Saturday, November 26, 2011

In which Your Obedient Serpent seeks to subvert the corporate agenda

One of the comic-related blogs that I peruse regularly is also art-related: Superhero of the Month. They have a pretty straightforward shtick: each month, they pick a superhero, and invite the art community to reinterpret that character with new costume designs and, occasionally, revamped backgrounds. The contest is usually sponsored by some comic book shop, and the prizes tend to be graphic novels featuring the character in question.

It's a concept that's produced some really impressive and thoughtful looks at iconic characters, and it's one that depends heavily on fair use, remix culture, and the principles of the transformative works movement.

So what in the world possessed them to shill for a copyright-maximalist marketeer and his hollow, vapid t-shirt logo "superhero"?

Here's the guy who's the subject of the December 2011 contest: NOTES (or possibly N.O.T.E.S.), flagshill for the innovatively-named Superhero EnterprisesTM.

"NOTES" is our most powerful science fiction superhero and a highly-skilled leader in music technology, whose mission is to enhance and transform the experience of making and editing electronic music.

"N.O.T.E.S." distinctively offers solution(s) to the global fight against illicit downloading and counterfeiting, as the consequences of digital piracy online and in the streets....have continued to threaten the U.S. economy, jeopardize public safety, and undermine the livelihood of our domestic entertainment industries.

Comic book superheroes are supposed to provide role models that are potentially used by children in developing self images. N.O.T.E.S. symbolizes these qualities of high moral character, courage, generosity, and honor of a noble spirit.

That's right, kids: he fights those eeeeeeeevil downloaders! He's a valiant defender of the profit margin and traditional distribution models!

The blog also offers a link to the eventless "origin story" for NOTES, in which Our Hero defeats a couple of shoplifters with ... um ... look, all snarkiness aside, but it really reads like his music is so crappy that they go into convulsions. There may be more pages that haven't been posted yet; it certainly reads that way, and the "origin" offers no explanation as to how he got these powers of amazing musical dysentery.

I've perused the rest of the site, and it just gets worse. The fake street 'tide, the obvious memetic targeting toward the metaculturally naive—he's like Joe Camel for anti-downloading. There's nothing about actual story here; he's Pure Product, No By-Product. Sure, Marvel-Disney and DC-Warner exploit their properties mercilessly these days, and yes, Joe and Jerry's concept sketches included sketches of product labels adorned with their mythical muscleman, but NOTES is designed to be merchandised first and foremost. They come right out and say it: he was the logo for their music production company first, then they decided to spin him off into a "superhero". He got t-shirts and sneakers (and an art contest!) before his first comic was ever released. They describe him themselves as "the trendiest superhero in the universe."

Higher praise no mutant could ask.

And what fabulous prizes await the artists who can best capture this Champion of Commercialism?

1st Place: Opportunity to write/illustrate a two-page short story featuring NOTES to be featured on Superhero Enterprises' Tumblr and DeviantArt pages, and a NOTES T-shirt.

Semantic Analysis: Draw us free art to make our IP look cool and popular, and we'll let you do more free art to promote our brand!

Your Obedient Serpent was sore tempted to post a comment along these lines on the SotM blog announcement, but honestly, that's flat-out trolling—especially since the comment list on every SotM entry is headed with a "don't be rude" disclaimer.

I should note, however, that the contest parameters themselves state: "What we'll be looking for is an illustration that best exemplifies what you believe NOTES stands for."

Oh my. Do be careful what you wish for.

My medium of choice, alas, is prose, and thus not appropriate for the contest.

I think it would be a fine thing, however, if the more artistically-inclined provided the blog with entries that showed exactly what they believe NOTES stands for.

As Uncle Howard used to say ... Do Not Call Up What You Cannot Put Down.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

In Which No Evil Shall Escape Your Obedient Serpent's Sight

You know what?

I don't care if it's been over-hyped.

I don't care if parts of the previews might look a little iffy.

I don't care if Ryan Reynolds is playing Hal as a flippant jackass; this is, after all, Hal Frakking Jordan.

Deep down inside, all I care about is that the superhero who's been my very favorite since I was six years old had made it to the big screen in a sweeping special-effects epic.

I realized yesterday that, for the first time in more years than I can remember, I am genuinely excited to the point of impatience for a new movie, a new superhero movie.

It doesn't matter if it's good, bad, or indifferent.

Friday night, I'm taking my six-year-old self to see Green Lantern, and it will be awesome.

Cross-posted to "On The Other Claw ...".

Sunday, June 05, 2011

In which Your Obedient Serpent must issue a retraction.

Oh, jeez.

io9 just published a column looking at the History of the X-Men, and how it becomes even more absurd when you compress it into the decade-and-a-half or so of Marvel's sliding timescale.

When I read the opening line, I was excited: someone invoked the Marvel 1:3 time ratio!

I know I read about that in a Stan's Soapbox from the '60s -- but I've never found any other official reference or verification from the House of Ideas; just that one, off-hand blurb, offered in the blurry sans-serif type of Stan the Man's stentorian prose. When the whole run of those columns was republished, once online and once in trade paperback from Marvel itself, I tried and tried to find that specific entry, to no avail.

It must have been in a letter column or something. I know I saw it.

But, lo! thought I, here's someone else referring to the same thing, as if they'd found the factoid from an authoritative source! Did they see the same Soapbox or lettercol that I did, in a dusty tome of ancient lore? Did Stan or some other Marvel exec ever repeat the proclamation? I hope the article doesn't just mention it in passing and breeze on by. I'll be really happy if they give a ref ...

... oh. Oh, my stars and garters.

The reference the article gives is to the Comic Book Time page on the TV Tropes Wiki:

In a "Stan's Soapbox" in the mid-1960s, Stan Lee stated that, as a general rule of thumb, they were trying to keep the then-new Marvel Universe on a one-to-three timeline - every three years that passed in the real world would be a year of Comic Book Time. Deliberately or otherwise, Marvel actually managed to stick pretty close to that right up until the early 1990s when, during one of the X-Men's 30th Anniversary comics, Professor Xavier mused about the things he'd been doing for the past 10 years - starting with the founding of the X-Men.

I know that TV Tropes passage well.

I wrote it.

... I think I need to do some editing. I am certain that I read that blurb about the 1:3 ratio in an old Marvel comic, but I'm no longer certain where.

One shouldn't leave dubious source material scattered 'round the net.

If you can't cite a source, you're just making it up.

Cross-posted to "On the Other Claw ..."

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Some of this stuff is just for me.

... If I say "Morrison's Quintum is one of Kirby's Hairies, all grown up", will anyone get that but me?

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Blah Blah Blah hollywood Wah Wah Wah

"Hollywood Is Lazy, Unoriginal and Risk-Averse", whines yet another critic.

These columns crop up all the time, and nine out of ten of them give the impression that this is some horrible slide into the abyss from some mythical golden age.

The irony, of course, is that they been appearing since the film industry began.1

These guys forget2 that, as I've mentioned before, the classic John Huston/Humphrey Bogart version of The Maltese Falcon was the third film version of the story in the span of a decade, and they were all adapted from a formulaic, low-brow pulp novel.

The smart, arty flicks that this particular critic extols have never been a major component of the studios' output. "Risky" movies have always been "risky". The shitstorm that Welles had to wade through to make Citizen Kane is as epic and as well-known as the movie itself.

When Harris holds up "movies based on comic books" as one of his keynote symptoms of this "new" plague of creative barrenness, I wonder if he's including movies like A History of Violence and Shutter Island?3

Really, it comes down to this:
  • Hollywood is afraid to make risky movies because movies are expensive.
  • "Risky", by definition, means "might tank in the box office and lose skillions."
  • This has always been true. The only difference is in the number of zeroes represented by "skillions".
  • DUH.

For every Citizen Kane, there is a Waterworld.4

I should really sit down and write an Onion-style opinion piece lamenting how derivative and unoriginal film critics have become, how they rehash the same column over and over because it's guaranteed to get attention, and how shopworn remakes like "The Day Movies Died" will never be as good as timeless classics like 1963's "Christ, Yet Another Giant Lizard Flick".

Or maybe I already have.

1 Really, they predate the film industry. I've heard both some damned funny riffs and serious laments about the stage equivalent of the "generic formulaic blockbuster" in the eras of Gilbert & Sullivan, grand opera, and Elizabethan theater. Frankly, what I've read about the works of Aristophanes suggests that a good bit of his oeuvre involved similar digs at his predecessors and contemporaries.
2 I'm being generous here. It would be unseemly to suggest that someone who presents himself as a professional film critic would simply be unschooled in the basic facts of the history of the medium.
3Inexcusable Cheap Shot: while Blaming EverythingTM on Hollywood's desire for "known Brands", Mr. Harris says, Jonah Hex is a brand because it was a comic book. (Here lies one fallacy of putting marketers in charge of everything: Sometimes they forget to ask if it's a good brand.) Just because a lousy movie is made doesn't mean the source material is lousy.
4...and an Ishtar, a Cutthroat Island, a Mr. Bug Goes to Town....

Monday, January 31, 2011

Writer's Wreference: Mary Who?

This is a link to someone else being smart:

Don’t worry guys, everything isn’t a Mary Sue, by Kelly "Coelasquid" Turnbull.

Kelly is a professional animator who also does the invariably-entertaining webcomic, Manly Guys Doing Manly Things. This essay not only deconstructs the currently-hip notion that any protagonist who bears any resemblance to the author is a "Mary Sue", it also discusses at length how to use Maslow's Hierarchy as a tool to write convincing characters and conflicts.

I thought it needed sharing -- and preserving for future reference.

Cross-Posted to LiveJournal: Mary Who?