Comics are my favorite medium. I came to them in a meaningful capacity when I was a teenager. Before that I had been a big fiction reader, but comics slowly overtook books as what I was most likely to be perusing. I have terrible text-to-visual comprehension within a book. That’s not as big a problem when reading non-fiction, but I mostly read fiction. Film is visual, but it moves at the speed it’s creator intended. You can replay or pause and stare at a shot, the angle, the lighting, or the expression on an actor’s face, but film is all about motion. Comics force the reader to see precisely what the artist intended, but allows them to see what is happening and analyze it in every way at any possible speed with total ease. The immediacy of comics is one of the ways where comics and film separate, at least to me. I’m likely backing myself into a corner on the film comparison, but it’s more how I process different artistic mediums than a hardline formal statement. I was thinking about this lately in regards to the type of things I read and watch when I had two big examples pop up. Visuals for me are key to a fairly wide range of films or comics, where as with novels I mainly stick to my small wheelhouse.
As an example, it’s been a while since I read any novels or books, since I mainlined a ton of comics to destroy the read pile. But I had a stack of books too, so I moved there next, starting with Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson, which was given to me by a friend a while back. I had wanted to read Snow Crash for a while, just based on my limited cyberpunk knowledge and its high status in that canon. Beyond that, I didn’t know anything about Stephenson, thinking he was a cyberpunk-only guy, but that’s not the case. This novel follows three different characters in two different time periods. One is a US Marine in the Pacific theater during World War II, another is an awkward genius who becomes a codebreaker in the Navy at the same time, and the third is the descendant of the codebreaker at the end of the 20th century who is an IT/telecom guy setting up business ventures in Southeast Asia. It’s got an intriguing premise, even though the latter period stuff seems horrendously dated 15 odd years later. It’s also a tome, the paperback version clocking in around 1200 pages. In the course of around six weeks I’ve made it approximately 400 pages and this week I put the book down. I might come back to it later, I don’t know. Stephenson is not a bad writer. Sometimes he overwrites, and he has a tendency for his outright giddiness at his own cleverness to overwhelm the story. But there are some great moments in what I read, and it’s obvious he is setting up an intricate web that hopefully pays off. But the real brake for me was his fascination with explaining mathematical processes that make up the process of cryptography. Pages of nothing but algorithmic explanations and replacement formulas. I made it two pages into the first one and skipped ahead to where he finished. When I hit the second one, I packed it in for now. I’ll probably go back to it sometime, but I’m not in a rush. But I got to thinking about how, if that same information was presented visually, I might find it interesting, even compelling. But just the words blandly on the page, like a textbook? No thanks. Instead, I pulled a new book from the stack, Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal. This one has a stoic hitman, armed revolutionaries plotting assassinations, mind diagramming of bullet angles, all among the backdrop of decolonization. I’ve been burning through it. I eat that stuff up no matter what. Anything that can even half-hazardly have the crime tag thrown at it is fair game. Outside of that, it’s mainly some sci-fi or post-apocalyptic stuff and what I’ll grasp and call surreal works.
On the other hand, I saw this comic last week and really liked it, but one specific part blew me away and equally reminded me why I love comics more than anything else. The comic is Color by Sloane Leong.
The part I’m talking about is the fourth panel when she drops the nine panel cluster right after she asks the girls if they want to play in the field. The progression of the panels allows her to pace how you interpret her response. Jovial first panel, waiting for expected response. Second panel unexpected text response, stripped of all imagery to bolster its prominence. The third panel is before the answer has kicked it, that moment when processing hasn’t caught up to what someone has said and you haven’t reacted. And then that fourth panel. What a kick in the gut. It’s the same basic angle of the figure, with just a small change in the line of her mouth, moving from a smile to uncertain disappointment before probing to a perceived joke response. Now an actor could pull this off, no question. But just seeing it unmoving on the page is heartbreaking. Comics can take the simplest things and make them the biggest things, allowing you to study and revisit, set your own flow or speed while never moving out of the work as a whole.
I saw Oblivion a few weeks ago and have been meaning to write about two things that bugged the shit out of me. Overall, I thought it was pretty boring and skippable. Lestat is reliable but he has nothing to work with. People seem to be talking about the effects, but who gives a shit when there is nothing else there. CG is getting pretty dull. The effects more often than not reduce the scale of the movie, which is trying to be an epic and SAY SOME DEEP SHIT at the same time. If you want to watch a flawed movie where the effects and cinematography enhance and make the experience, watch Prometheus instead. If you want to watch a movie where some DEEP SHIT IS SAID, watch Big Trouble in Little China. Actually, just watch Big Trouble.
Anyway, thing number one. Andrea Riseborough gets to be Goose’s supporting character in video games where they tell you what do in a linear level by voice over. She’s the control room person, she talks to the people in the sky, all that stuff. But every time we see her, on each different day, she is wearing this immaculate outfit. Beautiful dress, designer heels, great makeup, the full deal. She looks incredible. But why is she wearing all this stuff? Her and Cole Trickle are the only two people left on Earth. The only other contact she has is with a woman on a screen who is on the Glados-pyramid in the sky. Earth has been ravaged, supposedly, everybody had to get the hell out and find another planet to live on. Did they lose pajama pants or jeans during the war? Some rich douchebags made sure surplus clothing was going to be fancy or nothing at all? Why is she not barefoot? Did Glados not allow Casual Friday to be Casual Everyday now that, you know, the fate of the entire human race is in doubt and these are the people left behind to do really important stuff? She should be wearing whatever the hell she wants, what are they going to do, recall her and get somebody else? I mean, that might be feasible, but it seems like a waste of limited resources. Then again, rich douchebags. Maybe she just likes looking good in the face of all the shit? Like, fuck you shit, I’m gonna look like a million bucks no matter how shitty you get. But that doesn’t really make sense, because the whole design sense of this movie is so squeaky clean. Some of the structures look pretty beat up and tossed around, but that’s it. There’s no aesthetic to rail against. Just get a hoodie, no way they’re ALL gone.
The second has to do with the glimpses we get of Earth that are, I guess, supposed to fill us with resonance through sorrow and patriotism through identification and remind us that this movie takes place on Earth, which they say about a thousand times. I mean, this cataclysmic war seems to have destroyed everything but major US landmarks. They make sure to show the Pentagon, which looks better here than it did when those dumbfucks flew a plane into it in real life. We get the Washington Monument, which stands proudly as a symbol of American exceptionalism and having a massive cock and Normandy. We see the torch from the Statue of Liberty, somehow standing out while everything else is a gigantic desert. Yeah, you can knock America down, but we don’t go down without a fight, we’ll put a boot in your ass, you dumb aliens! The Empire State Building is still pretty much standing, WOO HOO! Seriously, what the fuck is going on? I get that this movie is set above New York City, so we’re going to focus on the Northeast a bunch, but isn’t all this a bit excessive? Somehow these are the only structures around that survived in any meaningful capacity…how? Did the landmarks have shields or something? Are they actually partially invulnerable? What is the government not telling us? Was it the Reptiles? What kind of reaction is this supposed to generate? We know this is Earth. I haven’t seen Planet of the Apes, but I know that scene where you see Lady Liberty is there for a specific reason, one that is absent here. I think when I remake Oblivion, I’m going to set it in, oh let’s say Georgia. When Ethan Hunt rides through the desert on his bike, he’ll pass a grove of gigantic peach trees, still ripe with fruit. We’ll catch a glimpse of the General Lee under a tarp in Cooter’s Garage standing in the middle of nowhere and then see the idyllic beauty of Augusta National with a new sign posted that welcomes male refugees exclusively. There’s two broad ways to look at this. If the invasion force is aware of our culture and society, wouldn’t they go for these first or prioritize their destruction to lower morale and symbolically defeat us or some bullshit? If the invasion force doesn’t give a shit, the chances of famous things standing up is non-existent. They’ll just attack everything. I mean, I guess in some poetic way people might rally around stuff that they see has meaning. In which case, I’m getting a posse together at Matt B’s. If we secure that, we’re moving on to Maggie’s Jungle Golf. You want this Tiger’s Blood? COME GET SOME, MOTHERFUCKERS