Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Webcomics Wednesdays!

So Nick came up with the idea of linking to a different webcomic each Wednesday as a way of promoting an aspect of graphic literature that libraries tend to overlook. (It's not so much that we don't like them, it's that we can't really take credit for people reading comics on the internet. Dirty library secret!)

Anyways, when I heard the word "webcomics," I was like, "oh! Me! Got it! I'm writing that!"

So now that's what I'm doing I guess.

For this inaugural edition, here's a classic. It pretty well captures the creative freedom of webcomics. Freedom, that is, to use the exact same drawings every time.

That's right, it's Ryan North's Dinosaur Comics:

The obvious beauty of Dinosaur Comics is that the drawings are awesome. Microsoft Paint dinosaurs have never looked better (unless the girl who writes Hyperbole and a Half did a drawing of dinosaurs at some point.)

So if you're a guy who just happened to make the best MS Paint drawings of dinosaurs ever, what do you do? Well first of all you never draw anything else ever again. And then you keep re-using those images until the internet has memorized every pixel.

Basically, these are the only characters. T-Rex shouts things in declarative sentences, Dromiceiomimus kind of plays along, and Utahraptor points out the flaws in T-Rex's aforementioned declarative sentences. Sometimes God talks to them (as indicated by boldfaced text and a word bubble leading off-panel). The predictability of the format forces North to script these things pretty creatively, though.

Basically, it's one of the best things on the internet.

(Quick Warning: as with most things on the internet, there's some content that's inappropriate for younger audiences. View at your own risk!)

Dinosaur Comics by Ryan North

Next week: other best things on the internet!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore

V for Vendetta was brought into most people's consciousness, including mine, from the 2006 film adaptation done by the Wachowski brothers. It seems to be a reactionary and angry graphic novel inspired by the extreme conservatism of Thatcherian politics of the 1980s. V for Vendetta features our hero V who wears a Guy Fawkes mask and has a penchant for theatrics. He meets a young lady named Evey who has experienced dystopian Britain's oppressive government for too long. V takes her under his wing and explosions, murder, and anarchy ensue.

Here are the discussion questions and answers. SPOILERS BELOW!

1. Alan Moore is all about his superhero deconstruction. Is V a "superhero" in the comic sense?

V is in some ways a superhero. He is only an idea, it doesn't matter who is behind the mask, only his ideals. So in this way he is much like say Spider-Man or Batman. Their identities are secret, but it is known that they stand for honor and goodness and such. He is also like other superheroes in that his morals are questioned. In some of the better Batman stories, the writer asks the reader if his actions are truly justifiable. Many of these moral dilemmas are peppered throughout V for Vendetta as well.

2. V for Vendetta is set in a post-apocalyptic and/or dystopian future. Is this a believable setting given the circumstances of the 1980s England that Alan Moore lived in?

George Orwell, Alan Moore, and a host of 1950s science fiction authors always make the mistake of setting a dystopian future in the very near future. Sure Margaret Thatcher said some scary things, not discluding what she apparently jokingly said about putting homosexuals in concentration camps. However, V for Vendetta is a worst-case scenario kind of paranoid theory that could only come out of Alan Moore's crazy hermit head.

3. David Lloyd draws Evey differently in each book of V for Vendetta. Why? What do each of these physical likenesses represent?

There are a few Eveys. The innocent and naive Evey, the grotesque and wrinkly bald Evey, the inexplicably 50s styled Evey with short curly hair, and Evey as V. David Lloyd drew Evey very grotesquely during her transformation to show that she was suffering and that her transformation did not come easily. The other likenesses, I'm not sure if they had any significance. Thoughts?

4. What is the significance of the smile on V's mask and the resulting unchanging exterior?

V always has that coy smile no matter what he says or feels. This mask shows confidence all the time; it adds to the mystique that V uses to become more than a man, to become an idea. There's the great panel near the end where Evey has a very V-like smile when she finally understands V's point of view and has become "freed."

5. What is the importance of flowers? Dominoes?

The flowers represent a better time, before the nuclear war and fascism caused rationing and extinction. If you want to get really high school English on the subject, flowers bloom and it could be said that V wants England to bloom, to rise above the totalitarian leadership they are currently under. The dominoes reminded me of the Domino Effect, a term used to describe the spread of communism. If one country fell to communism, then so would the rest. Perhaps the dominoes were like a backwards version of that. If V's carefully placed plans went through, he could knock the totalitarian government down all at once.

6. V for Vendetta is heavily based on British politics. Does the political message still make it through despite cultural and generational differences?

The Wachowski brothers film tried to address this issue, making V for Vendetta a Bush-era political satire. Personally, it didn't come through for me. I think Moore's political message makes it through the comic, it is just not as personal here in the United States. For example, there are not nearly as many security cameras on the streets here in the U.S. as there are in England.

7. What are the similarities and differences between V and Rorschach from Watchmen?

V's mask and Rorschach's mask both represent their worldviews. Rorschach's black and white mask represents absolutes; in his mind a person is either good (on his side) or evil (preparing to die by his hands). V's mask represents Guy Fawkes and has a coy little smile all the time. This represents his aversion to the British government, his love for theatrics, and the smile is his feeling towards it all: happy but destructive. The difference? Rorschach is driven by darker forces, his awful upbringing, his masochistic need to kill while V is driven by hope, he truly wants his actions to bring forth a better England.

8. In the technical sense, V is a terrorist. Is terrorism a legitimate way to overthrow an oppressive government? Is it the only way? Were the fatalities likely caused by V's explosions worth the ultimate result?

This is quite a debate here. V's plan to overthrow the government was essentially to take down each part of the regime (ear, eye, nose, mouth, fingers) to instill fear and uncertainty both in the general public and in the government. However, he also caused quite a few explosions that could very well have caused some innocent casualties. Were these innocent deaths worth the end result? Were the citizens of dystopian Britain really "living" in the totalitarian regime? I'm just raising more questions here. I'd love to hear some feedback on this one.

9. V seems to have an obsession with theatrics. Why? How does this play into his persona or philosophy?

V's obsession with theatrics is what makes him such a great "character." (Only a character in the technical sense. Yes, he's an idea.) V is constantly quoting Shakespeare and popular songs while he gleefully murders members of the government. This is never really explained and I never got an idea as to why V chooses to act this way. Perhaps it plays into the coy smile that is plastered on his face? He happily conducts while the Parliament building explodes, perhaps this is just his way.

10. The citizens of dystopian England were under constant watch by cameras. How does this effect people? How do people act when they are on camera? How did this voyeurism effect the men and women who watched the monitors?

Clearly, the population of England in this graphic novel have been beaten down into lives that constantly feel the burden of an oppressive government. People cannot do anything "illegal" as decided by the government, so these people are shells. As soon as the cameras turn off, a school girl graffitis a nearby wall. People need to act on instinct and sometimes do deviant things, it is a part of human nature. The voyeurism on the other side deeply effected the leader, who fell in love with Fate the computer perhaps because it was the only thing in the world that could tell him what to do or had more power than him.

11. What is the importance of V's mask? Could he have done the same things to England if he had been unmasked?

V's mask is important obviously in hiding his identity since he's an enemy of the state, but it is also so he can become more than a man. The mask represents V's ideals, if he had just been a man people would have been less likely to listen.

12. What's the significance of the motto "strength through purity, purity through faith?"

Elena helped us work backwards on this one. Faith is believing in something, and purity is cleansing one's self to in theory become a better person. So this statement says having the strength to believe in something that may not make sense(fascist government) makes you a better person. Totalitarianism personified.

13. Why did V kick Evey out of the Shadow Gallery initially?

Evey was not ready; she was questioning who V was, thinking that he was her father. V needed to kick her out so she could experience the real world again and realize that it does not matter who V is, the only thing that matters is what he represents, what he stands for.

14. Why does V let Finch shoot him in the subway tunnel?

V had finished his work. He set up the dominoes and let them fall; every dangerous member of the government had been killed. He needed to allow Evey to carry the torch.

15. What are the differences between old V and the new V? What are each of their responsibilities?

Old V was destructive, he tore fascist England's government apart so new V could rebuild and create a new England.

16. Was Evey brainwashed by V or did she truly embrace V's ideals?

This was a big debate at the book club. Part of the problem is Evey's lack of characterization. It seemed to me that after her "cleansing" by V's hands, she just all of a sudden took on his ideas and ideals without much explanation or thinking for herself. Her speech at the end as V seems robotic and planned. On the other hand, V inspired Finch to become a different person and view England in a different way, so perhaps the same happened to Evey.

17. In the end, is England better off for what V did for them? Will the people be able to run their own government?

Questionable. Governments often run in cycles, so it's possible that England could go from the oppressive regime to a more democratic and freeing government. However, I do not have confidence in Evey's skills of "creating" and showing England how to live. It could be argued that her work is done with her rejuvinating speech at the end, but I think her help would be much more needed in the future.

EXTRA CREDIT from Josh: Why is Natalie Portman in so many comic book/fantasy roles (in Star Wars, in "V for Vendetta," in the upcoming "Thor" movie, in the upcoming "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies"), and yet she's still cool and not typecast yet? What makes her so fitting to be in these roles?

Jeremiah says she has a good agent. Zing! I always assumed that Natalie Portman was just a secret nerd who enjoyed all of these non-traditional film roles. Being in pompous queen and British poppycock films like The Duchess and Pride and Prejudice Without Zombies provide an interesting and stark contrast to upcoming film roles like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Thor.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Walking Dead pilot

For the uninitiated, AMC premiered The Walking Dead last night, a new TV series based off of Robert Kirkman's graphic novels of the same name. We did a book club back in August of 2009 for The Walking Dead, so I figured this is kind of appropriate. One of our gracious book clubbers offered to have a viewing party at her house, but sickness, scheduling problems, and children unfortunately got in the way. However, I'm willing to bet more than a few of us watched it last night, so I'd like to hear some of your thoughts.

Here are some of mine, spoiler-free:

-It feels slow-paced, or methodical you could call it. The first five pages of the first Walking Dead trade is covered in a half hour. I read in an interview with director Frank Darabont that he prefers this approach, and making a TV show allows for this. Judging from other AMC shows such as Breaking Bad and Mad Men, it seems this slow methodical approach is their m. o. I think of all TV shows, The Walking Dead could have benefited from a no-frills, fast-paced, this-dude-is-now-dead-even-though-we-just-met-him approach.

-The zombie effects are great. Maybe some of the other effects, like blood and the pretty obviously computer generated car-filled highway during Rick's lone horseman scene are TV-quality, but the zombies look amazing. The "I'm sorry this happened to you" legless zombie especially was horrifying in the best possible way.

-The dialogue isn't terribly clever. This is a problem in Kirkman's graphic novels, too, but whenever characters have to converse casually, it's painful. Shane and Rick's conversation about durn women who can't turn off the lights would make masters of conversational dialogue like Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith cringe.

-Will it follow the graphic novel exactly? The pilot felt pretty safe while Kirkman's graphic novel pulled no punches in any way, which was much of its appeal. Especially in later story arcs like with the Hunters or the Governor, I'm not seeing how AMC could pull those off in the same vein as the graphic novel. According to the previously mentioned interview, Darabont plans to use Kirkman's ideas as a framework, then go in a different direction, but the pilot's strict adherence to the first Walking Dead trade makes me wonder.