Tag Archives: comic books

Amazing, in a one-sided kind of way

Even with the way that “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” phones in an attempt at deep characterization with its antagonists (Electro and Harry Osborne), it’s hard for me to see the movie as a failure.   Its being chalked up to that is more about it not being exponentially profitable, rather than its critical reception. But as much as I appreciate a big screen version of Spider-Man so close to the one in the comics, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” just isn’t as cohesive and thematically sound as its predecessor.

What shines through in the sequel is the buoyancy of a character whose life could easily be defined by tragedy. The Andrew Garfield iteration of Spider-Man has that in an extroverted way that’s thrilling to see in a live-action format. And between him and Emma Stone playing Gwen Stacy, they form the movie’s most successful dynamic — one that’s particularly refreshing in the framework of what Spider-Man movies have been, as Gwen is this amazing young woman who would have fallen in love with Peter Parker even if he had never become Spider-Man. It’s hard to the say the same for Mary Jane as written in the first “Spider-Man” film.

There’ve been a few great versions of Peter Parker outside of film (mostly animated), and a hallmark has been that Spider-Man, for all of his joking, is a character who genuinely tries to reason with any villain he can see some good in — or at least this is where some of his more interesting, endearing moments have come into play. Comics can feature a pretty black and white kind of world, and if all there is for Spider-Man to do is web indistinguishable thieves and beat nefariously one-dimensional super villains, that’s just not a solid platform for storytelling that speaks to the human condition.

The scene in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” where Spidey saves the life of Max Dillon (the future Electro as played by Jamie Foxx) is a solid attempt at making Spidey likeable, but after Max’s transformation — when Spider-Man is getting through to a pre-rampaging Electro until an overzealous cop sends him reeling — that’s it. Spider-Man doesn’t try to reason with him ever again, which isn’t the case with how he relates to the Lizard (who was the villain in the first film). Of course, Max is (a bit) more of a stranger than Dr. Curt Conners was to Peter, and there’s less of the Jekyll and Hyde dynamic.   But Max all too quickly becomes an embodiment of bitterness, with the reasons for this having been set up as minimally as possible: a balding black man with a comb-over (though that much was supposedly Jamie Foxx’s decision), someone with self-image issues who is obviously partly defined by frequently being ignored and powerless. Harry Osbourne (the movie’s other underdeveloped antagonist) can make an appeal to Max-as-Electro’s humanity, but Spidey can’t? After Max becomes Electro, Gwen is the only character who keeps cares the tiniest bit about who he was before that.

More than in any other Spider-Man movie, this Peter Parker has a chasm between his world and those of his antagonists. As affecting as the Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy storyline is, it would have been even more so if more time had gone into developing both the antagonists and the idea that, as hard as he might try, Spider-Man can’t juggle everything. The movie’s script isn’t deep enough to show him trying.

Even coupled with that, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is still enjoyable thanks to Garfield, Stone and company. There’ve been rumors that Garfield will be replaced in whatever the next Spider-Man would be, and that’d be unfortunate. He’s already done a thoroughly great job with whatever material he was given. And as much as he’s a fan of the comics character, he’s a fan of the idea of Spider-Man, whom he said “maybe … represents the underdog and those marginalized, those who come up against great prejudice…”

(The source of that one quote:  http://collider.com/andrew-garfield-jamie-foxx-interview/ )

Alan Moore and the maybe slightly narrow mind

Alan Moore

Alan Moore, via Wikipedia

Alan Moore, widely considered the preeminent living writer of comics, recently suggested that devotees of superheroes beyond adolescence are ’emotionally subnormal.’   Moore may be right to an extent, but the kind of emotional emptiness filled by superheroes as escapism is probably one of the most common things in society — and it goes well beyond superhero geeks.  The antithesis of what Moore is describing — let’s call it emotional maturity — is hardly constant in the first place.

Picture in your mind someone who is supposed to be emotionally mature.  Unfortunately, people likely subconsciously look to men (primarily white) as examples of emotional maturity because that’s been the template for so long (see superheroes, also).   So, anyhow, for this emotionally mature person did you imagine the dad from The Wonder Years again?  Decent enough guy that he was, that character was a simmering pot of frustration and anger.  Life had needled him into practicality to the point where that was all he wanted to see reflected in his own family.  For such a person your average comic book is a frivolous waste of time, and so is fiction in general — and art, especially modern art … unless he was one of the many emotionally secure modern artists …

Yesterday’s standard of the emotionally secure person was probably a bit more social than the dad from The Wonder Years, but who needs social when you’ve got social networks.  The modern equivalent of emotionally secure certainly has an extremely tight grip on some kind of smart phone … but a smart phone, my friend, is no superhero. (It is a little?  Hmph.)  It’s mostly a lifestyle thing.  When someone who has gainful employment spends it on ways to enhance his or her lifestyle, that’s hardly emotionally mature.  Who needs hobbies or escapism when you’ve got a lifestyle, an obsession with up and coming neighborhoods, with the right this or that, the idea of the most spiritually meaningful way to stay healthy, etc.?  All of these measures of success — success, of course, hardly requiring that people be emotionally secure — can often easily be ascribed to, if not toys, then fixing up a really big room with lots of cool stuff and posters.

And what about an obsession with sports?  A friend of mine would say that being a fan of any actor or actress is the same as rooting for a player on some team.  Most of the time, it’s just as frivolous.

I don’t have anything against fashion, per se, but following it as intensely as some people do — even as a job — is hardly emotionally whole.  Trying to always have some look that’s in or ahead of some imaginary curve is like trying to constantly replicate immaturity .

Alan Moore doesn’t think superheroes stand for anything good, and well, few things do — though there is something to be said for the particular emptiness of something that is supposed to stand for something extremely good really being entirely one-dimensional.  But nothing I’ve mentioned here is inherently bad — far from it.  It’s just, none of it is inherently meaningful or emotionally sound.  Like any genre of fiction, superhero tales can add up to something positive.  Maybe their being part of the pop culture machine that Moore hates so much has limited that.

And beyond them, to comics that have nothing to do with superheroes — but instead usually feature upwardly mobile people grasping with feeling emotionally subnormal.  Even those can add up to something more positive than self-aggrandizing .  Really.

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The interview where Moore expressed his disdain for superheroes:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/nov/22/alan-moore-comic-books-interview

Jiba Anderson on the ‘character of color’ template, a light seldom reached, and indie initiative

Anderson and Goffinski’s The Horsemen: Book of Olorun # 3

Not content with leaving the void of African-American characters in comics to be filled by the mainstream, Jiba Anderson didn’t just create a team of African-American superheroes (The Horsemen)–he created Griot Enterprises to bring them and other characters of color to readers himself.   Check out my interview with Jiba, whom is gearing up to produce his latest project, below: 

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A big focus of your work is creating and tapping into mythologies that happen to be black . . . You obviously grew up loving comic books.  Did you have a moment of measuring yourself against the majority of characters whom had become important to you? 

As an artist, you’re always comparing yourself to not only your contemporaries, but your influences as well. It’s the classic dichotomy of the artist’s ego and the artist’s insecurity.

In terms of creating characters of color, the natural inclination is to feel that DC and Marvel at once created a template, but we as fans of color have always been critical of that template; “The Man” hasn’t done enough to represent us in the light we would like to see ourselves portrayed.

The difference between me and other fans is that I saw the template for what it was, and I embraced it for giving us something to build upon and improve. When books like Brotherman, Milestone Media and Tribe came on the scene and were successful, I felt empowered. Those entities created a new template and gave creators of color a new standard to strive for. I took up that challenge and that’s why Griot Enterprises exists. That’s why The Horsemen, Outworld and the other titles under our banner exist.

On a purely statistical level, it’s highly unlikely for someone to be a minority and write a minority character in a mainstream capacity.  Do you think anything is lost from this? 

No.

If I were looking to build my career creating and writing characters of color for the Big Two, then I would’ve felt lost.

When I started Griot Enterprises, I knew the statistical strikes against the company. However, the expansion and possibilities of the independent comic book scene opened up the possibilities of success in the industry.

Besides, I don’t consider myself a “minority” creating “minority” characters for only “minorities” to enjoy. I am a writer and artist using my culture and interests to enhance the content of my stories. I just happen to be an African-American artist. So, I create my work based on that lens, which informs my worldview.

A grand, mature scale seems to be the common thread in your work.  In scope, The Horsemen reminds me of Grant Morrison’s and Warren Ellis’ team-based work.  Very global.  One of your goals with The Horsemen was creating a black super team–something that hasn’t been done before.  But I’m not so sure that a great street-level hero whom happens to be black has been done, either (Recently, there may be the one).

I love grand themes. I love the meta-story. Every creator should have their own voice, including comic book writers. If you really study the best modern comic book writers (i.e. Morrison, Ellis, Gaiman, Priest, etc.), they all write their interests and give their critique of the world at large.

In truth, all of my work is political and social commentary. All of my work will always honor, in one way, shape or form the African and African-American experience and from that base, expand outward to address the Global Village.

For example, The Horsemen deals with spirituality vs. physical desire; what holds us back, as humans, from achieving our full potential. My upcoming project, Outworld: The Return of the Master Teachers deals with the political, economic and social warfare against the disenfranchised. The mythological / superhero world of The Horsemen and the Sci-Fi / Kung-Fu overtones of Outworld are the candy-coated shell that aids in the swallowing of those pills, which can be bitter.

Who are the creators inside and outside of the comic book medium who’ve influenced your sensibilities the most? 

Man, that’s a tough question to answer because there are so many artists, writers and people who’ve influenced my work.

See, my work is defined by pop culture. From Alphonse Mucha to Frank Frazetta, from comic books and animation to “Grindhouse” films, these “low-brow” creations sparked my imagination. Their bold and shameless design and marketing aesthetic inspire the way that I make images and bring my message to the masses… And they are a lot of fun.

If I had to break it down, my top 5 comic art influences are Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, George Perez, John Byrne, Alan Davis and Steve Rude. My top 5 comic writers are Chris Claremont, Christopher Priest, Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, and Alan Moore.

As someone who’s been making indie comics for about a decade, how, if at all, have the challenges changed?  

The industry has changed dramatically over the past ten years. From the emergence of Print-On-Demand to digital downloads, to the birth of crowd funding via Kickstarter and Indiegogo to Facebook, the financial obstacles of getting into this business have been drastically reduced. At the same time, comics have gone completely corporate with Disney’s acquisition of Marvel.

The line has officially been drawn in the sand. The line between Indie and Mainstream are (is) clear, and we, as independent companies, should forget about trying to beat DC and Marvel at their game. Ain’t gonna happen. We don’t have the resources. More importantly, our properties do not have the benefit of 50 to 75 years of market saturation.

More importantly, our properties do not have the benefit of 50 to 75 years of market saturation.

So, what do we do about this? We flip the script. We use Facebook. We were up on digital comics a good five years before the Big Two took notice. Indies were the first to benefit from this crowd funding hustle.

However, don’t get it twisted. This is the entertainment business. We’re still competing for attention and shelf space. We’ve got to come correct with each and every book we create. The art, story, design and packaging have to be top notch and we’ve got to market the hell out of our project. We’ve got to blog, we’ve got to tweet, and we’ve got to form alliances. We are all in this together.

The great thing about being Indie is that all bets are off. You are free to tell the stories you want to tell. You can experiment. You can help evolve the medium. And, because of the recent success of DC and Marvel, mainstream audiences are now not only aware, but now are starting to respect the power of comics and are checking for the next hot thing…

…Indies have the opportunity to fill that need.

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For more about Jiba Anderson and his work, check out http://www.griotenterprises.com/.  Jiba is also currently running an Indiegogo campaign to produce his latest project, which you can help support at  http://www.indiegogo.com/masterteachers/x/2178636

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