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Nexus Graphica
by Mark London Williams

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Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Don Wood
Gareth Hinds
Merchant of Venice -- Shylock's monologue
"Twilight Zone" graphic novels
"Twilight Zone" – original "Walking Distance" episode
Comic-con
"The Inescapable Lure of Superheroes"
"The Spirit" movie
"The Watchmen" film
Armadillocon
Cecil Castellucci
Recent Books of Interest
Into the Volcano by Don Wood (Blue Sky Press). Into the Volcano
This is another summer ARC I picked up at the Scholastic booth at BEA (Blue Sky being one of their imprints). Scholastic is one of the many publishers -- especially the kid lit ones -- committed to increasing their graphic novel output. Here, award-winning illustrator Wood has created a thriller that should certainly get those proverbial "reluctant boy readers" -- the bane of marketers for "mid-grade" tomes -- picking up a book. This is a vividly illustrated, non-stop tale of two brothers spirited away to the mythical island world of Kocalaha, from which their family hails (and which bears a striking resemblance to the very Hawaii where Wood lives), where a reunion with relatives quickly descends -- in a literal sense -- to a race for "gold" (or its geological equivalent) in the caverns under a pulsing volcano, as the brothers must learn to get along, and even risk their lives for one another. Told in an essentially "present tense" style -- there is nary a caption, flashback, or non-narrative interlude anywhere (unless you count a brief chat with Death him/itself) -- the only critique is that the pace of the book is so relentless, like a great old Saturday matinee serial, that the revelations at the end can scarcely live up to the build-up. It's due out in October, though, and it's lots of fun.

The Merchant of Venice by Gareth Hinds (Candlewick). The Merchant of Venice
First the disclosure: Candlewick was my publisher for the first four Danger Boy books, so when I say they have a reputation as one of the more literary kid lit houses, you don't need to take it with a grain of salt -- just assume I know whereof I speak! That said, I also know they've been a bit more reluctant to jump into graphic novel publishing, with the exception of the occasional literary adaptation, Here, Gareth Hinds, who previously turned Beowulf and King Lear into GN's, takes Shakespeare's play of commerce, religious identity, persecution, and betrayal and makes like Joe Papp presenting an updated version of the Bard for PBS. Which isn't a bad thing. Indeed, I was specifically reminded of a long-ago version of Much Ado About Nothing I saw with high starched collars and straw boaters, and though this is alleged to be a "modern dress" adaptation for the pages, the high fashion Venice vibe has a more 20s-era feel. Hinds is adept in his redaction of the play, and his combinations of original "Shakespeare-ese" with vernacular, to make the tale comprehensible for young readers. The only problem is that without the context of a live staging -- without actors to play subtext -- the ruthlessness with which Shylock is treated at play's end (forced to convert to Christianity) seems more like "just desserts," rather than a sadly inflexible response to character's earlier, hard-hearted actions, which in turn stem from his own persecution. But hey, if it gets folks talking about the Bard, that ain't a bad thing…

Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone: Walking Distance by Mark Kneece (adaptation) and Dove McHargue (art) (Walker & Co.) Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone: Walking Distance
Completing our trifecta this month, Walker & Co. is another publisher with a strong kid lit bent, looking to expand their graphic novel offerings. And they've done it by adapting eight quintessential "Zone" stories for young readers who might not have the patience for B&W TV on the Sci Fi network. The first such offering is Walking Distance, based on the episode where the late, great Gig Young plays a harried NY ad man -- circa the late 50s -- and finds that his old, never visited hometown is "walking distance" from where his car broke down. But being the Twilight Zone, he not only retraces distance, but time itself. Full of adult yearnings about might-have-beens, I first encountered the story in a short story adaptation -- bought, I think when the Scholastic book fair visited my school in the 60s -- and even then, the story struck me. Now, reading it as a middle-aged divorced man, the "might have been" aspects loom necessarily larger. Whether young readers today can make sense of a story set in the 50s, then flashing back to the 30s (though visually, the timeline is fudged a little) remains to be seen. The adaptation here is serviceable enough, and faithful to the tone of the original. Now: How will they do with the upcoming adaptations of "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" and "The Odyssey of Flight 33"?

Until Next Year, Then

San Diego Comic Con
First, a quick housekeeping note: Faithful and sharp-eyed readers of this space would understandably expect a column of Mr. Klaw here, rotating with my last entry a couple weeks back.

Summer travel -- which in my case, includes heading to Austin to be on a panel with the aforementioned Mr. Klaw, at Armadillocon -- prompted a temporary revision of the deadline schedule, so I'm doing two in a row, and then the next pair will be all-Klaw. When mid-September rolls around again, we'll work in tandem.

And speaking of summer travel, as noted at the end of the last column, I'm back from the San Diego Comic Con.

In some ways, there's not a lot to say about the Con anymore. This is because everyone else is already saying it. Which is to say: It has apparently become the mainstream America media/pop culture event of the year.

There's news from the Sundance film festival, and in the fall, Toronto -- which is, of course, "North America," but "free" trading -- and hegemony -- aside, isn't a U.S. thing. There's some regional news out of the LA Times Festival of Books, and publishers coalesce around the BEA, but Comic Con now has become the central piece of cotton candy in terms of various studio/publisher/game studio "roll outs" or "product launches," if we're to think of them in their strictest terms.

The fact that the Con is growing at such an alarming rate shows a hunger for such things on both the production and consuming sides: Studios want superheroes, readers and watchers want superheroes.

Indeed, the very notion of "superhero" now carries so many official cultural bona fides that the PBS Newshour, on the very Monday after the Con concluded, carried a video essay by Julia Keller, on "The Inescapable Lure of Superheroes," which she attributed more to an existential loneliness -- Superman in his fortress, Batman in his cave, Spiderman misunderstood everywhere -- that ultimately we all must grapple with.

She's not wrong, but I think she also missed the "pantheon of gods" aspect: We have inherited a rather abstract notion of "God" in the west, and while the "unifying spirit" aspects can be powerful indeed, we have also seen the considerable dangers in allowing that abstraction to be interpreted by professional clerics and ambitious "leaders."

At the same time, it strips us of the older sensibilities of gods and demi-gods, each with their own special "power" or place -- the high mountains, the river, the dells -- with which to make sense of the world, and about whom we can tell stories about familiar, inherited landscapes.

Being unmoored as we are -- from intimately knowing local terrains, seasons, or even how to grow or gather our own food -- superheroes fill a certain gap in our innate modern rootlessness, which -- I suspect we suspect -- may the cause of all the heightening chaos around us.

Costumed attendees
And at Comic-con, rituals abound, especially those calling for adornment, or a kind of "becoming" of the gods, in this case, donning a costume. And they were all there -- from Marvel, DC, the TV screen, and of course the big screen, particularly Star Wars (without nearly as much Star Trek, though perhaps the next film release in that franchise will rectify this…)

And with the growing news coverage of the Con -- it is now a media event routinely covered by other media -- the rest of the country can live vicariously through the whole proceedings, the entire "ritual" if you will.

I was there for the first two days of it -- well, two and a half if you include "preview night," which stumps me as to its "preview-ness," as it seemed every bit as crowded as Friday turned out to be.
Spirit movie poster

My sons have grown up going to Con, and it's now part of their summer expectation, even while I do my "old timer" routine of lamenting how unbearably crowded it's getting, how it used to be manageable, how you used to be able to talk to people at the booths, etc.

I watched a few movie and DVD previews, including the panel with Frank Miller, et al., on the upcoming Spirit movie, which looks good -- which is to say, it looks very red/black Frank Miller-y, and I hope the story is on par with the production design.

Sons and I missed the Watchmen panel, though the buzz was great, and Warners was pulling out all promotion stops: One of the great promotional tools now is the "give away" bag, for con-goers to schlep all their various swag in, and Warners had outsized versions of those, advertising, variously, Wonder Woman, Smallville, and Watchmen, among other things.

But I kept wondering if a heavily-advertised Watchmen film defeats the whole idea of what the original Moore/Gibbons masterwork was saying -- which, among other things, is that to actually be one of those heavily-promoted demi-gods means you can't possibly live up to everyone's expectations of you.

Watchmen cast
We'll see, come spring.

Other than that, I hung out with my youngest son -- interested in the various weaponry for sale -- while the oldest charged off on his own, to rendezvous with us at meal times.

I said howdy to some of the promo folks kind enough to provide the copies that Rick and I get to talk about here, and caught up with YA author pal Cecil Castellucci, who was signing the latest installment of her Plain Janes graphic novel saga, about which, more on Cecil and the "Janes" in an upcoming column.

I even left a writing sample with one of the editorial directors of a certain comic publishing house. Hey -- the inner fan scribe still wants to write the stuff, and perhaps not all chat and contact at the booths is impossible.

Meanwhile, the Con's contract runs out in 2012 -- aren't a lot of things supposed to "run out" then? -- and there's already lively word-on-the-street that both Las Vegas and Los Angeles are making bids for it.

But San Diego can scarcely afford to lose it -- the thing is like the super bowl.

Will that make the superheroes less lonely, or drive them farther into their caves and fortresses?

Copyright © 2008 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams writes the Danger Boy time travel series, and works as a journalist covering both entertainment and politics, for Hollywood trade paper Below the Line. He's also written videogames, comics, and plays, and is often polite whenever he winds up on a Con panel.


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