Sunday, October 31, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Great Power (and Responsibility) of Perception

Comics have always been looked down upon as a ghetto medium.

(James O'Barr in "Comic Book Literacy")

That is a quote from James O’Barr (“The Crow”) from my documentary “Comic Book Literacy." And it is one of the biggest lessons I learned from my experience producing the film. Well, not necessarily from the producing process but rather the promotional process.

You see, making the movie is only one aspect of filmmaking. Another, almost equally important part, is the promotion of the film. No one can see your movie if they’ve never heard of it. It is during this stage (that I am in currently) that I find myself gaining even more insight into the perception of the medium of comic books. During production I surrounded myself with some of comics’ biggest proponents. I was receiving a constant influx of good cheer, optimistic outlooks and unabashedly boisterous cheerleading for the concept of using comic books for education.

This led to a warm and fuzzy sense of accomplishment and complacency that I began to feel for the medium. Because, hey, we have made it, right? Everyone now loves comics and teachers and librarians are stocking the shelves with everything from The Spirit to Spider-Man as fast as they can. The general public has now accepted Batman and Wolverine as peers to Tom Sawyer and David Copperfield....right? “Mission Accomplished!”

Sadly, no.

Don’t get me wrong. The medium has come a long way from the demonized scapegoat it was in the fifties and the neutered cypher it was in the sixties. Sure, libraries are allowing them shelf space and book clubs are cautiously inviting them over for tea but the beating that the reputation of comic books took in the past has yet to heal completely for the general public.

“The General Public.” That’s a phrase often used by comic book readers. For example, in fanboy circles, the “worth” of a character is routinely gauged by his or her level of recognition by the general public (e.g. people who don’t read comics). Who hasn’t heard the argument that “Character X” is better or more successful that “Character Y” because “Character X” is more well known by the general public?

It hearkens back to the so-called “Grandma Test™.” The more random information your Grandmother knows about a particular comic book character (“Kryptonite hurts Superman” or “Batman drives the Batmobile”), the more relevant the character becomes.

It’s a deeply flawed test of worth but it does call attention to the preoccupation that many comic book readers have with the medium’s significance to the non-comic book reading population. Why do we have this obsession with the opinion of people who have no interest in comics?

Because it is very rare to find a non-comic book reader who has no opinion on comics. Most non-comic book readers have a negative view on a medium with which they have had no first hand experience.

Which leads back to O’Barr’s quote: “Comic books have always been looked down upon as a ghetto medium.”

(Image Courtesy of Life Magazine)

And in many ways they still are. As I said earlier, I’m now in the process of promoting “Comic Book Literacy” and in this Facebooking, Twittering world of ours, one of the best ways to interact with people of similar interests is to post links to relevant content. And there is no shortage of online articles about the use of comics in the classroom.

Many of them, however, begin with the premise that to use a comic book to teach a student is a surprisingly unique concept. And to be fair, in most classrooms, it is. But the tone of incredulity frequently used in these types of articles almost reinforces the negative perception that the general public has of the medium.

What? Comics used to teach? What an odd idea! Well, I guess even something like comic books can be useful sometimes.

Do you see how this might undermine the credibility of a struggling medium?

Picture Courtesy of Life Magazine

Now I don’t mean to be overly negative. I’m not forsaking the silver lining because the dark cloud seems so ominous. Comics have come very a long way and their reputation continues to improve day by day. I do truly believe that one day the inclusion of a comic book in a lesson plan won’t so much as raise an eyebrow.

But we must realize that with all the progress we’ve made there is still resistance to the idea of comic books as legitimate literature, much less teaching tools.

Here comes the obligatory question: “So what can I do?”

And here is the obligatory answer: Many libraries and schools accept donations. Donate your comics. Give comics to your kids, your nieces and nephews, the neighborhood kids. Create the next generation of comic book readers and they will become a generation who doesn't have a negative preconception of the medium. It won’t happen overnight but eventually, little by little, public perception will begin to shift and comic books will take their rightful place in the world of literature.

Years ago Fredric Wertham gave comics a black eye and a bloody nose. But all wounds can heal with time.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Butter Off Dead

As I've said before, the State Fair of Texas is beloved by both man and X-Man alike. Various rides, attractions and carnivalesque tomfoolery abound but the main attraction is of the culinary variety as the Fair is well known as the Fried Food Capital of Texas.

Last year headlines were made and arteries were clogged with the announcement of the addition of Deep Fried Butter to the roster.
I'm no stranger to fried treats that border on the avant-garde but even I have my limits. Luckily, as with any high end entertainment destination, butter enthusiasts have less life-shortening alternatives when it comes to enjoying their favorite freshly churned fat.

Art, anyone?
Every year sculptress Sharon BuMann whips up a new life sized work of art using one of the tastier mediums, butter. This year's work invokes imagery of the yearly Texas/OU grudge match played at the Cotton Bowl which is located, you guessed it, at the State Fair (Fair Park to be exact).
Previous dairy dioramas include this Cadillac-riding cowboy from 2002.
The muse doesn't necessarily have to be home grown either. In 2008 when the Dallas Museum of Natural History hosted the "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" exhibit, the butter sculpture had a decidedly Egyptian flavor.

Will this flavorful form spread a Renaissance across the art world? Will those that work in the medium of butter strive for the same legitimacy enjoyed by more "traditional" artists?

I certainly hope so. At the very least, maybe you'll think twice tomorrow morning when preparing your toast.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hot Wheels

The TV gods converged at the State Fair of Texas' Auto Show. Trumpets sounded, lightning crashed and the space/time continuum unraveled just a tiny bit. Great Scott, what could cause such metaphor mixing awesomeness, you ask?

It all started with the Double E Monkeemobile, made popular by the Double E 60's supergroup, the Monkees.
I used to love the show when I was a kid and back then I found their work vastly superior to the equally misspelled Beatles who they were spoofing (and on some dark, rainy afternoons I still's ok if the TV gods know this but don't tell the Music gods).
If the Monkees aren't quite badass enough for you then you'll be pleased to see Green Hornet's Black Beauty, which is business in the front...
...and even more business in the back.
Which leads us to the main attraction. I always hate it when "mainstream" writers write articles about comic books and always feel the need to start off with an Adam West-style "Biff" or "Pow" but in this case you'll just have to indulge me:
POW! I'm not going to lie to you, that felt good.
I typically prefer the Micheal Keaton Batmobile but this one is a close second (if not, a tie for first).

I purposely didn't try to find out if these were the actual models from TV or if they are replicas. Fun-spoiling information like that tends to, well, spoil the fun. I think we can all take a reasonable guess though.

I can also use my blissful ignorance to assume that every night these cars compete in a "Wacky Races" type of face off for the further amusement of the TV gods and if a mere mortal were ever to catch a glimpse of such a sight, there would be head-exploding repercussions.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Cup Capes

I'm probably a little behind on this. Recently the internet welcomed the arrival of Hostess Green Lantern GloBalls and Flash Cakes. As soon as I heard about them my only mission in life was to obtain them.

For some horrible reason Hostess decided not to sell them in my area so once again I had to turn to eBay for validation. Anyway, a couple of bids later and they are now mine:
Reminiscent of the Hulk Cakes from a few years ago, these dessert treats apparently tie in with the release of Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. How exactly do Green Lantern & Flash tasty treats tie in with that particular DVD? Who knows and who cares?

I'm just happy to finally have some super hero food that features someone other than Supes, Bats or Spidey on it.

Let's start with GL:
As you probably guessed, Green Lanter GloBalls are remarkably similar to the regular Hostess Snoballs: a marshmallow coating covering a cream filled chocolate cake. Except that these are green! Just like the green constructs that Green Lantern creates in order to fight evil. Awesome!

And now for the Flash:
So, here we have modified chocolate cupcakes with red icing and yellow sprinkles. That's more than enough justification for me.

So there you have it. I like to think of this as a giant step forward for second string characters who hope to break into the grocery store genre. If all goes well, hopefully, we will soon see Aquaman Canned Tuna, Plastic Man Pretzels and Booster Gold Potted Meat Food Product.

And that would be a beautiful thing.