Archive for July, 2005

on immersive reading

I’ve had some thoughts brewing for a while about the artist-audience dance, and the ways that different art media encourage participation.

It would seem that roleplaying (or any kind of creative writing, of which roleplaying is a subset) is the extreme end of this spectrum – you’re creating everything yourselves, with the audience essentially taking on so much creative agency that they swallow the artist and assume his role as well.

But every form of art invites some amount of responsive creation on the part of the audience. I’m interested in investigating how this response is encouraged or discouraged by specific aspects of the original creation:

  • works that imply a whole unexplored universe (like Harry Potter and Star Wars, or really all kinds of sf/speculative fiction) obviously invite it.
  • Serial works also seem to be more inclined to support this: when you only get a weekly or monthly (or less) dosage, you’re inclined to fill in some of the gaps yourself.
  • As I was saying to somebody, serialized works literally take longer to consume – maybe not a longer total length of time, but they’re spread over months or years, and therefore an investment in that work is an investment of a sizeable portion of your life.
  • They also invite a community to form, one which follows the work as it comes out, discusses what’s come before, and anticipates what’s to come in the future.
  • Is that anticipation essential? Are non-serial, one-shot works automatically less likely to inspire audience interaction, because the story’s over and done with the moment it comes out?
  • What else? What makes some works more successful than others in eliciting audience involvement? And how can this knowledge be used to make more immersive art in the future?
  • Am I right in suspecting that thanks to JK Rowling and the internet, a generation of readers is arising that is accustomed to reading art in a more immersive way than in days gone by? I can only offer anecdotal evidence from things like Scans_Daily where I can watch individual fangirls getting into superhero comics for the first time, and automatically start looking for pairings and making icons and applying this whole “fangirl reading vocabulary” or “toolkit” to a new target. I know that fanfiction is nothing new, even in superhero comics, but I still get the sense that this interactive reading method is booming across the board. Look at “claiming” lj communities, where you can literally declare ownership of a celebrity or album or fictional character. That’s as strong an image as I can think of, of this new audience-empowered reading technique.

in furious retaliation, Batman rapes a puppy.

Meanwhile, in mainstream comics:

shit! shit for sale! come and get your shit!

a very interesting comment thread.

Frank Miller v. Wizard

Didn’t there used to be some kind of disagreement between Frank Miller and Wizard?

Oh yeah. He RIPPED a copy of the magazine IN HALF in the middle of his Harvey speech. Used phrases like “this rag, this bible written by Satan,” “this monthly vulgarity,” and “this load of crap.” And threw it in a trash can.

Now look who’s a “guest of honor,” “comic book royalty.”

Wizard hasn’t changed in the four years since that speech…

initial response to TCJ 269

[cross-pasted from The Comics Journal message board]

Dirk, I haven’t received my copy yet but I’ll join the chorus praising your opening essay. Here’s hoping it gets photocopied and pasted in editorial offices across America.

Your assertion that Marvel’s response to the shojo invasion has been “how can we get these girls to buy Spider-Man?” is pretty accurate. It would probably do comics a world of good if the Big Cheeses would realize they’ll never get most people to buy Spider-Man (or condescending attempts at “Spider-Man for girls”) — but that DOESN’T mean they’ll never buy MARVEL (or insert other publisher here) comics. If Marvel will get over their goddamn superhero obsession and realize that it wouldn’t kill them to publish something Stan & Jack wouldn’t have thought of (or something the Direct Market won’t buy) — that they’re a publisher of literature, dammit, not a franchise factory — then maybe they can be a part of the solution. Right now, it pains me to say, they’re an embarrassment.

With that said, I’d like to contradict myself and point out that not everyone in mainstream comics has been caught unawares. By that I don’t really mean creators that have adapted to the rise of shojo so much as writers whose work has been shojo-like for years.

I mean, what are we seeing here? That when a creator concentrates on interpersonal relationships and realistic (or even interestingly unrealistic — perhaps “accessible” is a better term) characterization, there is a huge potential audience, generally consisting of the “fangirl” personality. How unique is this idea? TV soap operas for lonely housewives, teenage equivalents like “Dawson’s Creek,” Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise, Los Bros Hernandez, and plenty of other indie comics. I don’t know what the readership demographics for X-Men were like in the 70s, but Chris Claremont used this style all the time. Devin Grayson gave a brilliant interview last month explaining her character-centered style of writing Batman, and you could swear she was a twenty-year shonen-ai veteran. And the fans (those who aren’t turned off at the mere thought of superheroes, and brave enough to enter a comic shop) eat it up!

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this. Comments, anybody?

in which Devin Grayson earns my respect forever

Hey Devin, tell us how you feel about Batman’s social skills:

I think we all love the idea of Batman as a loner, but for reasons that are honestly primarily based in commerce (the more characters in the Bat-universe, the more marketing opportunities), he has been increasingly surrounded with a seemingly ever-expanding cast of co-stars, and these have become well-developed, exciting characters in their own rights. There was no book at that time dedicated to exploring those relationships… I think in some ways we were sort of avoiding the issue, and I really wanted to walk right up to it: “look, they’re here to stay, we have to really integrate them into Batman’s existence and mission in a meaningful way.” … We wanted to be really honest about the weirdness of it – you’ve got this shadowy, mysterious vigilante who is essentially the personification of self-determination and autonomy, and yet he’s basically running a training program for teenage vigilantes. I told Denny I thought Batman probably was uncomfortable with it, but that was precisely what made it such great material for serialized exploration: why does he let all those people be there? Could he get rid of them at this point if he wanted to? How do they feel about him? What do they need from him? Can he give it? What does it mean to love someone like a father who’s convinced that familial love is a death warrant? We know what happens when he puts on the Bat-armor and goes out to fight. He’s Batman, he’s gonna win. But what happens when the armor’s off and there are these kids looking to him for approval and guidance? How does that add to – or even detract from – his mission? There’s a lot of material there.

What I believe – and I couldn’t say whether or not this is a wholly original idea – is that to be as spectacular and amazing as Batman is, to develop those areas so thoroughly, you would have to be missing something else. You can’t be more than human without in some ways having also let yourself become less than human.

My mother is a family therapist and my dad’s a sociologist and I tend to approach characters from those angles – it’s not that Batman is incapable of human intimacy on any organic level, it’s just that he hasn’t worked on that in any sustained way because his attention and energy has been elsewhere. Now, Ralph down the street hasn’t worked on intimacy either, and is equally incapable of it, and what he’s really good at is drinking beer and yelling at his dog. Most of us are underdeveloped in some pretty key ways and often don’t have much to show for it. That’s not what I’m saying about Batman. His internal makeup is a choice he made. I don’t mean to point out his deficiencies as marks against him, but rather as humanizing factors of sacrifice. He has given up so much to be able to do what he does, and in many ways there’s nothing more noble or laudable than that kind of self-sacrifice. I adore Batman, he’s my personal hero, he is 100 percent who I would want in my corner when things got bad. But I feel for him, too. And I feel for Dick, who is a very different kind of man who grew up in very different circumstances and now has his own burden to carry.

I suppose I’m not the first to say that Batman is not going to win any Mr. Congeniality awards anytime soon, but what I’m trying to say about that is that his limitations, as much as his competencies, are what makes him a hero on the deepest, most personal level. He is not a hero because of some great fortune he decided he’d share with others. His heroism was born from his darkest tragedy. He took the worst thing that ever happened to him and turned that into motivation to protect and fight for good. That is so much more interesting to me, and so much braver, than the hero legends we usually share. It’s someone doing Tonglen, to use a Buddhist meditation term, in a room full of people doing loving-kindness meditations. Tonglen is when you breathe in the darkness and pain and anger and despair of the world and breathe out the peace and love and compassion, both to prove to yourself that you can survive the negativity, and also as a way of gifting the world with the positive energy it needs. It’s warrior breathing. Everything else is about breathing the bad stuff out and the good stuff in. That is our basic inclination and survival strategy. You have to be so courageous to do it the other way around.

It’s kind of sad that it’s such a special occasion when a mainstream comics writer is able to talk intelligently about characterization. But, well, it is. Celebration is in order.

I read her run on Gotham Knights and enjoyed it, but I think I’m gonna have to go back through it. :)

Edited to add: Holy shit is that an incredible interview. Read the whole thing, all of you, now.


i’m not sure what to say.

which, i suppose, is as appropriate an opening as any. because what i’m feeling right now is a general inability to capture what i can clearly see.

(00:22:23) me: i am growing ever-more-impatient with any experience that falls short of the sublime
(00:22:40) me: i think because i’m becoming more aware of what sublimity is possible

also, a line from Blake: “damn braces. bless relaxes.”

~ ~ ~

wandering through Barnes & Noble with Chawk and Lauren (great fun), we looked through the teen girl section and found (and mocked) a novel consisting entirely
of chopped-off sentences
and pseudo-free-verse
like this.

~ ~ ~

my brother once was to deliver a speech
to the congregation of my church.
he worried that he would speak too quickly
(as he sometimes does)
and be hard to understand.
so he wrote his entire “meditation”
in fragments like this
to encourage himself
to speak at an appropriate pace.

~ ~ ~

i often enjoy speaking on instant messenger
because i can deliver my thoughts in such segments
unrestricted by concerns of
“appropriate English style.”

~ ~ ~

apparently, i still have friends
(good ones even)
who are capable of saying:
“I wasn’t even aware they had serious comics in a more ‘literary’ style.”
i still have work to do.

anyway, i was talking to this friend
about jeff smith
and craig thompson
[i wish i could link to print articles in the comics journal. issue 266 had brilliant articles on both men.]

what i was trying to convey
was both men’s sense of space
and visual storytelling,
visual writing.
i guess “composition” is a good term after all.

thompson especially
is influenced by french art comics
and life drawing – “fine art.”
one of the consequences of that
is that his work – at least in Blankets

each moment takes exactly as much time –
– which, in comics, means exactly as much space
as it deserves.

especially magical moments
(a new snowfall,
a first look at an unclothed girlfriend)
are given entire pages
if not more.






~ ~ ~

i respect ambition, in art.
i don’t think very much of people who overreach their capabilities,
but I’m much more inclined to like something if a heart and soul (and mind?) has been put into it.

i ran across sarah ellerton’s inverloch graphic webnovel tonight.
the entire 700-page novel is already plotted and scripted.
she illustrates roughly four pages a week,
and she’s halfway done.

every page is a work of art.

i like the confidence it shows.
she knows exactly what she’s doing and how she wants to do it.

is that jealousy on my part?
maybe it’s just resonance. inspiration.
i am very ambitious. i’d like to think i could accomplish great things.
it’s nice to see confirmation that such things can be done.

~ ~ ~

i have never been more excited for the future of comics than i am now. DC and Marvel are having a bit of a crap year, because they’ve forgotten how to do superheroes and they don’t know how to do anything else, but they’ll either come around soon or collapse. there’s a renewed interest in the old classics (schultz, mccay, herriman, king). independently-minded creators are putting out amazing work – that’s been true for decades, but there’s just more of them doing it now. we’re finally, slowly, looking at comics as an international medium as American publishers import more and more European and Asian work.

and i understand it better, have a better view on things than ever before.

~ ~ ~

I’m wandering off topic.

listening to
great works of art
always fuels my ambition
and my discontent.


all i need is TIME.

god, i need it so badly tonight.

ninjas who fight zombies! on the high seas! with lasers!

Robby and I discuss marketing:

(16:42:33) robby: you’d probably like Street Angel: blinged out Aztec gods, basketball-playing ninjas, immortal Spanish conquistadors, the first Irish astronaut, a mad scientist who wants to recreate Pangea
(16:43:00) me: hmm
(16:43:22) robby: It should be in trade by now
(16:43:26) me: personally, i don’t think that i respond very well to just “concept” marketing
(16:43:44) me: i don’t usually care what’s being done so much as how
(16:44:08) me: for example, Fables is a pretty cool concept, but it could easily have been done very poorly
(16:44:20) me: but the art and characterization makes it worth reading
(16:44:36) me: Y: The Last Man is a great concept
(16:44:43) me: but again, same deal
(16:44:59) me: it’s probably been done before by a lot of shitty indie 80s creators
(16:45:24) me: what makes it work is the characterization and continuously-interesting plotting
(16:45:31) me: plus good visuals
(16:45:47) me: i admit, it’s harder to market something in that way
(16:46:20) me: it’s easier to differentiate a new series if you can describe it with a unique concept
(16:46:46) me: but that’s not going to sell me
(16:47:10) me: i’m tremendously more willing to buy something if I’ve seen preview pages for it
(16:47:22) me: so I can see how the artist works and the dialogue style
(16:47:51) me: this is why i have such a hard time with manga
(16:48:02) me: i really want to have the reed collective branch into manga
(16:48:12) me: but i’m looking at fifty one-paragraph solicits
(16:48:21) robby: right, and the concepts sound good
(16:48:28) robby: but the execution doesn’t appeal
[edit: really, it’s not that; it’s that all they give me is concept, and the execution is completely unknown until I buy the book.]
(16:48:47) me: “Fujuki moves into a new school! and she falls in love with this guy who’s actually a robot duck! follow their wacky adventures!”
(16:49:20) me: or sometimes the concept is something simple
(16:49:44) me: “Takahoshimitsusama moves to a new school and has trouble adjusting”
(16:49:56) me: but maybe the characterization in that series is brilliant
(16:50:22) me: some of the best stories, if you think about it, have really simple concepts
(16:50:54) me: so I’m really skeptical of “it’s full of ninjas who fight zombies! on the high seas! with lasers!”
(16:51:12) robby: yeah, I had a teacher this year that was always going on about how there are maybe 15 stories, 25 tops
(16:51:12) me: but give me a page with ten word balloons on it and I’m right there with you

Leigh Walton talks comics and maybe other arts. (RSS)
He also works for the very excellent publisher Top Shelf Productions (which does not necessarily endorse the views and opinions, etc, herein).


Header by me. Contains an interpolation of the final panel from All-Star Superman #1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Speaking of which.