by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Comics”

Strange Conversations: Part Two Hundred and Three

Posted 30 September 2009 in by Catriona

Discussing the Sci-Fi Channel (or, apparently, “SyFy”) rebooting of The Phantom:

ME: Worse than the Billy Zane version?
NICK: Well, I didn’t have the sound on when I watched it, but it makes the Billy Zane version look like Citizen Kane.
ME: I often wonder why people say that. Because if the Billy Zane version of The Phantom had been like Citizen Kane, it would have widely missed its mark and its demographic.
NICK: Fine. It makes the Billy Zane version look like the original Superman movie.
(Pause)
NICK: Which is widely considered to be a benchmark film.
ME: Why can’t you just say that it makes the Billy Zane version look good?
NICK: That’s not suitably hyperbolic.

UPDATE: Here, watch it for yourself. And if you don’t spend half of it saying, “No! That’s . . . No!”, I’ll be surprised.

There Will Be No Update Today

Posted 6 March 2009 in by Catriona

Because I’ve spent most of the afternoon—since I’m a casually employed lecturer who can, to a very real extent, pick her own working hours—reading Watchmen so I can finish it before seeing the film on Sunday.

And now I’m too traumatised to do anything else.

And I’m only halfway through.

I need a drink.

And then I really need to read more of Watchmen.

Why Am I Frightened Right Now?

Posted 8 December 2008 in by Catriona

The short answer is because apparently the ABC Network in the U. S. has committed to making a pilot of a possible TV series based on Bill Willingham’s comic series Fables.

(The long answer involves a huntsman spider that disappeared under my sofa two days ago and now I don’t know where it is and it might be planning on running over my face while I’m sleeping and I don’t care if I never know whether it does or not, what if I wake up in the middle of the night and it’s right there next to me on my pillow and . . . but that’s not important right now.)

I’m a massive fan of Fables, though I came to it rather late (only two years ago, in fact, after I was given the first three trades for my birthday, devoured them, and then frantically ran around Brisbane trying to find someone who stocked the next four trades, so I could buy them before the eighth trade came out that December. Shortly after that, I segued smoothly into buying each monthly issue, because I could no longer bring myself to wait six months for the next trade, and Fables is still the only comic book that I buy monthly).

Without giving away significant plot points, Fables centres on the immortal characters from (to begin with) European folk and fairy tales, driven from their disparate homelands by an unknown and unnamed Adversary, and living (for the past several hundred years) in a secretive enclave in the centre of New York City. It’s tightly plotted but a loose enough concept that almost any character can pop up if necessary. Most of the recognisable characters do pop up, but some characters are more prominent than others—most notably, in the early issues, Snow White, the deputy Mayor, and Bigby Wolf (the Big Bad Wolf), Fabletown’s sheriff.

That concept may intrigue you and it may make you roll your eyes.

It intrigued me—and I love every minute of it.

So part of me is potentially very excited about this.

But most of me is terrified that it will be rubbish.

I know nothing about the two writers, Stu Zicherman and Raven Metzner, whose primary credits are shows called Six Degrees (based on the idea of “six degrees of connectivity”), which ran for only thirteen episodes; Life is Wild, which also ran for only thirteen episodes (and was, as though attempting to trigger one of my particular dislikes, based on the British programme Wild at Heart, which had Stephen Tompkinson in it, ran on the ABC here recently, and looked rather silly); and What About Brian, which was a mid-season replacement (five episodes) and then had its second and final season scaled back from the proposed twenty-two episodes to nineteen.

So thus far their success in getting a season picked up for a full run hasn’t been great, but then American television is highly competitive.

They also have a feature film to their name, but it’s Elektra, which I haven’t seen but also haven’t heard great things about—and I’m not the only one, judging from its 9% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

(If it helps, for comparative purposes, Battlefield Earth has a rating of 3%).

So, yep: part of me is terrified.

Oh, I’ll watch it, when it eventually hits screens. But I’ll be worried.

It’s so hard for a decent programme to be picked up: I’m still waiting with bated breath to find out if the fabulous comic-book adaptation The Middleman will be back for a second season.

The process is a little easier if the programme has the good fortune to be made for one of the major cable stations—and even then, Deadwood was cancelled before its final season.

So the fact that this writing team’s previous outings haven’t lasted isn’t necessarily an indictment of their work.

But this something I really want to work—so I’m a little frightened and a little excited right now.

Man, I Love James Jean

Posted 23 October 2008 in by Catriona

And I wish he weren’t leaving Fables.

Now, James Jean isn’t the only reason why I read Fables: he does the covers, which are amazing, but wouldn’t be sufficient reason for me to read the comic every month. If Bill Willingham’s writing and (guest artists aside) Mark Buckingham’s art weren’t also superb, the covers alone wouldn’t make me buy the books.

But they are one reason why I buy the monthly comic instead of, as I usually do, waiting for the trade to come out.

I mean, look at this cover for the eighth trade, which wraps up some of the main storylines from the first fifty issues:

Or the third cover for the Flycatcher story arc, “The Good Prince”:

Poor Fly. I do love you. You’re the Fables version of Ellsworth in Deadwood—the only genuinely decent person in a fairly messed-up environment.

Or how about some of the covers from the most recent story arc?

I don’t actually have much more to say on these; I suspect they either speak for themselves or they don’t.

But, for me, there is a reason why James Jean is the only comic-book artist whose work is hanging in my bedroom.

Victorian Fantasy with Mad Scientists: What Could Be Bad?

Posted 20 August 2008 in by Catriona

I’ve been uninspired lately, or tired, or still fighting off this cold that I seem to have passed on to everyone else, or secretly eaten up with remorse that I didn’t kill more kobolds at last week’s D&D session, or something.

I don’t know quote what, as the list above indicates. But I haven’t been my usual effervescent self (oh, yes: I am humble. I’m famous for it). I haven’t thought of anything interesting enough to blog about and I haven’t been reading as much, either.

That, though, I blame on the avalanche of marking that’s descended.

But I have been re-reading, recently. Re-reading is something of a divisive issue in this household: Nick doesn’t do it, much, whereas I don’t see any reason to deny myself the pleasure of, for example, Pride and Prejudice just because I happen to have read it before. (Re-watching television and movies is an even more divisive issue and, since those are common activities, I’ve had to resign myself to a period of inactivity before Nick will agree to re-watch something.) But re-reading I can do on my own.

And, sometimes, you’re just not in the mood for a new book, no matter how good at looks, or how fond you are of the author, or how long you’ve been waiting for it to be published.

Sometimes, you want familiarity. You want characters whom you’ve met before, situations that are familiar, nuances that you missed the first or second time around.

Or, at least, I do.

So lately I’ve been re-reading the Girl Genius series of graphic novels. The seventh trade came in from Amazon last week—many, many weeks after we originally ordered it—and the complex plot of the last couple had largely escaped me in the months since volume six came out. A refresher course seemed appropriate.

Girl Genius comes from Studio Foglio, although it doesn’t look as though their website’s been updated for a while. I’m not terribly familiar with Phil and Kaja Foglio’s other work, though I gather their other well-known series is XXXenophile, described on the Wikipedia page as whimsical alien erotica—and, no, I’m not linking to the Wikipedia page. You can search for it if you like, but bear in mind that the cover they offer is not suitable for work. It’s not tentacle porn (thank heavens!) but it’s not suitable for work. Or for young children.

Girl Genius, on the other hand, has its own website, given its existence as a web comic. I’ve not read the web version, because I find sequential web comics a little annoying, and prefer to wait for the trades.

So far, I’ve read the first seven trades, and don’t like to contemplate how long I have to wait for the eighth volume.

What I really enjoy about it, though, is the fact that the mad scientists, the “Sparks,” are completely and utterly insane. They can’t help it: it’s just the way Sparks work. At one point, the townspeople are uncertain whether or not to accept a new Spark—said to be the heir to a famous, long-lost dynasty—and are convinced not by her ability to create extraordinary machines, but by her tendency to blow things up and then shout, “I meant to do that!”

And Agatha Heterodyne herself, the Girl Genius of the title—well, okay: she spends a lot of time running around in her bloomers and is about as pneumatic as you’d expect of the heroine of vaguely Victorian melodrama. But she’s also tough—physically, emotionally, and intellectually—and talented in a number of fields that female characters still don’t often explore, especially not the science-fiction and fantasy narratives: she’s a scientist, a mechanic, an inventor, even a resurrectionist when she needs to be.

I’d written earlier in this post that it was rather odd that I enjoyed this series so much when steampunk isn’t really my cup of tea.

But I went back and deleted it when I remembered that the books are sub-titled “Gaslamp Fantasies”: according to the Wikipedia page, Kaja Foglio coined the term as more appropriate to the work than the usual “steampunk.” And it’s true that the Sparks are concerned with far more machinery, though the “clanks” are fabulous: the wicked Heterodynes of old, about whom we have only received tantalising snippets, also created the Jagerkin, fanatically loyal but vicious monsters with heavy Romanian accents and an obsession with hats, and there are also the constructs, Frankenstein’s-monster-style humanoids, some convincingly human and some nightmarish.

There are also miniature mammoths.

I don’t know why, but they seem to be sold as a tasty treat. On a stick.

And a cat created to be Emperor of All Cats, so that he could mobilise his people as silent spies and saboteurs: it works brilliantly, apparently, until they fall asleep or see something move.

But, honestly, you saw my point once I mentioned the miniature mammoths, didn’t you? Or maybe the bloomers?

But there’s so much more to this series, which ensures I couldn’t not read it.

Like the fact that the Heterodyne boys have become the stuff of legends in the eighteen years since they disappeared, so the world is full of dime novels inconsistently recounting their adventures and travelling Heterodyne shows that specialise in melodramas ranging from the violent to the raunchy, depending on the audience. In fact, the whole series plays with the mutability of narrative, including short pieces at the end of the trades that range from Agatha’s adventures as a full-blown Heterodyne—before she herself is even aware of her heritage—to the James Bondian adventures of Trelawney Thorpe, Spark of the Realm, to the fan-fiction of a young girl supposedly telling Heterodyne stories to her brothers but unable to resist putting herself into the narratives.

There are shades here of the great celebration of imagination that is Alan Moore’s third League of Extraordinary Gentlemen trade.

Really, I can’t resist anything that has at its heart a passion for melodrama and the mutability of imaginative story-telling.

And when you throw in vaguely Victorian robots, imaginary European cities, sentient castles, and fanged monsters who insist that any plan that involves killing anyone who sees you killing people and then losing your hat is a bad plan?

Well, I don’t know how anyone could resist.

Ted Naifeh

Posted 14 February 2008 in by Catriona

Today I fell asleep on top of my own thesis, which I thought was a bad sign. But, rather than assuming that the result of three years’ hard work is boring enough to induce catatonia, I figured I just needed coffee and a sit down. After a brief interlude of accidentally kicking my coffee mug over, fetching a paper towel and a fresh cup of coffee, sitting down, and realising that I’d forgotten to turn the fan on, I settled in to re-read Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things.

Nick and I bought this in a recent Amazon order, along with another of Naifeh’s works, Polly and the Pirates. I came across a reference to Naifeh on Chris’s Invincible Super-Blog, as part of the series of Relatively Serious Comics Reviews that also introduced me to Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert’s thoroughly delightful The Professor’s Daughter, for which I will be eternally grateful.

I wasn’t entirely certain whether I’d enjoy these, since I don’t normally read goth-infused comics. That makes it sound as though I have moral objections to them, but really they just don’t come in my way much. But is it likely that anyone could resist the story of a young boarder from a school for proper gentlewomen who becomes inextricably mixed up with pirates?

Both Polly and Courtney are wonderful characters, and the fantastical, romanticised San Francisco in which they’re set is worth it simply for Polly and the Pirates‘s extraordinary fusion of pirate ships and nineteenth-century architecture. I’m also rapidly turning over plans—each more improbable than the last—for building my own version of Aloysius Crumrin’s house.

I’m only sorry that Polly is restricted to four issues. At least there are many more Courtney Crumrin tales for me to catch up on.

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