Martinez has been writing humorous SF novels for close to a decade now, all of which have looked like fun to me, but Emperor Mollusk versus the Sinister Brain is the first one I managed to actually read. It’s the SFnal story of a world-conquering squid from Neptune (a super-genius squid from Neptune) in a very comic-booky universe, where every planet in the solar system has an indigenous race with their own high technology.
Emperor Mollusk narrates his own story, starting well after he’s conquered Earth (for its own benefit; he’s a very benevolent tyrant) and mostly focusing on his battle with a new would-be conqueror, who may be even smarter than he is. It’s quick and zippy and colorful and amusing, filled with quips and explosions and last-minute escapes and triple reverses and more high-tech gadgets than all of the Bond movies put together.
And if I even wanted to do a serious critical take on it — and who would want to do such a thing to a book like this? — I read it too long ago to remember any of the pertinent details. Emperor Mollusk is fun, and smart about its generic materials, and thoroughly amusing. I’d be very happy to read more by Martinez if this is the way he usually works.
Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? By Brian Fies 208 pages, $14.95, Abrams ComicArts
The future never turns out like people predict. Nostradamus was wrong. Authors, philosophers, painters, and clergy have all been wrong about what the world of tomorrow will turn out to be. Depending upon when you were born and where you were raised, the future is either shockingly surprising or deeply disappointing. Brian Fies’ Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? falls into the latter category.
The 2009 book is now out in softcover and a personal essay on what the world has become since the 1939 World’s Fair, which also parallels the development of geek culture since, after all, that was the first place Superman made a personal appearance as his popularity was just beginning to soar. The sky was the limit, it seemed, and the World’s Fair promised peace and prosperity at a time that war was already being fought in Europe and Asia. The fair seemed to be willing to war to stay away from our shores.
The promise of space adventures, which first appeared monthly in the pulp magazines, took off at this same period thanks to adventure serials in newspapers, radio exploits doled out in fifteen minute installments and then fifteen chapter serials shot on a shoestring but told at a such a breakneck pace you just had to come back next week to learn what happened next. At the same time, war shook America out of the Depression doldrums and forced manufacturing, technology, and science to stay one step ahead of the Axis powers.
Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?, the long-awaited follow-up to Mom’s Cancer, is a unique graphic novel that tells the story of a young boy and his relationship with his father.
Spanning the period from the 1939 New York World’s Fair to the last Apollo space mission in 1975, it is told through the eyes of a boy as he grows up in an era that was optimistic and ambitious, fueled by industry, engines, electricity, rockets, and the atom bomb. An insightful look at relationships and the promise of the future, award-winning author Brian Fies presents his story in a way that only comics and graphic novels can.
Interspersed with the comic book adventures of Commander Cap Crater (created by Fies to mirror the styles of the comics and the time periods he is depicting), and mixing art and historical photographs, this groundbreaking graphic novel is a lively trip through a half century of technological evolution. It is also a perceptive look at the changing moods of our nation-and the enduring promise of the future.
Fies, best known for his award winningMom’s Cancer, followed up with this look back at the promises of the past and the failure of the future to deliver. The story stretches from the World’s Fair to the final Apollo mission in 1975 and is told entirely from the point of view of Pop and Buddy and thanks to the miracle of comic book storytelling, the two age incredibly slowly while the world moves ahead in real time. It’s a conceit, using them as metaphors not actual characters, that doesn’t entirely work despite an Author’s Note up front, but it’s at worst a minor annoyance.
Interestingly, the book also tells the story of American society by showing the mindset as world events changed around us, going from the anything is possible 1940s to the disillusioned 1960s. Also reflective of this evolution are a series of faux comics featuring Commander Cap Crater and the Cosmic Kid. Imitating the styles of the 1940-1970s, these stories also show how comic books have grown ever more sophisticated in reaction to the changing readership. Fies does a terrific job matching the bad color registration and subtly adjusts the paper yellowing to reflect the ages as well as the ever more complex indicias.
The book also nicely integrates actual photography from space or of the fair along with images taken from the great futurist artist Chesley Bonestell. The storytelling, artwork, layout, pacing, and color are terrific and does a nice job taking us era to era even as our main characters oh so slowly grow and age. Dad remains representative of an American society whose time has passed and maintains his conservative stance which ultimately causes conflict with Buddy, who yearns for the future to be here now.
It’s the 1960s when everything changes as the Russians reach space before the Americans and it has become clear that the promises of the 1930s will not be kept. There’s a sense of anger and loss at this realization which also makes the 1970s a sad period when there’s little to believe in.
Still, Fies offers up an optimistic ending, pointing out the current technology boom of the last 10-15 years has once more awakened the endless possibilities offered in the years ahead. We may not be getting jet packs and interplanetary travel any time soon, but we are reminded there is a lot to look forward to.
Based on…oh, I don’t know – some observation? A hunch? An angel whispering in my ear? Anyway, based on some darn thing, I hereby guess that some comics writers aren’t as aware of story structure as they might be – not as much as, say, their artistic first cousins, screen writers who, I’m told, are generally very aware of it, particularly if they’ve studied the craft in some college-level course, or read a few of the many books on the subject.
Well, although I do address the structure stuff in the courses I teach, I won’t burden you with it here and now. Not the time, not the place. However, maybe just a teensy bit of structure blather might not be amiss.
Have you noticed that trilogies seem to be the publishing rage? (Okay, not rage. Whimper?) There was the Girl in the Dragon Tattoo, which was twice a trilogy, as novels and as movies, and may be moving into a third trilogyhood because there’s been an English language film adaptation of the first novel – the other movies were in (I think) Swedish and were directed by (I’m sure) a Dane. (A great dane? Time will tell.)
Did I write “a third trilogyhood?” Yes I did. Wanna make something of it, buddy?
The other trilogy which is crowning the New York Times bestseller lists is Fifty Shades of Grey and its two sequels. I haven’t read more than a handful of the books’ words, but, ahem, somebody in this house has it on her Kindle and we have it on good authority that these novels are smut! (What’s on my Kindle is Walter Issacson’s bio of Steve Jobs, which is not in any way smutty, at least so far. Probably just as well.) I ask you: does such a thing belong on the Kindle of someone who attended Catholic schools, clear through to a university degree?
And while we’re on the subject of Kindles: the ninja fairies who work for Amazon snuck into my Kindle the other day and left a message informing me that the voodoo-hoodoo that runs the cyberworld has been upgraded, or at least fiddled with, and pretty soon I’ll be able to read comic books on the gadget. In two formats, if my understanding is good. Am I rejoicing? Moaning with happiness? Doing a celebratory dance? Nope. Still don’t trust technology, despite the fact that I’m really digging the Steve Jobs book. But I’ll probably give Kindlecomix a try when the ninja fairies make the machine hospitable to them, if only to demonstrate that, while you may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, some old dogs are at least willing to try jumping through the friggin’ hoop.
But weren’t we discussing story structure? Well, consider yourself taught by bad example because this column is ill-structured, at least for story purposes – indeed, it’s structured only by association of topics. Not the best approach to dramatic storytelling. But maybe one of you can make it work.
RECOMMENDED READING: Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder. If you want to learn something about story structure, give this a try.
Daaaaaamn. This is what you can do in your spare time with off the shelf technology nowadays?
Michael Habjan created this on an Intel i7-990X hex core 24 GB RAM, and and i7-920 quad core 12 GB RAM over eight months… and made me miss Christopher Reeve even more, with the disturbing realization that if technology keeps going at this rate, I won’t be missing him for long.
After a hiatus the likes which will never be seen again, the Boys of Pulped! Are Back! This week Tommy Hancock hosts fascinating guest and author Lee Killough, author of Checking On Culture: An Aid to Building Story Background! Published by Yard Dog Press, this book is A MUST HAVE for anyone writing today! Tips on how to build societies, what things to look for in all areas, including agriculture, technology, personal interactions, and more! Doesn’t matter if you’re setting your tale in 1930s New York or in a far off future on a distant planet where amoebas are the dominant life form! Culture is everywhere and Lee’s book is a GREAT guide on how to build it properly!
Also, Barry Reese begins his REVIEWS FROM THE 87TH FLOOR, taking a look at Classic and New Pulp works and giving you his thoughts and commentary on them, like it or not!
PULPED! is back and be sure to follow the show in the coming weeks because it’s exactly the same, but man, ONLY WAY DIFFERENT!
I’m not as good-looking as Tony Stark – not even close. And I’m not a billionaire – not even closer. And as for technology…well, let’s just say that I’m not exactly an early adopter – more like an after-the-sun-cools adopter.
About two feet from where I sit, there languishes an iPod Touch that Mari got at no cost when we bought this computer because she’s a teacher. I don’t know how to make it work. Neither does she.
Her Kindle sat on a table for a month before the lovely and accommodating Perri Pivovar did some wizardry and now Mari’s reading the second volume of the Hunger Games trilogy off the Kindle screen (and enjoying it, you very much.) But without Perri’s kindness? Maybe Mari could have used the Kindle as a bookmark.
I’m reluctant to buy electronica because I fear the frustration I feel when the things don’t perform.
So when the editorial fates landed me the job of writing the monthly Iron Man comics a couple-three decades ago, I wondered what there was in the Tony Stark/Iron Man character for me to identify with. The first Iron Man I ever did was a single issue fill-in and I had Tony able to solve a problem only by shedding the armor that enabled him to claim superhero status (and feel free to read into that anything you like.) But when I agreed to do 12 Iron Mans a year, I knew that Tony’s metallic striptease was a one-time-only trope, best not repeated anytime soon, if ever.
So I had a hero whose very existence was based on gadgetry and I was cursed by Crankus, the evil god of technology, and how was I to bridge the gap between high tech fiction and the Luddite real life me?
Ah. A realization. I drive cars, don’t I? And Tony “drives” his armor and maybe therein lies the commonality between Mr. Stark and me that would save me whatever woe might come from doing stories about a guy I neither knew nor liked. Anyway, good enough. I embarked on what was, for me, a very satisfactory three-years as Iron Man’s chronicler-in-chief.
But I still had trouble with technology, even after I dropped dead in a café and was revived by John Ingallinera, Lizzie Fagan, Michael O’Shea and Bryan Holihan, who knew where a defibrillator was and how to use it. The gadget literally brought me back to life.
Maybe Crankus was easing up?
So a month ago, I decided that I’d had enough of not being able to understand song lyrics, conversations at parties and my wife’s comments on television shows we were watching, among other irritants. I had hearing loss. And a technological remedy existed. And that being the case, it was foolish vanity to go through life saying, “Huh?”
We went to the hearing aid place in a nearby town. I got tested and yep! – loss of hearing in both ears. Conversation was held, a down payment proffered and off we went, to return a few weeks later. I now owned two nearly invisible hearing aids. A new dawning? Should I have another shot at the iPod? Maybe get my own Kindle? A tablet with a Skype attachment? How about those video games the youngsters like?
I put ‘em on, went home and…
Discovered that the one for the right ear didn’t work.
While guys like Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas spent the 1970s reinventing live action moviemaking, animation had just one lone figure toiling away. Ralph Bakshi, trained on Terrytoons and involved in 1960s television animation, began exploring the possibilities of animated features in the shadow of Walt Disney’s death. His Fritz the Cat made people sit up and take notice, followed by Heavy Traffic, and Coonskin – urban, funky, raw tales set in a familiar world.
After that, he set his sights on something fantastic and gave us, in 1976, Wizards. I’ve been waiting for this film to be restored, cleaned up, and released on Blu-ray given its visual artistry and fun story. Finally, 20th Century Home Entertainment has released it for the film’s 35th Anniversary and they’ve given it a handsome treatment. Encased in a hardcover case with a 24-page booklet, the Blu-ray is striking to watch. (more…)
Growing up, I devoured just about all the animated adventure programs on television at the time, meaning I saw early anime series like The Amazing Three and Astro Boy in addition to the adaptations of Belgium’s classic hero Tintin. As a result, I have always known the teen hero and have respected Hergé’s amazing output of graphic albums until his passing. I even paid a visit to London’s Tintin store, amazed at the variety of offerings that were nicer and less kitschy than the American tonnage devoted to the most meager of properties.
It always surprised me that a live action Tintin movie was never made so was excited to hear that two legends, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, were going to collaborate on a series of films. The quirk was that it would all be done with state-of-the-art motion capture plus shot for 3-D. Since Robert Zemeckis first explored motion capture, the technology has been continually refined, but full-length features have always fallen short (remember Beowulf?). I am also not one of those who has embraced the latest round of 3-Ds; both proved factors that kept me away from The Adventures of Tintin when it opened over the holidays.
A chance to evaluate the film has arrived in the form of the Blu-ray edition, going on sale Tuesday from Paramount Home Entertainment. I still have vague, pleasant memories of some of the adventures I watched as a kid and was looking forward. As it turns out, the script drew from three of the albums — The Secret of the Unicorn (1943), The Crab with the Golden Claws (1941), and Red Rackham’s Treasure (1944). What amazes me is that Steven Moffat, Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright, all highly pedigreed screenwriters in their own right, mined these and came up with what felt like an exceptionally thin story.
Largely, it has to do with the descendants from two families dating back to the days of pirates, one seeking hidden wealth and one hiding from his legacy inside a bottle. When Tintin becomes accidentally embroiled in the search of the legendary treasure from the sunken ship The Unicorn, things are moved forward. As a result, there are many, many differences from albums to film and yet, it all feels incredibly weak, just excuses for chase scenes.
What the script does nicely capture if Tintin’s youthful exuberance and inexperience, so he’s not a perfect hero with all the answers. It also takes him around the world to exotic locales, which Hergé painstakingly researched and Spielberg nicely realizes.
The idea of a motion capture Tintin versus a traditional line-drawn animated was certainly an ambitious one but it is jarring to see Tintin’s hair swoop and Captain Haddock’s bulbous nose in three-dimensions. (Having said that, I adored the animated title sequence.) In fact, so much of life-like mixed with the exaggerations culled from the source material that the final product looks right and wrong at the same time. Where the motion capture excels is when the characters move and there’s plenty of movement. At times, the story feels more like an excuse for set pieces that leave you breathless or checking your watch.
Jamie Bell makes for a fine Tintin and was well cast, paired nicely with Andy Serkis’ hard-drinking Haddock. It reminds us that Serkis is more than a guy who moves well, but a guy who acts and moves well. This is a strong performance. They’re well supported by the likes of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the bumbling Thompson and Thomson and Daniel Craig as Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine. Snowy is all digital and steals most of his scenes.
The biggest problem for me with the final film is that it was pretty to look at but there was not enough character bits or story to make it worth sitting through the prolonged action sequences. John Williams’ first score in four years even sounded overly familiar.
The 2-D Blu-ray transfer is wonderful with excellent sound so you won’t mind sitting through this at home. The film is supported by a series of featurettes that, strung together, run 1:36 and give you just enough information on Tintin, Hergé, the casting, and the laborious production process. Some of the best bits are the early tests for Snowy and Jackson filling in as Haddock. You get a sense of how directing and filing a motion capture production works but there is a lot of the same movie footage recycled and it gets tiresome. And despite celebrating Hergé, there’s no real image of him or footage of his widow complimenting the film. It would have been nice to have provided a checklist or digital album sampler to direct people to the print version.
Overall, I had high hopes and was left visually pleased but ultimately dissatisfied with the final results. Word is, work is already proceeding in developing a sequel and we’ll see if the content matches the technology.
The shift to filming in glorious 35mm has opened new doors of creative storytelling for the crew of MERLIN, and the evidence is clear in the lush cinematography and haunting approach to “Lamia,” an all-new episode MERLIN premiering Friday, February 24, at 10 p.m. ET/PT only on Syfy.
The episode sets Merlin and several Knights of the Round Table on the road to a distant village to help treat those inflicted with a mysterious illness – but the young warlock quickly discovers he is the one in danger. As the Knights become increasingly bewitched by an alluring young woman named Lamia, Merlin finds himself with only Gwen as an ally as he’s lured into a game of cat and mouse against an unseen enemy more deadly than he could possibly imagine. (more…)
You guys know what the word “bardo” means, right? You don’t? Oh gosh, I’m sorry. Last week I threw a Catholic factoid at you and this week I’m hitting you with something from Tibetan Buddhism which, for pity sake, isn’t even Christian! (What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just pass the test, toss the text, and cruise down to Steak’n’Shake like the rest of the kids?)
Never mind. Here is a definition of “bardo” provided by my favorite oracle, Wikipedia:
The Tibetan word Bardo means literally “intermediate state“ – also translated as “transitional state” or “in-between state” or “liminal state.” Used loosely, the term “bardo” refers to the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth…The term bardo can also be used metaphorically to describe times when our usual way of life becomes suspended, as, for example, during a period of illness…
The jury is still out – way, way out – on the “two lives” business, but the bardo concept is a useful expression of something most of us experience, sometimes often. The in-between place. The “what-happens-next” region.
This time of year is bardo territory. Between the seasons. Between warmth and cold. Holidays are past and…now what?
My personal bardo? Well, last fall the Brigade of Evil Kidney Stones attacked and sent me to the hospital four times and resisted counterattack – we’d say “valiantly” if they were the good guys. State-of-the-art medical science has been only partially successful against them. I imagine the last one, who may or may not be still lurking in my innards – the X-Ray is yet to come – standing boldly and snarling, You throw sonic waves at me, puny mortal? I spit on your sonic waves!
Doctor Doom, eat your heart out.
I began teaching my NYU course last week, thus hauling myself from the between-semesters bardo.
The world of comic books is also emerging from a bardo, kind of. DC’s relaunch of its entire superhero pantheon is past. The new stuff is making its way apace, with, already, a few casualties and a few replacements. Both DC and Marvel seem to be doing some kind of reorganization. (Full disclosure: This is a guess – less than a guess: I couldn’t be further out of the loop if I lived on Pluto.) The effect of the new technology on our favorite narrative medium is still a big question mark. (By the way, I’m having difficulty learning about said technology. Wonder why.)
It’ll all be resolved, soon or late, and the bardos will come and go…
But look! Down there! The space between the end of this column and the beginning of the next! What the heck is that? Do you think it could possibly be…?
RECOMMENDED READING: I first encountered the word “bardo” as part of a title “The Bardo Thodal, often translated as “The Tibetan Book of the Dead.” My sketchy understanding of it is that this is a set of instructions for the newly dead to help them negotiate the afterlife. It had a vogue among the counterculture in the fabled Sixties and then dropped off my radar. So maybe this is not a recommendation, but rather a mention; now you know the thing exists.