to the writing. A bad writer may have a better chance of it if handed the ready made setting and populous, but there really is no need to coddle bad writers. Meanwhile a good writer can be susceptible to all the world crossing, cameos of favorite characters not involved, and whatever else that is the mark of fanfic and not of good stories.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Longer is not better

Apparently one of the reasons "manga is better" than American comics is because it is longer. How so? Almost all of the manga that makes it to this country is serialized in weekly or monthly anthology magazines. There's only 16-18 pages of story in a weekly magazine and usually less than twice that for a monthly. Then 10 weekly or 5-6 monthly chapters get collected into a book that is usually a little under 200 pages, the form we see it. If people only ever picked up the collections of American comics, they would get a nice long story too. Usually one that is a complete arc, too, rather than an arbitrary collection.

I especially love when someone claiming manga is "longer" goes on to extol the virtues of some weekly Jump title that is selling like hotcakes. For me, these embody why longer is not always better. Quite a lot of these start off with some overall plot to frame the story in, but this quickly becomes merely a frame for a repetitive story by some author who has found it very nice to have a consistent paycheck and will milk it for as many years as possible.

You can get the same thin frame with an American comic. You don't even have to look past the superheros to find it. Is "This is the life of Super-X, to whom life has thrown a curve ball and now s/he wants to do good for the world!" any less substantial than "This is the life of a rubbery boy who, inspired by his pirate hero, is trying to be the pirate king!"? Well, I suppose the second one has a goal and thus an ending is promised. Judging by the talk, that end is even in sight. (But how many times has it been in sight before?) I don't actually know because I never got past the first volume.

And, for the record, manga is full of superheros.