A Ramble on Roger and Val and the Structure of Floppies and Television

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So, I’ve been watching this rather brilliant BBC show called ROGER AND VAL HAVE JUST GOT IN, and it’s really got me thinking about ways to apply its structure to comics. It’s something that the equally compelling LUTHER sparked in much the same way.

ROGER AND VAL is a remarkably brave “comedy” starring Dawn French and Alfred Molina as a married couple, and they’re the only two actors who appear in the show. It takes place in real time, with no music, just after they’ve arrived home from work. They talk about their day, and deal with whatever issues a middle-aged married couple deals with after arriving home from work. The show was created by twins Emma and Beth Kilcoyne

What I find remarkable about the show is that the first two episodes give absolutely no hint as to where things will eventually head. The first real concrete clue that the show is more than it seems comes at the very end of episode three, and then the fourth episode opens things up about halfway through with a sort of staggering moment that changes the focus as well as the viewer’s awareness of the situation.

All of that aside, it occurs to me that almost the only place I’ve seen this structure work is British television. What executive penguins (to borrow a term from Mamet) greenlight a show that, for two episodes, sets up low key expectations, only to turn them around in the next two episodes? Evidently, some executive BBC penguins do.

The existence of creator-owned comics gives comic book creators a chance to approach things this way, but when every first issue is used to judge a series as a whole, is there any way to sustain an audience doing so? Can you hook readers with clever dialogue and engaging characters, and hope that’s enough to keep them around until you twist the knife and ratchet up the interest, a few issues down the road?

Thinking about it, I guess that’s sort of what Jason Latour and I were trying to do with THE EXPATRIATE. We tried to hook readers with a mystery about a man on the run, and then threw the craziest shit we could think of in their faces. Of course, we fucked it all up after that, but I guess it was an attempt.
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Maybe that’s the only way to really make it work. Hook people with the appearance of GENRE X and then eventually reveal that it’s really GENRE Y.

With the next couple of books I’m doing, the goal is to provide reviewers and retailers with the complete series prior to release, so they can judge the book’s merits beyond the first issue. More and more I’m thinking that’s the only way to engender trust that things are headed in a direction worth following.

In any event, ROGER AND VAL HAVE JUST GOT IN is another example of British television impacting the way I think about storytelling in comics. And I recommend tracking it down.

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Digital Batman announced

DC announced their new digital first Batman title today, and Ben Templesmith and I created one of the stories that will be featured:

http://www.usatoday.com/life/comics/story/2012-04-13/Batman-Smallville-lead-DC-Comics-digital-slate/54250030/1

In addition to the Bat/Joker image in that USA Today piece, Ben tossed this awesome Joker sketch up on his blog:

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I have to say, I had more fun writing this story than anything I’ve done in a while. Working with Ben was a complete blast, and I’m pretty excited to be writing his first real mainstream superhero work.

More details as they’re announced!

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Planet Comicon – This Weekend

Come join us at Planet Comicon this weekend in Overland Park (suburban KC). Chris Jackson has put together a sterling guest list.

Head to the website to see for yourself:

http://www.planetcomicon.com/

On Saturday at 2:00 I’ll be participating in a panel on Creator-Owned Comics, with John Layman, Kevin Mellon, Blair Butler and Jeremy Bastian.

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TCJ’s notes on ‘Life at Sea’

Was pleasantly surprised to see this articulate commentary on the Red Torpedo story I did with Frank Fosco and Erik Larsen (“Life at Sea”), from the last NEXT ISSUE PROJECT book (CRACK COMICS #63).

Here’s the review, from the Comics Journal‘s website, and writer Ken Parille:

One of 2011’s least pretentious comics, and one of my favorites, is another superhero story, “The Red Torpedo: Life at Sea”, a five-page tale from Image’s Crack Comics #63, part of  the publisher’s Next Issue Project line of Golden Age-inspired comics. A dialogue and narration-free adventure, “Life at Sea” looks to 1940s adventure narratives, but rejects derivative parody and fanboy homage. Moore, Fosco, and Larsen create light entertainment, a tale attractively inked in ways precise, loose, and blotchy—and nicely colored with a limited flat palette.

Although the Red Torpedo reads Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea in the story’s final sequence, “Life at Sea” never strives to recreate Hemingway’s Melvillean plot of Man v. Fish. (The main parallel: an old man fishes). The reference is mostly a punch-line. The tale may get a little extra literary resonance from the hero’s resemblance to Chris Ware’s God character:

“Life at Sea” alludes to Golden Age comics, a literary classic, and perhaps Ware, but eschews grand aspirations. It does, however, possess emotional depth—a gentle and understated pathos. The comic’s solitary hero saves a yacht of party-goers from pirates, only to end up alone as the story closes. When compared to comics like Justice League #1, “Life at Sea” is especially welcome as an underplayed approach to superheroics. Without JL’s burden to introduce DC Comics’ new corporate direction for 2011, “Life at Sea” succeeds as a well-executed, fun, and subtly poignant story. I wish there were more mainstream comics like this.

Here’s a link to the review, along with the Comics Journal‘s thoughts on some of 2011′s more interesting books:

http://www.tcj.com/2011-a-year-in-comic-ambition/

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2012 Arrives

I enter 2012 with a plateful of new projects in the works, scheduled to appear in various places. Also keeping a watchful eye on the development of a couple of key properties in development out on the West Coast, and slowly probing other media.

So, really, there’s no way of telling how the year will end up, but I’m hopeful it’ll be a productive one. Hope it’s the same for everyone reading.

And thanks to Woody Guthrie for inspiring my new blog title, via writer Mike Olivetti.

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The Year in Music!

Albums that turned me on in 2011. This, as usual, turned out to be way harder than I thought. In fact, I ended up paring it down quite a bit to give more space to some things that I think have been overlooked or underrated (like Cults…I dropped Cults because everyone seems to be into Cults). Yeah, this list is still huge, but I spend a lot of time listening to new music, especially when I’m working. And Spotify has been a great help there this year…

So, 2011 was heavy on pretty and lo-fi, I think. I’m sure my list looks a little wispy to some people, but what can I say? That’s what got into my head this year. Wisps.

Here are a bunch of discs that I found myself giving a close listen to more than once, and enjoying the experience:

The War on Drugs: Slave Ambient

I almost cut this one because I see it on a lot of “best of 2011″ lists. But it’s really good. Evocative is a good word? Kind of like a solo road trip soundtrack for your head (which describes a lot of shit I like, I guess). Poke around. Check it out.

The Caretaker: An Empty Bliss Beyond This World

This disc is almost literally the sound of warped 78 records playing on a hissing Victrola with slight production. Inspired, I guess, by Alzheimer’s as much as anything. Anyway, it’s a very haunting collage.

Stevie Jackson: I Can’t Get No

Solo debut by Belle & Sebastian guitarist/occasional singer/songwriter Stevie Jackson. I love B&S, and have loved most of Stevie’s stuff.  This is no exception. Stevie’s kind of a slave to his sixties inspirations, but his inspirations are broad, so he’s usually engaging.

Josh T. Pearson: Last of the Country Gentlemen

Crawling and intimate. Unfolds slowly, but it’s really affecting.

Come Together: Black America Sings Lennon & McCartney (Various Artists)

The title is accurate. Some of the black Americans included are Otis Redding (“Day Tripper”), Aretha Franklin (“Let it Be”), Al Green (“I Want to Hold Your Hand”), Billy Preston (“Blackbird”), and Chubby Checker (“Back in the USSR”). It is a fantastic collection, and more proof that Lennon & McCartney might have been pretty decent songwriters.

Cake: Showroom of Compassion

I’ve never been a HUGE Cake fan, but I think this is clearly their best album. And it’s not so snarky and clever as their earlier stuff. I like it. So I listed it.

Other Lives: Tamer Animals

It’s really pretty. I mean, the opening track kicks in with an oboe right off the bat. I think it’s an oboe, anyway. This disc should be getting more year-end love.

J. Mascis: Several Shades of Why

I dig J. Mascis at full blast, and I dig acoustic sounds. So a J. Mascis acoustic disc is an easy sell.

Amor de Dias: Street of the Love of Days

AMG says this of Amor de Dias: “a breezy blend of tropicalia, English chamber pop, and psychedelic folk.” Hello!

Buffalo Killers: 3

This is a great album. I’m surprised it hasn’t gotten more love. Sunny California guitar pop/rock. Feel good music, I guess.

Bill Callahan: Apocalypse

Oh, man. How to describe this record? Well, there’s a song called “America!” on it. Callahan (formerly of Smog) kind of half-sings, half-speaks some relatively strident tunes about America from the perspective of…an outsider, I guess? Anyway, it’s a really interesting listen, especially if you pay attention.

Nerves Junior: As Bright As Your Night Light

I don’t really know how to describe this one, but I have a feeling it will be hailed as an overlooked classic somewhere down the line.

The High Llamas: Talahomi Way

If you know the Llamas, you know what you get when you listen to them. Sunny, Beach Boys inspired melodies with light electronica mixed in. This is the same, but I think it’s as strong as ever. Always up my alley. They exist in some sun-kissed, timeless neverland. And that’s okay with me.

Butcher Boy: Helping Hands

If the cover art to this record resonates with you (The Smiths? Sarah Records? Belle and Sebastian?), then you’ll probably like it.

Fran Healy: Wreckorder

I like Travis more than most people seem to. I resisted this release by Travis frontman Fran Healy based on a review I read. Once I gave it a close listen, I realized I like Fran Healy solo more than more people seem to, as welll.

Ghost: Opus Eponymous

My pal Chuck BB recommended this one to me. Awesome metal throwback band. But smart, too. And, yes. EVIL. (wink)

Girls: Father, Son, Holy Ghost

Girls is just a great band. Their last album was great. This one is great. They’re all over the map, but they can get into your head in a heartbeat.

Gold Leaves: The Ornament

Beautiful and hazy.

Gruff Rhys: Hotel Shampoo

Do you Like Super Furry Animals? Well, you should. I like Super Furry Animals. Rhys is one of them. And here he makes with the catchy soft pop.

Hotel Lights: Girl Graffiti

As Hotel Lights, former Ben Folds’ drummer Darren Jessee (and pals) makes lovely melodies about girls. I don’t know who would get the reference, but he kinda reminds me of an American Stephen Duffy.

Cliffie Swan: Memories Come True

Mid-seventies Fleetwood Mac seems to be an influence here. If Olivia Newton-John was their lead singer. Okay, so what? That’s actually sort of awesome.

Kurt Vile: Smoke Ring for My Halo

Vile was, to my mind, the lead figure in a sort of underground movement toward a certain sound that was all over the place in 2011. Lo-fi rock? But with actual tunes? I dunno. The new J. Mascis disc (which I also mention here) slides right in there, too.

Metronomy: The English Riviera

This disc mines the seventies and the eighties, but with a distinctly British accent. There’s a little synth thrown in here and there, but it’s catchy and lyrically affecting.

Our Lives Are Shaped By What We Love: Motown’s MoWest Story 1971-1973 (Various Artists)

If you’d told me there was a great Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons single I’d never heard, I’d have punched you in the arm with a disbelieving chuckle. If you’d told me it was released on a Motown label, I would have burned your house down with maniacal laughter. BUT THIS DISC KICKS OFF WITH JUST SUCH A THING! This is a fantastic collection of singles from a failed Motown experiment. Here…read this informative review if you think you might like it: http://www.allmusic.com/album/r2190063

Noah and the Whale: Last Night On Earth

I don’t really get why these guys aren’t indie darlings. This album is ridiculously catchy and pretty clever, but it seems to have slipped under everyone’s radar.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds: Self-Titled

Noel Whips Liam right out of the gate. In a year stuffed with lo-fi and subtle, Noel just piles it on as thickly as he can. And that’s why I love the guy.

Charles Bradley: No Time For Dreaming

Raphael Saadiq: Stone Rollin’

The above two albums sound exactly like you’d hope they sound based on their album covers. It’s so nice to have organic soul music back.

The Sound of Arrows: Voyage

I don’t love a lot of the new wave of synth pop, but these guys remind me of the Pet Shop Boys, and, man, do I love the Pet Shop Boys.

Starfucker: Reptilians

Hey, it’s your band. Call it whatever you want, right? Starfucker does easy to sing along to, synthy songs that often build nicely into danceable mini-anthems. I think I like this album more than most people.

The Embassy: Life in the Trenches

Kind of like an updated Aztec Camera, with more electronics mixed in. Okay, I don’t think that makes any sense, but it’s what came to mind first. They’re Swedish, and this is actually a compilation of sorts, but it’s real good.

The Go! Team

Not as good as their first (almost nothing is), but better than their last. A good sign.

Youth Lagoon: The Year of Hibernation

One of those albums I kept hearing about, but decided to resist, and then couldn’t. Bedroom pop by a guy who’s likely to emerge as an Important Figure in the bedroom pop scene. (I know, I know…I’m saying, you know, if there were such a thing…)

People Like Us: Welcome Abroad

You’ll probably hate this. Unless the idea of a Julie Andrews/Doors mash-up turns you on. In which case we can share popcorn and listen together under the covers with our flashlights.

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Ten (of the) Top Tracks: 2011 (Part One)

Frank Turner: “Peggy Sang the Blues”

Noel Gallagher’s High-Flying Bird: “If I Had a Gun”

Anna Calvi: “Blackout”

The Beastie Boys: “Make Some Noise:

Drive-By Truckers: “Ray’s Automatic Weapon”

The Embassy: “You Tend to Forget”

Ghost: “Ritual”

Metronomy: “Everything Goes My Way”

Other Lives: “Tamer Animals”

Raphael Saadiq: “Good Man”

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