Arts & Letters

Watchmen

Referred to by Terry Gilliam as the War and Peace of superhero comics, Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen (illustrated by Dave Gibbons), along with Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, paved the way for people to actually start taking comic books seriously. In fact, it even won a Hugo Award in 1988. The story takes place in the 1980s when superheroes have been outlawed and the only ones still in

operation are under direct control of the United States government. Suddenly, those heroes both still in action and retired find themselves targets by an unseen enemy, who wants to kill them one by one. Of course, there has long been talk of adapting it into a movie, though many doubt it can be done faithfully. The biggest name associated with the project was director Terry Gilliam, but with costs spiraling and no major stars attached, Gilliam never really got the project off the ground. The first draft of the screenplay was written by Sam Hamm, and many, while enjoying some of the subtle touches that Hamm provides, consider the major plot changes (specifically, the ending) to be a bit of a letdown. Recently, there appears to be somewhat of a revival in the project, with screenwriter David Hayter (X-Men) becoming interested in writing and possibly directing a Watchmen movie, but I’m not holding my breath quite yet… [Thanks to MLP for the Hamm Script]

Ambitious Fanfic?

35 years ago yesterday, the first episode of Star Trek debuted on NBC…and here we are three-and-a-half decades later with nine movies, five hundred odd hours of TV episodes and another new movie and TV series forthcoming. Enter Star Trek: Renaissance, the first virtual Star Trek series. The creators of Renaissance intend to produce professionally formatted and written teleplays for a Star Trek “virtual” TV series, complete with new characters and a new Enterprise set 25 years after the adventures of Captain Picard. And, incredibly, they want to produce a full season worth of episodes. They plan to “air” a new episode each week, not counting “re-run” weeks when they’re on hiatus. And they want it to kick ass. But is all that time and effort invested into creating Renaissance worth it? To be perfectly honest, I’m not so sure. I’ve only really liked the “Next Generation” and maybe some of the movies, but after taking a look at the first “episode” of Renaissance, I think it could be interesting… [via coming attractions]

Dark Tower V

Prologue: Calla Bryn Sturgis by Stephen King : A preview of the highly anticipated forthcoming volume of King’s Dark Tower series. An interesting entry; its plot is higly reminiscent of Kurosawa’s classic film, Seven Samurai, though I’ve yet to figure out if that’s a good thing. In his words, King is “hoping to press on to the very end and publish the remaining volumes all at the same time. That probably means three books, one of them fairly short and one of the other two quite long.” This strikes me as joyous news, but I can’t help feeling apprehension – for I’ve never known King to end his stories all that well (just look at the ending to The Waste Lands). However, if the new novels continue the successive exponential increase in quality and intelligence that the first four have established (especially in the last volume, Wizard and Glass), we’ll certainly be in for a treat. Only time and Ka will tell. Ka like a wind…

American Writing Today

A Diagnosis of the Disease by William T. Vollmann : An interesting article about the woes of humanity, and how best to set things right (through art). A bit remeniscent of Orwell’s Politics and the English Language, Vollman puts forth some good rules on how to write with a sense of purpose. He also touches on people’s tendency to treat the symptoms instead of the actual causes. As a country we have become reactionary to specific events, but not wide trends, blaming miniscule influences for major catastrophies. Does anyone really think something like Columbine happens solely because of the music two kids listened to? Its something I’ve been noticing a lot lately, and it really suprises me how pervasive the idea is. Anyway, I’ve been meaning to pick up one of Vollman’s books, but its pretty low down in the book queue and my spare time is dwindling, so it probably won’t happen anytime soon. I hear he’s a… strange… fellow.

Cerebus the Aardvark

The Man Behind the Aardvark: Dave Sim created an influential and prolific comic book series called Cerebus the Aardvark. “When I started Cerebus in 1977, uppermost in my mind was the thought that i wanted to produce 300 issues if a comic book series the way i thought it should be done; as one continuous story documenting the ups and downs of a character’s life.” Few comic book series ever reach the 300-issue mark, and those that do are usually backed by big publishers, star big-name superheroes, and are written and drawn by scores of different artists over the years. Cerebus, a black & white comic, is written, penciled and inked by Sim (with some help from a friend named Gerhard). Its also self-published, giving him complete control over his creation. In the past few decades, the character of Cerebus has gone from being a barbarian to a politician to a pope. During one story arc, Cerebus became a supporting character; in fact, nearly a year went by in which the title character didn’t appear in his own comic book! These are the sort of things you can do when you have publishing freedom and 300 issues with which to tell a story.

Say what you will about the man’s thoughts or philosophy (he’s regarded as somewhat of an infamous misogynist), but you have to admire the man’s initiative, dedication and resolve. He hasn’t reached the crucial 300th issue just yet (the series is planned to end sometime in 2004), but the final story arc has begun and shows no signs of slowing down.

Aspiring Sparrows

A note to aspiring novelists by Mary Doria Russell : Mrs. Russell is amazed that so many aspiring writers are encouraged by the fact that her modern sci-fi classic, The Sparrow, was turned down by 31 literary agents. She relates that asking her for advice is like asking someone who’s been in 31 car wrecks to teach you how to drive. Nevertheless, she give a few helpful hints which basically amount to not paying to have your manuscript read, among other publishing scams (they reminded me of the scams pulled in Foucault’s Pendulum).

I just finished reading The Sparrow, and I must admit, I’m not suprised that it was turned down 31 times. A book that can be summed up “Jesuits in Space” has got to be a hard sell. And no, it is not a comedy; it’s actually a very disturbing experience (making it that much harder to sell). James describes it better than I ever could:

“It’s a wild idea, sending off a Jesuit mission as humanity’s first (secretively-sent) ambassadors to see what they make of the experience, and Russell pulls off this odd choice, makes it necessary to the deeper workings of her plot. She drives at cross-cultural misunderstandings without demonizing any particularly short-sighted view, sets up a terrible theological and personal conundrum, and is absolutely, utterly, completely and totally merciless in driving her unsuspecting characters into it. The conclusion is quite literally terrible, unswavering in its stripping down of that word to the terror at its core.”

Its a fantastic book with excellent character depth, good plotting, and thought-provoking content, but, as you may have guessed, its certainly not for the faint of heart. The Sparrow ruthlessly challenges faith and ones sense of purpose in the universe. It’s emotionally grueling, to say the least.

Celery + Gravity = Art

Art Frahm : A study of the effects of celery on loose elastic. I don’t know what to say here. This is truly disturbing stuff. Its also hilarious, thanks mostly to the insightful commentary of one James Lileks. Essentially, Mr. Frahm made a name for himself by painting pictures of women whose panties had fallen down, usually while holding a bag of groceries (including, oddly enough, celery). Many times theres a dog involved, as well as leering bystanders. Even funnier is that these battles with gravity used to actually happen. According to the FAQ: “Elastic back then wasn�t what it is today.” [special thanks to Wisdom for the link]

How Dare You?

The Soul of America by Neil Gaiman : In a preemptive attempt to answer a question he was dreading, Neil Gaiman askes of himself (in an extended version):

How dare you, an Englishman, try and write a book about America, about American myths and the American soul? How dare you try and write about what makes America special, as a country, as a nation, as an idea?

Much like his weblog (from which I lifted the link), the article is candid and fun to read, and it makes me want to read his new book, American Gods, right now (sadly, its not being released until June 19th). Also of note is this advance review by Mikewhy, webmaster of a popular Tori Amos fan site. Thanks to DyRE for that review.

explicit discouragement

Why I am a Bad Correspondent by Neal Stephenson : A perfectly reasonable document that tries to explain why he is not very diligent about answering his mail, and why he doesn’t accept speaking engagements. He gives a summary:

“I am not a recluse or a misanthrope or a grouch. I simply cannot respond to all incoming stimuli unless I retire from writing novels. And I don’t wish to retire at this time.”

I found the document at Stephenson’s webpage, which is, in itself, a plea for people to leave him alone so that he may write his next novel. He cites the quote “We live in an age of continuous partial attention.” and goes on to explain that writing novels is one of those activities that requires ALL one’s attention. I find the idea of “continuous partial attention” to be a fascinating one, as it is something I try to avoid whenever possible. There is a certain attitude in our culture that expects us to be able to do everything at once and be happy about it. Personally, I would rather do one thing really well than do many things averagely. So I can see where Mr. Stephenson is coming from, I recognize it as a completely reasonable request and I am determined to do my part in helping him achieve his goal. That is to say, I am going to do nothing.

Nothing except link to The Big U, Stephenson’s first novel, self described as: a first novel written in a hurry by a young man a long time ago. Which basically means its not that good. I only mention it because its reproduced there in its entirety, and, until recently, its a hard book to find.

A monumental decline

I know I’ve talked about this before, but I’m going to do it again, because this article is good. Just what is up with the Simpsons? When I saw Mike Reiss speak, I was somewhat suprised at his thoughts on the quality of the show. He basically agreed that the show’s quality was declining, and he stated that even the current “young” writers agree. As the shows became more rediculous, more one-sided, and basically less substantial, I’m still hoping for a resurgence. A fresh infusion of humor from a young up-and-comer might be able to salvage something. Then again, as Mike said in his lecture, the show has been on for 12 years, way longer than any show can sustain a good quality… He also said that since the ratings are higher than ever, the show won’t be going off the air any time soon…

At the end of the article, the author mentions another animated program that has taken the place of The Simpsons as TV’s most enjoyable half-hour of edgy satire. I assume he is referring to the currently defunct (but coming back!) Family Guy, which I found to be very entertaining. I can not wait for its (hopefully) triumphant return. Heres another article by the same author that captures the essense of That 70s Show quite nicely. That 70s Show has really grown on me, in a I-don’t-mind-having-it-on-in-the-background-while-I-fiddle-with-my-computer kind of way. I remember joking about it with my roommates when if first appeared (“Hey Dan, which 70s show is coming on?…. Ohhhhhhhh, thaaat 70s show…”), but that was over 2 years ago. Go figure.