December 29, 2008

Nano Film Review #22 -- The Spirit

All I've read of The Spirit comics are "best of" comic stories that show Will Eisner experimenting with the medium, using the pen and the page in new and unique ways to tell stories. And the stories I've read are genius. Masterpieces. A "The Spirit" movie should experiment with the cinematic canvas, and we live in a day and age where that's possible. Look at the poster and you see they way they tried to mimic Eisner's use of words and artwork to create a mood. A "The Spirit" movie should be funky dissolves and wipes and camera tracking using smoke and snow and shadow and light, so the screen and camera aren't just the tools of storytelling but become part of the story itself! With a skilled director at the helm, this could have been. Oh, there were funky dissolves and wipes and camera tracking . . . but they just didn't work.

So, instead of an homage to the spirit of Will Eisner's "The Spirit", what we end up with is an homage to Frank Miller.

All I could see in my mind while watching that movie was what could have been. All I could see on the screen was what was: a movie that tried to be many different things in one (an homage to Eisner, a parody of superheroes, a noir film, a comedy) and failed at all of them.

There were twenty people in the theater. Four got up and left in the middle of the movie. Behind me, a woman kept sighing and saying, "What?" When the film was over, I heard someone say, "That was terrible."

Me? I was just disappointed about what could have been . . .

~ Ben

December 19, 2008

Nano Film Review Recommendations: Alternatives to Delgo

So you want a fantasy movie that actually IS what Delgo wanted to be?

Here's some recommendations:

The Last Unicorn
I just discovered this film. It's beautiful. The story is interesting and satisfying, if a bit weird.

The Dark Crystal
Similar to Delgo, in that a LOT hinges on the world it creates. It's a valid criticism to say that The Dark Crystal is more style than substance, and some would say that it's a concept in search of a real story. The difference is that this creates a living world, while Delgo's world is dry and disconnected. I love this film. It's a masterpiece of puppeteering that we won't see again because of today's reliance on CGI.

With Labyrinth, Henson wanted more story to go along with the world, and story-wise it works better than Dark Crystal. World-wise, not as much. Still, it's a bizzare and unique world, and once more pushed puppeteering film effects in to directions we will never be able to see the culmination of.

My Neighbor Totoro
Wow, wanna talk interesting creature and world creation? This movie is crawling with them (literally!).

The Hobbit
I've always loved this movie, since I first watched it on the black and white TV in the basement as a kid on some Saturday afternoon to when we rented it on VHS a little later to when I rewatched it as an adult on DVD. To me, Bilbo Baggins will always sound like Orson Bean.

And don't forget The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (all three versions, including the BBC version and the '70's animated version), Prince Caspian, Pan's Labyrinth (not for kids), The Lord Of The Rings trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King), along with the two other versions that were made (both interesting in their own right).

What say you?

~ Ben

December 18, 2008

Not-so-Nano Film Review #21 -- Delgo

(SPOILER WARNING. Not that you need to worry about it, since you're not really going to see this movie, are you?)

Needed to get away last night. I have a check from a script I wrote a few months ago. I hadn't been to a movie in a while.

I went to see Delgo for four reasons:

1. I'd heard about it over the years and was curious. It's had a long and tough history, struggling to find a distributor, even with an all star cast and good buzz online.
2. Wanted to see if it really was THAT bad. Couldn't be, could it?
3. Figured I'd be alone in the theater.
4. Knew it wouldn't last long in theaters.

#3 was correct. In fact, according to this article, it averaged to two people per screening last weekend. Wow. This means that #4 is also correct.

And yes, to #2, it was that bad. Mash all the annoying things from Disney movies (but leave out the awesome) with Star Wars semi-mystical mumbo-jumbo and Lord of the Rings battle scenes and you get Delgo, a movie that can't seem to figure out who its audience is or where it wants to steal its plot points from.

I hate to be harsh, but . . . man.

You've got a painfully unfunny slipstick sidekick and a dog-creature that pees on someone, juxtaposed against casual killing (the main character knocks some troll-like creatures to their death miles below, a smile on his face) and assassination and gambling addiction.

All the deaths are off screen, usually with the implication of a stabbing and then a hand falling limp, which lessens the emotional impact of a screen death for children, but also lessens the emotional impact of a screen death for the older viewers that the death was put in the story for in the first place. It happens multiple times, as well.

Add to that confusing, inconsistent character development (Delgo hates the buterfly-ish people because they killed his parents, butterfly-ish people ruin his sacred temple, but he still keeps his date with the butterfly-ish princess, has a painful Disney musical number "we're gonna put all our hopes and dreams and troubles into two or thee sentences for each other so the audience doesn't miss it" only without the music number, flirts with her, almost kisses her, and THEN remembers he's supposed the hate the butterfly-ish people -- the worst example of inconsistency).

Oh, and don't forget the (SPOILER WARNING) bad guy who got killed ten minutes before the end of the movie who turns out not to be dead ten seconds before the end of the movie, but no one noticed before he had time to crawl through not one but TWO cheering armies to get close enough to throw a spear at the heroes who are about to kiss, only so the sidekick can save the day. It's a useless scene that does nothing for the theme or story, and it's not the only scene like that.

The theme of revenge is never fully explored with the characters. It's given lip service by the mentor-character, but when (SPOILER WARNING) Delgo's new friend, a butterfly-ish warrior, is killed in front of his eyes, the killer runs away and Delgo never gets a chance to internalize and use his lesson about revenge. He smashes some tables in anger. But the filmakers are making a movie where the theme deals with revenge, and they make a point to have the murderer of Delgo's friend run away and do not let Delgo confront the theme! Then Delgo goes off to the next part of the story, and it's as if his friend's murder never happened.

Or (SPOILER WARNING -- do I need to say that?) when butterfly-ish princess confronts her mother's murderer, gives her a cool looking flying butterfly-fu kick to knock her into a deep crevice. The princess intends to kill the bad guy. It's the final climax of the movie (except the OTHER bad guy who rises from the dead ten seconds before the credits roll). The princess (the other lead character, next to Delgo) wants to kill the bad guy. Kicks the bad guy toward the crevice. But the bad guy doesn't fall down. Oh, wait, then the ground opens up beneath the bad guy. Good. The princess doesn't kill the bad guy. She wants to. She tries to. She fails. But the bad guy dies anyway. But it wasn't by the princess's hand, so that means it satisfying to us! Bad guy dies! And good princess didn't do it!

The backgrounds and creature design are awesome. The voice acting is decent (there's a big name cast . . . well, they were big names when the movie was made ten years ago). The character design is nice and expressive. Some animation is weak, but forgivable. The popcorn was okay.

Overall, Delgo is a movie that loses sight of its audience, characters, and story, though. Which is amazing, considering it had six credited writers and something like twenty story consultants. (Maybe more.) Is this an example of writing by committee? Is that why it fails to deliver? Or is it an example of a bad script that couldn't be rescued? I don't know where the blame lies. I just know this is the only time I have left a theater really wanting my money back . . . especially in this economy.

Not recommended. But you don't need me to say that. You already didn't see it.

~ Ben

PS -- I do find watching and reading bad examples of storytelling to actually be helpful to me as a writer. You can learn from seeing people do it wrong, just like you can learn from people doing it wrong.

December 17, 2008

Shoe Throwing Guy . . . I Want to Throw My Shoe at You (updated)

Is anyone else as upset as I am about the guy who threw his shoes at the president?

I mean, say what you will about him (and people do), he is the President of the United States of America. And he was attacked.

But in the coverage I'm seeing (granted, not a lot) the guy who threw the shoes is being lauded as some sort of hero. He might be lauded as a hero is he had thrown his shoe at Saddam as well.

Rather, he'd be lauded as a martyr.

Look, I don't think Bush is as terrible as most people seem to think. I also don't think he's as great as he'd like us to remember him. No Child Left Behind may have brought test scores up, but I know many teachers felt left behind. America has not been attacked since 9-11, but that hasn't made the world safer necessarily.

But President Bush is the President of the United States. And on foreign soil, he was attacked. This bothers me. Am I the only one? Maybe I'm missing something. I understand the insult involved in throwing your shoe at someone. But do Americans hate the President so much that they actually applaud this attack? Had it been a violent attack, or had it struck and drawn blood even, would people have celebrated it in the same way?

As for all the people who are latching on to this as a great opportunity to mock the president -- I want to throw my shoe at you, too . . . (Reminds me of my friend Brad's joke: he hated those stickers of Calvin peeing on truck logos so much that he wanted to get a sticker of Calvin peeing on those stickers.)

~ Ben


Seems President Bush himself isn't as bothered as I am . . . and Bill O'Reilly agrees with some of my assessment, and makes some interesting comments:

I don't think Bush's legacy is up for as much debate as it should be, though.

December 10, 2008

Stuck in 1986, part IV: Conclusion

The same things I said about 1986 could be said about the '90's boom, I guess.

But here's the bottom line:

Comics are stuck looking to the past, and as such making themselves irrelevant to the future.

Okay. Rant done.

~ Ben

December 9, 2008

Stuck in 1986, part III: Audience

Marvel and DC have 'em.

They have your audience, if you are a comic book creator.

Just so you know that.

What? You've sold some comics at some conventions? Great!

But most people's money is tied up in buying Marvel and DC. It's just the way it is.

So why go head to head with them? "Because those are the comics I read, and I want people like me to read my comics."

Understandable. But with the price of comics going up and up and up . . . we creators have to be thinking of ways to get around the fact that DC and Marvel are snapping up those dollars. We've got to be all "kung fu" about things, and use the giant's strength against itself.


By innovating. Not copying.

By looking for different audiences. People who don't buy comics, but might buy yours.

By giving content away.

I think, unfortunately, too many of us are stuck trying to be the people we looked up to in 1986 . . . or 1996 . . . or, for some, 1976 and 1966.

But back then, we were the audience. Now, we're aspiring creators. We simply cannot try to emulate the past. Not now.

We have to look forward. Bring our product to the audience. If we were Marvel or DC, we could expect the audience to find us. But, hate to break it to you, we aren't.

The time has come. If you are a creator, you have to stop thinking about what it was like back in the day when you were the audience, and start thinking about tomorrow and where you're going to FIND your audience. And then grab 'em! Give 'em awesome content that they've never seen before! Hook 'em! And then make 'em glad they came, and look forward to coming back.

Easy? Heck no! But it's what I'm trying to do.

We'll see if I manage to succeed somehow.

~ Ben

December 8, 2008

Stuck in 1986, part II: Form

The $3 22-28-page comic book.

Soon to be the $4 22-28 page comic book.

Remember when it was just $1? I do.

Am I waxing nostalgic about that? Heck no.


Because the 22-28 page comic is not dead. Not like people predicted. But it IS strangling the comic book industry. Just killing it. How?

Well, let's just get the whole "graphic novels are the wave of the future" thing that has been the mantra for years now.

And the whole "webcomics are the wave of the future" thing that has been the mantra for fewer years now, but still years none-the-less.

Those ideas are great in theory, but let's face facts. Theory is only good if it leads to some sort of action. And so, some people have been trying to ride those ideas, focusing on graphic novels and webcomics.

But the 22-28 page comic book format continually rears it's ugly head. Don't get me wrong, the format is not evil in and of itself. And it is a financial viable method for DC and Marvel and a few select others.


Because of that success, many, many people who would be able to produce a wonderful webcomic are focused on trying to be Marvel and DC. That's the way the big boys do it, that's the way it's gotta be done.

22-28 page comics aren't going anywhere. The comic industry is too dependent on them, comic shops rely on the comic collector who will come in every week to get the latest installment of whatever comic characters they follow, and it's worked great for the last 80 years. Why mess with a good thing?

Because it's not the ONLY thing. And it's not even the BEST thing.

Too many creators are stuck looking backward, at an outdated model of publishing that can only work if you have lots and lots of money to throw at it. And they get burned. It tears me up to see so many small start ups waste so much money. Some of us (yes, I say "us" because I've been involved in this) were able to dust ourselves off from the mistake, and try looking in other directions. Others of us just plain lose everything.

It's not pretty.

The sky is the limit these days, for anyone with an idea, some time, and some talent. So why are we getting so many people who are producing material that, if you overlook the glossy paper and the lack of comic want ads and Sea Monkey ads, looks just like something they were selling in 1986.

The difference? In 1986, people were buying.

Tomorrow, part III . . . probably the last part.

~ Ben

December 6, 2008

Stuck in 1986, part I: Content

1986 was the Golden Days for comic books.


Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

In fact, those two books are the Golden Standard for what comic books are. Or should be. Or want to be. Or whatever.

The broke the mold, subtly and not-so-subtly poking holes at the conventions of supeheroes, deconstructing the idea of modern heroes, and presenting archetypes in a new light.

Watchmen and Dark Knight. Top of many, many lists of best comics ever.


It's 2008, people. Where's the next Watchmen or Dark Knight?

Everything about comics these days seems to be looking back in the rear-view mirror. Looking back at this two comics.

That's not to say they aren't great . . . they are. But where is the next breakthrough? The next "changes everything" story?

The answer: it's come. And it's gone. And we didn't notice. Because our collective eyes were on those two masterpieces, in the rear-view mirror . . . instead of looking ahead.

On Monday, part II . . .

~ Ben

December 4, 2008

For Writers -- Best. Rejection. Ever.

I've been watching a lot of Hulu, especially The Bob Newhart Show. I really, really like it. Bob Newhart is one of my favorite comedians.

As a writer, though, this episode had a couple scenes that struck my funny bone. I was going to wait to put this up with a different writing-related post. But that post isn't ready, and this video clip expires soon.

The episode is actually about Newhart writing a chapter about office furniture in a psychology book, and right before going to a psychologist convention he finds out his twenty pages were cut down to two.

But the bit that struck me as funny was the b-plot with Jerry, his dentist friend, who wants to write his own book.

There's three bits to this plotline . . .

First, the set up:

Second, the dentist's book:

Third, the pay-off:

Of course, the whole episode is great . . .

~ Ben

December 3, 2008

(Web)Comics Worth Reading

Well, as we're nearing the launch of our new webcomic (some of you may have already clicked on the link above . . . but the truth is, we haven't officially "launched" -- what does that mean? I don't rightly know, except to say we haven't done it).

Anyway, as we approach that launch (and a couple others as well -- keep your eyes peeled) I though I might just post a couple links to some webcomics that are worth checking out.

The Dreamer is by a friend of mine, Lora Innes. I met her at one of my first conventions and when she showed me her artwork, all I could say was that I thought she should be working for a big publisher. A while after that, she and I were doing a little topical comic for a youth magazine a while ago and I was disappointed when she told me she'd have to quit. Well, turns out she was quitting so she could work on The Dreamer. So, while I was disappointed, it turned out to be well worth it. IDW will be publishing a print version in the near future. There's just something about Lora's artwork -- something captivating.

Clockwork Game, by another friend of mine (Jane Irwin), who I met at another one of my first conventions. Her Clockwork Game comic is a classic example of the "find something interesting, write about it" school or art. I've written about Jane's work before, but in coming up with a list of webcomics I actually enjoy, her's was on the list. I'd be stupid not to include it. It looks great (always a plus) but has an interesting story (also a plus) and a definite ending planned. Check it out.

Jump Leads was a comic I knew nothing about and know none of the people behind. But their banner on a webcomic list drew me in -- and with comparisons to Dr. Who and Red Dwarf it would have been very easy for me to be disappointed. But I wasn't. It's actually a fun and funny comic, and the comparison is apt but they aren't just aping those shows. It's quirky, snappy, and comedic, and just sophisticated enough to be good sci fi.

Truth be told, I've read a lot of webcomics. I've read a lot of really awful webcomics. I mean, the kind of thing that, if he read it, would make Alexander say, "Hmm, guess I wasn't having a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day after all . . . compared to this" awful comics.

As I get to know more people and see more webcomics, I'll post some links here.

~ Ben