... or, Why it's never a good idea to let your marketing manager get all "creative" on you.
In a maneuver that smacks of one part desperation and two parts mind-boggling stupidity, Marvel Comics has announced they will have a crossover event with the CBS soap opera, The Guiding Light. In better news, the crossover will feature The Avengers, and S.H.I.E.L.D. In even better news, the announced writer for this high profile project will be Marvel's Marketing Director Jim McCann???? You know, I've been reading comics since the age of six. That means I've got 32 years of reading comics under my belt and I have never understood Marvel's propensity for not using high power talent on books that will receive inordinate amounts of exposure.
Here's the thing. Let's say you need a brick wall built, you don't want to do it yourself who do you have do the job? Do you hire a plumber, or an accountant? Not usually, no. You hire a bricklayer, or a general contractor, and he hires the bricklayer. You get someone with the skills and the background to do the job and do it well. Subsequently, if you need a story written that's going to net your company more media exposure than it's ever gotten before, do you hire an MBA? No. If you have unlimited access to Marvel Comics' talent pool, you hire Brian Michael Bendis or Mark Millar, and if it's a comic book, you put one of your top artists on the project, not some newcomer, or second stringer.
Of course, when you think about it, all of this is probably academic anyway. All you have to do is think about the viewing audience for The Guiding Light, and ask yourself how many soccer moms do you know that read comic books. In fact I'll do you one better. How many middle-aged housewives...(or husbands. Let's be fair, this is the new century, and I do catch "Days Of Our Lives", when I can.) (In my defense, I was programmed to be kindly disposed towards "Days" as a small child because Deidre Hall was my all time favorite Saturday morning superhero, Electra Woman.)... do you know that have even a passing interest in comic books? How many of them will see this big crossover as anything more than a week long annoyance?
The worst part of this whole thing is this: This idea could quite possibly work. Here's the thing. Soap operas are simply serial fiction, so they have at least that core concept in common with comics. If Marvel were to produce something in the way of let's say a graphic novel sized storyline, something that does some sort of major reveal for one of the recurring "Guiding Light" characters, keep the storyline under tight control, and dovetail a daily release with one week's worth of episodes or so. You'd have to make the dailies available across newsstands so that it showed up at your local supermarket, or at Borders and Barnes and Noble. Plus you could give comics retailers an incentive to carry the thing by giving them expanded editions to sell with different covers or production art, or something like that, this could work. The important thing would be to make damn sure it was well written, and stay the hell away from the super heroes. It could work, but it won't, because Marvel can't seem to think beyond the superhero genre.
Now really, how many of you out there thought anything more than, "Huh?" or "What the fuck?" when you heard this announcement? If any of you thought this was anything more than a monumentally stupid idea, let me know, and I'll send someone over to rip up your Chris Claremont collection.
I have this thing in my head. It's kind of my own personal version of a computer installation wizard. You know, the one with the annoying little messages that say things like, "Do you want to proceed?" "Are you sure you want to proceed?" "Well, if you're really, really sure..." "Okay, last chance, are you really, really, really sure?" Sometimes the bastard gets stuck and years slip by while the article, story, or review I originally wanted to write sits on my mental back burner, smouldering and burning around the edges. Lately, I've developed some mental pot holders so I can now grab this baby off the back burner, scrape the crusty stuff off the edges, stir it up a bit, and serve it up with some sort of frilly garnish. Yes, tonight I'm giving you all something out of my very own mental crock pot.
Try not to think of it as leftovers, and I'll make it as tasty as I can.
Reviewing Tom Beland's work is a daunting task. He's got marvelous reviewers like Johanna Draper Carlson, Randy Lander, Don MacPherson, and Andrew Arnold who writes the Comics Love column for Time frikkin Magazine Online, planted squarely in his corner. The guy tends to be a perennial critical darling. He's been nominated for the Eisner Award. He's got his magazine coming out from Image Comics now, and a high profile writing gig for Marvel Comics coming up. He doesn't need my little ol' opinion of his work floating around out there. Then again, it never hurts to have one more person in your corner pitching for you.
My composition and rhetoric professor, the man who taught me the Montaigne style essay, and quite a lot about the critical review once told me, "While you're writing, you must remember this one truism. Just because it happened to you, doesn't make it interesting. If you can consistently break this rule you will never fail to entertain."
Tom Beland breaks this rule with marvelous style, grace, and precision. The core story is elegant in its simplicity. Tom meets this girl Lilly while waiting at a bus stop at Disneyland. The two hit it off and this chance meeting quickly turns into a long distance relationship. Lily is a popular morning show radio host in Puerto Rico, Tom is a newspaper columnist and cartoonist in Napa Valley California. After several abbreviated visits and a category five hurricane, Tom decides to move to Puerto Rico. That pretty much catches you up on the story so far.
True Story Swear To God is an absolutely perfect love story at its core. Beland proves himself an impossibly perceptive observer of human behavior. He's introspective to a fault, and he uses that amazingly precise internal eye to splay glimpses of his life onto the comics page. His family is slightly dysfunctional and extremely loving. Tom himself is by turns insecure and mildly neurotic. Only the character of Lily is seen without much in the way of flaws. I suspect that what Tom is doing here is filtering his perception of Lily through that initial haze of new love. Either that or she really doesn't have much in the way of flaws in which case Tom is in real trouble in future episodes.
One of the most amazing scenes is the first time we actually see Lily get angry. Tom and Lily set up a dinner party to introduce Tom to Lily's parents. The planning stages leading up to it are a little slice of new couple's hell wherein everything that can possibly go wrong does. They make it through and dinner goes off without a hitch, and at the end of it all as they're saying goodnight, all Lily's mother can do is admonish her for not wearing earrings. It's a priceless moment. We've all been there with our own relatives and Tom walks us through it all again, deftly giving us his perspective. Lily's reaction humanizes her and Tom's reaction to her makes us love them both that much more.
To sum up the totality of TSSTG by calling it a "chick flick on paper", is perhaps an accurate description. If that label is to be applied, it must take its place alongside classic fare such as When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless In Seattle, and The Princess Bride. Yes, it's that good.
Tom is a fabulous writer. He combines spot on dialogue with some of the most gorgeous exposition I've ever read.
"She's sleeping. Her body's so close, I can feel it move as she breathes."
"In my arms."
"I feel a sense of serenity that I've never felt before with others."
"If my feelings are a painting... this moment would be the frame."
Within these five simple, elegant sentences he brilliantly sums up the unquantifiable feeling of being in love.
The artwork on TSSTG is, on the surface, deceptively cartoony. The characters are caricatured simply, but that merely adds clarity to the story. Tom's backgrounds are where he really shines. He gives us super detailed establishing shots to frame the location, then abandons them as the characters take the stage. This has the effect of making the dialogue jump off the page, and draws the readers' eyes to the characters which are the most important parts of the story. It's a visual trick that Dave Sim and Gerhard used masterfully well in Cerebus, and Jeff Smith used to impressive effect with Bone.
Together, the writing and the art make for a story that will have you crying and laughing out loud, often at the same time. It's brilliant, essential reading for anyone with a passion for meaningful human interest stories, chick flicks, or just a damn fine read.
True Story Swear To God is available from any local comics shop that has even a marginal clue. The first and second trade paperbacks are still available from AIT/Planet Lar, along with the 100 Stories collection of Beland's original mini strips. Recently TSSTG made the jump from Tom's own imprint Clib's Boy Comics, to Image. The first issue is out now, and it's a pretty good assumption that future graphic novels will be released with Image as well.
My wife tells me that I don't just jump online and bitch about random stuff enough, so far be it from me to refuse her a rant. Let's see, what to rant about. Hmmm... over saturation of 911 survivor's guilt on all media outlets? Naah. Several friends still stuck in Afghanistan and currently getting chopped to bits by a re-energized, rebooted Taliban based out of Pakistan, who's supposed to be on our side in this whole "war on terror" thing? No. Ooh, I know. I'll rant about Steve Irwin's untimely death by stingray and all the Internet troglodytes that couldn't gather up the self control to let the rest of us mourn the untimely passing of a great conservationist in peace? Or perhaps the fact that Montana gas prices are still sky high, even though we use almost no Middle Eastern oil. You know, the same oil interests which our military boys are currently fighting to protect. Of course, it's kind of confusing when everybody seems to keep calling, "protecting our oil interests", "establishing a peaceful democratic Middle East."
Ah, screw it, Let's bitch about this whole Michael Bay/Transformers Movie scandal. In fact, let's just bitch about Michael Bay in general. Okay, so...Top 10 reasons why Michael Bay can bite my ass.
10. The Rock - Nicholas Cage? Check. Stupid, impossible plot? Check. Weak, embarrassing dialogue? Check. Insipid villain role that not even Ed Harris can salvage? Check. All this and Sean Connery still comes out smelling like a rose.
9. Armageddon - You, go wake up 20 million people and tell 'em this movie has more cheeseball climaxes than Linda Lovelace on a 12 day crack bender.
8. Bad Boys - Blah, blah, blah, Lawerence and Smith blow stuff up, blah, blah, blah.
7. The Island - Okay, so I haven't actually watched The Island, but after the total marketing saturation prior to the theatrical release, I still feel I've seen enough.
6. Bad Boys 2 - Bad Boys 2, Bad Boys 2. Michael Bay's got a crappy sequel for you. Works better if you sing it to the COPS theme song.
5. He's much prettier than I am. Just look at that face. He should be hosting Project Runway with Heidi Klum or something.
4. He can't hold a camera steady to save his life. This weird directorial disease has infected Tony Scott, Ridley Scott, and Michael Mann. If Cameron goes, you're all gonna pay!
3. He's singlehandedly dragged every closet Transformers fan kicking and screaming onto the Internet and whipped them into a rabid bitch fest reminiscent of a day spent with your browser stuck on Barbelith. Here's a clue for all of you. So he changed some of the robot designs. Fucking deal. It was a shitty cartoon to begin with and an even shittier line of toys. To think that Transformers spawned out of Microman toys... *shudder* talk about xenogenesis.
2. Pearl Harbor - Not even gonna touch that one. Sometimes there are simply no words.
1. He keeps making movies, and you people keep throwing money at him. He's like the Terminator. He won't stop, he'll never stop until we're all so lobotomized by loud explosions, witty banter and bad acting that we... oh, wait.
In 1986 Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons came out with a little 12 issue mini-series that promptly set the comics world on fire. The Watchmen re-invented the genre for the next decade, and today remains a seminal influence in the hearts and minds of creators of such luminary status as Joss Wheedon, Darren Aronofsky, and Niel Gaiman. It is widely reguarded as a literary masterpiece, and a natural for film adaptation.
In 1989 Joel Silver, the producer behind The Lethal Weapon franchise, and the Die Hard cash cow, teamed with Arnold Schwarzenegger to try to get The Watchmen movie into production. Armed with no script, and hamstrung by their choice of Terry Gilliam (who has a James Cameron-like grasp of budget, and plays really well with the other children) as director, the movie disappeared in a mess of studio infighting.
Then in 1991, President Regan's evil master plan of matching the Soviet "defense" budget until their economy tanked, effectively ended the Cold War, (at least in the popular zeitgeist.) This rendered The Watchmen's theme of Cold War anxiety effectively impotent, and plans for a movie were tabled indefinitely.
The tragic events of September 11th 2001 sparked a renewed interest in The Watchmen. Plot compression expert David Hayter, who condensed three decades of The X-Men into a passably watchable two hour movie, actually came up with a workable script. In 2002 wonderkind director Darren Aronofsky was given the option to direct Hayter's script. Aronofsky instead chose to take on The Fountain, ending it's tenure in development hell, but condemming The Watchmen to languish a little longer.
In 2005 Paul Greengrass, the brilliant director of The Bourne Supremacy, actually got most of the way through pre-production on The Watchmen movie before the studio pulled the rug out from under him, citing budgetary concerns.
It's now 2006 and Zack Snyder, the brilliant director behind the impressive re-imagining of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, has signed on to see if he can beat the odds. He has a few aces up his sleeve. He knows how to bring in a movie on time and within budget. He's working with Warner Brothers, who own D.C. comics, so they have a vested interest in seeing a successful Watchmen movie. Finally, he's a fan of the source material. Hopefully all these things will combine together, the planets will align properly, whatever, and we'll finally get our Watchmen movie.
Snyder's got his adaptation of Frank Miller's The 300 coming out shortly. I think I'll wait to see how that does before I start holding my breath... again.
Lego Watchmen and Lego Minutemen can be found at David Oakes wonderful online gallery here.