Tag: articles & criticisms

24 Hour Comic

Doing the Impossible

Are you familiar with 24 Hour Comic Day (if you are then skip a few sentences)? Scott McClould came up with the idea in 1990. The premise is pretty straight forward; create a 24 page comic book, from idea to completion, in 24 hours. 24 Hour Comic Book Day was officially established in 2004, and since then creators gather once a year to take up the challenge. Milan Erceg’s documentary 24 Hour Comic follows one group of creators in Portland during the allotted 24 hour time frame. Erceg’s film is both inspirational and sobering in its presentation of comic book creators and their books

Erceg follows a varied group of eight comic book creators in his documentary. They range from a thirteen year old attempting her first 24 Hour Comic challenge to her father who is participating in his sixteenth challenge and several other creators with a variety of 24 Hour Comic Day experiences. The film provides both background and motivation for each of the creators. Erceg also incorporates interviews with individuals familiar with the comic book industry who provide insight into the challenges of creating and publishing comic books.

Watching these eight creators in action is quite an inspirational experience. Erceg provides insight into the creators’ minds and what each hopes to achieve. Their creative processes are laid out for the audience to see and you can’t help but feel motivated. But the movie is also sobering in its presentation of how difficult it is to be successful as a comic book creator. Erceg informs the audience that illustrators, on average, make more than comic book creators. This statistic is reinforced in a few of the interviews with the creators at the 24 Hour Comic Day. The viewer can’t help but ask his or herself, “Do I do what I love or do I do what will pay?”

24 Hour Comic is worth a watch for anyone interested in the creative process that goes into creating a comic book from idea to completion. Erceg’s documentary is also a realistic observation that addresses how difficult it is to make a living creating comic books. Scott McCloud says that 24 Hour Comic Day is, “Asking yourself to do the impossible and then doing it.” That quote may be in reference to 24 Hour Comic Day, but it could also be applied to making a living creating comic books.

-K-

24 Hour Comic (2017). Directed by Milan Erceg

When Comic Books Offered X-Ray Vision

Advertising and Historical Perspective

Do you remember a time when there were advertisements for odd, wondrous, and absolutely need to have items in comic books? If you don’t remember that time you should know that X-Ray Spexs, Kryptonite Rocks, Switchblade Combs, and numerous other novelty items were sold through advertisements placed in comic books. If you are feeling a bit nostalgic for days past or are interested in comic book history then Mail-Order Mysteries Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads! by Kirk Demarais is worth a read.

Mail-Order Mysteries is a fascinating look into the world of novelty product advertising in comic books primarily from the late 1960s through the 1970s. Kirk Demarais reviews over 150 mail order items that promise all things from “Super Powers and Special Abilities” to “Better Living Through Mail Order.” Demarais breaks the reviews of the mail order items into sections that include: what the potential purchaser would imagine the item to be, what was actually sent to the purchaser, and an often humorous customer satisfaction review. Demarais also includes copies of the original print advertisements and photographs of the actual items for comparison.

There are many informative books about the history and importance of comic books (see my entry about Grant Morrison’s Supergods), but none that I’ve read address product advertising in comic books. Demarais’ book gives the reader some insight into who, according to advertisers, was reading comic books in the 60s and 70s. These readers were interested in “Super Powers and Special Abilities” such X-Ray Spex and Charles Atlas Fitness Programs to “Oddities” such as Sea-Monkeys and Venus Fly Traps. Mail-Order Mysteries provides a historical context of a time when print advertising was an essential component of comic books, and that advertising was a reflection of the demographic that read comic books.

Mail-Order Mysteries Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads! will provide a bit of nostalgia for some readers and an interesting historical perspective for any reader interested in comic book history. Demarais’ book is worth a read whether you are looking for relive days gone by or further your study of comic books.

-K-

Mail-Order Mysteries Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads! (2011) by Kirk Demarais

Reading Comics vs Being a Reader of Comic Books

or Why You Should Read Supergods

There is a difference between reading comics and being a reader of comic books. Reading comic books is a form of escapism (this argument can be made for most all fiction). There is nothing wrong with a bit of escapism now and again but it is passive form of entertainment at best. Critical readers of comic books (or any type of literature for that matter) are analytical in their process. To be a critical reader of comic books requires that one actively analyze the text, culture, ourselves, and how all three interact. Grant Morrison’s Supergods is required reading for anybody who wants to become a critical reader of comic books.

Morrison’s Supergods is a well balanced mix of comic book history, critical analysis of comic book heroes, and personal memoir. All three elements can help develop the skills necessary to critically analyze comic books. Morrison provides a history of comics starting with the Golden Age and wraps up around about 2010. This history of comic books is a helpful resource for anybody who wants to know how comic books fit into our culture and what roles they have played in society for the past eighty-odd years. Morrison also provides the reader with some interesting analyses of comic book characters (heroes and villains alike). These analyses show the reader how comic book characters are often representations of society and/or ourselves. This is evident where Morrison states, “We can analyze them out of existence, kill them, ban them, mock them, and still they return, patiently reminding us of who we are and what we wish we could be.” Finally, Supergods is part memoir. Morrison shares with the reader his personal history with comic books and the impact they’ve had on his life as both reader and creator. This memoir gives the reader insight into the writers and artists who breathe life into the comic books and how their lives influence their work.

Reading a comic book is a great way to spend some time, but it is short sighted to think that comic books are nothing more than passive escapism. Comic books, like any other type of literature, can offer insights about society and ourselves. In order to recognize these insights it is important to become a critical reader, and Supergods is a great resource for such an endeavor.

-K-

Supergods (2011) by Grant Morrison

There is No ‘I’ in Team

Especially if You Lie About It

Most everybody who participates in organized sports has, at one time or another, exaggerated their skills and accomplishments. The motivations for such exaggerations vary. Some athletes may wish to impress peers, others to impress fans, and yet others may just want to feel a little better about themselves. Whatever the reason for the exaggerations all of the athletes have one thing in common, they participated in the sport. But what about individuals who do more than exaggerate their skills and accomplishments? W.P. Kinsella’s short story “The Eddie Scissons Syndrome” focuses on an individual who lies about playing Major League Baseball and questions the motivations for such a lie.

I mentioned in the July 5 post “Kmart, Ghosts, and Going Home Again” that Kinsella has a talent for writing baseball stories that are about much more than baseball. “The Eddie Scissons Syndrome” is no exception. The story is narrated by Lawrence “Dumpster” Kavanagh, a senior research assistant, who is working for Professor Eugene Willis. Professor Willis is conducting a research study on, “…psychology having to do with sports impostors, people who lie about having played professional sports, lie until they believe their own lies.” Professor Willis’ research brings him into contact with Charles Jefferson Kiley, a man who claims to have played for Comiskey’s White Sox in the spring of 1917. Their interview culminates with Professor Willis accusing Mr. Kiley of lying about playing for the White Sox. Although Willis’ accusation isn’t resolved (the ending of the story is worth an article of its own) the motivations of sports impostors in particular, and impostors in general, are at the heart of the story.

“The Eddie Scissons Syndrome” tells the stories of three impostors. Charles Jefferson Kiley is the third story and is given the greatest amount of attention. Charles Jefferson Kiley is a ninety-four year old man living out his final days in a VA hospital. Kiley seems genuine, his story believable. What is most important is that he does not seek to profit from his lie. The first story of an impostor in the story receives the least amount of attention. Kavanagh relates an experience of sharing a cab with a man who claims to be a famous movie star. Kavanagh is certain that the man is not the star he claims to be but does not question his lie (this is a bit of possible foreshadowing for the end of the story). This man claiming to be a movie star, like Charles Kiley, does not seek to profit from his claim of stardom. The second story of an impostor is told by Professor Willis and given a fair amount of attention. Willis tells the story of a colleague who lies about the importance of his role while serving in the military during WW II. Willis describes him as, “…an impostor who was not a con man.” The colleague, like the other two men, does not seek to profit from his lies. Living in fear of being found out does prompt him to stop lying, but he never admits about lying to his peers. If profit was not the motive for these three men lying, then what was? In the case of Charles Jefferson Kiley, and possibly the other two impostors, it is the desire to belong to something greater than oneself. Kiley wants to be associated with Major League Baseball. If he truly was a catcher for the Chicago White Sox then he becomes a part of history. The desire to belong is a powerful thing and telling what may be considered a harmless lie would seem no worse to the impostor than a professional exaggerating about his/her skills and accomplishments.

Kinsella’s story is a look into the motivations for lying about one’s experiences. One common motive for lying is to profit in some way. Grifters and con men are well aware of their lies and can often be exposed after some detailed fact checking. But what of those people who aren’t looking to profit from their lies? What is their motivation? Kinsella would have us believe that one motivation is the desire to belong. Those of us who have been part of a team (professional or amateur) know that feeling of comradery and belonging to some bigger than oneself. Is it hard to believe that others wouldn’t want that feeling too?

-K-

“The Eddie Scissons Syndrome” Go the Distance Baseball Stories (1995) by W.P. Kinsella

Bull Durham is More than a Baseball Movie

or Why Kevin Costner Baseball Movies are about More than Baseball

The best baseball movies are seldom just about baseball. Baseball may serve as a setting or a plot device, but the story itself is about something more than baseball. Field of Dreams (which, by the title, is not what this article is about) isn’t about baseball as much as it is about fathers and sons. Everybody who has seen Field of Dreams remembers the game of catch at the end. A movie that isn’t such a clear example is Bull Durham from 1988. Bull Durham is more than a movie about minor league baseball and the desire to play in the show. It is a movie about having faith in yourself and the willingness to accept help from others.

The movie centers around three central characters. Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins, is a hot headed young phenomenon of a pitcher with the talent to play in the show. Unfortunately, ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh does not have the proper mental toughness required to play at the major league level. Enter Crash Davis, played by Kevin Costner (Costner does have a few exceptional baseball movies out there), a catcher with twelve years of minor league experience. Crash is called upon to teach ‘Nuke’ the ins and outs of the game of baseball, to get him ready to pitch in the show. This dynamic is best summed up when Crash says, “I got the brains, you got the talent,” when talking to ‘Nuke.’ The third character is Annie Savoy, played by Susan Sarandon, a woman who knows more about baseball than most coaches. Annie dedicates herself both sexually and emotionally to one player each season in order to help him develop as a ball player and as a person. Picture a sort of a muse for baseball players (there is a funny line about fucking and poetry in the movie). Each of these characters has faith in who they are as individuals but they need the help of the others to achieve their true potential. Throughout the course of the movie each learns to accept help from the others.

Most people who are not fans of baseball tend to cringe when they hear of a movie that centers on the game (Field of Dreams is probably the only exception to that rule). But most baseball movies are about so much more than baseball. Yes, Bull Durham is movie about a minor league baseball team, the Durham Bulls. It is also a movie about three people who realize that in order to achieve their goals they must not only have faith in themselves but must also accept help from others. Not bad for a movie that most people think is just about a game.

-K-

Bull Durham starring Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins, and Susan Sarandon. Directed by Ron Shelton.

Youth, Talent, Death, and Baseball

Death as Symbol in “Death of the Right Fielder”

One of the great things about baseball is that there was a time when I was good at it. Hell, there was a time when everybody was good at the game. Of course that was when we were all young, and maybe we weren’t so much good as there were just plenty of other kids who were just as bad. As we grow older some of us continue to think of baseball as a game and others, those with talent and skill, begin to view it as a sport. Stuart Dybek’s “Death of the Right Fielder” is symbolic for all of us in the former group who realized the big leagues weren’t in our future.

Dybek’s short story centers around a group of children playing a game of baseball when they realize that the right fielder has died. The children discuss some possible causes for the right fielder’s death, reflect on some philosophical issues regarding life and baseball, and then bury the right fielder in a shallow grave in the outfield. Dybek delivers the story in such a matter of fact manner that one can’t help but believe some magical realism is at play, but I don’t want to focus on that element of the story (which could be an article all by itself) as much as Dybek’s use of death as a symbol for a lack of talent and skill.

The young right fielder’s death is symbolic for that moment when a person realizes he or she doesn’t possess the talent or skill necessary to play baseball in the major leagues. After they discover his body the other teammates wonder how the right fielder may have met his end. One theory is that he may have died of natural causes, but this is quickly dismissed with the following, “Nor could it have been leukemia. He wasn’t a talented enough athlete to die of that.” This is one of our first clues that the right fielder wasn’t that talented of a ball player. There are a couple more points that show the right fielder did not have what it takes to play major league ball. One example, “He was just an ordinary guy, .250 at the plate…” shows that he was not a stand out among his peers. He did not possess the talent or skill necessary to rise above his teammates.  Another example regarding the right fielder’s lack of talent is shown in the final sentences of the story, “It’s sad to admit it ends to soon. Most guys are washed up by seventeen.” The right fielder’s career ends with his symbolic death which is viewed as too soon.

Many of us can remember playing baseball when we were children, and as children we had dreams of playing in the major leagues. Stuart Dybek’s “Death of the Right Fielder” is a symbol for that moment when we realized our dreams of playing in the majors die. Those final sentences really hit home (you know there had to be at least one in this article) for anybody who played the game of baseball but never got to play in the show. How many of us have buried our dreams in right field, second base, or some other position out there on the diamond?

-K-

“Death of the Right Fielder” The Coast of Chicago (1990) by Stuart Dybek

William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives and the Returning Veteran

An Obligation to Assist Veterans

One given with all wars is that soldiers, victorious or vanquished, come home from them. William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives tells the story of three World War II veterans and the difficulties they face after returning home. Seventy years later the adjustment back into civilian life has not changed much and is just as difficult. Wyler’s movie is required viewing for anybody who wants to develop a better understanding of the difficulties returning veterans face.

The veterans of The Best Years of Our Lives face a variety of difficulties such as physical disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder, and feelings of isolation. Throughout the course of the movie these men struggle to readjust to civilian life often resorting to alcohol and distancing themselves from those who care. With the assistance of family, fellow veterans, and purposeful work these men are able to make successful transitions into civilian life.

Seventy years later returning veterans face same difficulties as the characters in Wyler’s movie. Seventy years later returning veterans struggle to readjust to civilian life in the same way as the characters of The Best Years of Their Lives. Seventy years later out returning veterans deserve more.

-K-

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) with Myrna Loy, Fredrich March, Dana Andrews, and Harold Russell. Directed by William Wyler.