Thursday, April 30, 2015

Hero at Large

     The much anticipated arrival of Avengers: Age of Ultron has put me in the mind of movies about heroes.  Hero at Large is a 1980 film that could not have been made today.  Struggling actor Steve Nichols (played by John Ritter) signs on to dress up as the comic book hero Captain Avenger and appear at movie theaters for the opening of the movie Captain Avenger.  On his way home, Steve stops in to his local deli for some milk and stumbles onto a robbery.  Still in his costume, Steve intervenes and sends the thieves scurrying.  Word of his deed spreads and New York starts wondering what this anonymous hero will do next.  Steve tries to live up to expectations, even as a PR genius employed by the mayor hatches his own plan for the flailing, would-be superhero.
     Part drama, part comedy, part romance with a little crime and political intrigue thrown in for good measure, Hero at Large benefits from 1970s cinema's penchant for marrying a sense of realism and honest questioning of larger issues even to what is ostensibly a simple entertainment.  Released just a couple of years after Superman, it was solidly part of an era that still saw superheroes as simple (if not simple-minded) children's' fare and the Captain Avenger movie depicted within Hero at Large goes out of its way to evoke Adam West's campy turn on the late 1960s TV show Batman.
     The current cinematic landscape is teeming with superheroes, or course, and yet their familiarity  robs the the idea of dressing up in an iconic costume of much of its power.  Somehow, with so many superheroes around, it's become harder to say something meaningful about heroism  But Hero at Large, stripped of fantasy elements, built unequivocally as a real world narrative, retains the power of its era and manages to ask more tangible questions about what a hero is than nearly anything available today.  

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Eisners 2015

     The Eisner Awards are the comic world's Oscar Awards and the the 2015 nominees were recently announced.  As a comic-lover and former Eisner judge, I'm always interested in how the awards continue to develop.  This year, I was delighted to see the growing number of female creators making the list.  Have a look at the nominees right here.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Couples Retreat, One More Time

     A last reminder:  the LREI librarians and Tech teachers are co-hosting an "unconference" on the integration of these two disciplines at the Fieldston school on Friday, May 1st.  If you are in education and are interested in attending, please join us.  Details about the day and how to register for it can be found here

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Comics Are Not Movies Waiting to Happen

     Alan Moore once commented that his (epoch-shattering) comic Watchmen could never be adequately adapted into a movie because it relied so heavily on the actual sequential art form to tell its story.  Perhaps because movie storyboards are done in panel form or because strips of comic panels bear a surface resemblance to film strips, comics have often been considered a sort of movie on paper, visual storytelling that was ready-made for easy translation to the screen.
     The truth is the form is full of its own visual language, and expresses itself in ways that film simply can't encompass (though, of course, film is full of its own intricacies that can no more easily be adapted into comics form).  The misinterpretation has something to do with seeing the comic as its parts rather than the sum of them.  Taking the entire work as an artistic whole, however, exemplifies some of the form's artistic possibilities.  Mr. Moore and artist Dave Gibboms, for instance, took the second half of Watchmen 5 (Chapter Five in graphic novel form) and turned it into an exact compositional reflection of the first half, creating a perfectly symmetrical comic book (the issue's title?  "Fearful Symmetry.")
     The next time you pick up a comic or graphic novel, take a look at a page in a slightly different way.  After you've read it from panel to panel, have a look at the page as a whole.  Plenty of comic pages are, admittedly, just one panel laid out after another.  But sometimes you hit a page that does something magical, either subtly or forcefully.  It takes control of your eye and guides it on a journey through the images in a manner no other medium possibly could.  Maybe it's about how the panels are laid out in relation to one another or maybe the figures guide you with their placement and body language effortlessly through the narratie or possibly the elements of the page comment on the very form itself.  A good place to start is with the work of Jack Kirby, who was considered the King for a number of reasons, but among them was his ability to plumb these possibilities and turn a single page into a work of art that deepens and magnifies the overall experience of reading the story.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

More Realistic, Less Believable

     It was recently recounted to me that  David Mazzucchelli, the incomparable illustrator of (among many other things) Batman: Year One, once commented that comics creators had put in a lot of work making superheroes more realistic and, in so doing, had made them less believable. 
     Fictional characters have a nature, both individually and collectively.  Superheroes were conceived as fantasies, the pure embodiments of ideals (social and physical).  Indeed, at the very beginning, they didn't really even have personalities beyond a commitment to that which they were fighting for.   As they evolved, they effectively developed personalities and simulated psychologies, but somewhere along the way, it feels like a line was crossed (maybe Watchmen was that line), where the deeper into realism creators went, the further they got from the characters' natures.  There comes a point where, when you try to explain and delineate the nuances of a fantasy, you merely highlight how much of a fantasy it is.