Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Merchant of Venice -- Shylock's monologue
"Twilight Zone" graphic novels
"Twilight Zone" – original "Walking Distance" episode
"The Inescapable Lure of Superheroes"
"The Spirit" movie
"The Watchmen" film
Recent Books of Interest
Into the Volcano by Don Wood (Blue Sky Press).
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).
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.)
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
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.
Copyright © 2008 Mark London Williams
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.