Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Rethinking how we view fictional characters

I meant to share this link a few weeks back to an article/review I wrote for Sequart. It focused on one chapter from Deborah E. Whaley's recent book, Black Women in Sequence: Re-inking Comics, Graphic Novels, and Anime. I received a review copy from the publisher late last year and I can't recommend the book enough, especially if you're at all interested in how readers or viewers perceive fictional characters. Whaley's book is one of several recent books offering serious critical analyses of comics, comics culture, and other popular culture sites, several of which (including Whaley's book) are coming from university presses. One more reason university presses rock (I'm not biased, I swear).

Whaley does an excellent job of showing just how important it is to recognize that a person's gender, race, economic background, education, etc., can play a huge role in how they perceive fictional characters.
For the article, I focused on the chapter focusing on Catwoman and her various interpretations throughout the years in comics, television, films, and more. If you ask most fans of the character, "Is Catwoman white?" they would likely answer in the affirmative. Whaley presents evidence that it's not such a simple question to answer. Yes, most versions of the character have been white, but did you know that her ethnicity has been revealed as Italian and Latina in the comics? I have no idea if that's still cannon, what with the myriad reboots and relaunches from the publisher DC in recent years, but it's an idea of the character, an interpretation actually, that has resonated with certain readers ever since. To them, Selina Kyle will always be part Latina. In two of her many television and movie appearances, she's been portrayed by black actresses: Eartha Kitt in the 1960s Batman television show and Halle Berry in the Catwoman movie. These portrayals imprinted on some fans as their canonical Catwoman (Catwomen?). It's another example of how the common perception among fans (and, being a white male fan, I'm hazarding a guess that this perception can be attributed to most white, male fans) isn't the only perception out there, and that these other perceptions are just as valid.

Whaley's book, especially her chapter on Catwoman, reinforced something I've known for a long time, which is that fans are just as much a part of the lives of their favorite characters as the writers and artists and directors and producers who bring them to us. If not for the fans and their varied personal (re)interpretations, these characters wouldn't remain as popular as they do. It's these various meanings that creators and fans alike put on them that keeps them fresh and vital. Go read Whaley's book, please. Not only does it contain this thorough analysis of Catwoman, but it also critically examines other important women of color in comics and multimedia—both creators and characters alike.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Marvel Studios wish list

I compiled a list for Sequart of film and television projects that I'd like to see Marvel Studios tackle next. You can read it here. They've done a terrific job of world building since the first Iron Man film in 2008, so I offer a few ideas on ways to expand to the further reaches of the Marvel universe.

We were able to get out and catch Civil War over the weekend and it was every bit as good as I'd heard it was. It's renewed my enthusiasm for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, after Age of Ultron had tamped down that excitement quite a bit. But everything wrong with that film was corrected for Civil War, which felt more like a natural extension of Winder Soldier than Ultron. That's fine by me because I absolutely loved Winter Soldier. In fact, all three Captain America films have been aces in my book. Chris Evans owns the character of Cap at this point. I'm already saddened by the prospect of the inevitable reboot in a decade starring someone else.

So, mighty Marvel marches on, continuing their quest for world box office domination. Excelsior!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Darwyn Cooke, 1962–2016

Darwyn Cooke, one of the most popular artists working in comics over the past two decades, died this weekend. He was only 53 years old. His wife announced Cooke's illness on his blog just the day before his death, under the heading "Fuck cancer." My sentiments exactly. I've been touched by it personally and that feeling of anger at it, even all these years later, never fully goes away. Cooke had so much more to contribute.

From graphic design to animation storyboards to writing and drawing comics and graphic novels, Cooke did it all. He also did more with less and I don't mean less talent. What I mean is he used very few lines and they were clean and direct. He conveyed joy and exuberance through his classically Art Deco/animated cartooning style. The popular sentiment among comics fans is that no one draws the classic DC pantheon of heroes as well as Cooke. There's a reason for that: he drew these larger than life characters with a dynamism and energy befitting their stature as pop culture icons. Also, Cooke's Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are not afraid to smile while saving the day. In Cooke's work, they move with grace and confidence and leave no doubt that they are indeed heroes. His versions of the characters remind us of the possibilities in life, of the will to persevere in the face of adversity. His work was the antithesis of the current DC interpretations of these characters, which reached it's nadir in Batman v Superman. On the surface, Cooke's work is decidedly retro, a nostalgic ode to a supposedly simpler time in America when heroes were very clearly heroes. But within that retro appeal Cooke has always found room to include a subversive wink or a nod to the reader who's paying close attention.

His work has influenced me and never failed to inspire my own efforts at making lines on a page come to life. Whenever I'm overdrawing something I remember Cooke and how his art does more with less. I try to consciously use fewer lines and to make them sharper and more focused. It's challenging, to say the least. In struggling with that over the years I've gained an even greater appreciation for Cooke's art. He did what all artists dream of doing: he maintained full command of his talent and translated it into his own unique style. Having an idea about how much work actually goes into it, I'm amazed at just how effortless he made it seem. After reading of his death, fans were only left with a few options for processing their sadness. The obvious one is to pull his work off the shelf or bring it up on your tablet and just let it wash over you. Let his art's boundless enthusiasm and majestic sense of wonder take hold of you. Immerse yourself in it so that for an instant you forget how the rotten fucking spectre of cancer touches us all. Cooke still had more to give to family, friends, fellow artists, and fans. Cynics like to bemoan our celebrity death obsession, often asking how we can care so much about someone we never met. As a cynic, I get that, but it's missing the point entirely. With someone like Cooke dies, I'm saddened because his work has been so vitally important to me and to my own art pursuits. That's why most of his fans are grieving a man they never met right now. Thankfully we'll always have his work to remind us of his artistic brilliance. I'm including some of that brilliant art below.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

I read Preacher and you should too

Sequart has shared my review of Preacher, the epic graphic novel series from Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. Preacher was published by Vertigo from 1995-2000.It's just a few thoughts on themes and characters, really, not a comprehensive review. I might like to write about it even more down the road. I highly recommend the book, as it provides one extended story that you can read from beginning to end and feel satisfied with once you're done.

The upcoming television show was my impetus to—finally—take the leap and read it. I'd been curious for too long to remember. Sometimes it takes an TV or movie adaptation of a book to rekindle an old interest you had in reading it in the first place. I can't imagine that the show will be as good as the book, but that's my usual stance on most book-to-screen adaptations. From what I've seen so far of trailers, it looks like they're altering some things and changing around some characters, possibly, both of which might be good for the show. I think it's best shot of being a success is if it takes the spirit of the books but does something new with it in order to make the themes and characters its own. I don't read The Walking Dead but I do watch the show (at least I do for now) and from what I've heard this is the approach they've taken to adapting that one. Preacher is on the same network, AMC, so chances are good they'll handle this one similarly.

Preacher has long been talked about by geeks as one of the best ongoing series in comics from the '90s. Now I can see why. If you get a chance, pick it up and give it a try.