Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bret Easton Ellis: The Warren Years

It is in some ways an homage to Stephen King and the comics I loved as a kid. Especially the EC Comics, like Vault of Horror and Tales from the Crypt. And the Warren Comics of the '70s that I was a huge fan of. They had titles like Creepy and Eerie and Vamperilla [sic]. These were all influences on Lunar Park. That was the impetus to write the book. To write a book that was similar to the books that gave me pleasure as a boy and as an adolescent. I was really into the horror genre and the supernatural genre when I was a teenager and certainly I came of age, along with a lot of men of my generation, with the first book that Stephen King published and onward.

-From an interview with Bret Easton Ellis, about the influences behind his novel Lunar Park.

What follow are letters published in Warren magazines during the 1970's, written by Ellis when he was between 12 and 14 years old, along with samples of the stories he commented on at the time. Click on the scans to see at large size.

From Creepy #84, cover-dated November 1976.

Ken Kelly's cover to Creepy #81
Splash page to "Battle Rot", by Bill DuBay and John Severin.
Another page from "Battle Rot"

From Creepy #96, cover-dated March 1978.
Splash page to "Ada", by Bill Pearson and Alfredo Alcalá
First page of "Sacrifice", by Roger McKenzie and Luis Bermejo
Another page from "Sacrifice"
More from "Sacrifice". Probably a coincidence, but the tied girl reminded of a sequence from Ellis's Less Than Zero.

From Creepy #99, cover-dated July 1978.
Splash page to "Black Death" ("one of the best stories ever to appear in a Warren magazine"), by Bruce Jones and Leopoldo Sánchez
Another page from "Black Death"

From Creepy #100, cover-dated August 1978
Splash page to "Helen Horror Hollywood" by Gerry Boudreau and Leopoldo Durañona

The above were all the "Bret Ellis" (Sherman Oaks, CA) letters I could find, after an exhaustive search through scans of CreepyEerieVampirella, and other Warren titles. There's still a slight chance more Ellis letters were published, though, in case anyone wants to keep on looking.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Robert Crumb in India

Robert Crumb is a guest at Comic Con India, and there's been some local coverage:

"Keep on Truckin'" (Tehelka):

Why is the trope used in graphic novels, especially in the West, autobiographical in nature? 
RC: That’s an interesting question and I really don’t know the true answer. Growing up in the 60s, there was this tremendous temptation to be liberal with your expression. It was also about asserting your identity, whether it was ethnic or cultural or artistic. A lot of us felt that there was a story everyone could relate to, even though it was about our personal lives…

"Comically Contentious" (The Indian Express):
One of Crumb’s most popular characters, Mr. Natural, a “self-described” ascetic guru and voluptuary, is said to be partly a caricature of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. While Crumb says Mr. Natural wasn’t based on one person, there are certain influences of Indian mysticism. He said, “In the ’60s and ’70s, we were influenced by movements such as Hare Krishna etc. I used to read a lot of Yogananda, Mahesh Yogi and others, and some of it manifested in Mr. Natural.”

"A Slice of Crumb" (Hindustan Times):
“I’m here just to see the country. I don’t come to comic conferences,” Crumb paradoxically started off.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

J. Michael Straczynski on Alan Moore and reinterpretations (2006)

Six years ago, years before anyone thought that adding a "TM" mark to "Crimson Corsair" was a good idea and back when projects like Before Watchmen were mentioned only in April Fools' Day posts, the big Alan Moore-related controversy in comics circles was his decision to distance himself from the V for Vendetta movie adaptation and Hollywood in general. The decision (which included transferring his film royalties to the artists involved and the removal of Moore's name from the film's credits) was drastic, but the reasons Moore gave made sense.

(He was tired after having been cross-examined for ten hours because of a screenwriter's claim that League of Extraordinary Gentleman had been plagiarized, and the last straw was seeing Warner issue a press release in which produced Joel Silver falsely claimed that Alan Moore would be involved with the V for Vendetta film. Moore tried vainly to get an apology or retraction.)

A few weeks after this, there was an interesting discussion over at the Newsarama message boards between Don Murphy and Rich Johnston about this same subject. The thread, which featured posts from creators such as Eddie Campbell and J. Michael Straczynski, is unfortunately no longer online, but I was able to find a backup I made at the time.

One of the comments that caught my attention at the time was Straczynski's. There was a part of it that I found incredibly condescending, and I was reminded of it after seeing his interviews today. Quoting Straczynski (emphasis in bold is mine):

Alan has banked his whole world-view on the notion that film and TV folks will always screw up his work, that they're all hacks or the like. And in some cases, he may have some legitimate beef. But in other cases, as with Vendetta, which was and is a very, very good movie, I think it almost threatens his world-view. He reacts with even more anger because the cognitive dissonance is just too much, the idea that Hollywood could do a good job on one of his books is more than he can or chooses to handle. And so he lashes out.

What Straczynski seems to be saying here is that the reason Moore doesn't care for adaptations of his work is because Moore is secretly afraid that someone will do a better work. It's an amazingly arrogant and pig-headed statement to make (it's one thing to say that Moore is wrong or that you don't agree with him, it's a whole different thing to pretend to get into his mind and make up reasons for why Moore acts as he does), but it helps explain the mentality of one of the writers responsible for two of the upcoming Before Watchmen mini-series (and who coincidentally is the creator which has been the most outspoken about this new work and why Moore has lost the "moral high ground").

Straczynski's full Newsarama comment (in which he also trivializes Moore's reasons for distancing himself from Hollywood, and in which he, more reasonably, explains why he believes art should be re-interpreted with the passing of time) is reproduced below, in order to provide context for the quote above.

Junior Member
Registered: Nov 2004
Location: Just some town
Posts: 13 
from jms  
Don -- 
Having fought more than my own share of battles for quality with the studios and networks, I've long sympathized with Alan at his end of things. And let me be clear: I think he's the best writer in the business, bar none. I've collected, and read, the majority of what he's written. He's an amazing, amazing talent. 
But I think that in regards to some of the movie stuff, he's gone way off the beacon. 
This is particularly true of his comments regarding V for Vendetta. As it happens, I know the Wachowskis, I consider them good friends and most of all hard-working, dilligent writer-producers who went as far afield as anyone could imagine to be faithful in rendering their adaptation of his story. I was blown away by the script, and said so publicly at the time that I read it. 
And then Alan went on the rampage about it, but when the proverbial push came to the equally proverbial shove, he was only able to cite a few things like mis-statements regarding the British postal service, and the names of a few things, as the source of his rage...a rage that was substantially greater than anything he'd said before about anything else. 
I've been watching this situation for some time now, and I have a thought or two about what might actually be going on...because as anyone who's ever had an argument with a loved one or friend knows, sometimes the argument's not really about the argument, it's about something else. 
Alan has banked his whole world-view on the notion that film and TV folks will always screw up his work, that they're all hacks or the like. And in some cases, he may have some legitimate beef. But in other cases, as with Vendetta, which was and is a very, very good movie, I think it almost threatens his world-view. He reacts with even more anger because the cognitive dissonance is just too much, the idea that Hollywood could do a good job on one of his books is more than he can or chooses to handle. And so he lashes out. 
Anyone who has ever had to interpret a given work and translate it into another venue knows that change is inevitable, especially because what makes literature work is internal and film/tv are external media. I've adapted Jekyll and Hyde for Showtime, I just finished adapting Watchbird for ABC's Masters of Science Fiction, and there were necessary changes...but the core of the story works, is still there, as it is in Vendetta and elsewhere. 
Finally, and perhaps most to the point, art is supposed to be interpreted and re-interpreted with the passing of time. That's what it's FOR. So that each generation gets a new look at it. I've seen Shakespeare's "Two Gentlemen of Verona" produced in a World War One venue, seen the filmed version of "Richard III" set in a neo-fascist England, saw on stage "Hamlet" played with a female in the lead...the greater the masterpiece, the more it lends itself to interpretation and re-interpretation. 
That's what the Wachowski's did with Vendetta: they didn't leave it written in stone, they brough [sic] to the discussion, to the adaptation, today's political and social climate and thus made something that was timely in its day just as timely today. If the story is about the world and repression, if the shape of that world changes, then how can the story not change to match? Otherwise it runs the risk of becoming irrelevant.
I'm a huge Alan Moore fan, always have been, always will be. He is, again, the best of us.  
But on this count, he is wrong. And he needs to reconsider.

Last edited by straczynski on 04-04-2006 at 10:32 AM
04-04-2006 10:19 AM 

Watchmen prequels: Irrelevant and pointless

Abhay Khosla had already predicted all this, but the way the announcement has been made is still interesting.

There is a lot of unintentional humor in the official announcement for a series of new Watchmen prequels: from trying to add some legimitacy to the initiative by mentioning that both the "original series editor" and the "original series colorist" will be working on them (we all know that DC always mentions the colorist when announcing a new series, they consider it a key selling point) to the solemn pronouncement from Lee and Didio that "collaborative storytelling is what keeps these fictional universes current and relevant". As opposed to, you know, coming up with new characters or concepts.

This is not surprising, it's the way DC and Marvel normally work after all. Think of the way Steve Gerber would react each time Marvel announced a new series featuring Howard the Duck or any other of his characters, and how little effect this would have on the readership (and industry) in general. In an interesting coincidence, Jonatham Lethem (about whom Gerber said at one point that he had made "an enemy for life" by deciding to write an Omega the Unknown series) is quoted in the New York Times as justifying these new Watchmen prequels, claiming they're the product of some sort of cosmic inevitability: "In the greater scheme of things there's an ecological law, almost, that it ought to be."

I'm aware that things are tough for freelancers (I probably have no idea of how hard a freelancer's life is), so I can't really blame the creators involved or lecture them about how they should manage their careers. But still, some of the justifications we're now seeing can be irritating.

J. Michael Straczynski pats himself in the back, saying that DC could have done something easy like having the Justice League fight the Justice Society, or the Justice Society fight the Teen Titans and so on (he forgot to mention "or creating a hardcover graphic novel with yet another retelling of Superman's origin"), but that this time instead they chose the "harder, and riskier path". I would have thought that the harder and riskier path was to create something new, come up with a new 100 Bullets or a new Preacher, for example.

Straczynski also tries to justify this by reminding us that Moore has done stories with characters created by Jules Verne, HG Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, and so on, implying that this is surely the same thing as doing a Watchmen prequel. (He even says that Moore has lost "a little of the moral high ground".) Well, no. Moore's stories with those characters aren't simply pastiches or an attempt to do "The Further Adventures of Invisible Man / Captain Nemo / etc.". The stories he's created using those public domain characters are usually about something else, something much bigger in scope than just the crafting of pointless sequels and team-ups. You might argue whether Moore has been succesful or not in these attempts, but works like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Lost Girls are quite different from just a cynical moneygrab using somebody else's creations. But Straczysnki would have us believe that using the characters of writers who died before Alan Moore was even born is the very same thing as doing new Watchmen books.

The main thing is: a Watchmen prequel would be pointless even if Moore and Gibbons did it. I'm aware that at some point they'd talked about doing a "Minutemen" prequel which would have been something interesting to see back in 1988 or 1989, but not today. Watchmen stands on its own as a complete story, as a unique piece of work (despite the self-serving attempts by some to dismiss it as just a reboot of the Charlton superheroes), and it's also in some ways a period piece, a work very much of its time, written by someone who today is capable of doing much better and more complex work these days than what he did in the 1980's. I'll ignore these prequels not out of solidarity with Alan Moore or because I find them immoral, I'll ignore them because I think they're irrelevant, no matter who does them.

It will be fun to see how the media reaction progresses. In the meantime, I'll look forward to this summer's announcement of the new Sandman series without Neil Gaiman.