lovehate: Fan to Store to Con to Web

Did you ever notice that, when you've eaten enough of your Cheerios to have the remaining lingerers left bobbing on the ripple surface of the milk like so many little beige inner tubes, they tend to clump together? Their round shapes allow each unit to hug each other in a tenuous fashion until others come to shore up the group in flowery patterns around the central group leader. And with each bite comes decay, disruption, and even the occasional disassembly of one group that prompts scattered, bobbing floating to a new group. Such are the life patterns of the Cheerios who were far too busy with other things to join the masses of their of lemming-like siblings into the orifice of doom.

There used to be a time where the concept of an in-person social network involved a pub, a movie, a dance, a concert, or some other event where like-minded people would gather for the sake of a shared experience. You see, today there's really not that much need to go to a film when we've got screen that fill walls and surround sound that rumbles the seats. Yet we still go out in record numbers to big films, not because we're afraid we're going to miss them, but because of the shared experience. We need the cluster. Even by two we tend to roll off each other.

I used to find the activity of flipping through record or CD bins a couple of times a week very therapeutic. I would flip absent-mindedly, knowing there was little to no chance I would find anything to buy, but there used to be a culture to a record store that was unparalleled for someone in their teens and twenties. There was a certain level of comfort in being able to rhyme off the names of 1000 bands and song titles that most other people hadn't heard of. Sure, maybe we were music snobs, but snobs cherish a certain aloof status that can often breach the realm of xenophobic. We were not such animals. We could not live without the culture. I knew at least a dozen people by look alone that would rifle through over 60 covers a minute and just wait for the opportunity to share an ounce of precious knowledge with the assembled masses. 

Woe be the neophyte that walked in and asked a clerk to identify a song by a broken, dyslexic boopboopbeep melody line that could have been a hundred songs. We craved the ineptitude of the clerk. We wanted to possess that grail of knowledge that could pluck the arcane track from the depths of oceans of discographies. We loved Pete Frame. We floated, avoiding spoons, in this bowl for years. We were comfortable. We were not alone.

And then, just as now, there were "shows". Comic book shows, record shows, trade shows, and collectors would gather from far and wide to barter on limited run indie comics or bootleg concert vinyl or video tape. Again, most of the stuff we saw there wasn't anything that we couldn't have had our local dealer order in, but the mass experience of dozens, if not hundreds, of people sharing a common interest, gathering to pursue acquisition dreams was just too good to pass up. Our clusters got larger. Soon we would fill the top of the bowl and leave nowhere to run should the utensils try to pick us off again. Because while we contained our quiet elitism in our home group, while the cluster ocean was exciting, our elitism was lost - we had become "normal" to this environment. This was not acceptable. We needed a sense of elitism yet again while not being robbed of the ocean's lure.

The face of the gatherings, or the "shows" has changed. Shows still exist at the local level, but the growing ability to communicate their existence has promoted the knowledge of the conventions to a wider audience.  Conventions which only used to draw dealers, now reached for a select group of consumers. We had found our Panacea. We could live out the fantasies of the sprawling ocean of knowledge where we could abandon our elitism and forsake the gravitas we held back in our home clusters. We were no longer afraid to look occasionally uninformed because WE HAD TRAVELED TO THE CONVENTION!

By, like so many snowbirds going south on the I-75, traveling to the ocean, there would always be a locale to return to where we could be the expert. Some people considered us crazy: 

"You're paying how much money to go and see a bunch of comic books?" 

"You're going to Las Vegas for four days and you're going to look at TVs and DVD players?" 

"You're taking time off work so that you can watch a guy in a black turtleneck get on stage and do a commercial for an hour about a computer named after a fruit!?!"

But for everyone of the unwashed masses that would bat an eye back home, we were the envies of those in the clusters and the stores and the shows. We finally found a place where we could indulge our obsessive knowledge and wander with admitted awe and reverence. We could share our joy with sometimes thousands of people who shared our predilection of medium or genre. We could share, relax, ingest, experience and enjoy. For when we returned home we would certainly be deities amongst our cluster. We were sure all the other Cheerios would rise on edge out of the bowl and cry, "He has returned! He has returned! Please share your invaluable knowledge with us!"

We were sure of all this until we remembered every one of our friends had watched a streaming video of the entire convention and subsequently read every blog, blogged themselves, tweeted and retweeted a thousand tidbits of information. You discovered that you wouldn't be revered, that your knowledge was maybe even less about the events you attended live than your friends. And your oncoming disappointment turned to surprise when your friends still gathered 'round, still in sufficient awe, still with excitement to ask, "What was it like?" Because no matter how much knowledge you have about something, no matter how many links you click, or followers you have, or blog postings you read or write, there's nothing that will replace a visceral experience of being among a thousand, ten thousand, or a hundred thousand people with whom you share something.

It's why, forsaking the store and local cluster, we flock to the web, because short of being at a convention, or a concert, or a movie every day, we can at least participate in the illusion of the full bowl of Cheerios all standing as one in defiance of the spoon - and when the visceral is unavailable or unattainable, maybe the illusion is the next best thing.

thinglets: Tales From the Beanworld

Quite some time back I was fascinated by a series of comics that presented a surrealistic allegory of society called Tales from the Beanworld. Now enjoying a cult status revival through Dark Horse Comics which currently has a web comic online and through the re-issuing of all previous material in 2009.

If you are familiar with Larry Marder's bizarre creation, you, like me, are probably glad it's back. If not, check out the web comic. You may be a bit lost in the mythology, but there's something refreshing about a comic that's not superhero-based. I encourage people to check it out, with a healthy suspension of reality, and get ready for a CHOW RAID!

The Chow Raid from fashionbuddha on Vimeo.

lovehate: Scope, Scale, Setting and The Watchmen

I'm certainly not the only waiting for the Watchmen movie to come out in March '09. There have been plans to make this film for almost two decades and all reports, even with the liberties Zack Snyder has apparently taken with the ending, are that the film is the best anyone could expect from a feature-length Hollywood production. Why is it that the "Hollywood production" is what scares me the most when ever I hear a story is being adapted? Could it be that the same studios responsible for every Eddie Murphy film of the last 15 years, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, and the gelding of Vince Vaughan and Will Ferrell have put me off of most major studio efforts?

The reason I'm so eagerly anticipating the Watchmen film is, of course, due to the comic book series and subsequent graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Gibbons. The thing that impressed me so much upon first reading the series was the scope and scale the story took. Moore and Gibbons didn't only create a world, but they inhabited it with hyperreal characters and landscapes and I daresay, more than any other comic at that time and since, enveloped readers in it.

Such a method of grand scale doesn't always work, and rarely in comics, especially only given the 12 issue run. I remember reading Frank Herbert's Dune series and really struggling as a teen trying to get through at least half of the first book just to feel like I had a grasp on the setting. I'm not saying the effort was not worth it. And, to be sure, I admired the first five or six of the Dune novels... I didn't really keep up after that. Yet there was an example of grand scale gone wrong when it came to David Lynch's film effort. I enjoyed the film enough when it came out, but realized that even I (after reading four books at the time) was having trouble following some of the history and practices from scene to scene. The friend I went with was completely lost. He told me that after about 45 minutes he pretty much just gave up on the story and settled back to watch it as a psychedelic tryptich. Therein lay the problems and pitfalls of trying to contain scope and scale and setting in a Hollywood production.

Don't get me wrong, Hollywood can present scope, scale and setting through a well-crafted screenplay incredibly effectively. Give me a sweeping crane shot here, an flourishing orchestral score there, a supporting cast of thousands in period costume and weve got the makings of grandiose epic. But the transition of book print to a film print always loses something in translation precisely becuase the film tries to remain faithful. I would suggest the very reason that Stephen King's The Shining and Stanley Kubrick's adapted film were both great is precisely because, just as King concentrated on writing the best novel he could without thinking of how it would end up on film, Kubrick concentrated on making the best film he could make without concerning himself with remaining completely true to text.

I appeciate the desire of Hollywood to start with a product that has been at least successful in one venue or another. Such is the reason that every novel that makes a popular list gets optioned by some producer or studio these days. I'll further concede that the stories presented in a novel must look far more rich when placed side by side with a screenplay. Actors clamor to delve into a well-developed character that verges away from stereotypes and while novels can paint broad two-dimesional stroke when the want to, they do have much more canvas to experiment with. The successful novel will always be a popular catalyst for a film, and, more often, comics are providing that incentive as well because let's face it, some of them have years and decades to explore a character and, quite frankly, they need it. The development in any given character within one comic book issue is miniscule at best. Let's face it, superheroes are often two dimensional at best and the only depth we ascribe to them is buried in the decades long history they encompass.

And so we come back to the Watchmen. Depth of multiple characters, plot and setting in 12 issues was near unheard of in a comic book era that birthed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I understand why Alan Moore has become forever hesitant to watch any of his stories brought to film. In the same way we create imaginary worlds when reading novels, try to conceive of the scope and scale in Moore's mind upon creating the Watchmen world. How much did he conceive of that he couldn't even fit into the books? When we feel things are missing as readers, I can only imagine the process of seeing a film adaption is deathly uninspiring to the orginal writer.

I hope for the success of the film. I hope it inspires millions to go and read the original. I hope that Zack Snyder gets lauded for the attempt even if not the execution. I know that if I can line up at midnight on 03/06/09, the answer to "who watches the Watchmen?" will be me and a horde of fanboys.


thinglets: Spiderman... the musical!

I wish I was joking about this. I wish people had the sensibility to realize that while music is lifeblood, merging it with anything doesn't end in positive results. I suppose after this I should just be writing " the musical" with jaunty little number about being misunderstood while growing up and big finale that incorporates at least three previous themes used from Act One and Two.

$40 million for startup and $1 million a week just to produce... oh, but Bono's involved, it must be good. I'm guessing every song starts with effect-laden guitar inversions strummed quickly and repeatedly halfway up the neck... I think it will be opening where the streets have no name.

Here's an idea! Give 40 struggling talented writers $1 million each and ask them to write an original musical. I guarantee at least a dozen would be better than Spiderman will ever be. I'm going to be sick now.

green goblin